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iPhone 12 vs iPhone 11: how does Apple's new flagship compare to 2019's?

iPhone 12
(Image credit: Apple)

It’s that time again: iPhone Christmas! Apple has unveiled four new iPhones, namely the iPhone 12, the iPhone 12 mini, the iPhone 12 Pro, and the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

They’re the fastest iPhones yet. They likely have the best cameras of any iPhones. And they bring 5G to the iPhone party. But they also follow the already-excellent iPhone 11 range.

So how does the standard iPhone 12 compare to its predecessor? Let’s find out.

iPhone 12 vs iPhone 11: design and display

The iPhone 11 doesn’t look significantly different from the iPhone XR and iPhone XS, although it comes in six different colors including some fun pastels (specifically white, black, red, green, yellow, and purple).

It’s made of aluminum and glass, and it has the familiar notched display for Face ID and a prominent camera housing on the back.

The screen is a 6.1-inch Liquid Retina display with very small bezels, and it’s rated IP68 for water resistance. The resolution is 1792 x 828 giving it 326 pixels per inch, the contrast ratio is 1400:1, and it has both True Tone and P3 Wide Color reproduction.

The iPhone 12 looks more like the iPhone 4, albeit in different colors: black, white, red, green and blue. The notch is narrower than before, and it’s 11% thinner, 15% smaller and 16% lighter than the iPhone 11, without reducing the screen size.

The iPhone 12's screen is an upgrade

The iPhone 12's screen is an upgrade (Image credit: Apple)

The new display is a Super Retina XDR, an OLED display with a 2,000,000:1 contrast ratio. It has far more pixels than the iPhone 11 – 2532 x 1170 – and it’s behind a new kind of protective glass called 'Ceramic Shield' that promises to be the toughest smartphone glass yet.

There’s also a smaller but otherwise near identical version, the iPhone 12 mini, with a 5.4-inch screen instead of the 6.1-inch display. It’s the world’s smallest 5G phone.

The iPhone 12 and its mini sibling are also IP68 certified, but they're safe to watery depths of up to 6 meters, while the iPhone 11 tops out at just 2 meters.

iPhone 12 vs iPhone 11: cameras

The iPhone 11 is a twin-camera phone with dual 12MP wide and ultra-wide cameras. The ultra-wide camera has an f/2.4 aperture with a 120 degree field of view, and the wide camera has an f/1.8 aperture and optical image stabilization. Optical zoom is 2x and digital zoom is up to 5x.

For video there’s 4K at up to 60fps, optical image and video stabilization, 2x optical and 3x digital zoom. The front camera is also 12MP, this time with an aperture of f/2.2 and both image and video stabilization.

iPhone 11

Both phones have a dual-lens camera (Image credit: TechRadar)

The new dual-camera system in the iPhone 12 has the same 12MP ultra-wide camera and a new wide camera with an f/1.6 aperture. There’s a new seven-element lens for better detail, delivering 27% better low light performance.

The new chip - more of that in the moment - powers computational photography for Smart HDR3 and intelligent photo adjustments.

Night Mode also now works an all the iPhone 12 cameras including the selfie shooter.

Apple says the iPhone 12 has the highest video quality of any smartphone, with Night Mode time-lapse delivering stunning results. The larger aperture makes a real difference here.

iPhone 12 vs iPhone 11: processor and performance

The iPhone 11 is powered by Apple’s A13 Bionic chipset, and supports Wi-Fi 6 and 4G LTE advanced. There are three models: 64GB, 128GB and 256GB. There’s also a larger, more expensive Pro model.

The iPhone 11 also introduced Ultra Wideband technology so that the iPhone 11 can compare its location to other devices. Apple describes it as GPS for your living room. It enables directional features such as pointing your phone at the person you want to AirDrop to. The iPhone 11 additionally includes iBeacon for short-range location awareness.

5G and a faster chipset are two of the big iPhone 12 upgrades

5G and a faster chipset are two of the big iPhone 12 upgrades (Image credit: Apple)

The big news in the iPhone 12 is 5G, which is new to the iPhone. Apple claims it works with more 5G bands than any other smartphone, including Verizon Ultra Wideband (UWB) 5G, and that unique beamforming algorithms deliver strong signals and good battery life in every band. In ideal conditions it supposedly achieves up to 3.5Gbps on 5G, and 4Gbps on UWB 5G.

This year’s processor is the A14 Bionic. It’s made on a 5nm process and includes 11.8 billion transistors, nearly 40% more than the A13. The CPU is a six-core model with two high performance cores, and Apple claims it’s up to 50% faster than rivals.

The four-core GPU promises similar rival-beating performance. The Neural engine has 16 cores instead of 8 for significantly faster performance, and the machine learning accelerators are 70% faster than with the iPhone 11.

Apple really wants you to use the iPhone 12 for gaming, and one of those games is League of Legends. It’s coming to the iPhone 12 later this year.

iPhone 12 vs iPhone 11: battery and charging

The iPhone 11 has a 3,110mAh battery. It supports Qi wireless charging and fast charging, although the charger in the box is a 5W charger rather than the 18W charger that comes with the Pro version. The charging connector is a Lightning port.

Apple hasn't said how big the battery in the iPhone 12 is, but has said it will last for up to 17 hours of video playback - it says the same for the iPhone 11, so expect life to be similar. It also supports fast charging and Qi wireless charging, just like the iPhone 11.

The iPhone 11 should have similar battery life to the 12

The iPhone 11 should have similar battery life to the 12 (Image credit: Future)

Remember MagSafe, Apple’s magnetic cable connector? It’s back! Back! BACK! Sort of. The new MagSafe system in the iPhone 12 enables wireless charging up to 15W and any compatible accessory simply snaps on the back. The first such accessories are Apple’s new iPhone cases and charger. Apple also showed off some third-party products.

Every iPhone now comes with a USB to Lightning cable.

iPhone 12 vs iPhone 11: operating system

The iPhone 11 shipped with iOS 13 and automatically updates to the latest version, iOS 14. The new iPhone 12 comes with iOS 14 pre-installed.

So there's no real difference here, though note that as a newer phone, Apple will probably keep the iPhone 12 updated for longer.

iPhone 12 vs iPhone 11: price and availability

With the launch of the iPhone 12, the price of the iPhone 11 has now dropped, meaning you can get it for $599 / £599 / AU$999 with 64GB of storage, $649 / £649 / AU$1,079 with 128GB, or $749 / £749 / AU$1,249 with 256GB.

The iPhone 12 on the other hand starts at $799 / £799 / AU$1,349 for 64GB of storage, rising to $849 / £849 / AU$1,429 for 128GB, and then $949 / £949 / AU$1,599 for 256GB.

The iPhone 11 has dropped in price now the iPhone 12 is here

The iPhone 11 has dropped in price now the iPhone 12 is here (Image credit: Future)

However, the iPhone 12 mini is a bit more affordable, at $699 / £699 / AU$1,199 for 64GB of storage, $749 / £749 / AU$1,279 for 128GB, and $849 / £849 / AU$1,449  for 256GB. Though that still makes it a fair bit more than the iPhone 11.

The iPhone 11 is out now of course, while you can pre-order the iPhone 12 on October 16 and its release date is October 23. If you want Apple's mini marvel, that has pre-orders opening on November 6 and a release date of November 13.

iPhone 12 vs iPhone 11: takeaway

The iPhone 12 is a very promising phone. We love the retro-flavored design, and we’re hoping the new Ceramic Shield glass is as tough as Apple promises. 

But the real draws here are the silicon and the camera. The iPhone 11's cameras are good; the iPhone 12's ones should be even better. And the chipset improvements and 5G support mean this isn’t just one of the best-looking iPhones Apple has made, it’s the fastest too. And the mini is super cute.