Forget iPhone 12 — why iPhone 12 Pro is the better value

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 12
(Image credit: Future)

On paper, the iPhone 12 is the better bargain than the iPhone 12 Pro. After all, the regular iPhone 12 costs $799 (£799), compared to $999 (£999) for the iPhone 12 Pro. And both phones sport a 6.1-inch OLED display and fast A14 Bionic processor that blows away Android phones on various benchmarks.

There are other similarities between the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro, from the Ceramic Shield-protected screen and faster aperture for the main camera to the Dolby Vision HDR video recording.

But if you look closer at what you’re getting for the money, the iPhone 12 Pro emerges as the better value. Here’s why.

Double the storage

iPhone 12 vs iPhone 12 Pro

(Image credit: Future)

The iPhone 12 starts with a paltry 64GB of storage, which I think is the biggest iPhone 12 weakness, and it costs $50 (£50) to upgrade to 128GB. The iPhone 12 Pro starts with 128GB. If you’re going to be shooting a lot of pictures and videos and downloading games, you’re going to want as much room as possible.

The iPhone 12 goes up to 256GB for $949/£949, which is a robust amount of storage, while the iPhone 12 Pro 256GB model costs $1.099/£1,099. So in that case the delta between the two phones shrinks to $150/£150. If you want 512GB, only the iPhone 12 Pro goes that high — if you’re willing to part with $1,299/£1,299.

Brighter display

iPhone 12 vs iPhone 12 Pro display

The display on the iPhone 12 Pro (left) has a higher average brightness than the iPhone 12. (Image credit: Future)

The displays on the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro are both bright, but the OLED panel on the Pro model is even brighter. While the 6.1-inch screen on the regular iPhone 12 is rated for 625 nits of average brightness, the iPhone 12 Pro averages 800 nits.

When you’re watching HDR content, both phones can reach a peak brightness of 1200 nits, but in general the iPhone 12 Pro’s panel will be easier to read outdoors, especially in direct sunlight. 

More versatile cameras

iPhone 12 vs iPhone 12 Pro cameras

(Image credit: Future)

With its faster f/1.6 aperture, Smart HDR 3 and Deep Fusion for better detail on both the wide and ultra-wide cameras, the iPhone 12 is a stellar camera phone. But I’d rather have the iPhone 12 Pro for taking photos.

The iPhone 12 Pro offers a 2x telephoto zoom that lets you get closer to your subject without sacrificing detail, as you’ll see in this side-by-side comparison between the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12. The bark in the tree looks sharper.

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

In addition, the iPhone 12 Pro features a LiDAR sensor, which enables faster auto focus and portraits in Night mode. You can't do night mode portraits on the regular iPhone 12.

Sleeker design

iPhone 12 vs iPhone 12 Pro design

(Image credit: Future)

This is more subjective, but I prefer the look and feel of the iPhone 12 Pro over the iPhone 12. The matte glass on the Pro does a better job resisting fingerprints, while the regular iPhone 12’s glass back shows smudges more quickly. And while I like the aluminum band on the iPhone 12, the stainless steel band on the iPhone 12 Pro gleams and really pops. 

The only strike against the iPhone 12 Pro in the design department is that it’s heavier despite having the same dimensions as the iPhone 12. This is because the Pro has an additional camera and LiDAR sensor.

Bottom line

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 12 cameras

(Image credit: Future)

The iPhone 12 is a very good phone. But for my money I would buy the iPhone 12 Pro because of its higher standard storage, better cameras and brighter display. And the fact that it looks more premium doesn’t hurt either.

Mark Spoonauer

Mark Spoonauer is the global editor in chief of Tom's Guide and has covered technology for over 20 years. In addition to overseeing the direction of Tom's Guide, Mark specializes in covering all things mobile, having reviewed dozens of smartphones and other gadgets. He has spoken at key industry events and appears regularly on TV to discuss the latest trends, including Cheddar, Fox Business and other outlets. Mark was previously editor in chief of Laptop Mag, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc. Follow him on Twitter at @mspoonauer.

  • AdamTS
    The photo of the tree that is labeled from the iPhone 12 looks much better than the one labeled from the iPhone 12 Pro. I hope the photos are mislabeled.
  • luxetlibertas
    AdamTS said:
    The photo of the tree that is labeled from the iPhone 12 looks much better than the one labeled from the iPhone 12 Pro. I hope the photos are mislabeled.
    Left is brighter, that decides the first impression. The size of the images is too small (for me) to try to judge which photo is actually better. I trust that the Pro has the more capable camera system.
  • luxetlibertas
    iPhone 12 128GB vs iPhone 12 Pro 128GB would be a fair comparison. Price $879 vs $999 (SIM free).
    Differences: Camera system, RAM (4GB vs 6GB), display brightness, exterior and colours, weight (162g-189g)
    I think it is a close decision. But if I would buy one, it would probably be the 12 mini despite the weaker battery.