I spent 48 hours with the new iPhone 12 Pro: Here’s why I love it

Nov 13, 2020

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The annual “iPhone day” has come and gone.

On Oct. 13, Apple introduced its latest mobile devices. This year, the company released four distinct models ranging from the entry-level iPhone 12 mini to the top-of-the-line iPhone 12 Pro Max.

Now, more than ever, there’s an iPhone for everyone. Depending on what features you value, odds are you’ll find a device that fits your needs and budget.

But if you’re a traveler, there’s little question which model should be your pick: the Pro or Pro Max. And although 2020 might not be the year for an extravagant trip, the iPhone 12 Pro is also great around the house.

The Pro launched on Friday, Oct. 23. After receiving my device, I packed my bags, headed to New York-JFK and spent 48 hours in Southern California putting the Pro to the test.

As of Friday, Nov. 13, the 12 mini and 12 Pro Max are available for purchase as well, completing this year’s lineup of iPhone devices. Read on the find out why I’m heading into the new year with the 12 Pro Max.

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Next-generation network capabilities

Every iPhone 12 model features the latest 5G network technology.

5G is designed to deliver blazing fast speeds and better performance, especially on congested networks. In theory, you should notice a massive improvement in areas such as airports, stadiums and downtown city centers.

While Apple is just now joining the 5G bandwagon (which is already available on phones like the Samsung Galaxy S20), wireless carriers still have some serious catching up to do. There simply aren’t that many 5G towers spread across the country (or the world). Plus, there are spectrum limitations that wireless carriers need to address before unlocking the full power of 5G.

I use Verizon, and fortunately, the carrier has gradually started to deploy what it calls ultra-wideband 5G. The problem is, it’s available on just a few blocks in select major cities.

That didn’t stop me from checking the coverage map to find an ultra-wideband tower. When my iPhone managed to connect, I was blown away by the speeds. I sat on a bench and streamed a show at speeds faster than my wired internet connection in New York City.

The future of wireless is 5G — we just need the carriers to catch up to device manufacturers.

Portability and durability

When you’re on the move, your phone takes a beating. That’s one reason why travelers will especially love this year’s iPhone models.

All four versions of the 12 sport what’s called a Ceramic Shield glass display. Apple claims this helps deliver four times better drop performance.

While I wasn’t about to purposely drop my brand-new device (there are plenty of YouTubers doing that for a living), this is the first time I’ve felt comfortable going “naked” — using my phone without a case or screen protector. I’m pleased to report that my phone is still intact after three days. But if (OK, fine, when) I drop it, I’m hopeful it’s as durable as Apple promises. (Since I purchased the phone on a credit card with extra insurance, I should have coverage even if it’s not as durable as promised.)

In terms of design, the new Pro models are a bit larger than their predecessors. The rounded form-factor, however, is incredibly comfortable in your hand and pocket.

Plus, the 12 Pro is less than a tenth of an ounce heavier than the 11 Pro. In fact, I actually prefer the look and feel of the 12 compared to the 11. (And if you’re after even more portability, check out the 12 mini.)

Display and battery life

Though the 12 Pro is only slightly bigger than last year’s 11 Pro, the screen size jumps from 5.8 inches to 6.1 inches. Apple added nearly a third of an inch to the screen by trimming the bezels. (The 12 Pro Max has a 6.7-inch display, compared to last year’s 6.5-inch 11 Pro Max model.)

The Super Retina XDR display has the same specs as the 11 Pros, so expect the same display quality when upgrading.

In terms of battery life, Apple claims the new 12 Pro should last about as long as the previous-generation 11 Pro. I had two long days of full usage — snapping pictures, downloading large files, uploading to Instagram, directing with maps and more — and my phone was about to die after dinner both nights. But, you could adjust the settings (think: switching to a data- and power-saving mode) to squeeze out a bit more charge.

Cut the extra cords and cards

Perhaps the coolest travel-friendly feature in the latest models is one you can’t see — or access without purchasing an additional accessory.

A series of magnets called MagSafe is built into the back of every iPhone 12 model. These magnets help cases snap into place at the perfect orientation. There’s also a leather wallet that Apple sells for $59 that magnetically attaches to the back of your phone to keep your important cards within reach.

Apple also debuted an optional $39 MagSafe charger that juices up your phone faster than traditional Qi wireless chargers, and there’s a bifold MagSafe duo charger for both iPhone and Apple Watch coming soon. Once released, this will quickly become a staple in my backpack, since it will allow me to pack one less cord during my travels.

A low light boost

Last year, Apple introduced Night Mode on the iPhone 11. This year, the company has boosted low-light performance.

If you’re not familiar, Night Mode allows you to take low-light photos without a tripod, creating sharper images with finer details and limited noise, all without using flash.

On the iPhone 12 Pro, Night Mode comes to both the ultra-wide and front camera (in addition to the standard wide camera, like last year). Also, the Pros sport a LiDAR scanner that helps enable Night Mode portraits, improves autofocus at night, makes augmented reality apps even more realistic and more.

I tested Night Mode during my two-night trip to California and thought the quality of the images had improved from the 11 Pro. My shots weren’t perfect though.

While ultra-wide shots captured in Night Mode should look just fine if you’re planning to share your pictures on social media, I found details to be exceptionally soft when reviewing images at 100%, as you can see with the inset samples below.

So while I wouldn’t necessarily consider using these images for a poster-sized print, I wouldn’t hesitate to include them in a TPG flight review or post them on my Instagram, like the ones below.

Video upgrades

Many travelers take videos and upload them to Instagram or TikTok. But this year’s iPhone features video upgrades that would even make the professionals jealous.

That’s because Apple is enabling Dolby Vision recording and editing directly on the Pro model iPhones. While it’s easy to get bogged down in the details, you’ll notice the biggest boost in the color of your videos.

Like the still photos above, recording video using the ultra-wide camera was quite noisy. However, the colors appeared more vibrant than those recorded on the iPhone 11 Pro.

Max(imum) improvements

iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max

Apple’s adding even more improvements to its largest phone to date, the 12 Pro Max. When it launched on Friday, the 12 Pro Max immediatelyly replaced the regular 12 Pro in my pocket.

In addition to offering a larger 6.7-inch Super Retina display and a bigger battery, the Max’s camera system is even more powerful than the 12 Pro.

For one, the 12 Pro Max offers a new 2.5x telephoto camera, in addition to ultra-wide and wide (standard) cameras. The wide camera also gets a boost compared to the 12 Pro — it has a 47% larger sensor and larger pixels.

Finally, the 12 Pro Max adds sensor‑shift stabilization. With this technology, your pictures and videos on the 12 Pro Max will be steadier; perfect for safaris and other off-road adventures. In October, I went dune bashing in Dubai and immediately wished I could’ve fast-forwarded a month to capture the action with the 12 Pro Max.

As a traveler, I’m always looking for the best all-in-one device. Building on the strong performance of the iPhone 12 Pro, the Pro Max is this year’s flagship.

Bottom line

Each year, many travelers, myself included, ask whether it’s worth upgrading to the latest iPhone.

In 2020, things look different. We’re in the midst of a pandemic, travel is largely grounded and there’s widespread economic uncertainty. Ordering a fancy new gadget may not be a priority to many travelers right now.

Still, that didn’t stop Apple from introducing a show-stopping device with the iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max. With 5G, MagSafe, camera and video improvements, and so much more, upgrading would be obvious — in a normal year.

But this year is anything but normal. Regardless, one thing’s for certain — the iPhone 12 Pro (or Pro Max) deserves a spot on your holiday wish list.

If you do decide to splurge, check out our detailed guide to maximizing your iPhone purchase for ordering tips, credit card coverage and scoring the biggest return.

All photos by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

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