iPhone: 2021 Buyer's Guide

In 2007, Apple launched the original iPhone, kickstarting the modern smartphone era which is now dominated by the Apple iPhone and Google Android platforms. We've had 14 years of iPhones so far, with the latest models, the iPhone 13, iPhone 13 mini, iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max having been introduced in September 2021. Apple typically follows an annual update cycle, introducing new high-end flagship models while often discounting prior-year models and selling them at more affordable price points.

iPhone vs Android

Over the years, the Android and iPhone platforms have evolved to the point where feature-wise, they're similar in function. Android smartphones are made by multiple manufacturers, but the operating system is provided by Google, which leads to a wider variety of phones and price points to choose from, but poorer integration between software and hardware.

Apple's control of both the iPhone and the operating system (iOS) results in a more consistent experience plus ongoing support. With iOS 15, Apple supports all iPhones that were introduced in the last four years, so the majority of active iPhone owners can and do upgrade to the newest version of iOS that Apple rolls out each year.

Android updates, though, are more inconsistent and often don't make it to all Android-based smartphones because each manufacturer has to implement support on an individual basis. So while Google also does yearly Android updates, the reality is that a lot of older Android smartphones don't get the new software.

With Apple's control and curation of the iPhone experience, the iPhone is largely considered to be the more secure platform, and Apple has made it a point to focus heavily on privacy. Apple's iOS is, however, less customizable than Android, so for individuals who prefer flexibility and customization options, the Android operating system may be worth looking at.

Here are the basics you should know about how Apple updates the iPhone and the iOS operating system.

Each fall, usually in September, Apple releases a new series of flagship smartphones. These often come at high prices and feature the latest technologies, with Apple offering high-end models and still high-end but more affordable models. Prior year iPhones often stick around with lower price points as cheaper alternatives to the latest and greatest technology, and occasionally, Apple launches an iPhone like the low-cost iPhone SE outside of the normal fall timeline.

At the current time, Apple's iPhone lineup includes the iPhone SE (2020), iPhone 11 (2019), iPhone 12 (2020), iPhone 12 mini (2020), iPhone 13 (2021), iPhone 13 Pro (2021), iPhone 13 Pro (2021), and iPhone 13 Pro Max (2021).

Apple also debuts an updated version of iOS at the same time that new iPhones launch, but new versions of iOS are pre-introduced every year at Apple's annual Worldwide Developers Conference to give developers time to incorporate new features and technologies into their apps ahead of when the software becomes available to the public. The current iPhones run iOS 15.

In this guide, we go over all of the iPhones that are in the current Apple lineup, offer up some buying suggestions, and provide tips and resources for both new and existing iPhone owners.

iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max ($999+)

The iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max are Apple's current flagship devices with all of the top-of-the-line features and the most bells and whistles. As Apple says, the Pro models are for those who want to get the most out of their iPhones.

Pricing on the iPhone 13 Pro starts at $999, while pricing on the iPhone 13 Pro Max starts at $1,099. The two iPhones are identical when it comes to feature set, with size and battery capacity being the only two differences between the iPhone 13 Pro and the iPhone 13 Pro Max.

The iPhone 13 Pro Max has a larger 6.7-inch display and it is the biggest iPhone that Apple has released to date, while the iPhone 13 Pro has a 6.1-inch display. All of the iPhones this year feature the same flat-edged design that was first introduced with the iPhone 12 lineup.

Both iPhones have edge-to-edge OLED displays with slim bezels and a "Ceramic Shield" material that offers better drop protection, a slimmed-down notch with TrueDepth front-facing camera systems for Face ID biometric authentication, glass bodies with stainless steel frames in new colors (Silver, Gold, Space Gray, and Sierra Blue), the latest super-fast A15 chips with 5-core GPU, 6GB RAM, IP68 water resistance, a triple-lens camera system, and LiDAR Scanners for improved AR functionality and better low-light performance.

Triple-lens cameras are unique to the Pro iPhones, as the regular iPhone 13 lineup is limited to a diagonal dual-lens camera setup. Both Pro iPhones have a telephoto lens, a wide-angle lens, and an ultra wide-angle lens that gives you a lot of versatility when taking shots. All of the lenses have been improved this year and feature better low-light performance along with new features like Photographic Styles that apply selectively to images, Cinematic Mode that's basically Portrait Mode for video, and ProRes for taking professional-quality video.

You can use the 3x Telephoto lens to take close-up shots and portraits, and then zoom out to the Ultra Wide lens for impressive landscape and architecture shots, plus the Ultra Wide lens allows for macro photography this year. The LiDAR Scanner improves autofocus in low light and makes Night mode portraits possible, plus there have been sensor improvements that make this year's iPhone cameras better than ever.

The iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max have the most advanced camera technology, getting a new larger sensor for the Wide lens that lets in even more light, a 70mm Telephoto lens with 3x optical zoom, an upgraded Ultra Wide lens that's the best Ultra Wide lens yet.

Battery life has improved significantly thanks to the inclusion of larger batteries and efficiency improvements brought by the A15. The iPhone 13 Pro lasts for an hour and a half longer than the 12 Pro, and the 13 Pro Max lasts for two and a half hours longer than the 12 Pro Max.

All iPhones this year have OLED displays, but the Pro models have 120Hz ProMotion display technology for the first time, which allows for smoother scrolling and gameplay. All models also include 5G connectivity, though mmWave speeds are limited to the United States. The 13 Pro and Pro Max are equipped with a magnetic ring that allows for compatibility with MagSafe accessories from Apple and from third-party vendors.

Despite the camera improvements, the 2021 iPhones have been described as something of an iterative update given their similarities to the 2020 iPhone 12 lineup.

Key Features:

Highest End, Highest Price

Triple Lens Camera: Ultra Wide, Wide, Telephoto

LiDAR Scanner and pro camera features

5G Connectivity

Higher-quality build materials

Bottom Line: The iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max are the iPhones to choose if you want the absolute best camera capabilities that you can get in an iPhone, with the Pro Max being the top-of-the-line model due to its increased display size and longer battery life.

iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini ($699+)

Sold alongside the iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max, the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini are Apple's new affordable flagship devices. The iPhone 13 and 13 mini feature many of the same capabilities as Apple's more expensive models, but with some downgrades that keep the price tag lower.

Priced at $699, the iPhone 13 mini is the smallest and most affordable option in the iPhone 13 device lineup. With its 5.4-inch display, this is the smallest iPhone that Apple offers, and based on rumors, this is the last year that Apple plans to offer an iPhone at this size.

The iPhone 13, priced at $799, is the same size as the iPhone 13 Pro at 6.1 inches. Both the iPhone 13 and 13 mini have the same flat-edged design as the iPhone 12 models, with no design significant changes. Apple has, however, increased the thickness just a bit and the iPhones are a tad heavier, plus there's now a diagonal camera lens design to allow space for new camera technology.

Both of the iPhone 13 models use OLED displays, but lack the 120Hz ProMotion technology that was introduced with the Pro models. There is a smaller notch at the front for the TrueDepth camera system.

As far as the camera goes, the iPhone 13 and 13 mini have the Wide and Ultra Wide lenses that are in the iPhone 13 Pro models, but they do not have the third Telephoto lens. Camera improvements are also much more modest, with the iPhone 13 and 13 mini offering smaller gains in quality over the iPhone 12 models.

The iPhone 13 and 13 mini feature a glass body but rather than the stainless steel frame of the 13 Pro, they use a less expensive aluminum frame and have a glossy glass rear casing. The iPhones come in a range of bright colors including Starlight (a mixture between silver and gold), Midnight (black with a hint of navy blue), Pink, Blue, and (PRODUCT)RED, while the 12 Pro models are limited to more muted tones.

The iPhone 13 has the same A15 chip that's in the iPhone 13 Pro, but there's a difference when it comes to GPU performance. The iPhone 13 Pro models have a 5-core GPU, while the iPhone 13 models have a 4-core GPU. CPU performance is the same. The iPhone 13 models include 4GB RAM, 2GB RAM less than the Pro models.

The iPhone 13 models have support for mmWave and Sub-6GHz 5G, the same as the Pro models, and they're equipped with a magnetic ring that allows for compatibility with MagSafe accessories from Apple and from third-party vendors.

Between the iPhone 13 and the 13 mini, the features are identical with the exception of the screen size and the battery, as the smaller size of the iPhone 13 mini means it can't accommodate a larger battery. It has the lowest battery life of all the iPhone 13 models, but battery life has improved this year.

The iPhone 13 mini offers an hour and a half longer battery life than the iPhone 12 mini, while the iPhone 13's battery lasts for up to two and a half hours longer than its predecessor. Despite the increase in battery life, the iPhone 13 and 13 mini are an iterative update over the iPhone 12 and 12 mini and there are a limited number of improvements. For that reason, iPhone 12 owners may want to hold onto their devices rather than upgrading.

Key Features:

Diagonal Dual Lens Camera: Ultra Wide, Wide

OLED Screen

5G Support

A15 Chip

Bottom Line: The iPhone 13 and 13 mini offer many of the same features as the iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max at a much more affordable price. The differences are limited primarily to the camera, and are relatively minor for all but those who are invested heavily in iPhone photography, making the $200+ savings worth it for most people.

iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Mini ($599+)

Sold alongside the iPhone 13 models, the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini are year-old smartphones that were first introduced in 2020 and are now being offered as lower-cost step-down options.

Priced starting at $599, the iPhone 12 and 12 mini are almost identical in design to the iPhone 13 models, but they have a wider notch and a different camera layout, plus they're just a bit thinner.

The iPhone 12 and 12 mini feature a glass body and an aluminum frame with IP68 water resistance, and they're available in black, white, red, green, blue, and purple. There are no differences in the display quality between the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13, with the exception of an increase in brightness (800 nits for the iPhone 13 vs. 625 nits for the iPhone 12).

The iPhone 12 models have Wide and Ultra Wide camera setups like the iPhone 13 models, but lack features like Cinematic Mode and Photographic Styles. The iPhone 13 models also offer improved sensor-shift optical image stabilization and Smart HDR 4, but these are the only camera changes.

Rather than the newest A15 chip, the iPhone 12 models use last year's A14 chip, which is still speedy, but a step down in CPU and GPU performance. The iPhone 12 models have support for mmWave and Sub-6GHz 5G, the same as the iPhone 13 models, and they support MagSafe.

Perhaps the most significant difference between the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 is the battery life. The iPhone 13 lasts for up to 2.5 hours longer than the iPhone 12, while the iPhone 13 mini lasts for 1.5 hours longer than the iPhone 12 mini.

Key Features:

Dual Lens Camera: Ultra Wide, Wide

Fewer photography modes

5G Support

A14 Chip

Bottom Line: The iPhone 12 and 12 mini offer many of the same features as the iPhone 13 and 13 mini at a price point that's $100 cheaper. If you're looking to save some money but still get modern hardware, the iPhone 12 models may be worth considering. Compared to the iPhone 13, you're mainly losing out on battery life and new photographic capabilities, so if you can live without those, the iPhone 12 can save you some money.

iPhone 11 ($499)

Apple still offers the two-year-old iPhone 11 as a more affordable low-cost option that is priced starting at $499. The iPhone 11 is still a decent value even with the launch of the iPhone 13 models, and it should be a solid choice for several years to come.

The iPhone 11 features an LCD display instead of an OLED display and it has a dual-lens camera setup with Wide and Ultra Wide lenses. Size-wise, the iPhone 11 measures in at 6.1 inches for the display, but overall it is slightly bigger than the iPhone 13.

The iPhone 11's LCD display doesn't offer the deeper blacks and HDR features available with the OLED displays in the iPhone 13 lineup, but it's still quite good and one of the better smartphone LCD displays on the market. The display is edge-to-edge, with the exception of the notch that houses the TrueDepth camera system for Face ID.

The iPhone 11 has an A13 chip that's two generations behind the A15 chip in the iPhone 15, and it includes 4GB RAM. The iPhone 11 features a glass body with an aluminum frame and a range of bright color options.

Key Features:

Dual Lens Camera: Ultra Wide, Wide

Affordable price tag

Older A13 chip

LCD Screen

Bottom Line: If you're looking for a solid smartphone on the cheap and don't need the latest features, the iPhone 11 is a good step-down choice that's an ideal budget phone. It's $200 cheaper than the similarly sized iPhone 12 and $300 cheaper than the iPhone 13, though it has older hardware and no 5G connectivity.

iPhone SE 2020 ($399+)

Introduced in April 2020, the iPhone SE is Apple's most affordable iPhone, and it replaces the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, which have since been discontinued.

Priced at $399, the iPhone SE is identical in design to an iPhone 8 with a 4.7-inch LCD display and thick bezels at the top and bottom of the device, housing the Home button at the bottom and the front-facing camera, speaker, and microphone at the top.

The iPhone SE is now the sole iPhone that Apple sells with Touch ID, which makes it ideal for those who prefer a fingerprint sensor to Face ID. It used to be the smallest iPhone available, but that's no longer the case now that Apple has the iPhone 13 mini, which is just a bit smaller.

The iPhone SE has a glass front and back with an aluminum frame, and it supports wireless charging. Inside, it is equipped with the same A13 Bionic processor that's in the iPhone 11.

While the iPhone SE has a fast prior-generation chip, Apple is using lower-cost components for the rest of the device, and it is missing the bells and whistles of Apple's more expensive smartphones such as multi-lens camera setups, OLED all-screen displays, and Face ID.

Key Features:

Touch ID

Same A13 chip as iPhone 11

Low price

Bottom Line: The iPhone SE is the phone to get if you prefer Touch ID or if you're looking for an affordable option. At $399 with an A13 chip, it's still a great deal.

Frequently Asked Questions

There's no one single iPhone that's best for everyone, as picking the right smartphone for you needs to take into account factors like budget, desired battery life, preferred feature set, and more.

If, for example, you're not a fan of Face ID and want to use Touch ID, you're going to want to choose the iPhone SE. If you want the absolute best photographic capabilities, you're going to want the iPhone 13 Pro or 13 Pro Max, and if you want something that has a solid feature set at a great price, the iPhone 13 is what you'll want to look at. For those who want one-handed usage, the iPhone 13 mini is the phone to pick.

Below, we've outlined some of the best iPhone choices based on different scenarios or features that you might be looking for.

Which iPhone Has the Best Battery Life?

With their more efficient A15 processors, the iPhone 13, 13 Pro, and 13 Pro Max have the longest battery life of Apple's iPhones.

Of the three, the 6.7-inch iPhone Pro Max has the longest battery life because it has the space for a larger battery. It offers up to 28 hours of video playback, up to 25 hours of streaming video playback, and up to 95 hours of audio playback.

Comparatively, the ‌iPhone 13‌ mini supports up to 17 hours of video playback (13 hours when streaming), and up to 55 hours of audio playback. The ‌iPhone 13‌ supports up to 19 hours of video playback (up to 15 hours streaming) and up to 75 hours of audio playback.

Which iPhone Has the Best Camera?

With their updated triple-lens camera systems and LiDAR Scanners the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max have the best iPhone cameras that you can get. Both of the new iPhones include a three-lens camera system with an ƒ/2.8 Telephoto lens, an ƒ/1.5 Wide lens, and an ƒ/1.8 Ultra Wide lens.

The Wide and Ultra Wide lenses are upgraded compared to the lenses in the ‌iPhone 13‌ models and should result in notably better performance in low light conditions. The Wide lens features a wider aperture that lets in 2.2x more light and the largest sensor in an iPhone yet.

The Ultra Wide lens captures up to 92 percent more light, which should bring a drastic improvement in quality, and it allows for a macro mode for the first time.

The 77mm Telephoto lens features 3x optical zoom in, up from 2.5x in the 12 Pro Max, and with the addition of the Ultra Wide lens at 2x zoom out, there is a 6x optical zoom range and support for 15x digital zoom.

Both of the Pro models have a LiDAR Scanner that uses light to map out the room around you, creating a 3D depth map of the scene. It's great for AR, but it also enables some impressive new photographic capabilities such as Night mode portraits and faster autofocusing.

The iPhone 13 and 13 mini, meanwhile, have some minor camera improvements primarily in the form of new capabilities like Photographic Styles and Cinematic Mode, which are also available for the Pro models. The Pro models exclusively support ProRes video capture.

Which iPhone Has Touch ID?

If you want an iPhone with Touch ID, your only option is the 2020 iPhone SE. Apple stopped using Touch ID for its flagship iPhones in 2017, and the 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021 flagship iPhone lineups have not included an updated Touch ID iPhone.

The iPhone SE features Touch ID rather than Face ID to keep the device ultra-affordable, which is great for those who prefer using a fingerprint sensor over facial recognition.

Which iPhone is Best For One-Handed Use?

At 5.4 inches, the iPhone 12 mini and 13 mini are the smallest iPhones that Apple has introduced since the 2016 iPhone SE, and they're ideal for one-handed use. The iPhone 12 mini and 13 mini models are not as small as some prior iPhones like the 2016 SE and the iPhone 5s models and earlier, but they're the smallest iPhones on the market today.

Of the two, the iPhone 13 mini is $100 more expensive, but it comes with upgraded camera technology, a faster A15 chip, and longer battery life.

Which iPhone is the Best Value?

If you want a modern iPhone with the latest chip, solid camera features, OLED display, and 5G connectivity, the iPhone 13 and 13 mini are the best values at $699 and $799, respectively. They offer an incredible feature set at price points that start at $700, with the iPhone 13 mini being the best deal.

If you don't need the latest bells and whistles and don't mind losing out on a bit of performance and battery life, the iPhone 12 and 12 mini, which are $100 cheaper than their iPhone 13 and 13 mini counterparts, are well worth considering.

If you want the absolute best price and don't mind bezels, Touch ID, and an inferior camera, the iPhone SE with its A13 chip continues to be an amazing deal at $399.

For most people, the iPhone 13 and 13 mini are the iPhones to get this year with their lower price point and modern feature set, but the iPhone 12 models are almost as good at a $100 discount. If you have an iPhone 12 model already, it's not worth upgrading to the iPhone 13, but either the iPhone 12 or the 13 are worth checking out if you have an older model.

Which iPhone Has the Most Features?

If you want the iPhone with the most bells and whistles, that's the iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max. These iPhones offer OLED displays, triple-lens cameras, a glass body with a stainless steel frame (compared to aluminum in the iPhone 13), larger maximum storage capacities, and longer battery life.

Compared to the iPhone 13 models, the iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max have better camera capabilities, with the Pro Max being the best iPhone that you can get at this time because of its battery capacity.

In More Detail

Still not sure? We have deeper dives directly comparing the new iPhone 13 models to older iPhones and to each other.

For full details on each phone, explore our roundups:

Upcoming iPhone Rumors

Apple is working on new "iPhone 14" models that will come out in the fall of 2022. At least some of these iPhones are rumored to include a new hole-punch front camera design that does away with the notch, leaving more screen space free. The new iPhones will reportedly be limited to 6.1 and 6.7-inch sizes, with Apple doing away with the smaller 5.4-inch iPhone mini option, and they'll have upgraded 5G modems and faster A16 chips.

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