Apple’s newest lineup of iPhones is here, and you have more choices than ever. But more options means more confusion. If you’re unsure which iPhone 12 to buy (or you’re just curious), we’re going to break them all down so you can move on to more important things in life.
*Updated November 2020: We’ve added links to our iPhone 12 Mini and Pro Max reviews, and have tweaked some of the offers from carriers. So far we haven’t seen any Black Friday deals on iPhones, and we’d be surprised if any major discounts emerged on the new models.
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Do You Need a New iPhone?
Probably not! If you have an iPhone 11 or iPhone 11 Pro, the 2019 models, you do not need to upgrade unless something is seriously wrong with your device (and it can’t be repaired by Apple). The iPhone 12 range introduces some new technologies, but there’s nothing that will drastically change your experience. This holds true if you have the 2018 iPhone XS or iPhone XR, too.
With older iPhone models, chances are your biggest problem is that your battery life has started to deteriorate. Consider getting a replacement battery. Your iPhone might feel like it’s brand-new afterward.
Which iPhone 12 Is Right for You?
There are now four iPhones to choose from: The iPhone 12 Mini, iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro, and iPhone 12 Pro Max. Apple has brought its Super Retina XDR (OLED) displays to every single model and has bumped up the resolution of the non-Pro models. They all have the same powerful A14 Bionic processor, Ceramic Shield glass protecting the display, Face ID, compatibility with the new MagSafe accessory system, wireless charging, and the same level of IP68 water resistance.
5G connectivity is a big selling point of these new iPhones, but don’t get hyped. 5G availability is still sparse in the US and doesn’t offer all that much over 4G LTE (yet). Read our 5G guide to learn more. You can use Apple’s comparison tool to see the differences between the models yourself.
iPhone 12 ($829): This is the iPhone to get. It has the same 6.1-inch screen size and the same resolution as the iPhone 12 Pro, and the OLED panel means you get more vibrant colors and deeper blacks than with the LCD on the iPhone 11. There’s the usual main and ultrawide cameras, and both now work with Apple’s Night mode to brighten images up in low light. It also lets you shoot in 4K HDR at 30 frames per second, giving videos a broader range of colors. The battery will mostly get you through a full day but not much more. Read our review.
iPhone 12 Mini ($729): If you hate that phones have become so big, you’ll want the Mini. Its 5.4-inch display is larger than the iPhone SE Apple debuted earlier this year, but it is shorter and less wide than the SE or any iPhone before the 6. That said, Apple has managed to stuff every iPhone 12 feature into this phone. There are some compromises—the battery will barely last a full day, and the speakers sound tinny. Also, it might feel cramped for typing or watching movies. Read our review.
iPhone 12 Pro ($999): The upgrades in the Pro over the regular iPhone aren’t as great as in previous years, but there are some enticing features for people who snap a lot of photos and videos, especially if you don’t want a big phone like the Pro Max. First, you get the extra 2X optical zoom camera to give you more versatility in your photography. Second, and perhaps most important, is the addition of a lidar scanner. It speeds up autofocus in low light and enables Night Mode portraits. There’s support coming for Apple’s ProRAW format, which allows you to snap pics in a RAW format while also utilizing Apple’s computational photography. It’s capable of HDR video recording up to 60 frames per second, and it comes with a default of 128 gigabytes of storage as opposed to 64 GB on the other two. This phone is also made of stainless steel, which is a notch above the aluminum build of the cheaper iPhones, but battery life is about the same as the regular iPhone 12, lasting about a full day. Read our review.
iPhone 12 Pro Max ($1,099): If you really want the best camera system from Apple, get the Pro Max. It shares most of the same specs as the Pro but with a larger 6.7-inch screen and battery. It goes a step further with an image sensor that’s 47 percent bigger for the main camera, meaning it produces slightly sharper and noise-free low-light photos. It also uses the company’s new sensor-shift stabilization tech for the main camera, which aids in keeping your photos blur-free and videos looking smooth. Even the telephoto zoom camera is different, offering 2.5X optical zoom to get you closer to your subject. It’s for big-phone lovers and shutterbugs, plus the battery easily lasts more than a day. Read our review.
These aren’t the only iPhones Apple sells. See our Best iPhones guide. You should also know that Apple no longer includes EarPods or a power adapter in the box. These new iPhones come with a USB-C to Lightning cable, so if you do not have an adapter with a USB-C port (like the one for MacBooks), you’ll need to buy one. We like this Aukey one. It’s small yet powerful enough to juice up your laptop and your phone, but if you want something even smaller and cheaper, this is a good option from Anker.
A Word on Cases
Most case manufacturers (except Otterbox) do not have MagSafe-compatible cases yet. If you buy Apple’s MagSafe wireless charger, it will be able to recharge through most of these cases just fine, but the magnet won’t sit as securely compared to a MagSafe case.
The MagSafe Wallet from Apple also does not stay attached to most non-MagSafe cases. If you plan to buy MagSafe accessories down the road, it’s a good idea to wait for more MagSafe cases to come on the market, or you can buy one from Apple right now.
Check out our guide to the best iPhone 12 cases and accessories for more recommendations.
How to Get It Unlocked
This year’s iPhones are giving us flashbacks to the terrible times when US network carriers offered lower prices than unlocked versions. Wireless carriers want to lock your phone to their network so that you’re also locked into a long contract that makes it difficult to switch until you need a new phone. We always recommend buying the unlocked model of a phone so you never run into issues. (These models also typically have better resale value should you ever need to sell your iPhone.) You can try to trade in your existing iPhone with Apple, but the discount might not be as high as if you sell it.
The iPhone 12 Mini starts at $729 at Apple for 64 gigabytes.
The iPhone 12 starts at $829 at Apple for 64 gigabytes.
The iPhone 12 Pro starts at $999 at Apple for 128 gigabytes.
The iPhone 12 Pro Max starts at $1,099 at Apple for 128 gigabytes.
Deals on Network-Locked Phones
The big carriers are offering $30 off the iPhone 12 Mini and iPhone 12, so they’ll start at $700 and $800, respectively. You can find special promotions from all of them, and these are worth considering if you are switching to a new carrier soon or opening a new line. Just make sure to read the fine print!
AT&T is offering up to $700 off to new and existing customers if you trade in a specific phone (in good condition) and add a new line of service or upgrade to an unlimited plan. The savings come as bill credits over 30 monthly installments.
Verizon is offering a second iPhone for free. First, you’ll need to buy one of the new iPhone 12 models on monthly installments with a specific data plan, then add a new line with the same criteria. (These are credits applied to your bill over 24 months.) If you’re switching to Verizon, you can save an extra $250 with certain unlimited plans.
New customers joining T-Mobile with an eligible plan can get up to $950 off if you pay via monthly installments and trade in a qualifying device in good condition. The savings are applied via bill credits over 30 months.
Visible, which is in our Best Cheap Phone Plans list, is offering a pair of Bose Wireless Headphones if you switch to the Verizon-owned operator and port your number. Plus, you get $100 or $150 to spend, depending on the model you buy via a prepaid Mastercard virtual account (after you make two service payments). The phones cost a little more, $740 for the iPhone 12 and $858 for the iPhone 12 Pro, and there’s no 5G support on the network yet, but Visible says it’s coming in a few months (at no additional charge).
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