Last week Apple officially released its new purple colorway for the iPhone 12, and while nothing has changed internally about the device, it presents an ideal opportunity to revisit Apple’s current baseline iPhone while exploring an interesting new color.

If you’re an older iPhone user, should you consider upgrading to the iPhone 12 mid-cycle? Watch our purple iPhone 12 edition of The Rewind for more details, and be sure to subscribe to 9to5Mac on YouTube for more videos.

Main specifications

  • 6.1-inch Super Retina XDR OLED display
  • 5G cellular connectivity
  • MagSafe wireless charging up to 15W
  • HDR support with HDR recording with Dolby Vision
  • Apple A14 Bionic chip
  • U1 Ultra Wideband chip
  • Dual 12MP camera with Wide and Ultra Wide lenses
  • 12MP TrueDepth front-facing camera
  • Rated IP68 splash, water, and dust resistance
  • Ceramic Shield front
  • Glass back and aluminum design
  • Available in Black, White, Red, Green, Blue, and Purple
  • Starts at $799 with 64GB of storage

Video: Purple iPhone 12 – the rewind

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Design – iPhone 12 goes purple

This is not the first time that we’ve seen a purple colorway grace the iPhone. Just last year, the iPhone 11 launched with a purple color option, although the design of the iPhone 12’s flat iPhone 4-era antenna bands makes the purple contrast and stand out more than it did on the iPhone 11.

Obviously the purple color does nothing for the iPhone 12 in the way of performance or capability, but I think it’s probably the best-looking iPhone 12 color configuration available. It’s unfortunate for people who would have preferred this color at the iPhone 12 launch, but perhaps Apple was hoping the new colorway would add a boost to iPhone 12 sales (although it seems like Apple is doing just fine in that area).

The launch of the purple iPhone 12 also means that users gain access to new purple live wallpaper, which perfectly complements the deep lavender exterior of the iPhone 12. In addition, Apple has launched brand-new spring case options for iPhone 12, and unsurprisingly, several of those options appear to cater to the purple exterior of Apple’s newest iPhone.

As I noted in my full top features overview of the iPhone 12, this is my favorite smartphone design ever. The iPhone 12 takes all of the good elements from the iPhone 4-era and combines them with the body of a modern iPhone. The aforementioned flat aluminum band that wraps around the exterior is decidedly on brand, and the color-matched glass back tops off a classic look. The iPhone 12 is a smaller device than its predecessor, while retaining the same 6.1-inch display size.

For most people, the iPhone 12 is the sweet spot in Apple’s smartphone lineup as far as size is concerned. The iPhone 12 mini, while cute, comfortable to hold, and Uber-portable, lacks in screen real estate and battery life. And although I’m an iPhone 12 Pro Max user, Apple’s 6.7-inch smartphone is simply way too unwieldy for many users.

Display – beautiful HDR

Revisiting the iPhone 12 in this hands-on has given me another opportunity to appreciate just how good the Super Retina XDR display is. A True OLED display, it features a ridiculous 2,000,000:1 contrast ratio for inky blacks, and eye-poppingly gorgeous HDR. It’s a night-and-day difference when comparing the iPhone 12’s OLED display to the LCD display found in the iPhone 11.

As you would expect, photos and videos look great, but especially do HDR videos look fantastic. At 9to5Mac, we’ve largely transitioned over into producing HDR content on our YouTube channel, and although we’re still trying to strike a good balance and perfect the look, there’s no question to me that HDR videos are way more than just a new buzzword or a fad like 3D video.

When people think of HDR, the first thing that probably comes to their mind is brightness. While that’s true, with the iPhone 12 supporting 1200 nits max brightness for HDR, the technology is about more than just brightness. HDR also adds considerable “pop” and fidelity to colors, because 10-bit HDR content can contain significantly more color data. It’s hard to explain without seeing it for yourself, but once you see it, you get it.

In addition to the under-the-hood improvements to the display, Apple has gone to great lengths to protect the outer surface of the screen from damage. Ceramic Shield technology, which infuses the display glass with nano-ceramic crystals, results in increased drop performance and toughness.

My experience has been pretty good with the iPhone 12 Pro Max, which is my normal daily driver. I use my iPhone without a case, and have dropped it countless times — on carpet, hardwood, tile, and even on concrete. The Ceramic Shield front cover has resisted breaking or chipping throughout roughly six months of usage, and I’m not easy on it. Unfortunately, Ceramic Shield doesn’t prevent scratches, and I have several deep scratches to prove it.

Performance – More than just CPU speed

If you’re coming from the iPhone 11 with its A13 system on a chip, then upgrading to the A14 Bionic won’t necessarily blow your mind. The upgrade is a modest one in terms of raw performance, but certain areas, most specifically machine learning performance, get big boosts from the A14 Bionic. The new 16-core Neural Engine is up 80% faster for machine learning tasks, something that the iOS camera system relies on heavily for things like Dark Mode. Third-party apps can tap into the neural engine as well, which results in faster performance for machine learning tasks.

Like its predecessor, A14 Bionic features two high-performance cores paired with four efficiency cores. Built on a 5nm process, the chip is unsurprisingly good at handling demanding tasks when needed, but can also sip power to help iPhone 12 achieve its rated 17 hours of offline video playback/11 hours of streamed video playback.

Both the iPhone 11 and iPhone 12 feature 4GB of RAM with similar memory performance between the two. If coming from an iPhone 11, I don’t consider the processor to be a compelling-enough upgrade to make it the sole reason why you would decide to purchase the iPhone 12. However, if coming from an older iPhone 8-era or XS-era, then the speed improvements are more convincing.

In addition to the A14 Bionic chip, the iPhone 12, like the iPhone 11, features the Apple-designed U1 Ultra Wideband chip. The U1 chip provides spatial awareness to help users precisely locate other U1‑equipped Apple devices.

Previously, there weren’t many practical use case scenarios for Ultra Wideband technology, but with the release of AirTag, users have a compelling reason to upgrade to a smartphone with the U1 chip. While AirTag tracking features work with devices that don’t have the U1 chip, you won’t get the precise tracking measurements — the U1 chip can detect locations within 10 centimeters — like you would with an Ultra Wideband-equipped iPhone 11 or iPhone 12.

MagSafe – awesome accessory options

MagSafe functionality is one of the key differences that legitimately separates the iPhone 12 from its forebears. A new ecosystem of accessories that features magnets to easily attach to the rear of iPhone 12, MagSafe provides users with unique cases, wallets, docks, and charger options. MagSafe accessories can also be combined and stacked together. For example, I can connect a MagSafe case, and then attach a MagSafe Wallet on the rear of the case.

But MagSafe isn’t just about making physical attachments to the magnetic ring embedded in the rear of the iPhone 12. MagSafe is also present in software, with users receiving an animation and corresponding sound effect when attaching a MagSafe device.

Not only does wirelessly charging via MagSafe ensure a proper connection every time due to the auto-aligning magnet system, but charging is faster as well. Wirelessly charging via the MagSafe Wireless Charger yields improved wireless charging performance, up to 15W versus 7.5W that you get from a standard Qi charger.

Cameras – improved photos and videos

And finally there’s the updated iPhone 12 camera, which features some noticeable enhancements over its direct predecessor in the iPhone 11. While the iPhone 12 retains the dual camera setup on the rear, which mates a wide angle camera with an ultra wide camera, the wide angle camera is new, gaining a faster aperture that takes it from f/1.8 in the iPhone 11 to f/1.6 in the iPhone 12. Aperture improvements are relatively rare for the iPhone camera system, and it results in better low light performance, less noise, and shallower depth of field in photos and videos.

The machine learning improvements, provided by the updated Neural Engine in the A14 Bionic, contribute to the significantly improved Night Mode capabilities, with the wide angle camera better at capturing extremely low light shots thanks to a mix of machine learning and faster lens.

As good as still photography is on the iPhone 12, it’s the video capabilities that really blow me away. Hands-down, the video features found in the iPhone 12, headlined by an end-to-end Dolby Vision 10-bit HDR workflow, is what puts the iPhone 11 to shame.

Not only can you view Dolby Vision HDR content thanks to the Super Retina XDR display, but you can also capture HDR video directly using the iPhone’s stock camera system. And you don’t even have to offload that footage to a desktop Mac in order to edit and retain HDR functionality, users can edit HDR videos directly in the photos app, with iMovie, or even third-party apps like the award-winning LumaFusion.

Recording in Dolby vision nets users 10-bit video capable of capturing 700 million colors. Like I stated earlier, HDR 10-bit video isn’t just about insane amounts of dynamic range, but also about the colors and available color pallet. As a result, footage has a visual fidelity and pop that just isn’t possible when shooting standard dynamic range.

If photography and videography are super-important to you, then you might want to consider the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max. Apple’s flagship smartphone gains software advantages when taking photos, supporting Apple’s Pro RAW format for natively capturing RAW photos that provide more editing flexibility in post.

There’s also noteworthy upgrades on the hardware end for camera aficionados. The iPhone 12 Pro Max features an enhanced 12MP wide angle sensor that’s 47% larger for pixels that are capable of capturing more light. There’s also sensor shift optical image stabilization that stabilizes the sensor instead of the lens for improved handheld capture. And the iPhone 12 Pro Max gains an upgraded 65mm telephoto lens for up-close photography and videography that’s capable of providing more pleasing background bokeh, and 5x optical zoom range across all three cameras.

Conclusion

Obviously I wouldn’t recommend buying the iPhone 12 simply because it’s now available in a purple colorway. However, there are several compelling reasons to upgrade, depending on the smartphone that you currently have.

If you’re using an older device like an iPhone XR, which lacks an OLED display, lacks The U1 Ultra Wideband chip, and lacks the noteworthy machine learning and camera improvements, then an upgrade is worthy of consideration if you have the disposable income.

It’s a bit more difficult for me to suggest upgrading if you have the iPhone 11, because you already have a great dual camera setup, raw processor performance isn’t that far behind, and it includes the U1 chip for spatial awareness and better AirTag functionality. Then you get to areas like MagSafe, the beautiful Super Retina XDR display, and the end-to-end HDR workflow, and it becomes a bit more difficult of a decision. But since we’re already halfway into this release cycle, in most circumstances, I’d still recommend holding off if you’re an iPhone 11 user, and just wait for the iPhone 13.

What do you think? Sound off in the comments below.

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