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A customer holds a new Apple Inc. iPhone 12 Pro at an Apple Inc. store in San Francisco, California, U.S. File pic.  (Bloomberg)
A customer holds a new Apple Inc. iPhone 12 Pro at an Apple Inc. store in San Francisco, California, U.S. File pic. (Bloomberg)

Apple iPhone 12 Pro: Stuck in the middle

  • The primary update here is the camera, so it makes sense to start there. The 12 Pro has three sensors on the back but you get a wider f/1.6 aperture on the primary camera (the iPhone 11 Pro had f/1.8) and a light detection and ranging (LIDAR) sensor, which basically means better performance in low light

New Delhi: They may have come late, but there are more iPhones on the market this year than ever before. But Apple’s goal to have an iPhone for every buyer is actually detrimental to the iPhone 12 Pro. The cheaper of the ultra-premium iPhones comes off as sort of a middle-child where the Pro Max is truly the “Pro" iPhone, while the 12 is the real every day iPhone.

That, though, doesn’t mean the iPhone 12 Pro can’t hold its own either. It has arguably the best camera amongst flagship phones sold in India today, a reimagined iPhone 5S-like design, and perhaps the best displays you can get on a smartphone in today’s market. Till the iPhone 12 Pro Max comes out (on November 13) it’s the best Apple can offer.

iPhone 12 Pro camera

The primary update here is the camera, so it makes sense to start there. The 12 Pro has three sensors on the back, like last year, but you get a wider f/1.6 aperture on the primary camera (the iPhone 11 Pro had f/1.8) and a light detection and ranging (LIDAR) sensor, which basically means better performance in low light.

The primary difference between the iPhone’s camera and Android flagships from Google and Samsung is the focus on keeping things more true to source. To be clear, Apple has been shifting towards brighter photos with more “pop" to them, but compared to a Pixel or Samsung, images still look more true to source.

For instance, Pixel cameras from Google create darker silhouettes in night shots, which though attractive are not natural. Samsung’s cameras, on the other hand, are all over the place if you’re comparing colour balance against the iPhone. It’s all thanks to the new Smart HDR 3 algorithm, which works well but doesn’t make a striking difference against last year’s iPhone 11 Pro.

The good thing is that the LIDAR sensor will make the Pro focus faster in low light. Even so, long exposure needed for the Night Mode (which is now on all four cameras, including the selfie shooter) will make it difficult to shoot moving subjects.

The Pixel’s artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms trump the iPhone in this, freezing subjects better than the 12 Pro. Essentially, if you’re shooting photos at a party and people keep moving, the Pixel will have a better success rate than the iPhone. Having said that, the iPhone 12 Pro can trump Samsung’s Note or Galaxy cameras and the Pixel in most everything else.

What else is new?

Other than the camera, Apple adopted a new design this time, which is more a reimagined version of its old design. If you have ever wondered what an iPhone 5S would feel like if it was elongated from both ends, this is it. Of course, the 12 series has glass on the back, but the matte glass does feel nice as well.

The new design though makes every phone in the 12 series more compact compared to their predecessors. The edges are a tad sharp and tend to dig into your palms, but you will get used to it over time. But with its 5.78-inch display, the 12 Pro is actually smaller than the 2020 iPhone SE, which is fantastic. It’s about time we were forced to stop compromising ease of use for immersive displays.

The 12 Pro also has a smaller battery than its predecessor, and in practical terms it lasts as long as an iPhone 11. I could get it to last from 9am to midnight every day with no gaming, but lots of social media, web browsing, calls and one Microsoft Teams call (with no video). Having said that, screen on time tops out at about six hours, which will be a problem when you’re not constantly working from home.

Thinking of an upgrade?

There are really two kinds of buyers for the iPhone 12 series in India - the first time users and those who are looking to upgrade from existing iPhones. The iPhone 12 Pro is an upgrade if you’re on anything before the iPhone 11 series. The new design feels much more compact than the rounded designs from yesteryears and the cameras are significantly improved.

That said, the 2020 iPhones have been hailed as the biggest update to the iPhone in years, which doesn’t quite hold true for India. The iPhone 12 Pro costs a good Rs. 40,000 more than the iPhone 12, and its headline feature - 5G connectivity - isn’t going to be usable in the country for at least one more year, and that’s if we’re being optimistic. In fact, while Indian units of the 12 series will support 5G overseas, the option won’t even show up when you’re in India because carriers don’t provide 5G.

Even if we discount 5G, you keep coming to another question. For those who really do want the best Apple can offer, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is the phone to get. Especially because the 12 Pro Max is squarely aimed at movie makers and other pros, who can justify the expense by the additional features the Max brings. The Max will also have better battery life.

For everyone else, LIDAR, a telephoto lens and shorter battery life than before doesn’t seem enough to buy it over an iPhone 12. Apple’s OLED displays are excellent and since the 12 has the same one now, the difference seems even smaller than before.

In the end, the iPhone 12 Pro is an excellent phone that’s stuck in the middle of Apple’s product line. If you want Apple’s “Pro" features, the Max is the phone to buy, while the the 12 takes the cake for those who want a cost-effective but still top of the line iPhone.

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