The iPhone 12 Pro revisited

Thu Nov 30, 2023

At the end of 2021, I decided to ditch my iPhone 6S and pick up a refurbished iPhone XS for around $500. Better for the environment, better for the pocketbook, and guaranteed to keep me going for at least two years - my XS served me well.

But now, two years is up, and it’s time to move on. Yes, the XS will be supported until the end of next year. But, similar to what happened two years ago, the XS is starting to feel a bit outdated.

It’s still a great phone and will continue to be used by the next family member in the hand-me-down line. Honestly, it’s amazing how consistent the basic iOS experience is, even in really old iPhones.

But, for “my next”, I’m going with the iPhone 12 Pro.

With the latest and greatest iPhone 15 Pro starting at over $1600 CAD after tax, you’d have to really want in on titanium and USB C to drop that kind of hard cash without flinching.

But, at around $500 for an eBay Refurbished model, the 12 Pro win the price-to-performance-ratio game when comparing it to the 15 Pro - especially if you’re coming from a XS or older.

Here are ten reasons why.

1. The redesign

First seen in the iPhone 4, and last seen in the iPhone 5S, the iPhone 12s re-introduced flat edges back into the iPhone design language. The stainless-steel iPhone XS retains the now-dated curved edges of the iPhone-6 era.

The titanium iPhone 15 Pro keeps the flat edges, but has softened the sharp corners considerably. A welcome refinement, but not a radical departure.

Using a case obviously changes the “hand feel” of the iPhone. But from the 12 Pro all the way through to the 15 Pro, the design has remained similar. The 12 Pro still looks and feels like a premium modern device.

2. 6.1” XDR Display

The iPhone 12 Pro was the first Pro iPhone to shift the default screen size from 5.8” to 6.1”. Until I started using the 12 Pro, I preferred the smaller 5.8” display of my XS. But, despite the phone being a bit harder to hold, it’s surprising how much more breathing room that little bit of extra screen real estate gives you. And - shocker - it’s easier to type on a larger display.

6.1” is still the standard on the iPhone 15 Pro. I’ve heard a rumour that the iPhone 16 Pro will go up to 6.3”. That does seem a tad too big, but I’m obviously easily persuaded. The “phablet surfboard” 6.7” size of the Max will never appeal to me at all though.

The display is also improved from regular HD to XDR. What that means in simple terms is a better contrast ratio, slightly higher pixels-per-inch (ppi), and higher peak brightness for HDR videos.

The XDR display is still being used in the 15 Pro.

3. MagSafe

MagSafe arrived with the iPhone 12 lineup and continues to be supported in the latest iPhones. But, in 2020, there weren’t many third-party MagSafe accessories on offer - besides from an overpriced Apple-branded MagSafe charger. Fast forward to the iPhone-15 era, and the MagSafe accessories landscape has matured.

Since I’m new to the MagSafe scene, it is still a novelty to me. I’m having fun playing with magnets! The MagSafe two-in-one charging stand from Anker is just great. I can wirelessly charge my iPhone in landscape mode to take full advantage of iOS 17’s new StandBy Lock Screen mode (goodbye alarm clock). And I can charge my AirPods Pro on the base of the stand at the same time.

Anker also has an affordable lineup of snap-on wireless battery packs.

The main advantage of MagSafe? No more fumbling in the dark to plug in cables. And no more trying to find the inductive-charging sweet spot for non-magnetic Qi chargers.

4. 16-core Neural Engine

Apple’s Neural Engine is solely responsible for machine-learning and artificial-intelligence algorithms. It allows fast on-device natural-language processing and image analysis to power such features as Siri’s voice recognition and optical character recognition (OCR) for Live Text in photos.

The iPhone XS had an eight-core Neural Engine, but both the iPhone 12 Pro and 15 Pro rock sixteen cores.

Apple’s “computational photography mad science” neural image-processing feature, Deep Fusion, requires this coprocessor.

With on-device generative AI possibly being a big part of iOS 18, the 12 Pro will surely be in a good position to handle it.

5. Triple-camera system

The iPhone XS only has two measly cameras on the back, which seems stingy in comparison with any Pro iPhone since the 11 Pro, which has three. When using my XS, I grew fond of the Telephoto lens, which Apple does not include on the dual-camera entry-level models (base models have Main and Ultra Wide only).

So, it’s very nice to still have the Telephoto plus the super-cool Ultra Wide, which I’ve never used before.

When comparing the iPhone 12 Pro with the 15 Pro, the two camera systems are closer than you’d think - despite the obviously much-larger sensors in the newer iPhone. The aforementioned Deep Fusion, plus Night Mode, Night Mode Portraits, Apple ProRAW, QuickTake video, Audio Zoom, and Night mode Time-lapse are all available on both the 12 and 15 Pros.

There’s more. The iPhone XS front camera is only 7MP, but both the 12 and 15 Pros max out at 12MP. And both the 12 and 15 Pros have a LiDAR Scanner. The XS does not.

In short, the jump from XS to 12 Pro is a lot bigger and more impressive than the jump from the 12 Pro to the 15 Pro.

6. Ceramic Shield and improved water resistance

I’m lumping these two improvements together as they both serve to make the phone’s chassis more robust.

Introduced on the iPhone 12 lineup and still around today, the “Ceramic Shield” is a marketing term for ceramic nanocrystals embedded in the glass matrix of the front display. This strengthened glass is supposed to be more resistant to scratches and drops. There’s not much more to say about it.

Anecdotally, my iPhone 12 Pro front display is flawless. For a used phone, that’s a big win. Usually, you’d at least get a light scratch or two after a few years of use, but I saw nothing but my reflection. And it is an OEM display - I checked.

Water resistance is also improved - up from 2 metres in the XS to 6 metres in both the 12 and 15 Pros. People get their phones wet all the time. Over a decade ago, before phones became waterproof, I even wrote a silly little post about the invention of a waterproofing spray for your phone.

We’ve come a long way since then! People don’t just get their phones wet, they drop them in the damn ocean and still manage to get their phones back unharmed. Just this last summer I saw a drunk woman drop her iPhone off the dock on a lake and manage to retrieve it intact after we almost called the police when seeing her flaccid body lying facedown on the dock without moving for far too long.

7. 128GB starting storage

The time has definitely come (and perhaps long gone) where 64GB is enough space for the average person.

The XS came with 64GB by default, and it was… okay. I don’t take a lot of pictures and I stuck with taking 1080p videos instead of the far-larger 4K video clips that can fill up a phone instantly. I hate having to make that choice though.

And I hate the current status quo where you are forced to buy cloud storage for your photos if you want them all backed up in one place. Unfortunately, we’re not living in that magical future where phone manufacturers give you 2TB storage on the starting tier.

Anyway, 128GB to start on the 12 Pro is a step in the right direction - and that is also what you get on the 15 Pro. It doesn’t solve the photo problem, but getting that extra breathing room is nice.

8. 5G and Wi-Fi 6

While the XS “only” supports 4G and Wi-Fi 5, both the 12 and 15 Pros support 5G and Wi-Fi 6.

These potential bandwidth upgrades are nice to have, but are not dealbreakers - even at the end of 2023. Let’s be honest, I wouldn’t go so far as to call 5G a scam, but now that the 5G hype has died down, it’s clear there is little benefit to having it on smartphones. In some distant future, 5G may seamlessly connect self-driving cars or help service providers manage their network load more efficiently, among other back-end applications. But this sort of application has zero benefit for the consumer.

And if you pay for the kind of home Internet speeds that would make a Wi-Fi 6 WAN worth it, then good for you. For now, I’m fine to grab a coffee while my files slowly download, smug in the fact that I’m saving money with cheap Internet.

9. Ultra Wideband chip

This UWB chip is underrated. If you love tracking things, then chip allows you to zone in on a precise location. It’s essential for finding AirTags. All the latest Apple products include it now. For example, there is a UWB chip built into AirPod Pros, so you will never lose them in the laundry again. And the UI for finding UWB-supported devices is delightfully similar to the marines’ tracker in Aliens.

But the XS does not have it. The 12 and 15 Pros do.

10. Pacific Blue

Okay, I’ll admit it. The main reason that I prefer the 12 Pro over any other iPhone right now - even a newer one - is the colour. When the twelves first came out, I was immediately drawn to Pacific Blue over anything else in the spec sheet.

I haven’t liked any other colour since. Not Sierra Blue. Not even Blue Titanium. Pacific Blue is hands down the best colour in any iPhone. It is that fetching.


The iPhone 12 Pro represents a meaningful departure in all the above ways from the XS. At the end of 2023, there is no better phone for the money. It can also stand toe-to-toe with the iPhone 15 Pro without embarrassment. Every one of the above ten features are supported on both the 12 and 15 Pros.

Call it “peak iPhone” or “a testament” to the longevity of Apple’s devices - call it whatever the hell you want. Buying an iPhone 12 Pro for a quarter of the price of an iPhone 15 Pro? I call it smart.

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