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Apple iPhone 12 Pro hands-on: What's old is new again

Apple’s iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro are here. Well, almost here, with the official launch this Friday, Oct. 23. If you got up early and preordered fast enough, that’s when your new phone should arrive. (Unless you’re waiting for two other iPhone models Apple announced, the iPhone 12 Mini and iPhone 12 Pro Max, both of which go on sale Nov. 6 and start shipping Nov. 13.)

Apple sent me an iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro to check out. I plan on reviewing the iPhone 12 Pro, while ZDNet’s Matthew Miller will review the iPhone 12 in the coming weeks as well. 

Below are some of my first impressions after getting the iPhone 12 Pro all set up and started using it for the last 24 hours or so. 

What’s old is new again 

When rumors started to circulate about the iPhone 12 having flat edges, just like the iPad Pro or the iPhone 4 before it, I was excited. The flat design that allows you to stand the phone on its end has always been my favorite iPhone design, so I welcome its return. There’s a refined, premium feel to the (old) new design, and it feels great to hold in the hand. 

I’ve used the largest phone in Apple’s lineup for the last few years, but after using the iPhone 12 Pro for a little bit, I’m starting to think I might be ready to go back down to a more manageable phone. The iPhone 12 Pro Max’s display is 6.7-inches, and I’m not sure I want to deal with an even bigger phone. 


Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

5G! What 5G? 

Right now, I only have an AT&T SIM card, and in southern Colorado, AT&T’s 5G network just doesn’t exist. As such, I haven’t been able to test the iPhone 12 Pro’s 5G connectivity. I have a Verizon Wireless demo SIM card on the way so I can test their new nationwide 5G network. A quick check of coverage maps, and it appears Verizon is the only carrier with 5G service where I live. 

Very subtle differences between the 12 Pro and the 12

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If you don’t know what you’re looking for, it’s going to be really hard to tell the difference between the two phones. They are identical in size, with both phones boasting the same exact dimensions and a 6.1-inch display size. 

There’s a shiny luster to the stainless steel frame of iPhone 12 Pro, with the standard 12’s aluminum edges having a more matte finish. That said, with a case on both phones, the only easily identifiable trait is that the iPhone 12 has two cameras on the back, while the iPhone 12 Pro has three. 

This is the first time that Apple has sold the base model, in this case, the iPhone 12, and a premium version, the iPhone 12 Pro, that are so close in form and function. And yet, there’s a $200 price difference between the two. 

This early in the review process, I haven’t used the standard iPhone 12 all that much. I plan on doing so after finishing the more in-depth iPhone 12 Pro review. Who knows, I may not even want to go back to the 12 Pro. Then again, I am a sucker for a better camera setup. 


Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

MagSafe isn’t the future of wireless charging, but it’s nice

Apple repurposed the MagSafe name, this time as a giant Apple Watch-like charging pad for the iPhone. In the same way that the Apple Watch charger uses magnets to hold the watch in place while it wirelessly chargers, the MagSafe charger for the iPhone 12 uses magnets to hold the Qi-compatible charger on the back of the phone. 

Doing so eliminates improper alignment, ensuring the phone is being charged when you think it is, and it does so at double the wireless charging rate of last year’s iPhone 11 lineup with a maximum of 15W. You can still use a standard Qi wireless pad with the iPhone, but you’ll be limited to 7.5W of charging. 

I used the MagSafe charger that came with my review devices last night, and it did indeed charge the phone. There’s a small animation that plays on the iPhone’s display when you first connect it, and if you have one of Apple’s MagSafe accessories like a case, there’s some NFC trickery that goes on that will show an animation that matches the match of the case you have on your phone. It’s neat, and Apple will no doubt sell a bunch of MagSafe chargers and accessories. Is it needed? That’s open to debate. 

The boxes are much thinner this year

Apple removed the headphones and the wall adapter from the iPhone 12’s box, citing environmental concerns and the abundance of wall adapters currently in all of our homes. So, inside the iPhone 12 box is a USB-C to Lightning cable, your iPhone 12, and a SIM eject tool. 

The inclusion of the cable was nice, indeed, however, Apple has never provided iPhone buyers with a USB-C wall adapter, so you’ll need to buy that separately if you want to use the new cable. It’s the same kind of adapter you’ll need to buy to get the full 15W charging speed of the MagSafe adapter (make sure you buy the 20W adapter), so I guess there’s some reasoning behind the company’s decision. 

A byproduct of not including those two accessories in the box, the iPhone 12 boxes are, well. Here, look:


Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

The box in the middle is an iPhone 11 Pro box. As you can see, the new boxes are much smaller. The move certainly saves Apple money in a lot of ways, including shipping costs. 

More testing to come…

I still need to test the cameras, the battery, overall performance and so many other things. So far, I’m impressed with the iPhone 12 Pro, but the honeymoon period is about to end. 

I’ll have a full iPhone 12 Pro review in the coming weeks. If you’re waiting until the iPhone 12 Mini or iPhone 12 Pro Max launch before deciding which model to go with, what’s something you want to know about the iPhone 12 Pro? Leave a comment below and I’ll try to answer it in my full review.

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