Best iPhones to buy now: Four iPhone 12 models are not your only great choices

Apple’s iPhones are arguably the best phones available — with responsive performance, regular updates for years, compelling hardware designs, and an ecosystem that appeals to the masses.

We have seen improvements in battery life, advanced multi-camera functionality, and continued improvements to Apple’s iOS. The high-end iPhones are pricey, but Apple’s processor architecture has also proven to be the best in the smartphone world.

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Image: Apple

Apple’s biggest and most feature-rich iPhone this year is a mouthful, the iPhone 12 Pro Max. Unlike past iPhones, the 12 Pro Max doesn’t just offer a bigger display and larger capacity battery over the 12 Pro. It also brings improvements in two rear cameras; so if you want the absolute best from Apple you need to choose the larger, and more expensive iPhone.

The telephoto camera has a larger aperture than the iPhone 12 Pro and optical zoom is improved from 2x to 5x. Sensor-shift optical image stabilization is also provided on the wide camera of the 12 Pro Max.

The latest Apple A14 Bionic chip powers this big phone with all of the other features you expect in an iPhone such as a larger 6.7-inch OLED display, 128/256/512GB internal storage options, IP68 dust/water resistance, and more. For the first time, we also see 5G in an iPhone. Colors for the 12 Pro Max include Silver, Graphite, Gold, and Pacific Blue.

Pricing for the big iPhone is dependent on your internal storage preference with the 128GB model at $1,099, 256GB at $1,199, and 512GB at $1,399. Given the high prices we see on flagship phones from Samsung, these are actually competitive prices.

$1,099 at Apple

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The Apple iPhone 12 Pro is a bit smaller than the iPhone 12 Pro Max, but still has the triple rear camera array and all of the same features as the 12 Pro Max. As discussed above, there are a couple differences in the telephoto camera and wide cameras, but most people are unlikely to notice those differences.

The Apple iPhone 12 Pro offers a smaller 6.1-inch display; compared to 6.7 inches seen on the 12 Pro Max, this model is more pocketable and manageable for most people.

It is available in the same four color and three internal storage options and will be available in November. The 128GB model starts at $999, the 256GB one is at $1,099, and the 512GB model is priced at $1,299.

$999 at Apple

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The Apple iPhone 12 is an interesting device since it has the exact same 6.1-inch display seen on the iPhone 12 Pro so size and battery capacity are not differentiators here. There is one less rear camera on the iPhone 12 and there is no support for the LiDAR scanner. If the telephoto capability is not important to you then you can save some money with the iPhone 12.

The Apple iPhone 12 is also offered in five different colors, including Black, White, PRODUCT (Red), Green, and Blue. I ordered one in Blue since I prefer this over the Pacific Blue iPhone 12 Pro and should be completely satisfied with the dual rear cameras.

The iPhone 12 also starts at a measly 64GB of storage so you have to pay a bit extra to pick up the 128 or 256GB models. Pricing starts at $829 for the 64GB model with the 128GB model at $879 and the 256GB one at $979. There are definitely storage options and camera capabilities to consider when you are trying to decide between the iPhone 12 or 12 Pro since the 128GB 12 Pro is only $20 different than the 256GB iPhone 12 model.

$799 at Apple

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In a rather unique move from Apple, we also saw a fourth iPhone 12 model announced with the 5.4 inch display on an iPhone 12 mini. This small iPhone option also has an OLED display so there are no differences there, other than size.

The same Apple processor powers the device with a dual rear camera system that is the same as the iPhone 12. Face ID, 5G, wireless charging, and all the rest from the iPhone 12 is present on the smaller iPhone 12 mini.

The Apple iPhone SE is still available with a 4.7 inch display, but the iPhone 12 mini does offer a $100 savings over the larger iPhone 12. The unlocked iPhone 12 mini starts at $729 for 64GB of storage with the 128GB at $779 and the 256GB model at $879. The iPhone SE is still the most affordable iPhone model, starting at just $399.

$699 at Apple

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While the only differences between the iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max are the display size and battery capacity, for the enterprise user there is a lot to be said about both of these features. It’s easier to work with documents and spreadsheets on a larger display and long battery life is always helpful to power through a day of work.

Apple has once again shown it bests all other phones in benchmarking testing with the Apple A13 Bionic chipset. The iPhone 11 Pro Max has a fabulous OLED screen, large capacity battery with a rating of five hours more than last year’s iPhone XS Max, and new camera hardware (with improved software) to make it a very compelling flagship. It continues to get regular updates and iOS apps are still better than comparable Android apps, despite the improvements in Android phones.

Face ID continues to be one of the fastest and most secure methods of maintaining security on your phone, and the version in the iPhone 11 Pro Max has been improved for better performance. 

The iPhone 11 Pro Max starts $1,099 for a minimal storage 64GB model. There are some attractive colors for enterprise users and compared to the iPhone 11, the Pro Max version is more focused on business users.

$829 at Back Market

$1,099 at Amazon

$1,000 at Best Buy

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(Image: CNET)

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My full review of the Apple iPhone 11 Pro led me to almost award it my first perfect 10 score. I held back from that since Apple launched it with just 64GB of internal storage capacity, which I find unacceptable for a $1,000+ flagship phone with a triple camera system — the best video capture system on a phone.

The only differences between the iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max are the display size and battery capacity. After going full circle, it’s clear that the 5.8-inch model works best for me. There’s a lot to be said for a phone that is easily pocketable and capable of satisfying people with smaller hands. It’s usable with one hand.

The iPhone 11 Pro starts at $999 for a minimal storage 64GB model. The stainless steel body, professional business color options, improved battery capacity over previous iPhones, and continued support make it one of the best phones available today.

$670 at Back Market

$999 at Amazon

$900 at Best Buy

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(Image: James Martin/CNET)

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While this list starts with the most powerful, and expensive, phones available, ZDNet’s Jason Cipriani was right in stating that the Apple iPhone 11 is probably the best phone for most people. We typically see Apple keep prices the same, or increase them, each year, but with the iPhone 11, we actually saw a price drop of $50.

Unlike the terrible decision to launch the iPhone 11 Pro/Pro Max with 64GB and then charge a massive premium to upgrade to the next level of 256GB, Apple lets iPhone 11 buyers go from 64GB to 128GB for just $50. Thus, the iPhone 11 with 128GB is an excellent option for most people.

The iPhone 11 has a size between the 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max with long battery life, capable processor, several color options, and rear dual camera setup. The iPhone 11 has an ultra-wide angle and standard rear cameras but doesn’t have the 2x telephoto zoom lens found on the other new iPhone 11 models.

The iPhone 11 starts at $699 for 64GB with the 128GB model priced at $749. Six colors are available so there is one to appeal to everyone.

$699 at Amazon

$569 at Back Market

$600 at Best Buy

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Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

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Apple isn’t known for making affordable phones, but the new Apple iPhone SE (2020) is a perfect option for those who want an iPhone experience without paying high prices. As a person who primarily uses Android phones, it is also a great option as a second phone for those times you want to use iOS.

The iPhone SE is smaller than nearly all other modern phones and looks like an iPhone 8 on the outside. However, it is the inside that matters here with the Apple Bionic A13 processor, high IP67 dust/water resistant rating, and very capable 12-megapixel camera. You won’t find a budget Android phone with all of these features at this price and it’s wonderful to see Apple offering up such a solid affordable option at this time.

Apple iPhone fans will still likely want an iPhone 11 or something greater, but this is a great option for a first iPhone and one for those who just don’t want to give up on a Touch ID button.

$330 at Back Market

$399 at Amazon

$400 at Best Buy

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The last phone in this list still being sold directly from Apple is the iPhone XR, which is the mid-level predecessor to the iPhone 11. It starts at $599 from Apple, $100 less than the Apple iPhone 11.

The Apple iPhone XR has a 6.1 inch LCD display, six available colors, and also runs the latest version of Apple’s iPhone OS. It has a single camera on the back, capable of portrait mode shots of people.

Battery life is excellent on the iPhone XR and the size is similar to the iPhone 11. For $200 less, I would seriously consider the iPhone SE in lieu of the iPhone XR.

$749 at Amazon

$500 at Best Buy

$750 at Boost Mobile

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Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

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While the XS Max is no longer available directly from Apple, US wireless carriers still offer this phone. T-Mobile offers the 256GB model for $999.99, which is $250 less than the 11 Pro Max, so if you want a large iPhone then this is one way to save some money. You could use that savings to get the latest Apple AirPods Pro.

The XS Max has the same physical design features with a stainless steel body, glass back and front, wireless charging, Lightning port, and touch navigation feature with Face ID. There are three available colors.

The phone also has a dual-camera system, IP68 dust and water resistance, and will continue to be updated by Apple.

$486 at Back Market

$1,100 at Boost Mobile

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The Apple iPhone X was one of my favorite smartphones ever and it excited me more than any phone over the previous five years. Its successor, the Apple iPhone XS, is no longer available directly from Apple, but can be found from US carriers and other retailers, like Amazon.

Improvements in the XS over the X include a next-generation Apple processor, improved level of dust/water resistance, and slightly larger capacity battery. The same compact size and performance are present on the iPhone XS.

T-Mobile is offering the 512GB model for $849.99.

$420 at Back Market

$899 at Amazon

$1,000 at Boost Mobile

Model Base Price Base Storage Display Cameras
iPhone 12 Pro Max $1,099 128GB 6.7″ 3
iPhone 12 Pro $999 128GB 6.1″ 3
iPhone 12 $799 64GB 6.1″ 2
iPhone 12 mini $699 64GB 5.4″ 2
iPhone 11 Pro Max $999 64GB 6.5″ 3
iPhone 11 Pro $899 64GB 5.8″ 3
iPhone 11 $599 64GB 6.1″ 2
iPhone SE (2020) $399 64GB 4.7″ 1
iPhone XR $499 64GB 6.1″ 1
iPhone XS Max $719 64GB 6.5″ 2
iPhone XS $639 64GB 5.8″ 2

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Snap Q3 results trounce expectations, users reach 249 million, stock soars 18%

Shares of Snap soared by 18% in late trading Tuesday as the maker of the Snapchat social networking app reported Q3 revenue that surged past expectations, driven by a big jump in users and similarly large jump in the number of messages sent.

Revenue in the three months ended in September rose by 52%, year over year, to $678.7 million, yielding EPS of a penny per share. That compares to the average analyst estimate for $551 million and 5 cents per share.

Snap’s user count, on a daily average basis, rose by 39 million users from the prior-year period, or 18%, to 249 million. 

Snaps sent in the Snapchat program, a measure of engagement on the platform, rose by 25%, the company said, without listing the total number.  

The company also touted its Discover feature in the app, saying that the amount of time each user spent looking at the feature’s programming rose by 50%, year over year. 

Snapchat, which is among the first companies to make use of the rear-mounted augmented reality camera in Apple’s new iPhone 12, made several remarks about the new camera and filter capabilities of its app. For example, the company noted it had added the ability for two-dimensional rendering of a person’s full body, and added digital clothing that can be res’d onto a user’s avatar.

“Snapchatters can now dress their Bitmoji avatars in a new collection of 19 different digital apparel and sneakers from Nike’s Jordan brand, including the new Air Jordan XXXV.”

As was the case last quarter, Snap management declined to provide a forecast for this quarter’s results, citing the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. The company is hosting a conference call with analysts this evening, at 5 pm, eastern time, and you can catch it on the company’s investor relations home page.

Despite declining to forecast, the company speculated that its sales may rise by as much as 50% this quarter, which would be well above Wall Street’s expectation for a 30% rise in revenue. 

“Advertising demand in Q4 has historically been bolstered by the holiday season in the latter portion of the quarter, and it is not clear at this time whether that key source of advertising demand will materialize in the same way this year as in prior years,” the company said in prepared remarks circulated in advance of the earnings call.

“Assuming that the current favorable operating conditions persist, and that the holiday season materializes in line with what we have experienced in prior years, we believe that year-over-year revenue growth of 47 percent to 50 percent is attainable in Q4,” it said.

On the conference call with analysts, founder and CEO Evan Spiegel told analysts that the company is prioritizing feature development on Android before iOS. “We can actually move faster on Android now than iOS,” said Spiegel. “So, huge change.”

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iPhone 12: A damaged OLED screen will cost you $279 to repair, says Apple

Apple has updated its support page for iPhone screen repairs with new prices that show the iPhone 12 screen will cost $80 more to fix than the iPhone 11. 

An out-of-warranty iPhone 12’s screen will cost $279 for Apple to repair, compared with the iPhone 11’s screen repair cost of $199, marking an $80 difference between the two entry-level iPhone models. However, the iPhone 12 Pro’s repair cost remains the same as the iPhone 11 Pro at $279. 

As The Verge notes, the iPhone 12 Pro’s screen repair cost has not increased despite Apple’s new ceramic-hardened display it developed with Corning, which Apple claims has improved drop performance damage by four times compared with last year’s models. 

SEE: 5G smartphones: A cheat sheet (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The higher cost of repairing the entry-level iPhone 12 is likely to be because Apple has used more expensive OLED displays across the board for the iPhone 12 series, whereas the iPhone 11 featured an LCD screen. 

Apple’s “other iPhone repair” costs for the iPhone 12 in the US are listed as $449, or $50 more than the iPhone 11 repair costs in that category. 

Apple hasn’t listed out-of-warranty repair costs of the iPhone 12 Pro Max, but these models have historically been about $50 more expensive than the smaller Pro model. Also yet to be revealed is the repair cost for the smaller-screen iPhone 12 mini. 

With an AppleCare Plus plan, the cost of screen repairs remains $29, while other accidental damage costs $99 to repair. 

As usual, prices for Apple products and services are higher after taxes than in the US. Apple has listed the screen repair costs for the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 in the UK. Both models cost £266.44 ($344) to repair a cracked screen, or £70 more than the iPhone 11’s screen repair cost of £196.44. 

In Australia, a damaged screen on the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 cost AUD$439 ($309), while the cost of repairing the screen of an iPhone 11 is AUD$309.    

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Which iPhone 12? How to choose the iPhone model that’s right for you

The last time we had a model and price range this broad was 2018 when Apple introduced a very confusing array of models. That year, the iPhone lineup started at $449 and topped out at $1,449. This year, with phones that have some substantially improved features, the price spread is the same, but the low end and top end are each fifty bucks lower, ranging from $399 to $1,399.

Lest you think Apple has gotten altruistic this year, keep in mind that as of 2020, the company no longer ships a power adapter nor headphones in the box. Without a doubt, they’ll likely make up the missing $50 on accessories, especially their new MagSafe charger for the iPhone 12 series.

Let’s kick off our chooser by looking at pricing for each model variation now on offer.

2020 iPhone pricing, compared

64GB 128GB 256GB 512GB Chip
iPhone 12 Pro Max $1,099 $1,199 $1,399 A14 Bionic
iPhone 12 Pro $999 $1,099 $1,299 A14 Bionic
iPhone 12 $799 $849 $949 A14 Bionic
iPhone 12 mini $699 $749 $849 A14 Bionic
iPhone 11 $599 $649 $749 A13 Bionic
iPhone XR $499 $549 A12 Bionic
iPhone SE $399 $449 $549 A13 Bionic

Missing Touch ID

This year, the only phone Apple sells with Touch ID is the reimagined iPhone SE (which is basically an updated iPhone 8). All the other devices use Apple’s TrueDepth sensor to provide support for Face ID. This is unfortunate, especially in these pandemic times when face coverings are mandated inside most offices and public buildings. Using any of the currently sold iPhones, therefore, will almost always require removing PPE in order to unlock the phone unless you tap in a code instead.

After Apple introduced its redesigned iPad Air last month, we were hoping and expecting that the new phones would take into account the New Normal and include the power-button Touch ID sensor sported by the new Air. Unfortunately, the 2020 phones were probably too far into their design-and-launch cycle by pandemic time for Apple to incorporate that technology in this generation of phones.

Although Apple has been fully committed to Face ID for a few generations now, we expect a strong push towards the return of Touch ID in the next generation of phones, especially if the pandemic is still raging next year.

TL;DR guide

Here’s the short form of this article. If you want comparatively cheap but don’t mind earlier obsolescence, get an iPhone SE. Likewise, if you want Touch ID and a Home button, your only choice is the SE.

If you live in one of the very few regions that have fully-available 5G service, consider any of the iPhone 12 models. All new iPhones now support 5G.

If you want a physically small phone with a ton of capability, get the iPhone 12 mini.

If you want top-of-the-line camera features and don’t mind spending for it, get an iPhone 12 Pro Max.

If you want some new camera features along with animoji and memoji and want to save money, then get an iPhone XR. The only gotcha is this is bound to be obsolete within a few years.

If you want as big a display as possible, then you’ll want the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

And if you want some of the new hotness and want a middle-of-the-road iPhone, the “just right” (but still pretty expensive) phone is the iPhone 12.

Got it? Good. Now let’s do our deep dive.

The dollar decision

As the chart above shows, there are a wide range of devices and prices available. As has been its practice for many years now, previous years’ models are available for down-market consumers. That said, we were quite pleased to see the $399 iPhone SE is on the docket, since it’s a very nice device for a quite reasonable price. And you can unlock it with a mask on.

Not all the pricing math is apparent based on RAM footprint and screen size. This year, the iPhone 12 Pro Max adds a ton of new camera features. So if you’re looking for power photo and video capabilities, you’ll want to consider increasing your spend.

One simple factor continues to stand out. Given the same model, going from the smaller screen to the larger screen is a $100 jump. So if you want a bigger screen, your money decision is really about whether that bigger screen is worth the Benjamin.

Of course, the bottom line is always the bottom line. Factor in how much you can afford, examine the features and decide if you’ll really use them, and then pick the best fit. Just keep in mind that 5G probably won’t mean much for a few years. That said, some of us hold onto our phones for years and years (I’m still rocking a perfectly functional 2015 model) and 5G will be meaningful a few years out.

Deciding on storage

Another relatively clear decision is memory. Regardless of model, the jump from 64GB to 256GB is $150. This has been the case for quite a few years now.

For all models, there is a $50 jump from 64GB to 128GB. We’ll make that decision easy for you. If you’re getting any of the lower-cost models, do your best to get 128GB. Losing half the RAM for fifty bucks will haunt you in the long run.

For the Pro models, which can go up to 512GB, the jump from 256GB to 512GB is $200. Math also tells us that the jump all the way from 128GM to 512GB is $300.

You need to decide how much RAM you need. I’ll tell you this: I was planning to buy a smaller RAM footprint for my cherished iPhone 6s Plus, but my wife talked me into maxing it out. That extra RAM came in handy as I started doing 4K videos and the extra expense at that time probably bought me three or four years more use of the phone without needing an upgrade. The hundred bucks I spent going from 64GB to 128GB probably saved me at least two grand.

Color

I’ll be honest. I have no idea what color my iPhone is. As soon as I opened my white iPhone box, I put the phone into a case. That’s pretty much the last time I looked at the color of my device.

2020 iPhone color choices

SE XR 11 12 mini 12 12 Pro 12 Pro Max
White X X X X X
Graphite X X
Black X X X X X
Yellow X X
Blue X X X
Coral X
Purple X
Green X X X
(PRODUCT)RED X X X X X
Silver X X
Gold X X
Pacific Blue X X

But I know color is important to some of you. Apple now has 12 separate color choices (and yes, I’m counting black, white, graphite, and silver all as colors). The gotcha is that some color choices are only available to certain model levels or years.

Here’s where you’re going to make a big choice: is a feature more important to you or a color? Remember that you can buy a case in almost any color and material, so I’d recommend you choose your phone based on your budget and the features you need, not the color. That said, the Pacific Blue iPhone Pro is pretty darn sweet.

Fashion or function? The choice is yours.

Device and display size

The following chart showcases this year’s models. The phone with the smallest physical size is the iPhone 12 mini. That’s right, the iPhone SE is no longer Apple’s smallest iPhone. By physical size, I mean what the phone feels like in your hand, not the size of the display. Note that all sizes are in inches, weights are in ounces, and display size is measured diagonally.

2020 iPhone display comparison

Device Width Height Depth Display Size Weight Resolution Technology
iPhone SE 2.65 5.45 0.29 4.7 5.22 1334 x 750 IPS LCD
iPhone XR 2.98 5.94 0.33 6.1 6.84 1792 x 828 IPS LCD
iPhone 11 2.98 5.94 0.33 6.1 6.84 1792 x 828 IPS LCD
iPhone 12 mini* 2.53 5.18 0.29 5.4 4.76 2340 x 1080 OLED
iPhone 12* 2.82 5.78 0.29 6.1 5.78 2532 x 1170 OLED
iPhone 12 Pro* 2.82 5.78 0.29 6.1 6.66 2533 x 1170 OLED
iPhone 12 Pro Max* 3.07 6.33 0.29 6.7 8.03 2778 x 1284 OLED

* The units use new Apple “ceramic shield” glass.

Hands down, if you’re all in based on display size, the iPhone 12 Pro Max has the most screen real estate of any iPhone, ever. 

One thing to note, though: the iPhone 12 Pro Max is heavier than than any of the other iPhones, by a few tenths of an ounce.

Then, there’s display technology. Apple has historically used LCD technology, which requires a backlight. With the iPhone 12 and previously the iPhone X models (but, notably, not the XR), Apple is using OLED technology, where each pixel is its own light source. OLED is, generally, a more attractive display and sometimes considered easier to read.

In my personal opinion, OLED is a nice-to-have, not a must-have. If the phone otherwise has the features and specs you want, then it’s a bonus to get an OLED display. But I wouldn’t recommend choosing an iPhone model just because its got OLED. iPhone LCD displays are also quite nice.

Apple has also introduced a new glass process. Apple’s marketing team must have been working overtime, because they gave this display the name Ceramic Shield. The claim is that phones made with “ceramic shield” glass are 4X more robust, but exactly what that means in real life has yet to be determined.

Do you want a physically small phone?

When you’re choosing your phone, you’ve got a few other size-related vectors to consider. For many, it’s simply about which phone best fits your hand. 

The following chart shows the relative sizes of new models as well as some historically small iPhones. While the iPhone 12 mini isn’t as small as the original small iPhone SE, it is the smallest phone currently in Apple’s lineup and isn’t all that much bigger than either the old SE or even the ancient iPhone 4 that fit so nicely into many folks’ hands back in the day.

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iPhone size comparison for folks who want a small device

Cameras

Next up is cameras, and in this case, we’re looking at rear photo cameras, rear video cameras, and front-facing selfie cameras. As the chart below shows, the big factors are the number of cameras, a new LIDAR-assisted night mode, the range of zoom, and a new way of doing image stabilization on the sensor rather than on the lens.

2020 iPhone rear-facing camera comparison

SE XR 11 12 mini 12 12 Pro 12 Pro Max
# Cameras 1 1 2 2 2 3 3
Portrait Mode Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Night Mode Wide Yes Yes Yes Yes
Portrait Lighting Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Megapixels 12 12 12 12 12 12 12
Wide angle aperture f1.8 f1.8 f1.8 f1.6 f1.6 f1.6 f1.6
Ultra wide aperture f2.4 f2.4 f2.4 f2.4 f2.4
Telephoto aperture f2.0 f2.2
Digital zoom 5x 5x 5x 5x 5x 10x 12x
Optical zoom 2x 2x 2x 4x 5x
Optical image stabilization Wide Wide Wide Lens Sensor
LIDAR Yes Yes
Apple ProRaw Later Later

The big takeaway is this: if you’re super into photography or video, then the iPhone 12 Pro Max will interest you. There are some genuine improvements (and some useful upgrades) in that device. Beyond that, the less expensive SE and XR still have fine cameras, but they’re not as extreme as the later models. One other thought: Apple has announced a new ProRaw format which is supposed to give you all the power of Raw with the addition of Apple magic. It’s not available when the devices ship, so we’ll chalk that up to real soon now.

In terms of video recording, as the chart below shows, there are few big differences. Once again, the Pro and Pro Max stand out if you want a big zoom range. Plus, the Pro and Pro Max add Dolby Vision HDR, although it’s not clear how easy it will be to take advantage of it in your productions.

2020 iPhone video camera capability comparison

SE XR 11 12 mini 12 12 Pro 12 Pro Max
4K video fps 24. 30, 60 24. 30, 60 24. 30, 60 24. 30, 60 24. 30, 60 24. 30, 60 24. 30. 60
1080p video fps 30, 60 30, 60 30, 60 30, 60 30, 60 30, 60 30, 60
720p video fps 30 30 30 30 30 30 30
Slo-mo 1080p fps 120, 240 120, 240 120, 240 120, 240 120, 240 120, 240 120, 240
Slo-mo 720p fps
Optical zoom 2x 2x 2x 4x 5x
Digital zoom 3x 3x 3x 3x 3x 6x 7x
Optical image stabilization Yes Yes Wide Wide Wide Wide Wide
Dolby Vision HDR fps 30 30 60 60

For 2020, the front-facing camera on the iPhone 12 has … nothing new. Yes, there’s supposed to be Dolby Vision HDR, but other than that, you’re getting what appears to be the very same camera from the iPhone 11. Nothing to see here. Move along.

2020 iPhone front-facing selfie camera comparison

SE XR 11 12 mini 12 12 Pro 12 Pro Max
4K video fps 24, 30, 60 24, 30, 60 24, 30, 60 24, 30, 60 24, 30, 60
1080p video fps 30 30, 60 30, 60 30, 60 30, 60 30, 60 30, 60
TrueDepth Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Megapixels 7 7 12 12 12 12 12
Portrait Mode Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Portrait Lighting Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Night Mode Yes Yes Yes Yes
Slo-mo 1080p ps 120 120 120 120 120
Animoji No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Memoji No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Retina Flash Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Auto Image Stabilization Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Cinematic Video Stabilization Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Aperture f2.2 f2.2 f2.2 f2.2 f2.2 f2.2 f2.2
Dolby Vision HDR fps 30 30 30 30
Face ID No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

We talked about Face ID earlier. The TrueDepth camera (especially with the addition of LIDAR) can provide some value add capabilities. But if you’re looking for a jump on the front-facing camera, you probably have to wait another year.

The bottom line for all the camera features is really the bottom line. If you’re willing to pony up the extra cash for one of the iPhone 12 models, you’re going to get an upgraded camera. But if you want most of the upgrades, a far less costly iPhone 11 will do you, although it will obsolete sooner. And if you just want to snap nice pictures, even the iPhone SE will take quite good pictures.

The 5G elephant in the room

Even though the main event at Apple’s announcement of the iPhone 12 line was 5G, we have to rate it as “not important” when it comes to choosing a phone. Let’s put it this way: if you need 5G, you already know it. Otherwise, for most of us, it’s not even something we’ll be able to use for a couple of years.

I do want to be clear about one thing: 5G will probably be a “thing” at some point in the future. It’s now a bad capability to have in your phone, especially if you intend to keep your phone for four or five years. But there is almost no reason to go out and upgrade just because it has 5G.

ZDNet’s iPhone decision tree

Here it is. It’s finally time for us to present you with this year’s big decision tree for purchasing a 2020 iPhone. Here are some of our recommendations.

If you want as much screen as possible and money is no object, go for the iPhone Pro Max. It’s almost like getting an iPhone and an iPad mini in the same package.

If you want animoji, memoji, and portrait mode, you’ll want any of the phones except the SE.

If you’re all about selfies, get an iPhone 11 or 12 (any one of the 12 models is fine).

If you want many features, don’t care about the slicker OLED display or camera, and want to save a ton of cash, get the iPhone XR.

If you want a higher-quality, higher resolution OLED display and want a small phone, get the iPhone 12 mini (but it will cost you).

If you need 512GB, then get either an iPhone 12 Pro or iPhone 12 Pro Max.

If you’re still committed to Touch ID and the Home button or need to use your phone while wearing a mask, get an iPhone SE.

If you want a blue, orange, green, purple, blue, yellow, or red phone, pick the one with the color you want. Better yet, get a case.

If you want fancy, magnetic snap-on wireless charging, get an iPhone 12 series device.

If you want to save as much money as possible, get the iPhone SE, but be aware it will obsolete sooner.

How and when to buy the iPhone 12

iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro: Preorders opened Friday, Oct. 16 at 5am PT (8am ET). They officially launch Oct. 23, though shipping time for the iPhone 12 Pro is slipping to late October or early November. 

iPhone 12 Mini and iPhone 12 Pro Max: Preorders begin Friday, Nov. 6. They officially launch a week later on Nov. 13.

  • Starting price: $699
  • Colors: Black, white, red, blue, and green
  • Display size: 5.4 inches

$699 at Apple

  • Starting price: $799
  • Colors: Black, white, red, blue, and green
  • Display size: 6.1 inches

$799 at Apple

  • Starting price: $999
  • Colors: Gold, silver, graphite, and blue
  • Display size: 6.1 inches 

$999 at Apple

  • Starting price: $1,099
  • Colors: Gold, silver, graphite, and blue
  • Display size: 6.7 inches

$1,099 at Apple

One more thing

Those of you who bought an iPhone 11 last year may be considering upgrading to the iPhone 12. Honestly, unless you want the camera capabilities of the iPhone 12 Pro Max, there aren’t really many compelling reasons to upgrade. The 12 is just a slightly faster 11 (and yeah, it has 5G, but that’s not really going to be of much use to most of you).

So there you are. Are you one of those folks who’ll go the full monty and get an iPhone 12 Pro Max, maxed with 512GB? Let me know in the comments below.


You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.



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‘Why did Apple not add THIS feature to the iPhone 12?’

It’s that time of year again. No, not Amazon Prime Day (although that’s happening too), iPhone day. And while we already know pretty much everything there is to know about the iPhone 12 (it’s clear Apple has been hard at work curtailing wild expectations given all the “leaks”), within microseconds of the official unveiling, social media and tech sites will be awash with “why did Apple not add THIS feature?” where the “this” is anything and everything from more RAM to a better camera to a toothbrush that doubles as a dog brush.

People want the iPhone to be all things to everyone.

Why did Apple not add YOUR feature?

Here’s why.

First and foremost, cost. Everything costs money, and there’s nothing like scale to make that stand out.

Apple is expected to sell as many as 80 million units between the launch and the end of the year. Suppose your most-desired feature added only one cent to the overall cost of the iPhone, that scales out to $800,000 for that many handsets. Now, if you want something ambitious like more RAM or storage for no extra money, then that’s a multi-dollar item, and the costs really start to spiral.

But there’s another reason. A little subtle, but equally important. And that’s just the scale of the iPhone.

Imagine adding one screw to the iPhone.

Just one screw.

A tiny one.

Now scale that up to 80 million screws. You’re now hip-deep in screws.

All of a sudden, Apple needs to order, ship, store, handle, and install 80 million more screws.

Having a hard time imagining how many screws this is? If we substitute the screw for a grain of rice, then to hold a million grains of rice you’d need three 5-gallon watercooler bottles. So, for 80 million grains of rice, you’re looking at 240 such watercooler bottles.

That’s a lot, and it explains why there’s a lot of adhesive in new iPhones.

Take something as small as adding another color to the iPhone lineup. Seems simple, right? After all, it’s just a color.

Wrong.

Setting aside the fact that Apple puts a painstaking amount of detail into making sure that a finish is durable and can be replicated across millions of devices, there’s a massive amount of logistics involved, from knowing how much of the new color components to order, to storage, to making sure Apple Stores have samples for customers to paw at.

You now also see why Apple dropping things like the charger and EarPods has less to do with ecological altruism and more to do with simplifying the supply chain and saving money.

Then there’s yield.

That’s how much of something that can be made reliably. Whether you’re making processors or RAM or camera sensors or screens, there’s always defective components rolling off the manufacturing conveyor belt.

The higher the defect rate, the lower the yield.

The more complicated you make something, the higher that defect rate usually is. Not only does that cost money, but it also affects how many you can make in a fixed period.

If you need to make a dozen, no biggie usually. If you might need to make 80 million by the end of the year, that changes things.

A company like Apple does not want delays in being able to exchange iPhones for money to be held up by yield issues. Something as simple as poor display or camera sensor yield could have a massive impact on how many units Apple shifts.

It’s always a balance between new and exciting versus being able to make enough of something to keep up with demand.

Now balance all this, throw in a price point that won’t scare everyone off, and that’s why the new iPhone 12 is what it is.

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Apple solves iPhone’s wireless charging hit-n-miss with MagSafe

Remember MagSafe? That technology that stopped you from dragging your MacBook off your desk and giving it a ride in Newton’s unforgiving hands to the hard ground below. Well, it’s back. But for the iPhone.

What is MagSafe?

It’s Apple’s solution to the problem of throwing your iPhone onto a wireless charger, but missing that sweet spot, which means you get poor charging, or worse, no charging at all.

MagSafe basically adds magnets to the charging coil, which allows the iPhone and the charger to align correctly, improving wireless charging reliability and speed.

MagSafe unlocks 15-watt wireless charging for the iPhone 12, bumping it up from the existing 7.5-watt, and brings it close to the 18-watt wired charge.

Must read: COVID-19 virus can survive on smartphone screens for 28 days, claims researchers

But there’s more.

Accessories.

The MagSafe magnets allow for new accessories, such as chargers and cases. Apple showed off a folding charging pad that could charge an iPhone and Apple Watch, and also teased new chargers from accessory maker Belkin.

The cases — which included wallets and silicon cases — allows for better case fitment, and, well, the ability for Apple to sell more accessories.

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iPhone 12 Ceramic Shield means half the glass on your new iPhone is harder to smash

Apple has made the glass on the display of the iPhone 12 much tougher than previous iPhones. But there’s still a sheet of glass on the back for you to break.

After battery life complaints, the next biggest issue that iPhone users complain to me about is broken displays. One little drop and that smooth display is suddenly a myriad of jagged pieces. And while displays have become much more robust, glass is still glass.

But for the iPhone 12, Apple has been working with glassmakers Corning on a new cutting-edge material that Apple is calling Ceramic Shield.

What makes Ceramic Shield different from regular glass is a high-temperature crystallization process that allows nano-ceramic crystals to form in the glass, boosting toughness.

Must read: COVID-19 virus can survive on smartphone screens for 28 days, claims researchers

Ceramic Shield is, according to Apple, the tougher than any other smartphone glass, and according to Apple, Ceramic Shield four times better drop performance.

Drop your iPhone 12, and you have four times the chance of surviving without cracking.

Apple claims that this is the biggest jump in glass reliability the iPhone has seen.

This is great. Assuming you drop it onto the display side.

But the iPhone 12 has a second sheet of glass on the back, where that new MagSafe wireless charging coil (and accessory-selling feature) lives.

Break that, and just as with earlier iPhones that featured a glass back, you’re likely looking at a very complex — and expensive — repair.

So, the display might be tougher, but there’s still plenty of chances to break your iPhone 12.

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No charger with the iPhone 12? No problem!

As widely rumored, Apple will no longer supply a charger or EarPods with the new iPhone 12.

It means a smaller, lighter iPhone box, which means 70 percent more product on a shipping pallet. This, in turn, will reduce carbon emissions by 2 million metric tons per year, the equivalent of removing 450,000 cars from the road per year.

It also means simpler logistics and reduced costs for Apple, although the company didn’t mention that.

Must read: ‘Why did Apple not add THIS feature to the iPhone 12?’

So, what do you do for a charger? Well, if you don’t have one lying about the place, my choice would be the tiny but mighty Aukey Omnia Mini 20W PD.

The new Aukey Omnia Mini 20W PD is unbelievably small. It’s a cube a little more than an inch across each side. It packs a single USB-C port capable of outputting 20W of power. The port is compatible with both Power Delivery 3.0 and Quick Charge 2.0 standards, so you get the best of both worlds in a single package (and it will work for more than just your iPhone).

It also runs nice and cool, so you don’t worry about setting things on fire with it.

It’s a great charger, one that I highly recommend, and you can pick one up on Amazon for $13.99 (click the coupon checkbox to get the extra $4 off).

flir-20200911t093040.gif

  • Model: PA-B1
  • Technology: Power Delivery 3.0, Quick Charge 2.0
  • Input: AC 100V–240V 50/60Hz 0.6A
  • USB-C Output: DC 5V 3A, 9V 2.22A (20W Power Delivery 3.0), DC 5V 3A, 9V 2A, 12V 1.5A (18W Quick Charge 2.0)
  • Max Power Output: 20W
  • Dimensions: 28.8 x 28.8 x 30.5mm / 1.13 x 1.13 x 1.20-inch
  • Weight: 33g / 1.16oz

$14 at Amazon

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Will MagSafe replace Lightning on the iPhone 2021?

It’s been pretty clear for some time now that the introduction of the Lightning port on the iPhone was a temporary stopgap on the way to the iPhone going completely port-free and wireless.

It makes sense.

First off, Apple is continually waging war on unnecessary ports. The current lineup of Macs and MacBooks is a testament to that. It’s pretty much USB-C ports and the stalwart headphone jack everywhere.

The iPhone is down to a single port — the Lightning port — but the iPhone 12 launch gave us a peek at the future of the iPhone.

MagSafe.

Must read: iPhone 12 Ceramic Shield means half the glass on your new iPhone is harder to smash

In case you missed the iPhone 12 launch event because you were so engrossed with Amazon Prime Day, here’s a quick rundown.

You know how it’s annoying when you throw your phone onto a wireless charging mat, and you’re in too much of a hurry to get it lined up properly, so you end up with an uncharged phone? Well, Apple has fixed that by using magnets around the charging coil. These magnets work to align the coil to the charging mat (much like how the charging works for the Apple Watch).

Oh, you’ll need a new charger to take advantage of MagSafe.

And of course, it wouldn’t be Apple if it hadn’t used MagSafe to open up a new overpriced accessories line.

And right there is the future for connectivity for the iPhone.

It makes sense for Apple to get rid of Lightning. It’s a hole in the iPhone that allows dirt, schmoo, and liquids. It can get damaged.

It’s also a component that needs to be fitted and takes up valuable space inside the iPhone.

It’s also something that earns Apple a lot of money via licensing. But Apple has already licensed MagSafe to accessory maker Belkin, so a cash cow line of succession has been put in place.

It would not surprise me if next year we see an iPhone that does away with the Lightning port as soon as next year. It might be a particular model — would it be the Pro or standard? — or perhaps Apple will throw caution (and future Lightning licensing money) to the wind and go all in and switch all iPhones to wireless in one go.

None of this changes the fact that wireless charging is still slower than wired charging, and is horribly inefficient. 

But a Lightning-free iPhone is coming. The future of iPhone connectivity is MagSafe.

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