Tech review: Should I get the iPhone 12 or iPhone 12 Pro?

Apple’s latest 6.1-inch smartphones – the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro – will be available on Friday (Oct 23).

Those who want the 5.4-inch iPhone 12 mini and 6.7-inch iPhone 12 Pro Max will have to wait till Nov 13.

The Straits Times has reviewed the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro, and here’s how they stack up against each other.

Before we start, do note that all the iPhone 12 models do not come with EarPods (Apple’s wired earphones with Lightning connector) and a power adapter – only a USB-C-to-Lightning cable and a SIM card ejector.

Design and display

The iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro look alike as they share the same design and physical dimensions. Unlike the curved sides of their predecessors, both phones have flat sides reminiscent of the iPhone 5.

The biggest visual difference between the two is in the iPhone 12 Pro’s squarish rear camera module to accommodate its extra camera – it has three cameras while the iPhone 12 has two. The iPhone 12 Pro is also 25g heavier.

In terms of build, the iPhone 12 features an aluminium band and glass chassis and comes in five new colours: green (version tested), white, black, blue and red.

The iPhone 12 Pro comes in silver, graphite, gold and a new pacific blue (version tested). Its chassis consists of a stainless steel band with a rear glass back with a textured matte finish.

I really like the pacific blue as it is rather cool to have a phone that “changes” colour. At certain angles, it looks space grey and even black. I also prefer its matte finish, which makes it less slippery and less of a smudge magnet, unlike the iPhone 12.

On the flip side, I find the iPhone 12 Pro’s stainless steel band to be a fingerprint magnet, while the iPhone 12’s aluminium band does not seem to attract any prints.

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Both phones have the same 6.1-inch Oled display with a ceramic shield front that is said to offer four times better drop protection.

The display looks absolutely gorgeous. At times, I wonder if I am looking at a mock set as the icons look unbelievably sharp. With its peak brightess of 1,200nits, the display remains visible under bright sunlight.

The only downer is that it does not have a refresh rate of 120Hz, which are found in many Android flagship phones and which allows for visibly smoother animations and transitions.

The screen notch of both iPhones- which houses the TrueDepth camera – is still pretty prominent compared with the tiny hole-punch camera in some flagship Android phones.

But none has the sophisticated Face ID technology of the TrueDepth camera. Still, in this age of mask-wearing, I was hoping Apple would add an on-display fingerprint sensor for greater convenience.

Both the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro hit the sweet spot between screen size and handling. They are even easier to hold and use than the iPhone 11 – which is already great for one-handed use – as they are slightly smaller than the latter.

Camera

Like the iPhone 11, the iPhone 12 features a rear dual-camera system consisting of a 12-megapixel (MP) ultra-wide-angle camera and a 12MP wide-angle camera.

The 12 Pro has a rear triple-camera system with the same ultra-wide-angle and wide-angle cameras but with an additional 12MP telephoto camera with 2x optical zoom. In addition, it features an advanced LiDAR (laser light detection and ranging) scanner for augmented reality usage.

Both iPhone 12 models’ wide-angle camera now has a bigger f/1.6 aperture than its predecessors, which allows more light into the image sensor. Plus, with the new 7-element lens, the image quality theoretically should be better and sharper.

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The best part about all the iPhone 12 models is the Night mode, now available in all the cameras regardless of zoom range, or whether it is front-facing or rear. In its predecessors, Night mode is not available on the front-facing and ultra-wide-angle cameras.

You can now take long-exposure images with Night mode using the ultra-wide-angle camera. And if you are into selfies, this is a huge plus.

I use the Night mode of both models to snap a selfie in a dark spot at VivoCity. When I compare the images to the one taken by my own iPhone 11 Pro Max, it is literally day and night. The ones shot on the iPhone 12 models are much brighter and sharper.


Selfies taken using the iPhone 11 Pro Max (left) and the iPhone 12 Pro with Night Mode in dark lighting conditions. PHOTOS: TREVOR TAN

How do the rear cameras fare?

All the night-scene photos taken by both iPhone 12 models offer very high dynamic range with sharp details in the dark areas while keeping the highlights from being over-exposed. Image noise levels are also reasonably low.

That is about the same quality I get with my iPhone 11 Pro Max. In fact, I can hardly find any difference in sharpness and details, whether they are day or night shots.


A night scene taken using the ultra-wide-angle camera, which lacks the Night Mode capability, of iPhone 11 Pro Max. PHOTO: TREVOR TAN


A night scene taken using the ultra-wide-angle camera with the Night Mode capability of iPhone 12 Pro. PHOTO: TREVOR TAN

Only for ultra-wide-angle shots do I find the photos taken on the new iPhones to be less distorted with slightly more detail.

Performance and 5g connectivity

Both iPhones use Apple’s new six-core A14 Bionic chip, hailed by the company as the fastest chip in a smartphone and the first built on a 5nm process. This means it can pack more transistors for much better performance.

In the GeekBench 5 benchmark tests, both phones performed comparably as expected. The iPhone 12 scores 1,607 points in the single-core test and 4,002 points in the multi-core test, while the 12 Pro comes close with 1,602 (single-core) and 4,088 (multi-core) points.

As a comparison, my iPhone 11 Pro Max scores 1,326 (single-core) and 3,276 (multi-core) points. For Samsung’s impressive Galaxy Note20 Ultra, it is 909 (single-core) and 2,536 (multi-core) points.

In real-life use, all the apps start instantly and run effortlessly on both iPhones. When playing top-notch racing games such as Asphalt 9: Legends, the graphics look crisp with detailed textures on both phones.

Apple supplied a Singtel 5G SIM card to test the phones’ 5G performance. Using the Speedtest app on both my iPhone 11 Pro Max on Singtel 4G and the iPhone 12 Pro on 5G at VivoCity, I find the download speed on the iPhone 12 Pro to be nine times faster while its upload speed is 2.5 times faster.

Battery life

In our usual video loopback battery stress test, the iPhone 12 lasts 10 hours and 55 minutes, while the 12 Pro lasts slightly longer at 11 hours 10 minutes.

In comparison, the iPhone 11 goes for 11 hours and 20 minutes, while my iPhone 11 Pro Max lasts 13 hours and 10 minutes.

With constant checking of social media and e-mails as well as using WhatsApp, the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro should easily get you through the whole day on a single charge.

So, iPhone 12 or iPhone 12 Pro?

Both are excellent smartphones with great cameras and capabilities. You really cannot go wrong with either. But if I have to choose between the two, it would be the 12 Pro for the extra telephoto camera and the nice blue colour.

If you want something smaller, wait for the iPhone 12 mini. And if you prefer a bigger display and a larger image sensor with a new stabiliser, wait for the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

APPLE IPHONE 12

FOR

– Superb performance

– Gorgeous display

– Great camera performance

– Night mode available on all cameras

AGAINST

– Lack of on-display fingerprint sensor

– Display lacks 120Hz refresh rate

– Slightly poorer battery life than its predecessor

SPECS

PRICE: $1,299 (64GB), $1,369 (128GB), $1,539 (256GB, version tested)

PROCESSOR: A14 Bionic six-core chip with embedded neural engine

DISPLAY: 6.1-inch Oled Super Retina XDR (2,532 x 1,170 pixels), 460 pixels per inch

CAMERAS: 12-megapixel rear dual cameras (ultra wide-angle f/2.4, wide-angle f/1.6); TrueDepth Camera (12-megapixel front-facing camera, f/2.2)

WEIGHT: 164g

RATING

FEATURES: 4/5

DESIGN: 4.5/5

PERFORMANCE: 5/5

BATTERY LIFE: 4/5

VALUE FOR MONEY: 4/5

OVERALL: 4/5

APPLE IPHONE 12 PRO

FOR

– Superb performance

– Gorgeous display

– Excellent rear triple-camera setup

– Night mode on all cameras

– Rear matte finish reduces slippage

AGAINST

– Expensive

– Lack of on-display fingerprint sensor

– Display lacks 120Hz refresh rate

SPECS

PRICE: $1,649 (128GB), $1,819 (256GB), $2,149 (512GB, version tested)

PROCESSOR: A14 Bionic six-core chip with embedded neural engine

DISPLAY: 6.1-inch Super Retina XDR (2,532 x 1,170 pixels), CAMERAS: 12-megapixel rear triple cameras (ultra wide-angle f/2.4, wide-angle f/1.6, telephoto f/2.0) and LiDAR scanner; TrueDepth Camera (12-megapixel front-facing camera, f/2.2)

WEIGHT: 189g

RATING

FEATURES: 4/5

DESIGN: 4.5/5

PERFORMANCE: 5/5

BATTERY LIFE: 4/5

VALUE FOR MONEY: 4/5

OVERALL: 4.5/5 [ST Tech Editor’s choice]

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