The iPhone XS is a great phone. But it is now a few years old, so is it time iPhone XS users upgraded to the iPhone 12? Let’s find out…
Yep, it’s that time: the time for iPhone 12 vs iPhone XS! But if you’re looking for someone to hard-sell you the iPhone 12, you’re not going to get any of that in this post. Why?
Because the iPhone XS, despite its age, is still a great phone. In fact, in many ways, it is just as good as the iPhone 12. You have a solid, beautiful design, excellent, continued software support (well into the late-2020s), a decent CPU, and, of course, Apple’s OLED screen.
The iPhone 12 does do a few things better though – and these could be important things to certain users. So what are these things?
The first is 5G. Apple’s iPhone 12 models were the first iPhones to ship with 5G, so if you want 5G you’re going to have to get an iPhone 12.
The second is the camera. The iPhone 12 features a heavily updated camera compared to the iPhone XS. We’re talking three years here, so even at Apple’s slow-than-most pace, the changes are pretty significant with respect to what the iPhone 12’s camera can do compared to the iPhone XS, as you can see below in the video:
iPhone 12 vs iPhone XS Camera Test
And while the iPhone XS and iPhone 12’s camera might look similar in person, they’re both dual-lens setups, for instance, there are some pretty significant changes inside the iPhone 12’s camera module that make it a vastly superior shooter to the iPhone XS.
iPhone XS Camera Specs
- 12 MP, f/1.8, 26mm (wide), 1/2.55″, 1.4µm, dual pixel PDAF, OIS
- 12 MP, f/2.4, 52mm (telephoto), 1/3.4″, 1.0µm, PDAF, OIS, 2x optical zoom
iPhone 12 Camera Specs
- 12 MP, f/1.6, 26mm (wide), 1.4µm, dual pixel PDAF, OIS
- 12 MP, f/2.4, 120˚, 13mm (ultrawide), 1/3.6”
As you can see, the iPhone 12 uses larger sensors on its camera modules and this enables it to perform better in low-light conditions. The wider aperture also lets in more light and results in far less noise in captured images.
The iPhone 12 also gets some new modes for shooting too – specifically Night Mode and Deep Fusion. And all of these elements combine to make a significantly improved camera setup, so if imaging and camera performance is important to you, the iPhone 12 is definitely a few steps above the iPhone XS.
These things – 5G and camera performance – are the most significant differences between the iPhone XS and iPhone 12. The things you’ll notice most. The iPhone 12 is also faster, thanks to Apple’s A14 CPU. But, because of 5G, it does not have quite as good battery performance as the iPhone XS.
In all other settings you can care to mention, the iPhone 12 is the superior device – but then that’s to be expected. Still, there is plenty of reasons to use the iPhone XS in 2021. If you’re on a strict or tighter budget, buying older iPhone models is a sure-fire way to save some money.
The iPhone XS now retails for less than $400 refurbished, so if you’re after a bargain, then I’d definitely be checking this phone out – it will get iOS support until the mid-to-late 2020s, and it has more than enough power and performance under its hood for 99.9% of people.
iPhone 12 vs iPhone XS Quick Comparison
The biggest (superficial) difference between the iPhone 12 and iPhone XS is the design. Technically, the iPhone 12 uses the cheaper materials: it has an aluminum frame compared to the stainless steel frame of the iPhone XS. However, when taken as a whole with the glass front and back and flat edges of the iPhone 12 frame, we think the iPhone 12 looks much sexier than the iPhone XS.
The iPhone 12 also comes in blue, green, red, black, or white; while the iPhone XS only came in silver, space grey, or gold.
- iPhone XS – The iPhone XS features a glass and stainless steel body with rounded edges. It came in silver, space grey, or gold.
- iPhone 12 – The iPhone 12 features a glass and aluminum body. However, the iPhone 12 features flat edges, ala the iPhone 4, and has a narrower bezel. Its glass is also made up of what’s called Ceramic Shield, which means its 4x more drop-resistant than the iPhone XS’s glass.
Winner? iPhone 12 – Even with the aluminum body, the iPhone 12 still looks better than the iPhone XS. You can thank the flat edges and narrower bezels for that.
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The display of the iPhone 12 also got a fairly major upgrade compared to the one found in the iPhone XS. While both are OLED displays, the iPhone 12 sports a Super Retina XDR display (compared to the Super Retina HD display in the XS). That XDR display gets you 1200 nits of max brightness for HDR. Colors just pop.
And of course, the iPhone 12 has a slightly bigger display at 6.1in.
- iPhone XS – The iPhone XS features an OLED Super Retina HD display that is 5.8in and has a 2436 x 1125-pixel resolution.
- iPhone 12 – The iPhone 12 features an OLED Super Retina XDR display that is 6.1in and has a 2532 x 1160-pixel resolution.
Winner? iPhone 12 – It’s got the bigger display, the narrower bezels, and twice the contrast ratio of the XR.
Look, the iPhone XS’s A12 chip is no slouch. It can still run circles around the chips in most 2021 flagship Android phones. But the iPhone 12’s A14 chipset blows the A12 away. It’s twice as fast in some cases.
- iPhone XS – the iPhone XS features the A12 Bionic chipset.
- iPhone 12 – the iPhone 12 features the A14 Bionic chipset.
Winner? iPhone 12 – The A14 flies. Matter of fact, it could be up to twice as fast as the A12. You’ll see everything from quicker launch times to faster processing of AR and graphics.
We went through the cameras in the above section of this post. But it’s worth mentioning here that the cameras in the iPhone 12 are superior to the iPhone XS’s cameras. The front selfie camera is 12MP (versus 7MP in the XS).
The rear camera has a better wide-angle lens and, arguable the ultra-wide lens is more versatile than the telephoto in the iPhone XS. And let’s not forget the iPhone 12 features advanced software enhancements like Night Mode and Deep Fusion
- iPhone XS – The iPhone XS features a 7MP selfie camera. Its rear camera is a dual-lens 12MP wide-angle and 12MP telephoto. It also features a 2x optical zoom in.
- iPhone 12 – The iPhone 12 features a 12MP selfie camera. On the rear, you get a dual-lens 12MP wide-angle and a 12MP ultra-wide lens setup. It features a 2x optical zoom out. However, it also features advanced processes like Night Mode and Deep Fusion.
Winner? iPhone 12 – Arguably, the telephoto lens on the XS is more valuable than the ultra-wide, but because the iPhone 12 features modes like Night Mode and Deep Fusion, it’s got the better camera.
The iPhone XS actually still had the better storage options. If you want that in the 12 series, you’ll need to go with the 12 Pro.
- iPhone XS – 64GB, 256GB, or 512GB
- iPhone 12 – 64GB, 128GB, or 256GB
No question about it: the iPhone 12 rocks with its 17 hours of battery life. The iPhone XS only gets ou 14 hours.
- iPhone XS – The iPhone XS’s battery gets you about 14 hours of battery life. It features regular wireless charging.
- iPhone 12 – The iPhone 12 gets you about 17 hours of battery life. It features wireless charging with Apple’s new MagSafe tech.
Winner? iPhone 12 – You get an extra THREE hours of battery life. It also features wireless MagSafe charging.
- iPhone XS – The 5.8in iPhone XS is no longer sold by Apple.
- iPhone 12 – The 6.1in iPhone 12 costs $799 (64GB) and $849 (128GB) and $949 (256GB).
The iPhone XS was a killer phone two years ago–and it’s still a better phone than most modern Android flagships. However, Apple has brought so many “pro” features from a few years ago over to the “regular” iPhone 12, it’s hard to see how the XS can compete against it.
For starters, the iPhone 12 has a superior display, which is not only bigger but has a much better contrast ratio. Then the A14 Bionic chip in the iPhone 12 blows the A12 in the XS away. And the rear camera system is far superior too, thanks to support for tech like Night Mode.
And that’s not even to mention that the iPhone 12 has the superior design, offers 5G support, has MagSafe wireless charging, and even has better waterproofing. Oh, it’s also lighter and thinner than the iPhone XS.
So, do you NEED to upgrade your iPhone XS for the iPhone 12? No. The iPhone XS is still a great phone. However, if you have the cash and WANT to upgrade, yes–you’ll be getting a lot more out of the iPhone 12 than the iPhone XR.
iPhone 12 vs iPhone XS: Specs
Here are the specs for the iPhone XS:
- Display: 5.8in OLED Super Retina HD display with a 2436 x 1125-pixel resolution
- Dimensions: 143.6 mm x 70.9 mm x 7.7 mm
- Weight: 177 grams
- Storage: 64, 256, or 512GB
- Processors: A12 Bionic chip
- Front camera: 7MP FaceTime HD camera
- Rear camera: 12MP Wide and 12MP Telephoto. 2x optical zoom in
- Battery: Up to 14 hours (video playback)
- Other: 4G, Face ID, NFC, wireless charging, IP68 waterproof (2m)
And here are the specs for the iPhone 12:
- Display: 6.1in OLED Super Retina XDR display with a 2532 x 1160-pixel resolution
- Dimensions: 146.7 mm x 71.5 mm x 7.4 mm
- Weight: 164 grams
- Storage: 64, 128, or 256GB
- Processors: A14 Bionic chip
- Front camera: 12MP FaceTime HD camera
- Rear camera: 12 MP Ultra Wide and 12MP Wide. 2x optical zoom out
- Battery: Up to 17 hours (video playback)
- Other: 5G, Face ID, NFC, wireless charging with MagSafe, IP68 waterproof (6m)
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Is the iPhone 12 better than the Xs?
In almost every respect, yes. The iPhone 12 has the better display, the better camera, and the better design. It also has better battery life and better water resistance The iPhone XS can’t compare with it.
Q: Is iPhone 12 worth the wait?
Most people think so. the iPhone 12 is Apple’s first 5G iPhone. It also has a stunning camera and amazing design.
Q: Is the iPhone XS still worth it in 2021?
Apple no longer sells the iPhone XS, but you can buy it in lots of places online still. But should you buy it in 2021? If you can get a sweet deal on it, sure. It’ll support the latest iOS releases for several more years at least. However, if you’ve got the cash, go grab the iPhone 12–it’s an amazing smartphone.
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.