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iPhone 13 vs iPhone 12: Here are the biggest differences

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

This iPhone 13 vs. iPhone 12 face-off shows how tricky phone buying decisions can get, even with phones launched a year apart from each other.

The iPhone 13 is the newer model, arriving last fall. It features the better chipset, cameras, battery life and some new software tricks too. Released a year earlier, the iPhone 12 has the advantage of being notably cheaper, as Apple continues to sell the 6.1-inch model along with the iPhone 12 mini, but at reduced prices. 

Are those extra iPhone 13 features worth the extra money? That's down to you, but we can help you figure it out.

We've tested and used very iPhone to compile our best iPhones rankings, 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 newer iPhones come in the form of longer battery life and better displays. Even with a few iPhone 13 problems out there, these are great phones to get.

For the bigger picture, here's how the iPhone 13 compares to the iPhone 12, building on the foundation set by those older phones.

iPhone 13 vs. iPhone 12: Specs

iPhone 13 mini iPhone 13 iPhone 12 mini iPhone 12
Current price$699$799$599$699
Storage128GB, 256GB, 512GB128GB, 256GB, 512GB64GB, 128GB, 256GB64GB, 128GB, 256GB
Screen size5.4 inches6.1 inches5.4 inches6.1 inches
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)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)12MP TrueDepth (ƒ/2.2)
ColorsRed, Starlight, Midnight, Blue, PinkRed, Starlight, Midnight, Blue, PinkWhite, black, blue, green, purple, [Product] RedWhite, black, blue, green, purple, [Product] Red
Battery life (Hrs:Mins)8:4410:337:288:25
Size5.2 x 2.5 x 0.3 inches5.8 x 2.8 x 0.3 inches5.2 x 2.5 x 0.3 inches5.8 x 2.8 x 0.3 inches
Weight4.97 ounces6.14 ounces4.76 ounces5.78 ounces
Water resistanceIP68IP68IP68IP68

iPhone 13 vs. iPhone 12: Price and availability

There's one thing that hasn't changed with the iPhone 13's arrival — the starting price for Apple's phones. The iPhone 13 models cost the same as their iPhone 12 counterparts did when they arrived in 2020: $699 for the iPhone 13 mini, $799 for the iPhone 13, $999 for the iPhone 13 Pro and $1,099 for the iPhone 13 Pro Max

In the case of the iPhone 13 and 13 mini, you're getting more storage for your buck than you did with the comparable iPhone 12 versions. Those two iPhone 13 models now start with 128GB of storage instead of the 64GB the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini offered. On the other end of the spectrum, the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max have new 1TB options.

As noted, the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini remain part of Apple's iPhone lineup, at reduced prices. The iPhone 12 costs the same $699 that Apple charges for the iPhone 13 mini, while the iPhone 12 mini drops to $599. The mini isn't the cheapest model on sale at Apple — that would be the new iPhone SE (2022), which costs $429. An older iPhone 11 model is available for $499.

Looking to save on your next iPhone purchase? We're following both the best iPhone 13 deals and best iPhone 12 deals to find the lowest prices on Apple's phones. While carriers and retailers may offer discounts, Apple also cuts the cost of its phones when you trade in one of its old devices. You can save anywhere from $100 up to $650 when you trade in an iPhone 8 or later when buying an iPhone 13 through Apple. That same discount is available for iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini buyers as well.

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 on all four new models (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 new 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.

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 is promising brighter displays — 28% brighter than the iPhone 12's screens in fact. 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 better than both the iPhone 12 (569 nites) and iPhone 12 mini (505 nits). The iPhone 13 Pro (1,024 nits) and iPhone 13 Pro Max (1,038 nits) are terrifically bright, too.

iphone 13 vs. iPhone 12 display

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

The bigger display story comes with the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max, which are the first Apple phones with ProMotion displays. That means they can dynamically adjust their refresh rate between 10Hz and 120Hz to reflect your onscreen activity. The iPhone 12 Pro models were stuck at 60Hz, the same as the iPhone 13, iPhone 13 mini, iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini.

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 are unchanged from phone to phone. It's what Apple has done with the camera hardware that makes the camera experience completely different on the iPhone 13.

iPhone 13 vs iPhone 12

iPhone 12 Pro Max (Image credit: Future)

Both the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini offer a 12MP main camera that has the biggest sensor ever used in a dual-camera iPhone. It should let 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 last year, and the ultrawide lens promises more detail in the darker areas of your images.

The iPhone 13 Pro models feature even more dramatic camera changes. The main sensor is bigger on the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max for better low light images, while the ultrawide angle lens has a wider f/1.8 aperture. (It was f/2.4 on the iPhone 12 Pro models.) Again, that's going to mean brighter, sharper images, even when the lights are low. And the 77mm telephoto lens on the iPhone 13 Pro models now offers a 3x optical zoom, an improvement over the 2.5x zoom found on the iPhone 12 Pro.

iphone 13 vs. iphone 12

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

Night Mode works on all three iPhone 13 Pro cameras, and the iPhone 13 Pro offers sensor shift stabilization, instead of limiting that feature to the Pro Max model. 

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 this shot of hydrangeas, the leaves look pinker in the iPhone 13 shot, and there's brighter leaves surrounding the petals.

iPhone 13 cinematic mode

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

One other area worth highlighting is Cinematic mode, a video shooting feature available on all four 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 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 new iPhones.

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 Pro recorded single- and multicore scores of 1,733 and 4,718, respectively. Both of those results were better than the 1,585 and 3,669 results posted by the iPhone 12 Pro.

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 models were faster at this than their iPhone 12 counterparts, but only by a second or two.

One thing about the iPhone 13 Pro models — they have a 5-core GPU, compared to a 4-core graphics processor on the regular iPhone 13. You'd think that would make the Pro models a gaming powerhouse, especially compared to last year's iPhones. Indeed, on 3DMark's Wildelife Unlimited test, the iPhone 13 Pro generated 70 frames per second to the iPhone 12 Pro's 51-fps result.

The iPhone 12 boasted some of the best 5G compatibility around, but Apple says the new phones should support even more 5G bands. By the end of the year, Apple says 5G support on the iPhone 13 models will double with 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 they're all eligible to download the iOS 15 update. (You can read what we think of those new features in our iOS 15 review.) At this point, iOS 15.4 is out, and available for all the models we're comparing here.

iPhone 13 vs. iPhone 12: Battery life and charging

Apple doesn't disclose battery sizes when it announces new phones, so we don't know how big the iPhone 13 batteries are relative to their iPhone 12 counterparts. But we do know that they are bigger and that they last much longer on a charge.

That's welcome news. Apart from the iPhone 12 Pro Max, the other iPhone 12 models all finished well below average in our battery test in which we have phones surf the web over cellular until they run out of power.

iphone 13 vs iphone 12

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

Apple says that the iPhone 13 mini and iPhone 13 Pro should last up to 1.5 hours longer than their iPhone 12 counterparts. The iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro Max are in line for 2.5 hour improvements. Our testing certainly bears that out.

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 both the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro Max. 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 will 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 — in the case of the iPhone 13 Pro models — fast-refreshing displays, and this is 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 to more compact mini form factor, though, better grab an iPhone 13 mini or discounted iPhone 12 mini while you can — rumor has it the iPhone 14 won't include a mini model this fall, as Apple instead introduces the 6.7-inch iPhone 14 Max.

But that's a consideration for the fall. Right now, in the iPhone 13 vs. iPhone 12 decision, the iPhone 13 is the phone to get unless you really want the discounted older model.

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.
  • 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
  • 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.