Our iPhone 12 thoughts so far: Camera upgrades, lidar, and that new design
The iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Mini, iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max are here. Apple's new lineup features a new design, "ceramic shield" displays, lidar, new colors, camera upgrades and more.
Patrick HollandManaging Editor
Patrick Holland has been a phone reviewer for CNET since 2016. He is a former theater director who occasionally makes short films. Patrick has an eye for photography and a passion for everything mobile. He is a colorful raconteur who will guide you through the ever-changing, fast-paced world of phones, especially the iPhone and iOS. He used to co-host CNET's I'm So Obsessed podcast and interviewed guests like Jeff Goldblum, Alfre Woodard, Stephen Merchant, Sam Jay, Edgar Wright and Roy Wood Jr.
Patrick's play The Cowboy is included in the Best American Short Plays 2011-12 anthology. He co-wrote and starred in the short film Baden Krunk that won the Best Wisconsin Short Film award at the Milwaukee Short Film Festival.
As far as price, the iPhone 12 Mini starts at $699, the same as last year's 11. The iPhone 12 starts at $799. Prices for the 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max stay at $999 and $1,099 respectively. (See the chart below for a full price breakdown, including international prices.) Meanwhile the iPhone 11 dropped to $599, the
is $499 and an iPhone SE starts at $399.
Between the prices, the choice in sizes, support for 5G and the cameras there's a lot to be excited and confused about. Here's a breakdown of all the major features on the new iPhones and what makes them different.
Watch this: iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Mini, Pro and Pro Max explained
iPhone 12 gets squared-off design like iPhone 5
All four phones have a new hardware design defined by squared-off edges similar to those on the
. You could even say Apple took inspiration from the iPhone 5, 5S and original 2016 SE. It kind of looks like the bodies of the iPhone 11 and the iPhone 5 had a baby, and that's not a bad thing.
Those boxy edges house the antennas for 5G and are made from aluminum on the iPhone 12 and 12 Mini. They're stainless steel on the 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max.
Compared to the iPhone 11, the 12 sounds like a Radiohead song: It's smaller, thinner, lighter. Sadly, no mention from Apple about killing moths or putting boiling water on ants.
The 12 and 12 Mini come in black, white, product red, mint green and dark blue and the 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max come in silver, graphite, gold (shiny C-3PO gold) and Pacific blue finishes. The Pros also have a textured matte glass back like the one found on the
Baseline iPhone 12 and 12 Mini models come with 64GB of storage. I'll be honest, I was kind of hoping this would be higher, especially since the 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max start out with 128GB of storage.
Ceramic shield displays could be tough to crack
The iPhone 12 and 12 Pro both have a 6.1-inch OLED display. While the body of the iPhone 12 Pro and last year's 11 Pro are roughly the same size, the 11 Pro only had a 5.8-inch screen. The 12 Pro Max also has a bigger display compared to the 6.5-inch screen on the
11 Pro Max
. At 6.7 inches, the 12 Pro Max has the largest iPhone screen ever. Then there's the iPhone 12 Mini and its 5.4-inch screen, which is larger than the display on the iPhone SE. But without those iPhone 8-esque bezels, chin and forehead, the body of the iPhone 12 Mini is actually smaller. I'm particularly excited about the 12 Mini.
All four phones have a ceramic shield display that's made by infusing glass with nano ceramic crystals to make them more durable. Apple claims these displays have 4x better drop performance which could mean your iPhone has a better chance of surviving a drop out of your pocket. I look forward to seeing how these phones fare in a CNET drop test.
iPhone 12: To 5G or not 5G
Like most Android flagship phones released this year, all four iPhones support 5G. They support mmWave 5G which has some of the fastest speeds available right now, but you need to be pretty close to a 5G tower to use it. The phones also support low-band and midband 5G, which offer a longer range but less impressive speeds. Think of the difference as kind of like AM/FM radio -- kind of.
Beyond hardware support for 5G and working with carriers, Apple optimized
to be faster and more efficient when on a 5G connection. The new iPhones also have a "Smart Data" mode that toggles between 5G and
to save on battery life.
If you're interested in getting any of the iPhones 12 solely because of 5G, I'd recommend checking out which carriers offer 5G in your area, what the speeds are like and what the carrier's plans are for building 5G out further.
LTE speeds also get a boost: The new phones are able to support data speeds up to 2Gbps.
Lidar, Smart HDR 3 and a new camera
Normally, new cameras would be the biggest feature of any iPhone launch. And while the new design and 5G will get a lot of attention, the cameras deserve some as well. The main wide-angle camera on all four iPhones has a new lens with an aperture of f/1.6 and a new larger sensor. Apple claims this combo offers 27% improvement in low-light situations.
The ultrawide-angle camera on all the phones gets a boost via software to help correct distortion better.
Then there's the tale of two different telephoto cameras on the iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max. The 12 Pro has a similar 52-millimeter lens as last year's iPhone 11 Pro. But the 12 Pro Max gets a new longer 65-millimeter lens which offers a 2.5x optical zoom instead of the 2x optical zoom on the 12 Pro.
Both Pro models also have lidar, which stands for Light Detection and Ranging. It will help AR apps detect objects, depth and spaces. But the camera can also use lidar for improving autofocus with photos and video, especially in low-light. Lidar even allows for Portrait Night Mode photos. (Here's everything you need to know about lidar on the iPhone 12 Pro phones.)
All of the cameras are powered by the A14 Bionic chip. According to Apple the new brains of the iPhone 12 family are 50% faster than any other phone sold today. The A14 brings Smart HDR 3, which optimizes the dynamic range of photos, identifies scenes like skies and optimizes for people's skin and hair. Smart HDR 3 and Night Mode work on the wide, ultra-wide and selfie camera. Deep Fusion which optimizes pictures on a pixel level to reduce noise and improve detail is now on every camera including the telephoto ones on the iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max.
All four phones can record video in Dolby Vision HDR which automatically color grades your videos in the Dolby Vision standard. The Pro models support Dolby Vision HDR at all settings up to 4K 60fps and the 12 and 12 Mini support it up to 4K 30fps. All of this happens inside the Photos app which is kind of amazing.
The 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max will also be able to record a special raw photo file Apple calls "ProRAW." The idea is to provide the flexibility of a raw photo file but with the smarts of computational photography. This feature that will come out later.
I'm glossing over a lot of detail with regards to photo and video capture. But once we get our hands on these phones, we'll go into more depth.
Wireless charging meets MagSafe minus the power adapter
Remember MagSafe from your
? If you tripped over the charging cable it would pop out, so as to not bring your MacBook crashing to the ground. The technology centered around cleverly placed magnets. To improve your wireless charging experience Apple used specially placed magnets to better align your phone's position to improve charging efficiency.
There is a new line of MagSafe accessories including a charger that supports 15-watt wireless charging and cases that allow you to charge through them better. Apple even showed off a detachable wallet.
Apple is omitting the wired earpods and power adapter that would normally come in the box, but there is a fast USB-C to lighting cable included. That said, one of the arguments Apple made for not including the earpods and power brick was that there are so many already in existence. And I kind of agree. Except, how many people have a USB-C power plug at home? I have a bunch of old 5W ones but those were for USB-A.
I am excited to get my hands on the new iPhones and test them for an in-depth review.
iPhone 12 specs vs. iPhone 12 Mini, iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max