iPhone 13 vs. iPhone 12: Which should you buy?

These two iPhones, though no longer the newest on the market, are still exceptional devices. They are quite similar, boasting lots of power and offering most of the same functions. However, they do have some stark differences that may sway your choice when choosing one or the other.

While the iPhone 13 is definitely one of the best iPhones you can buy, the iPhone 12 is still a good phone for a lot of people. After all, not everyone absolutely needs every shiny new toy. However, the iPhone 13 definitely has a lot of solid upgrades that make it a better choice if you don't mind spending a little extra dough.

iPhone 13 vs. iPhone 12: Breaking it down

While the iPhone 13 and iPhone 12 look similar on the surface, a lot of the minute differences come from the new camera system. Of course, there are other things too, like the new A15 Bionic chip over last year's A14, as well as better battery life.

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Header Cell - Column 0 iPhone 13iPhone 12
DesignCeramic Shield front + Aerospace-grade aluminumCeramic Shield front + Aerospace-grade aluminum
ColorsStarlight, Midnight, Pink, Blue, PRODUCT(RED)Purple, Blue, Green, PRODUCT(RED), White, Black
ProcessorA15 Bionic chip6-core CPU with 2 performance and 4 efficiency cores4-core GPU16-core Neural EngineA14 Bionic chip6-core CPU with 2 performance and 4 efficiency cores4-core GPU16-core Neural Engine
Display6.1‑inch OLED Super Retina XDR display6.1‑inch OLED Super Retina XDR display
CameraDual lens 12-megapixel wide and 12MP ultra wide rear, 12MP TrueDepth frontDual lens 12-megapixel wide and 12MP ultra wide rear, 12MP TrueDepth front
Camera ApertureWide: ƒ/1.6 apertureUltra Wide: ƒ/2.4 apertureWide: ƒ/1.6 apertureUltra Wide: ƒ/2.4 aperture
Camera Zoom2x optical zoom outDigital zoom up to 5x2x optical zoom range2x optical zoom outDigital zoom up to 5x2x optical zoom range
Storage128GB, 256GB, 512 GB64GB, 128GB, 256GB
BatteryUp to 19 hours video playbackUp to 17 hours video playback
IP ratingIP68IP68
Cinematic modeYesNo
Photographic StylesYesNo
Size and weight5.78 x 2.82 x 0.30 inches, 174g5.78 x 2.82 x 0.29 inches, 164g

When the iPhone 12 originally came out in 2020, it surprised many people. We ended up with a new flat edge design that harkens back to the iPhone 5 days, MagSafe accessory compatibility, and 5G support.

For the most part, these things have carried over to the iPhone 13 as well, but things start to differ mostly when it comes to the camera. After all, the Sensor-shift optical image stabilization (OIS) that debuted exclusively with the iPhone 12 Pro Max has now made its way into the entire iPhone 13 lineup, among other things.

iPhone 13 vs. iPhone 12: Big advances

Since the iPhone 12 is 2020's model, it's using the older A14 Bionic chip. With iPhone 13, we now have the faster A15 Bionic, with a new 6-Core CPU that packs in two high-performance cores and four efficiency cores. The end result is an iPhone that is 50% faster than the competition, including its own predecessor. It even has a 4-core GPU that gives you 30% faster graphical power. In short, the iPhone 13 is the fastest iPhone yet.

The other big difference lays within the camera system. While the iPhone 13 still retains a dual camera like the iPhone 12, the configuration is now diagonal instead of vertical. The iPhone 13 also has Sensor-shift OIS (instead of the regular optical image stabilization), which originally debuted with the iPhone 12 Pro Max only. This means that the camera sensor is stabilized rather than the lens, which provides better image stability and improved photo quality. The iPhone 13 is also capable of Smart HDR 4 instead of Smart HDR 3, so your photos come out brighter and more vibrant, skin tones look more realistic, and just a higher quality overall.

On top of that, the iPhone 13 includes Apple's new Cinematic mode for video, which lets you record people, pets, and objects with a depth-of-field effect like in Portrait mode. But Cinematic mode keeps the subject in focus automatically at all times, even if they're moving, and you can adjust the focus point and bokeh even after capture. Cinematic mode works with Dolby Vision HDR, and you can record 4K up to 60FPS.

There is also the new Photographic Styles feature, which allows you to selectively apply adjustments to certain areas while preserving colors elsewhere, like skin tones. These styles get saved based on your preferences and may be applied to all future photos.

On top of all that, the iPhone 13 has a slightly larger battery, so you get about 2.5 hours more than the iPhone 12. It also starts at 128GB of storage, going up to 512GB, while the iPhone 12 base begins at a measly 64GB and only goes up to 256GB.

iPhone 13 vs. iPhone 12: Which should you buy?

Iphone 13 Colors

(Image credit: Apple)

For most people, it's pretty clear that the iPhone 13 is the better choice at this point. From the A15 Bionic chip to the improved dual camera system, longer battery life, and even increased storage, it's the more advanced camera. And if you often use your iPhone for photography, the Cinematic mode and Photographic Styles are great tools to have in your arsenal. Plus, it now comes in pink!

The only way to get a more advanced smartphone would be to order the soon-to-be-released iPhone 14

However, if you like to save some money and get discounts, and don't particularly need the new bells and whistles, the iPhone 12 is still a great phone. It will last at least several years, runs iOS 15 perfectly, and will run iOS 16 just as well — plus it's no chump when it comes to mobile photography. 

Christine Chan

Christine Romero-Chan was formerly a Senior Editor for iMore. She has been writing about technology, specifically Apple, for over a decade at a variety of websites. She is currently part of the Digital Trends team, and has been using Apple’s smartphone since the original iPhone back in 2007. While her main speciality is the iPhone, she also covers Apple Watch, iPad, and Mac when needed. When she isn’t writing about Apple, Christine can often be found at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, as she is a passholder and obsessed with all things Disney, especially Star Wars. Christine also enjoys coffee, food, photography, mechanical keyboards, and spending as much time with her new daughter as possible.