Apple iPhone 12 vs Apple iPhone XR: Which model is right for you?

·9-min read
We found striking differences between the newly released model and its older version (iStock/The Independent)
We found striking differences between the newly released model and its older version (iStock/The Independent)

Every autumn, Apple releases new iPhones. But does that mean that if you’re planning to upgrade that you should choose the newest model, or are you better off saving your money and going for a slightly older version?

The range of iPhones is very wide right now. There’s the iPhone 12 (£829, Amazon.co.uk) which comes in four different versions: the original, the mini (£579, Amazon.co.uk), the Pro (£949, Amazon.co.uk) and the Pro Max (£1,084.97, Amazon.co.uk).

There’s a compact phone called the iPhone SE (£472.23, Amazon.co.uk) – the only iPhone with a Touch ID fingerprint sensor.

Then there are two models from previous years which have remained in the line-up at significantly reduced prices. These are the iPhone 11 (£599, Amazon.co.uk) from 2019 and the iPhone XR (£499, Amazon.co.uk) from 2018.

The price differences are stark: the iPhone XR starts at £499, while the iPhone 12 starts at £799 and the cheapest iPhone 12 Pro Max is £1,099. So, should you save your money?

Read more:

Things to consider

Design

Do you want the gently curved edges of the phone body and pillowed screen on the iPhone XR or the sharper, flat profile of the iPhone 12?

Performance

The latest phones usually have faster processors which can make for a smoother experience and can add extra features.

Cameras

Multiple cameras add versatility and special effects.

Battery life

This is crucial: having lots of features is meaningless if the phone is flat by lunchtime.

The similarities

One of Apple’s special features is high-security facial recognition. Other phones have front-facing cameras which can recognise it’s you, but on the iPhone XR and iPhone 12, this is so safe that it can be used for payments. This feature is called Face ID and makes unlocking fast and intimate.

The payment system, by the way, is called Apple Pay and is very convenient. It’s also on both phones.

The software is called iOS and both phones are compatible with the very latest version, iOS 14. They’ll also both work with the updated iOS 15 when that is released this autumn. Apple offers software support for years longer than Android does – up to six years.

Wireless charging is featured on both phones. Place the iPhone on a wireless charging pad and it’ll recharge without the need for cables. This may sound minor but if you’ve been charging your phone on your desk and are continually plugging and unplugging it when you need to look at it, the change to just lifting it off the pad is a big step forward.

Apple iPhone XR

Buy now £499, Amazon.co.uk

  • Price: From £499

  • Screen size: 6.1in

  • Screen technology: LCD

  • Storage capacity: 64GB, 128GB

  • Processor: A12 Bionic

  • Rear camera: 12MP

  • Front camera: 7MP

  • 4G or 5G? 4G

  • Face ID? Yes

  • Rating: 7/10

First released in October 2018, the iPhone XR (the X is pronounced ten, by the way) was the first entry-level iPhone with Face ID, a feature which had previously only been seen on the top-flight iPhone X the year before.

This meant there was no need for a Touch ID fingerprint sensor on the front, allowing for an edge-to-edge display on the front, something no company had been able to do with an LCD screen before. Apple used precisely milled glass and clever pixel masking to ensure the screen looked great with curved corners. Measuring 6.1in it was the largest LCD screen Apple had made – a record it still holds as the iPhone 11 merely matched it and bigger iPhone displays have all used OLED. But, while the screen looks good, it has a lower resolution than the displays on the iPhone 12, something that’s really only evident if you have both side-by-side.

Read more: iPhone vs Android: Which smartphone should you buy?

Apple moved into colour with the iPhone XR and it’s available in six different finishes: blue, white, black, yellow, coral and product(red). The iPhone 12 is also available in six shades. It also introduced longer battery life than the iPhone had seen before, though the iPhone 12 is even longer. Even so, it is enough to glide through a full day with ease.

There’s only one rear camera on the iPhone XR, but unlike previous single-camera setups, the processor on this phone was so advanced that it could deliver effects usually reserved for two cameras. Portrait mode for example, ensures your subject is in sharp focus while the background is blurred. Normally, a phone achieves this by shooting two cameras at the same time and combining the images. The iPhone XR does it entirely through software, something made popular by the A12 Bionic chip which is very fast.

But there’s a downside to this technique: portrait mode is for people only, not still lives of fruit or, more importantly, pets. If you want portrait mode for pets, you need a different model, such as the iPhone 12.

Read more: Best phones 2021, from iPhone, Samsung and Huawei smartphones reviewed

Performance is very fast. It’s a mark of just how much Apple’s chips outstrips the competition that a processor released in October 2018 (and identical to the one found on the pricier iPhone XS and XS Max phones from 2018) is still fast and capable now. It’s among the very fastest phones, especially for the price, that you can find right now.

Buy now £499.00, Amazon.co.uk

Apple iPhone 12

Buy now £829, Amazon.co.uk

  • Price: From £799

  • Screen size: 6.1in

  • Screen technology: OLED

  • Storage capacity: 64GB, 128GB, 256GB

  • Processor: A14 Bionic

  • Rear camera: 12MP wide, 12MP ultrawide

  • Front camera: 12MP

  • 4G or 5G? 5G

  • Face ID? Yes

  • Rating: 8/10

We’ve focused mostly on the iPhone 12 but it’s worth keeping the other iPhones in the 2020 crop in mind. All the iPhone 12 series have certain features in common, which the iPhone XR lacks.

For a start, the 12 is the first 5G iPhone, so when you’re in the right place, data transfer can be very fast, often quicker than broadband. All iPhone 12 models have replaced the front glass with something called Ceramic Shield which Apple says is much stronger against drop damage than regular glass (though at its time of release, the iPhone XR had the “most durable front glass on a smartphone,” Apple said).

Read more: We put Apple’s AirPods Max and AirPods Pro head to head

The iPhone 12 and its siblings all have a new design. Where the iPhone XR has a pillowed display and back, with curved edges, all the surfaces are flat on the 12 series. This means that both the original 12 and the Pro have the same size screens as the iPhone XR (6.1in), yet take up less space in the hand. It means that the largest iPhone 12, the 12 Pro Max, is very similar in size to last year’s iPhone 11 Pro Max but includes a bigger display.

The frame of the iPhone 12 is made of aluminium, while in the Pro models stainless steel is used. All are colour-matched to the phone’s rear. The iPhone 12 and 12 mini come in six different colours, black, white, product(red), green, blue and the recently added purple. The Pro versions come in more subdued shades, Pacific blue, gold, graphite and silver.

All the iPhone 12 handsets have OLED screens, all higher-resolution than the iPhone XR. They look spectacular with rich levels of detail and, in the case of the biggest Max model, especially, great for watching video. They also have about the fastest processor you’ll find in a phone, the A14 Bionic, which is unmatched by rival phones. Though the iPhone XR is no slowcoach, everything happens faster here.

Read more: AirPods review: Are Apple’s second-generation wireless earbuds worth buying?

Battery life is strong across the iPhone 12 range, though noticeably less on the iPhone 12 Pro mini. That said, if you like the idea of a phone that’s comfortable in even the smallest hand but includes a 5.4-inch high-resolution screen, the mini is hard to beat.

The iPhone 12 (and the iPhone 12 mini) beat the iPhone XR for cameras. Both have two rear cameras and work with the fast processor for strong images, even in low light. If smartphone photography is your thing, the iPhone 12 Pro has three rear cameras, as does the 12 Pro Max. The latter is the ultimate in this regard, thanks to a telephoto lens with bigger focal length: where the Pro telephoto is equivalent to 2x the main camera, on the Max it’s 2.5x.

Part of the reason the Pro versions take better photos is the LiDAR scanner which is exclusive to this model only and which grabs depth information fast, also helping the cameras thrive in low light.

Buy now £829.00, Amazon.co.uk

The verdict: iPhone 12 vs iPhone XR

Hold the iPhone 12 and iPhone XR side by side and you can see striking differences. The 6.1 inch display looks hugely better on the 12 because it’s OLED and higher-resolution, and because it has a slimmer display bezel and a flatter frame to the phone itself, which makes it more compact.

The iPhone 12’s protective glass, called ceramic shield, makes it more resistant to drops which is great for peace of mind, though the iPhone XR is not exactly fragile. Turn the phone around and the twin cameras outgun the iPhone XR’s single lens. There’s no doubt, the iPhone 12 is better in almost every way. Well, except one: the price.

The cheapest iPhone 12 is currently £679, though you can save £100 by choosing the iPhone 12 mini. But even then, the iPhone XR is significantly less expensive at £499 for the same storage capacity of 64GB.

Though the cameras on the iPhone 12 series are better, for many the single snapper on the XR will be more than sufficient. The same is true for performance – the XR is fast and nimble, it’s just the 12 is even faster.

And battery life, that all-important consideration, is strong on both the iPhone 12 and iPhone XR. In other words, if you want the best display, processor and cameras, the iPhone 12 is your choice. But if you prefer the curvier design of the XR or like the colour choice more, and if you want to save at least £200, the iPhone XR has a lot going for it.

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For offers on iPhone 12 and other Apple devices, try the links below:

Protect your precious device with one of the best iPhone 12 cases

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