iPhone 12 vs. Pixel 5: Which flagship phone wins?

iphone 12 vs. Pixel 5
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

When you think of an iPhone 12 vs. Pixel 5 showdown, you probably think about cameras. After all, phones from Apple and Google regularly duke it out for a place on our list of the best camera phones, and we've even run an iPhone 12 vs. Pixel 5 camera face-off of our own.

But while cameras are a big part of a smartphone buying decision, they're not the only consideration. To assess whether the iPhone 12 or the Pixel 5 is the right phone for you, you've got to look at the whole picture. The iPhone 12 boasts a best-in-class processor, great durability and Apple's tight integration with iOS 14. Google's Pixel phones have their own software smarts, and the Pixel 5 bucks the trend of pricey flagships to deliver a more affordable model.

Which of these considerations carries more weight? To find out, let's break down our iPhone 12 vs. Pixel 5 comparison to the most important categories for smartphones, so that we can determine which one is the better buy.

Here's how the iPhone 12 and Pixel 5 compare in a number of key categories.

iPhone 12 vs. Pixel 5: Specs

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Row 0 - Cell 0 iPhone 12 miniiPhone 12Pixel 5
Starting price$699$799$699
Screen size5.4 inches OLED (2340 x1080)6.1 inches OLED (2532 x 1170)6 inches OLED (2340x1080; 90Hz)
CPUA14 BionicA14 BionicSnapdragon 765G
Storage64GB, 128GB, 256GB64GB, 128GB, 256GB128GB
Rear cameras12MP wide (f/1.6), 12MP ultra-wide f/2.4)12MP wide (f/1.6), 12MP ultra-wide f/2.4)12.2MP wide (ƒ/1.7), 16MP ultrawide
Front camera12MP TrueDepth (f/2.2)12MP TrueDepth (f/2.2)8MP (ƒ/2.0)
Battery size2,227 mAh2,815 mAh4,000 mAh
Battery life (Hrs:Mins)7:288:259:29
Size5.18 x 2.53 x 0.29 inches5.78 x 2.82 x 0.29 inches5.70 x 2.77 x 0.31 inches
Weight4.76 ounces5.78 ounces5.33 ounces
ColorsBlack, White, Red, Green and BlueBlack, White, Red, Green and BlueJust Black, Sorta Sage

iPhone 12 vs. Pixel 5: Price and availability

Google tried to get the jump on Apple by making the Pixel 5 available for $699. That's an extremely low price for a phone in an era where flagships regularly flirt with $1,000 price tags. (Of course, Google achieved that lower cost by scaling back on some features as we'll discover later on in this iPhone 12 vs. Pixel 5 face-off.)

One of the four iPhone 12 models Apple released in the fall actually matches the Pixel 5's low price tag, at least if you buy the device through a carrier. The iPhone 12 mini starts at $699 when you buy it from AT&T or Verizon. T-Mobile's version of the iPhone 12 mini as well as unlocked models start at $729. If you don't care for compact phones like the 5.4-inch iPhone 12 mini, you can always opt for the larger iPhone 12 for $799 ($829 if you buy the phone unlocked). 

In addition to those two models, Apple also sells the iPhone 12 Pro for $999 and the iPhone 12 Pro Max for $1,099. But given the advanced features found on those models, they're really not a fair comparison for the Pixel 5.

There's just a single 128GB version of the Pixel 5. Apple offers three different capacities, though its base model has less storage at 64GB. To get the $128GB, you have to pay $50 more, which brings the price of the iPhone 12 mini to $749 and the iPhone 12 to $849. It's another $100 for the 256GB models of both iPhones.

While the iPhone 12 enjoys wide availability, you've got to find a carrier that offers the Pixel 5. It's a little easier than it used to be for Pixel phones, as AT&T, Verizon and US Cellular are among the carriers selling Google's latest. T-Mobile doesn't offer the Pixel 5, but you can buy the phone unlocked from Google and bring it over to the Uncarrier. You can also find the Pixel 5 at Google's own Google Fi wireless service, where the Pixel is optimized to switch to the network with the strongest signal.

Winner: Pixel 5

iPhone 12 vs. Pixel 5: Design

Turn to the iPhone 12 Pro if you want a phone with a stainless steel design. Apple has gone with aluminum and glass for its less expensive iPhones, though they certainly don't feel cheap. The Pixel 5 uses aluminum, too, and unlike the iPhone, there's no notch at the top of the display to house the front camera. Instead, Google uses a punch hole in the left corner of the screen.

iPhone 12 vs. Pixel 5

Pixel 5 (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Besides offering more variety — four different iPhone 12 models to the single Pixel 5 design — Apple also makes a more durable phone. Each of the new iPhones boasts a Ceramic Shield material that increases the iPhone 12's shatter resistance by 4x. 

iPhone 12 vs. Pixel 5

iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Speaking of resistance, both the Pixel 5 and iPhone 12 models offer IP68 ratings, though the Pixel 5 sticks with the basic protection for up to 3 feet for 30 minutes standard. Apple's phones can withstand up to 20 feet of water for that time.

Winner: iPhone 12

iPhone 12 vs. Pixel 5: Display

There's nothing wrong with the display on either the iPhone 12 mini or iPhone 12. In fact, it's a step up from previous entry-level iPhones, as Apple now uses an OLED panel instead of an LCD screen — 5.4 inches in the case of the mini and 6.1 inches for the iPhone 12.

iPhone 12 vs. Pixel 5

Pixel 5 (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

But the Pixel 5 one-ups the iPhone 12 in a key area — it has a faster refresh rate. The Pixel 5's 6-inch OLED screen refreshes at 90Hz, compared to 60Hz for the iPhone 12. That means scrolling is much smoother on the Pixel 5's screen than it would be on the iPhone, making for a more immersive experience.

At a maximum of 610 nits, the Pixel 5's screen is also brighter than what either iPhone can produce (569 nits for the iPhone 12, 505 nits for the iPhone 12 mini). The display on the Pixel 5 recreates a few more colors than what the iPhones can produce, though the iPhone screens feature better color accuracy. Still, it's that faster refresh rate that helps the Pixel 5 win the day in this category.

Winner: Pixel 5 

iPhone 12 vs. Pixel 5: Cameras

The Pixel 5, iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini all feature dual rear camera setups. In the case of the Pixel 5, you're working with a 12.2MP main lens and a 16MP ultrawide camera. The camera array is identical on the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini — a 12MP main camera paired with a 12MP ultrawide shooter. The main camera on the iPhones boasts a 7-element design and f/1.6 aperture for improved low-light performance.

iPhone 12 vs. Pixel 5

iPhone 12 (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

There's nary a telephoto lens to be found on any of these phones, so you're relying on a digital zoom when it's time to get up close with your subject. The Pixel 5 uses a Super Res Zoom feature to fill in the details with minimal noise, while the iPhones have their own software-powered tricks for taking sharp zoom shots.

iPhone 12 vs. Pixel 5

Pixel 5 (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

When we paired off the iPhone 12 against the Pixel 5 in a photo face-off, Google's phone barely edged the iPhone, thanks to digital zoom and Night Sight features. Keep in mind that the iPhone 12 vs. Pixel 5 face-off didn't weigh video features, where the iPhone 12 is clearly superior due to built-in Dolby Vision HDR support.

A few sample shots from that face-off illustrate the Pixel 5's edge. Even though the iPhone 12 can capture night shots with its ultrawide lens, we prefer the Pixel 5's photo. It lights more of the scene, while the iPhone 12 limits its low-light effects to the area around the center of the phone where lighting is the strongest.

We zoomed in on a shot of a flower and saw how powerful Super Res Zoom can be on the Pixel 5. You'd hardly notice this shot wasn't taken with a dedicated telephoto lens, as the Pixel 5's shot is sharp and detailed. The iPhone 12's effort is good, too, but put it next to the Pixel shot, and you'll see that Apple introduces a little bit more noise into the shot.

Up front, the Pixel 5 features an 8MP selfie cam to the 12MP TrueDepth camera employed by both iPhones. In this self-portrait of an unkempt youth, the background details are sharper in the Pixel's shot, and the colors look bolder. We do think the iPhone 12's effort is a bit sharper.

This comparison would be very different if we used an iPhone 12 Pro, which features a telephoto lens. And the main sensor on the iPhone 12 Pro Max is larger which helps with low-light imaging.

Winner: Pixel 5

iPhone 12 vs. Pixel 5: Performance and 5G

It's not really much of a contest when you measure the performance of an iPhone 12 against the Pixel 5. All four iPhone 12 models are powered by the A14 Bionic processor, still the fastest mobile chip we've tested. The Pixel 5 makes do with the Snapdragon 765G, which isn't even the fastest chip that Qualcomm makes.

iPhone 12 vs Pixel 5

iPhone 12 mini (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Google opted for the Snapdragon 765G as a way to keep costs down, but our benchmark results illustrate the trade-offs the Pixel 5 makes for that lower price. In Geekbench 5, the iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 produce multicore scores of 4,123 and 3,859; the Pixel 5 trails both phones at 1,617. It's the same story with graphics where the Pixel 5's result of 1,160 (or 7 frames per second) on 3DMark's Wild Life Unlimited test is well behind the 8,555 score (51 FPS) produced by the iPhone 12.

Those are synthetic benchmarks. The gap is also evident in real-world tests, such as when we use Adobe Premier Rush to transcode a 4k video to 1080p. The iPhone 12 handles that in a blistering 26 seconds, while the Pixel 5 chugs along at nearly 3 minutes.

At least the included 5G modem with the Snapdragon 765G on the Pixel 5 allows that phone to offer 5G connectivity at a lower price than most 5G phones (though not the iPhone 12 mini, we'll remind you). Like the iPhone 12 models, the Pixel 5 works with different flavors of 5G, including high-speed mmWave-based towers. Of course, if you want a low-cost 5G phone, the Pixel 4a 5G also works on those same networks, delivers many of the same features as the Pixel 5 and costs $200 less.

Winner: iPhone 12

iPhone 12 vs. Pixel 5: Battery life and charging

Neither the iPhone 12 nor the Pixel 5 comes close to landing on our list of best phone battery life. Lay the blame on 5G, which eats up a lot of power as well as Apple's tendency to use smaller batteries in its phones. (Apple doesn't officially announce battery sizes, but teardowns have revealed that iPhone 12 mini uses a  2,227 mAH power pack while the iPhone 12 relies on a 2,815 mAh battery.)

iPhone 12 vs. Pixel 5

Pixel 5 (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The Pixel 5 and its 4,080-mAh battery had the best result on our battery test, in which we have phones continually surf the web over cellular until they run out of juice. With its 90Hz refresh rate turned on, the Pixel 5 lasted 9 hours and 29 minutes. (Turning off the faster refresh rate improves the phone's longevity by half-an-hour.) While the Pixel's result is below average for a smartphone, it's still better than the 8:25 and 7:28 times we recorded on the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini, respectively.

The Pixel 5's battery behavior figures to improve slightly over time, as Google says its phone supports an Adaptive Battery feature in which the apps you use the most are prioritized for power. There's also an Extreme Battery Saver mode that pauses activities for any app that you don't consider essential.

iPhone 12 vs. Pixel 5

iPhone 12 (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Both the Pixel and the iPhone offer wireless charging, with the Pixel able to charge other devices wirelessly. With the iPhone 12, Apple introduced MagSafe charging, which uses magnets to securely fix chargers and other accessories to the back of the phone, ensuring better charging performance. Note that MagSafe on the iPhone 12 mini charges at 12 watts instead of 15 watts for the iPhone 12. 

You'll have to buy your own charger for the iPhone 12, as Apple doesn't include that with any of its new phones. That's not something that Google is leaving out just yet.

Winner: Pixel 5

iPhone 12 vs. Pixel 5: Software and special features

The iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini ship with iOS 14 installed, meaning you'll be able to take advantage of features like widgets on the home screen, better app management and picture-in-picture video. (That latter feature has been part of Android for years.) iPhones can get iOS updates the moment Apple releases them, and while that's less of a concern with the Pixel 5, Google only promises three years of updates for its phones. iPhones typically can expect four years of updates — and sometimes more, as iOS 14 works with phones released in 2015.

iPhone 12 vs. Pixel 5

Pixel 5 (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

At least, the Pixel 5 ships with Android 11, the latest version of Google's OS, which isn't something every Android phone can say these days. And there are some special software features that help the Pixel stand out from even its fellow Android devices. For instance, Hold for Me lets you use the Google Assistant to wait on the line when you're placed on hold, notifying you when a live person is ready to take your call. Live transcription features are still a part of the Google Recorder app, a feature so cool Apple adopted it for its own Voice Recorder app in iOS 14.

Winner: Draw

iPhone 12 vs. Pixel 5: Verdict

The Pixel 5 may be the top choice in more categories, but in those areas, it just edges out the iPhone 12. When the iPhone 12 tops the Pixel 5 — such as performance and design — it does so by a wide margin.

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Row 0 - Cell 0 iPhone 12Pixel 5
Price and availability (15 points)1213
Design (10 points)108
Display (10 points)78
Cameras (20 points)1718
Performance and 5G (20 points)2014
Battery and charging (15 points)810
Software and special features (10 points)99
Overall (100 points)8380

The Pixel 5’s biggest edge comes with its fast refreshing display, a feature the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini can’t match. But in categories like mobile photography, the iPhone 12 performs close enough to the Pixel 5 to where most people would be happy with either phone. And while the Pixel 5 boasts a lower price tag, it made a lot of compromises in performance to get there. The $699 iPhone 12 mini may be too small for some people’s tastes, but it doesn’t skimp on performance, thanks to that A14 Bionic chip.

We think the iPhone 12 is the better pick overall. But this iPhone 12 vs. Pixel 5 face-off is closer than you might think.

Philip Michaels

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.