iPhone 14 vs. iPhone 12: Should you upgrade?

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iPhone 12 to iPhone 14 upgrade: Is the jump worth it, or should you wait for iPhone 15?
iPhone 12 to iPhone 14 upgrade: Is the jump worth it, or should you wait for iPhone 15?
Image: Apple/Cult of Mac

Six months from now, the iPhone 12 will be 3 years old. If you got the phone on launch day in October 2020, it must already be showing its age, with poor battery life and sub-par camera performance.

Does that mean it’s time to ditch your iPhone 12 and upgrade to the iPhone 14, which starts at $799? Or should you save your money and wait for the upcoming iPhone 15? Find out with our comparison.

iPhone 12 vs. iPhone 14: Is it worth the upgrade?

The iPhone 14 follows the same design language as the iPhone 12, but with some tweaks and refinements. The $699  iPhone 13 looks the same, but we’re skipping it for this buying guide. If you’re going to upgrade at this point, you should spring for the extra $100 and get the latest hardware now available.

We’re also mostly avoiding the nonstandard iPhone sizes. If you want a smaller smartphone, the iPhone 13 mini is your only option from Apple. And if you want a larger model (but not a Pro), the iPhone 14 Plus is the one for you.

So, back to the main competition: iPhone 14 versus iPhone 12. Internally, the iPhone 14 packs some significant upgrades, including a far superior camera setup. However, unlike the iPhone 14 Pro series, you do not get the Dynamic Island, a feature that turns the screen cutaway known as the “notch” into an interactive widget.

iPhone 14 vs. iPhone 12: Features comparison

Design: An evolution

iPhone 14
You can tell the iPhone 14 apart from iPhone 12, but the two phones look mostly the same.
Photo: Apple

Despite launching two years after the iPhone 12, the iPhone 14 follows the same design as its 2020 sibling. The major differences include a 30% smaller notch on the front and a diagonally arranged rear dual-camera setup, which is also slightly bigger.

In terms of size, the two phones are the same, though the iPhone 14 is slightly heavier and thicker:

  • iPhone 12: 146.7 x 71.5 x 7.4 mm, 164g, IP68 certified
  • iPhone 14: 146.7 x 71.5 x 7.8 mm, 172g, IP68 certified

Apple uses its Ceramic Shield glass to protect the 6.1-inch OLED display on both phones. Lastly, while both iPhones are available in six colors, the shades are slightly different. Notably, you can get the iPhone 14 in a bright yellow or a sublime starlight color.

Display: iPhone 14 is the same but brighter

iPhone 12
Despite its age, you cannot find faults in iPhone 12’s OLED panel.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

You get basically the same 6.1-inch OLED Retina panel on both iPhones:

  • iPhone 12: 6.1-inch Super Retina XDR display, 2532 x 1170 (460 ppi), Haptic Touch, HDR Display, True Tone, HDR10, Dolby Vision, 650 nits typical brightness, 1,200 nits peak brightness
  • iPhone 14: 6.1-inch Super Retina XDR display, 2532 x 1170 (460 ppi), Haptic Touch, HDR Display, True Tone, HDR10, Dolby Vision, 800 nits typical brightness, 1,200 nits peak brightness

There are only two differences: the iPhone 14’s display has a slightly higher typical brightness, making it easier to read content in direct and harsh sunlight. Secondly, the newer iPhone has a smaller notch. None of the screen upgrades seem big enough to make you ditch your current iPhone, though.

Another minor improvement is the addition of a secondary ambient light sensor on the iPhone 14, which helps with better auto-brightness control.

Unlike the iPhone 14 Pro series, the regular iPhone 14 does not offer 120Hz ProMotion support, an Always-on Display or (as mentioned) the Dynamic Island. Rumors indicate Apple could bring Dynamic Island to its entire iPhone 15 lineup in 2023.

Performance: Efficiency improvements

The A15 Bionic chip powers iPhone 13.
Apple equipped the iPhone 14 with a beefier version of the A15 Bionic chip with a 6-core GPU.
Photo: Apple

Before the iPhone 14 launched, Apple always used the same A-series chip across its Pro and non-Pro models. However, this changed last year, as the regular iPhone 14 variants use the A15 Bionic chip. Fabricated on TSMC’s 5nm node, the SoC debuted on the iPhone 13 Pro in 2021. It features a six-core CPU and a five-core GPU.

Here’s how the two phones differ when it comes to processor power:

  • iPhone 12: A14 Bionic, 5nm fab, 6-core CPU, 4-core GPU, 16-core Neural Engine
  • iPhone 14: A15 Bionic, 5nm fab, 6-core CPU, 5-core GPU, 16-core Neural Engine

At first glance, the A15 Bionic might seem similar to the A14 Bionic. But that’s not the case, as Apple uses a new CPU architecture for the CPU cores. Across the board, A15 Bionic is about 20% to 30% faster than A14 Bionic. Plus, it’s more power-efficient. But unless you are using your iPhone for playing heavy games or rendering videos, you are unlikely to notice the speed boost.

You get 4GB RAM on the iPhone 12, while the iPhone 14 comes with 6GB RAM. The additional RAM should help with multitasking performance and allow apps to run longer in the background. Apple also bumped up the base storage to 128GB on the iPhone 14, and it can be purchased with up to 512GB of storage. The iPhone 12 started at 64GB and topped out at 256GB.

Again, the iPhone 14 is faster than the iPhone 12, but this is not a big enough reason to upgrade immediately.

Camera: Massive upgrades

iPhone 12 looks great from any angle.
iPhone 12’s camera setup did not age well.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

The iPhone 14 camera stands out as a serious upgrade from the iPhone 12. Here’s how the specs stack up:

  • iPhone 12
    • Primary camera: 12MP f/1.6, optical image stabilization, 1.4um large pixels
    • Ultra Wide camera: 12MP f/2.4, Focus Pixels, Portrait mode with advanced bokeh and depth control, True Tone flash with Slow Sync, Night Mode, Deep Fusion, Smart HDR 3, Dolby Vision with HDR recording (4K@30fps)
    • Front camera: 12MP with f/2.2 aperture
  • iPhone 14
    • Primary camera: 12MP f/1.5, sensor-shift stabilization
    • Ultra Wide camera: 12MP f/1.8, True Tone flash, Photonic Engine, Deep Fusion, Smart HDR 4, Photographic Styles, Cinematic mode (4K@30fps), Dolby Vision with HDR recording (4K@60fps), Action mode
    • Front camera: 12MP with f/1.9 aperture

The iPhone 12 came with a respectable camera setup when it launched. Its dual 12MP cameras were not class-leading but were still good enough to deliver great results in all conditions. With time, though, this 12MP shooter has started showing its age. The dynamic range in photos now feels limited, with low-light shots turning out to be strictly average.

As for the iPhone 14, it uses the same camera setup as the 2021 iPhone 13 Pro. While it may not feature a 48MP primary shooter, it packs a relatively sizeable 12MP camera with sensor-shift stabilization and a wide f/1.5 aperture. This is paired with a 12MP Ultra Wide with a wider f/1.8 aperture.

It’s not just about the camera hardware, though. The iPhone 14 benefits from photo-processing improvements as well, including Smart HDR 4 and Photonic Engine, which allow it to capture more detailed photos than the iPhone 12.

Even in terms of video recording, the iPhone 14 enjoys an advantage over iPhone 12. It can record videos with a fake bokeh effect (aka Cinematic mode) at up to 4k@30fps. Plus, Action mode fuses videos from the primary and Ultra Wide cameras to eliminate all shakes and jitters.

The iPhone 14’s front-facing 12MP camera uses a wider f/1.9 aperture than the iPhone 12’s, letting it take in more light. Plus, it has autofocus, so you will look better than ever in selfies.

If you upgrade from the iPhone 12 to iPhone 14, the camera is one area where you’ll see an immediate improvement.

Battery life: A significant improvement

The iPhone 12’s battery life was strictly average to begin with. And if you used the phone on a 5G network, you could run its battery down by evening. Two years after launch, your iPhone 12 battery is likely doing even worse. In comparison, Apple made some significant battery life improvements to the iPhone 14.

Compared to the iPhone 12, Apple claims the iPhone 14 provides up to three hours of additional video playback (17 hours versus 20 hours) or up to 15 hours of extra audio playback (65 hours versus 80 hours). Both phones support 20W fast wired charging and MagSafe-based Qi wireless charging.

If you are frustrated with your iPhone 12’s battery, the iPhone 14 will fix that to a great extent. However, a cheaper solution is to replace your existing iPhone’s battery and wait for the iPhone 15 to launch later this year. Or you can buy one of Apple’s MagSafe Battery Packs (or a less expensive one from Anker, Momax or another reputable third party). Alternatively, if battery life is your top priority, consider getting the iPhone 14 Plus, which packs a bigger battery (in addition to its bigger display).

Connectivity and sensors

Apple launches free Emergency SOS via satellite on all iPhone 14 models
Apple’s newest iPhone can talk to satellites.
Photo: Apple/Cult of Mac

When it comes to connectivity and sensors, iPhone 14 offers several advantages over iPhone 12:

  • iPhone 12: Three-axis gyro, physical nanoSIM slot, dual SIM (nanoSIM and eSIM), accelerometer, Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0, GPS, Ultra Wideband
  • iPhone 14: Emergency SOS via satellite, Crash Detection, high dynamic range gyro, high-g accelerometer, eSIM only (no physical nanoSIM slot in U.S. models), Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.3, GPS, Ultra Wideband

All iPhone 14 models sold in the United States ship without a physical SIM card slot. Instead, you need to use an eSIM with the phone. While the iPhone 12 also supports eSIM, it comes with a physical nanoSIM slot. On the iPhone 14, you get additional features like Emergency SOS via satellite, more-powerful gyroscope and accelerometers, Crash Detection and a newer version of Bluetooth.

Aside from the emergency features, which you hopefully will never need, none of these changes are big enough to warrant an upgrade.

iPhone 12 vs. iPhone 14: Is an upgrade worth it?

No, and yes. While you’ll notice some immediate benefits after upgrading from an iPhone 12 to iPhone 14, the jump is not necessarily worth it. An upgrade only makes sense if your iPhone 12 requires immediate replacement due to damage or other problems.

Otherwise, you should hold out for another five or six months for the iPhone 15 series. Apple plans some significant upgrades to its 2023 iPhone lineup. Rumors include switching from Lightning to USB-C and bringing the Dynamic Island to non-Pro models.

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