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Test of the iPhone 12 Pro: Apple is almost perfect

Released a little later than usual, the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro have been available since October 16, 2020. I have been testing both models for several days. Let’s start with the iPhone 12 Pro.

We will have waited for them a little longer than usual. Health crisis requires, Apple changed its schedule and presented its new iPhone in early October, a month later.

This year, Apple is launching its four products in waves. The iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro have been available on October 23, 2020, with the mini and 12 Pro Max arriving in early November. The good news is that this staggered launch gives us a little more time to test Apple’s new smartphones.

iPhone 12 Pro price and release date
The iPhone 12 Pro is available since October 23, 2020 at a price of 1,159 euros in 128 GB version. Apple is not applying any increase over the previous model despite the integration of 5G.

The iPhone 12 Pro comes in two other versions: 256 GB at $ 1,279 and 512 GB at $ 1,509. Four colors are available: Silver, Gold, Graphite and Pacific Blue (my test model).

Design
New look for a new life. This year, Apple is changing the aesthetic codes of the entire iPhone 12 range. Say goodbye to the rounded lines, the iPhone 12 Pro is distinguished by its flatter format. Those familiar with the Apple smartphone will recognize the features of the iPhone 4 (or iPhone 5, it depends) characterized by straight and flat edges for ease of use with one hand.

This format is reminiscent of that of the latest iPads (Pro and Air 4), which gives a certain homogeneity to the latest generation of Apple mobile products.

The iPhone 12 Pro sits on a shiny stainless-steel chassis (which marks fingerprints) sandwiched between two slices of glass. On the back, Apple retains the matte treatment first seen on the iPhone 11 Pro with a Pacific Blue color (test model) that replaces last year’s green.

For the sake of elegance, the “CE” mark relating to compliance with European standards is deported on the right edge of the smartphone and is almost invisible. The photo module on the back is still housed in the upper left corner, in a shiny square. In addition to the three sensors, we distinguish the flash and LiDAR exclusive to Pro versions.

Up front, Apple retains its imposing notch that denotes what the competition offers. The American prefers to keep his ultra-secure facial recognition system at the expense of design. Hopefully, he finds a way to hide Face ID (or Touch ID) under the screen on the next generation iPhone.

In the meantime, Apple has paid particular attention to the screen protector glass. Like its brothers, the iPhone 12 Pro is equipped with Ceramic Shield, an ultra-resistant glass (made in Corning) made from ceramic micro-particles. The first crash tests (which I did not do myself with my loaner model) confirm its rock solidity.

For the rest, Apple keeps the same layout of the physical keys: speakers and Lightning (again) on the lower border, volume and mute buttons on the right side, power button on the opposite.

Decidedly in shape, Apple designers have improved the size / screen ratio, also the iPhone 12 Pro has a 6.1-inch panel against 5.8 inches for the 11 Pro. Despite everything, the dimensions remain almost unchanged (146.7 x 71.5 x 7.4 mm) and its 187 g classify it among the featherweight.

In my opinion, the format of the iPhone 12 Pro is the best compromise between display comfort and handling, the Max version joining behemoths like Samsung’s Galaxy Note 20 Ultra or the OnePlus 8 Pro.

By mixing nostalgia and modernity, Apple therefore makes this iPhone 12 Pro one of the most elegant smartphones on the market. As usual the finishes are exemplary. A little gem of technology in short.

Screen and audio
This year, Apple says goodbye to LCD technology and adorns its entire new range of OLED panels. The iPhone 12 Pro inherits a 6.1-inch screen, therefore, the same as that of the iPhone 12, displaying 5 times more pixels.

Powered by Super Retina XDR technology and HDR compatible, the iPhone 12 Pro displays content with Full HD definition (2340 x 1170 pixels). Apple promises a contrast ratio of 2,000,000: 1, a maximum brightness of 1,200 nits (800 nits in use) and 100% coverage of the DCI-P3 spectrum. True Tone (a function that adapts the display to the environment) is still there.

The iPhone 11 Pro’s display was already among the benchmarks in the market. His successor lives up to this reputation. For consistency, Apple does not offer the ability to customize the display other than enabling True Tone or Night Shift. Nothing dramatic since the calibration is perfect.

The only thing missing is a higher refresh rate, with Apple again limiting itself this year to a 60 Hz panel. Of course, iPhone regulars will see nothing but fire. Certainly, iOS 14 and the optimized applications enjoy an incomparable fluidity compared to Android. But on social networks, the web and for reading text, the difference between 90 Hz and 60 Hz is clearly felt.

Always a benchmark in audio
Never change a winning team. The iPhone 12 Pro inherits the talents of its predecessor and shines with its excellent audio quality. Equipped with two speakers (including one on the front also dedicated to telephone conversations), the iPhone 12 Pro delivers excellent stereo sound, further improved compared to the previous model. More balanced, it enjoys very good spatialization and Dolby Atmos certification to provide a quality multimedia experience.

In the absence of a 3.5mm jack (from iPhone 7) and adapter (from iPhone 11 Pro), you will need to bring your own equipment, or proceed to checkout. Of course, the wireless experience remains the most relevant, so the iPhone 12 Pro is Bluetooth 5.0 compatible. So you can (randomly) connect your Air Pods Pro in no time at all.

Performance and interface
Like every year, Apple equips its new iPhones with a whole new chip. In 2020, it is therefore the A14 Bionic – engraved in 5 nm and associated with 6 GB of RAM – also integrated into the iPad Air, which is responsible for running the most demanding applications on the App Store. In a few figures, the A14 Bionic contains 14% more transistors compared to the A13 Bionic. The CPU and GPU are 50% faster and the Neural Engine (artificial intelligence) is further improved to learn from your uses.

I won’t make a long speech, the A14 Bionic makes the iPhone 12 Pro a little rocket. Combined with software optimization that Apple has the secret, it allows tasks to flow without ever showing signs of fatigue. Of course, the most resource-intensive games run smoothly with the highest graphics configuration.

Above all, Apple’s exemplary software tracking ensures an unparalleled lifespan for the iPhone 12 Pro. Expensive to buy, it will be able to follow technical developments for 4 to 5 years. A feat that no other manufacturer can boast of. So the iPhone 12 Pro (like the entire line) is arguably the most durable smartphone on the market.

iOS 14: Apple adopts widgets
The iPhone 12 Pro comes with iOS 14.1, the latest version of its software launched on September 16, 2020. In addition to the usual performance and autonomy optimizations, this version of iOS marks a real turning point in Apple’s philosophy. This turnaround has a name (which you know): Widgets.

Similar to Android, users can now view contextual information directly on the Home screen and access certain functions more quickly. Widgets can fit in the middle of app icons in different formats predefined by Apple.

This makes the iPhone more personal, so the saying “there is nothing that looks more like an iPhone than another iPhone” loses all its flavor. Some will appreciate this openness, others will cry scandal invoking the late Steve Jobs “who would never have accepted such heresy” (ouin ouin).

I will mention in passing the Application Library which groups together apps on the same theme. Very practical, it sometimes lacks relevance in its classification but remains generally well put together.

Overall, iOS 14 is a perfect illustration of the convergence between iOS and Android, which is okay with me. This version of iOS is therefore without a doubt the most complete, the most intuitive and the most ergonomic that I have ever tested. It perfectly combines simplicity, customization and multiple functions. But that’s just my opinion.

Autonomy and recharging
I won’t dwell on the battery life of the iPhone 12 Pro as it follows on from the iPhone 11 Pro. However, the 2,815 mAh battery is slightly smaller than that of last year’s model which, in addition, did not carry 5G connectivity.

Apple explains having optimized the software, and it works! In versatile use, the iPhone 12 Pro easily lasts a day and a half to two days. After the 2019 revolution with the iPhone 11 Pro, Apple seems to have mastered the recipe for its magic potion.

However, its choices in terms of charger are more questionable. In my opinion, they are more like the recipe for Arsenic Pudding (real people know). On the pretext of an ecological approach, the American has chosen to no longer provide a charger with its new smartphones (including the iPhone 11 Pro leaving the factory), Apple believing that potential iPhone buyers have at least one. A commendable action on paper which however faces a strange reality.

On the one hand, the cable accompanying the iPhone 12 Pro is a USB-C to Lightning type. If your drawers are overflowing with USB-C power supplies, you’re in luck. This is not the case for me or (quite possibly) of a large number of potential buyers since Apple has only been providing this cable since the iPhone 11 Pro. The company explains that it comes as an additional charging solution (plugging the iPhone into a Mac for example). Let’s admit.

Apple is forgetting a small detail: until the iPhone 11 Pro (delivered with an 18 W unit) its chargers provided a maximum of 5 Watts, which in fact earned it a volley of green wood. However, the iPhone 12 Pro supports 20-Watt fast charging. If I skipped the iPhone 11 Pro generation, the purchase of a more powerful mains unit is therefore almost mandatory if I want to take advantage of the fast charge (lemon squeezer advises you those from Aukey). Bottom line: there will still be one more charger in the wild, but paid for by the user.

MagSafe: good but not “magnet”
And since things are done right, Apple is introducing MagSafe, its new wireless charging technology inherited from older MacBook’s. MagSafe promises wireless charging of 15 W (against 7.5 W in Qi) without perdition thanks to a circular magnetic system (which will be able to accommodate its set of accessories afterwards).

This system of “magnets”, attractive on paper, ultimately proves impractical in everyday life. Very powerful, it forces you to grab the smartphone and the cable to separate them. You don’t put the iPhone on your MagSafe charger, you fix it. A small constraint that distorts the essence of the original technology.

Initially, MagSafe allowed Macs to be recharged with a magnetic plug, thus avoiding dropping the computer by tripping over the cable. This is no longer the case with the iPhone version of MagSafe: if you get tripped up in the cable, you’ll hear the stressful noise of your brand-new iPhone 12 Pro crashing to the ground before you can even rail. You have been warned.

What about charging time in all of this? When playing the Apple game, that is, using an old 5W iPhone charger, a full charge lasts … 4 hours! So here is a nice invitation to turn to third party chargers.

As proof, with a 60 W MacBook Pro fast charger (therefore capped at 20 W), the smartphone gains 50% in 20 minutes and recharges completely in just over an hour.

With the MagSafe charger, the iPhone 12 Pro goes from 1 to 50% in about 35 minutes and reaches 100% in about 1h10.

If this performance may seem average compared to the capacity of the battery, the result is there. iPhone 12 Pro saves a day’s use in a 30-minute charge, and up to two days in just over an hour. Of course, these scores imply the use of a charger of at least 20 W wired and if possible, USB-C. The MagSafe charger (sold 45 euros) is also supplied without the charging unit. Ecology we tell you!

Camera
Important: As of this writing, the ApplePro RAW feature for capturing photos in RAW is not yet available. This test will be updated as soon as it is deployed by Apple.

This year, the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max do not have the same photographic equipment. However, the iPhone 12 Pro differs from the standard model by the integration of a telephoto lens and the famous LiDAR scanner inaugurated with the iPad Pro 2020. Here is the photographic configuration of the iPhone 12 Pro:

  • Wide-angle 26mm (f / 1.6); 12 Mpx sensor (1.4 μm photosite); Dual Pixel; PDAF; Sensor-shift OIS
  • Ultra-wide-angle 13mm (f / 2.4mm); 120 ° field of view; 12 Mpx sensor
  • 52mm telephoto lens (f / 2); 12 Mpx sensor (1 / 3.4 ″; 1 μm photosite); PDAF, OIS, 2x / 4x optical zoom
  • LiDAR scanner

The whole thing is sprinkled with software optimizations with Deep Fusion (better management of the exposure) and Smart HDR 3 which notably improves the shots in low light.

Unsurprisingly, the iPhone 12 Pro is excellent in good light conditions. The “Apple touch” characterized by a natural rendering is present, to the delight of photographers (amateurs or not).

The telephoto lens is also improving. Photos shot with the 2x zoom turn out to be very good with better sharpness and a rendering similar to the wide-angle lens. The 10x zoom is correct but does not work miracles either.

The best improvement comes from the ultra-wide angle. There is less distortion, better sharpness and above all a colorimetry identical to that of the wide-angle. In short, whether shooting at short or long distance, photos taken with the iPhone 12 Pro all look the same.

So what is the LiDAR scanner for? Excellent question, thanks for asking. LiDAR allows the iPhone 12 Pro to better assess depth of field and to draw a 3D shot of the environment in which you are shooting. This improves the quality of portraits and low-light shots.

Thus, portraits shot on the iPhone 12 Pro are distinguished by a more precise cropping and above all a progressive bokeh that has no equal on the market. And this also goes for portraits captured in low light. I’ll let you enjoy the example photos.

Apple has done the best in low light this year. So much so that the iPhone 12 Pro can compete with the Google Pixels. In addition to portraits, the iPhone 12 Pro handles different light sources much better as long as you leave the automatic night mode activated (3 to 4 seconds maximum pause time).

If the engineers still seem to have some difficulty in chasing the flair (halo or small luminous points), the photos in low light shine by their excellent sharpness and their colorimetry. These good impressions also apply to the telephoto and ultra-wide-angle lenses, which also adopt – and for the first time – night mode. These good results can be explained by a greater aperture of the lenses but above all an improved digital processing compared to the iPhone 11 Pro.

Stung in its pride by competitors like Huawei, Google and Samsung, Apple is regaining its splendor since the iPhone 11 Pro in the field of photography. Also, the iPhone 12 Pro is establishing itself as a benchmark in this area even if Huawei (Mate 40 Pro) and Google (Pixel 5) are keeping a very small head start. Until then the iPhone 12 Pro Max is better off.

Up front, Apple keeps the TrueDepth camera based on a 12-megapixel sensor. If the hardware does not change, software optimizations bring it night mode, better overall rendering and the ability to shoot in 4K up to 60 fps. FaceTime, it finally adopts the Full HD definition. Improvements that will therefore delight fans of stories, vlogs or TikTok videos.

Until now – and despite many efforts by the competition – the iPhone was still the best smartphone for filming. Good news, the iPhone 12 Pro lives up to this reputation. Now capable of shooting in 4K HDR 10-bit Dolby Vision at up to 60fps, it still stands out with its stabilization onion.

While some videographers have already adopted the iPhone 11 Pro as a backup camera, this iPhone 12 Pro takes a new step. The budding Steven Spielbergs will appreciate it.

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