Would you believe us if we told you Apple currently sells seven different iPhone models? It’s true and yes, that includes the brand new iPhone 13 Mini, 13, 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max. The previous-gen iPhone 12, iPhone 11 and even the affordable iPhone SE is tacked onto that line at $399.
With such a wide gap between the iPhone SE and iPhone 13 Pro Max, trying to decide which model is best for you can be challenging. That’s what we’re here for. Below we’ll walk you through each model Apple currently offers, what it can and can’t do, and who it’s best suited for. Ready? Let’s dive in.
For the second year in a row, Apple released four iPhones. Adding to the confusion: in terms of performance, they’re all extremely similar. So let’s break down which one is right for you.
Best new iPhone: iPhone 13 (starting at $799; amazon.com or apple.com)
The iPhone 13 checks off the core boxes in a size that lets you get a lot done. While the iPhone 13 Mini is identical in terms of performance, the iPhone 13’s extra screen real estate makes it more usable and the keyboard feels much less cramped.
The 6.1-inch screen size is plenty big for browsing web pages, scrolling through timelines and, more crucially, using the keyboard. Unlike the 13 Mini which can feel cramped, the 13 has a roomy keyboard that’s both easy to learn and will feel more akin to previous iPhones. The iPhone 13 features an OLED display, which delivers vibrant colors and deep blacks for text.
What you won’t find on the iPhone 13 is a high refresh rate, though. It isn’t a deal breaker if you’re coming from a device with the same lower — but standard — refresh rate. While the iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max feature a higher refresh rate (120Hz compared to the 13’s 60Hz) and therefore content streams a bit more seamlessly, the difference will still be too subtle to the average to warrant the steep price to upgrade.
The iPhone 13 features one of the best dual-camera systems we’ve ever tested, consisting of 12-megapixel wide and a 12-megapixel ultra wide lenses. Images are crisp with more details and pops of color than most other smartphones, though the real change is with proper lighting. Thanks to a larger sensor which captures more light, we found that images taken even in dimly lit environments don’t feature much blur or fuzziness. Also during our testing, we found that the iPhone 13 doesn’t require much fussing around with settings — you can simply point and shoot to get the best shot possible. You’ll get Portrait Mode, Night Mode and a bevy of video recording options.
The iPhone 13 starts with 128GB of internal storage (the same starting price that the 12 and 12 Mini carry with just 64GB), which should be plenty for most users. The phones also support 4G LTE and 5G (Sub-6 and mmWave) in the United States across a bevy of carriers.
Those who want a smaller sized phone with the same features, can opt for the 5.4-inch iPhone 13 Mini which starts at $699.
Best iPhone for photography: iPhone 13 Pro (starting at $999; amazon.com or apple.com)
iPhone 13 Pro
Those who want the best possible cameras for photo or video capture in any setting should opt for the iPhone 13 Pro. It features a triple camera system: a 12-megapixel wide, a 12-megapixel ultrawide and a 12-megapixel telephoto.
All of these boast new sensors and lenses, which let them take in even more light, resulting in a dramatic improvement for low-light shots — normally known for packing some grain, noise and blurriness. But these upgraded cameras remove all that noise and pack in a tremendous amount of light and detail. It’s a noticeable upgrade over the iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max, but even more so with older devices.
The telephoto lens here lets you zoom in closer optically, without physically moving or sacrificing data. It’s a significant improvement over digital zoom, which quickly adds blurriness and a loss of details into the shot. The iPhone 13 Pro takes a noticeable leap forward with imagery and videography. You can, of course, shoot in Portrait Mode and Night Mode; record video in up to 4K, capture slow-motion or time-lapse content; and use the new Cinematic Mode, which is akin to portrait mode for video that has worked quite well in our testing.
The iPhone 13 Pro impresses with an even better 6.1-inch OLED display than the iPhone 13. You’ll still get a sharp and vibrant screen, but it can get super bright which lets you use it in any lighting condition — even direct sunlight. The 13 Pro also has a high refresh rate display, making content look more realistic, buttery smooth content streaming.
And like the iPhone 13, the 13 Pro is also powered by the latest Apple-made mobile chip — the A15 Bionic. It’s plenty fast and will let you power through nearly any thinkable task you could complete on an iPhone (or any mobile phone). Battery life is also great and easily lasts a full day. In our battery test, the 13 Pro lasted for 14 hours, which is longer than the 12 Pro’s 12 hours and 10 minutes
If you don’t need the latest offering: iPhone 12 (starting at $599; amazon.com or apple.com)
Technically the iPhone 12 isn’t that old, at less than a year. But with the launch of the iPhone 13, though, Apple has reduced the cost of the iPhone 12 to a starting price of $699.
As a refresher, the iPhone 12 debuted a flat-edged design that Apple has now continued to use on the new iPad Mini and iPhone 13 line.
And let’s be clear — the A14 Bionic processor which powers the iPhone 12 is nearly as fast as the one in the iPhone 13. It’s really a nominal upgrade that boosts efficiency and results in applications opening slightly faster. The iPhone 12 is plenty fast enough for everyday tasks and for gaming. More processor intensive tasks, like batch exports or video editing, will see boosts in the newer iPhone 13, though. We’d also hedge that the iPhone 13 will keep ticking a bit longer than the iPhone 12 as the devices age.
One potential downside for opting for the iPhone 12 model is that the base storage amount starts at 64GB, while the iPhone 13 lineup starts at 128GB; 64GB is pretty slim and if you have a large photo library, lots of songs downloaded or a large amount of apps you’ll likely get a storage alert sooner than later, so the iPhone 13 would be a better choice for those who tend to hoard digital files on their phone.
The iPhone 12 offers a good camera experience. You won’t get the new Cinematic video or macro mode that the iPhone 13 has, but you’re still getting two rear-facing 12-megapixel cameras — one wide, the other ultra wide. Both offer crisp details and accurate colors, but if you’re keen on photography you’ll notice the 13 does a better job lighting the shot. With shots taken on the iPhone 13, there’s clearer depth between the foreground and background, like for a classic shot of someone in front of a sunset. Still, you’re getting a very capable shooter in the iPhone 12.
Both phones run iOS 15, the latest operating system from the iPhone, and are sure to remain supported for years to come. That’s good news, since it’s still a hefty price and you don’t want to invest in a phone that won’t be supported in a few years.
If you’re looking to spend less: iPhone 11 (starting at $499; amazon.com or apple.com)
If you still want a modern iPhone 11 with a nearly bezel-free screen and Face ID for easy unlocking, the iPhone 11 is an affordable option that mixes solid performance and modern features — all at a more manageable $499 for the 64GB model ($549 for 128GB).
The key difference between the iPhone 11 and newer models is that it opts for a 6.1-inch LCD screen instead of an OLED. It’s not as bright or crisp as newer models, but still offers a clear viewing experience that ultimately extends the battery life.
There are two rear-facing cameras on the back of the iPhone 11, one for ultrawide shots — a favorite feature of ours — and a standard camera, both of which are 12 megapixels. Images offer a strong amount of details and are still Instagram worthy, but don’t offer the level of details the iPhone 13 can deliver. Low-light shots are lackluster in comparison with ones taken on any of the newer models.
All in all, the iPhone 11 is a worthy pick for those who want a modern design with Face ID and are shopping on a specific budget.
If you’re looking to spend the least: iPhone SE (starting at $399; amazon.com or apple.com)
Apple’s iPhone SE is deceiving. On the outside, it looks like an older iPhone, complete with the iPhone’s iconic home button that unlocks the phone after reading your fingerprint. However, it’s anything but a modern-day relic. What makes it most appealing is that pricing starts at $399 for 64GB of storage, or you can double the storage to 128GB for $449.
The iPhone SE doesn’t have a massive display like most smartphones tend to now. Instead, it has a 4.7-inch screen that’s easy to reach across even when you’re using it one-handed. Content isn’t immersive on it and you don’t see as much on screen in most apps — it’s not necessarily a deal breaker, but your fingers might get a workout from swiping to see more.
The lone camera on the back of the iPhone SE is 12 megapixels, but Apple has built in all the features and shooting modes you’d expect from an iPhone. And that includes Portrait Mode, which works surprisingly well. The key difference is that it isn’t precise with creating the blur, and might cut off a bit more than newer models. You can also record 4K video with the iPhone SE, or use the 7-megapixel front-facing camera for selfies, again, with portrait mode capabilities. Overall, photos lack the crisper details and vibrancy that the newer iPhones offer.
Other tidbits about the iPhone SE that are worth knowing include its wireless charging, and its housing should survive accidental dunks in the pool, thanks to an IP67 rating. Apple’s Face ID is absent from the iPhone SE, which may be a deal breaker for some. However, Touch ID is faster than ever and works with a mask on.
The iPhone SE was updated in early 2020, and it’s sure to provide a high-quality iPhone experience for tweens, teens or someone who simply doesn’t want to spend a lot on a smartphone.
When it comes to upgrading to a newer iPhone, you’ll likely want to get some cash or trade-in value for your current model. It’s an easy way to close the gap, especially as a new iPhone can cost a hefty amount of dough. Luckily, there are several services out there that make trading in a phone relatively easy.
You’ll generally start by selecting your model, noting it’s condition, answering a few other questions and then see an estimated value for the device. If you choose to send the device in, you’ll lock in that value and the service will provide you with a shipping label to send your device back in. After they receive it, they’ll check it over and update the value if need be. You’ll confirm and they’ll pass the money to you. We’d recommend using a service like Decluttr, which you can currently score an extra 10% on your trade-in value with code CNN2021. It’s capped at $50, but is a nice bonus. It’s Worth More or Gazelle are two other services, which we’ve personally used as well.