Updated 9 October 2021
Are you thinking about buying an iPhone, but not sure which model to go for? Which one’s really the best, and exactly how good is the latest model? Don’t panic! We’ll help you find the phone that best suits your needs among the many models of iPhone 13, iPhone 12, iPhone 11 and iPhone SE.
The biggest differences between the new iPhone 13 from 2021 and its predecessor, the iPhone 12 from 2020, are on the inside. Here we find a new processor chip with a faster CPU, built-in privacy protection and a more developed AI system. All models have a higher capacity battery, which gives 1.5 to 2.5 hours’ better battery life compared to 2020 models. The screens are brighter to make phones easier to use in bright daylight.
All phones in the iPhone 13 series have a camera with an optical image stabiliser. This was previously only found on the iPhone 12 Pro Max. All models also have improved night mode to capture images in more difficult lighting conditions. Another new feature for the film buff is “cinematic video mode”, which allows you to shoot with an extremely shallow depth of field while the camera automatically focuses on the subject – shifting focus when the subject disappears from the frame or looks away. This is perfect for the amateur film maker who wants to create dramatic focus shifts without having to carry a huge amount of equipment.
The entry-level model of the 2021 iPhone series is made of aluminium and features a 6.1" OLED screen. The battery life is significantly better than its predecessor, which became very noticeable in our iPhone 13 test. The graphics are also improved compared to the 12, but the difference isn’t enormous. If you play a lot of games on your phone, you should instead look at the Pro models, which have an extra graphics core, adding extra power for demanding games and professional applications.
The biggest update compared to its predecessor, the iPhone 12 is the 12 megapixel camera, which on the iPhone 13 has been replaced by two new, slightly larger lenses, now placed diagonally on the back of the phone. These are a wide-angle lens that lets in more light, plus an ultra-wide angle that allows you to capture more of the object without having to move away from it.
What’s the difference between the iPhone 13 Mini and the standard iPhone 13? The smaller version has (naturally) a smaller 5.4” screen, while the standard model has a 6.1” screen. Other than its size, it’s otherwise only the battery capacity that differs between the two models. Not forgetting that the battery capacity is far better than on its predecessor, the iPhone 12 Mini. The iPhone 13 Mini gives you up to 1.5 hours more battery life between charges than the iPhone 12 Mini did.
In other words, the Mini has received exactly the same updates as its bigger siblings, with an updated processor, better camera, optical image stabilisation and better AI for security and privacy. A premium mobile – but in a neater format for those who want a more manageable size of mobile, something that is almost unique on the market.
It’s the iPhone 13 Pro models where we discover the big differences from the 12 series. The finish is surgical-quality steel, making the phones superbly durable. There’s also a battery life that’s been improved by 1.5 hours.
The OLED screen is an updated 120 Hz variant for a much more responsive screen that gives a fantastically sharp image even while you’re scrolling text. The frequency is also adaptive – if you stop scrolling, the refresh rate drops down to 10 Hz, saving on battery power compared to screens with constant refresh rates. The Pro models also have an additional GPU core, which provides significantly improved graphics compared to their predecessors. If mobile games are your thing, it’s here the Pro earns its name.
The camera is another aspect where you notice a big difference from this phone’s siblings. All three lenses are a little larger: wide angle, ultra-wide angle and the telephoto lens only available on Pro models. This year, the latter has three times optical zoom, where earlier variants had at most two. There’s also finally a good macro function, where you can also shoot videos in macro mode for pin-sharp close-ups. So if you really want to go for video and maybe shoot short films with your mobile phone, the iPhone Pro variants are a good choice. But it may be worth investing in a model with 256 GB or more, because the ProRes feature will soon be available on the larger models, giving you the ability to record, edit and deliver broadcast-ready video content directly on your mobile.
When the iPhone 12 was launched, you had to choose the larger model if you wanted the best camera. In the iPhone 13 edition, the Pro and Pro Max don’t differ in terms of what’s inside or the technology. The only differences are the size of the screen and a slightly better battery life of 2.5 hours more than their predecessors. The exterior is steel here too, which primarily affects the Pro Max model, as its larger size of 6.7 inches means it’s quite heavy, approaching a quarter of a kilo (!)
Otherwise, the iPhone 13 Pro Max is the same as the iPhone 13 Pro, and is best for those who really want a bigger screen, or want to maximise battery life.
The different iPhone 12 models are the same on many levels: they have a similar flat edge design (like the iPhone 4) which makes the screen slightly larger even if the dimensions are the same as for the 11. Unlike their predecessors, all of the iPhone 12 models feature the Apple A14 chip, which is 5G compatible,
The iPhone 12 phones have OLED screens that adjust colours to the environment, which may be most noticeable in rooms with dim lighting. You also get haptic feedback integrated into the screen’s user interface. This essentially means that the screen can affect the user experience so that a light touch on the screen feels like a mechanical click – like a computer mouse. The phones are also IP68 water and dust resistant, which means they can cope with sitting on the bottom of a lake at a depth of 1.5 meters for 30 minutes. All phones in the series use Face ID, i.e. facial recognition to unlock the phone. This distinguishes them from the 2020 iPhone SE model, which still uses Touch ID fingerprint recognition.
The iPhone 12 comes in two different sizes – this basic version is 6.1”, almost the same as its predecessor, the iPhone 11. Apart from the size, there isn’t much to distinguish between the two base models of the iPhone 12. They both have two 12 MP dual camera systems (ultra wide and wide angle), Face ID and an OLED screen. If you also want a third camera lens (the telephoto lens), it’s better to look at the iPhone 12 Pro or Pro Max – or the further updated iPhone 13 series which allows in more light and, in the Pro models, also has a macro photography function. Functions that do come with a slightly higher price tag.
The iPhone 12 mini is the slightly smaller version of the iPhone 12. In terms of size, with its 5.4” screen, the iPhone 12 Mini is slightly smaller than the iPhone SE from 2020. The functions, with a 12 MP dual camera system (wide-angle and ultra-wide angle), Face ID and an OLED screen, are the same on both models. But the battery life is slightly shorter than on its bigger sibling.
If you also want a third camera lens (the telephoto lens), it’s better to look at the iPhone 12 Pro or Pro Max – or the further updated iPhone 13 series which allows in more light and, in the Pro models, also has a macro photography function. Functions that do come with a slightly higher price tag.
The Pro models have a slightly flatter or narrower design than the standard iPhone 12. Despite this, they are slightly bigger than their predecessors, which also means a bigger screen – 6.1” instead of 5.8” on the iPhone 11 Pro.
It’s mainly the size that separates Pro from Pro Max. They both have a 12 MP triple camera system (ultra-wide, wide-angle and telephoto) and a depth sensor that can measure distances, for extra depth of photos and a faster autofocus function.
The Pro Max model has a slightly flatter or narrower design than the basic version. Despite this, it’s slightly bigger than its predecessor, which also means a bigger screen. The iPhone 12 Pro Max has a 6.7” screen while the iPhone 11 Pro Max has 6.5”.
It’s primarily the size that separates the different Pro models. They both have a 12 MP triple camera system (ultra-wide, wide-angle and telephoto) and a depth sensor that can measure distances, for extra depth of photos and a faster autofocus function. However, he iPhone 12 Pro Max has a slightly better zoom function and a slightly longer battery life than the iPhone 12 Pro. The iPhone 12 Pro Max also features “Sensor shift”, which means a new kind of image stabilisation where the entire camera sensor sits in a kind of suspension unit, providing better image stabilisation.
While Apple’s newer models all have flatter edges like the older iPhone models, the iPhone 11 has a more rounded housing with curved edges. It’s made of glass and aluminium with a full-cover screen that has the familiar “tongue” in front for Face ID. The three phones in the iPhone 11 series all run on the Apple A13 processor chip, just like the 2020 iPhone SE. This is a slightly older processor than the ones in the iPhone 12 and 13, but it’s still a powerful and modern mobile phone for a slightly lower price.
The phone is also IP68 rated for splash, dust and water resistance, which means it can withstand immersion in water at a maximum depth of six metres for up to 30 minutes. On the back, the iPhone 11 has a slightly protruding dual camera with a 12 MP wide-angle lens and a 12 MP ultra-wide angle lens, together with optical image stabilisation. It also has an optical zoom of 2x and a digital zoom of up to 5x.
The iPhone 11 (6.1”) is very similar to the older model iPhone XR, with an aluminium frame and a tinted glass back. There’s also a dual camera with wide and ultra-wide angle lens – just like the basic iPhone 12 and 13 models – and it has some extra camera functions compared to the older models, including night mode. It also has a slightly better battery than its predecessor, the XR, but slightly worse than the 12 and 13. The screen on the iPhone 11 is an LCD one, unlike the OLED of the Pro models, and it lacks HDR, but has both TrueTone and Haptic Touch, just like the Pro models and the newer iPhone 12.
The iPhone 11 Pro features a more modern 5.8” OLED screen and HDR. The screen also has slightly higher brightness than its smaller sibling, the iPhone 11, and the back also has a third camera lens with telephoto function. The surface is a bit more premium, with surgical steel rather than the aluminium of the standard iPhone 11.
The iPhone 11 Pro features a more modern 6.5” OLED screen that’s a little bigger than its Pro siblings, as well as HDR. The screen also has slightly higher brightness than its smaller sibling, the iPhone 11, and the back also has a third camera lens with telephoto function. The surface is a bit more premium, with surgical steel rather than the aluminium of the standard iPhone 11.
The iPhone SE is the most budget-friendly iPhone option in many years. We recognise the design from the iPhone 8 and it also has the same dimensions, but is now officially water resistant to IP67 classification. The design also means that the iPhone SE retains the Touch ID function and becomes the only remaining Apple model that doesn’t use Face ID.
Inside the shell, the iPhone SE is powered by the A13 Bionic, the same chip as in the iPhone 11 phones, and much more powerful than the older iPhone XR. There is a single 12 megapixel camera on the back. The camera is the same as in the iPhone 8, but it offers the same portrait effects as the iPhone 11, plus the next generation Smart HDR.
Disadvantages of the iPhone SE
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