How does the iPhone 12 measure up against previous iPhone models?

We’ve emptied our piggy bank and traded in the obligatory arm and a leg. All so we could get our remaining hand on the latest iPhone 12 and see how it stacks up against our refurbished iPhone 8, X and 11. So, let’s take an objective look at whether the iPhone 12 is – at present – worthy of its number and price tag.

The iPhone 12 compared to its predecessors

Just give me the details

If you’re a little pressed for time or simply can’t be bothered with the ins-and-outs of every spec, then here’s a summary of our review.

If you’re an Apple enthusiast, are absolutely tantalised by the prospects of what 5G will offer in the future, and/or want to fine-tune your night-time photography, then iPhone 12 will certainly appeal to you – available from £799 on Apple’s website.

The iPhone X and 11

If you are a fan of Apple and its latest innovations (OLED with striking contrast, facial recognition with FaceID, hot blur effects on your photos, etc.), then you might find that a more affordable iPhone X or iPhone 11 may offer more than enough of the features, functions, bells and whistles you’re looking for.

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iPhone 8

Those of a more practical and pragmatic disposition will find that the iPhone 8 still has a great deal to offer – serving up astonishingly high-quality photography, processing and battery performance for an older model, and at a vastly lower price.

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The Camera: The difference is night and day

Now let's take a far more detailed look at these iPhones, starting with their camera capabilities. The main difference in photo rendering between an iPhone 8 and iPhones X, 11 and 12 is in the "night mode" – when the lighting is insufficient.

iPhone night mode photo test

This splendid little statuette was photographed in the same light conditions – with reduced lighting – using each of our four models. As can be seen, the night mode of the iPhone 12 makes a clear difference, especially compared to the iPhone 8.

Aside from this difference, it’s notable that while not as impressive in night-mode, the iPhone 8 remains to this day, quite impressive overall – with a 12-megapixel sensor, f/1.8 aperture, auto-focus and optical image stabilisation capable of capturing 4K video at up to 60 frames per second.

For the newer models, software processing has been significantly improved: on the iPhone X and iPhone XS, the addition of Portrait Mode with Bokeh (basically the quality of the blurred "out of focus" elements in your photo) is a big plus the iPhone 8 simply can’t match.

What’s new to the iPhone 11 and 12 models, is located in the front camera. While the iPhone X features a single 7MP front camera (the one that allows you to do selfies), the iPhone 11 has two, one of which is 12MP, and another of 0.3MP TOF (Time-of-flight) 3D that uses infrared light pulses to improve depth mapping and picture accuracy. Kind of like how a bat senses its surroundings.

As for the iPhone 12, the differences that set it apart from the iPhone 11 are minimal: it retains the double 12 Mpx camera, the Portrait mode is still there and the Animoji’s are going nowhere. As far as video is concerned, the 4K up to 60 frames per second and the 1080p in 120 frames per second are also as they were, without any real novelties thrown in. At the front, the 12 MP TrueDepth camera hasn’t moved either. The only real difference is the addition of a Night mode and Dolby Vision HDR up to 30 frames per second.

In summary: 

  • If a better night mode is something you are after, then pick up the iPhone 12 from Apple.
  • If you are a fan of selfies and top-notch pics with artistic photo blurs, go for an iPhone X or 11.
  • If you want a more than respectable phone camera without breaking the bank, the iPhone 8 remains a safe bet.

The battery: The revolution is yet to arrive

Freedom from regular charging has been somewhat of a pipedream for a while and with the new iPhone 12 it will remain very much lodged in the pipe. That’s not a slight on the iPhone 12 – no smartphone can really claim to have conquered the limitations of the phone battery for now. In practice, the iPhone 12 offers up the same level of autonomy as the iPhone 11. What remains to be seen, however, is how this phone will react once 5G is activated.

The fact is that all iPhones offer an acceptable level of battery performance. Most models will last a whole day, depending on the use made of them (network, use of games, background apps, etc.). For example, Apple announced up to 8.5 hours of battery life for the iPhone 8, thanks to its 1821 mA battery. The iPhone 11 has a 3110 mAh battery: that's almost twice as much, but in fact, it also lasts about a day.

Disclaimer: on Back Market, refurbishers are required to replace the batteries of their devices if they have a charge capacity of less than 85% of a new battery.

The only "revolution" brought about by the iPhone 12 is linked to the "MagSafe" charging mode: a system of magnets placed inside the iPhone that make it easier to attach it to a case, a car holder or even a wireless charger.

iPhone 12 charging

In summary: there are no major differences between the iPhone 12 and the older models here, unless you really like magnets.

The screen: No major changes since the OLED technology of the iPhone X

The iPhone X was the first iPhone with an OLED display, and little has changed for the iPhone 11 and 12 models. Of all our phones under comparison here, only the iPhone 8 deviates here with its less impressive Retina LCD screen. This organic LED display technology offers sharper, more realistic contrasts and blacker blacks, as seen in the comparison below:

This technology is not for everyone of course: some will find it of no interest, others will not even notice the difference. This will be particularly the case for users who are not that passionate about new technologies, for example. And in their case, an iPhone 8 is more than enough.

In summary: 

  • If you want an iPhone with true to life colours and the blackest black, go for the iPhone X or a later model.
  • If you don’t see any real difference in the pictures above, the iPhone 8 should be more than enough.

Pick up an iPhone X

The 5G “revolution” in question

Here’s where we finally see something that definitively sets the iPhone 12 apart from its predecessors. The iPhone 12 is the first iPhone capable of connecting to 5G networks. Sounds impressive, but is it useful?

Unless you're a real geek - which is no bad thing - this novelty is for the most part of little or no interest at the moment. Simply because 5G availability isn’t particularly widely available in the UK as yet. That being said, the UK is well in advance of many other European countries – with 5G support being available from some major networks since as early as 2019. The problem is, you need to live in the right places. It will likely still be a year or two before we start to see the extent and solidity of the network, as well as accessible packages. Moreover, the first generations of 5G chips are still energy-hungry and do not yet fully exploit the capabilities of this technology.

We have tested the WIFI performance of iPhones on fast.com, the Netflix service that allows you to measure your internet connection. Without much mystery, the most recent devices are also the most powerful. That said, even on the iPhone 8, the performance is impeccable since it displays a score of 230 Mbps whereas only 25 small Mbps are required to watch a VOD movie for example.

In summary:

While 5G is on the cards and could be a game changer, it will still be some time before it’s widely available, accessible and - most importantly – useful. If this is the reason you are looking to buy the iPhone 12, now may not be the right time.

Gaming: The iPhone 8 can still do the job

The most popular games played these days, such as Arena of Valor for example, don’t need a powerhouse of a smartphone to be played. This game, for example, has been available for more than two years. That's only one year after the release of the iPhone 8.

Same thing for Clash Royale, in 2016, Pokémon Go, the same year, or Hearthstone, released in 2014. Let's not even talk about Minecraft, available on iOS since November 2011, i.e. since iOS 4.3! On Mojang's website, the only requirement is to have an iPhone on iOS 10 at least. That's all.

In short, even an iPhone 6 would be perfect for playing the latest generation games. That's the big difference with computers: even a 3 or 4-year-old iPhone is more than enough to play and have fun.

Why not an iPhone 6 then?

iOS and services: the points in common

Whichever iPhone you buy, you get access to the same features. You have the same operating system, iOS, and the same updates. iOS 14, Apple's latest mobile system, is available on the iPhone 6S and the first iPhone SE, unveiled more than 4 years ago. We no longer have to worry about the time when new versions of Apple's system slowed down the "old" iPhone models as this has fortunately been consigned to the past.

Above all, whatever your iPhone, you will have access to the entire Apple ecosystem: Apple's voice assistant, Siri, contactless payment with Apple Pay, AirPods or the Apple Watch.

Other refurbished products

Design: Looking backwards to go forwards

If there's one thing Apple does almost as well as its marketing, it's the design of its products.

  • iPhone 8: A classic design showcasing everything Apple does right. Compact and light (only 136 grams), yet efficient and affordable.
  • iPhone X: The revolutionary model. Borderless display, OLED and Touch ID replaced by Face ID.
  • iPhone 11: The iPhone X revisited, with vibrant colours. Ideal for nomadic photographers and videographers.
  • iPhone 12: The return to grace. Readopting the flat edged design of the iPhone 4 once so adored by fans.

So, there you have it! A rundown that we hope will make the question of choosing your next iphone that little bit easier.

Whatever the case, there is no such thing as a perfect, ultimate design. A smartphone is a fashion object. To quote Oscar Wilde "Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that you have to change it every six months". We’d advise you not to change you phone quite so often as that, but you get the point.

By Brian, Marketing Manager Back Market UK

When not talking about the latest eco-friendly tech and reducing our carbon footprint, Brian enjoys the odd game of football, a classic horror (book or film) or just to kick back with a beer or a proper Scottish whisky. Slàinte Mhath!

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