Why you can trust ZDNet
Our recommendations are based on many hours of testing, research, and comparison shopping. We may earn a commission when you purchase a product through our links. This helps support our work but does not influence what we write about or the price you pay. Our editors thoroughly review and fact check every article. Our process

‘ZDNet Recommends’ What exactly does that mean?

ZDNet’s recommendations are based on many hours of testing, research, and comparison shopping. We gather data from the best available sources, including vendor and retailer listings as well as other relevant and independent reviews sites. And we pore over customer reviews to find out what matters to real people who already own and use the products and services we’re assessing.

When you click through from our site to a retailer and buy a product or service, we may earn affiliate commissions. This helps support our work, but does not affect what we cover or how, and it does not affect the price you pay. Neither ZDNet nor the author are compensated for these independent reviews. Indeed, we follow strict guidelines that ensure our editorial content is never influenced by advertisers.

ZDNet's editorial team writes on behalf of YOU, our reader. Our goal is to deliver the most accurate information and the most knowledgeable advice possible in order to help you make smarter buying decisions on tech gear and a wide array of products and services. Our editors thoroughly review and fact-check every article to ensure that our content meets the highest standards. If we have made an error or published misleading information, we will correct or clarify the article. If you see inaccuracies in our content, please report the mistake via this form

Close

Apple iPhone 12 review: 5G, improved reception, and iOS 14 widgets challenge Android phones

apple-iphone-12-2.jpg
  • Editors' rating
    9.4 Spectacular
  • $729.50

Pros

  • Gorgeous flat glass OLED
  • Flat matte edges
  • Vibrant blue color
  • iOS 14 with Android elements
  • 5G
  • Loud stereo speakers

Cons

  • Volume buttons tough to feel
  • Rather expensive
apple-iphone-12-1.jpg

In a very Samsung-esque style this year we saw Apple announce four new models of the iPhone 12 at one time. Only two are available for purchase now, with two more coming this month. I don't know why I always Tweet it out, but after purchasing the very expensive Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 I wrote that I was passing on the iPhone 12 lineup. Regular readers and followers know that is just not possible so my blue iPhone 12 arrived yesterday.

top picks

The 10 best smartphones right now

It's easy to find a great phone today. In fact, current flagship devices are so good you really don't need to be replacing them every year.

Read More

ZDNet's Jascon Cipriani posted his Apple iPhone 12 Pro in-depth review and awarded it a 9.5/10 rating. Jason is more of a regular iPhone user than I am so I highly recommend reading both of our takes on these phones. With the same 6.1-inch display and nearly the same overall design, you can save $120 on a comparable 128GB iPhone 12. The blue colors are different, there's an extra camera on the back, the 12 Pro has 6GB of RAM instead of 4GB, and the iPhone 12 Pro is constructed with stainless steel while the iPhone 12 is aluminum.

To help justify the purchase of this 128GB iPhone 12, I sold my iPhone SE (2020) on Swappa for about $320, which was $110 more than Apple was willing to give to me as a trade-in. I highly recommend you test out the third party seller's market before trading in your phone. Then again, Samsung usually offers more for its trade-ins than you can sell it for so the type of phone you are trading in dictates its resale value.

Also: Apple iPhone SE (2020) review: An affordable, capable business phone fit for uncertain times

Specifications

  • Processor: Apple A14 Bionic chip, next generation neural engine
  • Display: 6.1-inch 2532 x 1170 pixels resolution OLED (460 ppi)
  • Operating system: Apple iOS 14
  • Storage: 64, 128, and 256 GB internal options
  • Cameras: Dual 12MP f/1.6 (wide) and f/2.4 (ultrawide) aperture rear cameras. 12MP front-facing TrueDepth camera with f/2.2 aperture.
  • Wireless technology: 5G, 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/ax WiFi-6, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, GPS/GLONASS
  • Dust and water resistance: IP68
  • Battery: 1,821 mAh battery (unofficial) rated at up 40 hours of audio playback and 13 hours of video. Wireless charging and fast charging with 18W adapter (sold separately).
  • Dimensions: 146.7 x 71.5 x 7.4 mm and 164 grams
  • Colors: Black, White, PRODUCT(Red), Green, Blue

It's only $50 more to bump up from 64GB to 128GB and given the powerful camera, 5G for faster downloads, and no ability to expand your storage capacity later I recommend most people at least consider the 128GB model over the 64GB base model..

Hardware

Apple went back to flat edges with the Apple iPhone 12 and that's great for those who stand the phone up by itself or that like a better edge to hold onto the phone with. The matte blue finish on the edges looks great and doesn't show any fingerprints. I'm a fan of this return to the iPhone 4 design since it also brings along a completely flat display.

Top ZDNET Reviews

The iPhone 11 had a LCD display, that looked great, but this year both the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro have the same resolution OLED panel that is nearly perfect. Flat displays make it easy to find and apply screen protection. This year Apple labels the display 'ceramic shield' with advertised improved capability to withstand breakage from drops. It will still scratch so be careful with it, but maybe we will see less broken iPhone displays in 2021.

We've seen Apple mostly move away from the front fingerprint sensor, the 2020 iPhone SE still has one, while Google went back to that approach on the Pixel 5. Now with facemasks a common wearable accessory, Face ID is not a practical solution for unlocking your iPhone when you are out and about. I love it when it can be used though and it removes the barrier for securing your phone.

While the edges are matte blue, the back panel has a glossy finish so collects fingerprints and smudges quite easily. The blue on the iPhone 12 is a navy blue shade with a matte finish around the camera array. The blue on the iPhone 12 Pro has a green tint to it. It's likely most iPhone 12 owners will wrap their new phone in a case, like we see from CASETiFY or Totallee, so the glossy back may not matter much to you.

Also: iPhone 12 Pro review: Does it get any better than this?

Like the iPhone 11 last year, the iPhone 12 still has two cameras on the back with no telephoto shooter provided. There are some improvements in the camera technology with night mode present for the ultrawide and selfie cameras, but the resolution and most of the capabilities are the same.

All of the same iPhone elements are present on the sides with the ringer switch and volume buttons on the left and the right side button about a third of the way down. There is also an oblong area down further on the right side that is the cutout in the aluminum case for the 5G mmWave antenna. Models outside the US will not have this cutout. The Lightning port is on the bottom with nothing on the top edge.

I've been very impressed with Apple's stereo speakers on its phones the last couple of years and find the iPhone plays the loudest on connected Bluetooth headphones too. The stereo speakers sound good on the iPhone 12 and I cannot even listen to content at maximum volume.

After using the phone for 10 days, I'm easily getting through a full day of use. One of the major improvements, I was honestly skeptical Apple would add it this year, is the support for 5G networks. Every iPhone in the US supports the available bands on all major carriers so there are no differences between the radios in the various models.

I tested the iPhone 12 against Android phones with 5G on the same carrier and have seen very impressive download and upload speeds from the iPhone 12. I also tracked the reception strength and while Samsung and OnePlus still beat the iPhone 12, it's only by a couple of dBm and in some cases the iPhone 12 beats them too. I am finally able to recommend that my wife try an iPhone again after all previous ones failed to maintain a connection as well as an Android phone.

Software

The iPhone 12 runs iOS 14.1 and in typical fashion, you can expect to get regular updates from Apple for years. There is no carrier bloatware, extra apps, or any other software installed that cannot be removed by the user.

Apple Arcade games play perfectly on the iPhone 12 and you get three months free when you buy a new iPhone 12. Apple TV+ is supported as well so you can enjoy lots of content on the gorgeous 6.1-inch display.

All the great features of the latest version of iOS are present. This includes a very Android looking platform with redesigned widgets, widgets on the home screen, widget stacks, the app library on the home screen, pop-ups for phone calls, pinned conversations, improved Apple Maps, improvements in Siri, and much more. If you are an Android user who was unhappy with the iOS of the past, you may be very comfortable with an iPhone 12 running iOS 14. I've heard a couple of complaints from iPhone users, but overall people like what they see in iOS 14.

Also: Best iPhone models to buy now: The iPhone 12 is not your only great choice

Price and availability

The Apple iPhone 12 is available now in five colors; Black, White, PRODUCT(Red), Green, and Blue. The 64GB model is priced at $829 with the 128GB model at $879 and the 256GB model at $979. If you select a carrier model, it is oddly priced $30 less.

Daily experiences and conclusions

I simply adore the engineering and ability to have a large 7.6 inch open display on my Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 so I don't think any other phone today can take its place as my daily driver. That said, if I didn't cover mobile technology here on ZDNet and needed to be a bit more practical with a phone that can go running with me and be used in the showers of Washington State, then my only phone would likely be an Apple iPhone 12.

It was honestly had to come up with a con for this iPhone, but it is still rather expensive at $879 for the 128GB model. However, it excels in just about every area and while the Pixel phones still set the bar for still photos, the iPhone 12 does very well and also excels at video.

Like Jason said in his review of the iPhone 12 Pro I have a hard time finding the volume buttons on the left side just by feel. The flat oblong buttons barely protrude from the side and thanks to using various cases I can activate them more accurately.

One of the major improvements for me is the cellular reception and the addition of 5G. I live and work in areas with excellent 5G coverage and when riding my commuter train on the outskirts of towns I see much better wireless reception with the iPhone 12 than with any previous iPhone. I am seeing solid speed improvements in 5G over LTE, but for me the key is broader coverage as well as I never complained of LTE performance when I had a solid signal. Calls also sound great on the iPhone 12. According to the iFixit breakdown the presence of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 chip is likely why reception is great.

For $120 more, I am honestly thinking of returning this iPhone 12 to pick up the 12 Pro instead as I want to test out the additional camera and like the heft of stainless steel. I may give this one to my wife and finally get the entire family on an iPhone, which is great for many reasons.

Specifications

Details
SAR Value 1.19 W/kg (body), 1.17 W/kg (head)
Body Color Black
Phone Features
Phone Functions Speakerphone, voice control, call timer, conference call, flight mode, voice dialing, vibrating alert
Sensors Accelerometer, ambient light sensor, proximity sensor, 3-axis gyro sensor, digital compass, barometer
Additional Features AirDrop function, Audio zoom function, MIMO technology, Wi-Fi Calling, iBeacon microlocation, QuickType keyboard, Night Shift, Apple TV support (2nd or later), AirPlay Mirroring, Next-generation Neural Engine, Apple MagSafe, Express Transit cards with power reserve, 4K HDR AirPlay Mirroring, FaceTime HD (1080p), RTT/TTY compatible
Security Devices Face recognition
Cellular
Technology CDMA2000 1X / GSM / WCDMA (UMTS)
Type smartphone
Navigation BeiDou, GLONASS, GPS, Galileo, QZSS
Band WCDMA (UMTS) / GSM 850/900/1800/1900 / CDMA2000 1X 1900/800
Phone Form Factor touch
Service Provider not specified
Operating System Family iOS
Payment Technology Apple Pay
Intelligent Assistant Siri
SIM Card Type Electronic SIM card (e-SIM), nano SIM
SIM Card Slot Qty dual-SIM
Input Device Multi-touch, capacitive
Miscellaneous
Sensors accelerometer, ambient light sensor, barometer, digital compass, proximity sensor, three-axis gyro sensor
Communications
Data Transmission DC-HSDPA, EDGE, EV-DO, FDD-LTE, HSPA+, TDD-LTE, VoLTE, VoWiFi
3G UMTS Band Band 1, Band 10, Band 25, Band 5, Band 8
Wireless Interface Bluetooth 5.0, NFC
Processor
Manufacturer Apple
Processor Core Qty 6-core
Display
Type OLED display
Technology Super Retina XDR Display
Pixel Density (ppi) 460
Contrast Ratio 2000000:1
Diagonal Size 6.1 in
Diagonal Size (metric) 15.5 cm
Smartphone Diagonal Size 6.1 in
Protection fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating
Color Support color
Display Languages Arabic, Australian English, Brazilian Portuguese, Catalan, Chinese (simplified), Chinese (traditional), Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, French Canadian, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Malay, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, Turkish, UK English, US English, Ukrainian, Vietnamese
Features Edge-to-Edge screen, True Tone display
Media Player
Supported Digital Video Standards M-JPEG, H.264, HEVC, MPEG-4 Part 2, HEIF
Supported Digital Audio Standards Audible, MP3, FLAC, Apple Lossless, AC-3, AAC-LC, LPCM, HE-AAC, Audible AAX, Audible AAX+, protected AAC, EAC3, HE-AAC v2
Environmental Parameters
Min Operating Temperature 32 °F
Max Operating Temperature 95 °F
Humidity Range Operating 5 - 95% (non-condensing)
Battery
Run Time Details Playback (video): up to 17 hrs
Playback (wireless video): up to 11 hrs
Playback (audio): up to 65 hrs
Fast Charging Technology Apple fast charging technology
Wireless Charging Yes
Digital Camera
Special Effects Natural
Header
Brand Apple
Product Line Apple iPhone
Packaged Quantity 1
Connections
Connector Type Lightning
CE Input Device
Type touch sensitive screen (multi-touch)
Touchscreen Technology capacitive
Features
Sensors accelerometer, ambient light sensor, barometer, digital compass, proximity sensor, three-axis gyro sensor
Phone Functions call timer, conference call, flight mode, speakerphone, vibrating alert, voice control, voice dialing
Additional Features AirDrop function, Apple TV support (2nd or later), Audio zoom function, MIMO technology, Night Shift, QuickType keyboard, Wi-Fi Calling, iBeacon microlocation
Digital Player (Recorder)
Supported Digital Audio Standards AAC-LC, AC-3, Apple Lossless, Audible, Audible AAX, EAC3, FLAC, HE-AAC, HE-AAC v2, LPCM, MP3, protected AAC
Supported Digital Video Standards H.264, HEIF, HEVC, M-JPEG, MPEG-4 Part 2
Sound Enhancements Dolby Atmos sound technology, Dolby Digital Plus sound, Dolby Digital sound
Service & Support Details
Type limited warranty, technical support
Service Included consulting
Full Contract Period 1 year, 90 days
Front-facing Camera
Sensor Resolution 12 Megapixel
Lens Aperture f/2.2
Features Animoji, Auto image stabilization
Service & Support
Type 1 year warranty