Apple iPhone 12 Buying Guide: Everything You Need to Know

Apple’s iPhone 12 series may have been revealed a while ago at this point, but any of the iPhone 12 models are still among the best devices you can get. The series in general offers an all-new design, a better processor, an improved camera, and more.

There are four different iPhone 12 models: The iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Mini, iPhone 12 Pro, and iPhone 12 Pro Max. Each model has its own unique traits and features, and there should be something there for everyone. Not exactly sure how much size varies between all the models? Be sure to read our size comparison article. Here’s everything you need to know about the new 5G phones.

iPhone 12 pricing and availability

All four models of the iPhone 12 are now widely available. You can get them from your carrier, or unlocked from Apple, Amazon, Best Buy, and other retailers. In fact, over the few months that the iPhone 12 has been available, Counterpoint Research says it’s the best selling 5G phone and became so in its first two weeks of being available.

The iPhone 12 Mini starts at $699, and is the lineup’s small and affordable option. The iPhone 12 starts at $799 and goes up to $949 for the top storage option. We recommend opting for at least 128GB of storage.

The iPhone 12 Pro starts at $999, which gives you 128GB of storage, and goes up to $1,299 for the top storage option. At the top end, the iPhone 12 Pro Max starts at $1,099.

If you’re looking to possibly score one as part of a deal, here’s a rundown on the different ways to buy them. Or, if you’re not sure if you should get the iPhone 12 or the iPhone 12 Pro, check out our comparison.

Reviews of the iPhone 12 series

Now that the iPhone 12 models have been out for a while, we’ve had a chance to put them all through their paces. It starts with the base iPhone 12 and its size sibling the iPhone 12 Pro, which are the go-to picks because of their size and pricing. The iPhone 12 is a fantastic value and brings a great experience to anyone who isn’t going to push the limits. The 12 Pro goes a step beyond, with a stainless steel frame, more memory for a few advanced features, and a couple of extra camera capabilities.

Then you have the Mini and the Pro Max, bookending the group. The 12 Mini is delightfully small, fitting in anyone’s hand, yet still has a full set of iPhone 12 features and a complete camera experience. The 12 Pro Max is truly massive, with an excellent screen and superlong battery life — plus, a main camera that’s a cut above the 12 Pro in low light.

Read our iPhone 12 review

Read our iPhone 12 Mini review

Read our iPhone 12 Pro review

Read our iPhone 12 Pro Max review

Should you upgrade to the iPhone 12?

The iPhone 12 is, obviously, the best iPhone ever — and as such, if you’re in the market for a new iPhone, something from the iPhone 12 series is probably the way to go. That said, not everyone should buy it. For example, if you already have an iPhone 11, then an iPhone 12 probably won’t be that much of an upgrade. Save that for the iPhone 13 or iPhone 14.

We’ve compared the iPhone 12 to a number of other phones out there. Deciding between the most recent iPhone models? Check out our comparison of the iPhone 12 and iPhone 11, and our comparison of the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro. Or, if you’re one of the (very) few people still deciding between iOS and Android, it’s worth reading up on the iPhone 12 Pro and Galaxy S20, and the iPhone 12 Pro Max and Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, or checking out newer models, like the iPhone 12 against the Galaxy S21.

The iPhone 12 currently tops our list of the best smartphones you can buy, but there are many great options out there.

How to use the iPhone 12

iPhone 12 Mini
Andrew Martonik/Digital Trends

Finally got your hands on the iPhone 12 and want to make the best of it? We have a ton of guides on the iPhone 12 and iOS 14 to help you out. For example, here’s our guide on iOS 14 tips and tricks, which should help you get up and running with Apple’s latest and greatest mobile operating system. By the way, you don’t need an iPhone 12 to get iOS 14 — and here’s how to download it if you don’t have an iPhone 12.

If you’re dealing with a 5G iPhone, you can also take a look at our guide for how to turn off 5G when you don’t want to use up your data.

iPhone 12 design and display

The headline for 2020 is that Apple finally made 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. There are also 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 glassmaker Corning to create a new glass covering for the iPhone 12, called Ceramic Shield, which is the strongest display covering currently 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. Early drop tests seem to suggest that Ceramic Shield is indeed very strong, which is promising.

None of the screens, even on the Pro models, have a 120Hz refresh rate or what Apple would call “ProMotion” technology. Though the screens are beautiful, it’s still a letdown in a year when nearly every Android phone released 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 a 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 can 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. And, as usual, you can edit all your photos with Apple’s awesome image editing tech. Not only that, but with iOS 14.3, Apple has finally enabled support for ProRAW image capture, which is designed to make RAW images more editable on your iPhone.

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 — full cases, small case attachments like a wallet pouch, car dashboard mounts, and chargers — to the back of the phone with a snap. 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.

Of course, as with other magnetic objects, Apple has recently confirmed that you shouldn’t put your iPhone too close to your pacemaker or other medical devices that might react to magnets.

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