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iPhone 13 vs iPhone 12: Here are the biggest differences

iPhone 13 vs. iPhone 12
(Image credit: Apple)

An iPhone 13 vs. iPhone 12 face-off remains relevant even after the iPhone 14 introduced four new devices to Apple's lineup. Even with this reshuffle of the best iPhone rankings, both the iPhone 13 and iPhone 12 remain on sale at reduced prices. So it helps to know what sets these different models apart.

The iPhone 13 is the newer of the two phones, having arrived in 2021. Apple currently features two versions — the 6.1-inch iPhone 13 and a smaller 5.4-inch iPhone 13 mini. Though it's not as recent as the iPhone 14, either iPhone 13 model can claim to have better chipset, cameras and battery life than earlier iPhones — including the iPhone 12.

But the iPhone 12 still holds an advantage over most of the more recent models — it's cheaper, as Apple continues to drop the price on this 2020 phone.

Assuming you're fine with an older iPhone, you have to ask what's more important — more features or a lower price? That's down to you, but we can help you figure it out.

We've tested and used every iPhone, so trust us when we say that the iPhone 13 improves upon the iPhone 12 in almost every significant way. But the biggest improvements you'll spot with the iPhone 13 comes in the form of longer battery life and better displays.

For the bigger picture, here's how the iPhone 13 compares to the iPhone 12, building on the foundation set by those older phones. And if you're curious about Apple's latest models, our iPhone 14 vs. iPhone 13 and iPhone 14 vs. iPhone 12 comparisons look at how everything stacks up now that the iPhone 14 is upon us.

iPhone 13 vs. iPhone 12: Specs

iPhone 13 mini iPhone 13 iPhone 12
Current price$599$699$599
Storage128GB, 256GB, 512GB128GB, 256GB, 512GB64GB, 128GB, 256GB
Screen size5.4 inches6.1 inches6.1 inches
Resolution2340x10802532x11702532x1170
ProcessorA15A15A14
Rear cameras12MP main (ƒ/1.6); 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.4)12MP main (ƒ/1.6); 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.4)12MP main (ƒ/1.6), 16MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.4)
Front camera12MP TrueDepth (ƒ/2.2)12MP TrueDepth (ƒ/2.2)12MP TrueDepth (ƒ/2.2)
ColorsRed, Starlight, Midnight, Blue, PinkRed, Starlight, Midnight, Blue, PinkWhite, black, blue, green, purple, [Product] Red
Battery life (Hrs:Mins)8:4410:338:25
Size5.2 x 2.5 x 0.3 inches5.8 x 2.8 x 0.3 inches5.8 x 2.8 x 0.3 inches
Weight4.97 ounces6.14 ounces5.78 ounces
Water resistanceIP68IP68IP68

iPhone 13 vs. iPhone 12: Price and availability

Following the iPhone 14 release, Apple kept the iPhone 13, iPhone 13 mini and iPhone 12 as the discounted options in its phone lineup. That means the iPhone 13 Pro models have gone away, as has the iPhone 12 mini.

Apple typically drops the price of returning models by $100, and that's what happened here. That puts the iPhone 13 as the most expensive older model at $699. The iPhone 12 now costs $599, the same price as the iPhone 13 mini. Basically, Apple has decided that the bigger screen on the iPhone 12 is as valuable as the newer features on the more compact iPhone 13 mini.

In the case of the iPhone 13 and 13 mini, you get more storage for your buck than you do with the base iPhone 12 model. Those two iPhone 13 models start with 128GB of storage instead of the 64GB the iPhone 12 offers. 

iPhone 13 vs. iPhone 12: Design and display

From a design standpoint, there's not much difference between the iPhone 13 vs. the iPhone 12, save for one very visible exception. That would be the notch on the iPhone 13, which is smaller than what graces the iPhone 12 — 20% smaller, in fact, according to Apple. Otherwise, the look of the phones is the same, with the same flat edges and Ceramic Shield displays for greater durability.

iPhone 13 vs iPhone 12

iPhone 12 (Image credit: Future)

The newer models do weigh a bit more — probably because of the bigger batteries Apple has included with the iPhone 13 — and there are new color options. A Pink model joins the black (Midnight), white (Starlight), blue and Product [RED] colors on the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini. The new color for the iPhone 13 Pro lineup is Sierra Blue, which joins graphite, gold and silver options. Since the iPhone 13's 2021 arrival, Apple added green options to the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro models.

It's the displays where Apple has made the biggest changes from the iPhone 12, though the AMOLED panels used in the iPhone 13 lineup are the same size as their predecessors. Instead, Apple delivered brighter displays — 28% brighter than the iPhone 12's screens by Apple's math. The iPhone 13 and 13 mini can produce 800 nits of brightness while the iPhone 13 Pro models crank things up to 1,000 nits.

In testing, we recorded 795 nits of brightness for the iPhone 13 and 788 nits for the iPhone 13 mini. That's certainly better than both the iPhone 12 (569 nits).

iphone 13 vs. iPhone 12 display

iPhone 13 Pro (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Sadly, none of the remaining iPhone 13 models offer what was the biggest display feature added to last year's phone lineup — the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max both included ProMotion displays. That means they could dynamically adjust their refresh rate between 10Hz and 120Hz to reflect your onscreen activity. The iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini remain stuck at 60Hz, the same as the iPhone 12, as Apple considers faster refresh rates an exclusive feature for its Pro phones.

iPhone 13 vs. iPhone 12: Cameras

Cameras turned out to be a big point of difference between the iPhone 13 and iPhone 12, even if the number of lenses went unchanged from phone to phone. It's what Apple did with the camera hardware that makes the camera experience completely different on the iPhone 13.

iPhone 13 vs iPhone 12

iPhone 12  (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Both the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini offer a 12MP main camera that had the biggest sensor ever used in a dual-camera iPhone, at least at the time of release. Apple says that the iPhone 13's camera lets in 47% more light than the iPhone 12 camera for sharper pictures. These two iPhone 13 models sport the sensor shift optical image stabilization feature Apple added to the iPhone 12 Pro Max, and the ultrawide lens captures more detail in the darker areas of your images.

Night Mode works on both remaining iPhone 13 Pro cameras. 

iPhone 13 vs iPhone 12

iPhone 13 (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

We haven't done a formal head-to-head camera face-off between any of the iPhone 13 and iPhone 12 models. But in some photo comps, you can see how the iPhone 13 handles low-light photography a little bit better than its predecessor. In the shot of hydrangeas below, the leaves look pinker in the iPhone 13 shot, and there's brighter leaves surrounding the petals.

One other area worth highlighting is Cinematic mode, a video shooting feature available on all iPhone 13 models. This mode automatically adjusts focus when you're shooting video, shifting between objects in the foreground and background as your filming warrants. You won't see a feature like this on the iPhone 12.

iPhone 13 cinematic mode

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

iPhone 13 vs. iPhone 12: Performance and 5G

The iPhone 13 models are all powered by the A15 Bionic processor, an upgrade from the A14 Bionic chip found in all the iPhone 12 models. Considering the A14 was the fastest system-on-chip we've tested, that translates to a pretty powerful performance for the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini compared to the iPhone 12.

iphone 13 vs iphone 12: a15 bionic

(Image credit: Apple)

Having tested the iPhone 13 models, we found that the new chipset is faster than the A14 inside the iPhone 12, though there's not a dramatic iPhone 13 vs. iPhone 12 gap. In Geekbench 5, for example, the iPhone 13 recorded single- and multicore scores of 1,684 and 4,129, respectively. Both of those results were better than the 1,593 and 3,859 results posted by the iPhone 12.

Those are synthetic benchmarks, though. In real world testing, the gap was more narrow. We use Adobe Premiere Rush to transcode a video, timing the results. The iPhone 13 was faster at this than the iPhone 12, but only by a second or so.

(Interestingly, the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Plus are also using an A15 Bionic chip, though it's the one with the 5-core GPU used by the iPhone 13 Pro models. As a result, you'll still see improvement in our iPhone 14 vs. iPhone 13 benchmarks.

The iPhone 12 boasted some of the best 5G compatibility around, but Apple says the iPhone 13 models support even more 5G bands. As of the dawn of 2022, Apple says 5G support on the iPhone 13 models doubled to more than 200 carriers in 60 countries and regions. 

The iPhone 13 ships with iOS 15 pre-installed. The iPhone 12 models debuted with iOS 14, but by this point, they're running iOS 15, just like their successors. These days both phones run iOS 16 quite capably.

iPhone 13 vs. iPhone 12: Battery life and charging

Apple doesn't disclose battery sizes when it announces new phones, so battery sizes are unofficial and pulled from teardowns of the different phones. We certainly know that the iPhone 13 power pack is bigger than what the iPhone 12 offers and that the newer phone lasts longer on a charge.

iphone 13 vs iphone 12

iPhone 13 mini (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Here's how battery life broke down in our testing across each iPhone 13 and iPhone 12 model. We test phones by having them surf the web over 5G until they run out of juice.

iModeliBattery life (hours:mins)
iPhone 13 Pro Max12:16
iPhone 12 Pro Max 10:53
iPhone 13 Pro11:42
iPhone 12 Pro9:06
iPhone 13 10:33
iPhone 128:25
iPhone 13 mini8:41
iPhone 12 mini7:28

As you can see, each of the iPhone 13 models outlasted their iPhone 12 counterparts in our battery test, with improvements ranging from modest in the case of the iPhone 13 mini to outstanding for the iPhone 13. Both the iPhone 13 Pro models have earned a place on our best phone battery life list where we recognize phones that hold out for more than 11 hours on our test.

Charging speeds are unchanged from the iPhone 12 — 15W MagSafe wireless charging and 20W wired charging. As with the iPhone 12, the iPhone 13 models ship without an included charger.

iPhone 13 vs. iPhone 12: Verdict

You expect phones to improve from one generation to the next, but the differences in our iPhone 13 vs. iPhone 12 comparison are quite stark. The better storage options, faster processor and camera improvements would be enough to make this a significant upgrade. Throw in improved battery life and last year's update proved to be a big step up from last year.

As good as the iPhone 12 models were, they're no match for what iPhone 13 delivers. And that's great news if you're in the market for an iPhone right now.

Most shoppers will likely favor the 6.1-inch iPhone 13, as it has the larger screen. If you do prefer a more compact mini form factor, though, the iPhone 13 mini is the only option you have, outside of the iPhone SE 2022 and its outdated design.

Of course, the iPhone 14 looms over everything now that it's here. The new phones mark an even bigger improvement over the iPhone 12 and may inspire some envy among iPhone 13 owners, especially when it comes to the new iPhone 14 Pro editions. Still, our task at hand is to help you with an iPhone 13 vs. iPhone 12  decision, and in that area, the iPhone 13 is better in almost every way other than price.

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.

  • BillAlex70
    My wife is not a "tech" type person. She's currently using an XR. Thoughts on getting her a 12 pro or 13 pro...(getting the pro because I'm sick of her crappy photos). I think the 12 pro if I can get one on a great deal.
    Reply
  • AngelHaby
    BillAlex70 said:
    My wife is not a "tech" type person. She's currently using an XR. Thoughts on getting her a 12 pro or 13 pro...(getting the pro because I'm sick of her crappy photos). I think the 12 pro if I can get one on a great deal.
    So uh are you saying that all of her photos are of you?? haha:p
    Reply
  • AngelHaby
    admin said:
    We're taking an early look at how the iPhone 13 compares to the iPhone 12 based on current rumors.

    iPhone 13 vs. iPhone 12: Biggest differences to expect : Read more

    Thanks so much for the article, very thorough.
    Reply