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It's been about half a year since Apple last released a new iPhone, and we're about five months away from the next major release, but there are still plenty of spendworthy models available today that will satisfy users of all kinds. That includes the parent who urges you not to spend $1,000+ on a smartphone for them.
In fact, Apple's iterated enough each year to make every new iPhone model one that is worth the transition to if you own another that is two or more years old. That's a recipe for long-term success and one that's clearly working.
Throughout the last decade, ZDNET's mobile experts have been daily driving, carefully testing, and putting every model of the iPhone through its paces to provide you, the consumer, with not only the best advice on which model to buy but also the key aspects to look out for when you do. I've also tapped the industry's best analysts and subject-matter experts to curate this definitive list of the best iPhones you can buy in 2023.
Also: The best Apple Watches
Tech specs: Processor: Apple A16 | Display size: 6.7 inches | Storage options: 128GB/256GB/512GB/1TB | Rear cameras: 48MP wide, 12MP ultra-wide, and 12MP telephoto | Front camera: 12MP f/1.9 | Colors: Silver, Space Black, Gold, Deep Purple | Size: 160.7 x 77.7 x 7.85mm | Weight: 240 g | Starting price: $1,099
This year's best overall iPhone currently goes to the iPhone 14 Pro Max. It's a mouthful, but for good reason. The 6.7-inch model is the largest of the iPhone 14 line and comes stacked with the latest features that Apple has to offer. That includes "Dynamic Island," which replaces the iconic notch with a pill that doubles as a live status indicator, eSIM, A16 Bionic chip, and a new 48MP main sensor that shoots some of the most detailed imagery that our reviewers have ever seen on an iPhone.
Review: Apple iPhone 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max
Battery life and general performance get a bump, too, with the iPhone 14 Pro Max proving its endurance during ZDNET's testing period. The rest is nearly identical to last year's "best overall iPhone", the iPhone 13 Pro Max. It's still a big device to carry around, Ceramic Shield and an IP68 rating are the foundation of the iPhone's durability, and you can expect years and years of iOS updates to keep the software fresh.
Tech specs: Processor: Apple A15 | Display size: 6.1 inches | Storage options: 128GB/256GB/512GB | Rear cameras: Dual 12MP (Wide, ultra-wide) | Front camera: 12MP f/1.9 | Colors: Blue, Purple, Midnight, Starlight, PRODUCT Red | Size: 146.7 x 71.5 x 7.8mm | Weight: 172 g | Starting price: $799
While Apple continues to segment its iPhone line with "Pro" and "Plus" models, the regular offering continues to see the most success out of all. Part of the reason is how similar its design is to the Pro variant, especially when it comes to form factor, button placement, and even the charging tech. But the more obvious reason is the price. The iPhone 14 starts at $799, or $200 less than the base iPhone 14 Pro. For folks who are not as invested in the latest camera features and hardware, which is most people, the price difference is enough to justify buying the regular iPhone.
Review: Apple iPhone 14
That doesn't mean you're settling for an inferior iPhone experience, though. With its A15 Bionic chip, the iPhone 14 should power you through general tasks like social media browsing, emailing, video calls, gaming, and then some. Its dual camera system at the rear has been carried over from last year's iPhone 13 Pro which, if you read our full review, should give you confidence more than anything else.
Tech specs: 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 7.65 mm | Weight: 141 g | Starting Price: $480
While there was no iPhone 14 Mini last year, and Apple likely won't bring back the model in the near future, Avi Greengart, Lead Analyst at Techsponential suggests the iPhone 13 Mini for anyone eyeing a small flagship iPhone. He's not wrong; the iPhone 13 Mini right now is the only compact option in the U.S. that bares specs similar to that of its larger siblings. In fact, you can head over to any Apple store (or online) and snag the company's smallest kept secret today.
Review: Apple iPhone 13 Mini
For the new price of $599 (and cheaper if you buy it renewed), the iPhone 13 Mini comes with the same A15 Bionic processor as the iPhone 13 Pro and last year's iPhone 14, as well as Face ID, 5G, wireless charging, and a reliable set of cameras. If you do find yourself taking advantage of the dual 12MP rear cameras, the base storage of 128GB (upgradeable up to 512GB) should suffice for your creative needs.
The iPhone SE (2022) is the other contender as far as small iPhones go, but its outdated design makes the iPhone 13 Mini the more practical choice in the modern age of digital consumption. Speaking of which, there are some obvious drawbacks to the smaller form factor like battery life, display quality, and multitasking. But if you can shoulder the three, then the iPhone 13 Mini is the best mini iPhone to date.
Tech specs: Display: 4.7 inches LCD | CPU: Apple A15 | RAM: | Internal storage: 64/128/256GB | Rear cameras: 12MP wide | Front camera: 7MP | Colors: Midnight, Starlight, PRODUCT Red | Size 138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3mm | Weight: 144 g | Starting price: $429
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.
Review: Apple iPhone SE (2022)
The latest model brings Sub-6 5G support (mmWave is not supported) and an improved A15 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 13/14 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.
Tech specs: 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/1.9 | Colors: Starlight, Midnight, PRODUCT Red, Pink, Blue | Size: 146.7 x 71.5 x 7.65 mm | Weight: 174g | Starting price: $699
The Apple iPhone 13 is an interesting device since it has the exact same 6.1-inch display seen on the iPhone 13 Pro (and the latest iPhone 14) but without the ProMotion technology. This means it's limited to the standard 60Hz iPhone owners have been using for years. Truth be told, this is unlikely to be a dealbreaker for the large portion of the populace that sees things like refresh rate as useless technobabble or just an unwanted source for an upcharge.
Review: Apple iPhone 13
What makes the iPhone 13 the "best old-generation iPhone" this year is the permanent price reduction. Selling for $799 originally, the 2021 iPhone can now be had for $699 at your local Apple store. "The regular iPhone 13 is extremely similar to the current iPhone 14, so it is easy to recommend at a $100 discount," says Greengart.
There may be one less rear camera on the iPhone 13 compared to the Pro variant, but 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.
2021 was also the first year that we saw Apple start its iPhones at 128GB rather than charging people for a reasonable level of internal storage. For all of life's greatest (and random) moments, the enhanced storage size should come in handy.
After weighing all the available models and options, the iPhone 14 Pro Max stands tall as the best iPhone overall. It features the latest A16 Bionic processor, the best iPhone camera system to date, and a dynamic design that laps even last year's lineup. Still, there are more affordable and smaller alternatives that are worth your consideration. The chart below gives you a snapshot comparison of our top picks.
iPhone models compared
iPhone 14 Pro Max
iPhone 13 Mini
iPhone SE (3rd Generation)
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 14 series alone, you have to dig a bit deeper to choose which is best for you. This is especially true of the iPhone 14 and 14 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 all iPhones receive software support for years, so it's okay to buy an older model and trust that it will work well for you for years.
Choose this iPhone...
If you want...
Apple iPhone 14 Pro Max
The top-of-the-line iPhone experience. Buy the Pro Max if you want the largest iPhone available without any of the compromises found on other models.
Apple iPhone 14
A reliable iPhone without the flashy, more expensive Pro features. For most users, the standard iPhone 14 should be more than enough.
Apple iPhone SE (3rd Generation)
The iPhone SE Is the cheapest model that Apple officially sells. You'll have to settle with a smaller and dated form factor, but the performance makes up for it.
Apple iPhone 13 Mini
The last and only iPhone Mini that Apple sells. This is arguably the best compact smartphone money can buy, even if it's nearly two years old.
Apple iPhone 13
An older iPhone that can handle modern-day tasks. The iPhone 13 is still a solid smartphone if you want the Apple experience for less.
The process to make our selections includes testing the phones for weeks, reading reviews from colleagues, researching reviewer guides and manufacturer websites, talking with colleagues, analysts, and other industry experts who have hands-on experience with the phones, and then selecting the best from all of the available choices.
For this iPhone list, I 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 also be older models of iPhones still available from third-party vendors or wireless carriers.
It wasn't until 2021 that Apple began selling both its non-Pro and Pro iPhones with a base storage of 128GB. The only exception here is the iPhone SE model. While not as flashy of an upgrade as larger camera sensors and 120Hz displays, this double-up of storage meant that consumers had more space than ever to store apps, photos, videos, and more.
Maurice Klaehne, senior market research analyst at Counterpoint Research, suggests that higher storage options are generally better as they will help with the longevity of the device, and his firm has generally seen an uptick in postpaid customers opting for higher storage sizes when they can afford them. "Currently, the 256GB option is sufficient for most people," Klaehne adds.
At the time of writing, the iPhone 13 is the best phone you should buy for a parent. While it's not as glass-heavy or flashy as the newer iPhone 14 Pro models, the 13 is still a formidable pickup for its durability, long battery life, and SIM card support. The latter of which is particularly important if your parent travels overseas or just prefers the simplicity of swapping a physical SIM card to transfer contacts and data.
The cameras on the iPhone 13 are also reliable enough for clear-looking video calls, the occasional outdoor flick, and capturing images of children and pets.
Embedded Subscriber Identity Module, or eSIM in short, is the electronic version of the classic SIM card. That means your eSIM carries your phone number, mobile data plan, and telephone carrier info, just like a regular SIM card. The major difference between eSIM and SIM is that the former does not need to be physically installed onto your phone, which is why the new iPhone 14 line no longer has a dedicated slot for it. Instead, you'll have to transfer the information wirelessly via Apple's file transfer service, or with the help of your local carrier representatives.
Also: eSIM vs. SIM: What's the difference?
There is one problem that ZDNET Editor-in-Chief Jason Hiner sees with Apple forcing eSIM adoption on U.S. consumers. "There are a variety of good reasons why some people will still need or prefer a phone with a physical SIM card. The top reason is privacy. This is especially true for some journalists and populations at risk of persecution around the world. Removing the physical SIM card option reduces privacy for millions of people, especially some of the most vulnerable," said Hiner.
Note that if you buy an iPhone 14 anywhere outside of the U.S., the device will come with a regular SIM card slot.
The iPhone 14 Pro Max has the best selfie picture-taking capabilities of all iPhones. I included a spec chart below which includes the capabilities and details of the selfie photo and video capabilities.
|Capabilities||iPhone 14 Pro Max|
|Selfie camera||12 MP, f/1.9, 23mm (wide), 1/3.6" SL 3D, (depth/biometrics sensor)|
|Selfie video||4K@24/25/30/60fps, 1080p@30/60/120fps, gyro-EIS|
All models within the iPhone 14 and iPhone 13 line, as well as select iPhone 12 models, support 5G wireless technology. Even the new iPhone SE (2022) supports Sub-6, low-band 5G networks.
5G continues to roll out across the U.S., 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.
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 14, iPhone 13, and iPhone 12 models.
Also: Best MagSafe accessories for your iPhone
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 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 except the most die-hard Apple enthusiasts.
While this number varies greatly depending on how you handle a smartphone -- perhaps you're a construction worker whose phone will be put through the harshest climates or you have kids who may drop the phone ever so often -- the iPhone will typically run efficiently for three to four years.
Then, you'll likely experience more frequent app crashes, lag, storage problems, and more. Those are common issues that any piece of technology will inhibit, not just the iPhone, after years of constant usage.
If you'd like to prolong that time, I'd recommend visiting your local Apple store to have the phone's battery replaced every three to four years and also consider backing up files to an external hard drive for safekeeping. As a last resort, a factory reset, followed by data restoration, should give your phone a brand-new feel.
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.
Apple technically still sells the iPhone 13 Pro but in refurbished condition. Right now, you can get the unlocked, 512GB model for $1,019, or $180 less than what it used to cost.
This year, Samsung's Galaxy S23 Ultra checks all the boxes for a premium smartphone. Whether you're an iPhone or Android enthusiast, it's hard not to appreciate how well-rounded the 2023 flagship is, especially for photography.
This phone pairs fantastic hardware design with all the user-centric perks of stock Android. Its cameras are also better than ever, with a new 30x Super Res Zoom that competes with Samsung and Apple's best. You can expect up to five years of software updates with the Pixel line.