iPhone 8 vs. iPhone 12: What you'll get if you upgrade

Here's how to decide whether you should upgrade to the brand-new iPhone 12 or hang on to your iPhone 8.

Sareena Dayaram
Sareena Dayaram
Sareena Dayaram Senior Editor
Sareena is a senior editor for CNET covering the mobile beat including device reviews. She is a seasoned multimedia journalist with more than a decade's worth of experience producing stories for television and digital publications across Asia's financial capitals including Singapore, Hong Kong, and Mumbai. Prior to CNET, Sareena worked at CNN as a news writer and Reuters as a producer.
Expertise Huawei, Oppo, smartphones, smartwatches Credentials
  • More than a decade of journalism experience
Sareena Dayaram
5 min read
Angela Lang/CNET

Out of the four iPhone 12 models that Apple announced last October, the iPhone 12 is best suited for most people, and it's also one of our highest-rated phones ever. But if you've held back from upgrading since 2017's iPhone 8, you're probably wondering whether now is the time to do so. After all, the iPhone 12 boasts a string of significant new features including 5G, a ceramic-hardened display and MagSafe charging. While these updates and others are welcome additions to the iPhone 12, not all of them will materially affect your daily life, at least for now. 

Here's everything you need to know about how the iPhone 12 compares with the iPhone 8 before you make that decision to upgrade -- or wait another until the next-gen iPhone.

Read more: Here are CNET's reviews of the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro, iPhone 12 Mini and iPhone 12 Pro Max

Watch this: Our in-depth review of the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro

iPhone 8's single rear camera vs. the iPhone 12's two 

The camera systems on the iPhone 8 and iPhone 12 are one of the biggest differences between the two devices, and it's something that will noticeably affect your experience and buying decision. During the nearly four years since Apple launched the iPhone 8, the company has made impressive strides in improving camera technology 

With the iPhone 12, you'll see big gains in image quality and more flexibility around the kinds of photographs you can capture. For instance, the iPhone 8 only has one camera. It doesn't have Portrait Mode nor does it feature a second, ultrawide camera, which is for capturing sweeping landscapes. Both those things are found in all four iPhone 12 models. 

Combined with Apple's powerful computational photography software, like Apple's impressive low-light feature called Night Mode, the iPhone 12 takes some of the best smartphone photos no matter what time of day. And if you want even more camera upgrades, the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max has a third telephoto lens, as well as lidar. (If you want to learn more about lidar, read this.)

Apple's glassy iPhone 8 is all glossed up

See all photos

iPhone 12 has 5G

The iPhone 12 models are the first iPhones to offer next-generation 5G cellular connectivity. Carriers have claimed that 5G speeds are almost twice as fast as 4G, and Apple spent a considerable amount of time during its launch event hyping up the new tech. But 5G coverage is patchy across the US, and your experience will vary depending on where you live. Some areas have absolutely zero coverage, while other parts (mainly big cities) have 5G networks from all major US carriers. The bottom line is: There is no universal 5G experience, so it's important to research the 5G coverage in your area. If you do upgrade, at the very least you can take comfort in knowing your device is future-proof as 5G continues to expand this year and the next.

Decidedly different displays

The displays of the iPhone 12 and iPhone 8 are very different -- they vary in size, type, resolution and even material. The iPhone 12 line has one of the best displays you can get on a phone today. All four phones use a premium OLED panel, while the iPhone 8 has an LCD display. OLED panels usually have better contrast and deeper black levels than their LCD counterparts. 

The iPhone 8 has a 4.7-inch screen, while the iPhone 12 has a 6.1-inch display. Because there are several iPhone 12 models, you can also choose the smaller 5.4-inch iPhone 12 Mini and the larger 6.7-inch iPhone 12 Pro Max. 

Apple debuts its MagSafe-branded charging system alongside the iPhone 12.


New to the iPhone line is the iPhone 12's ceramic-hardened glass known as Ceramic Shield, which Apple says offers four times more drop protection. During our Phone 12 drop test (and subsequent iPhone 12 Mini drop test), CNET's former editor Vanessa Hand Orellana concluded that the Ceramic Shield seems indestructible. The iPhone 12's screen survived without a crack after it was dropped six times on a sidewalk, including three back-to-back drops from a height of nine feet. 

The iPhone 8 uses a type of glass made specifically for Apple by Corning , but it's not Gorilla Glass. When we conducted drop tests, we discovered that at 3 feet (0.9 meters), it survived. At 5 feet (1.5 meters), however, the iPhone 8 shattered. 

Bring your own charger with the iPhone 12

Apple confirmed the fears of some iPhone fans when it announced that the iPhone 12 box wouldn't come with either a wall adapter or wired earphones. The company is betting most people already own these accessories, but if you do need them you'll have to buy them separately. 

Apple's reasoning to leave behind the wall adapter may also have something to do with its introduction of MagSafe. It's a proprietary wireless charging system on the iPhone 12 that uses magnets. In addition to charging pads though, other nifty accessories can snap onto the back of the device too, and are sold separately. As for the iPhone 8, it comes with a Lightning cable and plug, and it also works with the existing Qi wireless charging standard

Read more: Apple's iPhone 12 takes us a step closer to the portless future iPhone

iPhone 12 has perfectly flat sides and it's wonderful

See all photos

Processing and battery life

With every next-gen iPhone, also comes next-gen processors. All four iPhone 12 phones use the same A14 Bionic processor seen in the iPad Air. The benchmark tests conducted by CNET's Patrick Holland concluded that the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro were the most powerful phones we've ever tested. It'll definitely be snappier than the A11 chip on the iPhone 8, but the average person will likely be hard-pressed to notice the difference. 

Apple doesn't release battery capacity numbers. But for battery life, our preliminary tests show that the iPhone 12 lasted 17 hours, 14 minutes with looped video playing at half brightness in airplane mode. The iPhone 8 meanwhile lasted 13 and a half hours.

Design and other differences

The iPhone 12 has a revamped design that, while reminiscent of the iPhone 5 , still feels modern and premium. It also marks one of the biggest design changes since the iPhone X . The iPhone 8, on the other hand, has an old-school iPhone design with a home button and thick bezels. As such, you do not get that expansive, largely unobstructed screen that is the hallmark of a modern smartphone. Check out our iPhone 12 and iPhone 8 photo galleries to see for yourself.

Apple's glassy iPhone 8 is all glossed up

See all photos

Also, the iPhone 12 has several features that the iPhone 8 doesn't. The iPhone 12 has a third storage option (128GB), and Wi-Fi 6 and UWB are notable for "future-proofing" your phone. (Here's our Wi-Fi 6 explainer in case you want more info, and some speculation on what UWB will be used for.) And although this might not be a top priority at the moment, the dual-SIM feature on the iPhone 12 is useful for when you're traveling or if you have a working SIM from another country that you want to store and use for your next trip. The iPhone 8 takes only one SIM.

For a spec-by-spec comparison between the iPhone 12 and iPhone 8, take a look at our chart below.

iPhone 12 vs. iPhone 8

Apple iPhone 12iPhone 8
Display size, resolution 6.1-inch OLED; 2,532x1,170 pixels4.7-inch LCD; 1,334x750 pixels
Pixel density 460 ppi326 ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 5.78x2.82x0.29 in5.45x2.65x0.29 in
Dimensions (Millimeters) 146.7x71.5x7.4 mm138.4x67.3x7.3 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 5.78 oz; 164 g5.22 oz; 148 g
Mobile software iOS 14iOS 11
Camera 12-megapixel (wide), 12-megapixel (ultrawide)12-megapixel (wide)
Front-facing camera 12-megapixel7-megapixel
Video capture 4K4K
Processor Apple Bionic 14Apple A11 Bionic
Storage 64GB, 128GB, 256GB64GB, 256GB
RAM Undisclosed2GB
Expandable storage NoneNone
Battery Undisclosed; Apple lists 15 hours of video playback1,821 mAh (Apple doesn't confirm this)
Fingerprint sensor No (Face ID)Home button (Touch ID)
Connector LightningLightning
Headphone jack NoNo
Special features 5G enabled; MagSafe; water resistant (IP68); wireless charging; dual-SIM capabilities (nano-SIM and e-SIM) Water resistant (IP67), wireless Qi charge compatible
Price off-contract (USD) $829 (64GB), $879 (128GB), $979 (256GB)$699 (64GB), $849 (256GB)
Price (GBP) £799 (64GB), £849 (128GB), £949 (256GB)£699 (64GB), £849 (256GB)
Price (AUD) AU$1,349 (64GB), AU$1,429 (128GB), AU$1,599 (256GB)AU$1,079 (64GB), AU$1,329 (256GB)