The speed of progress in miniaturisation and micro processing mean it’s virtually a truism that the latest handset by any given manufacturer will be its “best ever”. Every time Tim Cook gets on stage and says “this is the best iPhone we’ve ever made”, he may as well be saying “today is the most recent day in all of history”.
But putting that aside, the iPhone 12 Pro really does feel like the best iPhone Apple has ever made. It’s perhaps fitting given that – contrary to naming conventions – this is the 10th numbered iPhone to come out of Cupertino (they skipped the numbers 2 and 9 because they are loathsome, and to confuse further things, 8 and “X” were launched on the same day).
The firm has been designing handsets for so long – 13 years, to be precise – that it’s now in the same territory as car manufacturers and mechanical watch-makers, able to call out design flourishes from past models and giving them a fresh spin for a new customer.
More than anything, the iPhone 12 Pro recalls the iPhone 4, a pinnacle of iPhone design, with its flat edges and frosted aluminosilicate glass rear. It was a departure from the rounded edges of the first two iterations of the iPhone, just as the iPhone 12 Pro feels like a departure from the curves that have dominated Apple’s sketchbooks for the last six years.
This time the smooth edges have a reflective metallic sheen that comes in a new, businesslike blue or a rich, oily gold, as well as the more established silver and grey.
This review will focus on the 12 Pro Max, which, while only a smidgin bigger than the iPhone 11 Pro Max, shrinks its bezels to increase the display size from 6.5 to 6.7 inches.
Make no mistake: this is a large phone. A real thicc boi. Back in early 2010s it would probably have been called a phablet. It’s certainly not one of those handsets where you frantically pat yourself down like a nightclub bouncer every 20 minutes to make sure it’s still there.
Unlike past iPhones that came with a killer new feature, the iPhone 12 Pro wages a war of attrition, being a little bit better than the competition at just about everything. The biggest jump is in the camera array which, while on paper is merely excellent, is in practice the best I’ve seen in a phone.
Like its predecessor it comes with a wide-angle, a standard 12MP and telephoto lens, with the optical zoom increased from 2 to 2.5 times. It has a best-in-class portrait mode, using a combination of technology and witchcraft to both capture incredible detail and then to make that detail look visually appealing rather than the collection of pores and blotches that actually make up a human face. You can add bokeh effects after the fact and play about with the lighting to make even the most nasty, jowly photos look passable.
The difference in the range between the wide-angle and the telephoto are incredible, as you can see in the above pictures, which were taken by hand from the same spot. If you’re a passionate amateur photographer (or, dare I say it, even a lazy professional one), you will get real mileage from the iPhone 12 Pro Max.
Even more impressive is the improved low-light performance, with the camera sensor letting in more light than ever to achieve detailed shots more quickly (so less holding your camera still while you take pictures). As you can see from the below picture, the it can deal with tricky lighting conditions like the ones in the makeshift office I’ve built in the corner of my bedroom. Sadly the technology is not yet advanced enough to improve my jumper.
There is one brand new feature on the new iPhone – it’s called MagSafe and it allows you to stick things to the back of the handset. Designed with wireless charging in mind – drop it onto a charging pad and it will guide itself onto the right spot like a helicopter landing inside one of these giant “H” signs. But you can also snap other things to it, such as card-wallets and in-car mounts. God knows what unholy accessories third party developers will dream up in the coming months.
The iPhone 12 Pro Max, of course, does not come cheap, costing £1,099 for (a frankly insufficient) 128GB of storage and up to £1,399 for 512GB. That price is thrown into even sharper focus when you consider the iPhone 12 Pro starts at £999 and is almost as good, while there are also the regular iPhone 12 (£799) and iPhone 12 mini (£699) for those who just want a new iPhone.
But this is the best iPhone Apple has ever made, remember? It shows in every aspect of its design, from hardware to looks, and that surely justifies even a pricetag this steep.