BirchTree

Talking tech since 2010

iPhone 12 Pro First Impressions (form factor, cases, MagSafe, and more)

iPhone 12 Pro First Impressions (form factor, cases, MagSafe, and more)

This is going to be a quickie and is far from a review, but here are a few of my thoughts on the iPhone 12 Pro after a few days.

5G

I wrote about this yesterday, so go read that, but I will say that in my area and with my carrier 5G has immediately improved my internet performance significantly. I’m seeing about 7x performance gains on average, bringing me up from pretty slow speeds to something I can actually use reliably. Your mileage may vary of course, but it was a clear and immediately difference for me.

Form Factor

This is the first time an iPhone has felt like a regression over the previous model. As I use it more, I’m getting more used to it and I know that a lot of people prefer this, but while most iPhones make me look at my old phone and immediately think it’s less-then the new hotness, this is the first time I thought we’d moved the wrong direction.

I have a 2016 iPhone SE I use daily, and my computer is a 2018 iPad Pro, so I’m very familiar with flat edges, but for some reason it works less for me on the iPhone 12 Pro than those other devices. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I think it has to do with the edges being perfectly squared off. I suspect if they brought back the chamfered edges of the iPhone 5S then I would like this a lot more.

It looks fantastic, the Pacific Blue color is hot, and the product photographer in me loves that it can stand on its side, but in the hand I’m not actually sold right away on this being better than what we had before. I'm open to changing my mind over time, of course.

MagSafe

I think MagSafe is pretty good so far. It charges fast enough (no official tests yet, just anecdotally) and placing the phone on the charger does indeed require less finesse compared to a standard wireless charging mat, which is great. You can feel it snap into place too, which imparts confidence you got it right.

I love the Apple Watch animation that shows on the screen when you put it on the charging puck, but I don’t like that you get no animation when in Bedtime Mode. Instead you need to check the sliver of pixels showing your battery life in the top corner of the phone to make sure it’s going. I’d like them to make it more obvious when you place it on a MagSafe charger in Bedtime Mode and this would be perfect.

MagSafe Charging Puck

The MagSafe charger that Apple sells leaves quite a few openings for improvement.

First, there’s the fact that the charger does not charge out of the box. Just like the iPhone, you need to make sure you have a compatible USB-C charging brick to use with this thing. The packaging is very minimal for this thing so can very well see the packaging benefits of not having a charger in there, but it really is a bit of an odd thing to sell a phone charger that does not charge the phone on its own.

Second, the puck is pretty light and has no way of sticking to a surface. This isn’t a big deal, and if you plan on holding your phone while it charges this way then you’ll like it more, but the act of taking it off the charger feels closer to unplugging a Lightning plug rather than the effortlessness of taking it off a Qi wireless charger. I hope to see heavier versions of this come out that will more reliably stick to the table/desk/whatever without me resorting to tape or velcro and damaging my side table.

Third, the cable this comes with is pretty short. If one of the use cases they were solving for was using your phone while it was on the puck, I would have liked to see a longer cable, but as it stands you’ll need to be less than 3 feet from the outlet to use it while charging. Also, it would have been nice for the plug to be interchangeable USB-C so that I could swap in a longer cable that I already own. Adding onto that the fact that if I am using my phone with this cable connected, then it’s going to wear down and break quicker than a regular wireless charger’s cable. When it frays, I need to throw out the whole thing and buy a new one rather than replace just the broken part.

I know I’m splitting hairs on what actually does and doesn’t help the environment, but this is the conversation Apple wanted to have, so I think it’s only fair to point out places where decisions were made that were not towards the goal of reducing waste.

New Cases

I’m a leather case guy myself, but those aren’t shipping for a few more weeks, so I had to get a rubber one to tide me over. I got the kumquat one and I think it pairs really nicely with the Pacific Blue iPhone. I like that it snaps on and plays a totally unnecessary kumquat-colored animation on screen when I put the case on since it knows what color my case is. I also like that the case wraps a little less over the edges of the phone than before, partially because of the flat edges, and partially because the magnet is doing some extra work to hold it in place.

I don’t like that the bottom gets covered up this time, nor do I like how sticky the case is, which I know is a feature for some people, but I find it makes it harder for me to get the phone in and out of my pocket, and it collects more lint and dust than the leather cases.

Long story short, I look forward to replacing this case with something more permanent in November.

The Cameras

I haven’t done any comparisons with the 11 Pro, but out of the gate the cameras feel similar to what we had last year. That’s a compliment since the 11 Pro had amazing cameras, but this doesn’t feel like a massive step forward like it did last year.

I think I have noticed a little more natural bokeh on the standard wide lens, accounts for by the new f/1.6 aperture, but it could just be a placebo.

On the video front, the new HDR footage is outstanding and I almost can’t believe what I’m seeing. I hope to do something dedicated to the video on the iPhone 12 Pro, but for now let me just say that shooting outdoors with this camera is fantastic, and dramatically improved over last year.

Overall Feelings

I like this new phone a lot. As always, this is not a necessary upgrade for anyone with last year’s phone, but the new body shape, slightly larger screen, and markedly improved video quality add up to a phone than feels like a solid, iterative update.

I also think that 5G is a bit of a wild card, but has been a big win for me, and I would expect will become more and more of a win as the carriers expand and improve their coverage over the coming years.

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