Some networks — including Verizon — require you to get a new 5G-compatible SIM card. So if you’re not getting 5G and you think you should be, that may be the issue. You may also need to adjust your plan.
The iPhone will also try to be aware of your data plan, and if it knows you have unlimited, it will use 5G more freely for certain things. Apple will even allow it to download full iOS updates over 5G if you’re on unlimited. If you change your plan or don’t want it to do that, you might need to go diving through various settings.
Apple also says that you might get faster tethering speeds over Wi-Fi than tethering over a wired Lightning cable, thanks to optimizations it has made. Wi-Fi tethering could be as much as four times faster than before in optimal conditions (including, perhaps Wi-Fi 6 on the tethered device). Since it’s a hassle for me to even find an mmWave signal, I haven’t had a chance to fully test this.
Finally, 5G won’t work on your iPhone if your carrier doesn’t directly work with Apple to light it up. Unlike previous networks, you can’t go in and just manually set an APN and MMS settings and be good to go on 5G. That shouldn’t be a problem for the vast majority of people, though. Apple has worked with over 100 carriers in 30 markets to enable 5G on the iPhone, including all three major carriers in the US — but if you use an MVNO, you should double-check that 5G will work before you buy.
You really shouldn’t have to worry about most of these 5G details. If you happen to get 5G speeds where you live and work, bully for you. If you don’t, they will hopefully come to you soon, and hopefully the networks will continue to be fast even after all these 5G iPhones start filling up the channels. Either way, right now, it’s not a good idea to buy an iPhone just because it has 5G. It’s a nice bonus, but not more than that yet.
IPHONE 12 CAMERA
The most important changes to the camera in the iPhone 12 aren’t in the sensors or the lenses. They are completely unchanged except for the main wide-angle camera going from an ƒ/1.8 aperture to ƒ/1.6 to allow in slightly more light. Instead, the bigger differences come from software and from unlocking new capabilities, thanks to the new A14 Bionic processor that runs everything on the phone.
Nilay Patel’s review of the iPhone 12 Pro has details on some of its distinct features and also goes more in-depth on video quality. Apple is making big claims around HDR, dubbing this a Dolby Vision camera. I’ll let Nilay give you all the nitty-gritty details on that. For my part, I’ll just say that video quality continues to be excellent and is challenged only by the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, but I give the edge to the iPhone.
But back to the A14 Bionic. It has unlocked night mode for all of the cameras on the iPhone 12 (including the front selfie camera) and even a night portrait mode. Apple has also made some tweaks to its system for combining multiple frames into a single image, called Smart HDR 3. That system should also be better at recognizing things like faces or the sky and tweaking the photos to optimize their appearance. In fact, there’s even a new setting called “Scene Detection” if you want to toggle it.
In general, the iPhone 12 does a better job on fine detail in regular lighting conditions. Apple says this might be because it is applying its Deep Fusion algorithms in more situations this year. I still like the Pixel’s signature, contrast-y look, but Apple seems to be moving in its direction just a little. The iPhone 12’s photos seem to finally be stepping back from over-brightening shadows on faces. But it’s a minor tweak, the bigger changes come in more extreme conditions.
Compared to the iPhone 11, the iPhone 12 needs to drop into night mode less often, thanks to that faster lens. And even when it does, I’m getting clearer, brighter shots. In the very darkest conditions, the Pixel 5 still handles itself a little better, but it’s much, much closer than it’s ever been.
Night mode portraits are one of the major new features, and they’re worth a try, but the range of lighting conditions where they’ll look good isn’t massively bigger. One nice thing is that the iPhone 12 passes the glasses test with flying colors; they never seem to get accidentally blurred. I’m less impressed with night mode selfies portraits. There’s no way to turn the screen flash off in this mode, which is a problem if you wear glasses.
Many of those software enhancements have also come to the ultrawide camera, and so its quality is also improved. However, it is still a fundamentally worse sensor and lens combo, and you can see grain in the details if you look even a little closely. It’s good for landscapes, though.
Apple says that it has done more tuning to compensate for lens distortion at the edge of ultrawide shots, especially for faces and architecture. I do think it helps but only a little. This photo of the Golden Gate bridge still has a clear bend to it.
For me, the bottom line on the cameras is I definitely see a marked improvement over the iPhone 11, but they’re not enough to compel an upgrade. That doesn’t mean the iPhone 12 isn’t a massively good camera. It is, and the combination of performance, simplicity, and just plain good quality continues to impress.