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Which new iPhone 12 should you buy?

Four iPhones may be too much to choose from. Here's our guide on which iPhone 12 you should buy.

Apple launched its new iPhones at its October 13 event alongside a new HomePod mini. The Cupertino tech giant has revamped how the iPhone looks, which was due lately. It now looks more like an iPhone 4 and an iPad Pro, only thinner, which is a design that a lot of us already like and is expected to be an alluring reason for purchasing an iPhone this year.

Apple is also putting much emphasis on 5G. The cellular technology isn’t as established as you’d hope it would, but Apple’s meant to be future-proofing the iPhone 12 for when 5G gets better. With 5G, Apple says your iPhone 12 can reach speeds up to 4Gbps, which is more than the bandwidth in most households. However, there is one big asterisk when it comes to 5G on the iPhone 12. Only the US models feature the mmWave antenna, which is the 5G band that can achieve the aforementioned speed.

Everyone else outside of the US will have no choice but to make amends with sub 6GHz 5G bands, which are considerably slower than mmWave and offer very little improvement in speed coming from 4G. This may largely be because a lot of countries haven’t yet adopted mmWave 5G bands that can meet Apple’s standards. And Apple simply could have faced regulatory hurdles in the rest.

That said, Apple has launched four new iPhones varying in screen size and functionality. This is the first time that an iPhone lineup can fit everyone’s needs. It starts with the 5.4-inch iPhone 12 mini which is the tiniest of them all. Then, there’s the 6.1-inch iPhone 12 which has all the same specs as the iPhone 12 mini (except for a bigger size and a bigger battery). Finally, there is the 6.1-inch iPhone 12 Pro and the gigantic 6.7-inch iPhone 12 Pro Max which feature premium material and better cameras.

That said, while the diverse range of iPhone 12s means that there’s a phone for everyone, it also means choosing among the four is confusing. Don’t worry, though, by the end of this story, you’ll have a clear understanding of what you want.

iPhone 12 mini

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The iPhone 12 mini is Apple’s latest small iPhone. In fact, it’s the smallest modern smartphone there is. It’s hard to digest that there aren’t any other small smartphone offerings out there. But that makes Apple the only manufacturer that does that.

The iPhone 12 mini, despite having a smaller form factor as compared to today’s standards, has an adequately sized display at 5.4-inches, which is equivalent to the iPhone 8 Plus’ display. This has been made possible by reductions in the bezels around the display and slapping on a notch.

This means that even if you are skeptical about the experience on a smaller phone, the 5.4-inch display will make up for that. By contrast, if you’re someone who outright loves a smaller form factor, I’m happy to report that a better phone does not exist. But, there are bigger questions to ask if you’re intending to buy the iPhone 12 mini.

Even though it has a large display, the overall form factor is still smaller than the standard. This means that the battery inside is also small. While Apple does optimize the software to mitigate the rapid battery drain, it has been found to be insufficient for daily life usage in the past. Apple does not share specific battery capacity for its devices, but the iPhone 12 mini is expected to be able to playback video for up to 15 hours and playback streamed video for up to 10 hours as compared to the iPhone 12’s 17 and 11 hours of playback respectively.

The battery statistics provided by Apple seem impressive for a device as small as the iPhone 12 mini. However, these are just metrics for how long you could play or stream a video on the device. Real-life usage is much different and we’ll only be able to find out how it fares once early reviews come in.

Apart from that, the iPhone 12 mini has a new design that you’ll love. It may remind you of the iPhone 5S more than the iPhone 4 because of its streamlined look. But it’s a great look. The iPhone 12 mini is available in five colors including black, white, green, red, and blue.

It runs the A14 Bionic processor that is Apple’s latest SoC for the iPhone and is also the first chip that is manufactured using a 5nm process. Benchmarks reveal it offers a 20-25% increase in performance as compared to the A13 Bionic chips in the iPhone 11 series. The iPhone 12 mini also has 4 GB of RAM, while the Pro models feature 6 GB.

One thing that—if you don’t know already—you should know is that you can never judge an iPhone’s performance simply by looking at the spec sheet. And performance is a mere tenet of that notion. In any case, you won’t find any problems in terms of performance since last year’s A13 chip was years ahead of other chips in the market and the A14 Bionic only attempts to further that.

Your apps will feel snappy, photo and video editing will become a breeze, and you’ll certainly enjoy gaming despite the smaller display.

Speaking of the display, the iPhone 12 mini has an OLED display just like the Pro models. There’s a tiny, unnoticeable difference, though: the Pros have a 10-bit color OLED display while the iPhone 12 mini and the iPhone 12 have an 8-bit color display. Either way, you’re going to love the display since OLEDs are well-known for their darker blacks and deeper whites, forming a great contrast ratio; making content appear crisp and clear.

The iPhone 12 mini has a dual 12MP camera system on the back: a wide-angle camera and an ultra-wide-angle camera. The lower-end iPhone 11 that launched last year did not support Night Mode and Deep Fusion, which are Apple’s software-based improvements to the camera. However, this year’s lower-end phones support Night Mode and Deep Fusion.

The wide-angle lens on the iPhone 12 mini has an f/1.6 aperture, which is wider than last year’s lens on the iPhone 11. A wider aperture means better low-light photography but affects depth of field. However, Apple is applying its computational photography science in the iPhone 12 to get improved results.

When it comes to video, the iPhone 12 mini lets you capture HDR video in Dolby Vision while also letting you edit it seamlessly right in the Photos application.

In all, the iPhone 12 mini is the best smallest phone you can get. It costs $699 and will be available for preorder on November 6.

iPhone 12

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I’m going to say this upfront. The iPhone 12 is the iPhone you should buy this year. It has the exact same design and feature set as the iPhone 12 mini, except for a bigger battery and a bigger display.

If battery life is what you hold dear the most, neither of the lower-end iPhone 12 models offer an improvement over the iPhone 11 series launched last year. In fact, it’s a downgrade. The iPhone 12 has a battery capacity of 2,815 mAh which is around 10 percent less than the 3,110 mAh battery in the iPhone 11.

Although, 10 percent is quite less of a downgrade, and Apple must’ve made some improvements in efficiency to improve the actual usage times. Nevertheless, we cannot come to a conclusion without testing the battery in-hand first.

The iPhone 12 also has the same camera array as the iPhone 12 mini. Its screen size is 6.1-inches, which is the same as the iPhone 12 Pro. The bigger display is key here. Now that even the lower-end models have an OLED display, which is known for its excellent contrast and efficiency, you’ll be able to enjoy content like games and movies better on a 6.1-inch screen rather than a 5.4-inch screen of the iPhone 12 mini.

Other than the size of the display and the capacity of the battery, everything else is exactly the same. You’ll, however, have to cash out $799 as opposed to $699 for the iPhone 12 mini.

iPhone 12 Pro

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We’re now in the Pro range of the iPhone 12 lineup. Despite the moniker, there are very few Pro-like aspects that the iPhone 12 Pro offers. It’s as if Apple’s trying too hard to differentiate its Pro models from its regular models. For that cause, the Pro models do offer some improvements over non-pro models, but they aren’t valuable enough to make you spend extra dollars.

First off, the biggest difference between the lower-end iPhone 12 models and the iPhone 12 Pro is the camera array. The latter has three cameras in the back—a wide-angle lens, an ultrawide lens, and a telephoto lens. The wide-angle lens is a new seven-element lens that will contribute to improvement in the overall quality of photos. The wide-angle lens also has a new f/1.6 aperture which Apple says provides “27 percent improved low-light performance in photo and video.”

The ultrawide camera has a 120-degree field of view while the Telephoto camera is upgraded with a lens that has a focal length of 52mm to provide 4x optical zoom as opposed to only 2x optical zoom on the iPhone 11 Pro.

The iPhone 12 Pro models also have a LiDAR scanner which will help in capturing portrait mode shots during low-light conditions, which is something that’s not possible with the non-Pro iPhone 12 models. Other than that, the LiDAR scanner is also supposed to help with better depth mapping and augmented reality capabilities. Apple introduced the tech first in the iPad Pro 2020 earlier this year. The latest iPhones getting it too was simply inevitable.

There’s one more thing that Apple’s only reserving for the Pro cameras. It’s ProRAW, which is Apple’s own moniker for RAW photos on the iPhone. You will be able to both capture and edit RAW photos right on your iPhone, which is to agree, indeed a Pro feature. However, it attracts a little audience.

There’s a slight change in the Pro lineup this year that may significantly affect your purchase decision. More on that ahead.

As for the design, the iPhone 12 Pro has stainless steel edges as compared to the aluminum edges on the non-Pro iPhone 12s. However, I’ve got to admit that I’m not a fan of the glossy finish that the Pro models offer on the edges. They seem a bit gaudy. But hey, it’s just my opinion. Design, as it’s said, is subjective.

The back on the iPhone 12 Pro is similar to last year’s iPhone 11 Pro models, having a frosted glass finish. It’s slightly more slippery than the glossy glass back on the non-Pro models, but you will love it because of its royal look.

The iPhone 12 Pro has the same battery capacity as the iPhone 12 Pro. But the display is a tad better since it supports 10-bit color depth as opposed to 8-bit color depth on the non-Pro models. Either way, you won’t be able to notice the difference yourself.

Performance on the iPhone 12 Pro models will also be a tad better than the non-Pro models. This is because the Pro models have 6 GB of RAM while the non-Pro models sport only 4 GB, as I mentioned previously. It is speculated that the extra 2 GB RAM on the Pro models is to support the ProRAW feature, which may require it. However, it’s certain that the extra memory will also aid other aspects of usage. For instance, apps will be able to stay in memory longer.

Nevertheless, you won’t feel much difference in daily-life usage. Apple’s RAM management on the iPhone is often top-notch, leaving very little room for error.

The iPhone 12 Pro is available starting at $999, which is the same price as the iPhone 11 Pro. Although, this time, Apple has upped the base storage capacity to 128 GB for the Pro models, which is quite a decent value.

The iPhone 12 Pro, moreover, comes in four color options: graphite, pacific blue, silver, and gold.

iPhone 12 Pro Max

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The iPhone 12 Pro Max, for the first time in Apple’s Pro lineup of devices, offers improvements over the smaller iPhone 12 Pro. Its screen is a gargantuan 6.7-inches tall meaning if you want the absolute best iPhone this year, you’ll have to make amends with a larger screen.

Speaking of the improvements that separate the iPhone 12 Pro Max from the iPhone 12 Pro, first, it has a larger screen as mentioned above. A larger screen means games and entertainment-focused content is more enjoyable. It also means that you’ll have a hard time carrying it in your pocket or using it with one hand, especially now that the edges are squared.

Then, there’s the camera. Yes, the iPhone 12 Pro Max has a better camera than the iPhone 12 Pro this year. It has a 65mm focal length Telephoto camera that offers optical zoom up to 5x. Moreover, the wide-angle camera on the Pro Max has a special optical image stabilizer that improves video quality. The iPhone 11 Pro OIS is already fantastic. The iPhone 12 Pro Max improves upon that.

Due to the larger size, you can expect the iPhone 12 Pro Max to have a larger battery. In the past, the Pro Max models had the highest battery capacity of the entire lineup and would last more than a day. Similar battery life is expected from the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

Everything else is exactly the same as compared to the iPhone 12 Pro Max. So, it all boils down to the slightly improved camera performance and battery life. The question you need to ask is, “do I want to spend $100 extra on a gigantic phone (as compared to the iPhone 12 Pro) for a minimally better camera and slightly longer battery life?”

The answer may vary from person to person, but there’s no doubt that the iPhone 12 Pro Max is objectively the best iPhone there is. Ultimately, though, the thing that matters is what’s best for you.

The iPhone 12 Pro Max starts at $1,099 for 128 GB storage capacity. It’s available in the same four colors as the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

Final Thoughts

As smartphones become mature and begin taking new forms (foldable, flippable, swiveling), it’s hard to innovate while sticking to the traditional candy bar form factor. While the new iPhones may look like enlarged versions of the iPhone 5, they are a decent upgrade for someone who has been using an old iPhone or any other phone, for that matter.

That said, if you are coming from the iPhone 11 lineup, I think you shouldn’t upgrade yet as the iPhone 12 does not offer much except for a new design, 5G, and improved cameras.

However, if you are coming from an older iPhone, you may want to hop on the new design, improved performance, and enhanced camera quality. Still, making a decision is tough when you have to choose between four iPhones that are similar in many aspects.

It all boils down to this: if you want a small iPhone, or if you’re on a budget and want an iPhone, you should opt for the iPhone 12 mini. If you want the optimal iPhone experience, you should go for the iPhone 12. If you want an advanced camera with ProRAW functionality and a slightly premium design (although, that’s subjective), but don’t want an oversized phone, go for the iPhone 12 Pro. Lastly, if you want the best iPhone there is and are not scared by the humongous form factor, opt for the iPhone 12 Pro Max.