How to choose between all the new iPhone 12 models

There are a lot more iPhones than there used to be these days. Picking a phone used to be simple: Apple would offer just a single new iPhone model, where all you had to do was choose a color and storage size. This year, Apple has launched four new phones: the iPhone 12, 12 mini, 12 Pro, and 12 Pro Max, which join the already available iPhone SE that was released earlier this year for a total of five new phones in 2020.

It’s the most iPhone models that Apple has ever released in a single year, bringing new additions like the A14 Bionic processor (Apple’s fastest yet), a more durable “Ceramic Shield” glass coating, improved cameras, a new design, and the resurrected MagSafe branding for a new wireless charger and accessory system. That’s all in addition to the iPhone 11 and iPhone XR, which Apple will be keeping around as well at new $499 and $599 prices, which means that it’s even harder to choose between the various iPhones you can buy brand-new at a store.

Leading the charge is the iPhone 12 — the “standard” iPhone for 2020, if you will, which starts at $829 for a 64GB model. It has the same 6.1-inch display and overall size as the iPhone 11 from last year, but it’s upgraded to an OLED panel and adds Apple’s new A14 processor (which all four of the new iPhone 12 devices have) as well as support for 5G. Apple seems to have locked in on the 6.1-inch form factor as the default size for its iPhones for now, offering four phones this year in that size. The cameras are also slightly updated from last year’s iPhone 11, with a faster f/1.6 wide camera that Apple says lets in 27 percent more light.

There’s also the $729 iPhone 12 mini, which is actually the smallest iPhone Apple has released in almost half a decade. That’s thanks to the bezel-less design, which allows for the whole 5.4-inch 12 mini to be physically smaller than the 4.7-inch iPhone SE 2020 (because both of those sizes refer to the screen, not the frame). Despite the smaller size, it offers the same high-end specs as the larger iPhone 12, other than the display and, presumably, a slightly smaller battery to accommodate the physically smaller phone, although Apple has yet to confirm. That makes it a good option for anyone looking for a smaller (or cheaper) iPhone.

Things start to get more confusing with the iPhone 12 Pro, which starts at $999 for a 128GB model. While it looks similar to the iPhone 12, there are several key differences between the 12 Pro and the regular model. The 12 Pro has a stainless steel body, compared to aluminum on the regular 12. While both phones have a 6.1-inch display, the iPhone 12 Pro is a brighter panel, with a typical brightness of 800 nits versus 625 nits on the iPhone 12. Both phones offer a maximum of 1200 nits for HDR, however.

The iPhone 12 Pro also has several photography enhancements, including a third camera — a telephoto lens — that offers 2x optical zoom, although the wide and ultrawide cameras, as well as the front-facing camera, are otherwise identical to the iPhone 12. The iPhone 12 Pro also adds a new LIDAR sensor, which allows for better augmented reality and faster autofocus in low-light situations (as well as Night Mode portrait shots). The 12 Pro can also shoot Dolby Vision HDR videos at up to 60fps, instead of 30fps on the iPhone 12.

Lastly, while that $120 price difference may feel significant, you have to consider that the iPhone 12 Pro offers more storage on the entry-level model, with 128GB compared to 64GB on the iPhone 12 (the Pro also offers a larger 512GB option). Compare the 128GB and 256GB models directly, and there’s only a $50 price difference between the two. Whether that’s worth the aforementioned features is up to you.

There’s also the iPhone 12 Pro Max, Apple’s biggest (and most expensive) iPhone on the list. Starting at $1,099, it has a massive 6.7-inch panel that also makes it the largest iPhone the company has ever made. And while the triple-camera system looks similar to the iPhone 12 Pro, Apple has taken advantage of the bigger size of the 12 Pro Max to offer far bigger camera improvements over the smaller 12 Pro.

Specifically, Apple is using a new sensor for the primary wide camera on the 12 Pro Max, which is physically larger than the one on the 12 Pro, while also giving it the same new, faster f/1.6 lens. The wide camera is also getting better optical image stabilization, with a new sensor‑shift system that Apple says works similar to DSLR cameras. It moves the sensor itself instead of the entire camera unit, which allows for faster and therefore better stabilization. Apple has also increased the focal length on the 12 Pro Max’s telephoto lens, jumping from 50mm to 65mm, for an increased optical zoom of 2.5x instead of 2x.