Apple iPhone 12 Pro Review
Quick verdict: The iPhone 12 Pro brings a number of quality-of-life improvements to Apple's iPhone family, but its positioning puts it awkwardly between the more affordable iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Mini and the power of the premium iPhone 12 Pro Max.
- Improved low-light camera performance
- A14 Bionic processor is a beast
- Ceramic Shield adds drop protection
- Battery life is inconsistent
- Best cameras saved for iPhone 12 Pro Max
- A small upgrade on the iPhone 12
- No charger or headphones in the box
Power, storage and battery
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Apple's yearly iPhone upgrades typically fall into one of two buckets. In some years, there's a radical redesign of the whole iPhone concept, along with new processors and cameras, and it's an easy matter to recommend them as upgrades for most users.
In other years, Apple only iterates lightly on design while bumping up camera and app performance, resting a little on its existing design.
In 2020, Apple's done something quite different, using what is mostly an older but still appealing design, bumping up the processor and camera capabilities nicely and finally bringing 5G compatibility to the iPhone, albeit in an ultimately uneven manner.
Being the middle child, a bit more pricey than the very similar Apple iPhone 12 or iPhone 12 Mini but less capable than what we're expecting out of the still-to-release iPhone 12 Pro Max puts the iPhone 12 Pro in a somewhat awkward position.
It's a great smartphone at a technical level, but it's perhaps not the iPhone that most users should actually buy.
- 6.1-inch OLED display
- iPhone 4 inspired design
- New colour choices
- Ceramic Shield glass
- Improved water resistance (but still not warranty covered)
- No charger or headphones in the box
The design of the Apple iPhone 12 Pro feels almost instantly recognisable if you've been an iPhone user for any span of time because while Apple touts it as a new design, shifting away from the rounded edges of the iPhone 11, it's basically a slightly softer and recoloured take on the iPhone 4 design. That means it's a slightly thicker phone but that can be an aid to grip, which is a plus.
The Apple iPhone 12 sells in four colours, and it's to Apple's credit that there's no sneaky holding back of colours from Australians as you get with some other makers.
You can get the iPhone 12 Pro in Graphite, Silver, Gold or Pacific Blue stainless steel finishes, and while the first three in that list fairly closely match with Apple's older "Space Grey", "Silver" and "Gold" types, they're a tad more glossy this year, especially that gold finish.
I'm a noted fan of blue as a phone finish, and the Pacific Blue model is what I've been testing with.
When Apple made the switch to start using OLED displays with the iPhone X, it kept some models around on LCD to differentiate them, but that's now no longer the strategy outside the iPhone SE 2020 model.
The iPhone 12 Pro (and the incredibly similar iPhone 12) features a 6.1-inch 2532x1170 "Super Retina" display.
Does anyone have Super Retinas? No, they don't, but while Apple's marketing language continues to be quite silly, the end result is a nicely colour-balanced display, although it's a little disappointing that Apple isn't upping the refresh rate for its Pro model phones.
We've seen many 90Hz or 120Hz OLEDs in premium and even mid-range Android phones this year, but across the iPhone range, it's still a journey to 60Hz town, even though Apple does run to 120Hz refresh rates in the Apple iPad Pro.
While the design has shifted physically from the iPhone 11 Pro, what's remained has been the substantial top notch that houses the front-facing selfie and FaceID cameras. Personally, it's not an issue that's ever troubled me all that much, but coming from any other phone where smaller notches or hole-punch cameras have fast become the norm, I can see why some might find it less attractive.
While it's not visually evident when you set up the iPhone 12 Pro, it's the recipient of Apple's new "Ceramic Shield" glass, which the company claims offers 4x drop performance. That doesn't mean it drops 4x faster, but that it's 4x more likely to survive a drop relative to the iPhone 11's glass.
Apple didn't supply me with a destroyable model to see just how accurate that claim was, and while I did drop the iPhone 12 Pro a few times experimentally without issue, it's important to realise that drop resistance doesn't mean that the iPhone 12 Pro is actually shatterproof. It just means it's less likely to get damaged in the event of a drop specifically. Apple doesn't make the same kinds of claims in terms of scratch resistance, and some independent tests suggest that it's really no stronger in this regard.
Where Apple has improved matters is in water resistance, with an IP68 rating for dunking in fresh lab water. That caveat on lab water is important because any other kind of fluid immersion is still a risky matter, and it's not as though Apple's changed its warranty stance locally either. Drown your iPhone 12 Pro and it won't be covered under warranty, even if its IP rating might suggest it should be fine.
It's been quite a while since Apple dropped headphone jacks on its iPhone range, but for 2020, it has gone even more minimal, removing the charger and actual headphones from the box as well. All you get is a SIM tool and a USB-C to Lightning cable in the box. Apple contends that users generally already have chargers and that it's more environmentally sound to omit them, but this does introduce some challenges.
If you're upgrading from a much older iPhone model, the USB end of your charger won't be USB-C but USB-A, so you'll need an adaptor or different charging cable altogether.
There's also the risk factor of cheaper chargers. Since Apple will still sell chargers as an add-on part, consumers may be tempted to just buy the cheapest model they can find online. That's a really bad idea because chargers that don't meet Australian electrical safety standards can present a real risk to your health and safety.
- Triple 12MP cameras
- Hugely improved low-light performance
- Great for video shooting
- May be worth waiting for the 12 Pro Max
The big point of difference between the Apple iPhone 12 Pro and the regular Apple iPhone 12 is in the cameras… or, really, the camera in its single form.
Both phones feature the exact same 12MP f/2.4 ultra-wide and 12MP f/1.6 wide lens cameras, but the iPhone 12 Pro adds in a third camera module in the form of a 12MP f/2.0 2x optical zoom telephoto lens alongside a LIDAR scanner.
When I say the same, I really do mean the same; iFixit's teardown of the iPhone 12/12 Pro reveals the same camera module in both with a plastic spacer on the iPhone 12 where the telephoto and LIDAR lenses sit in the iPhone 12 Pro.
This puts the iPhone 12 Pro in an interesting position in camera terms. Having that extra lens very much does give you more flexibility when taking shots because actual optical zoom is always better than digital zoom, but it's hardly the periscope lenses we see on competing Android phones.
You may not care about that because you're solidly wedded to your iPhone, but then there's the upcoming iPhone 12 Pro Max, which ups the ante in telephoto terms with its own 12MP f/2.2 2.5x optical zoom lens. If iPhone Pro level photography is your key interest area, it's hard not to think that this is the iPhone you should wait for.
That being said, the iPhone camera experience remains one of the easiest to use in the market, especially if you like guided and controlled experiences. The two big new areas of improvement for 2020 are in low-light and video-shooting modes, with support for Dolby Vision HDR video shooting at up to 60fps in 10-bit 4K HDR.
That is an area of difference for the iPhone 12 Pro over the regular iPhone 12, which can only manage 30fps in the same circumstances, and it does show up if you're shooting scenes with plenty of contrast, as you'd expect.
The iPhone 12 Pro even manages in-phone editing via iMovie or Clips, which could be quite handy if you're shooting on the go for simple social purposes, although pretty clearly the actual pros are more likely to then drop footage into a more fully featured editing suite.
The biggest improvement in performance comes in the low-light area, with that f/1.6 12MP wide lens. In past years, Apple has talked a big game when it came to low-light performance, but it ultimately was left far behind by other competing flagships and even by some mid-range phone options in the Android space.
Apple's hype is predictably huge, but how does it compare in real-world usage? I grabbed the premium phone cameras I had to hand alongside the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro Max and headed to a nearby park on a dark and rainy night to grab some comparative shots.
All photos were taken handheld to avoid tripod issues, specifically the way that Apple and Google take over exposure times if they work out they're sitting on a tripod, which would skew the results markedly.
I would have liked to shoot with the exceptional Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra, but I didn't have one in use at the time, so to represent Samsung, I had to opt for the much cheaper Samsung Galaxy S20 FE:
That's a solid shot and a good indication of what high mid-range Android phones are capable of right now.
Google prices the Google Pixel 5 in the same price bracket, but uses a lot more AI for the heavy camera lifting:
As we usually see, the Pixel's approach to colour choices leads to a slightly oversaturated image, although you may like that style.
Then there's the cheaper iPhone 12, the first of the new generation to get tested this way:
That's already a way better shot than I could manage from the iPhone 11 Pro Max under the same circumstances, so Apple's low-light claims are looking good.
On to the iPhone 12 Pro:
Yeah, that's a good shot right there, and it's way better than I've seen out of Apple's iPhone range in the past.
Is it the best you can get?
Without a Galaxy Note20 Ultra to compare, I can't make the direct Samsung comparison, and I was similarly lacking in an Oppo Find X2 Pro for its own low-light shootout.
What I did have was the recently reviewed Huawei P40 Pro+, a phone with its own issues but an exceptional camera. Rather predictably, it wiped the floor with everything else I was shooting with that night on a straight low-light basis:
While it's not quite the world-beater that Apple says it is in a head-to-head battle, it's great to see an iPhone that's truly competitive again in low-light shooting, especially as Apple's "Night" mode now extends to the other lenses.
On the telephoto front, 2x optical isn't an amazing inclusion, but it can enable some improved shots, like this one taken in my carport:
The other new inclusion – if you don't count the iPad Pro for photography, and really you shouldn't – is a LIDAR sensor for depth purposes present in the Pro models.
While that has AR applications, when it comes to photography, Apple claims that it allows for even more sensitive depth perception in shots, which may go some way to explaining the differences between the low-light iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro shots above.
As always, shooting with the default iPhone camera app is a highly controlled experience, but the range of camera apps, including just a few at launch that actually use that LIDAR sensor such as Polycam can make a difference to the shots you can take.
However, there's still a challenge here waiting in the wings in the form of the iPhone 12 Pro Max, and if you are actually in the "Pro" camp, it's certainly going to be worth your while waiting for our full review before making your choice.
iPhone 12 Pro Sample Photos:
- A14 processor wipes the floor with competitors
- Still not much that needs that level of power
- 5G, but Aussies don't get the best 5G model
Apple has invested heavily in silicon R&D over the years, and for the past couple of years, it has absolutely ruled the market in terms of chip performance.
In a straight benchmark sense, we still haven't seen an Android phone outperform 2019's Apple A13 Bionic chip, but in 2020, it has been replaced across the iPhone 12 line with the even more powerful Apple A14 Bionic.
Apple could have rested on its laurels somewhat, but that's clearly not the game plan.
While Apple doesn't formally talk about specifics, the teardowns already run on the iPhone reveal that it's paired up with 6GB of RAM, compared to 4GB on the iPhone 12. As always, it's a fixed storage phone, and this year, it is available in 128GB, 256GB or 512GB capacities.
So how does the iPhone 12 Pro compare against the flagship market? Exceptionally well. Here's how it compares using Geekbench 5's CPU test:
Predictably the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro run neck and neck in this test because they're running on the exact same processor. While they're yet to be tested, we can expect similar performance from the iPhone 12 Mini and iPhone 12 Pro Max as well.
In graphics terms, the iPhone 12 Pro is also an impressive performer. I've included 3DMark's new Wild Fire benchmark test here, although so far we only have a handful of test results using this new cross-platform benchmark to show how it compares against last year's flagship iPhone.
In future-proofing terms, the iPhone 12 Pro looks good, but then that same middle-child problem pops up because the performance gap between it and the vanilla iPhone 12 is basically non-existent.
The added complication here is that while the A-series processors are utter performance beasts, there has really been very little to date that particularly even pushes the A13 Bionic let alone the A14 Bionic on the iOS platform.
There's more of a case for that kind of power on the iPad Pro if you're after a productivity machine, and clearly the "Apple Silicon" push for upcoming MacBooks may use that extra grunt – but right now, it's a huge honking engine in need of a use case to some extent.
The other big inclusion in the iPhone 12 family this year is 5G, coming to Apple's platforms for the first time. That's partly a case of Apple biding its time for mature 5G networks – that's the public line – and the practical reality that Apple bet heavily in Intel modems to bring it 5G, only to have to switch very late in the day to Qualcomm when Intel gave up on the modem business entirely.
Strip down the iPhone 12 Pro and you'll find a Qualcomm X55 5G modem inside, same as many competing Android 5G handsets this year.
Actual 5G speeds will vary by carrier and location, but in my own tests, the iPhone 12 Pro has performed within the range that I've seen for 5G devices in Australia this year.
Sometimes it'll boom ahead of 4G in the same location, and sometimes, it's neck and neck. That's at least partly due to the fact that in Australia we're still only using sub-6 type 5G, while we wait for mmWave networks to roll out in either late 2021 or 2022, pending government spectrum auctions.
There's a slight sting in the tail here if you're keen on 5G because the iPhone 12 Pro models sold in Australia are only sub-6 capable, so even when those mmWave networks roll out, you won't be able to make use of their much higher potential speeds.
While that's true of a lot of 5G phones sold in Australia right now – but not quite all, with Google's new Pixel 5 touting dual sub-6/mmWave compatibility for example – where it stings for Australian users is that Apple makes a model of the iPhone 12 Pro that has both standards in play right now.
It's just that it won't sell it officially outside the USA, citing the rollout of mmWave there as the reason why only US iPhone buyers get that option.
As reasons go – and I won't make any fans at Apple for saying this – that line of reasoning sucks, big time.
Yes, you can't access mmWave here in Australia just yet, but Apple's selling a better product at much the same price – I've already crunched the numbers and practicalities of importing an American 5G iPhone 12 – and won't offer a model with some solid future-proofing advantages here simply because it won't do so.
If the iPhone 12 Pro was a budget model phone that excuse might carry some weight, but Apple's consistently in the top price tier for its flagship phones, and the fact that its flagship model is simply slower and compatibility crippled in most markets is not good for consumers, especially those who may want to hold onto a phone for more than a couple of years.
- iPhone battery life is wildly erratic in early testing
- No charger in the box
- MagSafe charging is quite fun
For the longest time, Apple's iPhone lines had a reputation for lousy battery life, not helped by the company's obsession with phones that were thinner seemingly every single generation. The slimmer you go, the less capacity for actual batteries you get, but the switch back to that thicker iPhone 4 style, combined with the fact that 2019's iPhone 11 Pro Max had genuinely great battery life gave me a lot of hope for the iPhone 12 Pro.
While I've only had a relatively short testing period at the time of writing this review, it appears that Apple is at least somewhat falling back into its bad old habits. Apple never talks battery specifics, but again iFixit's teardown can inform us, revealing a 2815mAh battery underneath the Ceramic Shield glass.
By flagship standards, that's positively pokey and not a little disappointing given the extra physical space that Apple's given itself this year.
The first step in evaluating the iPhone 12 Pro's battery life was to run it through our standard battery test, running a full screen, Full HD YouTube video for an hour from full battery at maximum brightness and moderate volume.
What I look for here are phones that can push above the 90% battery remaining barrier, because below that is typically a sign of a phone that won't even last a single day. Here's how the iPhone 12 Pro compared using that test:
That 90% figure puts the iPhone 12 Pro directly on the cusp of being a problem in day-to-day usage. It's also super disappointing to see it dip so markedly compared to what the iPhone 11 Pro Max can manage, although I will have to wait to pit the iPhone 12 Pro Max against it for a more fair comparison.
At an engineering level, it's a sign of how heavily Apple can optimise battery life given it's running on such a small battery – but consumers shouldn't care about that. You should care about whether the iPhone 12 Pro will go flat before the end of the day.
My somewhat qualified take on that is that it might not.
To be entirely upfront, this is based off a week's heavy usage with the iPhone 12 Pro as my daily driver, and over that span, I've seen it get perilously low on some days, weirdly hot on others (not a good battery sign) and generally capable on other days. It's certainly not a battery powerhouse, and it seems the price you pay for that expanded A14 Bionic power may well be in overall battery life.
The iPhone 12 Pro still uses Apple's own Lightning connector, but the big change this year is that all you get in the box is a Lightning to USB cable. There's no supplied power adaptor, although Apple does sell those, alongside its newest innovation, a take on Qi charging that it's dropping its older MagSafe brand on.
MagSafe used to be the name for some genuinely nifty magnetic charging cables for MacBooks, but MagSafe 2020 is instead a magnetic wireless charging concept for iPhones.
The iPhone 12 will still work with regular Qi chargers, and it'll even bump up to 15W chargers this year, which is pleasant. MagSafe simply adds a magnetic connector on a Qi charging plate to ensure easy lining up of the phone with the charger as well as the near guarantee that it will stay in place while charging.
Look, here's an iPhone 12 Pro perilously hanging off a MagSafe charger, just to show it can be done.
Don't try this at home, folks. I'm a professional.
Should you buy the Apple iPhone 12 Pro?
- Buy it if you can't match the iPhone 12 Pro Max price and you're upgrading from a much older iPhone.
- Don't buy it if your iPhone is less than two years old or you don't need the telephoto lens.
Is the iPhone 12 Pro better than 2019's iPhone 11 Pro? At a technical level, for sure. The cameras are better, the processor is better and the design is both nicely refined and toughened.
Is the iPhone 12 Pro a phone you should buy?
That's a much harder question to answer, and I'm ultimately not of the opinion that the effective middle child of the iPhone 12 family is a particularly great option, even if you did exclude Android handsets from the equation.
If you want the best in Apple's cameras, there's not much doubt you should wait for the iPhone 12 Pro Max.
If you want the best in Apple performance, the gap between the iPhone 12 Pro and the iPhone 12 is basically non-existent.
The difference there lies in a RAM upgrade you won't likely feel in real-world use and the inclusion of telephoto and LIDAR lenses… and again, the Pro Max feels like a better bet there.
Apple's been pushing AR as the next big thing for years now, but it has yet to come to fruition, leaving LIDAR as neat technology that doesn't feel super necessary right now.
That makes the iPhone 12 only really advisable if you absolutely must have that telephoto lens but can't match the iPhone 12 Pro Max asking price, and even then only if you're coming from an iPhone with a good few years on the clock.
Pricing and availability
PriceThe iPhone 12 Pro is available now in Australia in 128GB, 256GB and 512GB configurations in Graphite, Silver, Gold or Pacific Blue finishes.
Where to buy
It's also available on contract terms through the major network carriers; you can check out iPhone 12 Pro plans below:
Power, storage and battery
Images: Alex Kidman