Apple iPhone 12 Review (2024)

Hard-edged phones for a hard-edged year, Apple's iPhone 12 series brings a solid feel, excellent screens, better low-light camera performance, and improved network connectivity to America's most popular smartphone line. If you have an iPhone more than a year old, one of the four new iPhones is worth your money. The trick is figuring out which one.

I'm the 5G guy, and during the iPhone 12 launch, Apple talked about 5G a lot. The iPhone 12 is the best 5G phone so far, but Verizon's and so-called "nationwide" 5G aren't worth your time. T-Mobile's mid-band 5G does deliver improved performance, but T-Mobile doesn't have a map for that system, which makes it hard to find. That said, as I'll detail momentarily, the iPhone 12 series improves 4G performance enough that it's worth buying just for that.

There are four new iPhones; and they're not all that different from one another. You're reading our main review of the iPhone 12 (starts at $799 for 64GB), which overlaps our review of the iPhone 12 Pro (starts at $999 for 128GB)—the two models available in October. When the iPhone 12 mini (starts at $699 for 64GB) and iPhone 12 Pro Max (starts at $1,099 for 128GB) arrive in November, we'll update this review with more comparative analysis. (Pre-orders start on 11/6.)

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The iPhone 12 and the 12 mini look to be very similar. According to Apple's spec sheets, they're identical except for price, screen size, and battery size. If all other things are equal, I think that a slightly less expensive iPhone that is closer to the size of the beloved iPhone 6, 7 and 8 models sounds like an absolute winner. So we're going to hold back the Editors' Choice award here in anticipation of the 12 mini. If the mini turns out to be a bust, we'll reconsider.

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The iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max have more advanced features for photo buffs: telephoto lenses, a Night Portrait mode, better Dolby Vision handling and Raw photo handling. I think that's worth the extra money for photography enthusiasts, but only for them. So the iPhone 12 Pro gets an Editors' Choice award for camera phones since it packs all that fantastic image capability into a manageably sized phone. The Pro Max, with it's 6.7-inch screen, is just too large for most people.

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The iPhone 12 family (from left): the iPhone 12 Pro Max, the iPhone 12 Pro, the iPhone 12, and the iPhone 12 mini (Apple)

It's a Hard-Knock Phone (for Us)

The iPhone 12 and 12 mini come in black, blue, green, red, or white. I got the blue one to review, which is a rich, gorgeous navy. The phones have smooth, shiny glass backs which attract some fingerprints, but not as many as you'd expect. There's a matte metal band around the edge of the body in a similar blue color to the back; the side has some black plastic antenna windows and the usual buttons. The square camera module pokes out a bit from the back of the phone; if you drop it, that will be the first thing to crack.

The 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max come in blue, gold, gray, or silver; I got a gray one. These have matte backs, with a dark but shiny stainless steel band around the edge. The matte back is cool and pleasant to hold, and doesn't attract many fingerprints. The edge band doesn't attract prints at all.

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The iPhone 12 comes in five attractive glossy colors. (Apple)

From the front, it's impossible to tell the 12 and 12 Pro apart. (The 12 mini and Pro Max are different sizes.) Both have the big notch at the top which Apple needs for its Face ID sensor, and very small bezels around their beautiful screens. The phones are slightly smaller than the iPhone 11 but noticeably wider than the iPhone 8 series at 0.29 by 5.78 by 2.82 inches. They're surprisingly relatively small for flagship phones nowadays, but people looking for a phone that feels more like their iPhone 6, 7, or 8 should get the 12 mini. The iPhone 12 Pro is noticeably a little heavier than the 12 (6.66 versus 5.78 ounces). Both are lighter than the 11, but heavier than the 8.

The new iPhones have the glowy, saturated OLED screens which have become de rigeur for high-end smartphones in the past few years. They measure 5.4 inches and 2,340 by 1,080 pixels for the iPhone 12 mini; 6.1 inches and 2,532 by 1,170 pixels for the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro; and 6.7 inches and 2,778 by 1,284 pixels for the iPhone 12 Pro Max. The displays are all higher resolution, and denser, than their iPhone 11 predecessors; the 12 and 12 Pro are about the same resolution as the 11 Pro was.

The iPhone 12 and 12 mini's screens are slightly brighter than the iPhone 11's LCD at 625 nits max brightness. The Pro and Pro Max are each 800 nits, but I couldn't see a visual difference between the 12 and 12 Pro (and our screen-testing lab equipment is still in our COVID-abandoned office). All of the panels have a 60Hz refresh rate, while leading Android phones often have 90Hz or even 120Hz screens now. While you can see the frame-rate difference when filming screens in slow motion, it's not really visible in everyday use because scrolling smoothness has always been much better on iPhones than on Android phones. Apple's 60Hz might very well be as good as Android's 90Hz.

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The iPhone 12 Pro comes in four more low-key, matte hues. (Apple)

The screens are covered in a new Corning product called Ceramic Shield, which Apple says is four times less likely to shatter than previous iPhone glass. At PCMag, we don't test ruggedness—our loan agreement with Apple involves returning phones to the company undamaged. Allstate performed some drop tests, and found that the new material "improved durability," although both the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro cracked when connecting with a sidewalk from six feet above. Dropped face down, the iPhone 12 "suffered only small cracks," which was better than the Galaxy S20, the iPhone 11, or the heavier iPhone 12 Pro. But Ceramic Shield doesn't seem to protect against scuffs and scratches. Overall, it's more of a Way Station between you and your favorite screen repair shop than a guarantee against needing to get your screen fixed. And if you go to Apple, a screen replacement will set you back $279, if you don't have AppleCare. (Ouch!)

The new iPhones rely on Face ID for authentication, which has become really annoying in 2020 because it doesn't recognize the same face with and without a mask. This year's iPad Air pivots to a fingerprint scanner in the power button, which I love and wish Apple was using here. The phones also still have Lightning ports, but no headphone jack, of course.

iOS 14 is installed here and runs nearly identically on every iPhone back to the iPhone X, and probably a bit sluggishly on the iPhone 8. Check out all the new OS capabilities in our full review of iOS 14.

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The blue back is shiny and handsome.

Fast Running, Fast Charging

The iPhone 12 (and 12 Pro) feature Apple's new A14 processor running at 3GHz, teamed with 4GB and 6GB of RAM respectively. They scored the same in benchmarking: 1,599 in Geekbench single-core; 4,006 in Geekbench multi-core; around 9,350 in Geekbench Compute, and about 600 in Basemark Web. That's a 16% lift over the iPhone 11 series in Geekbench and a similar speed-up when it comes to Web browsing. The bump in Geekbench Compute, which measures GPU computing power, was a startling 48%.

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Apple iPhone 12 Review (16) One Cool Thing: All 4 of Apple's iPhone 12 Models Compared

Oddly, I had trouble running graphics benchmarks on both phones; GFXBench and 3DMark came up with inconsistent and sometimes nonsensical numbers. Apple tried to help me figure it out and we were both stumped.

Apple phones never feel slow when they're launched. The processor speeds are more about future-proofing than anything else—preparing for applications that are three or four years down the road. (New CPUs are also, generally, why Apple ends support for new iOS versions after four or five years.) So although the iPhone 12 has a speedy CPU, I wouldn't buy it over the iPhone 11 specifically for that—there are plenty of other reasons to do so.

Both the 12 and the 12 Pro pack 2,815mAh batteries. That's smaller than the iPhone 11's 3,110mAh cell, yet these iPhones last longer on a charge; that's the effect of the OLED screens combined with the more efficient A14 processor. The 12 mini has a smaller battery, and the 12 Pro Max a larger one.

Apple doesn't put a power adapter in the box this year, and that's trouble. The new iPhones charge at up to 20 watts. They'll take that wattage at 9v, 2.22a. Your old iPhone charger will not charge the new iPhone at that speed, so you'll probably have to get a new charger. I used the Anker Nano 20W ($19.99), an adorable little box of a charger which got my iPhone 12 to 20% in 10 minutes, 58% in 30 minutes, and 100% in 100 minutes.

Your new iPhone will charge with your old iPhone's lightning cable and adapter, but it will do so very slowly. The older USB-A Lightning cables only support charging up to 12 watts, and the older iPhone power adapters are a mere 5 watts. The new phones do ship with a Lightning-to-USB-C cable, which works with USB-C adapters at up to 20 watts. If you have a recent iPad or MacBook, you'll have a USB-C power adapter; otherwise, you probably want to pick up that Anker Nano. Still confused? We have a full charging explainer to help.

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MagSafe is certainly fun to use, but it's unpredictable in practice. (Apple)

Apple's new MagSafe charger ($39) is a magnetic disc that pops onto the back of the phone. In theory, MagSafe is supposed to charge at up to 15W. But it turns out (as MacRumors asserts that MagSafe's charging speed is dependent on what adapter you plug it into, even if all your adapters are 15W or greater. Plugged into the 20W Anker Nano, I got to 11% in 10 minutes and 52% in an hour. But plugged into a 22W Samsung charger, it only gave me 9% in 10 minutes and took 80 minutes to get to 50%.

I saw somewhat different battery results on the two iPhone 12 units, but they were both in line with other flagship smartphones. The iPhone 12 managed 10 hours and 8 minutes of video streaming on Wi-Fi. The iPhone 12 Pro hit 12 hours and 34 minutes.

More Than Just 5G

All four members of the iPhone 12 family use Qualcomm X55 modems. It's the first all-Qualcomm iPhone lineup since the 6S, and after years of uneven performance, I'm happy to say iPhones are back on par with leading Android phones in terms of network performance.

The iPhone 12 series has a single physical SIM slot and software support for a second line via eSIM. Voice-wise, it checks out just fine with all of the standard high-end features—the best EVS voice codec, Wi-Fi calling, and relatively solid Bluetooth 5.0.

If you have an iPhone 11 or earlier, you'll see a significant improvement in data speeds in poor-signal areas thanks to 4x4 MIMO. This feature was in the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone XS, but not the iPhone 11, XR, or earlier iPhones. I compared iPhone 11 and 12 devices side by side in weak-signal areas in LTE-only mode on T-Mobile, and saw a considerable difference.

In one very weak-signal area, the iPhone 11 had trouble completing a speed test at all, while the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro scored 6 to 9Mbps. That isn't fast, but it certainly beats the 11's failure to perform.

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Here we have T-Mobile mid-band 5G on the iPhone 12 (left); T-Mobile 4G with 4x4 MIMO on the iPhone 12 Pro (middle); and the poor iPhone 11, which has neither, at right.

In an area with stronger signal, but where the 4G network was congested, the iPhone 11 saw 1 to 3Mbps down, but the iPhone 12 on LTE managed 44 to 48Mbps down.

Wi-Fi performance seems more consistent, too. In my weak-signal Wi-Fi test, against a 500Mbps fiber connection, the iPhone 11 and 12 both maxed out at 72Mbps, but the 11 kept dropping the signal while the 12 was able to hold onto it. That makes a difference. The iPhone series are also the first iPhones to support Wi-Fi 6, including offering up a Wi-Fi 6 connection when the phone is in hotspot mode. Wi-Fi 6 will matter when we're able to go to offices and coffee shops again, as it helps with interference issues; it may also help when using the iPhone as a hotspot from a super-fast 5G millimeter-wave connection.

Apple's perplexing "ultra wideband" technology (not to be confused with Verizon's ultra wideband 5G, which is a totally different thing) is on board in these phones. Apple's UWB is a wireless system with no apparent real use. It's supposed to let two devices determine their position in relation to each other, and Apple says it has something to do with file sharing to nearby devices, as well as some smart home things, but I've found it pretty much pointless since its launch last year.

5G Lies, 5G Truth

The situation with 5G in the US is brain-breakingly complex right now. To grossly simplify, the only kind which really matters to most people is T-Mobile's mid-band 5G, which the carrier does not provide maps for, so it's difficult to say whether or not you have it. (Note to self: Work on that story; Editor's note: YES!) Low-band 5G as used by all three carriers is generally an icon without real benefit. Verizon's super-fast ultra wideband 5G, the one touted at the iPhone launch, covers only tiny areas.

The iPhone 12 lineup can handle any 4G or 5G band currently used in the US or Canada. It is also the only US phone so far that's been approved to use band n77, the "C-Band" for 5G which will be auctioned at the end of the year for new coverage starting in 2021. The C-Band is likely to give AT&T and Verizon good mid-band 5G coverage, so it's really important.

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The squared-off side leaves space for 5G millimeter-wave antenna modules.

(Google's most recent Pixel phones also list band n77 in their spec sheets, but FCC documents don't show it as having been approved for US use. While Google may get that changed, it's more likely that they'll just include it in their next round of phones.)

But wait. It isn't that simple. I wish it was that simple. I hate this. AT&T, specifically, uses features in its network which won't be supported by Qualcomm's X55 modems no matter what; they require the company's X60 modems, expected in 2021. So there is a strong chance that on AT&T, the iPhone 13 will have far superior performance to the 12. I have no idea, because I don't know what Byzantine black magic AT&T will throw into its network next year.

So all I can really say right now is that the new phones' 5G support matters on T-Mobile, it doesn't at all on AT&T, and it does on Verizon only if you're super-lucky.

If you get the iPhone 12, you will likely see a 5G icon most of the time—and most of the time, that icon will mean nothing in terms of performance. The "nationwide 5G" sold by AT&T and Verizon has no better performance than 4G, because it's using sliced-off bits of 4G channels. In fact, if you aren't on T-Mobile or in a Verizon UWB 5G neighborhood, I'd go so far as to say you can turn off 5G in your settings to save power.

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You'll get a 5G icon, but that doesn't mean any real difference in performance.

I tested the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro against a Samsung Galaxy Note 20 and iPhone 11 on the Verizon and T-Mobile networks. The 12 and 12 Pro use the same Qualcomm X55 modems and same Qualcomm and USI antennas, and they have the same network performance.

Verizon's "nationwide 5G" got an average of 84.6Mbps down in locations where my iPhone 11 on LTE got 93.7Mbps down and the Galaxy Note on LTE got 117Mbps down. This jibes with our tests of the Google Pixel 5, where we got lower speeds on Verizon's "nationwide 5G" than on 4G. Our Fastest Mobile Networks results this year show similar issues with AT&T's "nationwide 5G." While the carriers aren't technically lying about 5G here—they are using the 5G encoding system—they've managed to create a 5G system that has absolutely zero immediate consumer benefit whatsoever.

T-Mobile is the exception. If you're in a place with T-Mobile's mid-band 5G system, which is swiftly expanding around the country, you will see an immediate improvement in performance. My iPhone 12 averaged 266Mbps down on T-Mobile 5G, similar to the Galaxy Note's 261Mbps down.

The most striking differences came when I toggled T-Mobile 5G on and off in an area which didn't have great 4G speeds. Oh boy. At that point, the iPhone 11—without 4x4 MIMO—got 2.8Mbps down, the iPhone 12 Pro in LTE mode with 4x4 MIMO got 48Mbps down, and the iPhone 12 with mid-band 5G got 261Mbps down.

Verizon's ultra wideband, short range 5G system is the fastest of all, but has very limited coverage. We got an average of 554Mbps down on the iPhone 12 Pro and 783Mbps down on the Galaxy Note with Verizon UWB. The difference widened when signal was extremely good—I peaked at 1.7Gbps down on the Galaxy Note but only 875Mbps down on the iPhone. At speeds like that, the difference might actually be in the way the speed-test software is coded on the two platforms, or something else in the OS. Both are screamingly fast.

Ultra wideband range on the iPhones isn't materially different from the Galaxy Note, but the way the operating systems appeared to handle the edge of the coverage area was different. I only saw about a 10-foot difference between the two phones in terms of when they entirely dropped 5G signal, but when the Samsung dropped to LTE, it would wait a little longer after starting to establish a connection to pop up to 5G again.

Camera: Night Mode Begins to Shine

I am not the camera guy. Yes, I've reviewed a lot of phones, and a lot of phone cameras. But a lot of other reviewers I respect have a better grasp of things like "naturalism"; I just like my photos sharp, clear, saturated, and not grainy. In that, I'm probably more like the average phone user than the Instagram obsessive or semi-pro photographer. Here's what the actual camera guy has to say about the iPhone 12 line and which one is best for photographers. Still, here's my experience with the cameras.

The new iPhones have sets of 12-megapixel cameras. The iPhone 12 and 12 mini each have a 12-megapixel front-facing camera, along with 12-megapixel wide-angle and standard cameras. The 12 Pro adds a 12-megapixel 2x zoom and a LiDAR scanner, while the 12 Pro Max has 2.5x zoom and LiDAR.

LiDAR bounces light pulses off of objects to determine distance. It makes augmented-reality applications more fluid; in terms of taking photos, it speeds up and improves autofocus in low light and enables the 12 Pro's striking low-light portrait mode.

On Apple's spec sheets, you'll see a claim that the iPhone 12 offers "2x optical zoom" and that the 12 Pro has "4x optical zoom." That is only true if you reinvent how everyone in the phone world has used the word "zoom" for a decade. Apple is counting its x's from the 0.5x of the ultrawide camera, which nobody else in the phone industry does. Nobody uses the ultrawide camera by default; it's a special mode, because it tends to make subjects pretty small. So counting from the most-used camera as 0.5x and 1x, rather than pretending that the ultrawide is the default 1x camera and the main camera is some kind of zoom, is more sensible.

Alas, Apple's Night mode absolutely kills most of its competition. I tested the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro against the iPhone 11 and Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra (the best Android camera IMHO). Outdoors in good light, you'll be hard pressed to find a difference between top-of-the-line cameras. In the shots below, maybe you could argue that the sky is a slightly different color in each camera, but all of the pictures are beautiful.

Zoom in and the iPhone 12 Pro wins out; it's the one with a dedicated zoom lens, after all. The 12 Pro's 2x zoom gives you a clarity that's impossible with the digital zoom on the iPhone 12 and iPhone 11, and oddly is even a bit better than the Galaxy Note 20. Go higher, and the Galaxy reigns supreme. The Note 20 has a true 5x optical zoom lens, and at 5x all of the iPhones are blurry but the Note 20 is still razor sharp.

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The iPhone 12 Pro (upper right), with its 2x optical zoom, finds details in the bricks that the iPhone 12 and 11 (bottom row) can't find.

The real difference is in Night Mode, though. The iPhone 12 series supports the mode on its front cameras; the iPhone 11 doesn't. The LiDAR sensor on the 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max improves focus in low light and enables bokeh portrait-mode shots in Night mode.

Sometimes you don't want to use Night Mode, because you can't wait several seconds. When I turned it off, images taken with the iPhone 11 and 12 were both grainy, but the iPhone 12's shots were noticeably brighter and clearer.

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Night mode makes a difference. But notice that the Samsung Galaxy S20's Night mode (left) is just as dim as the iPhone 12 Pro without night mode (right).

The 12 Pro also offers a Night Portrait Mode, which blurs the background in night shots. When I shot with Night Portrait mode using the 12 Pro, the photo's colors were warmer and the effect was quite dramatic.

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The iPhone 12 Pro's Night Portrait mode (far right) gave this image a more professional feel.

The iPhone 12's night capabilities aren't magic. The cameras achieve their spectacular Night mode with long exposures, so they aren't good for capturing moving subjects; when I had my model gambol, she became an indistinct blur. That's the case for any camera, though.

Apple phones set the benchmark for video recording, although there's a dramatic gap between consumer-level and pro-level usability I'd like to see closed. The Galaxy S20 Ultra has a Pro Video mode which lets you do useful things like turn individual microphones on and off or change the aperture. On the iPhone, you need to download separate pro video apps for this, which are much more powerful but have far more complex, jargon-filled user interfaces. That said, most serious videographers insist upon the iPhone, and I'm not one to contradict most serious videographers.

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Basic indoor Night mode shots on the iPhone 11 and 12 series are similar.

In short, the iPhone 12 offers really good cameras. If you're dissatisfied with your older phone's low-light performance, you'll see a distinct improvement with the 12 series. The 12 Pro absolutely brings additional capabilities; the 2x zoom is sharper and the Night Portrait mode is really dramatic.

The 12 Pro also has a bunch of camera features that 95% of buyers won't care about. There's a new mode called ProRAW which lets people who use pro-editing programs have more control over their edits. The Pro also supports Dolby Vision HDR video recording at 60fps, while the iPhone 12 only supports Dolby Vision at 30fps. The 12 supports 4K video recording at 60fps; the difference is Dolby Vision, which is one of those arcane features that I have trouble getting excited about.

Is the Pro's photography worth its extra cost, though? The iPhone 12's camera and Night mode are are absolutely good enough for most people. This is my view, of course, and ultimate camera quality isn't what I tend to splash out on. (I'm more likely to argue for spending extra for 4x4 MIMO antennas.)

That said, I know that the iPhone line is the first choice for photographers, YouTubers, and other professional visual creatives. They aren't "most people," but they're an important and culturally dominant force. For them, the $150 jump from the 128GB iPhone 12 to the 12 Pro will give them more photo power. For now, I draw the line at spending another $100 for a too-large phone, but maybe when the Max comes it will change my mind. Probably not, my hands are not that big.

Should You Upgrade to the iPhone 12?

My final verdict on the iPhone 12 boils down to two ideas: If you want better low-light camera capabilities, or you're frustrated with your Internet speeds in congested areas, the iPhone 12 is a distinct improvement over previous lower-cost iPhone models.

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Here's the iPhone 12 (left) with the 11 (right).

The low-light camera difference between the iPhone 12 and anything before the iPhone 11 is striking. In terms of connectivity, the jump from 2x2 MIMO to 4x4 MIMO distinctly improves performance where signals are blocked or congested. If you're on T-Mobile, 5G will also help, but even not on T-Mobile, the MIMO will matter.

The closest comparisons in the Android world are to the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE and the OnePlus 8T. Both are very good. The iPhone 12's low-light camera is distinctly better than either of those, and I like its more compact body.

But speaking of compact, the iPhone 12 mini is on its way, and from Apple's spec sheet it seems to be just like the 12 but with a slightly smaller screen and battery in a smaller body. While I won't be able to get my hands on one for a few weeks, I have very high hopes for it. Especially for fans of the iPhone 6 through 8, I suspect the 12 mini will hit the spot.

We're also getting the iPhone 12 Pro Max in November, which is similar to the 12 Pro but with a 2.5x zoom lens. If you've seen any of my reviews this year, you'll know that I've been skeptical of super-expensive phones in 2020. I've also never been a fan of big phones for big phones' sake.

Put all of that together and our recommendations this year will likely be the iPhone 12 mini for the vast majority of folks and the iPhone 12 Pro for serious photographers who understand what ProRAW and Dolby Vision are and why you would want to use them. We're not going to argue that Android or iPhone owners should switch in either direction this year; the iPhone 12 and Samsung Galaxy S20 FE are both terrific choices, and in the horror show of 2020, you should at least be able to stay in your phone comfort zone.

Apple iPhone 12 Review (26)

Apple iPhone 12 Review (27) Apple iPhone 12 Event Recap

Apple iPhone 12


See It$764.08 at Amazon

MSRP $799.00


  • Excellent Night mode camera

  • Better 4G (and 5G) than previous iPhones

  • Beautiful build

  • Solid battery life



  • Several similar, but not-quite-the-same models

  • AT&T and Verizon 5G underwhelms

  • Charging and power adapter situation is confusing

The Bottom Line

The iPhone 12 series brings top-notch design, world-class connectivity, and an improved Night-mode camera to the nation's most popular phone. But with four similar models, which one is best? It's complicated.

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