The iPhone 12 is an evolutionary rather than revolutionary product

iPhone 12 first impressions – Why I had to have it

October 28, 2020
5 mins read

Having been knocked out by Apple’s iPad Pro, TOBY WOOLLASTON couldn’t resist the temptation to buy the new iPhone 12.

Toby’s brand new iPhone 12 just out of its box

There are plenty of dyed-in-the-wool Apple fanboys out there. Am I one? Well, yes and no. I do consider myself to be brand agnostic but must admit that I have succumbed to the Apple eco-system for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it’s just so damned convenient sticking to one brand and having all my gadgets singing off the same song-sheet. And secondly, as my Android-loving son maintains, Apple gives you fewer options, but those fewer options are done well. And that’s a philosophy that sits well with me.


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So, a few days after getting out of bed for an early morning online pre-order, my iPhone 12 (non-Pro version) arrived at my doorstep firmly ensconced within a notably thinner-than-usual box. Thankfully, I had heard through the grapevine about Apple’s bold decision not to include their usual EarPods and charging brick in the box, claiming the environmental impact of shipping/producing and that most households are saturated with such items. Rather, this time I was met with only the regular sashay of written paraphernalia and a Lightning to USB-C cable (and the iPhone of coarse). Those unaware of Apple’s decision to leave said items out will most most likely be a little miffed. A green decision on Apple’s part or a sneaky cost-cutting grab cloaked in moral virtues? I think a bit of both. But regardless of whether you buy into Apple’s “eco-decision” or not, other manufactures will most likely follow suit soon enough.

So shiny and attractive it’s hard to put a case on it

After the box opening ceremony and the obligatory oohing and aahing, a shiny new blue iPhone was cupped in my hot little hands. Harkening back to the iPhone 4 days, the design has dramatically changed. Gone are the slippery rounded edges in favour of squared-off sides. It’s less pleasurable to hold, yes, but at least it doesn’t feel like a bar of soap about to slip out of your hands and onto the concrete footpath.

Yes, yes, I should be putting a case on immediately, but I can’t help but give myself at least a few weeks basking in the clean lines of this symmetrical beauty. Besides, Apple has included a fancy new ceramic hardened display in their entire lineup which is allegedly four times less likely to crack on impact and early reports show that it also is slightly more scratch-resistant than the previous model’s Gorilla Glass. However, the hardened glass is only on the front, so if there is screen cracking to be had, it’ll be on the back first.

I was upgrading from an iPhone XS Max, so the iPhone 12 felt, unsurprisingly, a lot lighter in my hand, but there is still a level of heft that implies build quality.

Apple’s dashing new iPhone 12

Design aside, what is immediately noticeable is perhaps the most used component – the camera. The 12’s rear camera includes a 12-megapixel sensor with an f/1.6 lens and a 12-megapixel ultra-wide-angle camera with an f/2.4 aperture and a 120-degree field of view. Pretty good. But what I do miss from my XS Max is the telephoto lens. It was a feature I used a lot, but now if I want to zoom I have to pinch-zoom, thus degrading the picture, or heaven forbid… use my legs to get closer. The latter is workable (and probably better for my middle-age spread), but the missing telephoto lens may be a good reason for photographers out there to opt for the more expensive iPhone 12 Pro model which has it included. But what remains is a significant step-up on the camera in previous models, most notably its ability to capture detail in low light.

According to Apple, there is a lot of behind-the-scene computational work going on and the iPhone 12’s stellar camera performance owes a lot to the heavy lifting done by the A14 Bionic CPU. I haven’t even come close to pushing this behemoth of engineering wizardry to its limits. It has a squillion cores and tops just about every benchmark comparison known to man.

The iPhone 12 box inviting an eager opening

Suffice to say, most of my day-to-day transactions with my iPhone doesn’t require such blazing power and the difference between the A14 and my old XS Max’s A12 for most of my day’s requirements is negligible. But it’s when you start pushing graphical boundaries such as on-device 4K video processing or graphically intense games that the A14 comes into its own,  and hoo boy, you really notice the difference then.

But no amount of power is worth its salt without a decent enough battery to run it, and although the iPhone 12 does have a slightly smaller battery than its predecessors, Apple maintains (conveniently) that the A14’s energy handling capabilities make up for this lack. I certainly had no problems getting through a day without suffering any battery anxiety.

The A14’s pixel-pushing power is presented on Apple’s Super Retina XDA display (just a fancy name for Apple’s OLED displays). OLED displays have been generously included across the whole iPhone 12 lineup and this decision was a major reason I didn’t feel the need to go for the Pro model. There’s nothing quite like watching a movie in bed at night on the iPhone’s gorgeous 6.1 inch OLED display (which if you hold the display close enough to you face, hey presto, you have a 75-inch screen) and having the blacks recede into the inky blackness of your darkened room. No complaints there.

The iPhone 12 is an evolutionary rather than revolutionary product

But did all the above improvements give me the wow-factor that I’ve become accustomed to from a new iPhone? Apple’s ability to innovate in recent years has changed. Currently, they feel like a company more focussed on refining and perfecting rather than inventing and innovating, and certainly, this phone feels like an evolutionary step rather than breakthrough.

At their announcement, Apple made a big song-and-dance about 5G (which is included in all iPhone 12s). It was a fuss that felt a little misguided. What they should’ve focussed on was the somewhat understated inclusion of MagSafe in their new iPhones. The simple concept of including magnets  within a phone’s housing is perhaps nothing new, nor is the QI standard of charging. In essence, Apple’s new MagSafe charger (sold separately) is simply a QI charger that attaches itself in perfect alignment to the iPhone. No need to jiggle your phone to get it into the right charging position (those who have woken to a dead phone will know my gripe here) – the MagSafe charger just snaps on perfect every time. But it’s not just the charger that has me excited. The iPhone’s MagSafe system also opens up a world of other possibilities such as native snap-on cases, camera mounts, car mounts, fridge mounts and I can’t wait to see how third-party manufacturers utilise this feature in the future.

But MagSafe aside, the iPhone 12’s wow-factor ultimately rests on what phone you are upgrading from. If like me, you are upgrading from a two-year-old model, then it will feel more incremental, and if you’re upgrading from anything more recent then it might even feel underwhelming. However, if you are arriving from anything earlier, then… wow.

  • For a more pessimistic view of the iPhone 12 check out Pat Pilcher’s views here.

Toby is currently a film reviewer for the New Zealand Herald and NZME’s regional media. A film enthusiast since Alien made him shit his pants as a nine-year-old, Toby recently completed a Masters thesis on the phenomenology of the cinema of Darren Aronofsky. So he is well qualified to tell you that phenomenology is a load of boring bollocks… but Aronofsky is quite interesting.

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