Which iPhone 12 to get - upgrader's guide

GSMArena team, 13 Nov 2020.

Upgrading from a 2018 or 2017 iPhone

This page covers upgrade options for those with a 2018 iPhone (XR, XS, or XS Max) or a 2017 model (8, 8 Plus, or X). If your 2-year contract is ending or you just held onto your current phone a bit longer, this is the page to be at. Those doing yearly upgrades should check the previous page.

If you've got an iPhone that's more than 3 years old, then unfortunately, this is outside the scope of this guide. We suggest you compare directly our test results in the respective reviews.

We will again, remind you of the shared upgrades list below as all four iPhone 12 models enjoy a set of common advantages over all of their predecessors.

iPhone 12 series shared upgrdes

  • 5G connectivity (+mmWave in the US)
  • All 12-series phones use OLED displays
  • Ceramic Shield with better drop resistance
  • Night mode for the selfie and ultra wide cameras
  • Dolby Vision videos (4K/60 fps on Pros, 4K/30 fps on vanilla)
  • LiDAR for the Pros
  • Faster MagSafe wireless charging
  • Improved water resistance

We won't be repeating the stuff above so keep them in mind as you check out your upgrade options. Also, don't forget that all the new iPhone 12's come without a charger or headphones in the box. That's definitely a setback to consider for all upgrades this year.

iPhone XS Max to iPhone 12 Pro Max

iPhone XS Max to iPhone 12 Pro Max

Who is this for? You want Apple's top phone, but upgrading every year is too much - this is especially true for those who sign a contract. The Pro Max gets exclusive camera upgrades that make the two-year gap in the camera progress feel even bigger. This is Apple's largest phone yet so be aware of that if the XS Max already felt a bit too big.

  • The iPhone 12 lineup shared upgrades (top of page)
  • 7% larger display with Dolby Vision, higher brightness
  • 50% faster CPU, more RAM (from 4 GB to 6 GB)
  • 33% faster GPU
  • Larger main sensor with brighter aperture, new OIS, LiDAR
  • Longer telephoto lens (52 mm to 65 mm)
  • Ultra wide-angle camera
  • Better selfie camera (7 MP to 12 MP)
  • 16% larger battery (3,174mAh vs. 3,687mAh)
  • Noticeably heavier (208g to 228g)
  • No 3D Touch

DETAILED SPECS COMPARISON

UPGRADE COST* $730 €840 £770

iPhone XS to iPhone 12 Pro

iPhone XS to iPhone 12 Pro

Who is this for? A like-for-like upgrade on a two-year schedule - if your contract is up, there's no real downside to this upgrade path. This one got a bit larger (5.8" screen to 6.1"), though you'd have to compare the two side by side to notice. If you were tempted by the XS Max but decided against it because of its size or cost (or both), then chances are the new 12 Pro is still the better option compared to the 12 Pro Max.

  • The iPhone 12 lineup shared upgrades (top of page)
  • 7% larger screen with Dolby Vision, higher max brightness (625nits vs. 800nits)
  • 53% faster CPU, more RAM (4 GB to 6 GB)
  • 35% faster GPU
  • LiDAR Scanner
  • Ultra wide-angle camera
  • Better selfie camera (7 MP to 12 MP)
  • 6% larger battery (2,658 mAh vs. 2,815 mAh)
  • Measurable 20% longer runtime in on-screen tasks
  • Slightly heavier phone (177g to 189g)
  • No 3D Touch

DETAILED SPECS COMPARISON

UPGRADE COST* $700 €780 £670

iPhone XS to iPhone 12

iPhone XS to iPhone 12

Who is this for? Some might disagree that going from an 11 Pro to the vanilla 12 is a worthwhile upgrade, but those with a two-year-old iPhone XS will see the 12 in a much more positive light. You trade the telephoto camera for an ultra-wide. That aside, in 2020, the vanilla model is just as good as the Pro. This is certainly above an "iPhone XR 2020" don't look at it as a downgrade.

  • The iPhone 12 lineup shared upgrades (top of page)
  • 7% larger screen with Dolby Vision
  • 53% faster CPU
  • 35% faster GPU
  • Ultra wide-angle camera
  • Better selfie camera (7 MP to 12 MP)
  • 6% larger battery (2,658mAh vs. 2,815mAh)
  • Measurable 20% longer runtime in on-screen tasks
  • You are losing the telephoto camera
  • Aluminum frame instead of stainless steel (subjective)
  • No 3D Touch

DETAILED SPECS COMPARISON

UPGRADE COST* $450 €540 £470

iPhone XR to iPhone 12

iPhone XR to iPhone 12

Who is this for? The gap between the XR and XS was fairly big, but this year the vanilla model is quite close to the Pro. So, even though you're getting the same class of phone two years later (what counts as a mid-ranger in Apple's line-up), this still feels like a step up. You may be tempted by the Pro, though you'll have to pay quite a premium for that, especially since you're trading in a fairly old mid-range device.

  • The iPhone 12 lineup shared upgrades (top of page)
  • OLED panel with Dolby Vision, 41% higher pixel density, higher peak brightness
  • 64% faster CPU, more RAM (3 GB to 4 GB)
  • 36% faster GPU
  • Ultra wide-angle camera
  • Better selfie camera (7 MP to 12 MP)
  • None

DETAILED SPECS COMPARISON

UPGRADE COST* $500 €590 £540

iPhone XR to iPhone 12 Pro Max

iPhone XR to iPhone 12 Pro Max

Who is this for? Depending on how much you saved over the last couple of years, you may want to jump two generations and one class forward. Going from the XR to the 12 Pro Max is quite a leap. Still, if you found yourself limited by the capabilities of the XR and plan to keep the iPhone 12 Pro Max for three years, then the extra cost can be justified by the knowledge you won't run into hardware limitations again.

  • The iPhone 12 lineup shared upgrades (top of page)
  • Much larger OLED screen with Dolby Vision, 22% more surface area, 40% higher pixel density with higher resolution and higher max brightness
  • 64% faster CPU, double the RAM (3 GB to 6 GB)
  • 36% faster GPU
  • Larger main sensor with brighter aperture, new OIS, LiDAR
  • Telephoto and ultra wide cameras
  • Better selfie camera (7 MP to 12 MP)
  • 25% larger battery (2,942mAh vs 3,687mAh)
  • Stainless steel frame instead of aluminum (subjective)
  • Bulkier, noticeably heavier (194g to 228g)

DETAILED SPECS COMPARISON

UPGRADE COST* $850 €930 £840

iPhone X to iPhone 12 Pro

iPhone X to iPhone 12 Pro

Who is this for? The iPhone X held its own over the last three years. The iPhone 12 Pro can similarly last three years without feeling too old. Especially now that Apple is on board the 5G train and has polished its triple camera setup. Upgrading every three years instead of two (or one) is quite doable, as long as you pick the right phone. And this is just it unless you wanted a bigger screen this time around.

  • The iPhone 12 lineup shared upgrades (top of page)
  • 7% larger screen with Dolby Vision, higher max brightness
  • CPU is almost twice as fast (+90%), double the RAM (3 GB to 6 GB)
  • GPU is twice as fast
  • LiDAR Scanner
  • Ultra wide camera
  • Better selfie camera (7 MP to 12 MP)
  • Measurable 20% longer runtimes in on-screen tasks
  • Slightly heavier phone (174g to 189g)
  • No 3D Touch

DETAILED SPECS COMPARISON

UPGRADE COST* $750 €850 £760

iPhone X to iPhone 12

iPhone X to iPhone 12

Who is this for? The iPhone X in 2017 launched at $1,000, same as the 12 Pro this year. But it has not been an easy three years, especially this last one, so saving $200 by going with the vanilla iPhone 12 makes a lot of sense. While getting a vanilla 11 last year would have felt like a downgrade, not so much with the 12 - besides missing out on a telephoto camera, this phone has a better screen, chipset, and battery life.

  • The iPhone 12 lineup shared upgrades (top of page)
  • 7% larger screen with Dolby Vision, higher peak brightness
  • CPU is almost twice as fast (+90%), more RAM (3 GB to 4 GB)
  • GPU is twice as fast
  • Ultra wide camera
  • Better selfie camera (7 MP to 12 MP)
  • Aluminum frame instead of stainless steel (subjective)
  • You are losing the telephoto camera
  • No 3D Touch

DETAILED SPECS COMPARISON

UPGRADE COST* $500 €610 £560

iPhone 8 Plus to iPhone 12

iPhone 8 Plus to iPhone 12

Who is this for? When you bought the 8 Plus, it was a flagship. Not the top dog, but still a flagship. However, its design felt old even in 2017, and its hardware is starting to show its age. The iPhone X was the cooler model certainly. But you felt no need to go all out back then, there's no need for that either. The iPhone 12 is just that good. It will give you a larger screen, much faster chipset, and other enhancements to make this upgrade worth the wait.

A note about Face ID vs. Touch ID: with everyone being forced to wear a mask, face unlock has become almost impossible to use. We sorely miss the fingerprint readers on the iPhones. Losing the functionality is not a deal-breaker on its own as you are trading that for a bezel-less design, but it's something you'll need to adjust to once you get your new phone. And we can't help but wished Apple implemented an under-display reader just like the Android camp does.

  • The iPhone 12 lineup shared upgrades (top of page)
  • Smaller and lighter phone (202g to 164g), smaller bezels
  • 8% larger OLED display with Dolby Vision, 15% higher pixel density and peak brightness
  • CPU is twice as fast, more RAM (3 GB to 4 GB)
  • GPU is over three times faster
  • Ultra wide camera
  • Better selfie camera (7 MP to 12 MP)
  • You are losing the telephoto camera
  • You are losing the fingerprint reader
  • No 3D Touch

DETAILED SPECS COMPARISON

UPGRADE COST* $540 €680 £610

iPhone 8 to iPhone 12 mini

iPhone 8 to iPhone 12 mini

Who is this for? The iPhone 12 mini is all about the size. The iPhone 8 was the smallest of its generation, but it's a mid-sized phone compared to the new 12 mini. That's with a larger, much sharper OLED display with HDR to boot. Those are the benefits of a modern design. You get an ultra-wide camera and double the computing power, so the mini will change the way you take photos, browse the web and play games. As an added bonus, this is the cheapest iPhone 12, so you get a major upgrade without the guilt of breaking the bank. See the note above about using Face ID while wearing a mask vs. the trusty fingerprint reader.

  • The iPhone 12 lineup shared upgrades (top of page)
  • Smaller and lighter phone (148g to 135g), smaller bezels
  • 18% larger OLED display, 46% higher pixel density, HDR, higher peak brightness
  • CPU is twice as fast, double the RAM (2 GB to 4 GB)
  • GPU is over three times faster
  • Ultra wide camera
  • Better selfie camera (7 MP to 12 MP)
  • 22% larger battery (1,821mAh vs. 2,227mAh)
  • You are losing the fingerprint reader
  • No 3D Touch

DETAILED SPECS COMPARISON

UPGRADE COST* $510 €620 £550

The cost calculations assume that you'll sell your old phone and that you're looking at a SIM-free device with base storage. Apple's own trade-in program is a safe bet and the least amount of hassle. However, note that Apple offers the same amount of money for a 64 GB and a 256 GB phone.

So, if you do have a device with more than base storage, it's probably worth the hassle to go through eBay or a similar market place. Even with a base model, you're likely to get more money than Apple offers, so the upgrade can be even cheaper at the expense of some extra effort on your part.

Reader comments

  • Dani

Honestly I think this is what we are waiting for.how I wish I could have it as my own

the percentage is 40%, thank you.

Yeah, that IOS never again guy is a big fat troll. "traversing the paths of logic" Yeah dude where were you when iPhone 12 pro scored top 4 in the DxO camera test? Did you call DxO a joke? Funny, because you used to use DxO as you...