The iPhone 12 has a fantastic two-lens camera that can use Night Mode for better low-light photos, plus the fastest iPhone processor, long battery life, and a large edge-to-edge OLED screen.
The iPhone 12 is a great phone for almost anyone. It offers most of the same features as the more expensive and identically sized iPhone 12 Pro models, and it has all-day battery life, excellent cameras that include Night Mode for low-light photos, and a large screen in a not-too-large body. Compared with the more affordable iPhone SE, the iPhone 12 offers a longer-lasting battery, a larger screen, and a better camera. If you’re considering the iPhone 12 Pro, the main improvement in that model is a third camera lens and more advanced image processing, which doesn’t affect how the phone works most of the time and isn’t worth the big price jump for most people.
On the iPhone 12, most people should get 128 GB of storage; you pay $50 more than you do for the 64 GB base model to get double the storage space. Paying another $100 premium over that for 256 GB is probably overkill for most people, though.
Apple’s iPhone processors have always been plenty fast (by some measurements, faster than those of many laptops), and the A14 Bionic in the iPhone 12 continues that trend. We’ve rarely run into any sort of speed bumps on any iPhone over the past few years, and the increasingly faster speeds are almost academic at this point. You can be assured that any app will run just fine.
In our experience, the battery life on the iPhone 12 has been good enough for it to easily get through a full day of use with about 30% battery remaining at worst. For someone who doesn’t want to or can’t top off during the day, the extra battery life compared with that of older or smaller iPhones can mean the difference between being able to use your phone into the evening or worrying about it going dead.
Our favorite camera feature on the iPhone 12—and a reason to seriously consider it over the iPhone SE—is Night Mode. Through a combination of longer exposure time and software processing, it allows you to take legitimately good photos at night or in other dark settings. Shots that would have previously been unusable now look good or even great. The Pro version has an added LiDAR sensor that’s supposed to improve Night Mode even more, but we found that the iPhone 12’s shots looked different—with slightly shifted color tones—but not any worse. The differences were small enough that we noticed them only when we compared the photos side by side.
The iPhone 12, like the iPhone 11 before it, has a main 12-megapixel wide-angle camera lens and a 12-megapixel ultrawide lens, the latter of which lets you capture more of a scene; the iPhone 12 doesn’t have a telephoto zoom lens like the iPhone 12 Pro does. Apple has also updated its HDR algorithm, which attempts to preserve detail in both the brightest and darkest parts of a photo. Comparing the new HDR side by side with the effect in iPhone 11 shots, we found the updated HDR to be a little overly aggressive, with a big emphasis on very blue skies and very green grass. But if you’re upgrading, especially from an iPhone 7 or 8, you’ll notice a big jump in quality.
Physical-size comparison of iPhones
|iPhone 8/SE||4.7″||5.45″||2.65″||0.29″||5.22 ounces|
|iPhone 12||6.1″||5.78″||2.82″||0.29″||5.78 ounces|
|iPhone 12 Pro||6.1″||5.78″||2.82″||0.29″||6.66 ounces|
|iPhone 12 mini||5.4″||5.18″||2.53″||0.29″||4.76 ounces|
|iPhone 12 Pro Max||6.7″||6.33″||3.07″||0.29″||8.03 ounces|
The iPhone 12 is larger than the iPhone 12 mini or iPhone SE and may be hard to use one-handed for anyone with smaller hands.
The iPhone 12 has the same-size 6.1-inch screen as the iPhone 11, but in a smaller body. Instead of curved edges, it’s squared off much like the iPhone 4 and 5, and this design feels great. We find it much easier to grip the iPhone 12, even when the phone is not in a case. The flat screen edges take a bit of getting used to if you’re coming from rounded edges, but ultimately the design is an improvement, and a screen protector, if you choose to use one, should be easier to install. We also really like the body color options: In addition to the standard black and white hues, the iPhone 12 comes in a nice deep blue, a mint green tone, and a Product Red version.
The iPhone 12’s OLED screen is a higher-quality display than that of the iPhone 11 or iPhone SE, with a resolution of 2532×1170 pixels. OLED provides better contrast and blacker blacks than LCD because pixels on an OLED display emit their own backlight, which can completely turn off while a pixel is displaying blacks. On an LCD, a single panel lights all of the pixels at once, regardless of the color each individual pixel is displaying.
MagSafe has the potential to be one of the coolest new features in the iPhone 12, though its impact will depend on how widely it’s adopted. Stealing the name from the dearly-departed magnetic charging system on Apple laptops, MagSafe combines two features: a magnetic attachment system for accessories and fast wireless charging. Accessories, including an Apple-branded wallet, can snap to the back of the phone with a secure hold. These accessories use the phone’s built-in NFC reader to trigger on-screen effects such as flashing the screen color to match the case’s color. (The effect is neat the first time but gets old pretty quick.)
The iPhone 12 still supports standard Qi wireless charging at up to 7.5 watts, so you can use wireless chargers you already have or buy them from other brands. But with MagSafe accessories such as the MagSafe Charger, it can charge at up to 15 watts. In our early testing, a fully depleted iPhone 12 charged to 20% in 30 minutes and 46% in an hour on the MagSafe Charger, compared with 12% and 29% in the same periods on RAVPower’s Wireless Charging Stand (RP-PC069). Notably, the iPhone 11 on the RAVPower stand was just as fast to charge as the iPhone 12 got with the MagSafe Charger; we’ll continue testing for more conclusive results.
Although Apple is positioning 5G cellular networking as one of the iPhone 12’s main selling points, it’s not a reason for you to buy this (or any) new phone. While 5G is theoretically faster than LTE in optimal situations, it’s still a nascent technology with plenty of caveats. The upload and download speeds on T-Mobile’s 5G network were actually slower when we tested the iPhone 12 against an iPhone XR running on T-Mobile LTE in Buffalo, New York. (Apple provided us with a Verizon SIM card for testing, and although we clocked faster speeds on that than on T-Mobile, we can’t say whether this result was due to Verizon’s network or its 5G implementation.) If you’re in an area with the right 5G implementation, and you’re in the exact right spot, you might see blazing-fast speeds. Maybe. But most people aren’t going to notice immediate speed boosts. As the carriers build up their networks, 5G may become more valuable, but it is not a necessary feature at this point.
The iPhone 12 is noticeably larger than the iPhone SE, but it’s still small enough that, if you have medium-size hands, you should be able to text with one hand without straining to reach the other side of the screen. But if you already had trouble holding the iPhone 6–era design or fitting it into small pockets, the iPhone 12 makes things a little worse, and you should probably wait for the iPhone 12 mini.
We still don’t recommend that you take your phone into the pool or ocean, but the iPhone 12 has IP68 water resistance, which means it can survive under 6 meters of water for half an hour, an improvement from 2 meters on the iPhone 11 and 1 meter on the iPhone SE. If you spill something on it or drop it in the sink, it’s likely to survive without issue.
As of late 2020, no iPhones come with a charger or Lightning earbuds in the box, though they do include a USB-C–to–Lightning cable. If you need a charger or headphones, we have recommendations.
Apple claims the glass screen is stronger than previous versions thanks to what it calls Ceramic Shield, a process for adding “nano-ceramic crystals” to the glass itself. We can’t verify that claim, but we’re sure plenty of YouTubers will—we’ll update our take on this if and when it seems conclusive.