iPhone 13 vs 12 / 11 / SE — Don’t Upgrade Wrong!

The iPhone 13, mini, Pro, and Max are here, but the iPhones 12 and mini, iPhone 11, and iPhone SE have all stuck around for another year. So, should you invest in the latest and greatest, or take advantage of the discounts on the previous generation?

Price and capacity

An iPhone 13 will cost you the exact same as an iPhone 12 did last year, you just get more for your money now. Including double the starting storage. 128 GB for $830, 256 GB for $930, or 512 GB for $1130.

If size really doesn’t matter, but the up-front price does, you can get the mini. Identical in every way but wireless charging speed, because mini, but $100 less for every storage tier.

If you want to go Pro, and get all the extra pro features, you’re looking at almost $300 more. I have a whole entire iPhone 13 vs Pro video up if you want all the details, but the gist is, 128 GB for $1000, 256 GB for $1100, 512 GB for $1300, and a whopping 1 TB for an equally whopping $1500.

And if size really does matter, or money is just no object, you can get the 13 Pro Max. Also identical in almost every other way, but $100 MORE for every storage tier.

If any… all of that, is just way too much to spend on an iPhone, you can last year’s flagship, the iPhone 12, at this year’s $100 price drop, or 64 GB for $730, 128 GB for $780, or 256 GB for $880.

But, honestly, a 100 bucks less for half the starting storage, or 50 bucks less for the same storage, unless you stream and cloud store everything, or absolutely don’t have an extra dollar to spend on a phone… over the course of the next year… if you’re considering the iPhone 12, the 13 will be a much better, longer term investment for you at this point.

Ditto the iPhone 12 mini, still $100 less for every storage tier, but still the much lower starting tier and smaller difference between the other tiers. Plus the iPhone 13 mini destroys it on battery life. More on that in a minute.

Now, If even the 12 is too rich for your blood, you can get two-years ago’s flagship, the iPhone 11, at a $200 price drop. But only 64 GB for $500 or 128 GB $550.

There’s no mini for that model, but it might actually be a sweet spot if you want the modern design and don’t care… or maybe don’t even like OLED displays or 5G. Which I’ll also get to in a minute.

And then there’s the iPhone SE 2. Classic not modern design. Good old-fashioned home button. And $400 for 64 GB or $450 for $128.

That’s what Apple’s offering this year, but it’s worth shopping around because sometimes carriers are still offering discontinued variants, like the excellent iPhone 12 Pro Max or iPhone 11 Pro, and there are a ton of trade-in and installment deals this year that can help you stretch your iPhone dollars further than ever.

But the key is this — you want the most iPhone for the least money. Not just the lowest price but the highest value. Find the iPhone that really suits your needs, then find the best price for it. Or if you have a set budget, find the best iPhone or best deal you can for that budget. Especially if you need it to last you several years or more.

Materials and Colors

The iPhone 13 Pros have shiny stainless steel bands and matte glass backs in silver, graphite, gold, and Sierra blue. All the other models have matte aluminum bands and shiny glass backs, but also bolder color options.

The iPhone 13 comes in starlight, which is a slightly golden silver, midnight, which is a slightly indigo black, teal blue, hello kitty pink, and deep red.

The 12s come in even more colors, lavender purple, navy blue, mint green, bright red, white, and black.

All of them have Ceramic Shield, which is Apple’s break-resistant don’t-call-it-glass fronts, and ion-exchange glass backs, and are water resistant up to 6 meters for 30 minutes.

The iPhone 11s come in a more pastel purple, slightly deeper green, black, white, and middle red. Ion-exchange glass front and back, and only 2-meters of water resistance for 30 minutes.

The iPhone SE only comes in red, white, and black, ion exchange glass front and back, and only 1-meter of water resistant for 30 minutes.

So, if you want premium, you’ll have to stick with the iPhone 13 Pro. If durability and water resistance are critical to you, you’re going to want to stick with the iPhone 13 or iPhone 12.

Display & Size

The iPhone 13, iPhone 13 Pro, iPhone 12, and iPhone 11 all have 6.1-inch screens. If you want smaller, you’ll have to go with the 5.4-inch iPhone 13 mini or iPhone 12 mini, or the non-full screen 4.7-inch iPhone SE. Just be aware, because of it’s classic design, the SE’s screen may be smaller than the mini’s but physically, it’s bigger.

The iPhones 13 and 12 all have triple density OLED displays. Which means wide color, high dynamic range, and high contrast ratios for deep, inky blacks, bright whites, and lots of detail in highlights and shadows. OLED has some issues with color shifting, smearing, and pulse width modulation, but they’re absolutely terrific for movies, TV shows, photos, video games… just glorious.

The iPhones 11 and SE have double density LCD displays. They’re wide gamut, so you still get rich reds and vibrant greens, but you don’t get the same high dynamic range and contrast. Still, Apple uses really, really good LCD panels with excellent color calibration, so unless you really care about HDR or are holding them side-by-side with OLED, you may not recognize or care about the difference.

The iPhone 13 Pros will even ramp up to 120Hz now for smoother scrolling and gaming, and even ramp down to 48Hz for movies and 10Hz for books. It’s a better, more natural experience but also way more efficient for battery life. All the other iPhones are locked at 60Hz.

If you want high frame rate, you’ll have to go 13 Pro. If you want OLED, you’ll have to go 12 or 13. If you deliberately don’t want OLED, 11 or SE.


Ok, real talk. Pretty much any iPhone from the last few years will give you great photos and video under ideal conditions like bright, outdoor light. What the newer and more expensive iPhones will do is give you great photos and videos under increasingly less idea conditions, like indoor light at home, low light at a restaurant, or at night or at a concert. They’re also increasingly better at avoiding blur on moving subjects, especially kids and pets.

The iPhone SE only has a 26mm wide angle. Pretty much the same wide angle as the iPhone 11, but the iPhone 11 also has a 13mm ultra wide angle, as do the iPhones 12 and 13. That lets you zoom out to capture way more of a scene. Whether that’s a room in your house, friends at a party, or the buildings on a street.

The iPhone 13 Pro also has auto-focus on the ultra-wide and a macro mode for extreme close up photos. Like flower petals, bugs, nail polish, or minifigs. Plus a third, 77mm telephoto camera. That lets you zoom in up to 3x to capture scenes that are further away. It’s great for portraits but also kids at the park or playing sports, and sight seeing.

The iPhone 11 and later have night mode, for extreme low light. The iPhone 12 and later have Dolby Vision HDR for high-dynamic range video. The 12 caps out at 4K30, but the 13 can go to 4K60. The iPhone 13 also has cinematic video, for blurry backgrounds and rack focus. More like what you see in TV shows and movies. If you’re next level, the iPhone 13 Pros have ProRaw for photography and will soon be getting ProRes for video, which capture way more data and detail and give you a ton more options in the edit. You know them if you need them.

Pretty much the same story on the front-facing selfie cams too. If you want all the nitty gritty details, I’ll link all my iPhone reviews in the description right below the like button!

So, if a photo or video is just a photo or video to you, you can get any of them. But if the iPhone is your only camera, and you want the best possible photos and videos you can get, you’re going to want a 12 or 13. And if you want pro video, you’re going to need an iPhone 13 Pro.


All the current iPhones have Wi-Fi 6 or 802.11ax. No Wi-Fi 6E yet on any of them. So no difference there. They also all have Gigabit 4G LTE cellular networking. Only the iPhone 12 and 13 have 5G NR networking, both Sub-6 and mmWave. So, if you need 5G, you need a 12… or a 13 which has even more bands for more places.

All of them, except for the iPhone SE, also have the U1 ultra wide band positioning chip, which is used for things like AirTags and Find My precision location, and will increasingly be used for things like digital keys. So if you want any of that, you have to go with anything but the SE.


But… the iPhone SE is the only one with good old Touch ID, Apple’s fingerprint identity scanner, because good old fashioned Home button design.

The iPhones 11, 12, and 13 all have Face ID, Apple’s facial geometry scanner, because full screen, notched designs. Face ID can be faster and more transparent, but if you wear masks more than gloves, Touch ID might still be more appealing.

Battery Life

Not surprisingly, the bigger, heavier iPhones have the better battery life. Highly optimized video playback isn’t a good or well rounded IRL metric, but it gives usable scale for comparison.

The iPhone 12 mini and iPhone SE have the worst battery life of any modern iPhones. 13 hours and 15 hours respectively. iPhone 13 mini comes in at 17 hours, same as iPhone 11 and 12. iPhone 13 hits at 19 hours, the 13 Pro at 22 hours, and the 13 Pro Max a stupefying 28 hours.

Again, that’s for hardware accelerated video, so divide by half and then swirl around a bunch for average, mixed workloads.

Also, while all these iPhones can fast charge over a Lightning cable up to 50% in 30 minutes with a 20 watt charger — sold separately! — and they all have Qi-standard inductive charging, only the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 work with Apple’s new MagSafe magnetic inductive charging system and range of accessories. And the iPhones mini at 12 watts instead of 15 like the other iPhones get, because smol. Now, MagSafe may not be hugely compelling right now, but could become more so over the next couple of years.

Either way, it means if you’re ok with light use or more frequent charging, you’ll be ok with an SE or mini, especially 13 mini. If you want an iPhone that can go all day and well into the next day, you’ll want the 13 Pro Max.


All of Apple’s chipsets may seem overpowered, but they’re designed to provide headroom for future versions of iOS and apps. With a brand new iPhone and chipset, like the A15 in the iPhone 13, you can look forward to around 5-6 years of updates. With older versions, like the A14 in the iPhone 12 and the A13 in the iPhone 11 and SE, a year or so less for each number less. So, basically, an iPhone 13 might take you to iOS 20, iPhone 12 to iOS 19, iPhone 11 and SE to iOS 18. Give or take a version.

In other words, you might save some money up front on a previous generation iPhone, but you also might be giving up usability and updates over the life of your iPhone, especially if you intend to keep it for more than 3 years, or even hand it down or sell it…

When it comes to RAM, for iOS that mostly just matters in terms of how many old apps can stay live in memory without being forced to close to make room for the new ones you’re launching, especially heavy ones like the camera, games, or social. Also, how long web tabs will last without them being forced to reload when you come back to the browser.

You only get 3 GB with the iPhone SE. 4 GB with the iPhone 11, iPhone 12, and the iPhone 13 and 13 mini. But 6 GB with the iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max.

That means if you want Max RAM, you’ll need the iPhone 13 Pro… or Max.

So, if you want more iPhone for less money, double check those trade-in offers and installment options and see if you can often find a way to lower the up front payment or to spread any difference out to where it’s a much, much smaller amount every month.