iPhone 12 vs iPhone SE (2020) – Which iPhone Should You Get?

By Michael Grothaus •  Updated: 11/04/20 •  8 min read

Apple has now completely refreshed its iPhone lineup for 2020. Of course, in recent weeks Apple introduced the new iPhone 12 series, which includes the iPhone 12 mini, the iPhone 12, and the iPhone 12 Pro models. But these iPhones were the last to debut in 2020.

Earlier in the year, Apple updated its iPhone SE model–the first iPhone to get a 2020 update. The iPhone SE model has long been a fan favorite thanks to its legacy features, like Touch ID. However, with the introduction of the iPhone 12, the iPhone SE is starting to look a bit…dated, let’s say.

But how exactly do the iPhone 12 and iPhone SE stack up? Let’s take a look.

iPhone 12 vs iPhone SE (2020) Quick Comparison

iPhone 12 vs iPhone SE (2020) – Which iPhone Should You Get?
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The iPhone 12 and iPhone SE 2020, while both released in 2020, are two very different iPhones. The iPhone SE 2020 is essentially an iPhone 8 redux, just with Apple’s A13 CPU inside it (and some small tweaks to the camera). For the most part, it is an iPhone from Apple’s Touch ID era. It has a physical home button, it looks identical to the iPhone 8 (and the iPhone 7, iPhone 6, iPhone 6s), and it does not feature FACE ID or 5G. It also uses a pretty low-fi 720p LCD display.

The iPhone 12, meanwhile, is the successor to 2019’s massively popular iPhone 11. Apple has switched up the design, ever so slightly, this time around, implementing a flatter, blockier side profile that is reminiscent of the iPhone 4’s design – only here you’re dealing with a much larger phone. The iPhone 12 uses a 6.1in OLED display, a first for Apple’s entry-level models, carries a dual-12MP camera on its rear and runs 5G out of the box. You also have Apple’s A14 CPU, an insanely powerful chipset, more RAM, and a choice of several colors.

From a design perspective, the iPhone 12 is a superior phone. And even if you want a smaller iPhone, the iPhone 12 Mini is a better option than the iPhone SE 2020 – you’ll get OLED displays, 5G, and essentially the same specs as the iPhone 12 just inside a significantly smaller package. The iPhone 12 Mini is closer in size to the iPhone 4s than it is to the iPhone SE 2020.

Winner? iPhone 12 – The iPhone SE just looks dated. Thanks to the iPhone 12’s new design and edge-to-edge display, the phone looks like the future.

MORE: Best iPhone 12 Deals | ALL MODELS


You almost feel bad for the iPhone SE when you compare it to the iPhone 12 as far as the display goes. That’s because the iPhone 12 features an all-screen display with a 2532 x 1160-pixel resolution. Compare that to the 1334 x 750-pixel resolution of the iPhone SE and you can tell which one is the winner here.

But another reason the iPhone 12 beats the iPhone SE is that the iPhone 12’s display is an OLED screen versus the iPhone SE’s LCD display. The OLED screen requires less power, while having much brighter colors, better contrast, and darker blacks.

Winner? iPhone 12 – Hands down, the iPhone 12 wins here. The OLED display is leagues better than the LCD display found on the iPhone SE.


Let’s get it out of the way: yes, the iPhone 12 does have the newer, faster processor – the A14. The iPhone SE has 2019’s A13. And yes, the A14 is about 25% faster in tests. However, will you actually notice that speed increase in general use?

Maybe if your general use involves playing a lot of games or editing video. However, if you mainly use the iPhone to view videos, take photos, use office-based productivity apps, and browse the web, you actually shouldn’t notice that big of a difference between the two.

Winner? iPhone 12 – The A14 will get you up to 25% more CPU processing power for processor-heavy tasks like gaming and video creation.

iPhone 12 vs iPhone SE (2020) – Which iPhone Should You Get?
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The iPhone SE 2020 uses (more or less) the same camera as the iPhone 8. Apple has made a few tweaks, but what you get is what you got in the iPhone 8 and the iPhone XR.

The iPhone 12’s camera is a dual-lens set-up, consisting of a 12MP wide lens and a 12MP ultra-wide lens, plus a 2x optical zoom. On paper and in real-life usage, the iPhone 12’s camera is the superior shooter.

If you value the ability to take good-looking pictures and videos, the iPhone 12 is the one to go for. Yes, it’s more expensive. But the reason it is more expensive is that it runs a lot of technology that isn’t present on the iPhone SE 2020.

Things like dual-lens cameras, optical zoom, OLED displays, a new CPU, and, of course, the ability to connect to 5G networks.

Winner? iPhone 12 – A two-lens rear camera system with optical zoom out handily beats the single-lens system found on the iPhone SE.

Storage Options

The iPhone 12 and the iPhone SE have the EXACT same storage configurations.

MORE: iPhone 12 Battery Life Performance Kinda SUCKS – Here’s Why…

Battery Life

The iPhone SE 2020, by its very design, was never going to be a powerhouse in the battery department. For mixed usage, it’s fine – although if you push the phone with heavy usage you will need to top up mid-way through the day.

The iPhone 12 has a larger battery and will last longer than the iPhone SE 2020. But it is not as good as the iPhone 11, its predecessor.

Apple opted to use a smaller battery in the iPhone 12 than the iPhone 11 and this, combined with the inclusion of 5G, has resulted in the iPhone 11 outperforming the iPhone 12 in the battery performance department.

And not by a small margin, either: the iPhone 11 will last around 4 hours longer than the iPhone 12. Crazy, right? That’s the price you pay for 5G.

Winner? iPhone 12 – You’re getting an extra FOUR hours of battery life on the iPhone 12–and the wireless charging also includes the cool new MagSafe tech.

iPhone SE (2nd generation) colors
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It would be unfair to the device to say the iPhone SE isn’t a good phone. It’s a TERRIFIC phone for the price – especially compared to most Android phones. Even when compared to previous iPhones, the iPhone SE is nothing to laugh at. Its A13 processor runs circles around previous processors. And as already said, that sub-$400 entry point is a fantastic price.

However, when comparing the iPhone SE to the iPhone 12, it’s clear the iPhone 12 is the better deal. Yes, it is $400 more expensive than the SE, but for that $400 you are getting a much faster processor, a much better and larger screen, a much better camera system, better battery life, better wireless charging, and support for 5G cellular networks.

In other words, the only reason you should choose the iPhone SE over the iPhone 12 is the cost. From a technology perspective, the iPhone 12 is the much better deal.

MORE: The #1 Best iPhone Alternatives (For The “Android-Curious”)

iPhone 12 vs iPhone SE (2020): Specs

iPhone 12 vs iPhone SE (2020) – Which iPhone Should You Get?
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Here are the specs for the iPhone 12:

And here are the specs for the iPhone SE (2020):

Want to see how the iPhone SE (2020) compares to the iPhone 12 mini? Check out our iPhone 12 mini vs iPhone SE (2020) here.

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Michael Grothaus

Apple expert and novelist, Michael Grothaus has been covering tech on KnowYourMobile for the best part of 10 years. Prior to this, he worked at Apple. And before that, he was a film journalist. Michael is a published author; his book Epiphany Jones was voted as one of the best novels about Hollywood by Entertainment Weekly. Michael is also a writer at other publications including VICE and Fast Company.
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