The iPhone 12: How does the new kid on the block compare to Apple’s previously reigning champions?

We used up all of our allowance to buy Apple’s latest phone and compared it to the refurbished iPhone 8, X and 11 so you wouldn’t have to. Here are our conclusions; we’ve done our best to be as objective as possible.

iphone 12 compared to his predecessors

Summary of the match:

For those among you who in a hurry (or less tech-savvy), here is the summary of our analysis:

If you’re excited about all the good things you expect 5G will offer in the future, and/or want to polish up your nighttime photography game, then the iPhone 12 is definitely for you. Starting at $799 on the Apple site.

If you’re an Apple fan that is mostly interested with features like OLED display, facial recognition with FaceID, depth control (to adjust background blur) then the iPhone X or 11 should be more than enough to suit your needs. iPhone X starting at $370 and iPhone at $550 at Back Market.

If you don’t anticipate needing these technologies much, the iPhone 8 remains an extremely reliable and attractive model - in terms of camera, battery and processing power...frankly, at a much more accessible price point - starting at $215 at Back Market.

And with that, for those of you that are interested, we can go ahead and get to the nitty gritty details:

The camera: a clearly superior night mode.

The main difference to be seen in the camera quality of the iPhone 8, iPhone 11 and iPhone 12 is in “night mode” captures for situations when lighting is insufficient. See below:

iphone 12 night mode test

Beyond that, the iPhone 8's camera remains perfectly decent to this day - with a 12-megapixel sensor, f / 1.8 aperture, autofocus, and optical image stabilization. capable of capturing 4K videos at up to 60 frames per second.

For more recent models, while the iPhone 12’s Night Mode is the clear winner, software processing has nevertheless clearly improved since the iPhone 8. The iPhone X and iPhone XS, also boast the addition of Portrait mode with Bokeh (basically the quality of the blur of the background elements in your photo) which is not available on the iPhone 8.

New to the iPhone 11 and 12 are the front cameras. The iPhone X only had a single front 7Mpx camera for selfies. The iPhone 11 has two cameras, one 12 Mpx camera, and another 0.3 Mpx TOF 3D. The iPhone 12 has kept the same 12 Mpx TrueDepth camera and for videos has similar capabilities: 4K at up to 60 frames per second and 1080p at 120 frames per second. The only real difference apart from the addition of a Night Mode is the Dolby Vision HDR of up to 30 frames per second.

In short:

  • If you absolutely need improved Night Mode functionality, reserve your iPhone 12 over at Apple right now.
  • If you take lots of selfies and/or like taking artistic blurry portrait shots, you should get an iPhone X or 11.
  • If you want to take good photos with your phone without going broke, the iPhone 8 will give you more than enough bang for your buck.

Battery Life: Nothing revolutionary to see here.

The battery life of the iPhone has not exactly taken a revolutionary arc so far, and the iPhone 12 has not contradicted us on that point. On paper, It enjoys the same battery life as the iPhone 11. In practice, however, it is hard to predict how the model will react once 5G is activated.

All iPhones offer sufficient battery life, designed and adapted to daily use. Most models last a whole day, depending on how they are used (network, gaming, background apps, etc.). Apple announced, for example, up to 8 h 30 of battery life for the iPhone 8, thanks to its 1,821 mAh battery unit. The iPhone 11 has a 3,110 mAh battery, which is almost double, but also lasts for about a day of use.

Disclaimer: At Back Market, refurbishers are asked to replace the batteries of their devices if they have a charge capacity of less than 85% of a new battery.

The only innovation brought by the iPhone 12 is linked to the "MagSafe" charging mode: a system of magnets placed in the iPhone making it possible to attach it more easily to a case, a car holder or to a wireless charger.

In short: no big difference between the iPhone 12 and the other models below...unless you just adore magnets.  

The Screen: No big change since OLED technology.

The IPhone X is the first iPhone to feature an OLED display, while the iPhone 8s has a Retina LCD display. This organic light-emitting diode display technology offers more vivid and realistic contrast as well as blacker blacks. See for yourself here.

Oled test

This technology is not for everyone: some won’t find it useful at all, and others won’t even be able to tell the difference. This is especially the case for users that are casually enjoying photos they take or receive, and not actively geeking out on photos and content for their design elements. In these cases, an iPhone 8 is more than enough.

In short:

  • If you want a smartphone that displays black a little blacker, go for an iPhone X or newer. 
  • If you don’t really see (or care much) about the difference between the screens above then an iPhone 8 will do more than nicely for you.  

What about the 5G revolution?

The iPhone 12 is the first iPhone made specifically to connect to 5G networks. But will that really be useful?

5G rolled out last year and continues to roll out in spite of Covid-19 hiccups. With people working and studying from home, it looks a lot like 5G may be the game changer that makes the iPhone 12 worth the steep price tag...that is, if it is already available in your city and with your particular carrier. If not, it may be worth waiting a bit. Later generations of 5G chips to be released next year may be better able to exploit the capabilities of this tech and workarounds may have been found to make its battery consumption more efficient. At this time, connecting to 5G consumes 20% more battery power than connecting to 4G.  

In short:

  • Go for it. Unless you don’t happen have 5G in your town just yet.

Video games: iPhone 8 keeps doing the job

The most played games these days, like Arena of Valor, for example, don't require racehorses to play. That game was released a year after the iPhone 8 was.

A lot of the most played games aren’t the newest ones—case in point, Clash Royale released in 2016, Pokémon Go from the same year, or Heartstone, released in 2014. And then of course there’s Minecraft, available on iOS since November 2011 on iOS 4.3.  On the Mojang site, the only requirement is to have an iPhone running iOS 10 at least. That's all.

In short, even an iPhone 6 would be acceptable for playing the latest generation of popular games. This is the big difference with computers: even a 3 or 4 year old iPhone has more than enough power for mobile games and entertainment.

iOS and services: equal access.

No matter what iPhone you buy, you should get the same functionality. You should be running the same operating system and enjoy the same updates. iOS 14, Apple’s latest operating system, is available on the iPhone 6S and even the first iPhone SE, unveiled more than 4 years ago. And the days when new versions of Apple's system slowed "old" iPhone models are (thankfully) over.

Most importantly, whatever model your iPhone happens to be, you have access to the entire Apple ecosystem: Apple's voice assistant, Siri, contactless payment with Apple Pay, AirPods or Apple Watch. In fact, we sell those refurbished here as well:

What’s new design-wise?

If there's one thing Apple does almost as well as its marketing, it's product design.

The iPhone 8 : the classic design par excellence. Compact and light (only 136 grams) but efficient and affordable.

The iPhone X : a revolutionary model. Borderless OLED screen, Touch ID replaced by Face ID, a very practical...until COVID forced us all to wear masks.  

The iPhone 11: the iPhone X revamped with vibrant colors. Ideal for people that are tired of the sober iPhone color scheme but don’t want to buy a case.

The iPhone 12 : a return to a design still adored by fans—the flat edges of the iPhone 4.

There’s really no perfect design. Smartphone design is as susceptible to fashion as any other object. And to quote Oscar Wilde :

“Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.” 

Although you definitely shouldn’t do that with your iPhone because, E-waste, amirite?

Want to compare iPhone 12 specs?

If you want to take a deeper dive into the actual specifications of the iPhone 12, consider using our phone comparison app to compare the iPhone 12 to other popular iPhone models:

Micheline
By Micheline Vaute, US Brand Manager

Uses tech occasionally. Likes the planet and people. Smells like teen spirit.

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