Best iPhone iMore 2021
If there's one device that is the most important and most personal device that we depend on every single day, it's our smartphone. That's why you need it to be fast, reliable, and future-proof, at least for the next several years, and the iPhone is one of the greatest pieces of tech for the job. But Apple sells several different models of iPhone right now, so how are you supposed to pick just one? In our opinion, the best iPhone for most people right now is the iPhone 12. It has all of the major new features from Apple; it works flawlessly with iOS 14 and the upcoming iOS 15, and the price is right.
- Best overall: iPhone 12 (2020)
- Best for professionals: iPhone 12 Pro (2020)
- Best small iPhone: iPhone 12 mini (2020)
- Best alternative: iPhone 11 (2019)
- Best on a budget: iPhone SE - 2nd Generation (2020)
- Best for photographers: iPhone 12 Pro Max (2020)
- Best for kids: iPhone XR (2018)
Best overall: iPhone 12 (2020)
Apple's latest flagship device, the iPhone 12, comes in six amazing colors and features a 6.1-inch Super Retina XDR display. You'll see a ceramic shield front on the outside, which offers four times the drop performance of older iPhones.
Like the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max (see below), the iPhone 12 includes 5G technology for super-fast download speeds and high‑quality streaming. Inside, you'll also find an A14 Bionic chip, which is the fastest smartphone chip to date. The iPhone 12 also supports the best MagSafe accessories and wireless chargers. However, for MagSafe, you'll want to make sure that you have one of the many great MagSafe-compatible iPhone 12 cases to make sure that nothing interferes with the magnets.
The key differences between the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro lineups largely focus on the camera system and materials used. The iPhone 12 only has a dual 12MP camera system (Ultra Wide and Wide), while the iPhone 12 Pro offers a triple camera system (Ultra Wide, Wide, and Telephoto). The iPhone 12 Pro includes surgical-grade stainless steel versus the aerospace-grade aluminum found on the less expensive model. The iPhone 12 is also without a LiDAR Scanner, which probably means very little to the average iPhone buyer, but it can open up many new AR and accessibility features.
If you don't plan on using MagSafe accessories, then you'll want to make sure to pick up one of the best iPhone 12 cases to protect your investment!
- Dual-camera system
- Nearly all the same features as the iPhone 12 Pro
- Compatible with MagSafe
- Available in green, blue, white, black, PRODUCT(RED), and purple
- No telephoto lens
- Aluminum body, not stainless steel
- No LiDAR Scanner
Best for professionals: iPhone 12 Pro (2020)
Make no mistake, the 6.1-inch iPhone 12 Pro and 6.7-inch iPhone 12 Pro Max are nearly identical inside and out. Whether to select one over the other should come down to screen preference first. However, advanced camera features are only found on the larger of the two models (see below).
Like the iPhone 12, the iPhone 12 Pro (and iPhone 12 Pro Max) feature an A14 Bionic chip, Apple's fastest to date. It's available with 128GB, 256GB, or 512GB of storage. The Pro models are the first Apple smartphones to include a LiDAR scanner. Once only available on the iPad Pro, the LiDAR scanner is great for AR experiences and can be used for night mode portraits, faster autofocus in low light, and more.
The iPhone 12 Pro lineup is also the only iPhone available in Pacific Blue, a beautiful metallic hue slightly darker than the blue on the iPhone 12. Besides Pacific Blue, the Pro is available in Silver, Sapphire, and Gold. Like the iPhone 12, the iPhone 12 Pro also works with the best MagSafe accessories, but you'll want to make sure you have a fantastic MagSafe-compatible iPhone 12 Pro case to make sure the magnets can work.
- Pro-lens camera system
- LiDAR scanner
- A14 Bionic chip
- Just four color options
- Slightly different camera features than Pro Max
Best small iPhone: iPhone 12 mini (2020)
The iPhone 12 mini features a relatively tiny 5.4-inch Super Retina XDR display. That also means you get a higher PPI (pixels per inch) count. While most people can't tell the difference, a higher pixel density means colors will look brighter and stronger overall.
Beyond the screen size and some minimal differences in weight, this smartphone is the same as the iPhone 12. Inside, you'll find an A14 Bionic chip, and the handset includes support for MagSafe accessories and wireless chargers. Again, you'll want to make sure you have a MagSafe-compatible iPhone 12 mini case for best results with MagSafe. It is also available in the new purple color, just like its bigger sibling.
Of course, due to the smaller size, the battery life on the iPhone 12 mini is lacking compared to the other models (smaller battery). A good solution for this is to pick up the MagSafe Battery Pack to make your 12 mini battery last through the day.
- Same at iPhone 12, except for the display size
- Display size means higher PPI
- Is it too small for you?
- Battery life is lacking
Best alternative: iPhone 11 (2019)
Last year's flagship is still a terrific choice for many buyers, and it's now available at a lower price. The iPhone 11 has a 12MP dual-camera system with wide and ultra-wide lenses, an A13 Bionic chip, a Liquid Retina HD LCD, and a 6.1-inch screen size.
It uses Apple's advanced Face ID biometric scanning (which also means the True Depth FaceTime camera), supports Animoji, slo-mo selfies (or "slofies" as Apple has marketed), 4K video recording support, Portrait mode for the front and back-facing cameras (including non-human subjects), Night mode, and a whole lot more. It may not have the latest silicon from Apple, but it's still a fantastic device and will last several more years at least.
- Dual-camera system
- Six unique colors
- Really great price
- No telephoto lens
- LCD screen instead of OLED
- Slightly dated
Best on a budget: iPhone SE - 2nd Generation (2020)
If your pocketbook is tight, the lowest-priced iPhone is the 4.7-inch iPhone SE (2020). It sports Apple's A13 Bionic chip, a 12MP wide-angle camera with 5x digital zoom, 4K video recording, and plenty of advanced technology. It's not Apple's greatest iPhone ever, but it is Apple's best low-cost iPhone since the original SE, and you can get it for a song. This is the only phone with a Home button in Apple's current lineup too, so if you prefer fingerprint scanning to facial scanning, this is the iPhone for you.
- Least expensive iPhone
- Home button
- Thinnest and lightest
- No edge-to-edge screen
- No dual or triple-lens system
Best for photographers: iPhone 12 Pro Max (2020)
The best, most powerful iPhone you can buy in 2021 is the 6.7-inch iPhone 12 Pro Max. Nearly the same as the iPhone 12 Pro, this massive phone is Apple's largest to date, with a screen size 0.2-inches bigger than last year's iPhone 11 Pro Max. For anyone looking for the best of the best, this is the phone for you.
If you're a photographer, the choice is simple since the Max offers camera features not found on any other Apple smartphone, including the 6.1-inch iPhone 12 Pro. This includes a 5x optical zoom range (versus 4x on Pro), telephoto with ƒ/2.2 aperture (ƒ/2.0 aperture), sensor-shift optical image stabilization (dual optical image stabilization), digital zoom up to 12x (10x), digital zoom up to 7x for video (6x), and slo-mo video support for 1080p at 240 fps.
The iPhone 12 Pro Max also offers up to 20 hours of video playback versus 17 for the iPhone 12 Pro. The biggest drawback to the iPhone 12 Pro Max is pretty obvious, though — it's expensive, as well as gigantic. The largest model will set you back $1,399. You'll also want to make sure that you get one of the best MagSafe-compatible iPhone 12 Pro Max cases for seamless use of MagSafe accessories.
- Extra camera features
- Largest iPhone screen to date
- Most expensive iPhone
Best for kids: iPhone XR (2018)
Let's face it; your kids are going to be secretly disappointed (or maybe openly disappointed) if you buy them an iPhone SE. The iPhone XR remains a great phone at a great price. It comes in six bright colors, supports Face ID and Animoji and Memoji, features Portrait mode (though only for humans), and is a great first iPhone for your kids.
- Great price
- Bright colors
- Face ID
- Two years old
The best iPhone: Bottom line
For the vast majority, we definitely recommend the iPhone 12 as the best iPhone for most people. It has a lot of the features that are in the Pro models, but for slightly less. It's also blazingly fast with the A14 chip, has the Ultra Wide 12MP camera, a 6.1-inch Super Retina XDR display, MagSafe, and comes in a slew of gorgeous new colors, including the beautiful purple hue. Plus, if you prefer an even smaller device, the iPhone 12 mini is pretty much the same thing as the iPhone 12, but with a tiny form factor.
However, if you want the most advanced camera system in an iPhone, and arguably in any phone, you're going to want the iPhone 12 Pro or iPhone 12 Pro Max, since these have the Telephoto lens and LiDAR Scanner, which opens up a whole new world of possibilities in terms of AR. The Pro models also have more professional colors, including the amazing new Pacific Blue colorway.
Credits — The team that worked on this guide
Christine Romero-Chan is a senior writer and editor at iMore. She's been using iPhones since the OG iPhone, and she's had one from every generation since. She knows her way around iPhones like no one's business.
Lory Gil is the former Managing Editor of iMore and knows her way around an iPhone. She's known as the four-inch iPhone fan (RIP).
Bryan M. Wolfe is a dad who loves technology, especially anything new from Apple. Penn State (go Nittany Lions) graduate here, also a huge fan of the New England Patriots. Thanks for reading. @bryanmwolfe
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