My Apple iPhone 12 arrived today, as expected, and so I’ve begun the arduous process of installing apps and configuring the new handset. Yes, I could make this easier on myself. But I like to start fresh, and I’ve been experimenting with different home screen layouts for the past few days.
To be clear, this is the normal, non-Pro variant of the iPhone 12, the successor to the iPhone XR (2018) and the iPhone 11 (2019). I normally buy/use Pro/Plus-class iPhones, like the iPhone 11 Pro Max (2019), but I feel that they’ve gotten too big, wide, and heavy and I didn’t want another giant brick. And while this year’s iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max both have some unique photographic advantages over the iPhone 12 I purchased, I still feel like the normal iPhone 12 will meet my needs.
We’ll see. For now, here are a few first impressions of the hardware and the early onboarding process.
Unlike its predecessors, the iPhone 12 doesn’t look or feel like a cost-reduced version of Apple’s more impressive iPhones. Instead, it features the same physical design and OLED display as the more expensive iPhone 12 Pro, giving it a decidedly upmarket vibe.
That display is gorgeous: It’s bright and colorful, but the bezels are still quite noticeable, as is the enormous notch. I’m surprised Apple has stuck with this design for so long, but I suspect whenever it finally moves to a notch-less design, it will trigger yet another wave of mass upgrades.
It’s still aluminum and glass like its predecessors, however—whereas the Pro models feature stainless steel and glass—and that gives it a glossier look. I do like the matte look of the iPhone 12 Pro better, but then I’m putting it in a case regardless, so that issue will disappear.
That case will help with the sharpness of the old-is-new-again iPhone 4-style form factor, with its hard edges replacing the curved iPhone sides that debuted with the iPhone 6 oh so many years ago. I’m kind of torn on this one, as I like the look but find the sharpness somewhat painful to hold. But the case pretty much solves this problem too.
From a size perspective, I feel like the 6.1-inch iPhone 12 is a nice middle-ground between too big (Pro Max) and too small (Mini). Compared to my previous iPhone 11 Pro Max, it’s about one notch shorter top to bottom. I think it will work.
Getting up and running is little changed from previous iPhones. There are still many, many setup steps to work through, and then of course I added some pain of my own by choosing to manually install all of the apps I need. Tied to this process, I also decided to take advantage of iOS 14.x’s new App Library feature to remove apps I only sometimes need from the home screen. We’ll see how that goes, but my goal is to use only a single home screen.
One thing that really did surprise me—and I saw no mention of this in any of the first iPhone 12 reviews—is the sheer number of apps that do not display full-screen but instead show black bars at the top and bottom of the screen. I kept double-checking my iPhone 11 Pro Max, but those apps all appear normally on that handset—that is, they occupy the entire screen—so I can only guess that it has something to do with the unique new combination of this device’s screen size and resolution and that app makers will fix it. I hope it happens quickly: The display is already smallish and these truncated apps make it worse.
There is kind of an insidious number of things I need to configure still, including contacts, authenticator apps, and notifications, the latter of which will be an ongoing process for the next week or two as I settle in with it. But even after just a few hours, I’m in a pretty good place. I’ll be sure to back this thing up so I don’t need to do all this again.
I haven’t had a chance to test the camera yet either, so I’ll report back soon with my first thoughts on that crucial component.