No. 1 for many reasons
The best iPhone of the year, the iPhone 12 features Apple's next-generation A14 Bionic chip and works with 5G networks, where available. Like other handsets in the iPhone 12 series, it works with MagSafe accessories and wireless chargers. And look at those color choices!
- A14 Bionic chip
- New MagSafe accessories
- Super Retina XDR OLED display with HDR
- 5G network compatible
- It's much more expensive
- Same storage options
The iPhone SE offers iPhone 11 performance into an iPhone 8 form factor for a lower price. Its smaller size makes the iPhone SE great for one-handed use, something that Apple's more modern phones tend to miss. Its three color choices don't hide its dated design, however.
- Performance like the more expensive iPhone 11
- Great for one-handed use
- Poor battery life against the competition
- Only one camera
- Dated design
These two iPhones were released just months apart in 2020. And yet, there are many differences between the first new iPhone SE in four years and Apple's current flagship model. For most buyers, the choice is clear, as you'll see below.
iPhone 12 vs iPhone SE (2020): Breaking it down ...
When people talk about Apple, iPhone, and 2020, they tend to forget the iPhone SE (2020) was also released during the year. In this case, it arrived months before the four handsets that make up the iPhone 12 series. Featuring a dated (but popular) design, the 4.7-inch iPhone SE (2020) is Apple's current budget phone, starting at $100 less than the still-available iPhone XR (2018). By contrast, the 6.1-inch iPhone 12 is Apple's current flagship. Nearly identical on the inside to the iPhone 12 mini, the iPhone 12 is a show-stopper and the best Apple handset for most people this year.
When comparing the iPhone 12 and iPhone SE (2020), the price and display size are the two most important factors to consider. On one side is Apple's latest and greatest non-Pro iPhone; on the other, a budget or starter phone that still packs a bunch.
|Header Cell - Column 0||iPhone 12||iPhone SE (2020)|
|Cost||From $799||From $399|
|Release date||October 2020||April 2020|
|Materials||Ceramic Shield front|
|Glass front and back|
|Processor||A14 Bionic||A13 Bionic|
|Display||Super Retina XDR OLED Display||Retina HD display|
|Battery||Video playback: Up to 17 hours|
Video playback (streamed): Up to 11 hours
Audio playback: Up to 65 hours
|Video playback: Up to 13 hours|
Video playback (streamed): Up to 8 hours
Audio playback: Up to 40 hour
|Water resistant||Yes, up to 6 meters for 30 minutes||Yes, up to 1 meter for 30 minutes|
|Charging||Lightning, Qi, and MagSafe Wireless Charging||Lightning, Qi|
|Rear Cameras||Ultra Wide: ƒ/2.4 aperture|
Wide: ƒ/1.6 aperture
|Wide: ƒ/1.8 aperture|
|Front Camera||TrueDepth camera|
To compare the two iPhones, it's best to first concentrate on what the extra $400 will get you with the iPhone 12. With this model, you'll get a better (i.e. faster) processor, larger (and better) display, and more color choices. There's also one extra rear camera and a slightly better front camera system. The iPhone 12 also includes Face ID, not Touch ID, and supports Apple's new MagSafe charging system. The iPhone 12 also supports 5G, offers better battery life and water resistance.
The iPhone SE (2020) does go toe-to-toe with the iPhone 12 in some ways, however. Both, for example, feature an aerospace-grade aluminum body and offer the same storage options. Fast Charging is also available on both models.
You should buy the iPhone 12 if ...
The iPhone 12 is the best Apple handset for most people. It includes the hottest features to arrive on the overall iPhone 12 series (MagSafe charging, a ceramic shield front, A14 Bionic) without going overboard.
You should buy the iPhone SE (2020) if ...
When money is a serious concern, or you're looking for a starter iPhone (perhaps for your teenager), go with the iPhone SE (2020). Less than a year old, this model includes the same internals as the iPhone 11 in a smaller package for much less money. It also features an iconic design that's missing from other iPhones. Plus, there's no denying it's one of the easiest iPhones to carry — with one hand.
The latest and greatest
The iPhone 12 features 5G, MagSafe, a Super Retina XDR display, and must-have camera components. It also supports the MagSafe charging system and offers superior battery life.
A low-cost powerhouse
It's a tinier iPhone 11 for less.
The Apple handset looks like an iPhone 8 but has the power of an iPhone 11. Easy to use with one hand, the iPhone SE (2020) is a terrific handset for newbies and those looking to save lots of cash.
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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.