After the September launch of the iPhone 13s, many people thinking about changing to a new smartphone faced a difficult choice. Apple’s wide range of smartphones often makes it difficult to decide which model is most worth buying. In this article, I will try as closely as possible to compare the previous model of the iPhone “Pro”, with the new, basic thirteen – so it will be a duel between the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 13. Not always the latest means the best.
Both last year’s and the current model of the iPhone are very solidly made, as, by the way, are most Apple products. The difference comes in the form of materials used in the construction of the sides of the smartphones.
The iPhone 12 Pro has glossy stainless steel bezels that improve grip and leave the phone feeling like a premium device. The stainless steel edges look great with both a “bare” smartphone and with a clear case.
The bezels of the new iPhone 13 are aluminum and, as well-made as they are, they feel very average. While this doesn’t hinder the smartphone’s everyday use, for the duration of its use I got the impression that it feels more fragile than the steel iPhone 12 Pro.
Counterintuitively, there is also a difference in the thickness of the two phones, albeit very minimal. Though the iPhone 12 Pro appears thicker, it’s actually 0.25 mm thinner than the iPhone 13. As for weight, the metal bezels make last year’s flagship 14 grams heavier than the 13, but the difference is negligible.
While the backs of both smartphones are covered in glass, the iPhone 12 Pro has a matte finish, unlike the 13 where the back is made of traditional glossy glass.
When it comes to the back, it’s hard to say which type of glass I like better. The one found on the iPhone 12 Pro looks nicer to me, while the material used on the iPhone 13 grips my fingers better, making the newer smartphone feel more stable in my hand. Throughout the testing period, I was able to carry it without a case without worrying about dropping it.
On the chassis, you will find another difference that is hard to miss. It’s about the camera island. In the iPhone 12 Pro we will find three lenses, while in the thirteen, unfortunately, only two. I will talk about their quality later in the article.
The number of ports on the latest two iPhones hasn’t changed. On both the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 13, you’ll find a single Lightning port for charging the smartphone, as well as for syncing data. The number and quality of the speakers hasn’t changed either. The stereo drivers on both models give you the same listening experience. Their quality, regardless of the model you choose, will certainly not disappoint you.
Both smartphones have the same IP68 waterproof certification, which means that they can be submerged to a depth of 1.5 meters for 30 minutes. As with previous waterproof models, the manufacturer does not take responsibility for the waterproofness of the smartphone, so I would rather not advise exposing them to more than a light rain.
Display and size
An element that is virtually identical in both smartphones is the screen. On both the iPhone 12 Pro and the 13, you’ll find the same 6.1-inch OLED display with a resolution of 2532 x 1170 pixels at 460 pixels per inch.
What’s more, the displays have exactly the same brightness, which is 800 nits and 1200 nits when playing HDR content. This means that the screen remains clearly visible even in bright sunlight.
Additionally, the displays support the same P3 color gamut, have the same contrast, and both support True Tone technology, which adjusts the screen’s colors accordingly to the environment. I noticed absolutely no change in their quality.
There’s actually one clearly visible difference on the front of the screen. The iPhone 13 has a smaller notch, which is the top notch in the screen where the manufacturer placed the front lens and Face ID sensors to serve as security for unlocking the phone. Despite the smaller size of the notch, the amount of information displayed next to it is identical.
Choosing the iPhone 12 Pro, we can also opt for its larger version – the iPhone 12 Pro Max. The larger smartphone is equipped with a 6.7-inch display and, I must admit, it’s really huge. Unfortunately, opting for the entry-level iPhone 13, we can’t choose a larger screen size than 6.1 inches.
It’s worth remembering that in case you want a compact, smaller smartphone, buying an iPhone thirteen series gives you the option of buying the mini version, which has a display size of just 5.4 inches.
Components and performance
Both the devices I’m comparing feature a 6-core processor, made up of two performance cores and four power-saving cores. Both smartphones also feature 4-core graphics and a 16-core Neural Engine.
So where’s the difference? The iPhone 12 Pro uses the A14 Bionic chip, while the new 13 features the next-generation A15 Bionic processor. Additionally, the graphics and Neural Engine system have been improved to some extent.
Moreover, the difference also appears in the amount of RAM. The iPhone 12 Pro comes with 6GB of RAM, while the iPhone 13 only has 4GB of RAM.
From my experience, one thing is clear. At the time of testing, between the iPhone 12 Pro and the iPhone 13 I noticed absolutely no differences in performance between these smartphones. Both perform like flagships, and there’s nothing surprising about that, as it’s been just over a year since the iPhone 12 Pro was released.
It’s also worth mentioning that Apple smartphones usually get years of support with system and security updates. Currently, with iOS 15 being the latest, we can even install it on an already six-year-old iPhone 6s. I suspect that both the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 13 will receive support for years to come in the form of further updates.
Mobile photography is evolving very quickly. The new iPhones are no different. Models of the 13 line, in addition to new and improved lenses, got a few exclusive features. But about everything in turn.
To begin with, it’s worth mentioning what hasn’t changed at all from last year’s model. The wide-angle and ultra-wide-angle lenses still have 12 megapixels each, and the aperture is also the same on both models, namely f/1.6 and f/2.4 respectively.
The difference, however, comes in the zoom. The iPhone 12 Pro has a telephoto lens that allows you to zoom in on a scene twice, optically. On the 13, the third camera is sadly absent. The iPhone 12 Pro’s secondary lens also allows for 10x digital zoom, compared to the maximum 5x zoom on the iPhone 13.
After many smartphones equipped with a telephoto lens, after switching to the regular iPhone 13 I have to admit that the telephoto lens was lacking for me. With the added optical zoom, I was able to take pictures of the lecturer’s whiteboard at university without any problems, and with the 13’s digital zoom, this quality was much worse.
The element that makes the iPhone 12 Pro’s camera excel over that of the iPhone 13 is the LIDAR scanner. This sensor allows you to pinpoint where the subject you’re photographing is, which makes for much nicer portrait photos. Thanks to LIDAR, the iPhone 12 Pro even allows you to take portraits in night mode. This is another camera feature that the regular 13 lacked.
Another thing on the plus side of the iPhone 12 Pro is the ability to take photos in ProRAW format, through which we are able to pull out a clean image without additional processing. For those who are a bit more professional in taking photos with a smartphone, this feature can be indispensable.
However, not everything about last year’s flagship is the best. What’s been added in the iPhone 13 relative to the iPhone 12 Pro when it comes to taking photos are photo styles. In a nutshell, they allow you to change the contrast and color of a photo even before you take it. I covered all the photo modes in more detail in my iPhone 13 review.
Another feature that could improve the quality of photos taken with the iPhone 13 is support for HDR 4, as the previous flagship only supported HDR version three.
Moving on to the differences in video recording, here too the changes are minor. Apple’s most promoted mode, which is new to the thirteen lineup, is movie mode, which allows you to record clips with great depth of field. This mode is unfortunately limited to 1080p quality at 30 frames per second, and in my opinion, is not as polished as it should be.
Movie mode, instead of being reminiscent of Hollywood footage, for me personally is more like an underdeveloped form of portrait video, artificially blurring the background behind an object detected by artificial intelligence. During my iPhone 13 testing, I only used Movie Mode once and then completely forgot about it.
An additional difference in the cameras of the new models from the iPhone 12 Pro is the OIS System with automatic sensor stabilization. The iPhone 12 Pro uses optical image stabilization on two lenses, which can help reduce shake in both photo and video shooting.
The rest of the specs in video have absolutely not changed. Both phones are capable of recording in maximum 4K quality at 60 frames per second, and both also support HDR technology with Dolby Vision. Time-lapse video recording, as well as slow-motion video recording, is also unchanged in quality.
In the selfie camera, I can hardly find any differences. It’s exactly the same 12-megapixel lens with an f/2.2 aperture, and the quality of the photos it takes is literally identical. As with the main camera, the iPhone 13’s front camera supports HDR 4, as well as cinematic video mode, but other than that it’s exactly the same camera.
The quality of FaceTime calls is also unchanged. Like the iPhone 12 Pro, the 13 supports 1080p quality calls over both Wi-Fi and 5G networks. It will also come as no surprise that both smartphones support all the latest content sharing features over FaceTime, dubbed Shareplay by Apple.
I, being a person who talks via video practically every day, did not notice any differences between the quality of the two cameras. On both smartphones, the transmitted image is very clear and the connection is just as stable.
Taking pictures with both phones, I can say that their quality doesn’t really differ from each other. I am not a professional photographer, but judging them as an amateur I have to admit that I like them very much.
Both smartphones, of course, support night mode for better night shots, and they also feature a good quality ultra-wide-angle camera, which I often use to capture a wider frame.
If photography is something you do quite often, I think you will be fully satisfied with both phones. Maybe the iPhone 12 Pro doesn’t have any new photography styles, but the ability to save photos in ProRAW format and the LIDAR scanner, which improves autofocus speed and the quality of portrait shots, may tip the balance in its favor. The previous flagship also has an additional telescopic camera, which allows you to zoom in on a frame twice without much loss in quality.
In my opinion, the camera on the 12 Pro compares favourably with the new entry-level iPhone 13. While taking pictures with the 13, I often used the new photo styles, while I couldn’t get over the lack of a telephoto lens. I think any student will understand the point of its existence.
Starting in 2020, all newer iPhone models support 5G, so both the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 13 will be able to take advantage of the latest data technology without a hitch. Both devices also support Wi-Fi 6, which is sure to delight owners of the latest routers that support the standard.
Both smartphones come with a nanoSIM slot and also offer support for a virtual eSIM card. The difference comes in the case of dual card support. With the iPhone 12 Pro, you had to have one physical card and another eSIM card to use dual SIM. Dual eSIM support has been added to all models in the 13 lineup, which means you can use two virtual SIM cards at the same time. The change is definitely a plus for the 13.
Both devices feature an NFC chip for scanning NFC tags, as well as for mobile payments via Apple Pay. The new iPhone, like its predecessor, invariably offers a U1 module for accurately locating the phone and other Apple devices in public spaces.
According to Apple’s official website, the iPhone 13 is able to play video for 4 hours longer than the iPhone 12 Pro. The capacity of the cell, located in the iPhone 12 Pro, is about 2800 mAh, while in the 13 – about 3200 mAh. According to Apple, the larger battery will allow for an additional 2.5 hours of battery life over the previous model.
In my testing, however, I got the impression that the battery in the iPhone 13 behaves very similarly to the one in the iPhone 12 Pro. Battery life is of course a user issue, as everyone has their own habits and specific tasks they use their smartphone for. For moderate use of the smartphone throughout the day, I think we shouldn’t have much trouble being away from a power source for most of the day, regardless of the model we choose.
If we want much more battery life on the built-in battery, we can also consider the iPhone 12 Pro Max. The size of the battery in this smartphone is directly proportional to the diagonal of the screen, which only confirms my tests. The year-old 12 Pro Max (with a battery condition of 88%) with my fairly intensive use achieves similar battery life results as the new, entry-level 13.
The version that I do not recommend for more demanding users in terms of battery is the iPhone 13 mini. After a month of using this smartphone, there was no denying that the battery life was not satisfactory in my case. Often I had to use powerbanks or charge the phone in the car during the day, which in the case of the regular thirteen rarely happened.
Both the iPhone 12 Pro and the 13 support wireless charging and charging via Magsafe, a circular magnet attached to the back of the smartphone. It’s also worth mentioning that since last year, Apple has stopped equipping the boxes of new smartphones with a charger. Regardless of the model we choose, we should additionally equip ourselves with a power adapter.
Apple declares that both iPhones I compared, should charge to 50% in 30 minutes. This result, of course, can be achieved with Apple’s separately sold, original 20-watt power adapter.
What to choose?
I’ll answer that question with my own history of private smartphone changes over the past few months.
Last year, at launch, I purchased an iPhone 12 Pro. I used it very well, and had no major complaints about either the screen size or its performance. After a year, however, when the battery condition dropped to 86% and surviving a day without plugging in the charger became virtually impossible, the new line of iPhone 13 series began to tempt with new features and a revised design.
While testing the iPhone 13, even though I didn’t see any major differences between my previous iPhone 12 Pro, I found that the entry-level iPhone models are much better than I thought and maybe if I want to change I should opt for some other model than the Pro version again. As I wanted to test something new, the choice fell on the iPhone 13 mini. Unfortunately, this was a big mistake.
The iPhone in its smallest version had many disadvantages for me. I got used to small screen after few days of using it and after some time microscopic scales of applications became a norm for me. The problem was when I wanted to watch any video on YouTube or play any game on my new iPhone. The small screen simply started to bother me.
I also felt strongly about the battery life. Although it was still better than in the degraded cell of the iPhone 12 Pro, for me 4 or 5 hours of screen life was not enough. At every possible opportunity, the smartphone landed on the wireless charger just to make sure it didn’t drain.
Another problem with the iPhone 13 mini was its temperature during certain tasks. Because of the smaller footprint of the smartphone, there was also less room for heat dissipation, and as a result, FaceTime calls devoured a ton of battery and made the phone even steam up.
After an unsatisfactory purchasing decision, I decided to do something about it. I wanted to choose a model that I would finally be fully satisfied with, but I didn’t feel like going back to the iPhone 12 Pro anymore. As I was contemplating taking the best of the best, i.e. the iPhone 13 Pro Max on contract with a carrier, I noticed an interesting sale offer on Twitter – someone listed their iPhone 12 Pro Max for just under 3 grand.
It may seem strange to you, but I’ve never bought any used iPhone for personal use in my life. Usually I was chasing the most expensive models, every year losing a few thousand zloty selling the previous flagship. This time, however, after a very thorough examination of the smartphone, I decided to buy the iPhone 12 Pro Max. And it was a shot in the bull’s eye.
What I like most about the iPhone 12 Pro Max is the screen. Although it’s actually a lot less compact and handy than the iPhone 13 and especially the iPhone 13 mini, the workspace is huge. The performance of the year-old flagship in some cases surpasses the experience I’ve had from using newer, entry-level models. On the 13 mini, it was common for the camera app to cut off after taking a photo. Here, everything works exemplarily.
Additionally, I got a set of cameras that are even better than the ones I know from the iPhone 12 Pro. The telescopic camera has a zoom multiplier of 2.5 instead of 2x, and in addition, the 12 Pro Max uses the OIS System with automatic sensor stabilization. This is the same system that is present in all models of the thirteen line.
For about half the price of the new iPhone 13 Pro Max, I gained the smartphone I should have had since last year. I think then switching to the new models wouldn’t have tempted me as much, saving me money as well as nerves.
I’ve learned the hard way that it’s not always worth switching to the latest thing. In writing this comparison, I was surprised myself at how little difference there is in the specs of the iPhone 12 Pro and the iPhone 13. With each paragraph, I get the impression that the previous flagship performs better than the latest entry-level model in the 13 line.
Coming to the conclusion I think that in most cases it is the iPhone 12 Pro that will be a better choice than the latest iPhone 13. The steel design, the extra lens, and the price are the main reasons why I would recommend considering last year’s flagship over the new entry-level model.
Opting for the entry-level Thirteen will also keep you happy. An equally good camera with a few minor differences, as well as a good battery life will certainly not disappoint.
Despite everything, however, I recommend browsing through the used phone listings. You might be able to, like me, find the perfect model.