iPhone 12s get 5G: Is this a reason to buy?
Updated: Oct 14, 2020
In June 2007 as one of four reviewers to test the original iPhone in advance, I wrote in USA TODAY that Apple produced a “glitzy wunderkind” that was “worth lusting after,” a “slender fashion phone” that combined a slick iPod with an Internet experience we hadn’t seen before on a mobile handset.
What’s easy to forget now, on the day that Apple unveiled four new iPhone 12 models, all with 5G, is that the original iPhone didn’t yet have an App Store, didn't have cut/copy and paste, and only had a single wireless U.S. carrier AT&T whose Edge network was poky and spotty. It took another four years before Verizon landed its first iPhone, widely heralded at the time. T-Mobile, Sprint and others came later.
There was certainly little surprise that the quartet of iPhone 12s announced today—an iPhone 12 mini with a 5.4-inch OLED display, an iPhone 12 (6.1-inches), iPhone 12 Pro (6.1-inches) and iPhone 12 Pro Max (6.7-inches) have 5G. And it frankly doesn’t matter a whole lot that Apple was the last major phone maker to embrace 5G--you could easily make the case given the popularity of the iPhone, that all the industry forces pushing 5G needed Apple's validation more than the other way around.
Indeed, for all the promise of blistering speeds that let you download a movie in seconds, coupled with low latency, the 5G hype has raced well past the reality. 5G lags LTE in some places, and is missing altogether elsewhere.
Still, it was interesting that Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg joined Apple CEO Tim Cook on stage at Apple Park, where he announced that Verizon was turning on its 5G network nationwide. I can only guess the heads of AT&T and T-Mobile, who are evangelizing their own 5G networks, weren't thrilled with that.
The new iPhones support both “millimeter wave,” the speedy high frequency flavor of 5G, as well as the “sub-6 GHz” frequency. So you need not fret about compatibility when 5G network coverage from any of the major carriers hits your neighborhood, assuming you don't already have it.
5G does give people who have been holding onto their phones longer than ever a reason to upgrade. “That’s an important selling point,” notes analyst Ben Wood, the chief of research at CCS Insight in the U.K.
There are other selling points. All the new models feature Apple’s latest A14 Bionic processor and next-gen neural engines. Expect the phones to be snappy and fast.
They’re all water, splash and dust resistant. And they’re all protected by a new Ceramic Shield front from Corning theoretically reducing the likelihood of cracked screens. The 12s are made of aluminum, and the 12 Pro models stainless steel.
The aptly named iPhone 12 mini starts at $699, and will presumably be the handset of choice for iPhone buyers who favor a more diminutive device—Apple says it is the smallest, thinnest and lightest 5G phone you can buy. The mini, and the $799 (on up) iPhone 12, will come in five finishes: blue, green, black, white and (PRODUCT) RED. You can peek at the colors in the image above (which as with all the other pics here are supplied by Apple.) The 12s can be preordered starting October 16, with availability a week later.
The iPhone 12 Pro ($999 to start) and 12 Pro Max ($,1099), come in silver, graphite, gold and what looks to be a handsome new pacific blue. They go on preorder November 6 with availability beginning November 13.
Photo advancements. Every year when Apple (and for that matter its rivals) come out with new flagships, you hear about all the improvements to the camera. No exception here, though I'll have to reserve judgement to see have far we've come, once I get to start shooting pictures. (My iPhone 11 Pro Max already has a stellar camera.) The 12s both have dual-camera systems built around Ultra Wide and Wide lenses, just like the iPhone 11s.
The 12 Pros add a third rear telephone lens (like the 11 Pros), and offer, well, other “pro” camera features. They have a 4X optical zoom range compared to 2X on the 12s. And they let you record Dolby Vision HDR video up to 60 frames-per-second, versus up to 30 fps on their lower priced siblings.
Most notably, there’s a LiDAR scanner on the Pro models, shorthand for Light Detection and Ranging. LiDAR measures depth, notably how long it takes for light to reach an object and reflect back. The promise is that the scanner will help bolster low light photography--Apple says it improves autofocus in such scenes by 6x. Augmented reality experiences should also get a lift from LiDAR; I’m eager to see just how developers take advantage of the scanner.
Apple also announced a feature that will let serious photographers take advantage of RAW formats, though it won't be available out of the gate.
Remember MagSafe? It's back. All the new 12s and 12 Pros will add a MagSafe wireless charging solution built around an array of magnets and wireless charging coil. You may remember MagSafe from Apple's MacBooks, though MagSafe has been discontinued on newer laptops. On the iPhone 12s and 12 Pros, MagSafe lets you snap various magnetic accessories to the back of the phone, including new leather and silicone cases, and a $49 thin leather wallet, already on sale in the App Store. Apple also is selling a $39 foldable MagSafe charger that can simultaneously power up the phone and an Apple Watch. The iPhones are compatible with the Qi wireless charging standard.
Third party brands such as Belkin have committed to building out the MagSafe for iPhone accessory ecosystem as well.
For an idea of battery life, Apple says you'll get up to 10 hours of streamed video playback on the 12 mini and up to 11 hours on the 12 and 12 Pros. Audio playback is rated up to 50 hours on the mini and up to 65 hours on the larger devices.
Missing a charger and buds. You can still charge the new iPhones via the Lightning connector on the bottom of the phone. But Apple is no longer including a charger, or earbuds, in the box. The assumption after all these years is that you already have chargers and headphones lying around, and besides who needs a wired charger when you add juice up sans wires? That’s the spiel anyway, whether you like it or not, and at least it’s all good for the environment.
Apple has giveth and taken away before: the long-ago removed standard headphone jack is still very much gone.
The question of the moment: Will 5G or any of these other features get you to upgrade or buy an iPhone for the first time?