iPhone 13 vs iPhone 12: small improvements go a long way

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iPhone 13 vs iPhone 12: small improvements go a long way
The iPhone 13 is the best-selling iPhone among the four models in the 13 series, but how does it compare against its predecessor, the iPhone 12

Visually, these two are nearly identical, except for that new camera look on the back. However, under the the hood, Apple has added a welcome boost to the iPhone 13 battery life, it has upgraded the cameras, made it faster and given us a few other surprises.

Unfortunately, the one feature that many were hoping for - a 120Hz ProMotion screen - is not one of those surprises.

So, what are the key differences and features that define the new model from the predecessor? And is it even worth considering the slightly cheaper iPhone 12?

iPhone 13 vs iPhone 12 in a nutshell:
  • Similar design and size, iPhone 13 is heavier though
  • Same 6.1" screen size, both are 60Hz only
  • Brighter screen on iPhone 13
  • A15 Bionic chip on iPhone 13 vs A14 chip on iPhone 12
  • Dual cameras (wide and ultrawide) with bigger sensors on the 13
  • Longer battery life
  • Double the base storage, 128GB on iPhone 13
  • Same charging speeds

iPhone 13 pros and cons


  • Much improved battery life
  • Dynamic and jolly photos in more challenging conditions
  • Easy to view outdoors display with perfect calibration
  • Snazzy Cinematic video mode
  • Double the predecessor storage for the same price


  • Slow display refresh rate for the price point
  • Wired and wireless charging take comparatively long
  • Cinematic video mode is finicky without good lighting
  • Taller notch eats into some video formats

iPhone 13 Pre-paid Straight Talk from Walmart

The pre-paid iPhone 13 is available at Walmart with a plan by Straight Talk. Get it with 128GB of internal storage space in the Blue color.

Get the iPhone 13 at Verizon and save $699.99 with a new line

Best deal: Get the iPhone 13 for $0.00/mo with a new line activation. There's a one-time activation fee of $35. Currently, all storage and color variants are available at the Verizon store. If you don't need a new line, you can get up to $600 off with a line upgrade.
$0 /mo
$19 44
Buy at Verizon

iPhone 12 pros and cons


  • OLED screen, finally!
  • MagSafe is cool and has potential
  • Outstanding performance
  • One of the best cameras on a smartphone


  • 64 GB of storage is fine, but feels a bit stingy in current ecosystem
  • No telephoto lens
  • No ultra high refresh rate

Apple iPhone 12 at Amazon (Renewed)

You can get a renewed version of the iPhone 12 at Amazon. This is the 64GB version of the device. Unfortunately, it isn't available at a discounted price right now.

iPhone 12 at Walmart, locked to Straight Talk

You can save on a pre-paid iPhone 12 from Walmart. This particular phone is locked to Straight Talk. It comes with 64GB of internal storage.

Display and Design

6.1" OLED screen, but no 120Hz ProMotion

For the most part, the iPhone 13 keeps the size and design styling of the iPhone 12. That means both have the same 6.1" flat screen. This size has proven to be a great middle ground, a bit larger than the 5.8-inch screen that Apple used to have on earlier iPhone models like the iPhone X, XS and 11 Pro.

What both the iPhone 13 and iPhone 12 lack is fast refresh rate. Both phones run at 60Hz, a stark contrast to the smoother experience from a 120Hz ProMotion technology (only the iPhone 13 Pro has that feature).

In terms of colors and quality, the iPhone 13 display is nearly identical to the iPhone 12: size and resolution remain unchanged, but the notch is now 20% smaller. Apple, however, hasn't done anything meaningful with the tiny bit of space that's freed up. Another welcome change is an increase in brightness as the iPhone 13 reaches a peak of 800 nits, compared to 625 nits on the 12, and this does make the newer phone easier to see outdoors.

There are also some new color options, while some old colors are gone. For example, you no longer have a green model for the iPhone 13, but you do get a pink version in the iPhone 13 that you can see above. We are also big fans of the new lighter shade of blue compared to the darker, almost navy blue hue on the iPhone 12 above.

The one more substantial change that you may actually feel though is that the iPhone 13 now weighs 174 grams, a bit more than the 164 grams of the iPhone 12. It's a subtle thing, but you could notice it. What you probably won't notice, though, is that the newer phone is just a tad bit thicker at 7.65mm vs 7.4mm. 

Dual camera setup, upgraded

In the past couple of years, Apple has adopted a clear strategy to differentiate iPhones, equipping the non-Pro models with two cameras, but without a dedicated zoom lens, a feature reserved for the Pro models. Both the iPhone 13 and iPhone 12 follow that rule, so you get two cameras, but no telephoto lens.

Here is the camera hardware on the iPhone 13 and iPhone 12:

  • Wide camera — 12MP on both, 26mm, f/1.6 aperture on both
  • Ultra-wide camera — 12MP on both, 0.5X, or 13mm; f/2.4 aperture on both

While you still have 12MP sensors, Apple says the main camera can now capture capture more light, up to 47% more, for better night shots. Additionally, you get new sensor-shift OIS for better stability. And the ultra-wide camera is advertized to show more detail in the shadowy areas. So... let's take a look at the actual pictures!

As you can see above, the differences in daylight with the main camera mostly boil down to some variation in colors, but nothing major. The iPhone 13 seems to tone down the exposure of the highlights for a more balanced image, while the photo from the iPhone 12 looks a tiny bit overexposed.

And here is one more shot with both phones, where you can notice something similar: the mids and the highs of the photos have a bit lower exposure, and interestingly the image has a bit less saturation on the iPhone 13.

We were more curious about the low light shots, where Apple promises bigger improvements and while we wouldn't say it's a night and day difference, we can spot the sharper and cleaner definition of the iPhone 13 photo above.

We're in for a bit of a surprise with the ultra-wide camera, though. The iPhone 12 here actually captures the brighter photo and while detail is mushy that is the look that grabs the eye more. Just to make sure, here is one more shot with the ultra-wide camera at night:

Yep, that's indeed the norm with the iPhone 13 at night. It would capture darker photos with the ultra-wide camera, which is probably a bit more realistic but also not quite as impressive at first sight. You can manually tap the night mode button in the camera app and force a longer exposure to get a brighter shot though, and that would have slightly cleaner detail than the iPhone 12.

There are a few new software features too. We touch upon them in more detail in the articles below:

  • Cinematic Mode — similar to Portrait mode, but for video. The new iPhone will analyze video footage in real time and blur the background for a so called bokeh effect, leaving only the subject in focus.
  • Photographic Styles — way more powerful than traditional filters. These new AI filters will allow you to adjust colors, highlights and shadows on individual elements of a photo (be it an object or a person).

There is no LiDAR scanner on either phone.

Performance, Apple A15 and Storage

Double the storage for the same price is great news

Apple makes its own A series of chips for iPhones and they have led the market in terms of performance in the past few years, and this lead only continues with the new Apple A15 Bionic processor.

The iPhone 13 also has the same 4GB of RAM as the iPhone 12, but the base model now has 128GB storage, double the predecessor at the same price and that is awesome.

The Apple A15 chip is built on 5nm technology, same as last year, but it has 15 billion transistors vs 11.8 billion transistors on the A14 chip.

Below, you can find benchmarks comparing these two:

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Higher is better
Apple iPhone 13
Apple iPhone 12

There is slight improvement in speed, and analysts have pointed out that it is probably due to Apple bumping CPU speed for better single-core scores and increasing the cache that helps with multi-core results.

For GPU performance, we turn to the 3D Mark Wildlife Stress test. This is our preferred method of testing because it shows not only the initial burst of speed you get, but more realistic numbers as it runs straight for 20 minutes and shows how the results vary and if the phone throttles. The GPU performance increase we measured over the iPhone 12 is actually quite minuscule here, and towards the end we noticed the iPhone 13 actually throttled and scored even a bit below its predecessors.

We have also thrown in the results of the iPhone 13 mini here because they show an interesting difference: the mini throttles far earlier than the regular 13, just after 10 minutes, while the regular 13 only throttles towards the very end of the test. For gamers that might be an important distinction as the bigger iPhone 13 definitely has more thermal allowance to run intense games longer.

Finally, we have to mention that Apple throws in 128GB of storage in the base model, double the miserly 64 gigs we used to have in the iPhone 12 and that is great, all for the same price. You also get a new 512GB iPhone 13 tier, while the 12 used to only be available at up to 256GB.

Battery and Charging

iPhone 13 has longer battery life

The iPhone 13 brings a battery boost, with the iPhone 13 has a 3,227mAh battery cell vs 2,815mAh in iPhone 12, a nearly 15% increase in capacity.

What Apple does confirm is that you will get 1.5 hours longer battery life on average, and digging further in Apple documents we find that the iPhone 13 can now last 15 hours of non-stop video streaming, a huge upgrade over the 11 hours that the iPhone 12 can handle. These are official Apple numbers, folks!

iPhone 13 vs iPhone 12 PhoneArena Battery Test results:

Browsing test 60Hz(hours)Higher is better
Apple iPhone 1313h 43 min
Apple iPhone 1212h 33 min
Video Streaming(hours)Higher is better
Apple iPhone 138h 15 min
Apple iPhone 126h 38 min
3D Gaming 60Hz(hours)Higher is better
Apple iPhone 137h 28 min
Apple iPhone 126h 46 min

Looking at our own independent battery benchmark tests, we can see that battery life has indeed received a welcome boost. On our lightest web browsing test, the iPhone 13 scores nearly 14 hours compared to 12 hours and a half on the iPhone 12. You get a meaningful upgrade in the YouTube video streaming results as well as for gaming where the iPhone 13 outlasts the 12 by a good 2 hours. Impressive!

On the charger front, Apple "innovated" by not including a charger or headphones in the iPhone 12, and this beautiful innovation carries over to the iPhone 13. Apple paints this as an eco move, but you can easily also see this as a simple price-cutting manoeuvre. Whatever it is, plan on spending an additional $20-$30 bucks for a fast charger for the iPhone 13.

As to charging speeds, Apple has been slow to adopt the super fast charging that we see on many Android phones. We have the same 20W wired charging speeds for iPhone 13 and 15W wireless charging speeds with a compatible MagSafe charger.

iPhone 13 vs iPhone 12: Specs Comparison

And here is a detailed specs comparison between the iPhone 13 and iPhone 12.

Finally, the iPhone 13 gives you double the storage, along with all the new features we talked about above. We can definitely see Android phone makers worried as Apple improves the biggest sore point in its devices, the battery life.

But what about you, do you think Apple has delivered with this iPhone 13 upgrade over the iPhone 12?

We're looking forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments section below!

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