There are a fair few iPhones available this year, and that might make picking difficult. Which iPhone is right in 2021?
Can’t work out which iPhone is the one for you? With no less than seven iPhones sold by Apple, plus older stock, deciding on an Apple phone isn’t necessarily an easy decision. It follows on from the sheer number of iPhone choices you had in 2020, and this year hasn’t made things any easier.
There are the four available this year, plus three other models from prior years still in the system, meaning you get a choice between the iPhone 13, iPhone 13 Mini, iPhone 13 Pro, iPhone 13 Pro Max, iPhone 12, iPhone 11, iPhone SE, not to mention all the other iPhones that have come out and might be purchasable, as well.
Lots of iPhones mean you have lots of choices, but what choice is worth your time and money?
Best compact iPhone for 2021
We’ll start this guide with size, because clearly size matters. Phones have become much bigger over the years, making it a task and a half for people who want a small phone to find something to match their needs.
Big is in, and that means you can typically expect a 6 inch phones, even if you’re after something smaller.
But Apple does make a small phone, and has for a couple of years now, offering a more modest smartphone size for folks with smaller pockets, physically speaking.
Apple iPhone 13 Mini
Price: from $1199
Quite possibly the last modern small phone in existence (at least until Apple does one next year, if it even does), the iPhone 13 Mini takes everything found in the main iPhone 13, but throws it into a smaller body.
It means you’ll get a couple of great cameras, an excellent performing chip, and pretty much everything in the iPhone 13, yet in a smaller design with a smaller battery.
Apple iPhone 12 Mini
While not officially part of Apple’s “current” range, you can still find the iPhone 12 Mini if you look, a model that sports the same size as the iPhone 13 Mini, but last year’s chip and last year’s camera, though more or less everything else is more or less the same. There’s a little bit less battery life compared to this year’s model, but not by a whole lot.
The newer model is almost always going to be the better of the two, and that holds true this year, but last year’s iPhone 12 Mini is still a great choice, and if you looking more to save on something, the 12 Mini could be a solid deal, if you can find it.
Best iPhone on a budget
Size is one thing, but price is another. While a small phone might seem like it’s going to be cheap, that’s not necessarily the case.
If you’re looking to spend as little as possible on an iPhone, there’s an option that you can still find, though you may need to look around for it: the iPhone 8.
Apple iPhone 8
The classic iPhone 8 isn’t easy to find new anymore, but if you look around, you may be able to find a refurbished iPhone 8 for below $350, and given how similar the tech is to what you can find, it makes it the “budget iPhone” to consider.
There is no such thing as a budget iPhone per se, but given the iPhone SE uses the iPhone 8 body, you know it’s still very connected to Apple’s approaches today. Beyond that similar design (identical even), you’ll find support for water resistance and wireless charging, the latter of which wasn’t there on the iPhone 7.
While the chip is a little slower by today’s standards and the camera lacks the portrait mode found on the iPhone SE, if you’re after a cheap-as-chips iPhone and don’t mind going down the refurbished route, the iPhone 8’s pricing makes it ideal as a budget iPhone for folks not keen on spending much money.
Best value iPhone
There’s “cheap” and then there’s “value”, as the two mean different things.
Value iPhones are models where the price you pay is more closely aligned with the feature set you’re given, and there are options here, as well. Two specifically, one of which is current, while the other is a little older.
Apple iPhone SE
The official iPhone for value, the iPhone SE is a rather cool device, offering a smaller style phone with the power and camera from across Apple’s range when it was released last year.
While Apple will never call it this, the iPhone SE is essentially an iPhone 8 design encasing an iPhone XR camera and an iPhone 11 chip, all for a price that sticks it below $700. That essentially makes it quite capable, acting like an iPhone 11 with a design that’s focused on people who don’t want to migrate away from a fingerprint security button just yet, or who maybe prefer a smaller screen.
Our one quibble about the phone could be the storage amount, because 64GB isn’t a whole lot to work with. But if that doesn’t bother you, the iPhone SE is still available at plenty of places, at least until Apple refreshes it, which may be sometime early on in 2022.
Apple iPhone XR
No longer officially in Apple’s “current” stock, you can still find a 128GB iPhone XR for $679 if you look, and it’s still a great phone overall.
While it only has the one wide-camera, the iPhone XR camera is more or less the same camera in the aforementioned iPhone SE, and can handle portrait shots with just the one lens, processing it in software rather than leaning on the second lens.
Back when we reviewed the XR, we found it was the best iPhone for everyone at the time, providing a 6.1 inch screen and sizeable battery, as well as setting the template for Apple’s all-rounder models coming up in the next section.
Now that the price is below $700, it’s basically the value iPhone to get if you want to move on from the home button and go to an all-screen design, because this one has that going for it, while also seeing twice the storage on the 64GB iPhone SE.
Best iPhone for everyone (the all-rounder iPhone)
Beyond value, there’s the best iPhone for everyone, delivering solid performance, battery life, and a camera worth craving. And in 2021, there is just one: the iPhone 13.
Apple iPhone 13
Price: from $1349
Featuring a great look, great set of cameras, great performance, and a battery that can hit a full day, the iPhone 13 is this year’s iPhone for everyone.
Even though we’d love it to have a faster screen, it’s about the best of an iPhone you might want if you don’t want to spend top dollar, but still want everything else to more or less be the best it can be.
Best camera iPhone
If the main reason you buy an iPhone is for its camera, you’ll want to look at the 2021 “Pro” iPhones over the previous models, thanks in part to improvements in the cameras.
Specifically, the pro models sport three cameras, going ultra-wide and wide of the standard iPhone 13, plus 3X close, as well. Apple has also thrown in a close-up macro mode, something only the “pro” variations get, and there’s an impressive capture format with ProRes support.
Apple iPhone 13 Pro
Price: from $1699
You’ll find two iPhone 13 Pro models, starting with the obvious one: the aptly named iPhone 13 Pro.
Sized at 6.1 inches, it’s very similar to being a standard iPhone 13 with a minor update to the chip, a faster screen, and upgrading the camera to something bigger and better.
And yes, the iPhone 13 Pro camera is just that, bigger and better, with plenty of versatility on offer from its complex camera system, giving you more ways to capture the world.
Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max
Price: from $1849
If you want that same camera system in a body that happens to be bigger, the iPhone 13 Pro Max is the phone to check out, delivering the three cameras and solid camera feature set, but in a body with more battery life overall and a bigger screen to look at.
Best battery iPhone
Need an iPhone that has plenty of battery life to keep you going? You’ll want to look for an iPhone that lasts longer than a day, of which this year there is only one.
Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max
Price: from $1849
This phone appears twice in our 2021 iPhone guide because it’s the only iPhone to hit close to two days, and one of the few 5G flagship phones this year that does, as well.
It’s also one of the few phones to hit five stars for us, because while it’s big, the iPhone 13 Pro Max gets just about everything right. It’s that good, and a phone that can keep you going past one day and into the second.