The iPhone 12 – is it worth the hype?

Does the reality of the hot and very good-looking new iPhone 12 live up to the hype? PAT PILCHER isn’t convinced.

 

Apple’s hot and hyped new iPhone 12

You’d have to be living under a rock to have missed Apple’s iPhone 12 launch. Their newest iPhones are hard to miss, given the sheer amount of hype as the media collectively wet themselves to heap praise onto them. The burning question in the back of my mind is this: Do the new iPhones really warrant such slavish hype?

If it was based on looks alone, the answer to this question would be a resounding “yes” as the iPhone12 line up is undisputedly attractive. While the design isn’t terribly original or incredibly innovative, Apple has added an edge-to-edge screen. Apart from an unsightly and largeish front camera notch, it looks great. From a comfort perspective, the sharp edges of the squarish chassis dig into one’s hand with extended use. These minor gripes aside, Apple’s designers know how to crank out good looking hardware.

 

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While there is little doubt that the iPhone 12 is beautiful looking hardware, its economics are anything but. Prices for the cheapest model with the lowest specifications are a wallet shock-inducing $1349 – about what you’d pay for an Android flagship phone with top tier specs. If you want to purchase the top of the line spec and a model with the larger screen, plus Apple Care insurance, you’re looking at $2048. Ouch!

Is the new iPhone worth the hype and the price?

It isn’t just the up-front purchase price, either. Apple phones might work brilliantly with Apple stuff. The flip side is that you’re then tied into the Apple ecosystem for apps and services which typically commands a steep premium for what is often available free of charge with Android.

Apple has made a lot of noise about 5G. It is after all the latest mobile network technology, and we have been bombarded with the hype around it for years. The trouble is that so far, 5G’s performance in New Zealand isn’t really anything to write home about as it typically offers 4.5G speeds in the few locations where it is available. Additionally, 5G is rapidly becoming a check-box default with Android, so why all the hype with the iPhone?

One area where Apple is offering genuinely exciting innovation that’s superior to most other smartphones is with its A14 Bionic CPU. It’s not only significantly faster than the CPU’s used in most Android phones, but its GPU is, according to Apple, 50 percent faster than that in the Bionic A13. Benchmark tests reveal it is an incredibly fast piece of silicon and is battery friendly to boot. But here’s the thing. How fast a CPU do we really need? Except for ultra-affordable budget smartphones, the CPU’s on most phones are plenty fast. You can buy an Android phone for half the price of the iPhone 12, and it’ll be more than capable of running any app you’d care to throw at it.

The camera on the iPhone 12 is disappointing

Then there are the iPhone 12’s cameras. iPhones generally have excellent cameras, and this time around the big camera news was that the iPhone 12 can shoot video in Dolby Vision at a 4K resolution. Stripping away the marketing speak, Dolby Vision is a type of HDR (high dynamic range) video/image processing. HDR offers improved colour depth to tease out more detail in videos and photos. Once again, Android phones have had HDR video and photo capabilities for ages. Additionally, the iPhone 12’s rear shooter also lacks the periscopic zoom capabilities of Oppo, Huawei and Samsung. This means that its zoom capabilities are limited to the pixelated blurred awfulness that is a digital zoom.

Amazingly, while most phone manufacturers realised that adding more storage was a cheap way of making their phones more compelling, Apple missed the memo. As I pointed out at the beginning of this story, the iPhone 12 Mini (the most affordable model) with the lowest storage spec (64GB) costs about the same as an Android flagship with many times more storage. There is also no option to upgrade the storage of any iPhone. Where most Android phones can take a Micro SD card to bolster their storage, there is no Micro SD slot on the iPhone 12, despite its steep sticker price.

The iPhone 12’s display is an impressive beast thanks to the inky deep blacks, bright whites, and vivid on-screen colours you get using OLED technology. But Apple has wrapped it up in marketing speak, calling it a “Retina” display. In plain English, this is all about the density of pixels per inch on the phone’s screen. More densely-packed pixels make for more detailed on-screen images. It’ll also give you less pixelated fonts and smoother lines. Again, a high pixel per inch count is something most flagship Android phones have had for ages.

The iPhone 12 is overpriced but looks great

Gamers, however, lose out with the iPhone 12’s display. While the range and variety of games available via Apple’s app store are huge, the iPhone 12’s display only refreshes at 60hz. It lacks the 90-120hz refresh rate (e.g. the frequency with which a screen will re-draw itself) that is becoming commonplace on flagship Android phones. A 90hz or better refresh rate makes for silky smooth on-screen action. Even something as simple as scrolling can look so much better at a higher refresh rate.

So, do the new iPhones warrant all the hype? We’re dubious. Stripping away the shiny marketing, speak and media hype, the reality is that the iPhone 12 just isn’t all that innovative. Most of its big selling points have been available for some time on Android phones at a considerably lower price point.

The iPhone 12 will appeal to those tied into the Apple ecosystem

Technical stuff aside, the big thing to remember when choosing between Apple and Android is this. If you use Mac computers, iPads, and other Apple widgets, buying an iPhone makes some sense. That said, the iPhone 11 or iPhone XS may offer far superior value for money given the ultra-steep sticker price of the iPhone 12. If you’re not already tied to the Apple ecosystem, my advice is to look at Android and other non-Apple options, which offers better bang per buck value for money.

  • For a more enthusiastic “first-look” at the iPhone 12 check out Toby Woollaston’s review here.

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