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Apple iPhone 12 Pro review: Better than the 12 but not by much

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
999
inc VAT (128GB model)

Better than the iPhone 12 but only slightly, the iPhone 12 Pro isn’t quite worth the £200 premium

Pros 
Durable ceramic shield glass
Dolby Vision video at 60fps
Very powerful
Cons 
Mediocre battery life
Cameras can suffer bad lens flare
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You might have thought 2020 would be the year Apple consolidated, perhaps concentrating on launching a smaller number of devices, but not a bit of it. The iPhone 12 Pro is one of five new smartphones the company has launched this year, comfortably making 2020 the most prolific in Apple’s history.

That means the imperative to find a gap for each model to fit neatly into – a demographic for it to appeal to – is more important and a more difficult job for Apple than ever. If the phone costs more than the model immediately below it and doesn’t offer enough extra features, customers may pass it by and shoot for the phones immediately above or below it.

That tricky spot is exactly where the iPhone 12 Pro sits. It slots in as the second-most expensive phone in Apple’s smartphone range, just ahead of the iPhone 12 (and behind the 12 Pro Max), but it doesn’t quite offer enough to justify the price premium.

READ NEXT: Our pick of the best smartphones you can buy today 

Apple iPhone 12 Pro review: What you need to know

So, what are the differences between the iPhone 12 Pro and the iPhone 12? Seemingly, not that many. Although the 12 Pro has a fancier, stainless steel frame, one extra camera (the optical telephoto) and a LiDAR depth sensor, the rest of the package is eerily similar.

Both phones use the same 6.1in AMOLED Super Retina XDR display and both have the same capacity battery. Both employ the latest Apple A14 Bionic chip as well and, needless to say, you’re also getting 5G and the new clever MagSafe system that allows chargers and other accessories to snap neatly to the rear of the phone.

Apple iPhone 12 Pro review: Price and competition

Essentially, then, you’re paying a minimum of £999, or a premium of £200, for what amounts to one extra camera and 64GB of extra storage. If that seems reasonable to you, then go for it; if you’re already spending this much money on a phone, however, I’d advise waiting and going for the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

The latter phone costs £100 more, but comes with a larger screen and battery, an even better main camera with the new sensor shift stabilisation and a larger sensor, plus a touch more reach on the telephoto camera (2.5x vs 2x).

If you’re prepared to look outside the Apple universe, there are plenty of Android-based alternatives that offer similar features, too, and many that are much cheaper.

If it’s a 5G phone you’re after, you can’t go far wrong with the Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus 5G, which comes with a larger 6.7in display than the iPhone 12 Pro and a similar camera configuration for around £100 less.

The OnePlus 8 Pro, another 5G phone, is even better value at £800 and we’re also big fans of the Sony Xperia 5 II at £799. That’s not to mention the selection of excellent choices you have if you venture lower down the price scale: the recently launched Pixel 5 and OnePlus 8T are both fabulous phones and cost almost half as much as the iPhone 12 Pro.

Apple iPhone 12 Pro review: Design and new features

You’ve probably already seen the iPhone 12’s sleek new design plastered on billboards across the country, so the new flat-sided design, which is redolent of the iPhone 4 and 4s – won’t come as any surprise. Needless to say, it’s a handsome phone and in the blue livery pictured in this review it’s especially eye-catching. It’s also available in silver, “graphite” (dark grey) and gold.

But then, the iPhone 12 is pretty good looking, too. It doesn’t have the shiny stainless steel frame of the iPhone 12 Pro or the natty frosted finish to the rear glass, but there’s no tangible difference between the two once you’ve sensibly clipped them safely into a case. The iPhone 12 Pro is 25g heavier than the 12 but, again, this isn’t immediately obvious, even with the two side by side.

Otherwise, the phones share pretty much the same range of features, new and old. There’s 5G of course, although unless you happen to live or work in an area with a good signal, that won’t currently matter too much to you. Indeed, you’re more likely to benefit from the phone’s Wi-Fi 6 compatibility, which should guarantee faster, more reliable connections at home (assuming you own compatible network hardware).

MagSafe is another cool new feature, allowing compatible accessories – such as the new 15W wireless MagSafe Charger – to snap neatly onto the rear of the phone, even through cases. And it’s reassuring that all new iPhones use the supposedly more durable “Ceramic Shield” glass at the front plus tougher glass at the rear. Apple claims the iPhone 12 Pro is four times more drop-resistant than previous generations but you should probably still pop it in a case, just to be sure.

It’s also worth noting that the iPhone 12 is dust- and water-resistant to the IP68 standard, which in the case of this phone means it will resist a dunking in water up to six metres deep for 30 minutes. No worries about whipping it out in a rainstorm, then.

Apple iPhone 12 Pro review: Display

Unlike last year, when the 11 Pro came with a superior display to the 11, the iPhone 12 Pro’s screen is a 6.1in AMOLED affair, with a resolution of 1,170 x 2,532 and a pixel density of 460ppi. In other words, it’s exactly the same as the cheaper iPhone 12.

While it’s surprising Apple has chosen not to differentiate the 12 and the 12 Pro using the displays, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, this is a display that’s Dolby Vision certified, supports both HDR10 and HLG, has a rated peak brightness of 1,200cd/m2 (nits) when playing HDR, and can reproduce a wide enough colour gamut range to satisfy the most demanding of HDR enthusiasts.

The only real disappointment is that Apple hasn’t included a 90Hz or 120Hz screen this year, a feature most premium Android phones are now offering.

In testing, the display’s sRGB colour accuracy impressed with a low average Delta E of 1.15 and coverage of 97.9% and I saw peak brightness reach around 1,090cd/m2 with HDR content. Contrast is effectively perfect, too. These are very similar results to what I saw on the iPhone 12 and indicate exceptionally good performance. Rest assured that, whatever content is displayed on this screen, it will look great, from movies and TV shows to web content and your own photos.

READ NEXT: Our pick of the best smartphones you can buy today 

Apple iPhone 12 Pro review: Cameras

So what of the cameras? Well, they’re very good, as you’d perhaps hope in a “Pro”-class iPhone. But are they that much better than the iPhone 12? The key, and most obvious difference, is that you get an extra 12MP f/2 2x optical telephoto camera to go alongside the new 12MP f/1.6 main camera and the 12MP f/2.4 ultrawide.

That telephoto lens gets you slightly closer to the action without loss of quality, and makes the overall system that bit more flexible. The telephoto camera’s optical qualities make it better suited to capturing more flattering portraits, in particular.

The less obvious upgrade over the 12 is the LiDAR sensor, which is used for faster, more accurate focusing in low-light situations and to provide a depth map for portrait images. This, more than the telephoto, sets apart the iPhone 12 Pro camera system from the iPhone 12.

One of the other things the LiDAR sensor enables is Night Mode portrait photography, something that’s simply not possible with the iPhone 12 or the iPhone 11 Pro. Take a look at the comparison image below. Neither of these images has any particular artistic merit, and shooting in the pitch dark is never a recipe for great-looking photos, but you can see the benefit of Night Mode immediately. Where the iPhone 12 image is a dark mess of noise, the iPhone 12 Pro makes a decent stab of capturing the scene and blurs out the background successfully, too:

As far as the main camera is concerned, it’s a similar story as the iPhone 12. It’s generally better in low and marginal light than on the previous-generation iPhones, thanks to the brighter f/1.6 aperture, capturing images at lower ISO sensitivities and/or faster shutter speeds. The results are cleaner and generally more detailed as a result:

In good light, colours are slightly more neutral with a touch more contrast and images are slightly less noisy when examined closely. I’ve also noticed, in ultrawide shots, that there’s less chromatic aberration and images look sharper at the edges of the frame. (For any of these samples, if you want to take a closer look, just click to enlarge.)



Video capture, already stupendously good on the iPhone 12, is better on the Pro, too. As with all iPhone 12 models, you can capture 10-bit HDR Dolby Vision video, which is an amazing enough feat in itself; here, though, the iPhone 12 Pro allows you to do so at 60fps where the iPhone 12 is limited to 30fps. The Dolby Vision HDR video has a tiny edge in terms of overall image quality, lifting overall brightness and lending shots a cleaner, crisper look, but the difference isn’t quite as big as you might expect it to be. Remember, that the iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max were already pretty amazing at video in their own right.

The one thing that remains irritating about the iPhone 12 Pro’s camera system is that, as with the iPhone 12 (and, to a lesser extent, the iPhone 11 Pro before it), it has a fairly major problem with lens flare.

You’d expect a little of this on any camera when shooting with the sun in the frame or just off to one side, but the lens flare on the iPhone 12 Pro is extreme and isn’t restricted only to shots when the sun is involved.

It’s also particularly noticeable in night-time cityscape shots, where street lights and car headlights cause disembodied, reflected dots to appear elsewhere in the frame. Most of the time, you’ll probably not notice this, but in certain circumstances the flare can be pretty distracting. This is especially true in video, where movement adds to the “effect”, and it’s not always possible to mitigate against it.

Apple iPhone 12 Pro review: Performance and battery life

As with the rest of the new range, the iPhone 12 Pro comes equipped with the Apple A14 Bionic processor, backed by 6GB of RAM and storage starting at 128GB. It’s a combination that powers the iPhone 12 Pro to predictably impressive benchmark numbers, ahead of the previous-generation iPhone 11 phones and still further ahead over the Android competition:

Battery life is pretty much as expected as well. Despite the fact that the A14 Bionic is the first 5nm chip we’ve seen in a phone, and a smaller manufacturing process normally points towards greater efficiency, the iPhone 12 Pro failed to breach the 20-hour barrier in our video-rundown battery test, lasting a fairly uninspiring 18hrs 1min, still behind the best Android phones in this regard. Anecdotally, I’ve found it lasts comfortably a full day of moderate use, though, so it’s not a major problem.

Apple iPhone 12 Pro review: Verdict

I called the iPhone 12 the best iPhone for most people, and my opinion hasn’t changed since then. It’s £200 cheaper than the iPhone 12 Pro and delivers a very similar experience. It benchmarks the same, shoots stills and video from its two rear cameras that look largely the same, and the screen is identical.

Yes, you get a telephoto camera, night portrait photography and an extra 64GB of base storage with the iPhone 12 Pro, but is this enough to justify the £200 premium?

I’d say it isn’t. In fact, if you have this much to spend on an iPhone, I’d advise saving up a bit extra and spending it on an iPhone 12 Pro Max instead. Its main camera comes with a larger sensor and shiny new sensor-shift stabilisation, plus a little extra reach on the telephoto; it has a significantly higher-capacity battery and a larger screen. The iPhone 12 Pro may well be a very good smartphone, but it’s hard to get too excited when a much better one will soon be available for only £100 more.

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