The iPhone range now includes more sizes and price points than ever before. This might make it difficult to know which model to pick and what exactly the differences are. Let’s take a look at which iPhone is the best in 2021.
Buying an iPhone in 2021
The iPhone is Apple’s take on the smartphone that now incorporates a range of models. The original iPhone was introduced in 2007, and since then, the device has been through many different hardware transitions to get to where we are today.
Apple takes a closed approach to its ecosystem which some users may find restrictive. The boundaries to what you can do on your device are set by Apple, including only installing software from the first-party App Store.
The upside to this is that the iPhone enjoys a reputation for being easy to use, since Apple designs the software and hardware in tandem with the user experience in mind. Apple has been diligent about enforcing a permissions system that puts the user in control of what apps can do. In 2021 Apple forced app developers to be even more transparent with App Store customers.
The iPhone is also well-regarded from a security standpoint, though no device is “hack-proof.” The iPhone pioneered security advancements like Apple’s secure enclave, which eventually made its way into the Mac. Though iPhone malware does exist, it’s thankfully rare due to the way iOS and the App Store are maintained.
There’s an iPhone model for just about everyone, including budget users with the iPhone SE. In recent years, Apple has reserved its bleeding-edge features for the higher-end iPhone Pro line. That means the traditional numbered iPhone releases are now the standard, all-rounder models.
Every iPhone model on sale today uses the standard Lightning cable connector. You can charge many iPhones wirelessly using a Qi wireless charger, or get a more powerful charger and enjoy fast charging from the wall instead.
If you are thinking of buying an iPhone, also consider an AppleCare+ warranty package. Not only does this extend your coverage to two years (though some countries already have a two-year limited warranty as standard), it also provides two instances of accidental damage cover.
RELATED: What is AppleCare+ and Why Do You Need It?
Best iPhone Overall: iPhone 12
- ✓ Same display, chip, and 5G capabilities as the more expensive iPhone 12 Pro
- ✓ Dual cameras with Dolby Vision HDR recording
- ✓ 17-hour battery life
- ✓ Ceramic Shield drop protection and IP68 water/dust rating
- ✓ Compatible with MagSafe accessories
- ✗ Expensive compared to similarly powerful smartphones
- ✗ No wall charger in the box
The iPhone 12 is a flagship smartphone for the masses. Starting at $799 on contract (or $829 SIM-free), it’s far from a budget option, sharing more in common with the more expensive iPhone 12 Pro than any of the cheaper models.
The iPhone 12 has the same 6.1-inch Super Retina XDR display, A14 Bionic system-on-chip, and 5G capabilities. The base model also has Apple’s new Ceramic Shield drop protection on the front, and it can survive being submerged in 6 meters of water for up to 30 minutes per the IP68 rating.
On the back, you’ll find the new MagSafe accessory connector which allows you to attach accessories like cases and wireless chargers with a satisfying snap. The ultra-wide and wide cameras on the back support Dolby Vision HDR video recording, an exciting new development for this generation of iPhone.
The TrueDepth camera on the front provides faster Face ID unlocking over last year’s iPhone 11, with a 12MP sensor and Portrait mode selfies. Apple rates the iPhone 12 for 17 hours of video playback on a single charge, with optimized charging in iOS helping to extend the lifespan of the internal battery.
If you’re shopping for a premium smartphone, the iPhone 12 should be up for consideration. If you want a virtually identical feature set in a smaller package (with slightly reduced battery life), consider the iPhone 12 mini (from $729).
The iPhone 12 is Apple’s flagship iPhone with a beautiful display, 5G connectivity, dual-cameras with Dolby Vision HDR recording, and a 17-hour battery life.
iPhone 12 mini
The iPhone 12 mini packs the same features as the iPhone 12 into a smaller model with a 5.4" display, at a slightly cheaper price point.
Best Budget iPhone: iPhone SE (2nd-Gen)
- ✓ Half the price of an iPhone 12
- ✓ A13 Bionic system-on-chip still performs
- ✓ Passable rear and front-facing cameras
- ✓ Same great iPhone experience and app selection
- ✗ Old-style design lacks Face ID and edge-to-edge display
- ✗ Single camera, no optical zoom or ultra wide
- ✗ Could be jarring coming from a new style iPhone
The second-generation iPhone SE (2020) was introduced in 2020 at $399. It uses the capable A13 Bionic system-on-chip first seen on the iPhone 11, with a 4.7-inch display. Despite having a smaller display size than the iPhone 12 mini, the iPhone SE is still a larger device overall since it uses Apple’s older form factor.
Unlike newer iPhones that drop the home button and fingerprint scanner, the iPhone SE still has both. There’s no Face ID support on account of there being no edge-to-edge display, which can be jarring if you’re coming from a new style iPhone.
Despite the outdated form factor, the iPhone SE is still a capable device. The A13 Bionic still feels snappy, and the Retina HD display might not drop jaws but it gets the job done. There’s a single wide 12MP camera on the back and a respectable 7MP front-facing camera for video calls and selfies.
A smaller form factor means less space can be dedicated to the battery, so the SE is only rated for 13 hours of video playback by Apple. You get a meter of water resistance for 30 minutes, which is better than nothing. You can even charge the iPhone SE wirelessly and use faster charging if you get a 20W or better charger.
The closest alternative to the iPhone SE is the iPhone XR. This model features Face ID, an improved 6.1-inch display, and better battery life. But, the XR uses the older A12 Bionic system-on-chip, which means it will probably show its age sooner in terms of performance.
The iPhone SE offers a snappy but more traditional iPhone experience with a Home button and fingerprint scanner, at around half the price of the iPhone 12.
If you want Apple’s modern iPhone design with Touch ID on a budget, the iPhone XR is your best choice.
Best Premium iPhone: iPhone 12 Pro
- ✓ LiDAR scanner for better AR performance and low-light photos
- ✓ Made from stainless steel, not aluminium like cheaper models
- ✓ Telephoto lens with 4x optical zoom
- ✓ A more capable camera with ProRAW and Night mode portraits
- ✗ Niche improvements over iPhone 12 won’t appeal to everyone
- ✗ Slightly heavier than the identically-sized iPhone 12
- ✗ Expensive even for an iPhone
Starting at $999, the iPhone 12 Pro takes the iPhone 12 and adds a few extra features. It has the same A14 Bionic system-on-chip, a similar Super Retina XDR OLED screen, and the same 5G connectivity seen in the iPhone 12. On top of this, it adds a more sophisticated camera system and improved build quality.
Whereas the iPhone 12 is made from aluminum, the iPhone 12 Pro is made from tougher stainless steel. This is reflected in the weight, with the iPhone 12 Pro being 189g (6.66 oz) compared to the identically sized iPhone 12’s 164g (5.78oz). The iPhone 12 Pro’s display can get a little bit brighter in HDR content as well, with 800 nits compared with 650 nits.
RELATED: What Are Nits of Brightness on a TV or Other Display?
Apple includes a LiDAR scanner with the iPhone 12 Pro that’s absent from other iPhones. LiDAR uses rays of light to construct a 3D model of the surrounding environment and promises to improve augmented reality (AR) performance. Since LiDAR can determine focus distance, it can help the iPhone camera focus in the dark too.
In addition to ultra-wide and wide lenses as seen on the iPhone 12, the Pro also has a telephoto lens with up to 4x optical zoom. Both models have Night mode, but only the Pro allows you to take Night mode selfies.
The iPhone 12 Pro can also shoot in ProRAW, Apple’s RAW photo format. This will allow you to get more out of your iPhone photos when editing them at the cost of disk space, with an image shot in ProRaw being around 10 times larger than an equivalent HEIF or JPEG.
If you have the latest and greatest iPhone, the iPhone 12 Pro is a hot contender. If you use a lot of AR apps or a keen iPhone photographer, there are some compelling reasons to spend the extra $200.
iPhone 12 Pro
The iPhone 12 Pro improves on the standard iPhone 12 with a LiDAR scanner, telephoto lens, and stainless steel construction. It’s the best Apple has to offer with a price to match.
Best iPhone Camera: iPhone 12 Pro Max
- ✓ The best camera system in any iPhone (just)
- ✓ Apple ProRaw and Dolby Vision HDR recording at 60 frames per second
- ✓ Larger display for composing or editing photo and video
- ✓ LiDAR for low light focusing, front-facing Night and Portrait modes
- ✗ Massive screen may be too large for some
- ✗ $100 more expensive than the iPhone 12 Pro
The iPhone 12 Pro Max is a larger and pricier version of the iPhone 12 Pro, starting at $1099. It’s got the same A14 Bionic system-on-chip, 5G, LiDAR scanner, and three rear-facing camera lenses as its smaller sibling. But unlike the 6.1-inch iPhone 12 Pro, the Pro Max has a giant 6.7-inch OLED display.
The iPhone 12 Pro Max has the best camera of the entire lineup on a technicality. The camera system is identical to the iPhone 12 Pro except that the 12 Pro Max offers a 5x optical zoom on its telephoto lens rather than 4x.
With Apple ProRAW and Dolby Vision HDR recording up to 60 frames per second, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is a creative powerhouse. The larger screen is more useful for editing video and photos, and with up to 512GB of internal storage, you can be sure you’ll have plenty of room.
If 4x optical zoom is good enough for you and you’d rather a phone that fits in your pockets, consider the iPhone 12 Pro instead and save $100.
iPhone 12 Pro Max
With a 6.7" display, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is the biggest iPhone Apple has ever made. The 5x optical zoom makes it a slightly more capable camera than the iPhone 12 Pro.
Best Battery Life: iPhone 12 Pro Max
- ✓ Best battery life of any iPhone, rated at 20 hours of video playback
- ✓ A feature-packed iPhone with all the bells and whistles
- ✗ Expensive
- ✗ 6.7-inch display may be too big for many users
- ✗ A cheaper iPhone and external battery or battery case is better value
Bigger isn’t always better unless you’re talking about battery life. The iPhone 12 Pro Max (starting at $1099) is the biggest iPhone Apple makes, with a 6.7-inch display. Having such a large screen requires a large chassis, allowing Apple to fit a big battery inside.
That’s why the iPhone 12 Pro Max is rated for 20 hours of video playback, up from 17 hours on the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro. While Apple used to offer larger iPhones at cheaper price points (like the iPhone XS Max and iPhone 8 Plus), the only way you can get a huge screen or a bigger internal battery is by opting for the Pro model.
If you don’t fancy lugging a giant iPhone around with you, or you haven’t got the money to spare, consider instead an iPhone of your choice and a battery pack or battery case. Cases like the GIN FOXI 7000mAh attach to your phone and provide even more juice.
You can buy these cases for all models on this list, including the cheapest like our budget pick iPhone SE, the older iPhone 11, and iPhone XR.
iPhone 12 Pro Max
The iPhone 12 Pro Max is the largest iPhone in the range, and so it has the largest battery also. Apple rates this device for 3 hours longer than the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro for a total of 20 hours video playback.
GIN FOXI 7000mAh Battery Case for iPhone 12/12 Pro
Increase your iPhone’s battery capacity by 7000mAh with this rechargeable slip-on case.