This post in one of a series of posts that I am writing for retro tech and vintage Apple enthusiasts on how to use your Apple Newton MessasgePad or eMate in 2021. The collected information from these posts can be found on the SPF Newton page.
One of the things that I have been wanting to do with my Newton OS devices, and my newfound interest in them was connect them to a vintage Macintosh using the software that shipped with them. For me, that meant getting my Newton MessagePad 2000, 2100, and eMate 300 connected to a Power Macintosh G4 Quicksilver using an Apple mini DIN 8 serial cable. Here’s what I used to my Newton OS 2.1 devices talking to my Classic Mac OS 9.2.1 Mac.
The first thing I needed to do was get my G4 back into working condition. That was no easy task. But the Quicksilver lacks mini DIN 8 serial ports. My next task would be to track down one of USB-to-Serial adapters that were popular accessories for Mac owners who upgraded from a beige Mac with two built in mini DIN 8 serial ports to the colorful iMac G3 or later Macintosh that only had USB-A ports.
I ended up picking up a beige Keyspan USA-28 Twin Serial to USB-A Adapter on eBay. Keyspan was later acquired by Tripp-Lite. The adapter I purchased didn’t come with the packaging, manual, or software driver. It turned out that the Keyspan USA28-GX adapter was the far more popular model, and its drivers were much easier to find. I tried using the USA28-GX Mac OS 9 driver with my USA28 adapter and I was disappointed to find out that the USA28-GX driver installer was not backwards compatible with the USA28. Thankfully, I eventually found a copy of the Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X Keyspan USA28 drivers on the archive website MacintoshGarden.com.
With the adapter and driver situation sorted out, I needed to get the original Newton synchronization software called Newton Connection Utilities (NCU). It is important to take a moment here and call out a difference in Newton synchronization software.
If you have a Newton OS 2.0 or 2.1 device, like I do, you need NCU. Apple-branded Newton OS 2.x devices include the MessagePad 2000, the MessagePad 2100, and the eMate 300. If you are trying to connect the original Newton MessagePad, or any of the other Apple-branded MessagePad 100-series devices, you need to use Newton Connect Kit (NCK), which all run Newton OS 1.x.
Normally, NCU or NCK come bundled with the MessagePad or eMate on 3.5″ floppy disks or a CD. Since my second hand MessagePad 2000 didn’t come with its software or manuals, I needed to turn to Internet archives to find the installers I needed for Mac OS 9. Both NCU and NCK, as well as the Newton Package Installer and Newton Backup utilities, can be found on the United Network of Newton Archives (UNNA) repository since Apple removed the downloads from their website a long time ago.
Once you have your adapter driver and connection software sorted, the last thing you will need is a mini DIN 8 Male to mini DIN 8 Male cable and a Newton Interconnect Adapter if you are using a MessagePad 2000 or 2100.
To initiate the connection between the Newton and the Mac:
Plug in the USB-A to mini DIN 8 seral adapter
Plug in one end of the mini DIN 8 serial cable into the port 1 on the adapter
Launch NCU (Newton OS 2.x) or NCK (Newton OS 1.x)
In the NCU Preferences box, I checked all of the connection types
Plug in the serial cable (and Newton Interconnect adapter for MessagePad 2×00)
On the MessagePad or eMate, tap the Dock icon, select Serial, and tap Connect
After a few seconds, if everything is in order, the Newton OS device will connect to your Mac and display the sync tools slip on the Netwon and show a Connected status in NCU/NCK.
I recently requested battery service on a Dell Latitude 7490 laptop and a 10.5-inch iPad Pro. One battery was serviced for free. I couldn’t get the other one serviced. This story does not end the way you might expect.
The Dell Latitude 7490, released in 2018, is a business class notebook computer. Similarly, the 2017 10.5-inch iPad Pro can be considered, by way of features, a “prosumer” tablet. Recently, I had reason to call Dell and Apple for replacement battery service.
The Latitude was purchased with a multi-year ProSupport Plus service plan for multiple years. Oddly, the optional battery replacement service only ran for years one and two. The iPad Pro on the other hand, was purchased by me without an AppleCare service plan. Why would I need one? I baby my hardware and my iPad Pro looks to be in out of the box condition except for a small scratch in the glass from a small grain of sand or table salt. (And yes, I’m still salty about it.)
When I called in for service on the Latitude 7490 to take advantage of the battery replacement coverage, the Dell support staff kindly told me that this particular Latitude was out of its battery coverage range by about four months. I apologized for my mistake and offered to call my Dell sales representative to order a replacement battery. At this, the Dell support staff offered to replace the battery for me as if the battery service coverage had not expired. I was surprised by this and thanked the support staff. The service request was processed and a few days later I received the replacement battery. Twelve screws later, the Latitude had a new battery and was ready to go again. All-in-all, a delighted customer will continue to use Dell products in the future.
If I have learned nothing over the last year, it is that my go to Apple product is my personal 10.5-inch iPad Pro. And while I love my Mac and use it for “real” work, my iPad Pro is the device I use most often. More than my iMac and more that my iPhone. I love reading the newspaper, watching TV and movies, and surfing the web on my iPad.
Late last year, I started getting the feeling that my 2017 iPad Pro just was not holding a charge like it used to. I felt, without any hard evidence, that I was having to charge the iPad more frequently. Since Apple does not offer the Battery Health tool (Settings > Battery > Battery Health) on iPadOS, I was left to wonder if I was just imagining worse battery life or if I was actually getting worse battery life. During the pandemic I was using my iPad Pro more, do doubt, but I has been working at the office most days for the past 10 months.
I downloaded and installed iMazing, a general-purpose Apple device management and IT supervision tool from a company called DigiDNA SARL based in Geneva, Switzerland. One of the claims that DigiDNA makes is that they can show you the relative battery health on an iPad. What I saw when I plugged in my iPad Pro to my iMac was not good and supported my assumption that the battery had degraded and was no longer holding a charge as well as I did when it was only a couple of years old.
Not wanting to spend about $1,000 on a new 11-inch iPad Pro, I decided to stick it out with my current iPad Pro for another year. More recently, I decided to setup a Genius Bar appointment to have my iPad Pro’s battery swapped by Apple and continue using it for another two years before thinking about upgrading. A five-year service life for an iPad Pro feels about right to me. I backed up my device to iCloud and again with an encrypted backup using the Finder in macOS Big Sur, turned off Find My tracking, signed out of iCloud, and hard reset my iPad Pro. Then, I set up the iPad taking the generic options just to get it up to Springboard without configuring any of my settings. I made the Genius Bar appointment, and then visited my local Apple Store. So far, so good.
When I got to the appointment, the Genius Bar person I worked with was very polite and connected their iPad to mine to run a diagnostics suite. I reiterated the comments that I put in the notes for the appointment that I was looking to do and out of warrantee battery replacement because I felt that the iPad Pro wasn’t holding a charge and it was, in my opinion, impacting the usefulness of the device. After a few minutes, the results of the diagnostics test came back – the battery was fine. What?! In November, iMazing was reporting the battery at about 78% capacity and the Apple tool was reporting the battery capacity at 89%. With the battery rating from the Apple support tool above 80%, Apple would not send the iPad out for battery service unless I paid the $449 swap fee. No, thank you!
All of this to say that I ended up getting the exact opposite of what I was expecting. I was expecting Dell to hassle me about the out of coverage battery swap and I was expecting Apple to honor a service request to swap out the battery on my iPad that I was willing to pay the advertised price for.
Would things have turned out differently with my experience with Apple had the ideas discussed in the recent FTC report The Fix: An FTC Report to Congress on Repair Restrictions had been implemented? I have to say, I am weary of most mall kiosk repair shops. But, had there been a repair center that offered first party authorized parts by Apple trained repair technicians, I think that in this case, I would have gladly paid $200 to have my iPad Pro serviced. Now, I use an iPad which I feel that I have to constantly charge in between every couple of uses.
The Apple Newton is a family of products known as personal digital assistants, or PDAs. Later, the term grew to define a category of products that included devices such as the Palm Pilot, the Handspring Visor, the Sony Clie, and the Compaq iPaq.
This page will talk about the hardware and software that I have assembled to get my little green assistant working with my 2015 iMac and 2020 M1 MacBook Pro. The Newton friendly version of this post can be found on the Newton page.
The Newton Family
Apple’s Newton family of products is made up of three types of devices: the first generation Newton MessagePad 100-series devices, or which the original Newton MessagePad is a member of; the second generation MessagePad 2000-series, and the eMate laptop specifically designed for the educational market. Digital Ocean, Harris, Motorola, Sharp, and Siemens also made licensed Newton OS devices during the Apple Newton era.
The Newton family of products was launched in 1993 while John Scully was serving as Apple’s CEO. Scully is credited with coining the term “personal digital assistant”. The Newton family includes the following devices:
1993 – MessagePad (aka Original MessagePad, or OMP)
During its five-year product run, Apple released two major versions of the Newton operating system, Newton OS 1.0 and 2.0.
Official support for the Newton ended in 1998 when co-founder Steve Jobs returned to Apple as part of the NeXT acquisition and cancelled the product line so that resources could be reallocated to the Macintosh. Even without support from Apple, a bright and vibrant community of Newton fans are keeping the platform alive. To learn more about the creation of the Newton and fans that still use them today, I recommend that you watch Love Notes to Newton.
Learning About Newton
But what does it take to actually get started with using a Newton MessagePad in 2021? The answer largely depends on what you want to do with it. Assuming that you want to do more than put it on display, you are going to need manuals to help learn how to use your MessagePad or eMate.
My Newton arrived without any manuals and only some of the in the box accessories. To get started, I found it very helpful to download .pdf copies of the manuals.
The Newted Community has a large collection of Newton family documentation in Adobe Acrobat format. While reading the manuals, I suggest that you have your Newton device right there with you. You learn by reading, but you retain by doing. The Internet Archive website also has a number of materials that can help you learn about your Newton device.
Still have questions? Check out the Newton FAQ. It is a fantastic resource that is broken into sections about hardware, Newton OS, software packages, and more.
If you want to discuss all things Newton with other enthusiasts, consider joining the NewtonTalk mailing list.
I have used all of these resources to learn about my little MessagePad 2000 PDA.
Hardware and Accessories
You are going to need some additional cables and adaptors to connect your vintage Newton device to a modern Macintosh. The type of Newton you have will prescribe the type of cables and adapters you will need. Below is a list of commonly used cables to connect a Newton an eMate to your computer. Keep in mind that I have not received any promotional or financial incentives/compensation for the websites linked to below. I am providing these links in the hope that you will have an easier time finding what you need than I did.
Newton InterConnect Adapter 590-0756
Mini DIN 8 Male to DB9 Female Serial Cable 590-0964
The type of computer you are connecting to (classic Macintosh, modern Macintosh, Windows PC, or Linux) and the ports available on that computer will dictate the exact cable ‘recipe’ that is needed to attach a Newton. The following sections give an overview of the types of cables you will need to connect to a modern Macintosh (iMac, MacBook/Pro, or Mac mini).
NewtonSales.com has Newton InterConnect adapters and serial cables available for sale. They also have an assortment of other accessories, if needed, such as storage cards, communication cards, and replacement parts.
eBay, local online auction sites, and computer recycling businesses in your area are also sources of used Newtons with accessories.
Connecting to a MessagePad 2000 / 2100
The Newton MessagePad 2×000-series devices have one data cable port, known as the Newton InterConnect Port. You will need a Newton Serial Adapter and either an Apple Serial Cable (Mini DIN 8 Male to Male) or an Apple Serial Cable (Mini DIN 8 Male to DB9), also referred to as a Windows PC sync cable. Finally, you will need to adapt the serial cable into a USB port on your Macintosh. The type of USB adapter will depend on the type of Mac that you have. The ‘standard’ USB cable used on Macintosh has a rectangular USB-A port. On MacBooks made after 2016, or the 2015 MacBook, you will need to additionally convert USB-A to USB-C, the new small rounded end cable.
Here is the cable recipe that I use to connect my Newton MessagePad to my Macs.
M1 MacBook Pro 13-inch (2020) > #7 > #4 > #2 > #1 > Newton MessagePad 2000
Connecting to an Original MessagePad (OMP) / 100-series
The Newton MessagePad OMP and 100-series devices have one data cable port, and you will need an Apple Serial Cable (Mini DIN 8 Male to Male). In addition to the serial cable, you will also need a Mini DIN 8 Male to USB-A adapter to connect the Newton to a modern Macintosh. Again, depending on which Macintosh you have, you may also need a USB-A to USB-C dongle.
Connecting to an eMate 300
The eMate is the only Apple Newton device, without hardware modifications, to support both the Mini DIN 8 serial cable and the Newton InterConnect port. This gives eMate owners some flexibility in which cables and adapters work best for them. The cables, adapters, and dongles used by the other Apple Newton devices will also work with the eMate 300.
The original Newton MessagePad software is called Newton Connection Utilities written for Classic Mac OS 7.1 – 9.2 and Windows 3.1, Windows 95, and Windows NT 3.5. In 2021, you will need operating system emulation software, which is outside the scope of this primer, or replacement tools for modern macOS, Windows, and Linux operating systems.
There are two tools modern Mac users will want to try out. The first is Newton Research Newton Connect 3.0. Newton Connection, also referred to as NCX 3, is a replacement for Apple’s Newton Connection Utilities (NCU). NCX is compatible with macOS Sierra through macOS 11 Big Sur running both Intel and Apple Silicon M1 CPUs.
The second is NewTen, a Newton package installer written by Steven Frank. NewTen was originally written for Mac OS X 10.3 and has been tested to work on macOS 11 Big Sur running on an Apple Silicon M1 MacBook Pro (2020). NewTen can be used to install Newton software packages over serial connections. Developer Pablomarx has forked the NewTen project and can be downloaded from GitHub. The forked version of NewTen is compatible with Mac OS X 10.6 and later.
There are likely other software tools and Newton packages that new MessagePad users will want to install, NCX 3 and NewTen 1.5.1 will be necessary to get started.
In a recent article posted on ArsTechnica.com titled “TikTok wants to keep tracking iPhone users with state-backed workaround”, I got the feeling that we tech nerds are going to be in for another Apple vs Developer showdown.
Last summer, you may recall that things got a little dicey for the iPhone maker with the Hey blow up just before last year’s WWDC developers conference. The situation between Apple and Basecamp, the developer of the subscription-based Hey email service, generated backlash from the iOS developer community as well as attracting unwanted attention from U.S. law makers.
The Ars Technica piece reports on the China Advertising Association’s efforts to develop a method for working around Apple’s new iOS and iPadOS 14 feature that requires developers to ask permission before tracking users across third-party developer apps and third-party websites with trackers built in. According to Apple, the App Tracking Transparency framework is mandatory “if your app collects data about end users and shares it with other companies for purposes of tracking across apps and web sites”.
That’s it. That’s the whole thing. Apple wants app developers to ask for iPhone and iPad user’s permission before slurping up as much user data as possible. The sad reality is that many people will simply allow the tracking just to dismiss the message and get to their social media apps. The path of least resistance often wins.
The one passage that caused me to raise an eyebrow was the quote from an Apple spokesperson:
“The App Store terms and guidelines apply equally to all developers around the world, including Apple,” the company said. “We believe strongly that users should be asked for their permission before being tracked. Apps that are found to disregard the user’s choice will be rejected.”
During last year’s congressional hearings about the power held by “big tech”, I recall Apple CEO Tim Cook saying that all developers are held to the same App Store standards. Apple included. Most of the time that is true, but we all know, in business, there is plenty of wiggle room for deals between large companies. In my opinion, the App Store Small Business Program and the reduction of the commission rate to 15% is a direct result of Apple trying to appease developers, law makers, and other state and local officials. So, a statement from Apple saying App Store guidelines apply equally to all developers seems to be true, from a certain point of view.
The App Tracking Transparency framework will become enforced later this spring with the release of iOS and iPadOS 14.5, which is currently in beta testing.
Personally, I am looking forward to having the additional controls that come with the App Tracking Transparency framework. It will be interesting to see how conflicts with large platform developers like Facebook, ByteDance and Tencent is resolved.
A lot has already been said about Apple’s new M1-powered Apple Silicon Macs. After two months of use, I wanted to share my thoughts on my new 13-inch MacBook Pro laptop with the M1 Apple Silicon chip.
The M1 CPU is the first processor in the new Apple Silicon line of processors. The Apple Silicon M1 processor takes over for Intel Core i-series processors that are commonly used in today’s PCs. After having announced the Intel to Apple Silicon transition at last summer’s WWDC developer conference, the first Macs running M1 have appeared: the 2020 MacBook Air, the 2020 13-inch MacBook Pro, and the new 2020 silver Mac mini.
The selection of the MacBook Air to receive the new M1 CPU caused me to raise an eyebrow. I was expecting Apple to add the new CPU to a Mac with lower sales volume. the MacBook Air, because of its low cost, is by far the most popular Mac that Apple sells. In my opinion, this speaks volumes to Apple’s confidence that the M1 is ready for prime time. In a November 2020 interview with The Independent’s Andrew Griff, Craig Federighi, Senior Vice President Software Engineering, said:
“We overshot,” said the exec. “You have these projects where, sometimes you have a goal and you’re like, ‘Well, we got close, that was fine.’ This one, part of what has us all just bouncing off the walls here — just smiling — is that as we brought the pieces together, we’re like, ‘This is working better than we even thought it would.’”
The move from Intel CPUs to in-house designed M-series CPUs is driven by three key business points. The first is that Apple wants to be in complete control of all of the key technologies that are used in their products. In Macs, this means the CPU. The second key driver has to do with the pace at which Intel has been able to make their CPUs smaller and more power efficient. (My apologies for the CPU nerds for the oversimplification here.) The final driver is Apple’s belief that the features on the Macintosh roadmap are simply are not possible with off commodity parts. Apple is able to ship the features that they do by designing hardware and software together.
From the outside the 2020 13-inch MacBook Pro looks like the last several models of MacBook Pro. Without close inspection, the 2019 Intel and 2020 M1 13-inch MacBook Pro look identical when placed on a table next to each other. Anyone hoping for a chassis makeover or the addition of new features like a touch screen, will have to wait for a future model.
On the inside, however, replacing the Intel CPU with the M1 has three major advantages. The first is that the entire computer feels zippy. In the two months that I have been using my MacBook Pro, never once have I yelled out, “Oh, come on!” like I am apt to do with my 2015 27-inch iMac when tasks take longer than I expected. The second is that the battery just lasts. Normally, we should roll our eyes at over-the-top vendor claims about battery life, but in this case, Apple’s claim is warranted. With average usage for personal and business tasks, the battery life is amazing. In my testing, the biggest battery drain on the battery was a non-optimized version of Microsoft Teams. In a one-hour meeting, where I had the 720p FaceTime HD camera (Apple, what year is it?) and a hot mic using a wired connection to a pair of Beats Studio headphones, the battery took a 10% hit. (Shortly after my Teams testing, an M1 optimized version of Teams was released and the battery performance did improve.)
Using Safari, Microsoft Office, Tweetbot, BBEdit, and several other common apps, do not appear to have an enormous impact on the battery like they did on my 2016 15-inch MacBook Pro with an Intel Core i7 CPU. And while I know that the 13-inch MacBook Pro has a fan in it, I have never once heard it. Maybe it’s my old ears. Or, maybe, I just can’t push the MacBook Pro hard enough to get the fan to kick on. This is true even when I am running the pre-release version of Parallels Desktop with the Microsoft Insider build of Windows 10 for ARM CPUs. Running a Windows 10 Pro virtual machine on my 15-inch MacBook Pro made the fans spin shortly after booting Windows. I just wanted to run Visio, not launch a Saturn V rocket.
Macs with the M1 processor run on the pre-installed macOS 11.0 Big Sur operating system. Big Sur has been written specifically to run on the M1 hardware. An Intel version of Big Sur also exists for Macs that have Intel CPUs. Big Sur has two software modules that help the M1 work so well. They are Universal Binaries, programs that are able to run on both Intel and M1 Macs, and Rosetta 2, a translation module that converts instructions from Intel-only programs into their M1 equivalent instructions. I unboxed my M1 MacBook Pro and started using it. It wasn’t until a few days later did I think to see if any of the apps I was using had been updated for the M1. In the early days of using M1, many were Intel versions. Over time, more apps have been updated as Universal apps. The only indication that I was running an Intel application under Rosetta 2 was a one-time message indicating that I needed to install the Rosetta module. Requesting users download the Rosetta module is likely due to the complexities of getting new hardware and software out the door – an already complex logistics problem further complicated by a global pandemic. I would expect that new M1 Macs purchased and delivered in 2021 will ship with this module already installed.
There are two other software modules that allow M1 Macs learn new tricks. The first is support for iOS and iPadOS apps. I installed UsTwo Game’s Monument Valley as a test. iOS and iPadOS games and apps are installed from a special tab in the Mac App Store. The install worked just like any other app. The app launched and ran just like the Intel version of Monument Valley that I have installed on my iMac. The input for Monument Valley is straight forward tap and swipe when the game is running on an iOS device. On a M1 Mac, that translates into mouse clicks and click and drag mechanics. Your mileage will vary based on the apps you want to run. Some iOS app developers have opted their apps out of automatically being made available for M1 Macs. (I’m looking specifically at you, Netflix and Disney+.)
The fourth and final new module in Big Sur for M1 Macs is the Virtualization module. This module is specifically designed to allow users to run alternate operating systems. At the time of this writing, virtualization on M1 is still premature. I have been able to use the pre-release beta version of Parallels Desktop to install and run the ARM versions of Microsoft Windows 10 ARM Edition, via the Microsoft Windows Insider program, and Debian ARM64 edition for PCs. Both work well, however, as with all pre-release beta software, there are some bumps in the road. Again, your milage will vary depending on the hypervisor software and guest operating system software you want to run. Overtime, support for running guest operating systems will get better.
If the Parallels Desktop software is a leading indicator, be prepared to have to reinstall your guest OS and application software in your virtual machine. It is not possible, today, to copy over or convert an existing Intel-based OS to run on the M1. I have to perform fresh installs of Windows 10 Pro and Debian Linux and reinstall my apps. For me, this a deal breaker if you need to use Parallels Desktop or VMware Fusion to run business apps on your Mac. For the time being, I will need to continue running Windows 10 Pro x64 in VMware Fusion on my Intel iMac to be able to continue to use Microsoft Project and Visio when working from home.
Overall, I like the new 2020 13-inch MacBook Pro with the Apple Silicon M1 CPU. The Mac boots up quickly and Touch ID is amazingly fast. macOS Big Sur has been running trouble free, but I do have a few software nits to pick, none of which are serious. The PC is responsive, and the Mac is waiting for me and not the other way around. I do prefer the extra Thunderbolt / USB-C ports on the 15-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros, but I wanted the new shiny toy, and giving up two ports was worth it for me. I also miss the larger screen and higher resolution of the larger MacBook Pros. This particular issue is addressed by connecting the MacBook Pro to a Dell WD19TB dock, which is connected to an old 27-inch Dell UltraSharp monitor.
Looking forward, I plan on using this MacBook Pro for a couple of years until the second-generation hardware comes out. In all likelihood, a 2020 Mac with an M1 processor will easily run for many years to come. Knowing myself, by the time late 2022 rolls around, I’m be looking to upgrade to larger MacBook Pro with a M2 processor in it with four Thunderbolt ports.
New porting by Juli Clover for MacRumors.com suggests that the 2021 MacBook Pro models might be picking up design language used by iPhone 12.
“The new MacBook Pro machines will feature a flat-edged design, which Kuo describes as “similar to the iPhone 12″ with no curves like current models.”
Clover is reporting on a new investor note written by Ming-Chi Kuo, who has is finger on the pulse of the Apple hardware supply chain.
I enjoy using my iPhone 12 Pro Max and I love the way the flat sides feel in the hand. I am reminded daily of the classic look and feel of the iPhone 5-series. When I think of a MacBook Pro with flat sides around body and display, I don’t think of iPhone 12, iPhone 5, or even iPhone 4. No, as a long time Mac nerd, I harken back to the Mac that could have possibly inspired the flat side design of the iPhone 4, namely, the 2001 Titanium PowerBook G4.
Compared with the black plastic PowerBook G3 released in 2000, the “TiBook” as fans call it, traded in the curves for clean straight lines and a much thinner design. In the Apple press release, Steve Jobs remarked:
“The all new Titanium PowerBook G4 is the most revolutionary portable computer ever created. Its a ‘supercomputer to go’ in terms of performance, yet it’s thinner and sexier than the best subnotebooks.”
Writing for MacWorld back in 2015, Christopher Phin, has a delightful retro comparison of the then current MacBook Air with a PowerBook G4. It’s worth taking a look at the photos in his article. They show off what a flat edge MacBook Pro in 2021 might look relative to recent Apple Silicon and Intel-powered MacBook Pro designs.
Packed into TiBook’s 1-inch thick body was all the connectivity that a Mac power user would ever want, including Ethernet, USB, FireWire, VGA, and S-Video – all without the need for adapters. Imagine being a MacBook user in 2021 without having to make an expensive trip to Dongle Town.
Could Apple be looking to the 2001 PowerBook G4 as inspiration for a new professional Apple Silicon M1 powered 14 and 16-inch MacBook Pro? I hope so.
One of the great things that I really like about the new iPhone 12-series of smartphones from my favorite fruit company is the return of the iPhone 4 and 5-series flat slides. And the return of the flat sides comes the drop in style flat side Apple Leather Cases. Here’s my review.
What Works Well
There are many third-party cases for iPhones on the market today. I prefer the first-party cases for a few different reasons. Long time readers of this blog will know that I am a life-long Apple customer and fan. So, for me, many times, if there is a first-party accessory available, that is the one I will get.
With that out of the way, I also prefer first-party accessories for their full support of new features. For the iPhone 12-series, that means the ability to use MagSafe. MagSafe is Apple’s new inductive charging solution. Previous iPhone models and cases were compatible with inductive charging. However, with the iPhone 12 leather cases, the charging magnets are integrated with the case. The real benefit of having MagSafe magnets in the iPhone and in the case is that it is easier for the user to align the charging coils. People who receive a lot of vibrate notifications can be assured that the iPhone will stay put on the MagSafe charger – something that was not a guarantee in non-MagSafe inductive chargers.
The case build quality is quite nice too. The iPhone 12 Pro leather cases have a softer touch to them than the Apple leather cases that I used on my iPhone 11 Pro. The edging and seam where the leather meets the soft interior lining mate up well. May Dad thinks that the Apple Leather Cases are slippery. And, in my opinion, new cases are. But once you start carrying them around in backpacks, purses, or jeans pockets, they will wear nicely. With previous versions of the leather case, I found that it took longer to break in the case while wearing dress pants to work every day. Now my iPhone 12 Pro Max mostly sits on my desk or coffee table.
In addition to the feel of the leather, I also appreciate the use of metal volume and power buttons that are built into the case. Pressing the buttons on the case feel satisfying. The button press feels as if there wasn’t a case on the iPhone at all. In my opinion, the metal buttons feel much better than the rubbery caps found on the Apple Clear Case or leather lumps that Apple used on the leather cases for the iPhone 5/ 6 /6S series. In comparison, I think that the metal buttons are just easier to press after having lived with other button options.
Some Room for Improvements
As the saying goes, you get what you pay for. In Apple’s case you are often paying for quality. 1 The Apple’s leather cases are made well, but, before you order one, you have to ask yourself if Apple’s cases are worth it. The iPhone 12 / 12 Pro / 12 Pro Max Leather Case with MagSafe is $59. That’s pretty expensive. If you want to add a Leather Wallet with MagSafe, that will cost you an additional $59. 2. If you are looking for an alternative to Apple’s leather cases, Nomad’s Rugged Case series look handsome and cost less ($49.95).
I also think it is less than great that there is a plastic ridge that rises up around the camera bump. While this protects the glass camera lens, the iPhone is unstable when being used while laying face up on a flat surface. The wobbling of the case irritates me.
Based on my past use of iPhone leather cases in red and yellow, the corners of these cases will wear and patina quickly. In my experience, more so when riding around in jeans pockets. Darker color Apple cases will do the same thing, but they will be less noticeable.
The last think that perspective buys will want to know is that the bottom edge of the iPhone 12-style leather cases are boxed in. That is to say, that there is a single continuous edge around the entire iPhone 12. The first-party cases for the iPhone X/ XS / 11 Pro all featured an open bottom edge. Some people like an open edge with the speaker and Lightening port completely unobstructed. For iPhone 12, the bottom edge should offer more protection for iPhones that are knocked off tables or otherwise dropped. However, if you use an accessory that has a thick cable connector, like the Lightning to 30-pin connector that is in the 10-year-old car that my kids drive, well, maybe the Apple leather case isn’t for you.
A personal gripe that I have with Apple is the product photography that has been used for the leather case. Would it really be a problem to show the case from all sides? As a perspective customer about to spend $59 on a case, I don’t want to be left wondering what the button covers and bottom edge look like. I found it completely aggravating that I couldn’t see those angles on the product page.
If you want the premium fit and finish of an Apple product, you will probably want an Apple Leather Case with MagSafe. You will enjoy using it. Depending on the other iPhone accessories you may have in your life, or if you don’t feel like dropping another $59 or more for accessories on top of the expense of the iPhone itself, you may want to look at the similarly featured less expensive offerings from third-party case makers.
The iPhone 12 Pro Max is one of four new iPhone models that Apple has released as part of the new 2020 smartphone lineup. iPhone 12 Pro Max joins its smaller siblings, the iPhone mini, the iPhone 12, and the iPhone 12 Pro.
Who is the iPhone 12 Pro Max for? you might be asking. In my opinion, the answer to this question is a nuanced one. I feel that iPhone 12 Pro Max is for the person who is a heavy iPhone user and wants the largest possible battery without the need to power packs or add-on battery cases. It is for the person who wants the absolute best camera technology that Apple has to offer. It’s for the person who prefers to use their iPhone for most computing needs without having to move to an iPad or Mac. And, in my case, it is for tech nerds who want an iPhone with the highest tech spec numbers.
In this blog post, I wanted to focus on my first impressions of the iPhone 12 Pro Max from launch day through my first week of use.
iPhone 12 Pro Launch Day
I like to think of iPhone launch day as my Apple community day. You often hear about software developers, journalists, bloggers and podcasters talking about the camaraderie and social networking of Apple’s annual WWDC conference. I’m not a software developer and therefore cannot justify the expense of making the trip to California each year. Just as COVID-19 threw a bucket of cold water on this year’s in-person WWDC, so too did it seriously dampen my mood about getting my new iPhone.
My pre-order went smoothly enough. The entire process lasted about one minute using the iOS Apple Store app. Gone are the days of trying to stay up or waking up at 3:00am EST to order a new iPhone for launch day. Gone are the stressful minutes, or hours, trying to verify your cellular contract information amid wireless providers web server meltdowns in the middle of the checkout process. Ordering my Pacific Blue 256GB iPhone 12 Pro Max was super easy in 2020 and I was able to get an 8:00am pickup reservation at my local Apple Store.
On launch day, reservation windows had been reduced to 15-minute slots. Down from the 30-minute windows of previous years. Again, with COVID-19, this is understandable. My Dad, who placed his order a few minutes after mine, was bumped back to an 8:30am slot. We didn’t know what that meant. Was Apple greatly restricting how many people could be grouped together into a time slot (probably) or were the iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 Pro Max, both of which went on sale at the same time, generating a lot of interest from enthusiasts for the smallest and largest iPhone 12? We didn’t know.
We decided to arrive at our local Apple Store at 7:00am. The mall was like a ghost town, and not at all like previous launch days. Apple Store staff where there as was a regional manager. Extra security was present to take temperatures. And that was about it. It was just my Dad and I and a few people in the standby line. We did chat a little bit with the staff that we know and one of the staff brought over a small tray of tester iPhones to play with. It was a weird feeling being so excited that I was privileged enough to be able to buy a new iPhone while the party-like atmosphere was completely absent.
At 8:00am, we were called into the store. A few more people had gathered in both the reservations and stand by lines. I had my MacBook Pro with me in anticipation of being able to activate my iPhone while in the store. I unboxed my new iPhone 12 Pro Max with the energy of a child on Christmas morning. (Thankfully, there were no pink rabbit pajamas.) Any apprehensions that I had about getting the Pacific Blue iPhone over the Silver iPhone immediately disappeared. While I have a preference for Navy Blue – Grassia Standard Blue – went away. Because, you know, it’s 2020, the Apple Store staff were having trouble with activating my new iPhone 12 Pro Max on Sprint, now part of the T-Mobile family due to some crazy back end problem that was out of their control. When I finally got home, I was able to activate my iPhone 12 Pro Max using the automated assistant on the Sprint website. Dad’s iPhone 12 Pro Max activation on Verizon worked without issue. And so, while we both were able to get our phones, and my Dad and I were able to go into the store to get our new iPhones, this year’s launch lacked much of the community aspect, which took something away from the day.
For the 2020 iPhone 12 family, Apple is offering their devices in two distinct sets of colors and finishes along their consumer and professional lines. What does it mean to be a professional smartphone in 2020? I don’t know. I just chalk professional up to be marketing speak for more expensive.
iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini come in five colors: White, Black, Blue, Green, and (PRODUCT)RED. iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max come in four colors: Graphite, Silver, Gold, and the new Pacific Blue, which replaces last year’s Midnight Green. Where the non-Pro iPhones colors are bright and vibrant, the Pro models have more muted colors. The stainless steel bands on the Pro models are surprisingly shiny and add a nice accent flare to the phones.
When I had read the rumors the last several months that there would be new blue color, I was pretty excited about the idea of getting a Navy Blue iPhone. The blue colors we go are not the blue color that I had in my mind. This touched off a weeks long Silver vs. Pacific Blue internal debate running from the Apple event in October right up until pre-order week in November. I finally decided on the Pacific Blue model about 48 hours before iPhone 12 Pro Max pre-orders started. It is a nice color, even if it isn’t my preferred Navy Blue. Part of my debating over the color had to do with the iPhone 12 Pro or iPhone 12 Pro Max looking different in every pre-release photo I saw. Apple’s use of dark shades in this year’s product pages on Apple.com were way to dark in my opinion. When I am about to spend the kind of money that Apple chargers for their Pro iPhones, I want to be able to clearly see the product they are selling. Throw COVID-19 distancing protocols on top, and for all practical intents, you couldn’t get in the store to see the already shipping iPhone 12 Pro before iPhone 12 Pro Max pre-orders going live. The what-color-is-it game continues even after purchasing my iPhone 12 Pro Max. Sometimes I look at my iPhone 12 Pro Max and it looks like a slate grey. Other times, under different lighting conditions I feel like it looks more like a darker blue. It’s weird. In the end, am glad that I picked Pacific Blue. The big color question now is: what color leather case should I get? Baltic Blue isn’t Pacific Blue and Navy Blue is only available in the silicone case.
iPhone 12 Pro Max Physical Design
The iPhone 12 Pro Max, as the name implies, is physically the largest iPhone on sale this year. I had been a member of the “Plus Club” (#MykeWasRight) having purchased the iPhone 6S Plus and the iPhone 7 Plus, so I knew what I was going to be in for with the Pro Max. If you are looking for an iPhone that you can use one-handed, look at one of the other three iPhones 12 models. Having returned to the larger iPhone, there has been a lot of iPhone gymnastics going on this past week; a potentially risky situation especially for me since I do not buy AppleCare+ for my iPhones. I refuse to sully the aesthetics of iPhone with a PopSocket. At best, with the iPhone 12 Pro Max resting on my pinkie finger, I can reach to about the middle of the screen with my thumb. In the hand, iPhone 12 Pro Max feels taller than iPhone 11 Pro, the phone I’m upgrading from, but does not feel top heavy.
Over the last three years, I have been using the iPhone X-style Pro model iPhones with their 5.8-inch diagonal screens. That was larger than the 5.5-inch screens in the Plus models. Thanks to Apple’s edge-to-edge OLED displays, the iPhone X-series iPhones were able to deliver Plus size displays in a smaller handset which I have really come to like. With the iPhone 12 Pro Max, Apple was able to deliver an iPhone with a 6.7-inch Super Retina XDR display, with a screen resolution of 2778 x 1284 and 458 pixels per inch. All of this is to say that Apple has developed a larger display while keeping the same approximate footprint as the iPhone 7 Plus. (There are other Plus and Max sized iPhones, however, I am using the iPhone 7 Plus as a reference because it is the one I have in my collection.) I find the larger display in the Pro Max to be more immersive than that of my iPhone 11 Pro. During the day, I find that the iPhone 12 Pro Max’s screen is both bright and crisp in both outdoor and indoor lighting conditions. I feel that reading content like newspaper articles on iPhone 12 Pro Max is a better experience. Normally, I wind down at the end of the day watching some of my favorite video content in bed with my 10.5-inch iPad Pro. For the past week, I have been using the Pro Max. In a darkened room, the OLED display really looks good in my opinion. Colors look brighter and the blacks look inky black. Regardless of whether I’m watching an archival NASA video or a recent superhero movie, the display on iPhone doesn’t disappoint. I am looking forward to a future iPad Pro model that has a Micro LED screen which will more closely replicate the color contrast without the light bleed through of OLED displays.
With the introduction of the iPhone 12 product line, Apple has returned to the class, perhaps retro, look of the iPhone 4 and iPhone 5-series iPhones. Together, I used the iPhone 4S and the iPhone 5S as my daily carry iPhones for about three years. I really enjoyed their straight lines and sleek look. While I enjoyed using the iPhones in between the iPhone 6 and iPhone 11 Pro Max, I really disliked the rounded edge sides. My iPhones have gone flying off of desks, tables, and nightstands more times than I care to admit. I am really excited for the return of the peace of mind that flat sides bring while picking up my iPhone. I think the iPhone 12-series has a refined look and feel that builds on the design of the iPhone 4 and 5. The iPhone 12 Pro Max has the same flat sides as its predecessor iPhones. Unlike the earlier iPhones, iPhone 12 Pro Max has front and back glass that are flush with the stainless steel band around the iPhone. iPhone 4 has more of an ice cream sandwich where the front and back glass rise above the metal antenna band. iPhone 5 got closer to the flush design of the iPhone 12 by using a chamfered antenna band. With iPhone 12, Apple rounded the steel band, so it doesn’t feel sharp in the hand while keeping metal and glass flush with one another. iPhone 12 replaces the round volume control buttons with rounded rectangles which I think makes them easier to find and press in such a tall iPhone when I am not using my AirPods. Rounded sides vs. flat sides as the true iPhone design debate aside, in my personal opinion, I prefer the look and feel of flat sides and am looking forward to this design for the next few years to come.
iPhone 12 Pro Max Camera System
My decision to move up to the Pro Max this year included a few different factors. Screen size was one. OLED was another. The larger physical battery definitely makes the list; however, I don’t consider myself a heavy iPhone user. I think that the single technical specification that drove me to the iPhone 12 Pro Max over the iPhone 12 Pro is the new camera system. I am no camera nerd. By spec lists, the iPhone 12 Pro Max has the best camera system Apple has to offer in their lineup. The iPhone 12 Pro Max camera system is by no means the best camera system out there. Arguably, the computational photography and machine learning that Google packs into Android is better than Apple’s. If you are looking for the best optical zoom, you will want to look at the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra with its 5x optical zoom or the 50 optical zoom on the Huawei P40 Pro Plus. For advanced as these niche flagship phones are, they don’t run iOS, and therefore are deal breakers.
iPhone 12 Pro Max has a 2.5x optical zoom on the telephoto lens and optical image stabilization on the sensor. Previous OIS was done by floating the lens, but in iPhone 12 Pro Max, it is the sensor itself that floats. The camera specs listed on Apple’s website for the iPhone 12 Pro Max’s camera system sound impressive to the uninitiated camera user like me. For me, I just want the best possible camera that I can carry around with me in an iOS device.
With a larger iPhone comes a physically larger battery. The energy needed to drive a physically larger screen is one reason for using a larger battery. According to a blog post written by Joe Rossignol for MacRumors, the iPhone 12 Pro Max has a 3,687 mAh battery. iMore‘s Joe Wituschek notes that the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro share the same 2,815mAh battery. For comparison, Rossignol reports that the iPhone 11 Pro Max’s battery was rated at 3,969. In a separate post for MacRumors, Rossignol writes that the iPhone 11 Pro has a 3,046 mAh battery on board. The battery rating break down like this:
These look like the kind of stats that you would expect to find on the back of a baseball card. But what does all of this mean for everyday usage? I am not a heavy iPhone user by any stretch of the imagination. When I am home, I prefer my 10.5-inch iPad Pro. For the past week though, I have been using the iPhone 12 Pro Max almost exclusively, spending about four hours a day on iPhone, which works out to be about 185% increase according to Screen Time. I have a typical usage pattern. My usage primarily consists of browsing the web with Safari, reading newspapers (The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and a local paper) in their native iOS apps, listening to locally stored and streaming podcasts and music in Overcast and the Apple Music app, respectively, with and without AirPlay 2 or my AirPods. I use Tweetbot to check in on Twitter. You get the idea. Setting aside that the iPhone 12 Pro Max has a brand new battery which is operating at peak performance, I was getting about 2.5 – 3 days of battery life out of the Pro Max. I didn’t get anywhere near the 20% mark to shift into low power mode. Obviously, our usage patterns will vary and so will our results.
iPhone 12 Pro Max Accessories
I am not a fan of the massive camera bump, or should I say, camera plateau, in an iPhone to date. There is no way that iPhone 12 Pro Max will lay flat on a desk when it is face up. With previous iPhones with a camera bump, the first-party Apple cases leveled out the iPhone so it would lay flat. Not true with the iPhone 12 Pro Max Apple cases. I purchased the Apple Clear Case with MagSafe for launch day. I was saddened to see that there is a plastic ridge that extends up above the camera lenses. The iPhone XR Apple Clear Case also suffers from this same affliction. I’m sure that there are other third-party cases that offer a case that sits flush with the camera bump, but I am disappointed that there does not appear to be a first-party case option that allows iPhone 12 to lay flat on my desk.
Unfortunately, the ridge around the camera cutout is not my only problem with the Apple Clear Case with MagSafe. The bottom edge of the case has a protrusion that extends out beyond the stainless steel antenna band. If you were to try to stand the iPhone 12 Pro Max up along the bottom edge with the Clear Case with MagSafe on, the phone would tilt toward you. This is no doubt for added drop protection for the bottom corners and bottom edge. When holding the iPhone 12 Pro Max, the grip I have settled on is one such that I hold the edges with my thumb, middle, and ring fingers, with my index finger providing support on the back and my pinkie finger is left at the load balancing finger. Which is fine for short periods of time, but for that plastic ridge along the bottom starts to irritate my finger. This isn’t simply a case of Apple arrogance and customers holding their iPhones wrong. The iPhone XR Clear Case has a much smaller ridge that doesn’t cause discomfort while holding it. For the sake of argument, I will grant you that the iPhone XR’s aluminum body frame helps make it lighter than the iPhone 12 Pro Max and it’s stainless steel frame. That said, I would have much preferred if the Clear Case with MagSafe bottom ridge sat flush with the bottom edge of the iPhone.
This are nit-picky details to be sure. For the cost of iPhone 12 Pro Max and upscaled pricing for accessories, I feel that iPhone 12 Pro Max should not leave me with these grating annoyances that remind me of a table with an uneven leg. If you are the kind of person who will find these details annoying also, Nomad and Spigen have some handsome looking cases without the annoying ridges.
Starting with iPhone 12 is a new line of accessories using the new MagSafe system. Long time Apple followers will recall the beloved and now discontinued MagSafe and MagSafe 2 MacBook charging system. While the two charging systems share the same name, they are not the same thing. MagSafe accessories for the iPhone 12 family do more than just charge your phone. MagSafe now includes a family of products including chargers, cases, and accessories such as wallets and mounting accessories.
As the name implies, MagSafe works by embedding magnets in the iPhone 12 body and in the accessories. Along with the iPhone 12 Pro Max and the Clear Case, I also purchased an Apple MagSafe Charger to use with my MacBook Pro USB-C charging brick that I keep on my desk. There is a satisfying thunk sound when the MagSafe Charger mates up with the iPhone 12 Pro Max with or without its case on. The key takeaway when reading about the MagSafe Charger is that the charging pad will always properly align to allow inductive charging to begin. iOS 14 now has a large animated graphic that popup on screen to show that charging has begun. I personally haven’t experienced any alignment problems charging my Qi compatible iPhones on my Mophie Wireless Charging Base, but I can see how this could be problem for people who use their iPhone caseless or get a lot of notifications when vibration is turned on. For these folks, MagSafe is clearly the answer. I should also note that MagSafe is not compatible with Apple Watch. My biggest complaint with the MagSafe Charger is that the permanently attached charge cable feels thin and flimsy compared with the USB-C charging cable that comes with the MacBook Pro and the Apple USB-C to Lightening cable. For $39 for a charger without a power brick, I expect a better cable.
The AirPower charging mat, which was ultimately killed between announcement and becoming a shipping product would have solved the dream of having one first-party charging solution for iPhone, Apple Watch, and AirPods. The unfortunate reality for AirPower was that thermals and physics kept it from existing. Apple’s new MagSafe Duo Charger will charge an iPhone or AirPods and a Watch, but not all three at the same time.
MagSafe accessories are stackable, meaning that you can put your iPhone 12 into a MagSafe case and then attach a second MagSafe accessory such as the MagSafe Charger or the Leather Wallet with MagSafe. Obviously, you can’t use a MagSafe Charger through the Leather Wallet Case. Your mag stripe cards will thank you.
While the magnets used in the MagSafe system for iPhone 12 is strong enough to hold a case or MagSafe charger in place, I am not prepared to trust important cards like a driver’s license or credit card to the Apple Leather Wallet with MagSafe. The wallet case is shielded from the magnets, so there is practically no risk of demagnetizing your cards. However, with testing on my MagSafe Charger puck, I am easily able to disengage the magnets with a small amount of force on the edge of the puck as I pick up my iPhone. There are also lots of videos on YouTube of reviewers shoving their iPhone 12 into jeans pockets and having the wallet case slide right off. if I ever get back to a point where I am wearing dress pants or suits to work on a regular basis, I might revisit the wallet case for my business ID card with a company issued iPhone 12. Until then, my cards will remain in my traditional wallet.
5G Cellular Service
Have you heard? With Verizon 5G and the iPhone 12, 5G Ultra Wideband cellular data just got real?! If you watched the Apple “Hi, Speed” keynote presentation, you know how over the top Apple and Verizon were about promoting the benefits of 5G. On Verizon. And others. But mostly Verizon 5G Ultra-Wideband. Only from Verizon.
Of all the technical features of iPhone 12, from the new industrial design, the new Pacific Blue color, the incredibly powerful A14 Bionic system on a chip, cameras, and MagSafe, high speed 5G cellular networking from Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile/Sprint just doesn’t get me out of bed in the morning. Or any other time of day, really. Look, if you have a new iPhone 12 – all of which have 5G radios in them – and you happen to be in precisely the right spot, you can get incredibly fast download speeds. There are a lot of caveats to getting the kinds of download speeds that wireless carriers, and Apple, are shamelessly promoting, in my opinion. Don’t take my word for it. Just watch Joanna Stern’s comical video on 5G for the Wall Street Journal. Marques Brownlee also has a fantastic 5G explanation video. You will note that both reviewers claim that under perfect conditions, download speeds can be well over 1,000Mbps. Upload speeds and battery life can be subpar. Also, sustained use of the 5G radio will cause the 5G phones to potentially heat up depending on how hard they are working to maintain that super-fast connection. In my limited testing near my house, near my office, and at my daughter’s college campus dorm, I was getting SpeedTest results of 181Mbps, 132Mbps, and 144Mbps respectively. Clearly, the best days for 5G are still ahead of us. All complaining about 5G aside, I have noticed that I am now usually getting 3-bars of 4G LTE signal where I was only usually getting 1-bar of coverage on my iPhone 11 Pro. Naturally, your mileage will vary based on your location and use cases.
As I wrote a few weeks ago, the new iPhone 12, starting at $629, is the iPhone that most people should by. Apple’s 2020 line up of iPhones offer customers seven different handsets and price points to choose from. Add in zero-interest monthly payment options from Apple and wireless carriers, and most people who would like a new iPhone this year can find one that will fit their budget. If you know you want an iPhone 12 Pro Max, you can place an order today on Apple.com. Pricing starts at $1,099 for the 128GB version, $1,199 for the 256GB model, and tops out at $1,399 for the max-ist Max model. Unlike previous year’s iPhones, Apple no longer packs a charging brick in the box and has changed the included charging cable from Lightening to USB-C. For nerds, that will be fine as a lot of us have USB-C charging bricks and cables already. If you haven’t purchased a new iPhone in a while, you will want to plan to get a $19 20W USB-C Power Adapter too. A MacBook Pro or iPad Pro USB-C power adapter seems to work fine too if you have one handy.
If you have a 2018 iPhone XS Max or 2019 iPhone 11 Pro Max, there are very few reasons to upgrade to the iPhone 12 Pro Max outside of a desire to have the newest of new iPhones. If you have iPhone 8 Plus or older iPhone, and you don’t mind making the move from Touch ID to Face ID, now is a great time to upgrade. If you feel that a 6.7-inch diagonal screen is just too much iPhone for you, then consider the physically smaller iPhone 12 mini or iPhone SE (2020). If 2020 is your year to upgrade to a new iPhone, I suggest that you get the best iPhone you can afford and enjoy it for all it is worth for as long as you can before upgrading again without regret.
For a tech nerd like me, the siren call of what’s new and what’s next is too strong to ignore. I am already looking forward to my Dad and I standing in line next year.
Yesterday, the second half of the 2020 iPhone line up opened for pre-orders, with customers now able to place orders for iPhone 12 Pro Max and iPhone 12 mini. Last month, Apple began selling the more mainstream iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro.
Size Does Matter
For 2020, Apple has introduced four models of iPhone 12 and split the rollout across October and November. Rolling out iPhones across multiple months is similar to the iPhone 8 and iPhone X rollout from a few years ago.
Up first was iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro. These really are the iPhones that most people should by. In my opinion, the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro are so close in specifications, you really should get the iPhone 12 with a starting price of $829. The only option upgrade I would recommend, regardless of which model you ultimately order, is to bump the storage up to 128GB or 256GB. Again, in my opinion, in 2020, buying an iPhone with 64GB of storage is a really bad idea because you will fill it up too quickly with video, photos, and music for example.
Then, in November, Apple will rollout the iPhone mini and the massive iPhone 12 Pro Max. If you have not been following closely, unlike the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max, where the only difference between the two was physical body size, in 2020 iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max have different camera systems. Spec wise, the iPhone 12 Pro Max has a larger ƒ/2.2 aperture telephoto lens over a ƒ/2.0 lens on the iPhone 12 Pro, the new sensor-shift optical image stabilization system, a slightly larger battery, and a 2778-by-1284-pixel resolution at 458 ppi over the 2532-by-1170-pixel resolution at 460 ppi Super Retina XDR display in iPhone 12 Pro. While the iPhone 12 Pro Max has a 6.7-inch diagonal display, the largest ever in an iPhone, Apple was able to keep the iPhone 12 Pro Max about the same body size as previous Plus and Max models.
This year, I decided to pre-order the iPhone 12 Pro Max. There were several items that I needed to consider before purchasing this year’s iPhone upgrade. For me, the improved camera features pushed to order the iPhone 12 Pro Max. Color played a role in this year’s decision too. iPhone 12 Pro comes in refreshed colors: Graphite, Silver, Gold, and the all new Pacific Blue. I am partial to a navy blue, but in my opinion, Pacific Blue is not “Grassia Standard Blue”. I waffled back and forth between Silver and Pacific Blue since Apple’s “Hi, Speed” event last month. On Tuesday, I finally settled on Pacific Blue.
2020 is the first year in which Apple will not be putting a charging brick or EarPods in the iPhone box, meaning, you may need to order additional accessories, thankfully, at a reduced price, if you or your family relay on in box accessories as replacement spares.
This year, I decided to order the iPhone 12 Pro Max Clear Care with MagSafe and a new MagSafe Charger. Like all models of iPhone 12, the MagSafe Charger does not come with a charging brick either. I plan to use a USB-C MacBook Pro charging brick to charge my iPhone 12 Pro Max with the MagSafe Charger. I like the MagSafe Duo Charger, a MagSafe charging mat for charging an iPhone and Apple Watch at the same time, however, that $129 accessory is not yet on sale. Finally, when thinking about accessories, keep in mind that while the iPhone cable is still Lightening on the iPhone end of the cable, the other end of the cable has changed from USB-A to USB-C. If you do not have the correct combination of chargers and cables on hand for your new iPhone 12, you may need to purchase one or both this year.
iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 Pro Max go on sale this coming Friday, November 13.
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.