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