iPhone 12 or iPhone 11: Which iPhone should you buy?

On paper, there are a lot of similarities between the two phones. So, which one do you go with?
Written by Jason Cipriani, Contributing Writer

Apple's iPhone 12 lineup was released at the end of 2020, boasting a total of four different models, with varying features, screen sizes and price points. But as the case has often been, Apple didn't drop the 2019 iPhone 11 models from its lineup. 

Well, some of the iPhone 11 models were dropped. But the core iPhone 11 is still around, in all of its bright colors and at an attractive price point starting at $599 for 64GB of storage. 

The iPhone 12 lineup consists of the iPhone 12 mini, iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max. Prices range from $699 for the iPhone 12 Mini, all the way up to $1,099 for the iPhone 12 Pro Max. 

There's no denying that the iPhone 11 is cheaper than the iPhone 12, and rightfully so -- it's a year older at this point, and it doesn't have all of the same tech that the iPhone 12 line does. So when it comes time to debate whether the iPhone 11 or the iPhone 12 is better for your needs, here are some key factors to help you decide.

Display: The iPhone 11 has a 6.1-inch Liquid Retina HD display. It's an LCD display that looks great. However, Apple finally used it's Super Retina XDR OLED display tech for the entire iPhone 12 lineup. Not only does that mean more pixels, but you're also going to gain a clearer, more accurate picture than you would on an LCD screen. 

Connectivity: All four iPhone 12 models have 5G connectivity, whereas the iPhone 11 only has 4G LTE. For some of us, the difference between 5G and 4G isn't all that noticeable or even real right now. However, US carriers continue their 5G rollouts, bringing more coverage to more people throughout the nation. Eventually, 5G will be important. And if you're buying an iPhone right now, it's likely going to be your phone for the next 2-3 years. 5G is a great way to future proof your investment. 


Apple's iPhone 12 lineup as a whole. 

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

Colors: For some potential customers, this single aspect can make or break the purchase decision (trust me, after years of selling phones through high school and beyond, something as seemingly simple as the color of the phone, not the overall features can close the deal). The iPhone 11 comes in its own set of unique pastel colors. There's white, black, green, yellow, purple and Product(RED). The iPhone 12, on the other hand, has a more subdued set of colors that look unique in their own right. There's blue, green, Product(RED), white and black. 

One thing that enhances or changes the look of the colors is the housing of the phone. The iPhone 11 has a glass front and back, while the iPhone 12 has a new ceramic shield front and an aluminum housing. The ceramic shield glass used in all iPhone 12 models is supposed to be 4x stronger during drops than the previous glass front used in the likes of the iPhone 11. 

Other odds and ends: There are, expectedly, a handful of other features Apple's latest hardware offers that the iPhone 11 does. There's better water protection (6 meters for 60 minutes), compatibility with new MagSafe accessories, a faster processor, HDR video recording, Night mode on the front-facing camera… and the list goes on. 

Also: Best MagSafe accessories for iPhone 12 

It's not my place to tell you to buy this phone or that phone, or at least I try hard not to, but after looking closer at the specifications and the $200 price difference between the iPhone 11 and iPhone 12, I keep coming to the same conclusion: The iPhone 12 offers more value for the price. 

You get a phone that's loaded with Apple's latest and greatest hardware, but also has some stuff like 5G that you might not use today, but in a year or so, is very likely to be commonplace and something you'll be glad you have. (At least that's what the carriers keep telling us.)

The only time I wouldn't recommend an iPhone 12 to someone is if they're getting a phone for a young teen. The iPhone XR at $499 or even the iPhone SE at $399 is a better phone to start them out on. Actually, forget that. You deserve an iPhone 12 for yourself, then give your kid your old iPhone.

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