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Apple iPhone 11 vs iPhone 12: which should you buy?

Not sure which smartphone to buy? Here's how the iPhone 11 and iPhone 12 design, specs and features compare.

Miguel Candela/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
Published: Friday, 14th May 2021 at 2:00 pm

For anyone wanting to enter the Apple ecosystem in 2021, you may have already asked yourself the question: iPhone 11, iPhone 12 or iPhone 13?

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The iPhone 13 pre-orders are live, making it even more difficult to pick the right handset from the massive line-up.

So consumers and Apple fans now have a decision to make: splash out on the iPhone 13, buy an iPhone 12 or pick up the still-impressive iPhone 11 model, which has dropped in price but remains a fantastic device even two years after its initial UK release.

To help you weigh up your options, we’ll highlight some key differences between the iPhone 11 and iPhone 12 below and consider a variety of factors — including budget, features and day-to-day use so you can make an informed decision before you make a final choice.

Be sure to check out our full review of the Apple iPhone 12, alongside our expert thoughts about the iPhone 12 Pro and the iPhone 12 Mini. To see how the models compare to an older model, read our review of the iPhone 11 Pro.

Still stuck? For an in-depth analysis of the latest Apple iPhone 12 line-up, read our iPhone 12 vs Mini vs Pro vs Pro Max comparison and buyer’s guide.

Tempted by the new handset? Take a look at our iPhone 13 review for a breakdown of the phone's specs, or head to our iPhone 13 stock page to find out which UK retailers have the flagship device.

Jump to:

iPhone 11 v iPhone 12: Key differences at a glance

  • The iPhone 12 has 5G, the iPhone 11 is 4G LTE
  • The iPhone 12 has better performance due to its updated processor, using an A14 Bionic chip over the last generation A13 Bionic chip.
  • The iPhone 12 is compatible with MagSafe accessories and wireless chargers. The iPhone 11 is not.
  • The iPhone 12 had the first design overhaul for a while, going back to the squared-off design of the iPhone 4/5, with a new ceramic shield,
  • The iPhone 12 has a better screen, using a Super Retina XDR display. The iPhone 11 offers a Liquid Retina HD display in comparison.
  • The iPhone 12 screen is 2532x1170-pixel resolution at 460 ppi, compared to the iPhone 11’s 1792x828-pixel resolution at 326 ppi.
  • The iPhone 12 is water-resistant to a depth of six metres, compared to the iPhone 11, which is water-resistant to a depth of two metres.

iPhone 11 v iPhone 12: Specs and features

Let’s not lose perspective; any of the modern iPhones are impressive in terms of specs and features. While the latest models offer slightly better performance and connectivity, it needs to be remembered that the iPhone 11 is no slouch.

The main upgrade for the iPhone 12 is 5G, which the iPhone 11 lacks completely. If that matters the most to you, it’s clear that the 12 is your best option.

The second update is the inclusion of MagSafe, Apple’s magnetic technology that connects wireless accessories and allows for faster charging. That, too, won’t be found in the older models. It’s up to you if that’s a deal-breaker.

Both the iPhone 11 and iPhone 12 have a 6.1-inch display, but the 12 comes with a super retina OLED over a liquid retina. In short, it’s better on the eye.

In terms of performance, the 12 would also win due to the A14 Bionic chip that is lurking inside its aluminium shell. The iPhone 11 handset contains an A13 Bionic chip which, yes, is older in 2021 but will still serve you well in day-to-day use.

The camera setup in both phones is fairly similar, offering a dual 12 megapixel (MP) system featuring ultra-wide and wide lenses. Both phones can shoot 4K video at 24 frames per second (fps), alongside 25 fps, 30 fps or 60 fps.

Both phones have Face ID biometrics and Apple Pay, and both use a lithium‑ion battery with fast charging offering up to 50% charge in 30 minutes. Although as stated, only the iPhone 12 will be compatible with MagSafe accessories.

Price

The iPhone 12 was released on October 23rd 2020, and the base model is priced at £799 on the Apple store, although via retailers like Carphone Warehouse it can be picked up for £38.99 per month with a £29.99 upfront cost.

Additional models in the most recent series are the iPhone 12 Pro (from £999), iPhone 12 Pro Max (from £1,099) and the iPhone 12 Mini (from £699).

The iPhone 11 was released on September 20th 2019, and is priced from £599 on the Apple store. They vary in price, but additional last generation models are the iPhone 11 Pro, iPhone 11 Pro Max and the iPhone SE (2nd generation).

The new iPhone 12 has harks back to the design of the iPhone 4 and 5.
The iPhone 12 harks back to the design of the iPhone 4 and 5. Stanislav Kogiku/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Storage

The iPhone 12 doesn’t offer any improvements in terms of internal storage – the base models of the iPhone 11 and 12 offer a choice of 64GB, 128GB and 256GB, with the more expensive Pro models offering an extra option of 512GB.

Battery life

As detailed in our full iPhone 12 review, the new handset contains a 2,815mAh battery, which is actually smaller than the 11’s 3,110mAh battery. But that doesn’t tell the entire story, as the A14 Bionic chip is better at power optimisation.

Our expert reviewer confirmed that the battery life in the iPhone 12 was enough to last for an entire day without having to re-charge. Based on the 11’s cell size, that handset could also be expected to last for over 11 hours without needing fresh juice. Ultimately, that's fairly typical for Apple handsets.

Camera

The iPhone 11 has a dual-camera setup with both a wide and ultra-wide lens on the rear, while the Pro and Pro Max versions add an extra 2x telephoto lens.

The iPhone 12 and 12 Mini also have a dual-camera setup, but with a 27% boost in performance. The high-end Pro models again have three rear cameras – and they add a LIDAR sensor for improved AR features and object detection.

Both the base iPhone 11 and 12 cameras have optical image stabilisation, a 2x optical zoom out, digital zoom up to 5x, night mode and a portrait mode.

An iPhone 12 smartphone placed on keyboard of a MacBook Pro laptop.
An iPhone 12 smartphone placed on keyboard of a MacBook Pro laptop.  Alex Tai/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Display

The iPhone 11 range has three sizes – the standard 11 spans 6.1 inches, the Pro is 5.8 inches, while the Pro Max is 6.7 inches. The 12 line-up is pretty much the same – the standard is 6.1 inches, the Pro is 6.1 inches, and the Pro Max is 6.7 inches.

The biggest difference here is the introduction of the iPhone 12 Mini handset with a 5.4-inch screen – so for those complaining that modern smartphones are too big to fit in your pocket or use one-handed, this could be the mobile for you.

5G capability and connectivity 

Another distinction is 5G connectivity. None of the iPhone 11 models supports 5G, whereas all 12 variants are 5G-ready. In ideal conditions, download speeds can reach 4GB per second with upload speeds of 200MB per second, although Apple noted that typical download speeds would be 1GB per second, not 4GB.

The inclusion of 5G is down to personal choice. On the one hand, the iPhone 12 is far better future-proofed, while on the other hand 5G rollout is still not widespread. By the time 5G is everywhere in the U.K., there could be an iPhone 13, 14 or 30.

Design

Aesthetically, there is a difference. The 12 looks more like the older iPhone 4/5 than the recent iPhone X, with flatter edges and a box design. As part of Apple’s sustainability efforts, the 12 doesn’t ship with a charger or headphones.

The iPhone 11, however, looks much more similar to the iPhone X range, with curved edges and a rounded design. The iPhone 12 screen merges crystal and glass to create what Apple calls a ceramic shield four times more durable – with the iPhone 12 claiming to be water-resistant to a depth of six metres.

The iPhone 12 smartphone next to the iPhone 11 as a customer tests in the background Apple brand products at an Apple store during the launch day of the new iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro phones.
The iPhone 12 smartphone next to the iPhone 11.  Miguel Candela/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Verdict 

Deciding which iPhone to buy may come down to your budget – with the newer iPhone 12 starting at least £100 more than the iPhone 11. You’ll have to weigh up whether you’ll use the new features enough to justify the price jump.

For those mulling over an upgrade, that depends very much on what you intend your iPhone for. Those on the move will appreciate the increased connection speeds that come with 5G, and anyone who uses their iPhone for complex and professional tasks will benefit from the performance of the new processor.

The 12 Mini will be the option for those who dislike large screens, while the 12’s ceramic shield may prevent a cracked screen for the clumsiest among us.

It's worth noting that many features are the same – there’s barely any difference to storage and screen sizes, and the cameras and displays are only seeing incremental upgrades. As cool as LIDAR and MagSafe are, it’s worth questioning whether these new features are worth a couple hundred pounds more.

Where to buy and deals

Where to buy the iPhone 11:

Where to buy the iPhone 12: 

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Looking for more on Apple products? Read our Apple Watch 7 and AirPods 3 release date pages for the latest news. Be sure to check out all of our reviews

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