Apple's new "pro" iPhone is spoiled by choice.
In one of Avengers: Infinity War’s most important scenes, Doctor Strange used the Time Stone to view millions of alternate futures so he could work out a way for the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to beat Thanos. Spoiler alert: of all the possible ways, only one had ended in their victory — and it came at a great price. I have had a similar, albeit less dramatic (and far from fiction) predicament with the iPhone 12 Pro.
Before I give you the details, let me give you some context. The iPhone 12 Pro is one of four new iPhones that Apple has launched this year. The others being the iPhone 12 Mini, iPhone 12, and iPhone 12 Pro Max. Something like this has never happened before. You can read more about this unprecedented move here. The TL;DR version is, Apple likely wants more people to buy iPhones by offering one at almost every perceivable price point.
On one end lies the iPhone 12 Mini that starts at Rs 69,900. On the other end, there is the iPhone 12 Pro Max starting at Rs 1,29,900. Things are well marked out in both these cases, there is no confusion whatsoever. The iPhone 12 Pro Max brings the very latest and greatest that Apple can offer today. The iPhone 12 Mini is the entry point into that universe.
Things are a little, nay a lot complicated with the iPhone 12 Pro because the iPhone 12 which is technically a step below it in hierarchy, is practically the same iPhone with a few omissions. Things get a whole lot messier when you take their India prices into account. The iPhone 12 Pro starts at Rs 1,19,900. An iPhone 12 with an equivalent amount of storage costs Rs 84,900. That is a big Rs 35,000 difference.
Logic dictates, buying an iPhone 12 Pro Max would make more sense. That, or just get the iPhone 12. Clearly, Apple’s new pro iPhone is spoiled by choice, which is why I decided to peer into its many use cases to find a plausible explanation behind its existence — and if at all, you should buy it.
Design and build quality
The first thing you would notice about the iPhone 12 “series” is its updated design. It took Apple three years to do this, so I believe that is reason enough to be excited. Now, it is not exactly an iPhone X-level update, but it is something and it is something special.
All the new iPhones take the iPhone X base design and fuse it with squared-off edges reminiscent of the iPhone 4. For naysayers, this would be an incremental change. For fans, a blast from the past. Of all the things that Apple could have brought back, I am glad it chose this one. Just makes me wonder, why it took so long for Apple to do this — but oh well.
As I said, the new schematics are shared across all the new iPhones which again, is textbook Apple. As expected, the pro iPhones use more premium materials. The iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max use matte frosted glass on the back, which is smooth to the touch and feels very, very premium. Also, it helps keep a check on smudge and fingerprints.
The outer frame is made of stainless steel. It is very, very shiny and as a downside, picks up a lot of fingerprints from the moment you unbox and start using it. It adds considerable heft to the pro iPhones too. The edges are sharp, mind you, but I have come to appreciate them over time.
But this is true only and only for the iPhone 12 Pro and not for the iPhone 12 Pro Max. Not only is the iPhone 12 Pro more pocketable, but it is also easier to use without a case. It will also be more comfortable to use for a lot of people with one hand though it is still a big phone. The max is just, well, all maxed out and it is heavy — for me, it has been impossible to use without a case and adding a case means adding more bulk. If the iPhone 12 Pro is big, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is a giant that towers over almost every other phone in the market today.
The iPhone 12, in contrast, has a glossy glass panel on the back and a matte aluminum frame.
Like the design, all the new iPhones also have the same “core” display specs — though they come with different screen sizes. The biggest takeaway is that Apple is using its signature high-quality Super Retina XDR OLED display in all the new iPhones. All the new iPhones also support Dolby Vision and HDR 10.
The other big highlight is the screen resolution. It is 1080p+ in all the new iPhones. Those specifics may seem uninspiring against competing Android phones, but Apple already makes one of the best 720p LCDs. If anything, a higher resolution and OLED are just icing on the cake.
The screen in all the new iPhones is further protected by Apple’s ceramic shield. It is said to make the new iPhones 4x more resistant to drops. Drop protection and scratch resistance are usually inversely proportional, so that is something you should keep in mind.
Coming to the differences, the iPhone 12 Pro has a 6.1-inch display while the iPhone 12 Pro Max comes with a 6.7-inch screen. The iPhone 12 Pro Max is what you should be looking at if you are looking to consume a lot of content on a bigger screen. Somehow, the notch on the max model also seems smaller. As for the iPhone 12, it offers the same deal as the iPhone 12 Pro, the only difference being the pro can get a little brighter — though this is something you’ll notice only if you have them side by side.
The iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro offering the same display is so unlike Apple, it makes you sit back and think — why? Apple is not the one to cannibalize its products like this, unless something big happened — or did not happen — inside its closed quarters. A 120Hz refresh rate on the pro iPhones seemed inevitable before the launch. Maybe things did not go according to the plan. Aside from complicating things for the iPhone 12 Pro, it complicates things a little for the whole series too. There is no way Apple would not bring Pro Motion to the iPhone. Question is, how long would you be willing to wait?
Performance and battery life
All the new iPhones share the same core hardware as well. This is Apple’s latest and greatest 5nm A14 Bionic chip. The pro iPhones get 6GB RAM and 128GB base storage while the non-pro models come with 4GB RAM and 64GB base storage. Software is iOS 14 which brings much-needed flexibility to iPhones, letting you add home screen widgets, set custom email and browser defaults, in addition to features like picture in picture view for videos, app drawer-like interface through app library, and more. There is still so much inside iOS 14, better for you to read our in-depth look at it here.
As beautiful as iOS is inside these new iPhones, there is one thing that does not bode well for it. iOS is not designed for large-screen iPhones and with Apple breaking the size barrier with each new iPhone — the iPhone 12 Pro Max is the biggest iPhone that Apple has ever made — it is high time it starts looking into this aspect too. And before you ask, Reachability is not the answer. You can make do with it, but barely so on the iPhone 12 Pro, but all this just makes the max model more substantial than what its paper specs would have you believe.
As for performance, the iPhone 12 Pro is expectedly a fast phone with the new hardware giving it greater headroom for future since Apple usually supports its iPhones for upwards of four years at least, something that no other Android phone, including Google’s own Pixel, can guarantee. There is also support for 5G this time, which adds another level of futureproofing to the package for when 5G eventually arrives in India.
Battery life is good, and the iPhone 12 Pro will give you a day’s worth on mixed usage, but I was expecting better. The iPhone 11 Pro was better. The iPhone 12 is also better. The iPhone 12 Pro Max is the king of the hill.
New this year is MagSafe “magnetic” wireless charging. And oh, there is no charger and EarPods in the box.
The iPhone 12 Pro comes with three cameras which is a combination of 12MP wide, 12MP ultra-wide and 12MP telephoto, and light detection and ranging or LiDAR sensor. Apple is using a fast f/1.6 aperture lens (this was f/1.8 in its predecessor) to complement the main sensor. Apple says having a LiDAR sensor can help boost autofocus by up to six times while also enabling Night Mode in portrait photography. Hallmark iPhone traits like Deep Fusion and Smart HDR are also being carried forward and improved upon.
The iPhone 12 Pro Max has the same setup, only it is cranked up a level higher courtesy a larger main sensor and sensor sensor-shift OIS. The telephoto in the max model also offers more zoom.
The iPhone 12 has two cameras on the back, a 12MP main and another 12MP ultra-wide angle, essentially the same deal as the pro iPhones but stripped off some of their unique features.
In theory, the iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max should be equally competent in day light. The pro iPhones should be better at low light with the max being pitched as a photography powerhouse and quite rightfully so. Real world stats are close. In fact, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is the best camera phone in the market today. The iPhone 12 is a jack of all trades, which makes it an even more attractive proposition, even more so than last year’s iPhone 11.
As for the iPhone 12 Pro, its fate hangs in the balance depending on how much that extra telephoto camera is worth to you. Yes, it is better than the iPhone 12 in tricky and low light thanks to LiDAR, but I don’t think that that’s enough to make you want to spend extra especially when you know that there’s an iPhone 12 Pro Max out there that’s even better – it is significantly better. While night portraits are a nice addition on the pro (you do not get it in the iPhone 12), the all-round quality is not a dealmaker.
The iPhone 12 Pro takes great photos in good light with some of the best dynamic range in the market today. Colours are warm and appealing without going overboard with saturation – they are truer to source and life like. The level of detail is just remarkable. Low-light photos are great too most of the time but if you have an iPhone 11 Pro, I suggest you should hold on to it since it can still hold its ground. Typical of all iPhones, the iPhone 12 Pro is also largely a point and shoot affair with the cameras smartly adjusting to the available light, kicking in requisite algorithms including night mode accordingly. And typical of all iPhones, the iPhone 12 Pro also shoots best-in-class videos. New this year is Dolby Vision HDR video recording at up to 60 fps (30 fps in iPhone 12) — a first for any smartphone. This is turned on by default letting you shoot (and edit) brighter videos akin to a high-end DSLR though not many screens support the format that Apple relies on today.
Should you buy it?
There is only one reason why you should buy the iPhone 12 Pro. You should get it only if you must have the latest no compromise iPhone or if you are looking to switch from an iPhone X/iPhone XS to a no compromise new iPhone and the iPhone 12 Pro Max is too big for you. That is the only way the pro comes out as a winner. It will come at a price of course. The max has better cameras and better battery life, but the experience will be as high-end. For everybody else, the iPhone 12 is a solid deal that blurs the line between vanilla and pro.
There’s a reason why no other phone was featured in this review. The iPhone 12 Pro on a given day, is in a league of its own even at its high asking price. It’s almost perfect. It’s unprecedented but it is rivaled by its own — the iPhone 12 Pro Max being the best that money can buy and the iPhone 12 being the best bang for your buck. As for why it exists, I think it’s for the same reason why there’s also an iPhone 12 Mini this year — same reason why there was an iPhone SE earlier this year. There is demand for smaller phones and while the iPhone 12 Pro isn’t technically small, it is surprisingly compact despite its pro credentials.
- Top notch design and build quality
- Fast performance
- Apple’s software support
- Outstanding cameras
- Loud stereo speakers
- iPhone 12 offers much of the same deal at Rs 35,000 less