Home / Android / Apple iPhone 12 review: so good, I’m tempted to switch from Android – XDA Developers

Apple iPhone 12 review: so good, I’m tempted to switch from Android – XDA Developers

Like all my XDA colleagues, my mobile operating system of choice is Android. But unlike most of my far tech-savvier XDA colleagues, I stumbled into Android rather late, having spent the first seven years of the smartphone era as an iPhone user.

XDA Recommended Product in 2020 Award Badge

I purchased the original iPhone on day one and upgraded every year all the way until the iPhone 6 Plus in 2014. That was the first plus-sized iPhone and, always wanting a larger screen for content consumption, I chose the Plus model. I regretted it almost immediately – the 5.5-inch screen felt unwieldy, thanks to its 16:9 aspect ratio (standard at the time).  thick bezels, and iOS not being one-hand friendly.

A couple of days later I saw my friend’s LG G3, which also offered a 5.5-inch screen but in a much smaller form factor, I was intrigued. I looked around that evening, and the next day I traded in my iPhone 6 Plus for the G3. I was immediately blown away by the freedom Android gave me – wait, I can place my apps anywhere on the homescreen? And the icons can change aesthetic or shapes? –  and have been an Android user ever since.

iPhone 12 laying flat.

In my opinion, there was definitely a stretch around 2014 to 2017 when the best Android smartphones were objectively better than the best iPhones. LG’s G phones had much slimmer bezels and a useful ultra-wide camera; Samsung’s Galaxy devices offered OLED screens when iPhones were still on LCD; Huawei used larger image sensors and had battery life that lasted twice as long.

Apple, perhaps realizing the competition had stepped up, began putting in the effort to catch up. The iPhone X finally ditched the ten-year-old circle home button design; the iPhone XS increased battery life, and the iPhone 11 added the ultra-wide camera. By last year, the best Android phones no longer had objectively the better screen, battery life, or camera performance.

And this year’s iPhone 12 series refines on the last few years’ additions so much – as well as addressing some of my longstanding annoyances with iOS – that it’s the first time in years I’m tempted to keep my SIM card in it for the long haul.

Here’s why I came to this conclusion after using the iPhone 12 for ten days.

    Apple iPhone 12
    A highly polished smartphone with arguably the most powerful processor around, with an improved camera system that closes the lead built by Google and Huawei. Arguably the best iPhone for most people right now and the first iPhone that’s tempted me to switch from Android.

Apple iPhone 12: Specifications

Specification Apple iPhone 12
Build
  • Aluminum mid-frame
  • Glass front and back
  • “Ceramic Shield” for glass protection
Dimensions & Weight
  • 146.7 x 71.5 x 7.4 mm
  • 162 grams (Global)
  • 164 grams (USA)
Display
  • 6.1″ Super Retina XDR OLED Display
  • 2,532 x 1,170 resolution
SoC Apple A14 Bionic SoC:

    • 2x performance cores
    • 4x power efficiency cores
  • 5nm process node
  • 4-core GPU
  • 16-core Neural Engine
Storage Options
Battery & Charging
  • 2,815 mAh battery as per certification listings
  • 15W Wireless Charging with MagSafe
  • 7.5W Qi Wireless Charging
Security Face ID (TrueDepth camera for facial recognition)
Rear Camera(s)
  •  Primary: 12MP
  • Secondary: 12MP, Ultra-wide angle
Front Camera(s) 12MP, f/2.2
Port(s) Proprietary Lightning port
Audio Audio formats supported: AAC‑LC, HE‑AAC, HE‑AAC v2, Protected AAC, MP3, Linear PCM, Apple Lossless, FLAC, Dolby Digital (AC‑3), Dolby Digital Plus (E‑AC‑3), Dolby Atmos, and Audible (formats 2, 3, 4, Audible Enhanced Audio, AAX, and AAX+)
Connectivity
  • 5G: Sub 6GHz
  • Ultra-Wide Band (UWB)
  • Wi‑Fi 6 (802.11ax) with 2×2 MIMO
  • Bluetooth 5.0
Software iOS 14
Other Features
  • IP68
  • Colors: Black, White, Red, Blue, Green

Hardware: design, look and feel

The iPhone 12 continues the iPhone X’s design but with enough changes to make it feel fresh and grab attention: the phone is now aggressively flat on all four sides, with the aluminum railing purposely wrapping around the whole phone like a bumper. Unlike recent Android smartphones, where gripping the sides usually will include touching some glass, you’re feeling all metal here. It feels more secure, and mature.

The iPhone 12 feels more mature and more secure in the hand, than most Android phones

The iPhone 12’s 6.1-inch OLED panel doesn’t have the most pixels or highest refresh rate, but it’s still a premium panel, with brilliant colors and max brightness up there with the best from Samsung. iOS’s great optimization has animations looking fluid despite the “just” 60Hz refresh rate. Of course, a 120Hz panel designed for speed like the OnePlus 8T‘s will still look zippier, but the gap doesn’t feel as huge as the 120 vs 60 numbers would suggest. At the risk of sounding like an Apple fanboy, the iPhone 12’s 60Hz panel feels smoother than, say, the 60Hz panel of an LG Wing or a 2019 Samsung.

At the top of the panel is that notch, and it’s starting to feel very outdated. The notch feels particularly intrusive this year since the hole-punch cutout design has become ubiquitous in Android. Yes, I know Apple’s notch provides real 3D face scanning that most Android phones do not, but in this era of mask-wearing, Face ID has been a hassle to use. I really dislike how much the notch eats into the screen when viewing full-screen media. If there was a version of the iPhone 12 with a fingerprint scanner and smaller notch, I’d take that one in a heartbeat.

The iPhone 12 notch cutting into video content.

Apple has supposedly infused the front screen with bits of ceramic this year, which the company claims makes the screen four times harder and less likely to break. Whether or not this is true is still up for debate. Some independent parties have conducted drop tests and concluded the iPhone 12 screen is more durable, but Pocketnow‘s Jaime Rivera noted that just merely stacking another phone on top of the iPhone 12 screen managed to scratch the panel.

I’ve always been very good at treating my phones so my unit is still spotless.

The rear side of the 12 has a matte glass finish that doesn’t attract fingerprints, and a dual-camera module housing a pair of 12MP sensors covering the wide and ultra-wide focal lengths.

Hardware: the internals

The iPhone 12 series are all powered by Apple’s A14 Bionic, a 5nm SoC that outperforms the 7nm Snapdragon 865+ in virtually every benchmark. Unfortunately, my Huawei Mate 40 Pro is still running pre-production software that blocks most benchmarking apps, so I haven’t been able to test Huawei’s 5nm Kirin 9000 against Apple’s silicon.

The iPhone 12 series all support 5G this year, and the US models have more 5G bands than any other phone, with support of mmWave and all Sub-6 bands around the world. (My unit is a Hong Kong unit, so it doesn’t carry mmWave bands).

I’ve been able to connect to 5G in Hong Kong consistently, but the benefits are little: data speeds are usually no faster than 4G LTE, and the iPhone 12 heats up fast if connected to 5G and doing moderately heavy tasks like gaming or shooting video.

The iPhone 12 connected to 5G.

The iPhone 12 connected to 5G.

Connecting to 5G also hurts battery life, resulting in a phone that can go most of the day, but not entirely. I turned off 5G and just stuck with 4G after six days. But, as I opined in a recent commentary, it’s still a good thing that Apple supports 5G because it should spur telecoms into pushing for better 5G performance.

iPhone 12's 6.1-inch OLED screen.

Software: less draconian than ever

A major reason I stuck with Android after switching over in 2014 was that I loved that Android was endlessly customizable, while iOS felt draconian and restricted. Apple’s improved that in recent years, and iOS 14 finally brings some new additions that narrow the gap.

The biggest iOS improvement for me is that we can finally place widgets on the homescreen. I know, I know, Android users are scoffing at iOS taking 13 years to give us something this basic. But as the saying goes, better late than never.

Like many working professionals, I use my smartphone to plan my entire working and personal life, and on my Android devices I have always had an agenda widget placed at the top of my homescreen, so I can always see my upcoming appointments, calls, or deadlines. I like it on the homescreen because it is always there as a persistent reminder. That way, I can’t not see it.

On iPhones before iOS 14, I couldn’t do this. I had to swipe to a particular page to view my widgets, and just the need to make a conscious effect to see the agendas widget means it really isn’t reminding me. What’s more, just by virtue of being able to place various widgets to an iPhone homescreen means there’s finally some form of customization instead of just swapping wallpapers. My iPhone homescreen with iOS 14 can look somewhat unique to me now, instead of like hundreds of millions of other iPhones out there. Of course, the degree to which I can customize my homescreen on iOS 14 is still limited compared to Android, but it’s a step in the right direction.

(While we’re here, can we discuss the fact that Google’s Pixel launcher seems to be moving towards an Apple-like draconian homescreen? Why can’t I remove the Google search bar or the clock widget? It’s like Apple and Google are moving towards each other in UI philosophy.)

Apple’s widgets work just like Android widgets for the most part — it’s an extension or shortcut to an app, on your homescreen. But in typical Apple fashion, it’s found a couple of clever ways to implement a longstanding idea. One of these is “Smart Stack,” which is a widget that’s context-aware and will try to show you a widget that’s relevant for the time of day. For example, in the morning, the widget may show weather and traffic information. In the afternoon, it may show my upcoming afternoon appointments. Sometimes it’ll be a one-tap shortcut to message my girlfriend on WhatsApp. If I’m wearing an Apple Watch and it’s detecting an exercise, then the smart widget will likely show me my heart rate and health stats.

And, of course, there is the fact that many widgets are better designed on iOS than Android — including Google’s own, as highlighted by The Verge’s Chris Welch.

Then there’s App Library, which is Apple finally implementing an app drawer of sorts. It’s been a mainstay of Android devices since the beginning, and in typical Apple fashion, they had to try something different. App Library allows you to move apps off of your home screen and can be accessed to the right of the last active page. You can also turn off entire pages of the homescreen, but before you do so, be warned: App Library is awkward to use. The collections are automatic meaning you can’t customize what’s shown in each folder, or the location of specific apps, but thankfully there is a list view where you can just view all of your apps in a chronological view. This is the easiest way to use the App Library, by far, but it’s still an extra tap that is, frankly, quite unnecessary.

iOS 14 also allows me to set a third-party keyboard or email app as the default. The file system introduced with iOS 13 has been refined further so I can manage my downloaded files now.

All around, iOS is so much more free compared to a couple of years ago. My only major gripe with iOS now is it still forces my apps to sit in a top-down, left-to-right grid. I want to be able to place my apps anywhere I want.

And if you’re immersed in Apple’s eco-system, iOS brings seamless smart connectivity that Android has yet to match. It’s great being able to beam files from an iPhone to an iPad or Mac in seconds, or use an iPhone as a remote control for Apple TV, or respond to all your notifications by speaking into your Apple Watch.

Camera: maintains video lead, closes the gap in photos

Apple’s tendency to favor warm tones and completely unaltered skin tones has given iPhone photos a distinct look that differs from most Android counterparts. Compared to photos captured by a Samsung, Huawei, or Pixel, iPhone photos are consistently warmer, with fewer signs of digital sharpening or processing. This works great for shots during the day. But once the sun sets, and Hong Kong’s neon-drenched city streets come to life, I prefer the contrasty, cool-tone, slightly digitalized look of Samsung’s image processing.

Photo samples captured by the main camera of the iPhone 12 and Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2.

For portrait shots of humans, the iPhone 12 keeps a natural look all around with natural-looking depth-of-field, although the Pixel 5 seems to produce a more aesthetically pleasing bokeh effect.

 

Portrait photo samples captured by iPhone 12 and the Pixel 5 in the top set, and iPhone 12 and Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 bottom set.

The iPhone’s ultra-wide-angle camera has one of the widest field-of-view around, and this year it supports night mode, which drastically improves low light performance. In the night images below, the iPhone 12’s ultra-wide is better exposed and suffers from less noise than the Galaxy S20 FE’s ultra-wide. However, I prefer the cooler tone of Samsung’s ultra-wide at night again.

 

Ultra-wide samples captured by the iPhone 12 and the S20 FE

In general low night images, the iPhone 12 uses night mode automatically, and the results are pleasing photos that are much improved over the mediocre night shots captured by the iPhone X and XS. In fact, the iPhone 12’s night shots close the gap on the Google Pixel 5 and Huawei Mate 40 Pro. A couple of years ago, a Google or Huawei flagship would be miles better than an iPhone if the scene was dark.

For selfies, in particular, the iPhone produces unnervingly raw shots that show us in our exact real-life form, blemishes and all. The Google Pixel 5 does a similar natural job too, but it’s the anomaly in Android. Virtually all other Android brands, from Samsung to Huawei, Xiaomi to OnePlus, apply some form of beauty filters to lessen the appearance of wrinkles, blemishes, scars.

I’ve always joked that good looking people would prefer iPhone selfies, while people with bad skin like me would prefer touched up shots captured by an Android. And it’s sort of true here. Take the set of selfies below: I am a bit uncomfortable with how bad (real) my skin looks in the iPhone 12 selfie. If you zoom close enough, you can see all my acne scars and pores. The Huawei Mate 40 Pro does enough touch up to ease my ego a bit better.

Still, whether Apple’s decision to go for a more natural, un-edited, vibe makes photos better is subjective. What’s objective is that in areas of focal length versatility, the iPhone 12 falls far short of Android rivals. The lack of a telephoto lens means every zoom shot of the iPhone 12 is digital, and anything beyond 2X you will start seeing a significant loss of details. But here’s the thing, even the 12 Pro, with a dedicated telephoto lens, loses badly to the Periscope lens of a recent Huawei anyway, so Apple’s just behind here, period.

5X zoom shots captured by the iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro, and the Huawei Mate 40 Pro. 

Video performance is where the iPhone 12 wins quite convincingly. In general, iPhone 12 footage has better stabilization, and at night, when Android phone videos tend to suffer from micro-jitters with each step I take, the iPhone 12 still manages to keep footage relatively smooth.

Then there’s the ability to shoot in Dolby Vision, an HDR standard that dynamically adjusts video metadata on-the-fly. Because Apple is Apple, the Dolby Vision shot with the iPhone 12 isn’t compatible with every screen. For the most part, only Apple’s own devices will show iPhone 12 Dolby Vision videos correctly. But given the ubiquity of the iPhone, I’m certain most software applications and screens will adapt and support Apple’s format in due time. See the video below for a collection of footage shot with the iPhone 12, including some side-by-side samples against the Huawei Mate 40 Pro, Google Pixel 5, and Galaxy S20 FE.

Overall performance

As I mentioned earlier, battery life and thermals with the 12 are not great if I’m connected to 5G, but once I swapped back to 4G, battery life improved to last a day easily, and the phone didn’t heat up as much. Everywhere else, performance has been smooth without issues.

The stereo speakers of the iPhone 12 sound loud, so I’ve been able to use it for some video and voice calls without needing to put on earphones. I don’t game much, but I can feel the A14 Bionic’s processing power because I edit short video clips for my Instagram stories, and the iPhone 12, running LumaFusion consistently processes 4K videos at blazing fast speeds.

4 trends the iPhone 12 could set for Android phones in 2021

Charging the phone can be hit and miss. The new, heavily-hyped MagSafe system is quite useful — I enjoy being able to pick up the phone to respond to some emails and texts without losing charge. But charging speeds overall for the iPhone 12 is slow compared to what I’ve been used to from the Oppo, Huawei, Xiaomi, and OnePlus.

I also wish the iPhone 12 would use USB-C, as it’d allow me to carry one cable for all my devices.

How the iPhone 12 stacks up against other recently-released Android phones

I am lucky enough to be able to test almost all the new smartphones, so in the past few weeks, I’ve jumped from a diverse lineup of phones from Samsung to Huawei, Google to OnePlus. And here are some quick takeaways on how the iPhone 12 compares to all of them.

iPhone 12 vs Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: the Note 20 Ultra is a much larger phone, with a better screen in all the areas that matter — higher refresh rate, a smaller interruption for the selfie camera, and by being larger just looks more immersive. The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra also has a far better zoom system and the S-Pen, which isn’t a must-use tool but a nice bonus to have.

But the iPhone 12 Pro has a more powerful processor, is much easier to hold and use throughout the day, and is a lot cheaper.

iPhone 12 vs Samsung Galaxy S20 FE: I wrote an entire article dedicated to this comparison, and it’s quite close. The S20 FE wins in screen and camera versatility, but the iPhone 12 feels far more premium in the hand and has better video performance along with a more powerful chip.

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE in blue and Apple iPhone 12 in White, both in the hand and back facing the camera

The Galaxy S20 FE and the iPhone 12

iPhone 12 vs OnePlus 8T: the OnePlus 8T has noticeably faster animations. Things like scrolling, opening/closing apps all appear to move at turbo speed on the 8T. Part of this is just trickery – OnePlus is making animations extra fast to evoke the feeling of UI fluidity, but it works. The 8T, like the iPhone 12, also lacks a dedicated zoom lens, but it still produces sharper zoom because it pulls data from the larger, more pixel-dense 48MP sensor.

But the iPhone 12 has superior video performance, better build quality, and a better processor.

iPhone 12 vs Google Pixel 5: the Pixel 5 produces more aesthetically pleasing bokeh shots and color science in my opinion. I also love the front of the phone, with uniform bezels and just a small hole-punch cut-out. But there’s no getting around this – the Apple A14 Bionic stomps all over the Snapdragon 765G.

The iPhone 12 and the Pixel 5.

iPhone 12 vs Huawei Mate 40 Pro: Huawei’s latest is a huge and curve phone that is the polar opposite of the iPhone 12. It has a camera that’s arguably better in low light, and inarguably better in zoom. It lasts a lot longer on a single charge than the iPhone 12 too.

But the iPhone 12 has significantly better video performance and perhaps the biggest win of all: the iPhone 12 can run key Google apps like YouTube or Google Docs without issues.

Mate 40 Pro and iphone 12 Pro.

The iPhone 12 and the Huawei Mate 40 Pro.

Conclusion: the iPhone 12 fixes a lot of gripes I had with past iPhones

As I said at the beginning, I have been a happy Android user since 2014. I love being able to customize my Android exactly the way I like it, and I am a fan of the diverse form factors and quirky innovations. I still get a sense of excitement at quirky and forward-thinking Android devices like the LG Wing with a swivel design, Royole FlexPai 2 with a bendy screen, or a Vivo X50 with the gimbal camera system, more than I do a new iPhone.

The iPhone 12 is so good, I’m tempted to switch from Android

However, I also can’t deny the iPhone has an extra level of polish these same quirky phones from LG, Royole, and Vivo lack. Because I got sucked into Final Cut Pro long ago, I still use a Mac as my main computer. And the iPhone just matches so well with a Mac. The ability to transfer files via AirDrop makes me wish for something similar on Android; to their credit, Samsung and Huawei have built something similar, but they don’t work as seamlessly.

All the things that really bugged me about iOS in the past have been fixed somewhat – widgets on the homescreen, a proper file system – and the iPhone’s outdated design circa 2015 to 2017, or below par and limited camera system circa 2016 to 2019 has been fixed in recent years. Google’s computational photography lead over the iPhone is negligible, and Apple’s beginning to play the Huawei game of using a larger image sensor too (although that’s been saved for the iPhone 12 Pro Max).

In other words, the areas in which Android won clearly in the past has been narrowed significantly. I’ve been reviewing iPhones for a few years now, and usually as soon as I’m done reviewing I put my SIM back into an Android. But this year, I’m tempted to leave the SIM in there for a while. Because the iPhone 12 is that good.

Holding two iPhones in one hand

One last note: if you’re considering the other iPhone 12 variants, I say don’t get the 12 Pro. The Pro doesn’t bring enough improvements over the 12 to justify the extra $200.  Instead, you may want to consider the iPhone 12 Pro Max for an even better camera system or the iPhone 12 Mini for the novelty of using a petite phone. But the iPhone 12 is likely the right iPhone for most people – that $800 price feels just about right.

    Apple iPhone 12
    A highly polished smartphone with arguably the most powerful processor around, with an improved camera system that closes the lead built by Google and Huawei. Arguably the best iPhone for most people right now and the first iPhone that’s tempted me to switch from Android.


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