iPhone 13 isn’t quite good enough — why I'm sticking with my iPhone 12

iPhone 13
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Earlier this year I finally upgraded my aging iPhone XR to an iPhone 12. It was a decision I was pretty happy with until the iPhone 13 rumor milled start churning. I suddenly faced the reality that I may have pulled the trigger a tad early. 

When the iPhone 13 was revealed to the world earlier this month I kept waiting for the announcement that would convince me that I needed to upgrade my phone a second time in just six months, but it never came. 

By the end of the iPhone 13 showcase, I looked down at my iPhone 12 and decided I was pleased with my purchase. I’m definitely sticking with last year’s iPhone for the foreseeable future. The iPhone 13 is by all reports an excellent device, but it didn't quite win me over — let me explain why. 

Close but no cigar

It should be noted that I’m actually of the opinion the iPhone 13 is a very compelling device. It makes improvements in just about all the areas I could have asked for, it’s just not enough of an enhancement to justify another expensive upgrade fee so soon.

iphone 13 notch vs iphone 12 notch

(Image credit: Apple)

Let’s start with the most visible addition, or in this case subtraction. The iPhone 13's notch is 20% smaller. As a self-proclaimed notch-hater, I’m thrilled to see that annoying little piece of real estate is getting smaller. But a 20% reduction isn’t enough to sway me to upgrade. If Apple had managed to completely remove the little irritant (as was briefly rumored) then I’d be writing a very different article. 

It’s the same story where battery life is concerned. A bump of 2.5 hours compared to the iPhone 12 is a decent improvement, but it’s not groundbreaking. Plus, I’ve found the 11-hour battery life of my iPhone 12 to be more than decent, and it’s got me through full days at music festivals taking videos and trying (and failing) to get a signal. Plus, last month I picked up one of the best portable chargers available, so I’m confident my iPhone 12 will always be juiced when I need it.

The iPhone 13 does make some pretty big advancements when it comes to the camera. This is the area which most swayed me to consider an upgrade. The iPhone 13 takes significantly sharper pictures according to our testing, and even the base iPhone 13 incorporates the sensor-shift optical image stabilization that was previously exclusive to the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

In fact, the camera additions were enough to get my finger hovering over the iPhone 13 pre-order button, but they weren't quite enough of a reason to put down my money. The images I’ve taken this summer on my iPhone 12 do lack some sharpness, but that’s only noticeable when compared to the gorgeous shots capable on iPhone 13. 

Close but not quite enough has been the running theme for me when it comes to comparing the iPhone 13 to my current iPhone 12. There’s no denying that Apple’s latest flagship is a step up in many key areas, but I’m willing to hold out for more substantial upgrades further down the line. 

The ideal upgrade plan 

While I was considering upgrading to the iPhone 13 I also started reflecting on when is the ideal time to update, and I realized something: I really enjoyed moving from an iPhone XR to an iPhone 12 because it felt like a very substantial upgrade. 

The iPhone XR turned three years old this month, so when I swapped mine for an iPhone 12 earlier this year I essentially got three years of upgrades and improvements in one swoop. From the much more aesthetically pleasing design to the vastly superior camera, everything about iPhone 12 felt light-years ahead of what I had been previously using. 

Going forward I'm planning to upgrade my phone every 2-3 years, so that when I do pull the trigger and move onto a new device I’m getting a wealth of upgrades all at once. From where I'm standing, switching phones annually just means you’re only ever getting iterative improvements, which are definitely useful but never game-changing. 

I’ll likely stick with my iPhone 12 until the iPhone 14, or I may even stretch its lifespan until the iPhone 15. Surely by then, Apple will have finally nixed the notch? 

Rory Mellon
Entertainment Editor (UK)

Rory is an Entertainment Editor at Tom’s Guide based in the UK. He covers a wide range of topics but with a particular focus on gaming and streaming. When he’s not reviewing the latest games, searching for hidden gems on Netflix, or writing hot takes on new gaming hardware, TV shows and movies, he can be found attending music festivals and getting far too emotionally invested in his favorite football team.