This past Tuesday, on October 13, during their “Hi-Speed,” virtual keynote event, Apple unveiled not one, not two, but four new iPhones. For the 2020 iPhone line up, we have iPhone 12 mini, iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro, and the iPhone 12 Pro Max.
Now, most people do not and should not upgrade their iPhone every year. for people upgrading from older iPhones – 6s, 7, 8, or X-Series, iPhone 12 will have some really nice improvements. There is even something for tech enthusiasts who upgrade every year just so that they have the shiny new thing. So, let’s get into what Apple announced.
iPhones 12 – More Choices Than Ever
iPhone 12 comes in new colors for 2020. Apple has gone all in on their new iPhone 12 Blue and iPhone 12 Pro Pacific Blue colors. iPhone 12 also comes in a new (PRODUCT)RED, and Green, as well as the old standards Black and White. Unlike the White iPhone 4, the While iPhone 12 is on track to launch at the same time as the Black one. What a difference 10 years make. For the iPhone 12 Pro models, the available colors are Silver (White), Graphite (replacing Space Grey), a 14-karet Gold (filling in for a pink Rose Gold), and the previously mentioned new Pacific Blue replacing last year’s Midnight Green. I mostly like this year’s colors. They are in line with the new colors for the 2020 iPad Air and Watch Series 6. I like this year’s Gold color over last year’s iPhone 11’s Yellow. For me, Blue has been the biggest upset. I really like the iPhone 12 Blue – I’ve always been a fan of navy blue – the Pacific Blue of the iPhone 12 Pro is a letdown. When it comes to color verses features, features win, and so I’ll miss out on the fantastic looking Blue and order my iPhone 12 Pro in Silver again this year. Your milage will vary based on personal preferences and the importance of color as a personal expression.
Apple announced four new iPhone 12 models this year in three different size classes. iPhone 12 ($799US starting base price) is the new iPhone that I recommend that most people buy. It offers the best balance of features, price, and performance. From there the choices, let a little more difficult. The iPhone 12 Pro ($999US starting base price) offers an improved camera system with the inclusion of a telephoto camera, 4x optical zoom, the ability to record 60fps rather than 30fps Dolby Vision HDR video, and a LiDAR depth sensing scanner on the back. The LiDAR scanner will help with faster auto-focus in low light conditions and be able to make 3D maps of the environment like the 2020 iPad Pros can. Unlike last year’s iPhone 11 Pro, the iPhone 12 Pro is slightly taller with a 6.1″ diagonal screen compared with a 5.8″ screen on the 11 Pro. iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro have the exact same dimensions, with the iPhone 12 being slightly lighter, weighing in at 164g verses 189g.
The new iPhone 12 mini and Pro Max round out the iPhone 12 line with features that are, in my opinion, designed for specific groups of Apple customers. The iPhone 12 mini is the least expensive iPhone this year, which will automatically made it popular, but is focused on customers who preferred the smaller size of the iPhone 5-series on which this year’s iPhone design is inspired by. iPhone mini has a 5.4″ diagonal screen which is larger than the iPhone SE (1st Generation) 4″ screen, the 4.7″ screen on the iPhone SE (2nd Generation), but smaller than the 6.1″ screen on the iPhone 11 and the X-Series iPhones. So, while iPhone 12 mini is the smallest screen size this year, is fits in between the iPhone SE (2nd Generation) and the iPhone 12 in terms of screen size and physical dimensions.
iPhone 12 Pro Max, on the other hand, is the largest iPhone in the iPhone 12 family, with a gigantic 6.7″ diagonal Super Retina XDR display. With a larger screen and the highest screen resolution (2778 x 1284 at 458ppi) in the line, the iPhone 12 Pro Max will be able to show you the most content on a single screen or give you the best options for zooming up the user interface and screen text, since we’re all getting older. iPhone 12 Pro Max is equipped with a larger battery and 6GB of RAM as compared to the 4GB of RAM on the non-Pro iPhone 12 models. Unlike recent iPhone X-series iPhones where the Pro and the Pro Max have the same camera system, the iPhone 12 Pro Max returns to the “bigger is better” mindset of the iPhones 6, 6s, and 7-series where the larger Plus models had an improved camera system over their smaller siblings. I’m sure that will be a bummer for some iPhone X-series users who liked the idea that both iPhones had the same camera system and they were only picking the size that they preferred. This year, the size verses camera specs decision will be harder, with some people opting for the tradeoff for a smaller form factor. In my opinion, most customers won’t notice the difference in the cameras systems, so if you perform the iPhone X/iPhone 11 Pro size, you won’t be missing out. For people who take a page from Tina Turner’s playbook and want “Simply the Best”, in 2020, that will be the high-end iPhone 12 Pro Max this year.
Storage space may be a consideration for you depending on how much you are willing to spend. The iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini both start at 64GB of storage space while the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max start at 128GB. While I am glad that we have left the dark ages of 16GB and 32GB base iPhone configurations behind, if you like to take a lot of photos and shoot lots of video, 64GB may get cramped if you also like to keep other digital media stored locally on your iPhone. Unless you stream everything, I recommend that almost everyone upgrade to 128GB of storage. Based on my usage, 256GB is the sweet spot. Heavy users who have to have virtually of their stuff with them all of the time will want to dial up the maximum 512GB storage tier on iPhone Pro models.
With the introduction of the 2020 handsets, Apple has completely ditched LCD displays and opted to put Super Retina XDR OLED screens in all four version of iPhone 12. This means that anyone purchasing an iPhone 12 will have a display that is able to better display photos and videos that have darker and lighter areas making for images that look more vivid with P3 wide color on a High Dynamic Range (HDR) and organic light-emitting diodes (OLED) panel. I particularly enjoy the deep, inky blacks that OLED and HDR provide when watching videos in a darkened room without the white light of an LCD bleeding through the screen.
iPhone 12 Pro models also sport a new, ever so slightly thinner bezel, to which I can discern a difference in from product photography, and, in my opinion, the much better looking polished stainless steel frame rather than the aluminum bands on the non-Pro models. And thankfully, thankfully, the return of the flat side industrial design that was originally introduced on the you’re-holding-it-wrong iPhone 4, and refined on the iPhone 5, and most recently re-refined on the iPad Pros from 2018. I always felt that the flat edge design was much easier to pick an iPhone that is lying flat on a table than the rounded edge iPhones.
The new iPhone 12 models are packed full of new features. iPhone 12 comes with a new, more durable screen glass that was developed in cooperation with Corning, called Ceramic Shield. According to Apple, the infusion of ceramic crystals into the glass, makes the display more resistant to breakage from drops while keeping the glass covering crystal clear. Parents of teenagers and drop prone adults who like to go caseless should feel better about Ceramic Shield. While I applaud anything the makes expensive smartphones made out of glass front and back panels more durable, I plan on slapping a Spigen EZ Fit GLAS.tR Slim screen protector on my new iPhone 12 Pro Max because I can’t stand the idea of scuffs or scratches in my iPhone screen. This is also a really good place to mention that the new Ceramic Shield glass is only on the front of the iPhone 12. The back glass remains unchanged from last year. And, if repair pricing for iPhone 12 models follow those of iPhone 11 and iPhone X-series devices, the back glass will be more expensive than the front glass to replace since the rear of the iPhone also contains the wireless charging coil. If you iPhone travels around au naturel, as in without a case, or you are prone to having butter fingers, I suggest you also add an AppleCare+ plan to your purchase.
iPhone 12 is also powered by the Apple A14 Bionic System on a Chip (SoC) which is packed with new improvements. First off, the A14 is built on Taiwan Semiconductor’s new 5nm fabrication process. Smaller fab sizes generally relate to better power efficiencies. Also on board are six CPU cores, two for high performance operations, and four for energy-efficient cores. Apple doesn’t like to talk about RAM as in Memory, on their iOS/iPadOS devices like iPhone and iPad. But people who are in a position to know report that the A14 Bionic has 4GB of RAM in the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini models and bumps up to 6GB of RAM for iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max. Apple has also improved the year-over-year performance of the GPU engine as well as the Neural Engine, the component that powers all of the on-device machine learning features of iOS and iPadOS 14.
Charging your iPhone is both all-new and the same this year. You can continue to charge your iPhone 12 with your existing Lightening cables and inductive Qi chargers. New in iPhone 12 is a new form of Qi inductive charging called MagSafe, reusing the name of the magnetic charging systems before the switch to USB-C charging. MagSafe addresses one of the consistent complaints that I see with regard to Qi charging which is that if you do not precisely align the iPhone with the charging mat, your iPhone won’t charge. MagSafe works by using magnets to auto-align the iPhone with the charging coil inside the inductive charger. This is very similar to the charging system on Apple Watch, and my old fav, the Palm Pre and Touchstone charger. The new MagSafe system can charge iPhone 12 models faster than previous generation Qi chargers, however, to obtain the new 15w charging speeds, you will need to purchase a new MagSafe charger to do it. The stock 1-meter Apple MagSafe charger will set you back $39. What was left unsaid is that you will also need a USB-C power adapter to plug the MagSafe charger into, since neither a new iPhone 12 nor MagSafe charger come with a power adapter. But more on that later. If you use a previously purchased Qi charger, like the Mophie wireless charging pad that is sold by Apple, you will continue to get the 7.5w charging speed. Charging speeds by Lightening cable are unchanged. Apple also states that iPhone 12 are fast-charge capable, and that with an Apple 20W or higher power adapter, users can expect a 50% charge in about 30 minutes.
5G Cellular Networks
With the iPhone 12 launch, Apple is making a colossal marketing effort around 5G cellular networking. This isn’t surprising as the three remaining wireless carriers in the United States, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon are pushing 5G networking as the next big thing. Apple is leaning on 5G so hard this year, Apple CEO Tim Cook turned over the Steve Jobs Theater stage to Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg for a full four minutes. And then, whenever possible, make sure to state that all four iPhone 12 models are 5G network capable. What was left unsaid, however, is that you may need to change your cellular plan to gain access to your carrier’s 5G network (which I do), there might be a cost increase for 5G networking (I’m reviewing my carrier’s plans and pricing) and that you need to be in range of a 5G cell tower.
5G networking is notoriously spotty when attempting to get the best speeds out of the 5G network. This is due to the radio frequencies and how well they travel and how strong the signal is inside buildings. Under real world conditions, I do not expect many people to get anywhere near the kinds of download speeds that show up in flashy 5G advertising by the carriers and by Apple. 5G is incredibly complex and comes with a lot of asterisks, hanging chads, and dangling participles. Rene Ritchie has a great 5G explainer video on his YouTube channel and Joanna Stern did a fantastic video for the Wall Street Journal on real-world performance back in July 2019 using 5G Android phones which already have 5G radios in them. Needless to say, I am still not sold on 5G cellular networking and would prefer to have reliable 4G LTE speeds, because, damn it, whenever I need to download something larger than a podcast on the go, it always seems to take forever.
And don’t even get me started on AT&T’s “5G E” rebranding of their 4G network stunt.
What’s Not in the Box
Apple for many years has played up how environmentally friendly their devices are. This year’s iPhones continue this tradition. But, before clicking or tapping that Buy with Apple Pay button, remember that Apple will no longer be including a charger or EarPods “free” in the box anymore. Also keep in mind that this year’s Lightening cable will be USB-C to Lightening, and not USB-A to Lightening. USB-A is the standard flat rectangle style plug that has been found on our computers and wall chargers for over a decade now. USB-C is a more recent version of the USB standard. While USB-C has made it to modern Apple and Windows notebooks, and things like the Nintendo Switch, you are likely to have more USB-A power adapters in your house than USB-C adapters. Plan your pre-order purchases this year accordingly. Similarly, if you prefer wired ear buds, and you need a new pair, they won’t be in the box this year. This will no doubt rankle some customers who will be unprepared for this change. I love living the AirPods wireless ear bud lifestyle and have access to USB-C chargers and computers, so it won’t be much of a problem for me and my fellow tech nerds. I would rather that Apple provide USB-A cables in the box and let nerds order USB-C cables and adapters as needed. Such is the price of progress and Apple will be able to weather the storm. After all, it’s not like they are switching the iPhone connector from Lightening to USB-C.
For most users, the iPhone 12 is the model to purchase. iPhone 12 starts at $829 before Verizon and AT&T $30 discounts. The 128GB iPhone 12 is $50 more expensive coming in at $179. If you want a more pocketable phone, the iPhone 12 mini is the iPhone for you. Tech enthusiasts should go with the 256GB iPhone 12 Pro ($1,099). And for those people who just want the one with everything will set a pile of money on fire and go with the iPhone 12 Pro Max with 256GB of storage ($1,199) or the 512GB version ($1,299). When planning your purchase, also consider the accessories you will need, such as first and third-party cases, charge cables, power adapters, all-in-one charging stations, and AppleCare+ coverage, which starts at $8.29/mo. Pre-orders for iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro are open now and begin shipping on October 23. iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 Pro Max pre-orders open on November 6 and are expected to begin shipping on November 13.
What is Alan Getting?
At this point, I haven’t finalized my iPhone configuration yet. I know that I want to get the iPhone 12 Pro Max with 256GB of storage. I want the Pro Max over the Pro for the high-end camera. Since the iPhone 11 Pro 5.8″ screen size is shifting up to 6.1″ with the iPhone 12 Pro, why not go up to the larger 6.7″ screen size? I was really looking forward to a dark blue iPhone and the Blue iPhone 12 fits the bill. Alas, the iPhone 12 Pro’s Pacific Blue is a little too green for my tastes, so I think I will be getting a Silver iPhone 12 Pro Max. That might change after I am able to see an iPhone 12 Pro Pacific Blue next weekend when they are in my local Apple Store. In terms of accessories, I plan on getting the new Apple MagSafe charger and iPhone 12 Pro Max clear case now. Later on, I will be looking into getting either the Apple iPhone and Apple Watch charging mat, which was mentioned, but is not available yet, and a navy blue-style leather Apple case. I like my iPhone to lay flat on my desk, so I don’t expect to purchase one of the new MagSafe leather wallets. Further down the road, I will get a pair of AirPods Pro, but for now, my AirPods 2 are working well.