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Should you upgrade to iPhone 13? We compared the last five years of iPhones to find out

Let's see how Apple's iPhone 13 measures up to the iPhone 12, iPhone 11, iPhone XS, iPhone XR, iPhone X, iPhone 8, iPhone 7.

Apple's iPhone 13 lineup made its grand entrance at the tech giant's "California streaming" event last month. Although Apple is already gearing up for its October event (here's how to watch it live tomorrow and everything we expect), many iPhone devotees are facing a big question: Should I upgrade? If you've already checked out CNET's reviews of the iPhone 13 and 13 Mini, and iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max, and you're still on the fence, it may be helpful to see all the major differences between old and new. So we compared the past five years of iPhones, going all the way back to the iPhone 7. 

There's no easy answer that applies to everyone and purchasing decisions will always vary depending on budget, how well one's phone works right now and personal needs. But let's lay out all the facts to make that decision as easy as possible. And if you want even more buying advice, here's how the iPhone 13 compares to the iPhone 12 and whether it still makes sense to buy the iPhone 12, iPhone 11 or even iPhone SE in 2021.

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Apple's iPhone 13 brings improvements in camera performance, battery life, and general speed. 

Apple

Should you upgrade to the iPhone 13 or not?

The short answer is that most iPhone 12 and iPhone 11 owners can probably skip this upgrade since their phone is probably still in great shape, and there isn't a whole lot that meaningfully changes the experience. 

But those who own older models, particularly the iPhone XS and earlier, will likely have a lot to gain when it comes to camera features and battery life. Apple's older iPhones dating back to the iPhone 6S generation still support iOS 15, which launched earlier this week (here's our iOS 15 review), but they won't feel nearly as fast and powerful as more recent iPhone models. 

Here's a closer look at how the iPhone 13 compares to its predecessors. 

iPhone 13 vs. iPhone 12, 12 Pro

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The purple iPhone 12.

Sarah Tew/CNET

If you have an iPhone 12, there's little reason to upgrade right now. That's because the iPhone 12 has a lot in common with the iPhone 13. They both have 5G support, a vibrant OLED 6.1-inch screen, a fast processor, great cameras and MagSafe accessory support. The biggest reasons to consider upgrading are the camera updates -- especially for shooting video -- and the longer battery life.

All of Apple's new iPhones, including the standard iPhone 13 and 13 Mini, are getting a new video shooting feature called Cinematic mode, which automatically switches the focus between subjects to give footage a more filmlike aesthetic. It looks like a neat trick for those who frequently use their phones for video projects, and our reviewer Patrick Holland had a blast testing it out. Apple says that Cinematic mode takes advantage of the new A15 Bionic processor, but it's worth noting that Apple also has a history of bringing enhancements like these to previous iPhones through software updates. 

Read more: You can do better than the Apple Watch Series 3 in 2021, even if you want to save money

The wide camera on the standard models can also take in more light for better results, and the iPhone 13 and 13 Mini inherit the iPhone 12 Pro Max's sensor shift technology for better stabilization. Apple is also introducing a new feature called Photographic Styles, which allows users to apply certain preferences across a scene in photos. Apple says it's different from a filter since it can apply the right adjustments to make sure elements like skin tone are preserved accurately.

As is usually the case, Apple's bigger photography improvements can be found on the iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max. Night mode works on all three rear camera lenses, including the telephoto lens, and the Pro models can also take macro shots that can focus in on a subject as close as 2 centimeters. Check out our full story to learn more about the iPhone 13's camera improvements here. 

Now playing: Watch this: Review: The iPhone 13 and 13 Mini check all the boxes
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The iPhone 12 still has Apple's 12-megapixel dual camera system that comes with a wide and ultrawide camera, while the iPhone 12 Pro line has Apple's 12-megapixel triple-lens setup with wide, ultrawide and telephoto cameras. Most of the camera features are otherwise the same between generations, aside from the new capabilities available only on the iPhone 13 family mentioned above. 

The iPhone 13's aforementioned A15 Bionic processor is offering faster speeds and longer battery life compared to the iPhone 12's A14 Bionic chip. Specifically, the iPhone 13 should last roughly 2.5 hours longer than the iPhone 12, while the iPhone 13 Mini gets an extra 1.5 hours over last year's 12 Mini. The iPhone 13 Pro will last for 1.5 hours longer than the iPhone 12 Pro, while the iPhone 13 Pro Max will benefit from an additional 2.5 hours compared to its predecessor. 

You'll also get more storage from the base level iPhone 13, which comes with 128GB instead of 64GB, and goes up to 512GB instead of 256GB on the regular model. The iPhone 13 Pro goes up to 1TB of storage, while the iPhone 12 Pro maxes out at 512GB.

The bottom line: Hold onto the iPhone 12 for now, unless you really want to take cinematic videos or macro shots with your iPhone and need longer battery life.

iPhone 13 vs. iPhone 11, 11 Pro

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The iPhone 11.

Angela Lang/CNET

The iPhone 11 is only two years old, which means it's likely still running smoothly enough for most people and still has plenty of life left in it. There are two major additions you'll be missing out on: 5G support and better cameras.

That being said, the iPhone 11 still has a great camera that's suitable for casual photo takers that just want to snap shots of their pets, children and vacations. It has a 12-megapixel wide and ultrawide main camera system similar to the iPhone 13 that supports features like Night mode and Deep Fusion, an image processing technique Apple introduced on the iPhone 11. The iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max have a 12-megapixel triple-lens camera that includes wide, telephoto and ultrawide lenses. 

But the iPhone 13 has extra perks that photo enthusiasts will appreciate, especially when it comes to video. There's the aforementioned Cinematic mode, as well as the improvements that the iPhone 12 gained last year such as Night mode time lapse for videos and Dolby Vision HDR video recording. The main camera has Photographic Styles, sensor-based image stabilization and a sensor that can take in more light. 

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The iPhone 11 and 11 Pro phones also lack 5G support compared to the iPhone 12 and 13, but that's not a major reason to upgrade right now. Widely-deployed 5G networks are only marginally better than 4G LTE networks, and there aren't really any apps or services available that would take advantage of faster speeds anyhow.

If you're buying a new phone, it's a good idea to get a 5G model since it's now become the standard and it'll ensure that your phone can support the network in the future when speeds improve. But it shouldn't be the only reason you upgrade, and you certainly don't have to rush out and buy a 5G phone immediately.

The iPhone 13 also has Apple's A15 Bionic processor, while the iPhone 11 family runs on Apple's two-year-old A13 Bionic processor. Although it's not the latest chip, the iPhone 11's processor is still powerful enough to handle everyday tasks like taking photos, playing games and checking social media apps. Apple even put the same A13 Bionic chip in its new entry-level iPad, another signal that this processor is still capable. 

The iPhone 13 also gets two extra hours of battery life when playing video compared to the iPhone 11, support for Apple's MagSafe accessories, and twice the storage capacity at the base level. According to Apple's website, battery life on the standard iPhone 13 is similar to that of the iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max. But the iPhone 13 Pro should last an extra four hours than the iPhone 11 Pro during video playback, and an additional two hours compared to the iPhone 11 Pro Max.

The iPhone 11 generation also uses Apple's older design language that includes rounded corners with a glossy pastel finish on the standard model and matte casing on the Pro models. The iPhone 12 and later, by comparison, has flatter edges similar to the iPad Pro, a Ceramic Shield coating that should make it more durable and a shiny glass back.

The bottom line: Most people can probably hold onto their iPhone 11 or 11 Pro for another year. But videographers and photographers that need better cameras, longer battery life, and more storage for their projects could benefit from upgrading. 

iPhone 13 vs. iPhone XS, XS Max, XR

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If you have a phone from 2018's iPhone XS generation, it could be worth upgrading to the iPhone 13. The iPhone XS is more than three years old, which means it might be starting to feel sluggish. It also has noticeably shorter battery life and is missing useful camera features like Night mode and a higher-resolution selfie camera. 

The same advice applies to owners of the iPhone XS Max, since the main difference between this phone and its smaller sibling comes down to screen size and an extra hour of battery life. There's even more reason to upgrade if you own an iPhone XR. It's essentially the same phone as the iPhone XS except it comes with a single-lens camera, a larger 6.1-inch LCD screen instead of a 5.8-inch OLED display, and brighter color options. 

The iPhone XS might be fine for those who don't care about having the fastest processor or sharpest camera. Even if that describes you, the gains in performance and battery life alone between the iPhone 13 and iPhone XS are likely to feel like a huge difference. There isn't always a huge jump in speed and battery life between generations, or even two generations, of phone upgrades. But once you hit three years, that's where you really start to feel the improvements.

The iPhone XS is estimated to get 14 hours of battery life during video playback, for example, while the iPhone 13 is rated for 19 hours. Even the iPhone 13 Mini is expected to last longer than the iPhone XS with an estimated 17 hours of battery life. The iPhone XS runs on Apple's A12 Bionic processor, which is still moderately fast and can be found in last year's entry-level iPad. But Apple is seemingly phasing that chip out now that it's upgrading its cheapest iPad to the A13 Bionic, meaning it may be starting to feel a bit slow. 

Performance and battery life aside, the iPhone 13 brings a lot of new capabilities to the table. It has Apple's new dual-lens camera system that includes an ultrawide camera instead of a telephoto camera, a wide camera lens with a larger aperture than the iPhone XS' for taking in more light, Night mode, Deep Fusion, a higher-resolution 12-megapixel selfie camera instead of the iPhone XS' 7-megapixel front camera and all of the other previously mentioned camera upgrades.

And that's just the camera. Don't forget, you're also getting 5G support, more storage, compatibility with Apple's MagSafe accessories, a bigger and brighter screen and Apple's new flat-edged design. 

The bottom line: It's time to upgrade. You'll feel a boost in just about every way: speed, camera performance, display quality, connectivity, battery life and design.

iPhone 13 vs. iPhone X

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Apple's iPhone X.

Sarah Tew/CNET

You can feel confident about upgrading to the iPhone 13 if you have an iPhone X. This phone launched in 2017 and is falling behind in big ways when it comes to speed, battery life and camera features.

Let's start with the performance. The iPhone X runs on a much older A11 Bionic chip that's now four years old, while the iPhone 13 Pro runs on Apple's new A15 Bionic processor. That new processor is way ahead of the A11 chip, which only has a two-core neural engine compared to the A15 Bionic's 16-core neural engine. 

The iPhone's neural engine is what powers tasks that rely on machine learning and artificial intelligence, which is increasingly becoming a bigger part of the iPhone experience. Things like app suggestions in the App Library and Apple's Translate app rely on machine learning to function, which indicates that the iPhone X may struggle to keep up with newer capabilities.

The iPhone X also has a dual-lens camera similar to that of the iPhone XS, meaning it's missing the iPhone 13's new features in addition to Night mode, Deep Fusion and the ability to control depth and blur levels in Portrait mode. Like the iPhone XS, you're only getting a 7-megapixel front camera compared to a 12-megapixel selfie camera on Apple's newer phones.

Apple's four-year-old iPhone also has shorter battery life, with Apple estimating it should last for 13 hours when playing back video compared to 19 hours on the iPhone 13. The iPhone 13's 6.1-inch screen is bigger than the 5.8-inch display on the iPhone X, and it should also be brighter since it can reach 800 nits of max brightness compared to the iPhone X's 625-nit screen. 

Audio is also improved on Apple's newer phones since devices like the iPhone 13 support Dolby Atmos and spatial audio playback, while the iPhone X just has stereo playback. That's probably not a deal breaker, but might be a big deal if you watch a lot of video on your phone without headphones. 

And of course, there's the benefit of getting 5G support, more storage space, a refreshed design and the option to use MagSafe accessories on the iPhone 13.

The bottom line: Apple's iPhone X is now four years old, so an upgrade to this year's phones will feel substantial. The A11 Bionic processor is probably starting to feel slow, and the iPhone 13 brings major leaps in camera performance, machine learning processing and battery life compared to this phone.

iPhone 13 vs. iPhone 8, 8 Plus

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The iPhone 8.

The iPhone 8 generation has Apple's legacy iPhone design, which is fitting for a phone that's now four years old. If you have an iPhone 8 and are considering upgrading, there are many reasons to say yes.

A lot of those reasons are the same as why you should upgrade from the iPhone X. The processor is old, which could make it harder to use newer iPhone features that rely on machine learning. The cameras are outdated and lack features like Night mode (the smaller iPhone 8 doesn't have Portrait mode either, since it only has one lens). By upgrading, you'll get more storage, significantly longer battery life, support for 5G connectivity and MagSafe accessories, too.

But the biggest difference is in the iPhone 8's design, which is much more than just an aesthetic upgrade. Phones with Apple's more modern edge-to-edge screen also trade Touch ID for Face ID, which lets you unlock your phone and authenticate payments just by looking at your device. If you prefer Touch ID over Face ID, especially since it's difficult to use Face ID while wearing a mask, you might want to at least consider upgrading to the iPhone SE since it has a much newer processor.

You'll also notice a giant jump in display size and quality when upgrading to the iPhone 13. Since newer phones like the iPhone 13 don't have a home button, there's more room for Apple to expand the screen without making the device feel cumbersome. The iPhone 13's screen is even larger than the iPhone 8 Plus' 5.5-inch screen despite the device itself feeling more compact.

I recently switched from an iPhone 8 (which has a 4.7-inch screen) to the iPhone 12's 6.1-inch display and can tell you it makes reading, checking email and watching videos much more comfortable. The screen isn't only larger, but it's also more vibrant with better contrast since it uses OLED display technology rather than LCD.

The bottom line: The iPhone 13 is a huge jump from the iPhone 8. Everything about this phone will feel fast and new: the much larger and bolder screen, Face ID, the speedier processor, its longer battery life and of course the substantially upgraded cameras. Of note however, if you really want to get a newer iPhone but keep the iPhone 8's design, you can trade up to the current iPhone SE.

iPhone 13 vs. iPhone 7, 7 Plus

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The iPhone 7.

The iPhone 7 is a five-year-old phone, and it shows in everything from the processor to the camera and storage space. If you have an iPhone 7, it's time to upgrade.

The iPhone 7 runs on an aging A10 Fusion processor, which doesn't even have a neural engine and is several years behind Apple's latest technology. The regular iPhone 7 has a single-lens camera without Portrait mode, while the 7 Plus has two cameras. But those cameras still lack many modern features like Night mode and Portrait Lighting, which adds specific lighting effects to your portraits. 

Similar to the iPhone 8, the iPhone 7 series includes Touch ID and comes in either 4.7- or 5.5-inch screen sizes. But since the iPhone 7 is a year older than the iPhone 8, it's also missing wireless charging, which means you must plug it in to charge and can't use a charging pad. 

If you've owned an iPhone 7 for several years, your phone is probably bursting at the seams since it comes with substantially less storage space. The entry-level iPhone 7 only comes with 32GB of space, which is a quarter of capacity available on the cheapest standard iPhone 13. 

The iPhone 13 brings major gains in all of these areas. The standard model has a larger, bolder and brighter bezel-free 6.1-inch screen that still feels compact since it doesn't have a home button. It runs on Apple's latest A15 Bionic processor, which will be better equipped to handle newer iPhone features. And it has a drastically improved dual-lens camera with a bigger sensor and advanced features like the new Cinematic mode for video and Night mode. Plus, Apple's estimates indicate it'll offer six hours of additional battery life during video playback, which is a huge bump.

The bottom line: There's no question that you're due for an upgrade if you're still holding onto your iPhone 7. Bigger, bolder screens, dramatically longer battery life and more advanced cameras are just a few of the gains the iPhone 13 has to offer over the iPhone 7. And similarly to my recommendation with the iPhone 8, if you really want to keep the home button and save some money on your next phone, consider the iPhone SE to get many of the more recent performance upgrades while keeping a similar phone style.

See our table below for a closer look at how all of Apple's iPhones from the last five years compare.

iPhone 13 specs compared to older iPhones


iPhone 13 iPhone 12 iPhone 11 iPhone XS iPhone XR iPhone X iPhone 8 iPhone 7
Size options 5.4 inches (Mini), 6.1 inches (regular and Pro), and 6.7 inches (Pro Max) 5.4 inches (Mini), 6.1 inches (regular and Pro), and 6.7 inches (Pro Max) 6.1 inches (regular), 5.8 inches (Pro), 6.5 inches (Pro Max) 5.8 inches (XS), 6.5 inches (XS Max) 6.1 inches 5.8 inches 4.7 inches (regular), 5.5 inches (Plus) 4.7 inches (regular), 5.5 inches (Plus)
Screen Super Retina XDR OLED, adaptive 120Hz refresh rate (Pro only) Super Retina XDR OLED Liquid Retina HD LCD (iPhone 11), Super Retina XDR OLED (Pro and Pro Max) Super Retina HD OLED Liquid Retina HD LCD Super Retina HD OLED Retina HD LCD Retina HD LCD
Processor A15 Bionic A14 Bionic A13 Bionic A12 Bionic A12 Bionic A11 Bionic A11 Bionic A10 Fusion
Cellular connectivity 5G/4G LTE 5G/4G LTE 4G LTE 4G LTE 4G LTE 4G LTE 4G LTE 4G LTE
Cameras 12MP dual lens with wide and ultrawide; triple lens with wide, ultrawide and telephoto on Pro 12MP dual lens with wide and ultrawide; triple lens with wide, ultrawide and telephoto on Pro 12MP dual lens with wide and ultrawide; triple lens with wide, ultrawide and telephoto on Pro 12MP dual lens with wide and telephoto 12MP single wide 12MP dual lens with wide and telephoto 12MP wide camera; dual lens 12MP with wide and telephoto (Plus) 12MP wide camera; dual lens 12MP with wide and telephoto (Plus)
Camera modes Night mode, Deep Fusion, ProRAW (Pro only), Portrait mode, (with 6 lighting effects and depth control) Night mode portraits (Pro only), Photographic Styles, Cinematic mode video Night mode, Deep Fusion, Portrait mode (with 6 lighting effects and depth control), ProRAW (Pro only), Night mode portraits (Pro only) Night mode, Deep Fusion, Portrait mode (with 6 lighting effects and depth control) Portrait mode (with 6 lighting effects and depth control) Portrait mode (with 3 lighting effects and depth control) Portrait mode (with 5 lighting effects ) Portrait mode (with 5 lighting effects, Pro only ) Portrait mode (Plus only)
Front Camera 12MP with Portait mode, Night mode, Portrait Lighting, Animoji, Memoji, Cinematic mode and Photographic Styles 12MP with Portait mode, Night mode, Portrait Lighting, Animoji, Memoji 12MP with Portrait mode, Portrait Lighting, Animoji, Memoji 7MP with Portrait mode, Portrait Lighting, Animoji, Memoji 7MP with Portrait mode, Portrait Lighting, Animoji, Memoji 7MP with Portrait mode, Portrait Lighting, Animoji, Memoji 7MP 7MP
Storage 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB (Pro only) 64GB (regular and Mini only), 128GB, 256GB, 512GB (Pro only) 64GB, 128GB (iPhone 11 only), 256GB, 512GB (Pro and Pro Max only) 64GB, 256GB, 512GB 64GB, 128GB 64GB, 256GB 64GB, 128GB 32GB, 128GB
Battery life (estimated, video playback) 19 hours, 22 hours (Pro), 28 hours (Pro Max), 17 hours (Mini) 17 hours (12 and 12 Pro), 20 hours (Pro Max), 15 hours (Mini) 17 hours (regular), 18 hours (Pro), 20 hours (Pro Max) 14 hours (XS), 15 hours (XS Max) 16 hours 13 hours 13 hours (regular), 14 hours (Plus) 13 hours (regular), 14 hours (Plus)
Authentication Face ID Face ID Face ID Face ID Face ID Face ID Touch ID Touch ID
Charging support Lightning cable, wireless chargers, Apple MagSafe charger Lightning cable, wireless chargers, Apple MagSafe charger Lightning cable, wireless chargers Lightning cable, wireless chargers Lightning cable, wireless chargers Lightning cable, wireless chargers Lightning cable, wireless chargers Lightning cable
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The standard iPhone 13 sports a 6.1-inch screen and two rear cameras. For 2021, Apple is pledging longer battery life, improved cameras and better durability versus the iPhone 12. You can also snag the 13 Mini for $100 less.

If you don't need the longer battery life, the iPhone 12 is still a solid phone that runs fast, has great cameras, supports 5G and is powered by Apple's speedy A14 Bionic chip. The iPhone 12 Mini remains available starting at $100 less.

The iPhone 11 doesn't offer 5G support or the iPhone 13's knockout camera performance, but it's still a reliable phone with great value for the price.