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iPhone 12 vs. iPhone XR: Time for an Upgrade?

The time of year is finally here: Apple has launched its new lineup of its flagship iPhone. With one fell swoop, Apple has dropped four new iPhone 12 models, offering consumers a broad spectrum of features and price points.

If you’re in the market for a new iPhone but interested in a mid-level choice, then you’ll probably be looking at the new iPhone 12 or 2018’s iPhone XR. We’re comparing these devices to determine which is the best option of the two and — if you’re already rocking an iPhone XR — whether it’s time to upgrade.

Specs

iPhone 12
iPhone XR
Size 138.4 by 67.3 by 7.3mm (5.45 by 2.65 by 0.29 inches) 150.9 by 75.7 by 8.3mm (5.94 by 2.98 by 0.33 inches)
Weight 5.78 ounces (164 grams) 6.84 ounces (194 grams)
Screen size 6.1-inch OLED 6.1-inch Retina IPS LCD
Screen resolution 2532 x 1170-pixel resolution (460 ppi) 1792 x 828-pixel resolution (326 ppi)
Operating system iOS 14 iOS 14
Storage space 64GB, 128GB, 256GB 64GB, 128GB
MicroSD card slot No No
Tap-to-pay services Apple Pay Apple Pay
Processor Apple A14 Bionic Apple A12 Bionic
RAM 4GB 3GB
Camera Wide and ultrawide 12MP rear, 12MP TrueDepth front Single 12MP rear, 7MP front
Video 4K at 60 frames per second, 1080p at 240 fps, Dolby Vision HDR 4K at 60 frames per second, 1,080p at 240 fps
Bluetooth version Bluetooth 5.0 Bluetooth 5.0
Ports Lightning Lightning
Fingerprint sensor No  Yes, front-mounted
Water resistance IP68 IP67
Battery TBC

18W fast charging

MagSafe charging

Qi wireless charging

2,942mAh

15W fast-charging

Qi wireless charging

App marketplace  Apple App Store Apple App Store
Network support AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon
Colors Black, blue, green, white, and (Product)RED Blue, white, black, yellow, coral, red
Price $799 $499
Buy from Apple Apple
Review score 4.5 out of 5 stars 4.5 out of 5 stars

Design, display, durability

While the iPhone 12 features the same 6.1-inch display size as the XR, the new iPhone 12 features an OLED display, whereas the XR uses a regular LCD. The OLED display brings a richer visual experience to the new iPhone 12, as OLED displays feature true blacks and a wider contrast ratio. It also has a much higher pixel density than the XR display, so it’ll look sharper and crisper.

The iPhone 12 brings back one of the most lauded designs in the history of the iPhone, the iPhone 4, ditching the sloped sides for an aluminum frame and a glass back. We found the aluminum frame did make it feel a bit light in an almost “cheap” way, but considering the cost savings over the Pro models, it’s hard to complain. Considering the iPhone XR’s design has been around for three years, we’re in favor of this beautiful resurrection of a retro design. The iPhone 12 also features a new Ceramic Shield technology Apple claims will bring a new level of toughness to your smartphone glass. Apple claims this will lead to better drop performance and fewer shattered screens.

The iPhone 12 comes in a rainbow of bright colors that are absolutely stunning in person. So if you like to express yourself through your phone then there are myriad options to choose from.

With a gorgeous new design and improved durability, the iPhone 12 is the clear winner.

Winner: Apple iPhone 12

Performance, battery life, charging

iPhone XR
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The iPhone 12 is launching with Apple’s new groundbreaking A14 processor. We got a peek at the performance of this new 5nm chip in the most recent iPad Air. It represents a huge leap forward in performance, with almost 12 billion transistors. Apple promises blazing speeds and performance from this new chip, and given Apple’s past performance, we believe them.

The iPhone XR is rocking the A12 Bionic from 2018. The A12 is certainly a powerful processor that can stand on its own, but with the leaps in processing power each year, two years certainly make a difference. Furthermore, if you’re looking to pick up a new device today, it’s usually best to grab the one that will last the longest — and Apple’s A14 Bionic will be running iOS smoothly for years to come.

We found that the iPhone 12 performed as expected when it came to battery life. You can easily make it through the day on a full charge. Under “normal” use it typically ended the day with 30% remaining. It’s likely even with heavier use that the battery leaves plenty of room to run. Both phones include fast charging and wireless charging, though the iPhone 12 has faster 18W charging as well.

With a great battery life and a faster processor means this is another win for the iPhone 12.

Winner: Apple iPhone 12 

Camera

While the iPhone XR features a single rear 12-megapixel lens, the iPhone 12 has dual wide and ultrawide rear lenses, both clocking in at 12MP each, giving it an immediate edge. The iPhone 12 also supports Night Mode, which isn’t supported on the iPhone XR. While the XR will still take good low light photos, it won’t be able to match the iPhone 12’s software for low light performance.

The iPhone XR and the iPhone have similar video recording capabilities at 4K and 1080p, but the iPhone 12 also brings HDR video recording. While that’s not an enormous upgrade, it’s worth noting.

Both the iPhone 12 and the iPhone XR feature fantastic and almost identical cameras and photo or video performance — but camera technology has moved on a lot in two years. The iPhone 12 is absolutely going to be the winner here.

Winner: iPhone 12

Software and updates

iPhone XR
iPhone XR Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Both of these iPhones are capable of running the latest firmware which is iOS 14. Since both these devices will get identical updates for years to come, it’s a foregone conclusion that these devices are a tie in this particular category.

Winner: Tie

Special features

iPhone 12 5G announcement

The iPhone 12 is 5G capable and is officially one of the first 5G-enabled iPhones. We’ve taken a look at 5G before, and while it’s a neat party trick to have 5G speeds, access to true 5G network coverage is limited to certain large metro areas. This should not detract from the reality that a 5G phone is more future-proofed than one that only runs 4G LTE, but don’t buy into the hype — yet.

While both the iPhone XR and iPhone 12 support wireless charging, the iPhone 12 takes it up a notch with MagSafe for iPhone. Apple Watch users will be familiar with this technology that helps you align your charger with your device’s wireless charging coils. Apple hopes this will make charging more effortless and open a whole new ecosystem of cases and chargers that can magnetically clip to the back of the phone. There are currently only two cases available, and neither got stellar ratings when we reviewed their charging capabilities.

Winner: Apple iPhone 12

Price and availability

The iPhone XR will be available for shoppers at $499. All of the major U.S. carriers already support this phone. If you’d rather have a newer model, the iPhone 12 is already on the market. You can pick up one of those starting at $799. For a comprehensive list of the available phones and their potential sales, check out our iPhone deals guide.

Overall winner: iPhone 12

When side by side, the iPhone 12 and the iPhone XR are relatively similar, especially when you compare their overall processing power and daily performance power. That said, if you want a phone that will stand out— you can’t go wrong with the iPhone 12. The device is beautifully designed, supports 5G, features MagSafe charging, and has a phenomenal camera. 

We do want to point out, if you already own the iPhone XR, we’d recommend waiting for the next cycle of new phones before buying another. If you’re on the market for a new phone and feel torn between these two Apple options, aim for the iPhone 12. The tech and design are innovative enough to last you through at least another upgrade cycle or two.

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