Caught between the iPhone 12 Mini and the Pro range, could the iPhone 12 create a surprise by offering the best compromise in the end? Or, on the contrary, is it a model without any particular flavor that will have difficulty finding its place? While waiting for the sales figures, here is our test of the iPhone 12 in its black version and 256 GB of internal memory.
test carried out by Emmanuel Armanet
The current context has forced Apple to review its strategy or at least the chronology of its announcements which seemed immutable. Definitely 2020 is a very funny year since iOS 14, the new version of the operating system of the Apple company was available a few weeks before the new generation of iPhone when usually the two events overlap. But the game was worth the candle, as Apple announced no less than four new smartphones, from the iPhone 12 Mini to the iPhone 12 Pro Max.
TheiPhone 12 which is the subject of this test is therefore placed in the middle position and is akin to a certain update of the iPhone 11, both aesthetically and technically with the arrival of the famous 5G. But that, still a little patience, because we are going to tell you everything.
Price and availability
The iPhone 12 is the first model available both in the Apple Store (physical or online) than at usual resellers. As usual, Apple offers several versions with five colors (white, blue, black, green and red for the (Product) Red series) and three different memory capacities: 64 GB, 128 GB and 256 GB. It is of course this data that will vary the prices which are respectively € 909, 959 € and € 1,079. Our test copy, black in 256 GB, is therefore billed at € 1,079.
As promised during the official presentation, the box is much more compact than that of the previous generation. And for good reason, you will now have to do without a power adapter and headphones… Well almost, since the presence of a pedestrian kit is compulsory in France and (even) Apple had to comply with the law. As a result, the iPhone 12 is delivered in its international flat box which itself takes place in a larger anonymous box which includes the famous headphones which come to connect to the Lightning socket. It does, to be blunt, a bit of a last minute tinkering. The iPhone comes with a Lightning to USB-C cable to charge the beast. For our test, we also gathered an official MagSafe compatible silicone case – we will come back to this – and the Apple MagSafe wireless charging station, two accessories sold respectively for 55 and 45 euros. On the operating system side, of course, iOS 14 is at work.
Apple iPhone 12 Spec Sheet
Super Retina XDR OLED
1242 x 2688 pixels, 19.5: 9 ratio
|Main sensor||12 MP, f / 1.8
12 MP, f / 1.8
12 MP, f / 2.2
|Selfie sensor||12 MP, f / 2.2|
|Drums|| 2,227 mAh
Fast charge 18W
Design: Superb lines enhanced by an exceptional finish
From the first contact, we are surprised by the compactness of the iPhone 12. We first put this down to our hands, which are used to daily handling the huge smartphones that manufacturers now offer us. Even if the screen displays the same diagonal as that of the iPhone 11 is 6.1 inches, this one had not left us this memory. So to be clear about it, we dive into the characteristics of the different iPhones and indeed the newcomer is really more compact than its predecessor. It measures 146.7 x 71.5 mm against 150.9 x 75.7 cm for the iPhone 11. Apple has also considerably reduced the thickness from 8.3 to 7.4 mm between the two generations.
The weight follows the same movement and in an even more impressive way since the iPhone 12 weighs only 162 g compared to 194 g for the iPhone 11! Our hands have not deceived us, and the new iPhone is indeed a “small”, in quotes, and light smartphone in terms of what the mobile market is today. It reminds us of the Google Pixel 5 recently tested by us. Are we witnessing a paradigm shift? Maybe … maybe not, because the iPhone 12 Pro Max plays a whole different court when it comes to its measurements. But that’s another story. To reduce the dimensions of her new baby in this way while keeping the same screen diagonal, there are not thirty-six ways to operate: Apple has reduced the borders around the slab. This now occupies 86% of the facade of the smartphone against 79% for the iPhone 11. A figure that brings the iPhone closer to Android mobiles, but there is still work to be done to reach 90% of a Samsung Galaxy S20. Note that the upper part still accommodates a large notch that houses the front camera and the TrueDepth 3D facial recognition system.
Let’s go back to the design of the iPhone 12. Obviously, it takes inspiration from older models, from the iPhone 4 to the 5s, with sidewalls that abandon the round profile used since the iPhone 6 to return to a flat profit. . We find matt black aluminum for our copy. It’s original, racy and it distills an impression of robustness of course very appreciable. The layout of the various controls does not change, with the button on the left for quickly switching to silent and the volume control and on the right the power button. The hatch for the nanoSIM swings from right to left. The back of the iPhone 12 remains faithful to the glass, but it regains a shiny appearance here. Exit therefore the satin finish of the iPhone 11, which unfortunately signs the big comeback of fingerprints! A more or less square block brings together a double camera perfectly assumed as the diameter of the optics imposes. It protrudes slightly from the shell without disturbing its balance when the smartphone is placed on a table.
Say that finishing of this smartphone is exceptional would only do half of it justice. She is just perfect and the build quality allows it to push the boundaries even further. So iPhone 12 goes beyond the IP68 standard since it withstands 30 minutes of immersion under … 6 meters of water! But we all know that the biggest danger for your mobile is the breakage of its screen. A component as expensive as it is fragile. Apple knows this and has developed in collaboration with Corning a new glass to protect the screen of the iPhone 12: the Ceramic Shield, literally the ceramic shield. The idea is to insert nanometric ceramic crystals into the glass which, combined with a double ion exchange, give this new material exceptional capacities to resist scratches and drops. Apple claims that the Ceramic Shield displays 4-fold drop resistance.
Screen: perfectly mastered OLED, but limited to 60 Hz
Apple smartphone screens consistently rank among the best on the market and that of the iPhone 12 will be no exception to the rule, especially since it switches from the IPS technology of the iPhone 11 to the ‘Amoled. Amoled in Apple sauce which then takes the name of Super Retina XDR Oled. He also takes the opportunity to improve his definition which is now 1170 x 2532 pixels to achieve a density of 460 dpi. Apple therefore exceeds the famous figure of 326 dpi put forward by the Californian brand since the arrival of Retina displays, a figure which would correspond to the limit of what can be perceived by the human eye. A serious upgrade so although we still regret that we need be satisfied with a refresh rate of 60 Hz even though the iPad Pro have reached 120 Hz for several years now and that the competition in the middle or the high end offers at least 90 Hz.
When asked about this, Apple says the value of 120 Hz is not evident on a small diagonal like that of a smartphone, while it is evident on the large screen of a tablet. An argument that can be heard, but, even if it is difficult to put words on the impressions felt during use, smartphone screens with boosted refresh rates provide a little extra that is particularly significant when you goes back to a standard tile.
Unsurprisingly, here we are faced with a screen offering very precise colorimetry from the start and that is quite good, because unlike Android, iOS does not offer any rendering adjustment capability. Apple renews its True Tone technology which adapts the color display to ambient light conditions. The panel is very bright and can be used outdoors without difficulty. We of course find the intrinsic qualities of the Amoled technology with perfect blacks and infinite contrast.
Performance: to infinity and beyond
The iPhone 12, and its derivatives like the iPhone 12 Mini and the 12 Pro, are based on the new platform developed in-house: the A14 Bionic … whose performance would be higher than that of a PS4. It is quite simply the first mobile processor to benefit from an engraving at only 5 Nm while the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 is engraved in 7 Nm. The Kirin 9900 of the new Huawei Mate 40 Pro is the second processor to benefit from 5 Nm.
The A14 Bionic initially conceals two high performance Firestorm cores and four Icestorme cores for common tasks. The platform also incorporates a new neural engine used for “Machine Learning” and presented as being 70% faster than that of the A13 Bionic. Capable of processing up to 11 billion operations per second, it now relies on 16 cores. Finally, a new graphics circuit is also part of the game with four cores. As usual, Apple does not communicate the operating frequencies of its processor or the amount of RAM loaded by the smartphone. However, we can tell you that the iPhone 12 has 4 GB of RAM, a figure that could be poor in the face of the tenors of the Android world which displays 8 or 12 GB of RAM … As for the frequency, it could be around 3 GHz.
Come on board with us for a little benchmarking session in which we placed the iPhone 12 against an iPhone 11 Pro Max, also running iOS 14. Let’s start with the essential AnTuTu. We obtained a score of 566,468 points compared to 503,226 points for the iPhone 11 Pro Max, a difference of 12.52% in favor of the latest arrival. Against Geekbench, the iPhone 12 obtains 1,588 points in single-core and 3,884 points in multi-core against respectively 1,337 and 3,239 points for its predecessor, a difference of 18.77 and 20.28%. We then continue with 3DMark Single Shot Extreme which focuses on the video game capabilities of the smartphone. Apple’s newest addition is 5,266 points, 25.98% better than the iPhone 11 Pro Max. We can therefore say that we find differences substantially equivalent to those announced by the brand. Of course, it’s always tricky to compare results to benchmarks run on a different operating system, and we’ll be careful not to do so.
In any case, in use, the iPhone 12 exhibits exceptional fluidity, a fluidity that we also find on the iPhone 11 Pro Max. This makes it difficult to really tell the difference in everyday use. However, by alternating the execution of certain tasks between the two generations, we do end up finding that the most demanding applications launch faster. Editing 4K video in iMovie will take a little less time. The iPhone 12 is thus a particularly pleasant daily companion, the famous optimization due to the fact that Apple also masters the software and hardware aspects of its smartphones is more relevant than ever. In addition, this great reserve of power will make it possible to face the next iOS evolutions without striking a blow. Finally, know that this smartphone is a racehorse facing the most demanding games and all without overheating.
Connectivity: 5G, yes, but …
Is Apple going to redo us its first iPhone with the integration of 5G? That is to say, appear to the general public as the inventor of the smartphone concept when products of this type existed long before at Sony Ericsson, Nokia or Handspring? In any case, here is finally this new generation of communication technology which comes at the right time since 5G should be available on the Orange network at the end of the year. Until we can test this famous 5G, we can only echo Apple’s arguments, which are the same as other smartphone manufacturers: faster downloads and considerably reduced latency. The iPhone 12 takes advantage of this to make Facetime video calls in 1080p. It also incorporates Smart Data technology which allows it to automatically switch from 5G to 4G in order to optimize its autonomy. The first teardowns carried out abroad made it possible to dismantle that Apple uses the 5G Qualcomm Snapdragon X50 modem (at least on the Asian and American models dissected) which equips Android mobiles under Snapdragon 865. This component is engraved in 7 Nm unlike to the X60 which has switched to 5Nm: it is therefore possible to reduce the power consumption of 5G, but we will have to wait for the next generation of iPhone.
But what has caused a lot of ink to flow is the lack of support for millimeter 5G on models sold outside the US, a support that materializes as a plastic window cut on the right edge of the iPhone to leave pass a network using a frequency band around 26 GHz (between 24.25 and 27.5 GHz to be precise) very sensitive to obstacles. Is this serious doctor? In absolute terms, no because the 5G millimeter will not be offered by French operators for 3 or 4 years… and again, if all goes well. So except if you travel frequently to the USA and to a few countries that have already deployed millimeter 5G, Switzerland for example, or if you keep your smartphones for 4 or 5 years, you should not suffer from this absence.
For 4G, Apple announces that its iPhone 12 supports speeds of the order of gigabit without further details. Of course, we also find Wi-Fi 6, already present on the iPhone 12, and Bluetooth 5.
Photo: Apple masters its subject
At a time when very high-end Android smartphones compete in terms of megapixels and number of cameras, the iPhone 12 can be stuck at first with its 12-megapixel sensors corresponding to a wide-angle and an ultra-wide -angle. As rumored a few months before the release of the device, there is therefore no 64 MP sensor on the iPhone 12.
The first sensor which constitutes the main camera however evolves compared to that present in the previous generation. The lens is still equivalent to a 26mm film, but it now consists of 7 lenses for extra sharpness. At the same time, its aperture which goes from f / 1.8 to f / 1.6. Apple announces better low-light performance improved by 27%, some of which can also be credited to a sensor with larger pixels. Optical stabilization is improved: it would thus be able to carry out 5,000 micro-adjustments per second. From a hardware point of view, the ultra wide-angle does not seem to be changing, however. Its 12-megapixel sensor different from the first is associated with an optics which is equivalent to a 13 mm film and which covers a field of 120 °. This displays an aperture of f / 2.4.
At the same time, Apple is improving the various digital processing operations which benefit from the passage of the much more powerful “Neural Engine” of the A14 Bionic platform. The night mode is further improved and above all it is now also available for the ultra wide-angle camera. The same goes for Deep Fusion technology which is supposed to improve textures when the light intensity deteriorates. Apple introduces Smart HDR 3, an updated Portrait mode, and more effective ultra-wide-angle-induced optical distortion correction. So much for the speech, place for action.
The sun having left the country, here we are for a photo shoot under the gray. First observation, despite its deficit in terms of the number of megapixels, the pictures taken with the iPhone 12 offer an excellent level of detail and sometimes better than certain competitors who seem better armed in this regard. Another great strength of the main camera of the iPhone 12 is the naturalness of the colors reproduced. Lovers of slightly saturated colors may sometimes be able to hold their own, but others will certainly find what they are looking for. In addition, exposure is completely controlled and the Smart HDR 3 acts most of the time with a welcome nuance. Most of the time then, because sometimes certain skies can become slightly surreal. The autofocus is as precise as it is fast, a speed that avoids some blurring.
As the ambient light level decreases, the better ability of the main camera to absorb more light is felt quickly. Indeed, while the iPhone 11 Pro Max switches to night mode, the iPhone 12 is delaying the deadline. Of course, it ends up using this famous night mode, but again the pause time is always slightly shorter than that determined automatically by its predecessor. The night shots are then certainly among the best that we have come across. They stand out above all for their sharpness with the added bonus of a white balance that manages the artificial lighting of our streets well. It’s impressive. Of course, the ultra-wide angle is slightly less comfortable in these conditions, but it takes a lot more than the competition. Moreover, it is much the same observation that emerges in broad daylight. The optical deformation is generally well controlled and the peak is appreciable. The chromatic rendering is very close to that of the main camera, in any case impossible to distinguish them with the eye.
And the lack of a telephoto lens which is reserved for the Pro versions? It can be annoying indeed, especially to freeze a moving subject or even a portrait. For a frozen scene, we were able to appreciate the high quality of the digital zoom offered by the iPhone 12. The result is astonishing in x2, but no miracle to be expected in x5 however. The portrait mode is rather successful. It combines precise clipping and balanced blur.
The front camera is based on a 12-megapixel sensor combined with f / 2.2 optics. Here too, the job is very well done with clear selfies and colors imbued with naturalness. The appearance of the skin is natural and the difficult conditions are well managed. We think for example of backlighting. The power of the A14 Bionic allows you to extend the night mode to the front camera for a pretty decent result.
Unlocking by facial recognition, the famous Face ID, is as fast and efficient as ever.
Video: it turns … well
The iPhones have been the gold standard for video capture quality for many generations. This is in part due to the power of their mechanics, which allows for smooth films with fast transitions. The iPhone 12 takes the quality of captured videos even further. The focus is right and its speed allows you to follow a moving subject with impressive ease. In difficult conditions, especially in shadows or reduced light, Apple draws a secret weapon: Dolby Vision. The iPhone films with this technology on a 10-bit color palette that is simply 60 times more colors than before. Dolby Vision will help unearth details lurking in the shadows and provide an almost cinematic rendering. Finally, not everyone is Terrence Malick or Max Pécas to please our dear editor. Note that the iPhone 12 is capable of filming in 4K (24, 30 or 60 frames per second) and of course in 1080p.
Last detail: audio side, the two speakers display a high power which allows to follow a video comfortably in a not too noisy environment. They do not saturate even when pushed almost fully and even offer a wide stage where we perceive the stereophony.
Autonomy: a virtual status quo
The different generations of iPhone have never really shone in this area even if the best has been done in this area with the previous generation. If Apple has officially communicated on the autonomy of its iPhone 12, the company never gives the battery capacity of its smartphones. On the other hand, the first dismantling carried out in the USA gives us the information: it is 2,815 mAh. A figure which no longer really impresses today most Android smartphones reach or exceed 4000 mAh. It’s even less than the iPhone 11 which has a 3,110 mAh battery. So we know a lot of where the newcomer’s weight and thickness reduction came from. In reality, however, we are not witnessing a decline in autonomy. It even looks slightly better with a full day of fairly sustained use. The reasons for this pleasant surprise are undoubtedly to be found on the side of the screen, because AMOLED is less energy intensive than the IPS and the finer engraving of the processor. Of course, this operating time remains purely indicative, as it always depends heavily on the use that is made of the smartphone. The chain of episodes of 10 seasons of Friends on Netflix took out the battery of iPhone 12-15e episode of season 2 either just over 2:20 p.m. of video playback.
An honorable performance therefore. Finally, it should be noted that the American testers confirmed what Apple had implied during its traditional Keynote: 5G is much more greedy than 4G with an autonomy that would be reduced by 15 to 20%.
Recharge: MagSafe, the return?
For charging, we saw that Apple no longer provided an AC adapter. Using the supplied cable and an iPad Pro’s 20W charger, it took 65 minutes to fully charge. Fair weather although we can see a lot better today. By switching to the charger of a MacBook Pro capable of delivering more than 60 W, the gain is minimal, 2 to 3 minutes saved, which is perfectly logical, because Apple announces that the iPhone 12 accepts a power of 20 W the best.
Wireless charging is of course there, but has a double face. Indeed, Apple introduced the MagSafe named after the magnetic plug used for years by the MacBooks of the brand. A great idea that many users regret since its abandonment, because it notably made it possible not to drop your computer when you tripped over your power cable. Here, the principle is different even if the name remains. Apple started from an observation: with traditional wireless charging systems, it often happens that the user places their smartphone incorrectly on it or that it moves for an x or y reason. We are particularly concerned, as the house cat is particularly keen on new technology if we are to believe its propensity to go to sleep on our smartphone while it is charging.
Result of the races, we left several times in the morning with an empty mobile. To remedy this, Apple devised a magnetic ring system that holds the iPhone 12 on the MagSafe charging station. This is supplied without an AC adapter and again we used the one from the iPad Pro. Under these conditions, the iPhone 12 can accept a charging power of 15 W. It takes just under 80 minutes to fully charge. Too bad this 15 W power cannot be achieved on another model of wireless charging pad. If you use a classic product, you will have to settle for 7.5 W. In any case, the promise of the MagSafe system is kept. The iPhone 12 is “guided” to the optimal position and then it does not move. The magnet is powerful, it supports the weight of the smartphone when we hang the station by its cable.