Apple iPhone 12 vs iPhone 12 Pro: Which one should you buy?
The iPhone 12 series from Apple comprises of four phones this year. The large one (Pro Max) is interesting because it’s got the most powerful camera hardware of the four, while the small one (Mini) should garner plenty of interest for those with smaller hands or pockets. But it’s ultimately the middle two — iPhone 12 and 12 Pro — that will have the most appeal. And this year, the similarities between the Pro and non-Pro models are closer than ever. If you’re not sure which one is right for you — don’t worry, we’ve been testing both phones heavily, and we’re here to help you decide on which of the two middle iPhone 12s you should buy.
Navigate this guide:
Apple iPhone 12 series: Specifications and Comparison
|Specifications||Apple iPhone 12||Apple iPhone 12 Pro|
|Dimensions & Weight|
|Battery & Charging|
|Security||Face ID (TrueDepth camera for facial recognition)||Face ID (TrueDepth camera for facial recognition)|
|Front Camera(s)||12MP, f/2.2||12MP, f/2.2|
|Port(s)||Proprietary Lightning port||Proprietary Lightning port|
|Software||iOS 14||iOS 14|
|Pricing||Starts at $799||Starts at $999|
What are the similarities?
There were clear tangible differences between the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro last year, most notably in size and screen tech. That’s not the case this year: the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro are completely identical in size, and the non-Pro iPhone got bumped to the OLED club instead of settling for LCD. This makes the two phones virtually indistinguishable from each other if we look at them from the front.
Both phones also run on the exact same SoC — the 5nm Apple A14 Bionic — with the same iOS 14 software. The main camera and ultra-wide-angle camera are also identical sensors, so for the most part, 1x and ultra-wide angle shots are almost always identical.
Apple iPhone 12 vs iPhone 12 Pro: What are the key differences?
The key difference lies in the camera module: the iPhone 12 Pro has a 12MP telephoto zoom lens and LIDAR sensor, and these are not present on the regular 12. The 12 Pro is also wrapped in a stainless steel chassis while the non-Pro settles for an aluminum frame. Apple does not readily disclose this, but certification listings suggest that the standard 12 comes with 4GB of RAM while the Pro series comes with 6GB of RAM — you are unlikely to notice the difference between these two until you are looking for it.
Having fewer cameras and different build material for the frame makes the standard 12 a bit lighter than the Pro, at 164g compared to the Pro’s 189g.
Finally, perhaps the most important difference: the standard 12 starts at $799 while the 12 Pro starts at a buck under a thousand dollars.Because I’m a tech geek privileged enough to have access to many phones, I have developed a habit of only wanting to use the highest-end flagship. Meaning, if I have a Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra and a Samsung Galaxy Note 20 on the table, I will always default to grabbing the Ultra for myself. If I have a Huawei P40 Pro and a Honor 30, I will grab the Huawei. I didn’t even bother to review the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE because I have two other, better Samsung phones at home.
I know, I know, I’m spoiled. But I said all that to make my next point: the Apple iPhone 12 and 12 Pro are so, so similar, that this is one of the rare cases in which I don’t automatically default to using the Pro. I’ve been carrying both phones in my pocket, and throughout the course of a day, I just grab whichever one my hand reaches first. They are that similar.
The 12 Pro has a better zoom system, but you can’t even really tell the difference at 2x focal length, because digital zoom at 2x doesn’t result in that much loss of detail. And truth be told, the iPhone 12 Pro’s telephoto lens isn’t that good anyway. It’s not like a periscope zoom lens from Huawei or Samsung that can go all the way to 10x and still get a clean shot.
Apple iPhone 12 and 12 Pro zoom samples: 1x and 5x
As for the LIDAR sensor, it’s supposed to help the 12 Pro focus easier at night, but I haven’t noticed much difference either. Where the LIDAR will make a difference is if you use the phones to run AR apps. The Pro phones generally does a better job mapping a surface. Below are two more sets of photo samples, taken with the main camera during the day and ultra-wide angle at night. Camera performance, by and large, is identical.
Regular, Day; and Ultra-wide, Night
If you would like to see more photo samples taken by the iPhone 12, check out my first-look article of the phone. Keep in mind the photos you see there were taken with the standard 12.
Battery life has been about the same on both devices, meaning they’re not great (neither can last a full day for me if I have a heavy usage day).
Get the regular iPhone 12 unless you like AR apps
Virtually everything that makes the new iPhone series noteworthy this year — 5G, 5nm SoC, night mode on all the cameras, new boxy design — apply to both the standard iPhone 12 and the iPhone 12 Pro. If we’re being real, both the 12 and 12 Pro are the “boring” iPhones this year. The real new changes will come in the other two iPhones not yet released — the 12 Pro Max will bring real camera hardware upgrade in the form of a larger image sensor and better OIS; while the 12 Mini should intrigue just by virtue of being so small.
So if you’re choosing to buy the default, not-that-exciting iPhone 12, you might as well save yourself $200 and get the non-Pro model — unless, of course, you really like to play Angry Birds in AR.