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iPhone SE (2022) vs. iPhone 12 vs. iPhone 12 mini: It's complicated

iPhone SE (2022) hero
iPhone SE (2022) hero (Image credit: Apple)

Henry Ford once said you could purchase a Model T in any color as long as it was black. Generations later, the same lack of choice greeted anyone looking to score one of the first iPhones. Circa 2007-2009, you either bought the current model or waited until a new one was announced.

Apple in 2022 offers many more choices, of course, starting with the recently introduced iPhone SE (2022) and extending to the iPhone 13 Pro Max. The iPhone SE (2022) seems like the way to go for those with a small budget. Starting at $429 for the 64GB option, it's the least expensive iPhone you'll find through Apple on its online store. And yet, in your search for the best iPhone, you might want to factor in more than price.

iPhone SE (2022) vs. iPhone 12

What's your trade-in?

Whether through Apple or a third-party, you have plenty of options when it comes to trading in an older iPhone for something new. For example, Apple is currently offering up to $650 on various iPhone models going back to the iPhone 8.

Let's be conservative and assume you can only get $150 for your trade-in. That puts you within striking distance of both the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini, both still being offered after first being announced in 2020.

Look for discounts on older models

Don't have a trade-in? You can still find steep discounts on older flagship iPhones that, once again, would push the price near or below that of the latest iPhone SE. Once again, we're talking about the Phone 12 or iPhone 12 mini here, but there are also discounts occasionally now on the iPhone 13 series — although probably not enough to match the price of the iPhone SE (2022).

Why shouldn't I buy the iPhone SE (2022)?

There's nothing inherently wrong with the iPhone SE (2022). If you're a fan of Touch ID and want a 4.7-inch display, it's the only choice available. However, if you want to stretch your budget, you might find the better option is to go with the iPhone 12 or iPhone 12 mini.

Let's look at six key elements and see which iPhone comes out on top.

iPhone 12 Magsafe Charger

iPhone 12 Magsafe Charger (Image credit: iMore)

Processor

The iPhone SE (2022), like the iPhone 13 series, comes with the industry-leading A15 Bionic processor compared to the iPhone 12's A14 Bionic processor. It's an important difference. And yet, unless you plan on being a heavy mobile gamer, it might mean very little in your situation.

Advantage: iPhone SE (2022)

Battery life

Don't you hate when your iPhone battery dies? With the iPhone 12, you'll get up to 17 hours of video playback between charges versus 15 hours on the iPhone SE (2022). That's two more hours to enjoy your favorite series on Apple TV+ or Netflix.

Advantage: iPhone 12

Charging capabilities

Adding juice to the iPhone's battery is much more convenient on the iPhone 12 series, which supports MagSafe accessories and wireless chargers. The iPhone SE (2022) offers none of this.

Advantage: iPhone 12

Display

When comparing the displays found on the iPhone SE (2022) and iPhone 12, there's more to the story than screen size. The displays found on the iPhone 12 (6.1-inches) and iPhone 12 mini (5.4-inches) aren't just bigger than the one of the iPhone SE (2022) (4.7-inches). They're also better. The iPhone 12 offers an OLED Super Retina XDR display compared to the LCD Retina HD display found on the iPhone SE (2022). That means more pixel resolution, more robust contrast ratio, and better brightness. Those displays are also stronger with a Ceramic Shield front.

Advantage: iPhone 12 — unless you are set on a smaller display.

Camera specs

Some folks primarily purchase an iPhone to take photos and videos. Even though the iPhone 12 series is nearly 1 1/2 years older than the iPhone SE (2022), it's the former that stands out the most.

Consider that the iPhone 12 comes with a dual 12MP camera system (Wide and Ultra Wide) with Night mode and 2x optical zoom out. This compares to the iPhone SE (2022)'s single 12MP camera system (Wide only), no Night mode, and no optical zoom out. The older phone also offers HDR video recording with Dolby Vision up to 4K at 30 fps and Audio zoom. On the front-facing camera, the iPhone 12 again comes out on top. It offers 12MP photos versus the iPhone SE's 7MP.

Advantage: iPhone 12

Face ID

The iPhone SE having Touch ID over Face ID found on Apple's flagship devices isn't just about authentication. With the latter, you also get facial recognition, Animoji, and Memoji.

Advantage: iPhone 12

iPhone SE (2022)

Apple Iphonese Hero 3up (Image credit: Apple)

Water resistance

The iPhone 12 series laps the newer iPhone when it comes to water resistance. The former offers resistance to a depth of six meters for up to 30 minutes. The iPhone SE (2022) only provides protection to a depth of one meter for up to 30 minutes.

Advantage: iPhone 12

Audio

It's also important to note the iPhone 12 series provides spatial audio playback and support for Dolby Atmos. On the iPhone SE (2022), you only get stereo.

Advantage: iPhone 12

Price

This brings us to the price. Without discounts, there is no doubt you'll pay more for an iPhone 12 or iPhone 12 mini versus the iPhone SE (2022). However, because the iPhone 12 is older, there are discounts, especially through Apple resellers.

Advantage: iPhone SE (2022)

iPhone SE (2022) vs. iPhone 12: Not a simple choice

As you can see, buying the latest iPhone isn't necessary the best way to go, at least when it comes to the all-new iPhone SE (2022). Hopefully, this quick read will help you make a better informed choice.

Bryan M Wolfe
Staff Writer

Bryan M. Wolfe has written about technology for over a decade on various websites, including TechRadar, AppAdvice, and many more. Before this, he worked in the technology field across different industries, including healthcare and education. He’s currently iMore’s lead on all things Mac and macOS, although he also loves covering iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. Bryan enjoys watching his favorite sports teams, traveling, and driving around his teenage daughter to her latest stage show, audition, or school event in his spare time. He also keeps busy walking his black and white cocker spaniel, Izzy, and trying new coffees and liquid grapes.

1 Comment
  • iPhone12mini is the better choise all along. Or an iPhone 8 refurbished if you are on a tight budget.