by Brandon Butler
iPhone 12 Pro Pacific Blue Review 11/5/2020

A few hours after I finished setting up my new iPhone 12 Pro, the fingerprints were everywhere. This is — of course — an Apple device, and like with my iPad Pro fingerprints are part of the aesthetic.

But unlike fingerprints on a screen, which can distract and annoy, the fingerprints on the side of the iPhone aren’t easily noticed on the dark — yet shiny — Pacific Blue stainless steel when using it.

I’m not sure if it’s the color, the new design, or if I’m just running into Apple fans, but I got the “Is that the new iPhone” question a lot last week. This is arguably one of Apple’s most striking visual changes in years, and people are noticing.

I think the iPhone 12 Pro is one of the nicest looking and nicest feeling phones I’ve ever used. The Pacific Blue color was a little different from my usual Space Gray or Jet Black color picks, but I quickly became a big fan. I really hope the positive reviews on the Pacific Blue color embolden Apple to be a little more daring with future iPhone colors.

I prefer the shiny stainless steel sides of the iPhone 12 Pro to the dull matte finish of the aluminum sides on the iPhone 12, but this isn’t my only reason for choosing the iPhone 12 Pro. I needed more than 64 GB of storage, and I wanted the extra RAM, the telephoto camera, and, yeah, the shiny sides. As many reviewers have pointed out already, if you need to upgrade the internal storage of the iPhone 12 from the 64 GB base, the price difference between the two suddenly decreases by quite a lot. At that point, if you’re like me with disposable income to waste on a new iPhone every year, you might as well get the Pro.

And while the improved camera systems and larger battery of the Pro Max are important to me, the Max size is just too big. Before the pandemic I spent a lot of time in Apple Stores playing with all the different sized phones — Android included — and while I like the idea of a 6.7 inch display, I find it’s a bit awkward for my hand.

The physical design is really the marquee new feature of the iPhone 12 line this year, and that design, as I’ve said, is great. The Touch ID, multi-camera system, and OLED screen are all slightly refined from previous iPhones, but the technological leaps are mostly in the new A14 SoC processor, which most people will never see or think about. According to Geekbench, in the single core test, the iPhone 12 Pro scores 1587 while the three year old iPhone X scores 921. Meanwhile, the Samsung Galaxy S20, Samsung’s newest flagship phone with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865, scores 878 — trailing even the iPhone X. Apple’s SoC team is ridiculously good at their job, and I think Tuesday’s November event is going to put the current line of Intel CPUs to shame, but I digress. The point is, the iPhone X remains a powerhouse, and the long lifespan of the A series SoC’s ought to continue for the iPhone 12 line.

Let’s get into the rest of the phone now:

Face ID is still terrible when trying to use Apple Pay or even check a text message while in public. It’s not Apple or the phone’s fault, it’s just the world we’re unfortunately living in, and upgrading from a X, XS, or 11 doesn’t make the situation any better or worse. I am hopeful the 2021 iPhone has some sort of Touch ID in addition to Face ID — having Touch ID is nice even outside of a pandemic, like when the phone is laying on the table and you want to glance at a text. I think Touch ID or a built-in Flux Capacitor (it’s what makes time travel possible) are the only new features that will get me to upgrade again next year.

The three cameras are all improved, and night mode is great, but of course Apple is doing sneaky things with the cameras. If you are in a low light situation and tap the 2x zoom, the iPhone doesn’t switch to the telephoto camera. In low light, it digitally zooms the 1x wide camera to 2x zoom. The digital and low light smoothing is so good (algorithms!) you don’t even notice the digital zoom happening. Don’t believe me? Go outside tonight and open the Camera app. Tap the 1x zoom, then cover the bottom-most lens on the back of the iPhone 12 Pro with your finger (that’s the telephoto lens). Then tap the 2x zoom on the Camera app. Assuming it’s dark enough, the wide camera zooms in. If you tap and hold the 2x zoom to bring up the digital zoom wheel, you can keep zooming, and the iPhone will keep using the wide camera. Go inside, turn on all the lights, and repeat. When you tap the 2x zoom now, you get a black box cause your finger is on the lens.

Night mode, regardless of Apple’s trickery, just keeps getting better. This time around the larger sensor is a major contributing factor to the improved night mode photography, but I’m certain the photo team has been refining the software over the past twelve months as well. Apple’s hardware-software one-two combo is what makes the iPhone camera system so incredibly good (along with the rest of their products!).

One of the big reasons I found it difficult to choose between the two 6.1-inch iPhones this year was because of the screens: they’re nearly identical. Both are 6.1-inches and both are OLED, with the only difference being 200 nits of brightness (600 vs 800 for the Pro). Are you going to notice 200 nites of brightness unless you’re holding the screens side-by-side in direct sunlight? Probably not. And this made choo-choo-choosing the Pro a slightly more difficult choice.

And because Pizza Emoji is committed to fully testing and reviewing the iPhone 12 Pro, I also did a few drop tests with the new phone to test the ceramic shield. I can confirm that an iPhone dropped from about a height of six feet onto a pillow will not result in any noticeable damage to the screen. Your results may vary!

Battery life is about as good at the iPhone 11 Pro, although I don’t have the ability (or desire) to do strenuous, scientific testing on my battery. I rarely drain the battery on my phones to zero over the course of a day, so I don’t know if I’m the best person to listen to when it comes to battery life. I will say that after a year with the iPhone 11 Pro, the battery’s max capacity was still at 100% — specifically due to, I think, the Optimized Battery Charging setting. I don’t see any reason my iPhone 12 Pro won’t have the same result in a year, and I think this is a really underrated aspect of Apple’s battery and charging technology. The iPhone’s are designed to last for years — a lot of people still have iPhone 7 and 8’s, and some are even older — but a battery powered device is no good if it can’t hold a charge throughout the day. Apple’s ability to smartly and slowly charge the battery and learn your sleeping/charging patterns means these phones really can last for years, and that same smart battery technology is built into every iPhone at every price point. Of course, the iPhone 12 Pro Max will have the absolute biggest battery, so if that’s your number one need, get a Max and disable 5G.

Ah, 5G. Let’s talk 5G. 5G is one of the most disappointing new features, if we’re being honest, on the new iPhone 12 Pro. How much bandwidth do you really need to refresh a Twitter feed or watch a YouTube video? Verizon and the carriers are 1 Gbps or faster speeds on 5G Ultra Wideband, and it’s true, but those insane speeds only apply to 5G UW — the short range, outdoor only signal that you can only get in a handful of downtown cities. The vast majority of us won’t ever get to use 5G UW. This is slightly more than a marketing gimmick. But even so, with only 20 or 30 gigs of monthly bandwith on most cellular plans, why would you burn through all of your data just to download a few movies while standing on a street corner in downtown? Give us data plans to match the 5G UW bandwidth and we’ll talk. For us non-street corner loitering folks, the “regular” 5G is even more disappointing. Around town, I’m getting an asynchronous 50 to 60 Mbps with Verizon 5G; if I switch to LTE, I get 70 to 80 Mbps. (And, supposedly, better battery, but I’d wait for some serious battery tests for a definitive answer on that). Last week I spent a good deal of time driving around SoCal, streaming music and podcasts and doomscrolling on Twitter, and I never noticed the phone’s network connection behaving any better compared to the iPhone 11 Pro. Everyone has already said this, but if you’re upgrading your phone for 5G, you’re upgrading for the wrong reason.

I don’t have an iPhone 12, so I can’t compare and contrast from a first person perspective, and I can’t even go to an Apple Store to test it out, but I spent a good deal of time debating internally between which to pre-order a few weeks ago. I’m very happy with my choice, but I think Apple’s in a tough spot these days making both the iPhone 12 and the iPhone 12 Pro. On paper and from a visual, stock photography perspective, there’s just not enough to differentiate between the two to justify producing two models. Even the price difference is barely notable. I like the Max and the Mini being at the opposite ends of the product line, as they serve two clear and distinct markets, but iPhone-in-the-middle and iPhone-in-the-middle-Pro are just too similar. I’m also not a fan of the Pro moniker at all, except for the Mac Pro, which is the only device that truly deserves professional status. Pro wireless earbuds? Pro iPads? What’s next, a pro Watch? Or a pro Lightning cable? How about a pro iPhone case? I’d like to see the iPhone Mini, iPhone, and iPhone Max, and drop the Pro naming. I’d even be okay with the middle iPhone having difference editions, like the Apple Watch. Sell the aluminum model with three cameras for $799, and then a shiny model to us suckers $999, but keep everything identical aside from shiny aesthetics.

However, as the product line sits now, I’m really happy with the iPhone 12 Pro. If you want the shiny edges, the telephoto camera, or, um, LiDAR?, then the Pro is the right choice. For what you get from the Pro, the price difference is almost a rounding error compared to the aluminum 12, especially if you’re upgrading the internal storage. And while you definitely shouldn’t be upgrading for 5G, you can’t be wrong for upgrading to that stylish Pacific Blue.