The contrarian’s iPhone 12 Review: I hate myself and I want to die

As it came out of the box…

Let’s begin with whatever spurious justification drove me to buy an iPhone 12 now, when I definitely didn’t need to. My first iPhone was the 4, at which point it seemed clear to me that Apple had finally produced something worth having. The industrial design, the retina display, the 4G networking, all seemed to move the device into the essential-to-modern-life category.

And then, I think, I had a 5 (definitely not required) and then a 6 Plus, which I kept for four years, upgrading to an X🅁 two years ago.

It seemed to me that four years felt like the right amount of time to keep such an expensive device. I decided to upgrade when I saw the software update roadmap reaching its limits. But aside from that the 6 Plus served me well, and is still serving my brother-in-law well: he’s still using it.

Which brings me to the universal truth of these devices: that they all have a long useful life, and get passed down through families. My iPhone 4 even had an extended life as an iPod, chock full of music and permanently plugged into the car. My iPhone 6 is still in use six years later, and my daughter’s old SE (original) is being used by my wife as her French phone, with a cheap French SIM card. Meanwhile, my OH is still using her iPhone 8 Plus, which itself is now four years old.

So why on earth did I feel the need to get an iPhone 12, when my X🅁 was only two years into its long life?

Well, I thought, if I kept it another two years, then when I went to buy an iPhone 14, my daughter (who was using an iPhone 7 Plus) wouldn’t really want it, so I’d probably end up giving it away to my brother-in-law again. Whereas, upgrading now meant I could give my kid a pretty damn good phone in a gorgeous colour (coral).

Which is why, on Tuesday, I took delivery of a new iPhone 12 (128GB) in blue.

First impressions

Within 10 seconds, it started to pick up prints and smudges

My immediate reaction was horror at the way the new phone took fingerprints. Perhaps it didn’t help that I was in the middle of making bread at the time (I did wash my hands), but both screen and back attract marks and smudges almost magnetically. Even resting the phone on an old iPhone 6 silicone case leaves a mark that looks like a scratch. Fucksake!

Also, we need to talk about the colour. This dark blue looks all right in daylight, but most of the time (in this house anyway) it looks black. I didn’t want a black phone, but that’s how it feels. I loved my coral phone. I plumped for blue just in case I get an Apple Watch at some point: blue would be the colour.

But blue is boring, and it looks mostly black, and it picks up smudges and fingerprints so it’s going to end up in a case. And not the cheap clear case I bought from Amazon. It said it was resistant to yellowing, but the material is cheap-looking and -feeling, and it also picks up smudges and fingerprints.

Second impressions

We’re back to the iPhone 4 industrial design style, and I’ve read a lot of people praising this return to squared off sides.

Reader, I don’t like it. I don’t think it fits nicely in the hand. It feels hard and uncomfortable to me, and slippery. Another reason to get a case. I know a lot of the tech bros wonder why you would buy something that looks so nice and then hide it in a case, but the tech bros don’t have to consider how it will look in a few years when they pass it on to a relative. I miss the curved sides and feel like I’m going to drop this thing.

Of course, Apple claim it has a new screen cover (the Ceramic Shield®) that is resistant to smashing; but resistant to smashing usually means prone to scratching, and, while I didn’t smash either of my two most recent phones, both had scratches on the display that were a constant source of irritation that you could never forget because they were under your fingers all the time. So colour me sceptical.

Also sceptical about: my first ever OLED display. Omigod hot shit, OLED!? Actually, genuinely, cannot detect a difference. Does not feel any better than the (excellent) LCD screen on the X🅁. Yes, I’m being contrarian (see the headline), but I am as unexcited by this as I am by the 5G built into this phone, which is as nothing in a world without it.

5G coverage in Milton Keynes isn’t even in the city centre

The 5G coverage map for my network (Three) shows an area near Caldecotte Lake in Milton Keynes, but nothing around where I live. Caldecotte Lake is where a bunch of rich people live in Georgian Style townhouses that cost half a million. You might also find 5G in a tiny bit of Oxford and, um, Royal Leamington Spa.

Anyway, 5G hype was embarrassing for Apple, no matter what co-marketing funds they received. It’s certainly not a reason to get a new phone.

So: display? Bof*.

5G?: Bof.

Colour? Bof.

How about the processor speed?

Welp. I clearly don’t do anything that requires much processing power, so, again, I’ve not noticed anything. I guess there might be some computational photography stuff going on, but I’ve not been anywhere to take photos so I can’t tell you. It’s been raining solid all week, and, you know, Covid.

So I can’t tell you much about the cameras. For a couple of days, having given her my X🅁, I had use of my daughter’s 7 Plus, which has a fantastic camera, including the 2x zoom feature that was a notable missing feature from the X🅁. The 12 has two cameras, but one of them is the ultra wide-angle 0.5x and the other is the standard 1x. For a 2x, you now have to pay Pro money. Huh. Not impressed. I really don’t think I’ve got much use for the 0.5x lens, so I’m not happy at all with the camera on the 12. It’s not an upgrade from the X🅁, as far as I’m concerned.

Miscellaneous

You get a nice slim box when the phone arrives, because it has no power adapter, and no ear buds. It comes only with just a USB-C to Lightning charging lead, which I have no use for. I’ve got a 10W standard charger left over from my old iPad, and a 5W charger next to the bed (built into a lamp), and the phone gets a charge when it’s plugged into the car. I’m not spending £39 for a Magsafe charger (with which you also need Apple’s £19 USB-C power adapter), so I can’t tell you about the magnetic charging feature. Sure, the phone might take ages to charge up on a lower wattage charger, but that “emergency charge” feature of modern life has passed me by. It’ll charge overnight next to the bed. After its first whole day of use, the battery showed 53%, so I’m not quaking in my boots at the idea of running out of battery. And if I do, well so fucking what.

Did I need this phone? No.

Does it feel like a significant upgrade over the X🅁? No.

Do I like the colour? No.

Do I like the design? No.

Is the display or camera better than the X🅁? No.

Is 5G worth having? No.

Who should buy it then?

I would say, if you have an iPhone 8 or older, you might feel some benefit to the iPhone 12. If you’re rocking an X, XS, or X🅁 or later, probably wait another year or two or three.

*Bof is French for meh.

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2 responses to “The contrarian’s iPhone 12 Review: I hate myself and I want to die”

  1. I laughed out loud at the headline to this post. Well done.

    Some sneaky pamper projects for the new phone could be a Nomad case, M series lens mount and a couple of Moment lenses. I had Nomad+Moment for the X and currently for the 11 and the Nomad leather cases are reassuringly good in the hand – although they do hide all the fancy paintwork.

    And then an Anker stand up Qi recharger which means no plugging in. So convenient with no faffing.
    https://amzn.to/34Bxg9d

    I assume the Magsafe is a placeholder for licensed attachments to the back of the phone such as game controllers?

    On the 0.5 wide angle lens, I find it really handy to take dramatic outdoor pics with sky or foreground or squeeze a whole room in indoors. And that on-screen wheel control thing for lens size really helps too. For most non-commercial purposes I don’t need a DSLR at all now.

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  2. Thanks for the tip. I’ve looked at the Nomads, but: boring colours. But my search did lead me to the Bellroy cases, which come in a lovely range of colours, including Coral! And Lemon! So I think I might go there. That Moment system is a little rich for my blood – I’ll stick to my Olympus OM-D!
    As to the Qi charger, I remain sceptical. A colossal waste of electricity (if everyone used it) for a little bit of charge. Even the Magsafe only provides 15W when plugged into a 20W charger.

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