Home / iPhone / Apple iPhone 12 review: 5G, improved reception, and iOS 14 widgets challenge Android phones

Apple iPhone 12 review: 5G, improved reception, and iOS 14 widgets challenge Android phones


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In a very Samsung-esque style this year we saw Apple announce four new models of the iPhone 12 at one time. Only two are available for purchase now, with two more coming this month. I don’t know why I always Tweet it out, but after purchasing the very expensive Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 I wrote that I was passing on the iPhone 12 lineup. Regular readers and followers know that is just not possible so my blue iPhone 12 arrived yesterday.

ZDNet’s Jascon Cipriani posted his Apple iPhone 12 Pro in-depth review and awarded it a 9.5/10 rating. Jason is more of a regular iPhone user than I am so I highly recommend reading both of our takes on these phones. With the same 6.1-inch display and nearly the same overall design, you can save $120 on a comparable 128GB iPhone 12. The blue colors are different, there’s an extra camera on the back, the 12 Pro has 6GB of RAM instead of 4GB, and the iPhone 12 Pro is constructed with stainless steel while the iPhone 12 is aluminum.

To help justify the purchase of this 128GB iPhone 12, I sold my iPhone SE (2020) on Swappa for about $320, which was $110 more than Apple was willing to give to me as a trade-in. I highly recommend you test out the third party seller’s market before trading in your phone. Then again, Samsung usually offers more for its trade-ins than you can sell it for so the type of phone you are trading in dictates its resale value.

Also: Apple iPhone SE (2020) review: An affordable, capable business phone fit for uncertain times

Specifications

  • Processor: Apple A14 Bionic chip, next generation neural engine
  • Display: 6.1-inch 2532 x 1170 pixels resolution OLED (460 ppi)
  • Operating system: Apple iOS 14
  • Storage: 64, 128, and 256 GB internal options
  • Cameras: Dual 12MP f/1.6 (wide) and f/2.4 (ultrawide) aperture rear cameras. 12MP front-facing TrueDepth camera with f/2.2 aperture.
  • Wireless technology: 5G, 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/ax WiFi-6, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, GPS/GLONASS
  • Dust and water resistance: IP68
  • Battery: 1,821 mAh battery (unofficial) rated at up 40 hours of audio playback and 13 hours of video. Wireless charging and fast charging with 18W adapter (sold separately).
  • Dimensions: 146.7 x 71.5 x 7.4 mm and 164 grams
  • Colors: Black, White, PRODUCT(Red), Green, Blue

It’s only $50 more to bump up from 64GB to 128GB and given the powerful camera, 5G for faster downloads, and no ability to expand your storage capacity later I recommend most people at least consider the 128GB model over the 64GB base model..

Hardware

Apple went back to flat edges with the Apple iPhone 12 and that’s great for those who stand the phone up by itself or that like a better edge to hold onto the phone with. The matte blue finish on the edges looks great and doesn’t show any fingerprints. I’m a fan of this return to the iPhone 4 design since it also brings along a completely flat display.

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The iPhone 11 had a LCD display, that looked great, but this year both the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro have the same resolution OLED panel that is nearly perfect. Flat displays make it easy to find and apply screen protection. This year Apple labels the display ‘ceramic shield’ with advertised improved capability to withstand breakage from drops. It will still scratch so be careful with it, but maybe we will see less broken iPhone displays in 2021.

We’ve seen Apple mostly move away from the front fingerprint sensor, the 2020 iPhone SE still has one, while Google went back to that approach on the Pixel 5. Now with facemasks a common wearable accessory, Face ID is not a practical solution for unlocking your iPhone when you are out and about. I love it when it can be used though and it removes the barrier for securing your phone.

While the edges are matte blue, the back panel has a glossy finish so collects fingerprints and smudges quite easily. The blue on the iPhone 12 is a navy blue shade with a matte finish around the camera array. The blue on the iPhone 12 Pro has a green tint to it. It’s likely most iPhone 12 owners will wrap their new phone in a case, like we see from CASETiFY or Totallee, so the glossy back may not matter much to you.

Also: iPhone 12 Pro review: Does it get any better than this?

Like the iPhone 11 last year, the iPhone 12 still has two cameras on the back with no telephoto shooter provided. There are some improvements in the camera technology with night mode present for the ultrawide and selfie cameras, but the resolution and most of the capabilities are the same.

All of the same iPhone elements are present on the sides with the ringer switch and volume buttons on the left and the right side button about a third of the way down. There is also an oblong area down further on the right side that is the cutout in the aluminum case for the 5G mmWave antenna. Models outside the US will not have this cutout. The Lightning port is on the bottom with nothing on the top edge.

I’ve been very impressed with Apple’s stereo speakers on its phones the last couple of years and find the iPhone plays the loudest on connected Bluetooth headphones too. The stereo speakers sound good on the iPhone 12 and I cannot even listen to content at maximum volume.

After using the phone for 10 days, I’m easily getting through a full day of use. One of the major improvements, I was honestly skeptical Apple would add it this year, is the support for 5G networks. Every iPhone in the US supports the available bands on all major carriers so there are no differences between the radios in the various models.

I tested the iPhone 12 against Android phones with 5G on the same carrier and have seen very impressive download and upload speeds from the iPhone 12. I also tracked the reception strength and while Samsung and OnePlus still beat the iPhone 12, it’s only by a couple of dBm and in some cases the iPhone 12 beats them too. I am finally able to recommend that my wife try an iPhone again after all previous ones failed to maintain a connection as well as an Android phone.

Software

The iPhone 12 runs iOS 14.1 and in typical fashion, you can expect to get regular updates from Apple for years. There is no carrier bloatware, extra apps, or any other software installed that cannot be removed by the user.

Apple Arcade games play perfectly on the iPhone 12 and you get three months free when you buy a new iPhone 12. Apple TV+ is supported as well so you can enjoy lots of content on the gorgeous 6.1-inch display.

All the great features of the latest version of iOS are present. This includes a very Android looking platform with redesigned widgets, widgets on the home screen, widget stacks, the app library on the home screen, pop-ups for phone calls, pinned conversations, improved Apple Maps, improvements in Siri, and much more. If you are an Android user who was unhappy with the iOS of the past, you may be very comfortable with an iPhone 12 running iOS 14. I’ve heard a couple of complaints from iPhone users, but overall people like what they see in iOS 14.

Also: Best iPhone models to buy now: The iPhone 12 is not your only great choice

Price and availability

The Apple iPhone 12 is available now in five colors; Black, White, PRODUCT(Red), Green, and Blue. The 64GB model is priced at $829 with the 128GB model at $879 and the 256GB model at $979. If you select a carrier model, it is oddly priced $30 less.

Daily experiences and conclusions

I simply adore the engineering and ability to have a large 7.6 inch open display on my Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 so I don’t think any other phone today can take its place as my daily driver. That said, if I didn’t cover mobile technology here on ZDNet and needed to be a bit more practical with a phone that can go running with me and be used in the showers of Washington State, then my only phone would likely be an Apple iPhone 12.

It was honestly had to come up with a con for this iPhone, but it is still rather expensive at $879 for the 128GB model. However, it excels in just about every area and while the Pixel phones still set the bar for still photos, the iPhone 12 does very well and also excels at video.

Like Jason said in his review of the iPhone 12 Pro I have a hard time finding the volume buttons on the left side just by feel. The flat oblong buttons barely protrude from the side and thanks to using various cases I can activate them more accurately.

One of the major improvements for me is the cellular reception and the addition of 5G. I live and work in areas with excellent 5G coverage and when riding my commuter train on the outskirts of towns I see much better wireless reception with the iPhone 12 than with any previous iPhone. I am seeing solid speed improvements in 5G over LTE, but for me the key is broader coverage as well as I never complained of LTE performance when I had a solid signal. Calls also sound great on the iPhone 12. According to the iFixit breakdown the presence of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 chip is likely why reception is great.

For $120 more, I am honestly thinking of returning this iPhone 12 to pick up the 12 Pro instead as I want to test out the additional camera and like the heft of stainless steel. I may give this one to my wife and finally get the entire family on an iPhone, which is great for many reasons.



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