As expected, Apple unveiled its new iPhone, but if you already have the iPhone 11, is it worth the upgrade?
Every year, without fail, we expect Apple to release a new iPhone and look at that — once again, we have a new one to ogle over. First let us break down the upgrades, see what is new, and then we can talk about if it's worth upgrading to the new iPhone 12/12 Pro.
Let us start with looks
The new iPhone 12 has a new design, but I would rather call it a retro design. We’ve all seen this before, remember the iPhone 4 and iPhone 5? The body and shape of the iPhone 12 is virtually the same design language with the same flat face and the rounded-off, squared-up edges as the iPhone 5. The only difference is how now much larger it is now, so not much to report here. It more or less pays homage to the last iPhone Steve Jobs worked on. Apple has not said this is why they did it, but it is if you ask me. Everything else, including the notch and the triple camera set up in the back, looks remarkably similar to the iPhone 11; again, nothing new here either. If I am being honest, I don’t think anyone gave a standing ovation when this was announced, the rumor mill spilled almost every single detail before it was launched. So, in terms of looks, it gets a nod for the retro design but other than that, it's just…meh. I do like the new blue pacific color, however.
Let's talk upgrades
Okay, the list of upgrades is long, but they are not super significant. The new iPhone 12 now comes in 4 sizes (instead of 3 on the iPhone 11) with the screen sizes being 5.4-inch for iPhone 12 mini, 6.1-inch for iPhone 12, and 6.5 inches to a 6.7-inch display on the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max, respectively. Interesting, considering the old iPhone 11 Pro Max had a 6.1-inch screen size. All iPhone 12 screens are now Super Retina XDR displays and reportedly have double the number of pixels than the iPhone 11. The screen also features a new material that is said to be made of glass with nano ceramic crystals embedded within it. It supposedly looks and feels like glass but can withstand impacts like a ceramic type material. This new screen, Apple says, makes the impact resistance 4x times better than previous phones, but I'm not sure exactly what that means in the real world. They call this “Ceramic Shield”. Fancy. The battery, from what I can tell, did not change much as there was not much talk about it. All we got was that it could last up to 16 hours of video playback for the iPhone 12, all the way to 18 hours on the Pro Max., but the number is for the video already stored on your phone. Not streaming.
Moving to cameras. The same double and triple camera setups are carried over on the Phone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro line up respectfully. On the iPhone 12, the main shooter is a 12mp camera with f/1.6 aperture and the other 12mp ultrawide camera is an f/2.4. There have been marginal improvements with low light shooting which Apple claims is now 27% better, but the bigger upgrade is the HDR 3 tech with captures images with better color and contrast. As far a video recording goes, nothing really has changed here. You can record in 4k, which is nice but what flagship can’t nowadays. The front camera is basically the same as the iPhone 11 so nothing crazy going on there.
The iPhone 12 Pro main camera only improves with the aperture size now being 1.6 as compared to 1.8 on the iPhone 11, it has the same 27% better low light performance as the iPhone 12 but only the Pro Max gets a larger overall image sensor. Again, it's there to make low light shots look even better. Apple says it's an 87% improvement. The Telephoto lens on the iPhone Pro gets a minor bump to 4x optical zoom vs 3x and the telephoto on the Pro Max bumps it up even more to 5x. The ultrawide setup is the same f/2.4 12mp camera on both Pro and Pro Max.
Well the Apple A14 Bionic chip is all new. It is available across the entire lineup and Apple claims it is the fastest chip in any smartphone and the world's first 5nm chipset. It is the same one they announced earlier in the iPad Air and claimed to be 50% faster than any other chip out there and 40% faster than the A13 chip on the iPhone 11. It is good that we can keep increasing these speeds with 5G on the way.
Wait, did I just say 5G? Oh yeah, this is the first year iPhone gets 5G with mmWave compatibility (which only Verizon uses). Now, 5G is known to be a battery hog so Apple has optimized its software to turn 5G on and off depending on when it thinks you may need it. I am not sure what that means or how it would work. It is a good battery saving idea but again it would be important to see how it optimizes specific features.
There are new additions that tie into the camera now too. iPhone 12 Pro gets a LiDAR scanning system facing the rear of the phone which is used to sense objects around you and create a sense of space and depth. It's what some self-driving cars use to see the world around them. I'm sure there will be many reasons to use this system in the future but for now, it is used for autofocusing on images and taking this shallow depth of field images. Think portrait shots.
A software upgrade to the cameras allows for Dolby Vision recording, which is said to be a first on any new phone ever. This is ground-breaking and I see how pro users would like this feature, but it looks like you can only edit the video shot in this format within the phone and display it on a TV. Hmm, seems half baked.
Lastly, we come to the most interesting addition: the Magsafe magnetic system on the rear of the phone. Again, it feels like a nod to the old MagSafe connection that MacBook's used. Strange they didn’t carry this over to any new Macbooks but instead repurposed it for the iPhone. Anyway, there will be accessories made by Apple, and I’m sure, many 3rd party manufacturers which will try to use this magnet on the back. Apple showed us a wallet accessory being clipped to the back of the phone (with what looks like a single cardholder) and a phone case that clips on also. It seems the charger will still work through the cases which is a nice touch.
Is this phone worth your hard-earned money?
Simple answer: no. This is good evolution but there is not anything innovative. Frankly, I think the innovation engine over at Apple has stalled out but don’t get me wrong, Apple still makes a solid phone and has a massive market in the US. If you count the upgrades and the new stuff, it's not worth it to me. The faster processor is nice, but Apple software is already optimized to work amazingly on the old A13 chip found in the iPhone 11/11 Pro. The cameras get better depth sensing with LiDAR, a little better zoom, and apertures but if you don’t get the Pro, I don’t really think you will notice. The design is really an old design with a little more durable glass and an addition of a new blue color, and the notch is still around. Really the only new thing is the MagSafe magnet system on the back. However, get this: the power brick does not come in the box and neither do a pair of headphones. While this is okay as Apple claims it is a shift to be more environmentally friendly, why did they include a new Lighting to USB-C cable then? Most people will not have a USB-C power brick and that means you will spend another $30 to acquire one. Not sure how this really saves the environment. I get it, but I don’t get it. All this to say, save your money. You have a decent phone in the iPhone 11/ 11 Pro and wait a while till Apple does something truly new (hopefully). If you have the iPhone X or XS then I would say maybe it’s worth the upgrade, but only to the iPhone 11 since it's still around and it’s better value for money. Unfortunately, given how the iPhone 11 Pro and Pro max have been nixed from the lineup, the only options for the “pro” user are the iPhone 12/ 12 Pro.