Apple iPhone 12 vs Apple iPhone XR full review

Looking to upgrade from an iPhone XR to one of the new iPhone 12 models and not sure which one to choose? Or are you choosing between an iPhone XR and one of the new iPhone 12 models? In this article we will attempt to help you decide whether the iPhone 12 would be a good update from, or a better choice than, the iPhone XR.

Price

When the iPhone XR launched back in September 2018 it cost £749/$749. A year later the price dropped to £629/$599, and then in October 2020 Apple dropped the price to £499/$499 (or £549/$549 if you buy the 128GB model which was originally £799/$799). You can buy the iPhone XR from Apple here, or check the best deals below.

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More iPhone XR deals here.

In comparison the iPhone 12 starts at £799/$799 for the 64GB model, while 128GB is £849/$849 and 256GB is £949/$949. You can see the best prices right now at the top of this article, or check out our round up of the best iPhone 12 deals

That £300/$300 price difference can be justified by the fact that the older iPhone XR is two years older than the newer phone, but are the new features in the iPhone 12 enough to justify spending that extra £300/$300? We'll also examine whether it could be worth considering the 128GB iPhone XR at £549/$549 over the 64GB iPhone 12, which costs £200/$200 more.

Dimensions

As you can see from the image below, the iPhone 12 is a fraction shorter and narrower than the iPhone XR. Here's how the dimensions compare:

  • iPhone 12 146.7mm x 71.5mm x 7.4mm (162g)
  • iPhone XR 150.9mm x 75.7mm x 8.3mm (194g)

iPhone 12 vs iPhone XR size difference

The iPhone XR is a larger and heavier iPhone, but curiously both iPhones have a 6.1in display. How is this possible?

The actual difference is 4.2mm in length and 4.2mm in height. That 4.2mm is significant because one big difference between the two iPhones is the boarder around the screen of the iPhone XR, which is a fraction larger than that on the iPhone 12. When you consider that all is needed is an extra 2mm around the edge of the screen you can see how that adds up. Essentially the iPhone XR could have had a bigger display, but there are limitations due to the type of screen used by that model.

Display

The reason why the iPhone XR has a larger boarder around its screen is because the iPhone XR has a LCD 6.1in display, while the iPhone 12 has an OLED display.

The LCD display requires a backlight and since Apple can't incorporate this into a 'chin' as it could with the iPhone's with Home buttons, the gubbins needs to be placed around the edge of the screen. That explains why the iPhone XR boarder is bigger and the screen smaller than you might expect.

The OLED doesn't require a backlight, so the screen can stretch to the edges. OLEDs also offer deeper blacks, more accurate colours, and better contrast ratio. In fact, where the iPhone XR offers a 1400:1 contrast ratio, the iPhone 12 offers 2,000,000:1 contrast ratio.

There's even more in favour of the iPhone 12 when it comes to the screen. Despite featuring the same size screen, the iPhone 12 fits in extra pixels: 2532x1170-pixel resolution at 460 ppi compared to 1792x828-pixel resolution at 326 ppi for the iPhone XR.

Only the iPhone 12 display offers HDR with a max brightened of 1,200 nits, the iPhone XR offers a standard 625 nits max brightness.

iPhone 12

These two screens are in different leagues, but that's not to say that the screen on the iPhone XR is poor by comparison. If you have never owed an iPhone with an OLED display you probably would be none the wiser about the difference in quality. But, that said, if you value how things will look on your iPhone screen then the better screen is a very good reason to choose the 12 over the XR.

There's one last thing to note about the screen. If you are even a little bit clumsy you can expect to smash or scratch the screen of your iPhone at some point. It's sadly inevitable that your iPhone will fall from your hands one day. To protect it we recommend you get a case and a screen protector. But the iPhone 12 offers an extra level of protection that the iPhone XR doesn't: it offers Ceramic Shield glass.

Apple says that this Ceramic Shield glass "goes beyond glass by adding a new high temperature crystallization step that grows nano-ceramic crystals within the glass matrix." Apparently this technique increases drop performance by 4x. Drop performance seems to be a marketing term for how many times you can drop your iPhone before it breaks.

When we first heard about this glass we wondered how ceramics and glass could possibly complement each other, but apparently they are very similar. The addition of a ceramic element in the manufacturing makes the glass stronger, but doesn't make the glass any less transparent.

Speaking of being clumsy, the iPhone 12 is also more waterproof, which may be a selling point if you might drop it in water.

Design

Alongside the display differences there are a number of differences in the design of these two iPhones.

Most notably the colour options are classy and elegant on the iPhone 12, while the iPhone XR colours are bold and fun. How you feel about the colours on offer will probably be determined more by your personality than anything we can say here.

As you can see from the image below, there are more colour options for the iPhone XR. The cheaper iPhone offers blue, white, black, yellow, coral and red. The iPhone 12 offers a deeper blue, green, red, white and black. If we wanted a blue iPhone we would definitely choose the iPhone 12 over the iPhone XR.

iPhoen XR vs iPhoen 12 colour options

If you turn the iPhones over the other big difference will become apparent. The iPhone 12 has two cameras on the back while the iPhone XR only has the one camera lens.

Cameras

If photography is important to you then the fact that the iPhone 12, with its two cameras, offers better options than the iPhone XR may well justify the extra cost to you.

iPhoen 12 cameras

The iPhone XR has one 12MP camera with a wide ƒ/1.8 aperture, and 5x digital zoom, while the iPhone 12 has dual 12MP cameras: ultra wide ƒ/2.4 aperture and wide ƒ/1.6 aperture, 2x optical zoom. The iPhone 12 also offers Night Mode & Deep Fusion, Smart HDR 3 and Brighter True Tone flash.

Deep Fusion arrived with the iPhone 11 and combines multiple exposures in order to create an extremely detailed photograph. Similarly Night mode arrived with the iPhone 11 and, as you'd expect, improves night photography.

That's not to say that the iPhone XR doesn't take great photos, it does, it's just that they won't be as good as those taken on the 12.

That's the cameras on the the back of the iPhone. When it comes to the camera on the front you might think that they would be the same - after all both the iPhone 12 and the iPhone XR offer the TrueDepth camera for Face ID and other features, such as Animoji and Memoji. However there are differences.

The front facing camera on the iPhone 12 is 12MP, while that on the iPhone XR is 7MP. The front camera on the iPhone 12 also offers 4K video recording and HDR video recording and slo-mo video support. It also supports Night mode and Deep Fusion and QuickTake video, unlike the iPhone XR.

Features and Specs

There are a number of other features and tech inside the iPhone 12 that could serve to make the newer iPhone more attractive than the iPhone XR.

We'll start with a quick overview:

iPhone 12 iPhone XR
5G, Ultra Wideband chip for spatial awareness 4G
A14 Bionic, Next-generation Neural Engine A12 Bionic, Second-generation Neural Engine
64GB, 128GB, 256GB 64GB, 128GB
2532x1170-pixel resolution at 460 ppi, 2,000,000:1 contrast ratio, 1,200 nits max brightness (HDR) Liquid Retina HD display, 6.1in LCD display with IPS technology, 1792x828-pixel resolution at 326 ppi, 1400:1 contrast ratio, 625 nits max brightness
Face ID Face ID
Dual 12MP cameras: ultra wide ƒ/2.4 aperture and wide ƒ/1.6 aperture, 2x optical zoom and 5x digital zoom, Night mode & Deep Fusion, Smart HDR 3, Brighter True Tone flash One 12MP camera: wide ƒ/1.8 aperture, 5x digital zoom, True Tone flash, Smart HDR
Dolby Vision HDR video recording up to 30 fps, 2x optical zoom, Digital zoom up to 3x, Extended dynamic range for video up to 60 fps, audio zoom, Night mode Time-lapse Extended dynamic range for video up to 30 fps, Digital zoom up to 3x
TrueDepth camera, 12MP, Smart HDR 3, Extended dynamic range for video at 30 fps, 4K video recording at 24 fps, 30 fps or 60 fps, HDR video recording with Dolby Vision up to 30 fps, Night Mode, Deep Fusion, Animoji and Memoji, FaceTime HD (1080p) over 5G or Wi‑Fi, QuickTake video TrueDepth camera, 7MP, Auto HDR, Cinematic video stabilisation (1080p and 720p), 1080p HD video recording at 30 fps
Compatible with MagSafe accessories and Qi wireless chargers Qi wireless charging
17 hours video playback 16 hours video playback
Spatial audio playback, Supports Dolby Atmos Spatial audio playback, Supports Dolby Atmos
HDR with Dolby Vision, HDR10 and HLG Supports Dolby Vision, HDR10 and HLG
Rated IP68 - Water resistant to 6 metres for up to 30 minutes Rated IP67 - Water resistant to 1 metre for up to 30 minutes

Processor

The iPhone 12 has a processor that is two generations newer than that inside the iPhone XR. Apple says that this translates into 40% CPU improvements and a 30% boost for graphics. The Neural Engine is also improved, delivering 11 trillion operations per second compared to 5 trillion for the A12 - that's an 83% increase. Whether you need all this power depends on what you intend to do with your iPhone.

If you are just using it to surf the web, check in on social media, and WhatsApp your friends then the faster processor will probably be overkill, but the faster processor does allow for the extra photography features that we mentioned above, and if you are an avid gamer then it will make a difference to you - especially as new games come out taking advantage of it.

Storage

Another notable difference is the fact that the iPhone XR is no longer sold with 256GB storage. It once was so you may be able to pick one up second hand, or refurbished. If you want the larger capacity model then the iPhone 12 is your only option - unless you opt instead for the iPhone SE.

We'd suggest that you probably don't need 256GB storage: we prefer to subscribe to iCloud and store all our photos in the cloud and as a result we don't need more than 64GB storage on the device itself.

5G

There is one last thing that is a fundamental difference between the 2020 iPhones and the older models: 5G.

Whether 5G matters to you will most likely be influenced by whether there is 5G coverage where you are based. The UK networks intend to roll out 5G across the UK over the next few years, but for now only major cities have any coverage.

If you are curious to find out what the 5G coverage is in your area of the UK you can check the following coverage checkers:

  • EE's Coverage Checker here
  • 3's Coverage Checker here
  • Vodafone's Coverage Checker here
  • O2's Coverage Checker here

If you don't have 5G coverage yet you might be thinking there isn't much point getting a 5G phone. We'd suggest that there should be an element of forward planning in your decision, because in the next few years 5G will have rolled out to more areas. Whether to get an iPhone with 5G now really depends on when you think you will be buying your next phone. If you expect that will be more than a couple of years away then we'd suggest going for 5G now, otherwise you'll probably be one of the last of your friends to move to 5G.

If you are lucky enough to get 5G in your area then you will be able to take advantage of higher speeds and more reliable connections.

Verdict

The iPhone 12 has a better camera, the same sized screen despite being a fraction smaller, a higher quality, more shatterproof screen, a more powerful processor and 5G, all of which are excellent reasons to choose it over the iPhone XR. The iPhone XR is cheaper and comes in some fun colours. It's not as powerful, but it may be plenty powerful enough for you.

You may also like to read our comparison of the iPhone 12 mini vs iPhone SE.

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