iPhone 15 vs iPhone 12: Biggest expected upgrades

iPhone 15 vs. iPhone 12
(Image credit: Unbox Therapy/YouTube/Tom's Guide)

Update: Check out our Apple Event live blog for the latest from Cupertino on the iPhone 15, iPhone 15 Pro Max, Apple Watch Series 9 and more.

You might find yourself making an iPhone 15 vs iPhone 12 comparison this fall after Apple's new phones arrive. Knowing how the phones measure up might help you decide if it's time to upgrade or if you're better off sticking with what you have.

In its day, the iPhone 12 was the best iPhone you could buy. The 2020 flagship took a major step forward with the A14 Bionic processor, 5G connectivity, an OLED display, and improved cameras. 

But rumors suggest big changes for the iPhone 15 beyond the improvements Apple has made to subsequent devices since the iPhone 12's release. We could be looking at a new design for the display, not to mention a different way of charging your iPhone. 

We won't know for certain what's changed since the iPhone 12 until the iPhone 15 arrives, but rumors have given us a pretty complete picture of what to expect from the new phone. Here's how we think an iPhone 15 vs. iPhone 12 face-off would go down, based on what we expect for the fall release.

iPhone 15 vs iPhone 12: Price

The iPhone 12 cost $799 when it debuted, a $100 price increase from the iPhone 11 that came out before it. A more compact version of the iPhone 12, the iPhone 12 mini, took over the $699 slot in Apple's smartphone lineup.

Apple continues to sell the iPhone 12, though it's reduced the price of that phone every time a newer model comes out. These days, you can get an iPhone 12 from Apple for $599.

The iPhone 15 figures to inherit the iPhone 12's $799 introductory price. There have been rumors about iPhone 15 price hikes, but most of those have centered around the more premium iPhone 15 Pro models.

iPhone 15 vs iPhone 12: Design and display

Like the iPhone 12, the iPhone 15 figures to have a 6.1-inch screen. But that could be where the similarities end between the two models.

iPhone 12 review

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The iPhone 12 features the notched display design first introduced with the iPhone X. While distinctive, it's not a universally popular look, as some iPhone users don't like the way the notch intrudes upon the screen.

Last year, Apple aimed to transform the ungainly cutout into a feature rather than a compromise with the Dynamic Island on the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max. Through clever animations and interactions, the pill-shaped cutout was morphed into a dynamic overlay to showcase alerts, notifications, and active background activities. While not significantly less distracting visually than the notch, the Dynamic Island added some flair and functionality to embrace the cutout rather than hide it away. 

The iPhone 15 may get to experience what's been limited to Pro models. Rumors tip the Dynamic Island feature to make its way to both the standard iPhone and bigger-screen iPhone 15 Plus. That would mean the end of notched displays for the iPhone

9to5Mac iPhone 15 render with dynamic island

(Image credit: 9to5Mac)

The display technology on the iPhone 15 could see an improvement, with thinner bezels to offer more screen real estate than the iPhone 12 has.

One change that's up in the air is the refresh rate for the iPhone 15 display. The iPhone 12 features a 60Hz, which has been the standard for smartphone screens. Starting with the iPhone 13, Pro models added a variable refresh rate where the displays could ramp up to 120Hz for smoother scrolling and animation.

The hope is that the iPhone 15 would adopt a higher refresh rate, as is now the standard on flagship phones. However, some display experts believe Apple is going to continue to keep this a Pro-only feature.

iPhone 15 vs iPhone 12: Cameras

The rumored camera upgrades coming to the iPhone 15 lineup would represent a major improvement over the iPhone 12's dual 12MP camera system. While the iPhone 12 can certainly produce quality shots, Apple sounds like it's going to step things up by adding a 48MP main sensor to the iPhone 15. The phone maker already made that move with the iPhone 14 Pro models last year.

ipHone 15 concept 4RMD

(Image credit: 4RMD)

A 48MP main camera would allow the iPhone 15 to take much sharper, more detailed photos and enhance low-light performance. The ultrawide camera on the iPhone 15 may also see megapixel and aperture upgrades for crisper landscape shots. 

Along with hardware improvements, the iPhone 15 camera is likely to be boosted by advanced computational photography software and machine learning. Video recording could hit new heights with 8K support on the iPhone 15, surpassing the iPhone 12's 4K capabilities. 

iPhone 15 vs iPhone 12: Top Performer

New smartphone releases generally feature new silicon, so iPhone 12 users can expect a big jump forward should they decide to upgrade to the iPhone 15. While this fall's standard iPhone is unlikely to get the fastest Apple-designed system-on-chip — the A17 Bionic is expected to be exclusive to the Pro models — the A16 chipset should be a considerable upgrade over the iPhone 12's A14 Bionic.

A16 Bionic chipset render

(Image credit: @VNchocoTaco/Twitter)

The A16 Bionic-powered iPhone 14 Pro posted single and multicore scores of 1,891 and 5,469 in Geekbench 5, compared to the iPhone 12's respective results of 1,593 and 3,859. We'd expect to see a similar performance gap between the iPhone 15 and iPhone 12. 

Last year, when the iPhone 14 stuck with the A15 Bionic chipset, Apple used a variation that included an extra graphics core. It's unclear if Apple has similar plans for the A16 chip likely to power the standard iPhone 15.

iPhone 15 vs iPhone 12: Battery life and charging

Battery life on the iPhone 12 was a disappointment, so Apple increased the size of the battery used in the iPhone 13. The result was a much longer-lasting phone.

Rumored iPhone 15 battery sizes point to a 3,877 mAh cell for the standard iPhone, which would be quite the jump up from the iPhone 12's 2,815 mAh battery.

iPhone 12

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Believe it or not, that's not really the big story here with iPhone 15 battery life and charging. Rather, Apple could be introducing a new charging method that differs from the Lightning port that's a mainstay on previous iPhone models including the iPhone 12.

iPhone 15 Pro renders

(Image credit: 9to5Mac)

Rumors suggest the iPhone 15 will switch to USB-C charging, as Apple faces a mandate from European regulators to adopt a universal charging standard. The switch would potentially enable faster wired data transfers and charging rates, though one rumor claims Apple may reserve faster charging speeds as an iPhone 15 Pro feature. The switch to USB-C would also make the new iPhone compatible with existing USB-C cables and chargers without needing adapters.

iPhone 15 vs iPhone 12: Outlook

While the iPhone 12 was a solid upgrade that introduced 5G connectivity and an OLED display to Apple's phones, the iPhone 15 is shaping up to be a major leap forward in most areas. 

From the potential switch to USB-C charging to the upgraded A16 processor and 48MP camera, the iPhone 15 specs suggest substantial improvements over its predecessor, which will turn three years old this fall. And that could be enough to push iPhone 12 users to upgrade, especially if the price on the standard iPhone holds steady.

While the full details of the iPhone 15 won't come out until Apple announces the new phone, it's safe to assume an upgrade would deliver faster performance and better photos. We'll know for certain come the fall, but right now, it seems the iPhone 15 will be a compelling upgrade for any iPhone 12 users looking for the latest and greatest technology in an iPhone.

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Elliot Mulley-Goodbarne
Phones Writer

Elliot MulleyGoodbarne is a Staff Writer at Tom’s Guide covering news, reviews, buying guides with wit and charm. He has had a keen interest in mobile, tablets, laptops, and everything in between since his first phone, the Samsung U600. Starting at Mobile News, Elliot has been writing about mobile and the business of technology since 2016, and has edited four trade magazines in that time, attending award shows for three of them. He has attended a range of industry events including 5G launches, device announcements, and trade events, where he developed a nose for picking up on trends, interviewing executives, and networking with the tech community. In his spare time, Elliot can usually be found watching, playing, or attending sporting events. With season tickets to West Ham United and Surrey County Cricket Club he often spends weekends in winter in a foul mood and evenings in the summer with a smile on his face. Outside of sport Elliot enjoys cooking, pubs next to rivers, and chilling out with a G&T, Whiskey, or Port after a solid week of excellence.