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The 8 best iPhone models: Which is right for you?

What is the best iPhone? Apple's iPhone 13 Pro Max is ZDNet's top choice, offering amazing performance and longer battery life. We analyzed the camera, battery life, size, price, and storage on the top iPhone models below.
matthew-miller
michael-gariffo
Reviewed by Elyse Betters Picaro and  Sean Jackson

Apple's iPhones are arguably the best smartphones available -- with responsive performance, regular updates for years, compelling hardware designs, outstanding camera technology, and an ecosystem that appeals to the masses.

We have seen improvements in battery life, advanced multi-camera functionality, and continued improvements to Apple's iOS. The high-end iPhones are pricey, but Apple's processor architecture has also proven to be the best in the smartphone world. Apple doesn't yet offer folding phones or vary too much in design from year to year, but the iPhone is a reliable phone that will help you get work done and enjoy its vast entertainment resources on your downtime.

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max
Image: Apple

Processor: Apple A15 | Display Size: 6.7 inches | Storage Options: 128GB/256GB/512GB/1TB | Rear Cameras: Three 12MP (wide, ultra-wide, telephoto) | Front Camera: 12MP f/2.2 | Colors: Silver, Graphite, Gold, Sierra Blue | Size: 160.8 x 78.1 x 7.65mm | Weight: 240g | Starting Price: $1,099 

Apple's biggest and most feature-rich iPhone is a mouthful, the iPhone 13 Pro Max. While the phone looks just about the same as last year's 12 Pro Max it is a tad thicker with a larger capacity battery and longer battery life thanks to both hardware tweaks and more efficient display technology. 

That revamped display now not only supports a refresh rate up to 120Hz, but it can drop its refresh down to just 10 Hz to save battery power on static imagery. The result is a gorgeous, buttery smooth display that doesn't drain your battery the way some displays locked at 120Hz can. 

On the photographic front, optical zoom on the telephoto camera was improved to 6x, while a new macro photography mode allows you to capture images of subjects that are just a few centimeters away. Videographers will also enjoy the new cinematic video mode and its support for things like rack focus, or changing the focal depth to switch from one subject to another.

See the full review: iPhone 13 Pro Series review

Pros

  • Incredibly smooth display
  • Flawless performance
  • Improved battery life
  • Top-tier cameras and video capture performance

Cons

  • Expensive, It's big and heavy
  • Iterative aesthetics
Apple iPhone 13 Pro
Image: Apple

Processor: Apple A15 | Display Size: 6.1 inches | Storage Options: 128GB/256GB/512GB/1TB | Rear Cameras: Three 12MP (wide, ultra-wide, telephoto) | Front Camera: 12MP f/2.2 | Colors: Silver, Graphite, Gold, Sierra Blue | Size: 146.7 x 71.5 x 7.65mm | Weight: 204g | Starting Price: $999 

The Apple iPhone 13 Pro is smaller than the iPhone 13 Pro Max, but still has the triple rear camera array and all of the same features as the 13 Pro Max. Unlike the iPhone 12 Pro models from last year, there are no differences in the cameras in 2021. Thus, it is truly your preference for display size and need for the Max's extra battery capacity that will make the difference for you. If you like a smaller phone, and don't need multi-day battery life, then the 13 Pro is your best choice. 

The iPhone 13 Pro's smaller 6.1-inch display also received the same "ProMotion" update as its larger cousin, offering the same smooth, variable refresh rate as the 6.7 inches seen on the 13 Pro Max. Although users looking for the largest possible screen may still want to opt for the Max, this model is more pocketable and manageable for most people.

While the 13 Pro may look almost identical to the iPhone 12 Pro, it is actually 0.25 mm thicker to accommodate a slightly larger battery, resulting in a 15-gram weight increase over the iPhone 12 Pro. These modest size and weight bumps are more than worth it for the increased battery life the 13 Pro has shown over its predecessor. 

Pros

  • Smaller form factor 
  • Same 120HZ and dynamic refresh rate display tech as the Max
  • Better battery life than iPhone 12 Pro
  • Superb cameras

Cons

  • Lower battery capacity than the iPhone 13 Pro Max
Apple iPhone SE (3rd generation)
Image: Apple

Display: 4.7 inches LCD (1334 x 750-pixel resolution) | CPU: Apple A15 | RAM: Uknown | Internal storage: 64/128/256GB options | Rear cameras: 12MP main | Front camera: 7MP camera | Weight: 144g | Battery capacityUnknown

Apple satisfied those looking for a tiny phone a few years ago with the 2016 iPhone SE. In 2020, it introduced another SE model in a larger form factor that carried on the tradition of the Touch ID front fingerprint sensor. The 2022 iPhone SE (3rd Generation) is available now for a very affordable starting price of $429 in three color options - Midnight, Starlight, and PRODUCT Red.

The latest model brings Sub-6 5G support (mmWave is not supported) and a new Apple processor with the same traditional display size, front Touch ID fingerprint sensor, and single rear camera. The processor brings improved performance, longer battery life, and enhanced photography results with the same hardware.

The iPhone SE is still essentially an iPhone 8 with upgraded internals to match the modern iPhone 13 range. For those who want a smaller and less expensive iPhone, this is the one to get. There are also still many fans of Touch ID, especially if you wear a mask regularly.

Pros

  • It's an iPhone...for $429 
  • Solid battery life 
  • Excellent software support 
  • Small body 
  • IP67 dust/water resistant

Cons

  • Big bezels 
  • Smaller screen display
iphone-13
Image: Apple

Processor: Apple A15 | Display Size: 6.1 inches | Storage Options: 128GB/256GB/512GB | Rear Cameras: Two 12MP (wide and ultra-wide) | Front Camera: 12MP f/2.2 | Colors: Starlight, Midnight, PRODUCT (Red), Pink, Blue | Size: 146.7 x 71.5 x 7.65mm | Weight: 174g | Starting Price: $799 

The Apple iPhone 13 is an interesting device since it has the exact same 6.1-inch display seen on the iPhone 13 Pro, but without the new ProMotion technology. This means its limited to the standard 60 Hz iPhone owners have been using for year. Truth be told, this is unlikely to be a dealbreaker for the large portion of the populace that see things like refresh rate as useless technobabble or just an unwanted source for an upcharge. 

There is also one less rear camera on the iPhone 13 and it does not offer the LiDAR scanner found in the 13 Pro line. If the extra telephoto lens and AR capabilities are not important to you, then you can save some  considerable money by opting for the iPhone 13.

See the full review: iPhone 13 review

It's great to finally see Apple start with a 128GB base model rather than charging people for a reasonable level of internal storage, especially when that storage needs to play home to Apple's excellent photo and video results, including film taken using the new Cinematic mode mentioned above.

The iPhone 13 is 0.25mm thicker and 10 grams heavier than the iPhone 12, but users are sure to appreciate the improved battery life that comes with a bit more depth.

Pros

  • Gorgeous flat OLED display 
  • Loud stereo speakers
  • Excellent cameras

Cons

  • No refresh rate display
  • No dedicated telephoto camera
Apple iPhone 13 mini
Image: Apple

Processor: Apple A15 | Display Size: 5.4 inches | Storage Options: 128GB/256GB/512GB | Rear Cameras: Two 12MP (wide and ultra-wide) | Front Camera: 12MP f/2.2 | Colors: Starlight, Midnight, PRODUCT (Red), Pink, Blue | Size: 131.5 x 64.2 x 7.65mm | Weight: 141g | Starting Price: $699 

It wasn't clear last year how popular the smallest new iPhone was with buyers, but we see Apple once again going small in 2021. This diminutive iPhone option offers all of the same features as the iPhone 13, with a smaller display and smaller battery capacity.

The same Apple processor powers the device, including its dual rear camera system that's also identical to the iPhone 13. Face ID, 5G, wireless charging, and all the rest from the iPhone 13 are present on the smaller iPhone 13 mini. While we see the removal of the ridiculous 64GB storage option here as well, fans of tiny but powerful smartphones will likely appreciate the option to add up to 512GB of storage at an additional cost of $300.

See the full review: iPhone 13 mini review

The Apple iPhone SE is still available with a 4.7-inch display and low Apple price of $399, but the iPhone 13 mini offers a $100 savings over the larger iPhone 13. Its smaller display may be a bit too tiny for fans of consuming tons of media on their smartphones. But, for users out there with smaller hands that long for the days when their thumb could reach any part of their smartphone's screen, the iPhone 13 Mini is the smart choice.

Pros

  • A rare, small flagship phone
  • Identical internals to the iPhone 13 
  • Excellent cameras

Cons

  • No high refresh rate on the display 
  • Subpar battery life
Apple iPhone 12
Image: Apple

Processor: Apple A14 | Display Size: 6.1 inches | Storage Options: 64GB/128GB/256GB | Rear Cameras: Two 12MP (wide and ultra-wide) | Front Camera: 12MP f/2.2 | Colors: Black, White, PRODUCT (Red), Green, Blue | Size: 146.7 x 71.5 x 7.4mm | Weight: 164g | Starting Price: $699 

Like the updated 13th generation, the Apple iPhone 12 offers the exact same 6.1-inch display size seen on the iPhone 12 Pro. However, without the added benefit of ProMotion on this previous generation's Pro version, it's an even closer competitor to its much more expensive counterpart. 

Also like the iPhone 13, the iPhone 12 drops a single camera and LiDAR support as some of its very few concessions. 

The iPhone 12 was the most popular choice of its generation for the masses who may not need the higher-end cameras found in the Pro models, and it continues to be a great option for users now wishing to save money by opting for its one year-old, but still excellent internals and specs. 

See our full review: iPhone 12 review

The iPhone 12 also starts at a measly 64GB of storage so you will have to pay a bit extra to pick up the 128GB or 256GB models. Thankfully, it is only $50 for the 128GB option that I highly recommend for people who use their phone as their photo or video camera.

Pros

  • Beautiful flat OLED display 
  • Loud stereo speakers 
  • Excellent cameras

Cons

  • Starts with 64GB internal storage (upgrade for an extra fee) 
  • Pricey for base model
Apple iPhone 12 mini
Patrick Holland/CNET

Processor: Apple A14 | Display Size: 5.4 inches | Storage Options: 64GB/128GB/256GB | Rear Cameras: Two 12MP (wide and ultra-wide) | Front Camera: 12MP f/2.2 | Colors: Black, White, PRODUCT (Red), Green, Blue | Size: 131.5 x 64.2 x 7.4mm | Weight: 135g | Starting Price: $599 

In a rather unique move from Apple, we also saw a fourth iPhone 12 model announced with the 5.4-inch display. Unlike many downsized options, this model launched with the same display quality and technology as its larger siblings, allowing fans of smaller devices to get the size they wanted without the concessions that usually entails for displays under 6 inches in most smartphone lines. 

The same Apple processor powers the device with a dual rear camera system that is the same as the iPhone 12. Face ID, 5G, wireless charging, and all the rest from the iPhone 12 are all also present on the smaller iPhone 12 mini.

See our full review: iPhone 12 mini review

Pros

  • Compact phone 
  • Flawless performance 
  • Excellent cameras

Cons

  • Average battery life 
  • Limited internal storage (starts with 64GB)
Apple iPhone 11
Image: Apple

Processor: Apple A13 | Display Size: 6.1 inches | Storage Options: 64GB/128GB/256GB | Rear Cameras: Two 12MP (wide and ultra-wide) | Front Camera: 12MP f/2.2 | Colors: Black, White, PRODUCT (Red), Purple, Yello, Green | Size: 150.9 x 75.7 x 8.3mm | Weight: 194g | Starting Price: $499 

While this list starts with the most powerful, and expensive, phones available, ZDNet's Jason Cipriani was right in stating that the Apple iPhone 11 is probably the best older generation iPhone for most people. We typically see Apple keep prices the same, or increase them, each year, but with the iPhone 11, we actually saw a price drop of $50 at launch and further drops since the iPhone 13 release.

Unlike the terrible decision to launch the iPhone 11 Pro/Pro Max with 64GB and then charge a massive premium to upgrade to the next level of 256GB, Apple lets iPhone 11 buyers go from 64GB to 128GB for just $50. Thus, the iPhone 11 with 128GB is an excellent and recommended option for most people.

The iPhone 11 has a size between the 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max with long battery life, capable processor, several color options, and rear dual camera setup. The iPhone 11 has an ultra-wide angle and standard rear cameras but doesn't have the 2x telephoto zoom lens found on the other newer iPhone models. 

Pros

  • Perfect size 
  • Exceptional performance 
  • Solid cameras 
  • Long battery life

Cons

  • Limited internal storage (starts with 64GB)

What is the best iPhone?

Apple's iPhone 13 Pro Max is the best iPhone available. We compared the camera, battery life, size, price, storage and other specs of all iPhones and concluded that the iPhone 13 Pro Max is the best iPhone on the market.

iPhone models comparedBase PriceBase StorageDisplayProcessorCameras
iPhone 13 Pro Max$1,099128GB6.7 inchesA153
iPhone 13 Pro$999128GB6.1 inchesA153
iPhone 13$799128GB6.1 inchesA152
iPhone 13 mini$699128GB5.4 inchesA152
iPhone 12$69964GB6.1 inchesA142
iPhone 12 mini$59964GB5.4 inchesA142
iPhone 11$49964GB6.1 inchesA132
iPhone SE (3rd Generation)$42964GB4.7 inchesA151

Which iPhone model is right for you?

It used to be fairly easy to choose an iPhone model as you typically selected either the "big" iPhone or the "small" one. With four models available in the iPhone 13 series alone, you have to dig a bit deeper to choose which is best for you. This is especially true of the iPhone 13 and 13 Pro that are nearly the same hardware so check out our question above for more on this decision.

Size is generally the first factor to consider, followed by price. Price limits will also drive the amount of internal storage you select for your iPhone.

One fantastic aspect of the Apple iPhone line is that iPhone models receive software support for years, so it's OK to buy an older model and trust it will work well for you for years.

Choose this iPhone...If you want...
Apple iPhone 13 Pro MaxThe top-of-the-line flashiest iPhone available.
Apple iPhone 13 ProRunner up to the Pro Max and compact.
Apple iPhone SE (3rd generation)The cheapest new iPhone.
iPhone 13An average iPhone that doesn't break the bank.
Apple iPhone 13 miniA compact iPhone that's new.
Apple iPhone 12An old-generation iPhone that's worth a look.
Apple iPhone 12 miniAn old-generation iPhone that's worth a look and compact.
Apple iPhone 11Old iPhone that's afforable and still a goodie.

How did we choose these iPhone models?

The process to make our selections includes testing the phones for weeks, reading reviews from other websites and publications, researching reviewer guides and manufacturer websites, talking with colleagues and other users who have hands-on experience with the phones, and then selecting the best from all of the available choices. 

For this iPhone list, we also only included iPhone models that are available directly from the Apple Store where you will get official support and can purchase Apple Care Plus. There may be other models of older iPhones still available from third-party vendors or wireless carriers.

What is the best iPhone SE case?

Where can you find the best deals on an iPhone?

ZDNet regularly updates our guide of the best iPhone deals available. Here are the top iPhone deals this month.

Which iPhone has the best camera for selfies?

The iPhone 13 Pro Max has the best selfie picture taking capabilities of all iPhones. We included a spec chart below which includes the capabilities and details of the selfie photo and video capabilities.


iPhone 13 Pro Max
Selfie Camera12 MP, f/2.2, 23mm (wide), 1/3.6" SL 3D, (depth/biometrics sensor)
FeaturesHDR
Selfie Video4K@24/25/30/60fps, 1080p@30/60/120fps, gyro-EIS

Is the iPhone 13 Pro worth the extra $200 over the iPhone 13?

This is one of the most common questions new iPhone 13 series buyers have since both phones are the same size, have the same processor, and have other specs that match each other. The available colors are different and the iPhone 13 Pro has one additional camera, a 6x optical telephoto camera. While there is 2x optical zoom on the iPhone 13, the 13 Pro also supports LiDAR technology.

The iPhone 13 Pro also has a 120Hz high refresh rate display, which is probably the single best selling point for the 13 Pro over the standard 13, assuming the above camera differences didn't sway you. If you've ever felt like you could actually see the individual frames of your iPhone's display being refreshed, or you crave the buttery smoothness of similarly equipped iPads that support Apple's ProMotion technology, then by all means opt for the Pro on this feature alone. If you're unsure, I'd highly recommend visiting an Apple Store or other retailer that will let you take a side-by-side look at the displays in action. Scroll through something quickly and see if you can notice a difference in smoothness. If they look the same, save yourself some money and go for the iPhone 13. 

Which iPhone models support 5G?

All four iPhone 13 and available iPhone 12 models support 5G wireless technology. Even the new iPhone SE (3rd Generation) supports Sub-6, low-band 5G networks.

5G continues to roll out across the US, and while it is debatable if there are benefits to the speeds of the network, in my experience, the broad coverage of low-band 5G has solved my connectivity issues in spotty coverage areas with past iPhone models.

Even more importantly, the 5G iPhone models have Qualcomm chipsets inside that are proving to provide better RF reception than we saw in past iPhones that had Intel chipsets. The presence of a Qualcomm chipset has made it possible for me to use an iPhone 13 Pro Max as my daily driver since I purchased it.

Learn more about 5G, what it is, and how it is evolving the wireless communications industry here.

Which iPhone models support wireless charging or MagSafe?

All of the iPhone models in this list support Qi wireless charging technology. Wireless charging is becoming an expected feature for modern smartphones from all manufacturers.

Meanwhile, Apple's proprietary MagSafe technology is only supported by the iPhone 13 and iPhone 12 models. 

MagSafe provides a secure magnetic connection system so that you can connect to wireless chargers with perfect positioning and alignment. MagSafe can also be used with other accessories, such as wallets and kickstands. While the extra security when your iPhone is docked to a wireless charger can be a nice bonus, it's not absolutely vital and probably shouldn't be a major determiner in your choice. Apple's first-party wallets and battery packs that use MagSafe have also received somewhat mixed reviews, making them a hard sell for all but the most die-hard Apple enthusiasts. 

Are there alternative phones to consider?

Be sure to check out ZDNet's comparison of the best Android phones available. We've listed the top pick from that guide below for your convenience. 

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