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Apple iPhone 12 review: Which one should I buy?

Daniel Howley
·Technology Editor
·9 min read

Apple’s (AAPL) full iPhone 12 lineup is now available for purchase, offering major differences across the board ranging from size and cameras to storage and build materials. And, naturally, you’re probably asking yourself which new iPhone you should buy.

That’s where I come in. I’m going to break down which iPhone 12 is right for your needs and what you’ll get and miss from each version. So strap in, and take notes, while I help you figure out which iPhone is the one for you.

In a nutshell, the iPhone 12 mini is great if you want extra space in your pocket. Meanwhile, the iPhone 12 is good for someone who wants a bigger screen without a much bigger price, and the iPhone 12 Pro is for someone who wants a better camera system. The 12 Pro Max is for the person who wants it all and more.

Graphic credit: David Foster/Yahoo Finance
Graphic credit: David Foster/Yahoo Finance

iPhone 12 mini — For the person who thinks smaller is better

Apple’s $699 iPhone 12 mini is a pint-size powerhouse. It’s got the same A14 Bionic processor that’s found across the lineup, but packs it into a body that’s even smaller than the $399 iPhone SE. Despite that, the iPhone 12 mini offers a larger display, at 5.4 inches, than the SE’s 4.7-inch panel.

Apple managed to do this by stretching the screen all the way to the phone’s edges and doing away with the traditional Home button as it has done for the past several generations. The iPhone 12 mini’s larger display size means you’ll be able to see more content on screen at once than on the SE, whether that’s text from a news article or a better viewing experience while watching Netflix.

The iPhone 12 mini is a pint-size smartphone with all of the power of its larger siblings. (Image: Daniel Howley)
The iPhone 12 mini is a pint-size smartphone with all of the power of its larger siblings. (Image: Daniel Howley)

As for display type, the iPhone 12 mini gets the same Super Retina XDR display found across the entire iPhone 12 lineup, so you’re not missing out on color or quality by going for the smaller size.

Speaking of which, at just 4.76 ounces, the mini is lighter than any other iPhone 12 and even the SE. It’s a difference that’s certainly easy to notice whether that’s while holding the phone or carrying it in your pocket. And for people who are interested in a compact device, that’s a huge win.

The iPhone 12 mini also gets the same camera setup as the standard iPhone 12, complete with wide-angle and ultra-wide angle lenses and Apple’s night mode, which allows you to capture quality images in low-light settings like never before. Images shot on the iPhone 12 mini offered crisp details and vibrant colors. And night shots look fabulous, though your subject needs to stand still to prevent blurring.

The iPhone 12 mini gets a dual-camera system with ultra-wide angle and wide-angle lenses. (Image: Daniel Howley)
The iPhone 12 mini gets a dual-camera system with ultra-wide angle and wide-angle lenses. (Image: Daniel Howley)

Storage for the mini starts at 64GB and can be upgraded to 128GB and 256GB models, and like every iPhone 12, the phone comes with 5G capabilities, though with networks still being built out, don’t expect speeds to be much faster than current 4G LTE connections.

Beyond that, the mini gets the same Ceramic Shield glass that Apple says is 4 times more durable than the iPhone 11’s display, as well as MagSafe wireless charging capabilities.

The mini, however, also has a smaller battery than its larger stablemates. In my testing, the mini played video for about 12 hours while receiving regular email and Slack notifications and ended up with 13% battery life. That’s certainly a solid number, but if you’re looking for a marathon runner of a phone, the mini might not be your best bet.

But if you need a top-notch, petite phone, the iPhone 12 mini is an excellent choice.

iPhone 12 — For the person who wants a bigger screen without the price

The iPhone 12 packs all of the features of the iPhone 12 mini, but adds a larger display for a better viewing experience. (Daniel Image: Howley)
The iPhone 12 packs all of the features of the iPhone 12 mini, but adds a larger display for a better viewing experience. (Image: Daniel Howley)

The $799 iPhone 12 is the base version of the lineup. It’s not as small as the mini, but not as large as the Max. It doesn’t pack quite as many features as the Pro, but it doesn’t cost as much either. It’s the middle ground option that most people will likely opt for.

With a 6.1-inch Super Retina XDR display, you’re getting a larger viewing area than the 12 mini with a similar uptick in overall device size. It’s not a giant by any stretch, though. In fact, it’s likely the perfect size for most users.

Like the mini, the iPhone 12 is encased in aluminum and features Apple’s Ceramic Shield glass. It also rocks the A14 Bionic chip and the same amount of storage as the mini: 64GB, 128GB, or 256GB. The 12 also offers the same wide-angle and ultra-wide angle cameras as the 12 mini, as well as the same low-light photo capabilities, MagSafe charging, and 5G connectivity.

The iPhone 12 gets the same dual-camera system as the iPhone 12 mini. (Image: Daniel Howley)
The iPhone 12 gets the same dual-camera system as the iPhone 12 mini. (Image: Daniel Howley)

Really the big difference between the 12 and the mini is its size. That also means the 12 gets a slightly larger battery. So if you’re not set on size and don’t need the extra bells and whistles of the Pro and Pro Max, the iPhone 12 will fit your needs perfectly.

iPhone 12 Pro — For the person who wants more function without the added size

The iPhone 12 Pro is the same size as the iPhone 12, but ups the camera capabilities and storage space. (Image: Daniel Howley)
The iPhone 12 Pro is the same size as the iPhone 12, but ups the camera capabilities and storage space. (Image: Daniel Howley)

At $999, the iPhone 12 Pro is the same size as the iPhone 12, but offers all of the enhancements associated with Apple’s Pro line of devices. From the jump, the 12 Pro is made of a different material: stainless steel rather than the aluminum used on the 12 mini and 12.

Despite that, the 12 Pro is the same size as the 12, though a bit heftier. The table stakes for the 12 lineup are all here including the A14 Bionic chip, 5G connectivity, the Ceramic Shield front, and MagSafe wireless charging.

What the 12 Pro adds, though, is a more impressive camera and larger storage options. The 12 Pro uses the same wide-angle and ultra-wide angle cameras as the 12 and 12 mini, but adds a third telephoto camera lens that allows you to optically zoom 2x on your subjects.

Optical zoom is preferable to digital zoom, because optical zoom is using actual lenses to push in on a subject rather than software trickery which can create a blurry image. It doesn’t sound like something you’d use on a normal basis. However, I’ve found myself using the telephoto lens to take better close-up photos of friends and family rather than the wide-angle lens, simply because I like the look of the shots more.

The iPhone 12 Pro gets a triple-camera system with wide-angle, ultra-wide angle, and telephoto lenses, as well as a LiDAR sensor. (Image: Daniel Howley)
The iPhone 12 Pro gets a triple-camera system with wide-angle, ultra-wide angle, and telephoto lenses, as well as a LiDAR sensor. (Image: Daniel Howley)

Along with that lens comes Apple’s LiDAR sensor, which sends out invisible light beams that allows the phone to measure the precise distance between you and the object you’re pointing at. That enables the 12 Pro to focus on subjects faster in both standard and low-light settings, and provides for more accurate augmented reality applications.

And since the Pro is, well, the Pro model, it gets more storage than the standard 12 and 12 mini. The base version of the Pro gets 128GB of storage, but can be upgraded to 256GB and 512GB.

iPhone 12 Pro Max — For the person who wants it all, and more

The iPhone 12 Pro Mad is the giant among this group of iPhones, and fantastic for watching movies on the go or on the couch. (Image: Howley)
The iPhone 12 Pro Mad is the giant among this group of iPhones, and fantastic for watching movies on the go or on the couch. (Image: Daniel Howley)

Strap in, because the iPhone 12 Pro Max is the ultimate version of the iPhone 12. Starting at $1,099, this behemoth gets Apple’s largest-ever iPhone display, measuring 6.7 inches. It’s still rocking the same Super Retina XDR panel and Ceramic Shield glass, but, whoa, is it huge.

I’m used to using the 11 Pro Max, and the 12 Pro Max makes it feel like small by comparison. I’m a fan of big-screen smartphones, though, so the 12 Pro Max is right up my alley. It’s great for watching videos and reading, and, if you have a hard time seeing things on a smaller display, the 12 Pro Max is a great option.

As far as design, the 12 Pro Max has the same look as the rest of the iPhone 12 line, but uses the same stainless steel chassis as the iPhone 12 Pro. All of the other features found across the series are also here, including MagSafe charging capabilities and 5G connectivity.

The iPhone 12 Pro Max gets an even better camera system than the 12 Pro, with a larger camera sensor that can capture more light. (Image: Howley)
The iPhone 12 Pro Max gets an even better camera system than the 12 Pro, with a larger camera sensor that can capture more light. (Image: Howley)

The 12 Pro Max, however, gets some interesting camera improvements over the standard Pro. A 47% larger image sensor on the Pro Max means the phone captures more light in both normal and low-light settings, making colors appear more vibrant and images look clearer.

The Pro Max also gets a 2.5x optical telephoto zoom, rather than the 2x zoom found on the 12 Pro. It doesn’t sound like much, but in a normal shooting situation, it actually makes quite the difference, bringing your subject closer without creating any image blur or artifacts.

And, of course, the Pro Max gets the same three storage options as the Pro: 128GB, 256GB, and 512GB.

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Got a tip? Email Daniel Howley at dhowley@yahoofinance.com over via encrypted mail at danielphowley@protonmail.com, and follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.

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