The gold iPhone 12 Pro is just so darn pretty - Hands-on

"Without pain," so the old saying goes, "how can we know true joy?" Happily the stress was all left to the iPhone 12 Pro design team, leaving me to simply take pleasure in how near-perfect this new smartphone's design feels. Resembling a scaled-down version of the iPad Pro, this year's lineup consists of the iPhone 12, iPhone 12 mini, iPhone 12 Pro, and iPhone 12 Pro Max, all having the same flat edges. I've never been a big fan of the rounded edges from Apple's last few generations of iPhone, though not because it looks terrible by any means. For me, it's more about how the iPhone feels in my hand.

While the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini may have the same shape as the Pro versions of the iPhone, it's the fit and finish that shines. You don't have to be a magpie to love shiny objects, after all. For me, between the Silver, Graphite, Gold, and Pacific Blue, it's the Gold color that looks the best.

Fitting, too, as the iPhone has long been the gold standard: a benchmark, whether you like it or not, for every other smartphone on the planet to be measured against. Whether you're a dedicated Cupertino customer or a staunch Android fan, there's no denying that Apple's display tech, processor and performance, and camera performance has been the metric by which others are judged. I'll dig through the details of those specific aspects later in my review but, for now, I want to take a more in-depth look at the new process by which Apple created its newest "gold" finish on the iPhone 12 Pro.

There's a lot to consider when selecting the best materials for a halo device. For Apple, it's surgical-grade stainless steel, which is now presented completely flat. The volume buttons, power button, and silent on/off toggle are flat to match, giving the illusion that the buttons themselves are thinner and fit more flush against the band than was the case on the iPhone 11 Pro. It's something to bear in mind when you're considering third-party cases, since those using cut-outs could leave the physical controls a little harder to locate and push, unlike the official cases from Apple.

Apple's marketing describes its gold finish is stunningly "bright" but, in the real world, it's not bright as in "wow, that's a gold-looking iPhone." Instead, to my eye at least, it's more of a bronze-looking gold. Think less brassy and more classy.

In order to manipulate stainless steel to look this brilliant, Apple apparently developed a new PVD process using a high-power, impulse magnetron coating process. Conferring with my colleague Chris Davies, who is reviewing the blue version, they both appear to gather the same amount of fingerprint and smudges.

For most, the fingerprints won't be an issue because – in my professional opinion – you ought to just put a case on. I know, I know: that hides part of the charm. All the same, you're just one slip away from disaster.

Apple has done its best to minimize that, with a new display glass – which it's calling Ceramic Shield – that's much tougher than what other phones are currently using. It's clever stuff, involving manipulating the glass until it forms crystals which lend extra strength. The result, combined with the new design, is a claimed 4x improvement in drop protection, and part of me really does want to trust that Ceramic Shield can prevent the Super Retina XDR display from cracking if I fumble it. All the same, the practical side of me will most likely apply a traditional screen protector just in case, not least because though drop protection is improved over last year's iPhone, scratch resistance is not. In short, I won't be drop testing this iPhone 12 Pro; we'll just leave that to others.

On the back, the frosted tan-like glass is nicely paired with the gold band finish. Again, Apple claims this is the toughest glass on a smartphone, strengthened via an exclusive dual ion-exchange process. Combined with the design, it's apparently twice as likely to survive a fall as last year's iPhone. It also, of course, works with the new MagSafe for iPhone charging and accessory system.

While I'm focusing on the attention to detail here, I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about the Apple logo on the back. Look at it in the right light, and you can see the logo's etching glint much like a Rolex logo on a watch's sapphire crystal. It's not completely visible, except under just the right lighting conditions.

Finally there's the camera bump, and though the Ultra Wide, Wide, Telephoto, flash, and LiDAR Camera may protrude, their tight cluster is starting to feel like a sports car's gauges: letting people know that this thing means business. Camera performance is one of the biggest reasons people upgrade, after all, so the way the transparent square cut-out sits alongside the frosted glass feels like it draws just enough attention.

While the new blue finish may have seen the lion's share of attention this time around, it's how cohesive this new gold iPhone 12 Pro is that really catches the eye. Combine that with Apple's now-legendary focus on design, and it's not hard to see why looks alone could be driving sales this cycle. As for how the iPhone 12 Pro performs, we'll have a full review very soon.