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Buy an iPhone 12 or wait for the iPhone 13? How to decide which Apple flagship is best for you

Apple's newest iPhone could be coming in September, but should you splurge on a iPhone 12 now or hold off for the iPhone 13? Here's how to make the right choice for your needs.

The iPhone 12 is an excellent phone, and getting one now may be better than waiting for whatever the next iPhone turns out to be.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple's iPhone 12 has been on the market since last fall. But with the new iPhone, said to be called the iPhone 13 and rumored to be on its way for Apple's next event, does it still make sense to buy last year's model now? Depending on what features you need and your budget, the iPhone 12 or upcoming iPhone SE 3 may be a good option. But you likely won't have long to wait for the iPhone 13, which could be released as soon as September, if that's the better choice for you.

If you're on the fence as to which path to take, that's understandable. But don't stress. This guide spells out when you should go in one direction or the other. This way you can feel confident you've made the right call. 

Read more: iPhone 13 vs. iPhone 12: What rumors say about Apple's next phone

If you're still using an outdated iPhone then an immediate upgrade to an iPhone 12 makes a lot of sense. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Using an old, outdated iPhone?

One of the best reasons to snap up a new phone is because your current one is hopelessly outdated. If you own an iPhone 11, upgrading to an iPhone 12 now probably isn't worth it. You won't see enough of a difference in performance and features, especially compared with what will likely come with the iPhone 13. However, if you can hang on until September your patience will have a chance of being rewarded.

The calculus is very different for owners of older iPhones like the iPhone X series. Going for the iPhone 12 gives you an advanced A14 Bionic CPU, plus an OLED screen. Just those two enhancements represent a massive upgrade over phones from just a few years ago.

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The need for 5G speed

5G wireless isn't available everywhere, and its capabilities have been a little overhyped. That said, the iPhone 12 is the first and currently only iPhone compatible with 5G. So if you have a burning desire to connect to 5G cellular networks and have access to one, then the iPhone 12 will scratch that itch immediately. Of course the iPhone 13 will most likely also link to 5G so waiting is fine too.

Living with a damaged iPhone screen is never fun.

Jamea Martin/CNET

Cracked screen, failing battery and other reasons to get that new iPhone now

Living with a device that's been damaged or functions poorly is rough. For example, it's hard to ignore a fractured screen since you see the defect daily. The same is true of a failing battery that can't hold as much charge as it once could. If your iPhone suffers from these types of frustrating issues, an immediate upgrade to an iPhone 12 is justified. 

The iPhone 12's ceramic shield screen held up well during our torture tests.

Chris Parker/CNET

iPhone 12's got a ceramic shield display 

One of the iPhone 12's big improvements is the material of its display. Apple calls it "ceramic shield" glass. Made by Corning, the ceramic shield glass covering the phone's display is harder than most metals. Indeed, we can confirm the iPhone 12's ceramic shield's toughness. When we put it to the test, the handset came through with flying colors. So if you're a huge klutz and are prone to slips and drops, springing for this current iPhone is a wise move. Those who feel they can avoid mishaps may want to wait until September though. The iPhone 13 will likely also come with a ceramic shield. 

New features in the works

The iPhone 13 will definitely come with brand-new features the iPhone 12 lacks. If the rumor mill is correct, the device will boast a 120Hz display and would be the first iPhone to do so. Right now the iPhone 12's screen has a 60Hz refresh rate. The faster refresh rate will translate to smoother, snappier scrolling through apps and websites. Apple will probably enhance the iPhone 13's camera too, something the company does every year. Also keep in mind that Apple only provides software updates to its phones for a finite amount of time. Waiting too long and eventually you'll be locked out of the latest OS.

Price may be the deciding factor

As the saying goes, money talks. If you can find a significant deal on the iPhone 12, it may be enough to ease your indecision. Perhaps you're planning to switch carriers. If so, the wireless provider you'd like to move to may offer trade-in specials. It could offset a lot of the cost of a new phone. Also consider holding out until the iPhone 13 is announced. Then, prices for the iPhone 12 will certainly plummet. Depending on what the iPhone 13 turns out to be, getting a heavily discounted iPhone 12 may be a better option.

And while we don't know for certain what the price of the iPhone will be, we've made educated guesses. Chances are good it'll follow a similar breakdown to what the iPhone 12 was. Then again, Apple could sell it for much less. Samsung and Google asked for less cash for the Galaxy S20 FE and Pixel 5 in 2020. The Samsung Galaxy S21 had a $200 discount compared with the model before it. 

Fingers crossed.

For more, here's how the iPhone 12 compared to the iPhone 11, whether you should buy an iPhone 12, iPhone 11 or iPhone SE and everything coming in iOS 15. You can also take a look at what products we expect from the next Apple event and all the rumors about the Apple Watch 7, AirPods 3 and iPad Mini 6.