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iPhone 12 vs. iPhone 12 Pro: Which Should You Buy?

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iPhone 12 vs. iPhone 12 Pro: Which Should You Buy?

Assortmens of iPhones being splashed with water.

Apple’s new iPhone 12 lineup represents a major leap for the world’s most popular smartphone. Not only is the new iPhone 5G-ready, but it features the new MagSafe technology, and a new razor-thin design. But while the iPhone 12 is visibly different from its predecessor, it’s hard to tell apart from the iPhone 12 Pro. Which should you buy?

You Don’t Need to Pay Extra to Enjoy Your iPhone 12

Apple’s approach to the iPhone 12 lineup is simple yet effective. Each device contains the same A14 processor and 5G wireless chip, ensuring that performance is identical between the $700 iPhone Mini and the $1,100 Pro Max.

In other words, the “core” experience doesn’t change from phone to phone. You won’t feel shafted after buying the standard iPhone 12 … although you might regret your purchase if you’re a big fan of photography. That’s because the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max, while not providing any leap in performance, offer incremental camera, display, and battery upgrades. These upgrades include Night Mode, a LiDAR sensor, and a slight boost in display brightness, among other things.

For many people, especially photographers and videographers, the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max improvements are monumental. But the average person may never notice (or care) that the Pro phones have 4K 60 FPS HDR recording or an improved optical zoom. These features exist for professionals and enthusiasts, which is why Apple relegates them to top-of-the-line iPhone models.

Keep this information in mind as you compare the iPhone 12 and the 12 Pro, especially if you’re on a budget. Some Pro-exclusive features like Night Mode may push you to spend that extra $200, but there’s no reason to crack open your piggy bank for features that you don’t really care about.

iPhone 12 and 12 Mini: More for Less!

A photo of the iPhone 12
Apple

For most people, the standard iPhone 12 and 12 Mini are the way to go. They have all the new features you’re excited about, including 5G, MagSafe, and a cutting-edge OLED HDR display. Old selling-points like Face ID and the IP68 water-resistance rating also make an appearance, so you won’t lose any features upgrading from your iPhone 11 (or older)  to the new iPhone 12.

Here are all the new features available on the iPhone 12 and 12 Mini. These features carry over to the more expensive 12 Pro and Pro Max, so get familiar with them now!

  • A New Design: The iPhone 12 is just 7.4mm thick, thanks to its new flat-edged “slab” design.
  • A More Robust Screen: It has a “Ceramic Shield” screen that’s 4x more drop-resistant than previous iPhone screens.
  • MagSafe for Everyone: The iPhone 12 lineup features MagSafe technology—an internal magnet that lets you attach wireless chargers, cases, wallets, car mounts, and other accessories directly to your phone.
  • mmWave 5G: All new iPhones offer mmWave 5G, which is the fastest form of the new 5G wireless standard. Previous iPhones lacked 5G connectivity, and only “premium” Android phones pack lightning-fast mmWave 5G.
  • Minor Camera Updates: The iPhone 12 and 12 Mini have a two-camera array that’s similar to the iPhone 11. The big change here is the improved 1.6 aperture Wide camera with True-Tone Flash. The iPhone 12 and 12 Mini can also record at 4K 30FPS with Dolby Vision HDR.
  • The Best iPhone Display Ever: Apple packed the iPhone 12 with an amazing OLED HDR display. It’s the first iPhone to feature such technology. The iPhone 12 is also brighter than previous iPhones, hitting 625 nits during typical use and 1200 nits with HDR.

The iPhone 12 is clearly an incredible phone and a significant improvement on last year’s iPhone 11. Even if you’re a big camera nerd, this thing hits most of the marks. It only falls short when you get into the realm of night photography and hardcore photo editing—that’s where the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max come in.

Need help choosing between the iPhone 12 and 12 Mini? They have the exact same specs, so it’s all about screen size and price. The basic iPhone 12 is a comfortable 6.1 inches, which is just slightly larger than last year’s iPhone 11. The iPhone 12 Mini is a tiny 5.4 inches, which will feel small if you’re upgrading from any device made after the iPhone 8.

iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max: Better Cameras and Displays

A photo of the iPhone 12 Pro and the iPhone 12 Pro Max.
Apple

The iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max are all about premium features and premium design. They may have the same processor as the basic iPhone 12, but their improved cameras, display, and battery should appeal to professionals, hobbyists, and tech nerds.

Here are all the exclusive features that come with iPhone 12 Pro devices:

  • Premium Look and Feel: The 12 Pro and Pro Max feature a steel frame and a satin back for a premium look and feel. They also come in an exclusive gold color, although they aren’t available in red or green.
  • Night Mode: Night Mode is the big feature that separates the cheaper iPhone 12 from its Pro and Pro Max counterparts. If you plan to take a lot of low-light photos, spring for the Pro.
  • LiDAR: A new LiDAR scanner expands the iPhone’s AR capabilities. It also makes autofocus 6x faster in night mode—a major improvement over the iPhone 11 Pro.
  • Better Telephoto Zoom: The 12 Pro telephoto lens packs 4x optical zoom, while the Pro Max pushes things even further with 5x optical zoom. For reference, the basic iPhone 12 and Mini are stuck with 2x optical zoom. (Optical zoom retains the quality of an image, which is why its so much better than digital zoom.)
  • Recording: The iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max can record video at 4K 60 FPS with Dolby Vision HDR. It’s an incredible perk, although these massive videos will eat away at your phone’s storage if you don’t transfer them to an external drive, iCloud, or Dropbox.
  • Apple ProRAW: The ProRAW codec lets you eek more detail from photos shot with the iPhone 12 Pro or Pro Max. This is one of those features that most appeals to professionals and hobbyists, although it’s quite useful if you like to edit your photos.
  • Bigger Battery: According to Apple, the iPhone 12 Pro can withstand 17 hours of video playback before needing a charge. The 12 Pro Max pushes things further, reaching 20 hours before dying. (The basic 12 and 12 Mini reach 15 hours of video playback.)
  • Display Improvements: The iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max have slightly brighter displays than the basic iPhone 12, hitting 800 nits during typical usage and 1200 nits with HDR.

It’s worth mentioning that the iPhone 12 Pro has a 6.1-inch display—the same size as the basic iPhone 12. If you want something bigger, then you gotta shell out for the iPhone 12 Pro Max, which is the biggest iPhone of all time at a honkin’ 6.7 inches. The Pro Max also has a 47% larger wide-angle lens than its little siblings, along with sensor-shift image stabilization for ultimate low-light photography.

Again, all iPhone 12 models pack the same processor, 5G chip, and MagSafe capabilities. They all provide the same “core” experience and represent a significant leap from the iPhone 11 lineup. The differences between each iPhone 12 model are incremental, and may not matter to you unless you’re an enthusiast or professional.

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