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5 reasons you should still get the iPhone 12 (and 3 reasons to get iPhone 13)

Should you still get an iPhone 12?
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

If you're in the market for a new iPhone, you're probably considering the four different iPhone 13 models (from $799 to $1,099) and nothing else. And frankly, that's not a bad choice, as the latest Apple phones not only dominate our list of the best iPhones but make up some of the best phones overall.

But there's more to Apple's iPhone offerings than just the iPhone 13. The company continues to sell both the iPhone 12 ($699) and iPhone 12 mini ($599) at a price that's reduced from their original cost. Either one makes a surprisingly compelling option if you want to grab a powerful new handset without paying top dollar.

On the surface, it wouldn't seem like the iPhone 12 would be an acceptable alternative to the iPhone 13. After all, our iPhone 13 vs. iPhone 12 comparison clearly shows the many ways Apple's newer phones are the superior option, from a more powerful processor to other improvements and enhancements over previous models. And yes, if you opt for an iPhone 12 instead of an iPhone 13 you are sacrificing a few new features — though not so many that the iPhone 13 is the obvious choice.

There are plenty of reasons to grab an iPhone 12 even though the phone is more than a year old. Here's why you should at least consider Apple's older iPhone over the iPhone 13 — and why buying the newer phone makes more sense.

iPhone 13 vs iPhone 12

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
Resolution2340x10802532x11702340x10902532x1170
ProcessorA15A15A14A14
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 12: Why it's still worth getting

The iPhone 12 is still a top-performing phone

Yes, the A15 Bionic chipset powering the iPhone 13 lineup is the most powerful mobile silicon we've seen in a phone, and you would be giving that up by opting for the older iPhone 12 or iPhone 12 mini. But the A14 Bionic processor that powers those two phones is hardly on its last legs.

A14 Bionic specs

Apple's A14 Bionic chipset remains a sophisticated piece of silicon (Image credit: Apple)

In fact, looking at the benchmarks we recorded for the iPhone 12 when that phone first came out in 2020, we see that Apple's older iPhone outperforms many newer Android devices. The iPhone 12's Geekbench 5 multicore score of 3,859 is well head of results posted by the Galaxy S21 (3,440), OnePlus 9 Pro (3,685) and Galaxy Z Fold 3 (3,418). All three of those phones came out after the iPhone 12 and run on the Snapdragon 888, the most powerful Android system-on-chip for 2021. 

Looking at the initial benchmarks for the newer Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, the iPhone 12's Geekbench score is slightly ahead of the numbers posted by a device powered by next year's leading chipset for Android phones. While it's true Geekbench isn't the be-all, end-all of smartphone performance, it's safe to say the iPhone 12 should be able to keep up with whatever 2022's leading Android devices can do.

The iPhone 12's cameras are still very good, too

Our list of the best camera phones is dominated by the different iPhone 13 models these days — we're particularly impressed with the iPhone 13 Pro Max — but the iPhone 12 didn't stop taking great pictures just because a newer model came along. 

iPhone 12 vs iPhone 12 Pro cameras

Cameras on the iPhone 12 Pro (left) and iPhone 12 (right) (Image credit: Future)

Apple's older iPhones continue to benefit from the company's mastery of computational photography. Take photos with an iPhone 12, and you'll still enjoy portrait shots with stylistic blurs, well-composed night shots, and detailed photos thanks to features like Smart HDR and Deep Fusion. About the only thing you can't count on with the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini is an optical zoom — neither phone has a telephoto lens, though you'd have to pay up for the iPhone 13 Pro models for that kind of capability.

The iPhone design hasn't changed that much

There's a psychological factor in toting around a phone that's clearly sporting yesterday's design. While definitely not the most important consideration in the world, not feeling as if you're staring at an outdated phone every time you glance at it can impact your overall satisfaction.

iPhone 13 vs. iPhone 12

iPhone 13 (left) vs. iPhone 12 (right) — the design changes are pretty minor. (Image credit: Apple)

That's not something you have to worry about with the iPhone 12, which sports the same general look and feel as its successor. It's true, the notch on the iPhone 13 models is 20% smaller, which means a slight increase in screen real estate. But that's not something you're going to notice unless you make a habit of placing your iPhone 12 next to an iPhone 13. These two models look the same.

You've still got years of iOS updates ahead of you

Apple is slow to turn off the spigot of iPhone software updates, which is the main reason why grabbing an iPhone that's a generation or two behind the current model remains a viable option. Android phones can be more limited in the number of software updates they receive, so turning to an older phone means calculating just how long you'll still be able to install the latest version of Android. That really isn't something iPhone users have to consider.

iOS 15, the current version of Apple's phone software, works with devices that came out in 2015. There's no guarantee future iPhones will receive that level of support, but it's safe to assume an iPhone 12 will be able to stay up-to-date with iOS versions for another four years. And those updates will be available to your older iPhone at the same time as newer models, making updates a breeze.

There are lots of iPhone 12 deals

We mentioned the prices of the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini have already dropped to $699 and $599, respectively — Apple charges $100 less for each model than it did a year ago. And it isn't that hard to lower the price even further, depending on where you shop.

Peruse the best iPhone 12 deals, and you can find further ways to save. And unlike the best iPhone 13 deals, which often require a trade-in, iPhone 12 offers generally have fewer requirements. As of this writing, for example, you can save around $190 on an iPhone 12 (opens in new tab) just by signing up for one of AT&T's unlimited data plans; a similar deal lets you get the iPhone 12 mini for 50% off (opens in new tab). At other carriers, you can get an iPhone 12 for free with a trade-in and when you sign up for a new line of data. (You receive discount in the form of monthly bill credits.)

iPhone 12: Why it's better to get the iPhone 13 instead

Some iPhone 12 discounts aren't that great

At the risk of contradicting what we've just said, the price drops on certain iPhone 12 models are certainly welcome — but not every iPhone 12 model is getting a huge discount. If you would prefer an iPhone 12 Pro model, for example, significant price cuts are harder to come by.

At Verizon, for example, you'll pay $999 for an iPhone 12 Pro Max (opens in new tab). While that's $100 off last year's price, it's also what you'd pay for a newer iPhone 13 Pro. You'll find similar prices elsewhere, though some iPhone 12 Pro deals do take a little bit more off the cost if you've got a device to trade-in. In most cases, though, last year's Pro models aren't that much cheaper than the iPhone 13 Pro, so you'd be better off opting for the newer hardware.

Camera hardware on the iPhone 13 is better

While it's true that the iPhone 12 still takes great pictures and benefits from Apple's excellent photo software, you can't ignore the fact that all four iPhone 13 models saw improvements to their camera hardware over last year's phones.

The main lens on both the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini can take in 47% more light than their iPhone 12 predecessors; low-light performance has been upgraded on the ultrawide angle lens too, and it can now capture four times more of the scene you're shooting. The iPhone 13 models also adopt sensor-shift stabilization, which was only found in the iPhone 12 Pro Max — it stabilizes the sensor, not the lens, for steadier shots.

iPhone 13 Pro Max, in front of a background of water

Apple has definitely improved the camera hardware on iPhone 13 models like the iPhone 13 Pro Max. (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

As for the iPhone 13 Pro models, they both feature the largest sensor ever on an iPhone for their main camera. The aperture is wider on that lens, too. Apple made similar changes to the ultrawide angle camera on its new Pro phones, with a wider aperture and new autofocus system that improves low-light photos by 92%.

No matter which iPhone 13 model you ultimately choose, you'll get cameras that are more capable in low-light settings than what the iPhone 12 can provide.

The iPhone 13 offers longer battery life

There's on area where every iPhone 13 model is indisputably better than its predecessor — battery life. With the exception of the iPhone 12 Pro Max, the iPhone 12 models turned in below-average times on our battery test, in which we have phones surf the web over a cellular connection until they run out of power. We chalked up those poor results to the small batteries in the iPhone 12 models combined with the power demands of 5G.

iPhone 12

You'll need to recharge that iPhone 12 a lot compared to the iPhone 13. (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Apple couldn't do much about the latter, except for improving the power efficiency of the A15 chipset. But it could certainly tackle the former, increasing the size of the batteries in each iPhone 13 model. (We don't know officially how big those power packs are, as that's not something Apple discloses.) The result was better times across the board on our battery test — the iPhone 13 Pro Max and iPhone 13 Pro even landed on our best phone battery life list.

Opting for an older phone instead of a newer model means sacrifices in the name of a lower price. And one of the most keen sacrifices you'll feel should you buy an iPhone 12 instead of an iPhone 13 is battery life.

Bottom line: Should you still get an iPhone 12?

A lower price coupled with a killer deal makes an older iPhone 12 a compelling option over the iPhone 13. You still get great performance, 5G, and stellar cameras with the iPhone 12. The only truly significant upgrade with the iPhone 13 is longer battery life. 

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.