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I need a new iPhone. Is last year's model good enough? [Ask ZDNet]

Got a tech question? Ed Bott and ZDNet's squad of editors and experts probably have the answer.

Welcome to the latest installment of Ask ZDNet, where we answer the questions that make your IT guy reach for the Tums.

In the mailbag this week: Is the latest, greatest iPhone really worth the higher price tag?

If you've got a question for the Ask ZDNet editors, we're all ears. Send your questions to ask(at)zdnet(dot)com.

I need a new iPhone. Is last year's model good enough?

My three-year-old iPhone suddenly started flaking out on me. If I buy a new one, should I get the latest and greatest? Or should I save a few bucks by getting last year's model?

For iPhone owners, this is always a tricky question. It's always worth checking the incentives offered by your carrier, which might end up making the cost of one model significantly better than you think. If you're considering changing carriers, now is a good time to see what kind of enticements they're offering to get you to switch. You might end up with a new phone for significantly less than you'd pay otherwise.

Which model is right for you? We asked ZDNet's iPhone expert, Jason Cipriani, to help spell out the differences:

Deciding between an iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 can be tough. Both phones are very similar. They both have two rear-facing cameras, the same core display tech, support 5G connectivity and run the latest version of iOS. However, there are some key differences that are sure to help you make your final decision one way or another.

Those differences distill down to a new processor, battery life, storage, camera features and -- if it's important to you -- color options. The iPhone 13 comes with Apple's A15 processor while the iPhone 12 has the A14. Those numbers might not mean much, and even though my experience is that the iPhone 13 does perform better, it's not something you should specifically seek out unless your budget allows.

The iPhone 13 has slightly better battery life (19 hours for the iPhone 13 versus 17 hours for the iPhone 12), and the base storage for the non-Pro models has doubled to start at 128GB, instead of the iPhone 12's 64GB starting point.

The iPhone 13's camera also has a few new camera tricks, including Cinematic Mode, which adds depth to your videos. There's also a difference in color options, with the 12's colors being brighter and more vibrant while the iPhone 13's colors are darker, but still look fantastic.

All told, the iPhone 12 is a very similar device to the iPhone 13. If you don't care about the colors, storage, or a couple extra hours of battery and a performance bump, I think you'd be happy with the iPhone 12. However, if any of those factors are important to you, the iPhone 13 is the better investment.

Side note: For those struggling with a similar decision regarding the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro, then you should know there are some big differences between the two, especially when it comes to display technology.

Specifically, the iPhone 13 Pro line has what Apple calls a ProMotion display, which means that the refresh rate of the screen maxes out at 120Hz compared to 60Hz on the iPhone 12 Pro. The impact of the faster refresh rate is that scrolling through long documents, in apps and even gaming all look smoother. Battery life goes from 17 hours on the iPhone 12 Pro to 22 hours on the iPhone 13 Pro, and you gain the ability to take macro photos using the rear cameras.

Also see: The 8 best iPhone models: Which is right for you?

And don't forget, this year's model will become last year's model in September or October. As you approach the launch of a new model, it might be worth waiting to see what surprises the new edition will bring.

Good luck!

Send your questions to ask(at)zdnet(dot)com. Due to the volume of submissions, we can't guarantee a personal reply, but we do promise to read every letter and respond right here to the ones that we think our readers will care about. Be sure to include a working email address in case we have follow-up questions. We promise not to use it for any other purpose.  


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