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- The iPhone SE (2022) and iPhone 12 are the cheapest iPhones you can buy.
- The iPhone SE is the least expensive iPhone and it uses the same processor as the iPhone 13 and iPhone 14.
- But the iPhone 12 is the better phone overall, thanks to its design, screen size, battery life, and cameras.
If you're one to turn your nose at premium flagship phones, you've got options. When it comes to iPhones, wallet-conscious shoppers have not one, but two choices: the 2022 iPhone SE and the 2020 iPhone 12.
Starting at $429, the latest iPhone SE is the least expensive phone in Apple's current lineup. The iPhone SE is classified as a mid-range phone, yet there's nothing mid-range about its performance. It uses the same A15 Bionic processor as the iPhone 13 and iPhone 14, and packs all that power in a compact design. What holds it back is its older design (it's the only new iPhone that still uses Touch ID), small screen size, and short battery life.
The next budget option is the 2020 iPhone 12 (starting at $599). It's $170 more than the iPhone SE, but it has better cameras and more modern design. Plus, it has a larger screen size, which is more suitable for multitasking and streaming.
The iPhone 12's downside is that it uses an older A14 Bionic processor, but it is the low-cost model we would recommend because it offers a better features and user experience. The iPhone SE is great for those who is most concerned about price or actually want a physically smaller device.
If you're stumped on which low-cost iPhone to buy, here's our comparison between the 2022 iPhone SE and the 2020 iPhone 12.
iPhone SE (2022) vs. iPhone 12: Specs at a glance
iPhone SE vs. iPhone 12: Screen size and quality
The iPhone SE's 4.7-inch screen is tiny by today's standards. Some people opt for smaller screens because they prefer smaller phones, so this is a choice only you can make.
The iPhone 12 has a 6.1-inch screen, but it's also higher-quality: It uses OLED technology to deliver deeper colors and contrast that makes apps and content pop, compared to the iPhone SE's older LCD display.
The OLED screen's resolution is also higher (2,532 x 1,170) than the iPhone SE's (1,334 x 750), which makes things look sharper. However, since the iPhone SE's screen is smaller, it looks just as sharp.
iPhone SE vs. iPhone 12: Design
The iPhone SE has a classic iPhone design that traces back to the iPhone 6 from 2014, with large spaces above and below the screen. It takes up room, so it makes the screen size even smaller than the iPhone SE's overall dimensions.
In comparison, more current iPhones, like the iPhone 12, have narrower screen borders that make the device look sleeker and the screen larger, while keeping the physical size compact. This makes the phone comfortable to use while maintaining a screen size that's just right.
The iPhone 12's design includes the notch, which houses Apple's Face ID sensor for unlocking the phone. The iPhone SE uses the old-but-reliable Touch ID fingerprint sensor on the bottom, which doubles as the Home button.
Many actually prefer Touch ID over Face ID, but whether it's worth it to stick with an older iPhone design and a tiny screen for the sake of Touch ID is up to you.
iPhone SE vs. iPhone 12: Battery life and charging
One of the main complaints about the iPhone SE is its short battery life, and while Apple improved it for the 2022 model, it still doesn't last as long as the iPhone 12.
The iPhone SE and iPhone 12 both support wireless charging at 7.5 watts, but the iPhone 12 is also compatible with Apple's optional MagSafe wireless chargers. MagSafe magnetically snaps the charger to the iPhone 12's back, and it charges faster at 15 watts.
And, the iPhone 12 also supports MagSafe accessories, including charging hubs, wallets, PopSockets, and more.
For wired charging, the iPhone SE and iPhone 12 support Apple's fast charging with a 20-watt or higher charger. Fast-charging means the iPhones can charge from 0% to 50% in 30 minutes.
iPhone SE vs. iPhone 12: Cameras
The iPhone SE supports Apple's Smart HDR 4, which captures improved color, contrast, and lighting compared to the iPhone 12's Smart HDR 3.
Overall, the iPhone SE and iPhone 12 take photos in comparable quality with their 12-megapixel cameras, but the iPhone 12 offers extra versatility with its additional 12-megapixel ultra-wide camera. Not only is the ultra-wide camera ideal for capturing vast landscapes, it can be useful for capturing subjects up close.
As for the front camera, the iPhone 12's 12-megapixel camera takes sharper selfies compared to the iPhone SE's 7-megapixel camera.
iPhone SE vs. iPhone 12: Performance and support
The iPhone SE runs on Apple's newer A15 Bionic processor while the iPhone 12 runs on the A14 Bionic. Essentially, the iPhone SE runs on the same processor as the iPhone 14, which is to say it's quick and powerful.
Still, the A14 Bionic in the iPhone 12 is no slouch, and it's only one generation older than the iPhone SE and iPhone 14's processors.
The third-generation iPhone SE is a newer phone released in 2022 compared to the 2020 iPhone 12, which means it could get an extra two years of support for iOS updates, which include important security patches.
With that said, Apple has the best support out of any other phone maker. With iOS 16, Apple is continuing to support 2017's iPhone 8 — a five-year-old iPhone.
If you plan on keeping your iPhone for longer than five years, you might have longer support with the iPhone SE. But if you upgrade before five years, the iPhone 12 is a better choice.
iPhone SE vs iPhone 12: Which should you buy?
We recommend the iPhone 12 as the better option, even though it runs on an older processor. The design, screen size, battery life, and cameras offer a significantly better experience.
The iPhone SE 2022 should appeal to those who want to spend as little as possible on an iPhone, and isn't concerned about features like Face ID and MagSafe charging. It's also the best option for people who what a physically smaller phone.