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iPhone 13 — wait or buy iPhone 12 now?

iphone 13 vs iphone 12
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Buy an iPhone 12 now or wait for the iPhone 13? This is a perfect example of the classic delayed gratification puzzle. Do you want to get a good phone now, or one that's possibly even better in a few month's time?

The current crop of rumors for the iPhone 13 have shown there will be several upgrades that will likely make it superior to the iPhone 12. However, these upgrades may not matter to you and how you use your phone. Plus, if you wait the iPhone 12 will almost certainly see a price drop this fall.

With the date of an Apple product event now set for Sept. 14, it probably pays to wait, even if your phone is cracked or out of date. But here are some other key factors to consider. 

iPhone 13: Reasons to skip past iPhone 12

iphone 13 render

(Image credit: LetsGoDigital)

Smaller notch: The iPhone 13 display is said to be benefitting from a smaller Face ID notch, the first time Apple's shrunk it since introducing it. That'll give the iPhone 13 a more immersive viewing experience, as the notch can be distracting. 

Touch ID in display: Apple will reportedly reintroduce Touch ID to the iPhone 13, either beneath the display or on the side button. It should prove useful for unlocking your phone quickly if your face is covered. However, recent reports also suggest that Apple is foregoing Touch ID for the iPhone 13, so take this with a grain of salt.

120Hz refresh rate (for Pro models): The iPhone 13's display is also said to be getting a 120Hz ProMotion refresh rate, at least for the Pro models. which will make compatible games and just scrolling feel beautifully smooth.

Always-on display: It's long overdue, but the iPhone 13 is expected to get an always-on display mode, something the iPhone 12 isn't capable of. This should make it easy to look at the time or other key info at a glance.

Camera improvements: Keen photographers will be able to benefit from the iPhone 13's improved rear ultrawide camera lens, as well as some new astrophotography and video portrait modes. What's more, it's rumored that all iPhone 13s, including the base models, will get Apple's LiDAR depth sensor this year, an auxiliary camera that helps with photo effects and AR applications.

LiDAR was only the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max last year, so waiting for the iPhone 13 could prove a huge benefit if you don't fancy paying the extra for a 12 Pro model.

New colors: The iPhone 13 range is most likely to get a new batch of colors to choose from. The iPhone 12 line already has plenty of choices, including the newly introduced purple iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini. But if none of these options strike your fancy, there will be a new batch of colorways for the iPhone 13, including a possible orange and matte black.

Larger batteries: A leak spotted on l0vetodream on Twitter says that all of the iPhone 13 models will be getting larger battery capacities. This includes the iPhone 13 mini, iPhone 13, iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max. With the exception of the iPhone 12 Pro Max, the iPhone 12 series battery life results were disappointing, so more juice would be welcome.

iPhone 12: Reasons you should still buy

iPhone 12 review

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

These arguments were more compelling before Apple scheduled a Sept. 14 product event where it's likely to announce new iPhones. Even then, you'd figure that it will keep at least one iPhone 12 model around (most likely the 6.1-inch version) at a lower price. So consider these arguments for adopting Apple's older phone, whether it's now or after the iPhone 13 shows up. 

Same sizes: From what we've heard, the iPhone 13 will be available in the same sizes as the iPhone 12. That would include a 5.4-inch iPhone 13 mini (despite the iPhone 12 mini reportedly selling quite poorly), a 6.1-inch standard iPhone 13, a 6.1-inch iPhone 13 Pro with a few extra features, and the 6.7-inch iPhone 13 Pro Max at the top of the range.

What size works best for you depends on your exact needs as well as what will fit best in your hand, pocket or bag, but it's not a reason to pick the iPhone 12 or iPhone 13 over the other.

Lower prices are coming on iPhone 12 lineup: Apple typically reduces the price of the previous generation iPhones as soon as the new models are announced. We expect that the iPhone 12 will cost $599 after the iPhone 13 is introduced, which would be $200 less. It's hard to say what the other iPhone 12 models will cost or even if Apple will continue to sell those models, but we'd anticipate a substantial reduction across the board.

The iPhone 12's cameras are still really good. Despite some expected improvements expected in the iPhone 13, the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro both have excellent cameras. The Pro models feature a telephoto lens (2x for the Pro, 2.5x for the Pro Max), but all four phones feature a powerful primary shooter with one of the best night mode's around.

The iPhone 12 is still pretty tough: Apple introduced Ceramic Shield displays on the iPhone 12, making the front cover better protected against drops. Apple's just given a large sum of money to Corning, but we don't expect a big leap in durability for the iPhone 13.

iPhone 12 already has 5G: The iPhone 12 offers 5G connectivity, so you can expect fast data speeds on the go. The iPhone 13 should offer an even better 5G Qualcomm modem, one that can aggregate mmWave and sub-6GHz bands, but we don't see 5G as a reason to wait for the iPhone 13. 

The A14 Bionic is fast enough: The iPhone 13 will reportedly offer a faster A15 Bionic chip, which has already entered production. That's nice, but the A14 Bionic already blows away most Android phones in terms of performance. It's a true gaming machine. So we don't imagine the iPhone 13's performance gains being very dramatic. 

Bottom line

Whether you go for the iPhone 12 or opt for the iPhone 13, you're probably going to end up with a great phone. It'll be your particular needs that will sway you to one or the other.

Since we're not expecting huge changes to the iPhone 13's 5G, storage capacity, performance, charging or overall size, you can feel comfortable opting for the iPhone 12 now, or whenever you can find a good deal. (Again, hold out until Sept. 14, and you'll likely see prices on the older iPhones drop.) If price is your priority, the iPhone 12 is going to be unquestionably cheaper than the iPhone 13, if you wait.

But if you're willing to be a little more patient, you will likely appreciate the iPhone 13's enhanced photography, less obnoxious notch, Touch ID and bigger batteries. We're particularly excited for the iPhone 13 Pro series because of its rumored 120Hz displays.

Richard Priday

Richard is a Tom's Guide staff writer based in London, covering news, reviews and how-tos for phones, gaming, audio and whatever else people need advice on. He's also written for WIRED U.K., The Register and Creative Bloq. When not at work, he's likely thinking about how to brew the perfect cup of specialty coffee.