iPhone SE vs. iPhone 12 Buyer's Guide: Comparing Some of Apple's Cheapest iPhones

The third-generation iPhone SE and the iPhone 12 are among Apple's lowest-cost ‌iPhone‌ options, starting at $429 and $599 respectively. Apple released the ‌iPhone‌ 12 in late 2020, and has bumped it down in price since then to make it more accessible as new ‌iPhone‌ models have been released. On the other hand, the third-generation ‌iPhone SE‌ launched in early 2022, refreshing the most affordable ‌iPhone‌ option in the lineup.

iphone se 1
With just $170 between them, should you get the new, smaller, entry-level ‌iPhone‌ or the older, larger, standard model that has come down in price over the years? Our guide helps to answer the question of how to decide which of these two iPhones is best for you.

Differences

‌iPhone SE‌ 3 ‌iPhone‌ 12
Smaller form factor, weighs 144 grams Larger form factor, weighs 164 grams
Glass front and back Ceramic Shield front and glass back
4.7-inch Retina HD LCD display 6.1-inch Super Retina XDR OLED display
625 nits max brightness (typical) 625 nits max brightness (typical) and 1,200 nits peak brightness (HDR)
1400:1 contrast ratio (typical) 2,000,000:1 contrast ratio (typical)
Home Button with Touch ID Notch with Face ID
A15 Bionic chip A14 Bionic chip
Single rear camera (ƒ/1.8 Main) Dual rear cameras with 2x optical zoom range (ƒ/1.6 Main and ƒ/2.4 Ultra Wide)
Photographic Styles Night mode
Smart HDR 4 for photos Smart HDR 3 for photos
Front-facing 7MP FaceTime HD camera with 1080p HD video recording and Smart HDR 4 Front-facing 12MP TrueDepth camera with 4K video recording and Audio zoom, Smart HDR 3, slo-mo video support, Animoji, and Memoji
Battery life with up to 15 hours video playback Battery life with up to 17 hours video playback
Rated IP67 water-resistant to a depth of one meter for up to 30 minutes Rated IP68 water-resistant to a depth of six meters for up to 30 minutes
Bluetooth and U1 Ultra Wideband chip for spatial awareness Bluetooth only
- Supports Dolby Atmos audio playback
- Compatible with MagSafe cases, wallets, wireless chargers, and more
Midnight, Starlight, and PRODUCT(RED) color options Purple, Blue, Green, Black, White, and PRODUCT(RED) color options

Overall, the ‌iPhone SE‌ is an excellent entry-level ‌iPhone‌ option for just $429. In some respects, the ‌iPhone SE‌ is better than the ‌iPhone‌ 12 since it is a newer device, featuring a faster and more efficient chip, Photographic Styles, and Smart HDR 4.

For $170 more, the ‌iPhone‌ 12 offers a more modern design and a larger, OLED display, as well as ‌Face ID‌, an Ultra Wide camera, Night mode, considerably better front-facing and Main cameras, ‌MagSafe‌, and longer battery life. There is also the benefit of improved water resistance, the U1 chip, and Dolby Atmos audio playback, and even additional color options to choose from. All of this makes for a significant upgrade over the ‌iPhone SE‌ if you value these features and can afford the $170 extra, but it is worth bearing in mind that they are not essential capabilities for many users.

The main drawback of buying the ‌iPhone‌ 12 is its age, with the device featuring an older and less powerful chip. Some users may even value the smaller size and weight of the ‌iPhone SE‌, as well as features like ‌Touch ID‌. Overall, it comes down to whether you value having a smaller, newer device, or can look past this to get the benefits of a device with ‌Face ID‌ and a larger, OLED display.

If you prefer the ‌iPhone‌ 12's set of features, then it is still a good option for $599, but generally most users looking for an affordable ‌iPhone‌ should opt for the ‌iPhone SE‌ since it is more future-proof and offers a similar A15 chipset as Apple's latest iPhone 14 and ‌iPhone 14‌ Plus models.

It is also worth noting that the iPhone 13 mini starts at the same $599 price point as the ‌iPhone‌ 12 and continues to be available from Apple, but it features a smaller display at just 5.4-inches. The ‌iPhone 13‌ mini is a newer device and starts with double the storage of the ‌iPhone‌ 12 at 128GB, so the ‌iPhone 13‌ mini will be a better option for users who are considering the ‌iPhone‌ 12 but do not mind having a slightly smaller display.

Related Roundup: iPhone SE
Buyer's Guide: iPhone SE (Don't Buy)
Related Forum: iPhone

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Top Rated Comments

NightFox Avatar
23 months ago
Shouldn't iPhone 13 mini be in the mix here - SE size / 12 price with iPhone 13 performance? I know it's included as an afterthought, but I think it should really be a key contender for anyone weighing up these options.
Score: 15 Votes (Like | Disagree)
David1964 Avatar
23 months ago

Touch ID is still more convenient and more reliable than Face ID. I love my SE and will keep buying Touch ID phones as long as possible. A lot of friends have Face ID phones and I see it failing and being annoying soooo often.
It was the other way round for me.Touch ID kept failing and Face ID just works every time.
Score: 14 Votes (Like | Disagree)
USB-Adapter Avatar
23 months ago
iPhone 13 mini would be my choice if I needed an iPhone right now.
Score: 10 Votes (Like | Disagree)
zero.id Avatar
23 months ago
My dream phone is a Mini as SE version with iPad style touch ID and USB-C !!!
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)
cicalinarrot Avatar
23 months ago
As a former repairman, I always recommend the SE. It's way easier and cheaper to repair.
You get the great power without the great responsibility.
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Lamborrari Avatar
23 months ago
Now I know why they discontinued the 12 mini. It would steal too many sales from the 3rd-gen SE if priced at $499.
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)