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iPhone 12 vs. iPhone 8: Why you should upgrade

iphone 12 vs. iphone 8
(Image credit: Apple/Tom's Guide)

Chances are if you're mulling over an upgrade to an iPhone 12, it's not from a recent model like the iPhone 11 or even the iPhone XR. Given how long people hold on to their phones these days, we'd wager there are more than a few people still on the iPhone 8, but contemplating a change from their nearly four-year-old phone.

If so, we have some good news. This is a great time to upgrade your iPhone, as the models released last fall are widely available and well reviewed. Even better, there's no new iPhone launches expected before the fall, when the iPhone 13 should make its debut. In other words, buy one of the best iPhones now, and you'll get a very up-to-date model.

But exactly how big a leap forward can iPhone 8 owners expect from the iPhone 12? To find out, we've run an iPhone 12 vs. iPhone 8 comparison, matching up the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini against the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus. Here's what you'll discover should you make the switch to a new phone.

iPhone 12 vs. iPhone 8 specs

iPhone 12 mini iPhone 12 iPhone 8iPhone 8 Plus
Debut price$699$799$699$799
Display5.4-inch OLED (2340 x1080)6.1-inch OLED (2532 x 1170)4.7-inch LCD (1334 x 750)5.5-inch LCD (1920 x 1080)
ColorsBlack, White, Red, Green and BlueBlack, White, Red, Green and BlueSpace gray, silver, goldSpace gray, silver, gold
CPUA14A14A11A11
Storage64GB, 128GB, 256GB64GB, 128GB, 256GB64GB, 256GB64GB, 256GB
Rear camera12MP wide (f/1.6), 12MP ultra-wide f/2.4)12MP wide (f/1.6), 12MP ultra-wide f/2.4)12MP (f/1.8)2 12MP (f/1.8, f/2.8)
Zoom5x digital5x digitalNone2x optical
Front camera12MP TrueDepth (f/2.2)12MP TrueDepth (f/2.2)7MP FaceTime HD (f/2.2)7MP FaceTime HD (f/2.2)
5Gsub-6Ghz, mmWavesub-6Ghz, mmWaveNot availableNot available
Battery size2,227 mAh (rumored)2,815 mAh (rumored)1,821 mAh (teardown)2,675 (teardown)
Battery life (Hrs:Mins)7:28 (5G)8:25 (5G); 10:23 (4G)9:5411:16
Size5.18 x 2.53 x 0.29 inches5.78 x 2.82 x 0.29 inches5.5 x 2.7 x 0.29 inches6.2 x 3.1 x 0.3 inches
Weight4.76 ounces5.78 ounces5.22 ounces7.13 ounces

iPhone 12 vs. iPhone 8 price and availability

The same year the iPhone 8 came out, Apple released the iPhone X, which signaled the dawn of $999 flagship phones. But the iPhone 8 held the line on pricing, starting at $699. With a larger screen and two cameras, the iPhone 8 Plus cost $100 more. Prices have since dropped, with the iPhone 8 costing less than $400. (At this point, you're likely buying a refurbished iPhone 8, which drives the cost down further.)

Like the iPhone 8 before it, the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini avoid that $999 price. Instead, the iPhone 12 mini debuts at $699 — the same price that Apple charged for the iPhone 8 back in the day. You can get an iPhone 12 for $799. (Note that those prices are for carrier-tied versions of the two iPhone models. An unlocked version costs $30 extra.)

The iPhone 12 came out last October, while the iPhone 12 mini followed in November. We regularly track the best iPhone 12 deals to see which retailers and carriers are offering discounts on Apple's new phones, so check out that page before you buy one of these phones. Trading in an iPhone 8 gets you a $120 discount on your iPhone 12 purchase at Apple; the iPhone 8 Plus is worth $180 on trade-in.

iPhone 12 vs. iPhone 8 design

The iPhone 12 mini features a bigger screen than the iPhone 8 — 5.4 inches versus 4.8 inches. Yet Apple's newer phone is both shorter and slimmer than the iPhone 8. 

iPhone 12 vs iPhone 8

iPhone 12 (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

How did Apple pull that off? The big bezels at the top of the iPhone 8's display are gone, as is the home button housed in that bottom bezel. Instead, the iPhone 12 mini, like the iPhone 12, has adopted the design Apple introduced with the iPhone X — a notch at the top of the display to house the TrueDepth camera, but otherwise minimal bezels surrounding the front display. 

Likewise, the iPhone 12 is more compact than the iPhone 8 Plus, even with a screen that adds an additional 0.4 inches.

iPhone 12 vs iPhone 8

iPhone 12 mini vs. iPhone 8 (Image credit: Apple)

Those screens on the iPhone 12 are fairly durable, as Apple teamed up with Corning to create a Ceramic Shield screen. That makes the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini four times more likely to survive a drop without any damage. The IP68 water resistance rating on the iPhone 12 models allows Apple's new phones to survive a dip in up to 6 meters of water; the iPhone 8 models could only endure 1 meter.

iPhone 12 vs. iPhone 8 display

The iPhone 8 is a relic of the days when Apple used LCD panels for its smartphone displays. That began to change with the iPhone X's introduction that same year, and today, the entire lineup of flagship iPhones features OLED screens. That includes the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini, both of which sport Apple's Super Retina XDR display.

iPhone 12 vs. iPhone 8

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

The switch from LCD to OLED means sharper colors and truer blacks on the iPhone 12. The contrast ratio is 2 million:1 on the iPhone 12 versus 1,300:1 on the iPhone 8. The iPhone 12 displays 114.5% of the sRGB color spectrum, about what the iPhone 8 captured (119.6%); the iPhone 12 mini checks in at 117.8%. The iPhone 12 renders colors much accurately than the iPhone 8 with a Delta-E rating of 0.29 versus 0.89. (The closer to zero, the better.) The iPhone 8 Plus' display is slightly more accurate, though, going by its 0.25 Delta-E rating.

iPhone 12 vs. iPhone 8 camera

The photos produced by the iPhone 12 are a big leap forward from the iPhone 8, and not just because the older phone ships with a single 12-megapixel camera. The iPhone 8 Plus doubles things up with a second 12MP lens and a 2x optical zoom.

iPhone 12 vs iPhone 8

iPhone 8 (Image credit: Shaun Lucas/Tom's Guide)

Both the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini feature two lenses as well — a 12MP wide and 12MP ultrawide shooter. The apertures are bigger on the iPhone 12 cameras than they were with the iPhone 8, to let in more light.

But the camera story isn't just about hardware. Apple's photo processing powers have gotten a lot more sophisticated in the three years since the iPhone 8 came out. The latest iPhones support features like Night Mode on all their cameras and Deep Fusion for emphasizing more details and textures in photos. A new version of Apple's Smart HDR feature helps the iPhone 12 adjust white balance, saturation and contrast on the fly, so shots will look good even in challenging lighting. And the new phones are capable of capturing HDR video with Dolby Vision.

iPhone 12 vs. iPhone 8

iPhone 12 (Image credit: Apple)

Put it another way: The iPhone 8 Plus may have as many rear cameras as the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini, but the machine learning-powered software on the latest iPhones lets you do so much more. 

We were pretty impressed with the performance of both the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini cameras, and you'll certainly notice the big step up if you upgrade from an iPhone 8 or 8 Plus. Let's just say we have a new pick for the best camera phone, and it's not a phone that came out three years ago.

iPhone 12 vs. iPhone 8 performance

Here's where iPhone 8 upgraders will likely see the biggest leap. Both the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus used the best Apple silicon of their day — an A11 Bionic chip. That processor was more than able to hold its own against the best chipset for Android phones at the time, the Snapdragon 835.

But Apple hasn't stood still in the last three years, introducing subsequently more powerful processors with each iPhone release. We're up to the A14 Bionic with the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini, and to hear Apple tell it, that processor will outperform last year's silicon by some margin, let alone chips that came out in 2017.

iPhone 12 vs iPhone 8

iPhone 12 (Image credit: Apple)

We ran Geekbench 5 on the iPhone 12, and got single- and multicore scores of 1,593 and 3,859, respectively. (The iPhone 12 mini turned in an even better multicore result of 4,123.) We don't have an iPhone 8 handy on which to run Geekbench 5, but the iPhone 12 outscored the iPhone 11 Pro Max (1,334 and 3,517 on single- and multicore tests), and since that's a relatively recently A13 Bionic chip, we assume the A11-powered iPhone 8 would eat the iPhone 12's dust.

Apple hasn't stepped up one aspect of its smartphones. Storage is still relatively minimal, with base models of the iPhone 12 and 12 mini continuing to offer the same 64GB of capacity featured on the iPhone 8. At least you've got more storage options now, with 128GB and 256GB models of the latest iPhones. (The iPhone 8 had a single 256GB upgrade.)

One other aspect separates the iPhone 12 models from the iPhone 8 — the new iPhone can connect to 5G networks. Stick with an iPhone 8, and you're stuck on LTE. 

That may not sound like too much of a sacrifice now, with 5G networks still in their early stages. But because the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro work with multiple flavors of 5G, Apple's new phones should be relatively future-proof as 5G becomes more widespread and consistently faster. (For now, you can look up when 5G is coming to your area.)

iPhone 12 vs. iPhone 8 battery and charging

It's hard to compare battery life between older and newer iPhones, in part because Apple never reveals the size of the batteries it inserts in its phones. Teardowns suggest the iPhone 8 had an 1,821 mAh power pack while the iPhone 8 Plus used a 2,675 mAh battery. 

iphone 12 vs iphone 8

iPhone 8 (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

When we ran both phones through our battery test in 2017, the iPhone 8 turned in a slightly above-average result, while the iPhone 8 Plus held out for 11 hours. That would be good enough for either one to still land on our best phone battery life list, which we limit to phones released in the last year-and-a-half.

Strictly speaking, the iPhone 12 doesn't measure up, lasting 8 hours and 25 minutes on a test the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus both aced. Not surprisingly given its smaller battery, the iPhone 12 mini fared worse, petering out before the 7.5 hour mark. 

The culprit for the iPhone 12's disappointing battery result? Besides that 6.1-inch OLED panel, we'd point the finger at 5G. When we turned off 5G and ran the same test over LTE, the iPhone 12 held out for 10 hours and 23 minutes — nearly two hours better.

iPhone 12 vs iPhone 8

iPhone 12 (Image credit: Apple)

The iPhone 8 was the first Apple phone to support wireless charging, and that's continued with the iPhone 12. But Apple's phones have now added support for MagSafe wireless charging, in which magnet-equipped chargers attach to the back of the phone for a more reliable charge. More importantly, MagSafe supports 15W wireless charging speeds, faster than the 7.5W supported through conventional charging pads. (Note that if you've got an iPhone 12 mini, your speeds will be capped at 12W.)

iPhone 12 vs. iPhone 8 software and special features

The iPhone 12 vs. iPhone 8 match-up is pretty even here. While the iPhone 12 ships with iOS 14 pre-installed, iPhone 8 users have been able to upgrade to that version of Apple's software since it came out last September. And iOS 14 introduced a number of new features such as home-screen widgets, better app organization, and improvements to Maps, Messages and Reminders that can make an older iPhone feel like new. iOS 14.5 is now available, and it works on the iPhone 8 as well as it does on the iPhone 12.

If the last iPhone you bought was the iPhone 8, you're probably used to getting wired headphones and a charger in the box. That doesn't happen with the iPhone 12, though, as Apple is ditching those accessories in the name of more environmentally friendly packaging and less e-waste. (Getting people to pony up for their own accessories probably didn't dissuade Apple from making that move.)

iPhone 12 vs. iPhone 8 verdict

You'd expect a phone packing in three years of design changes, hardware improvements and software enhancements to be a significant upgrade over its predecessor, and that's what Apple has delivered with the iPhone 12 vs. the iPhone 8. 

Now that we've tested both the iPhone 12 mini and the iPhone 12, we've seen enough to know that both have earned their place among the best iPhones. If you're holding onto an iPhone 8, there's no better time to upgrade than right now.

Jordan Palmer

Jordan is the Phones Editor for Tom's Guide, covering all things phone-related. He loves nothing more than relaxing in his home with a book, game, or his latest personal writing project. It's hard to nail down one thing that Jordan is passionate about, since his attention span for a single given topic or activity doesn't last long. Jordan tends to lurk on social media, but you can best reach him on Twitter: @jccpalmer — his Instagram feed is mostly photos of his cat.

  • mchan1
    Basically, the 6s/7/8 Plus models' updated equivalents would be, at least, the Phone 11 or 12.

    The 8 Plus's 5.5" screen and bezels make it somewhat larger than it appears. The 5.4" screens are stretched out and without bezels on the 11/12 models.

    If one has more money to spend, one could upgrade to one of the Pro 6.1" screen models.
    Reply