Apple iPhone 12: Everything you need to know

It happened later in the year than usual, but the result is the same: Apple has finally unveiled its latest phone, iPhone 12.

Of course, it isn’t just one iPhone 12 — there are actually four different models to choose from this year. The iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Mini, iPhone 12 Pro, and iPhone 12 Pro Max are here.

Hands-on with the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro

The iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro are now in our hands. And while we get through the process of fully reviewing both phones, we’ve pulled together our initial thoughts on both so you can be right up to speed with how we’re finding them.

Be sure to read our initial impressions, and stick with us as we go through the entire detailed review process. We’ll have separate reviews of both phones, as well as comparisons, so you know which one is right for you.

Read our initial impressions of the iPhone 12

iPhone 12 design and displays

The headline for 2020 is that Apple is finally making a dramatic change to the overall hardware design, after evolving the iPhone X design for three generations. The latest design calls back to the iPhone 5 and falls in line with the latest iPad Pro and iPad Air.

The sides are now flat, with a matte finish on the iPhone 12 and a glossy finish on the iPhone 12 Pro, and there are sharper edges that transition to the glass front and back. The look is completed with smaller bezels around the entirety of the screen, though the top notch still houses the front-facing camera and Face ID tech. The design is complemented by a range of new colors, most notably a standout deep blue variant.

The iPhone 12 and 12 Mini come in black, blue, green, white, and red, while the iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max come in black, blue, gold, and white.

iPhone 12 Event Screenshot

The second-most enticing part of the iPhone 12 line involves the screen sizes on offer. The iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro now offer a 6.1-inch display, up from 5.8 inches, though with the smaller bezels, the phones aren’t appreciably larger overall. New for the range is the iPhone 12 Mini (yes, that’s the real name), which features a 5.4-inch display that slots it just above the iPhone SE in Apple’s lineup. For those who want a huge display, there’s the iPhone 12 Pro Max with a 6.7-inch display.

The iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max have a slightly different set of finishes, in addition to their different colors. The frame is stainless steel, not aluminum, and the textures of the frame and glass are flipped — the frame is polished to a brilliant shine, while the glass has a matte texture like the iPhone 11 Pro.

Regarding that display, there’s a big improvement in durability: Ceramic Shield glass. Apple partnered with glass maker Corning to create a new glass covering for the iPhone 12, called Ceramic Shield, that’s the strongest display covering made commercially available. Apple claims it has 4x better drop performance, meaning it’s much more likely to survive a typical drop without cracking or breaking. We’ll have to wait and see how that translates to scratch resistance and other measures of durability.

None of the screens, even on the Pro models, have a 120Hz refresh rate or what Apple would call “ProMotion” technology. Though I’m sure the screens are beautiful, it’s still a letdown in a year when a nearly every Android phone released this year has at least a 90Hz refresh rate — and trust me, that really does make a difference in how the screen looks.

All four iPhone 12 models offer 5G connectivity, which is a first for Apple but a feature found on most Android phones over $500. Apple chose to include both the widespread Sub-6 5G and lesser-used mmWave 5G radios on its phones, ensuring wider compatibility, particularly in the U.S. Verizon uses mmWave exclusively, while AT&T and T-Mobile are primarily based on Sub-6 and are slowly adding mmWave.

iPhone 12 cameras

The iPhone 12 has just two cameras again, a main lens and an ultrawide lens, but Apple has improved the main camera compared to the iPhone 11. The main camera has a new 7-element lens, and a wider f/1.6 aperture, to improve low-light photography — Apple claims a 27% improvement in low-light capabilities.

Apple has now enabled night mode on all of the cameras, so you can shoot low-light shots with both the rear ultrawide camera and the front-facing selfie camera. This means fewer opportunities to blind or blow out your subject with a flash. And all four iPhone 12 models have improved main camera OIS (optical image stabilization), which stabilizes at 5x the sample rate, enabling better long exposures — up to 2 seconds without a loss in sharpness.

For the iPhone 12 Pro, the cameras are taken to a new level. First off, you get three sensors with the addition of a “telephoto” lens at 52mm that provides 2x optical zoom over the main camera. The main camera is improved as well, like the iPhone 12, with an f/1.6 aperture and new 7-element lens for clearer photos.

Apple is doing even more on the iPhone 12 Pro Max, with improvements to the main and telephoto cameras. The main sensor has a new DSLR-like OIS system, called sensor shift, that stabilizes the sensor itself rather than the lens. With this new sensor system, low-light performance is improved over even the 12 Pro. The telephoto lens has a longer 65mm focal length, or 2.5x on the main lens, which gets you a little closer to your subject and reduces the amount of digital zoom required.

With the new A14 Bionic processor, Apple is able to bring its Deep Fusion advanced camera processing to all four cameras, including the selfie camera, for even better computational photography to resolve tough scenes, lighting, and textures.

The return of MagSafe charging

A huge curveball in the iPhone 12 is the resurrection of the MagSafe brand — previously used for Apple’s laptop chargers that attached with magnets. The new system integrates strong magnets into the back of the iPhone 12, so that you can attach accessories — and no, it’s not just limited to chargers.

With MagSafe, you can attach all sorts of accessories to the back of the phone with a snap — full cases, small case attachments like a wallet pouch, car dashboard mounts, and chargers. Apple is also introducing a wireless charging pad that has magnets in it, so you can toss an iPhone 12 on it and know it’s charging every single time.

Better yet, MagSafe isn’t going to be exclusive to Apple’s own accessories. Other companies will be able to make MagSafe-compatible attachments, with Belkin being one of the first to have new accessories. Given how robust the market currently is for accessories that use magnets inside of existing cases, we can expect this to really take off for the iPhone 12 series.

iPhone 12 launch date, price, and availability

Likely due to many of the same external influences that pushed back the overall launch, Apple has a staggered release schedule for its iPhone 12 models.

The iPhone 12 and 12 Pro (the 6.1-inch models) are now fully available, after a week of pre-orders. You can get them from your carrier, or unlocked from Apple, Best Buy, and so on.

The iPhone 12 Mini and 12 Pro Max, the smallest and largest models, will be up for pre-order much later, on Friday, November 6, and will ship a week after that on November 13.

The iPhone 12 Mini starts at $699, while the iPhone 12 starts at $799.

The iPhone 12 Pro starts at $999, while the iPhone 12 Pro Max starts at $1,099.

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