The 8 best iPhones for every budget in 2021 – and which ones not to buy
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There's never been more choice for iPhone buyers, and like most purchasing decisions, which model is right for you largely depends on your needs when it comes to pricing, performance, cameras, size options, and features.
In addition to helping you choose the right iPhone model, we also tell you which models you should stay away from.
Why should you listen to us? We've personally reviewed every iPhone since the iPhone 6 in a professional capacity as tech writers and editors. We also have a team of seasoned tech reporters who have owned or used iPhones since the first model was introduced. Below, find some general iPhone buying tips from those years of experience.
The best iPhones in 2021
Best iPhone: iPhone 13, $799 on Apple
The iPhone 13 has the best balance of performance, features, and design for the price, and it's the model we'd recommend to anyone unless they need Apple's very best battery life and cameras.
Best small iPhone: iPhone 13 Mini, $599 on Apple
The iPhone 13 Mini is basically an iPhone 13 for users who like more compact designs and smaller screens … or simply have smaller hands.
Best premium iPhone: iPhone 13 Pro, $999 on Apple
The iPhone 13 Pro has Apple's best camera, screen, and battery tech in 2021, unmatched by any iPhone and many Android phones.
Best budget iPhone: iPhone 11, $499 on Apple
The iPhone 11 is our preferred budget iPhone, even over the iPhone SE (2020), because it's larger and so much more powerful for just $100 more.
Best premium iPhone overall for less: iPhone 12, $699 on Apple
The $700 iPhone 12 has a superb balance of performance, features, and design for $100 less than the iPhone 13.
Best premium iPhone for less: iPhone 12 Pro, $899 on Walmart
The iPhone 12 Pro is still a superb iPhone as long as you can get a good deal on it well under $900.
Best big premium iPhone for less: iPhone 12 Pro Max, $749 at Walmart
The iPhone 12 Pro Max is still an excellent iPhone, but not unless you can score it for under $1,000 through a deal.
The iPhone 13 has the best balance of performance, features, and design for the price, and it's the model most people should go for.
Pros: Excellent battery life, excellent cameras, excellent performance, ceramic shield glass is very scratch resistant
Cons: Standard 60Hz screen refresh rate, no fast charger included
The $800 iPhone 13 poses the best value in relation to specs, features, and design among all the iPhone 13 models, including the Pro models.
The iPhone 13 runs on the same A15 Bionic processor as the Pro models, which means it has the same performance. A powerful processor is one of the most important aspects of a phone for snappy performance and longevity. Battery life is equally important, and the iPhone 13 excels. It's not quite as good as the Pro models, but it's still among the best we've seen for a phone of this size and price. Cameras are important, too, and the iPhone 13 doesn't disappoint.
There are few compromises by going with the iPhone 13 over the Pro models. You don't get the third telephoto zoom lens, the ProRAW photo file format that professionals use for easier editing, or the LiDAR scanner for better portrait shots. For $200 extra, we think the Pro offers diminishing returns unless you specifically want or need those features.
Other features, like the 120Hz screen and shiny polished steel frame are nice, but they're mere flourishes, comparatively speaking.
The iPhone 13 Mini is a smaller version of the standard iPhone 13, and it's for iPhone users who like more compact designs and smaller screens.
Pros: Small, lightweight, good battery life for its size, excellent cameras, excellent performance, ceramic shield glass is very scratch resistant
Cons: Standard 60Hz refresh rate, no fast charger included, small screen isn't for everyone
The iPhone 13 Mini is basically a smaller version of the standard iPhone 13 with only one major difference. Apart from its size, battery life isn't quite as good. Still, for such a small phone, the iPhone 13 Mini's battery life is pretty decent at 13 hours and 25 minutes in our battery test. That's significantly better than previous smaller iPhones.
Plus, the $700 iPhone 13 Mini packs the same power as the gigantic $1,100 iPhone 13 Pro Max, as it also runs on the A15 Bionic processor. That means it'll run apps and games just as long as the most expensive iPhone you can buy.
One of the best things about the iPhone 13 Mini, even if you're not specifically a fan of smaller phones, is just how portable and comfortable it is to hold and use.
And, at the end of the day, we don't know of any other small phone that's as good. If you want a small phone, the iPhone 13 Mini is the obvious choice.
The iPhone 13 Pro has Apple's best camera, screen, and battery tech for the most discerning iPhone user.
Pros: Stellar battery life, excellent cameras, same camera tech as Pro Max model, excellent performance, 120Hz variable refresh rate screen, ceramic shield glass is very scratch resistant
Cons: Pricey, no fast charger included
If you want the best, you get the iPhone Pro series. But you have to pay extra for it.
It also has an additional camera lens for better quality zoomed photos, as well as the option to take images in RAW format that professionals use for better editing, and a LiDar scanner for better portrait mode photos, especially in the dark.
The iPhone 13 Pro also has a very nice screen with a 120Hz refresh rate, which means animations when you're swiping around iOS and apps looks ultra-smooth. It's a beautiful effect that brings the Pro series a premium notch above the standard iPhone 13.
For the iPhone 13 Pro series, Apple gave both Pro phones exactly the same features. That wasn't the case with the iPhone 12 Pro series, where the iPhone 12 Pro Max had a few extra premium features even over the iPhone 12 Pro.
You no longer need to buy the iPhone 13 Pro Max to get the best tech from Apple anymore, but it's still the best iPhone for maximum battery life and entertainment.
Pros: Supreme battery life, excellent cameras, excellent performance, 120Hz variable refresh rate screen, ceramic shield glass is very scratch resistant
Cons: Pricey, no fast charger included
One of the best things that Apple did with the iPhone 13 Pro series is giving both Pro models the same set of features instead of giving the Pro Max model the full gamut that Apple has to offer (and the straight Pro model a bit less).
The iOS interface, apps, games, and video look stunning on the iPhone 13 Pro Max's screen, simply by virtue of its large size. It's the same reason why videos and games look more impressive on a bigger TV. The bigger screen and the incredible battery life make a perfect combo, because streaming video and playing games on phones uses up more battery power.
Other than that, you're getting the same excellent performance, camera quality, and ultra-premium 120Hz screen as the iPhone 13 Pro. Just note that the iPhone 13 Pro Max is rather heavy for a phone at 240 grams.
The iPhone 11 is our favorite budget iPhone, even over the iPhone SE (2020), because it's significantly more modern and Apple didn't reduce the iPhone SE's price when the iPhone 13 was released.
Pros: Excellent performance, excellent cameras, modern design for accessible price, less expensive access to Apple's ecosystem
Cons: Battery life could be better
I recently dubbed the iPhone 11 as the new king of the budget iPhones, even though it's not the cheapest iPhone you can get. That honor goes to the iPhone SE (2020).
Don't get me wrong, we still very much recommend the iPhone SE for it's very low price of $400. It's honestly amazing you get the powerful A13 Bionic processor — the same as the iPhone 11 — in a $400 phone. It's also ideal for those who like tiny screens (but if you prefer tiny phones, the iPhone 13 Mini has the iPhone SE beat).
Anyways, the iPhone 11 takes over as the new king of budget iPhones because not everyone likes a tiny screen, like the iPhone SE's 4.7-inch display that's miniscule by today's standards. The iPhone 11's 6.1-inch screen is in the "goldilocks zone," where it's just right for a wider variety of people.
Not to mention that the iPhone 11 also has a more modern design, whereas the iPhone SE has the gigantic borders and design that dates back to the iPhone 6 from 2014.
Lest we forget that the iPhone 11 also has a second camera lens for ultra-wide duties compared to the iPhone SE's single-lens camera.
We think that it's worth looking into the iPhone 11 over the iPhone SE for an extra $100. But don't worry if it's out of your budget, as the iPhone SE is still an excellent little phone.
The $700 iPhone 12 has a superb balance of performance, features, and design for the price, and it's the model most people should go for if $800 is a stretch too far.
Pros: Excellent battery life, excellent cameras, excellent performance, ceramic shield glass is very scratch resistant
Cons: Night mode selfies aren't very sharp, no fast charger included, not that much cheaper than iPhone 13
The iPhone 12 is the best iPhone for most people with its $799 price tag. It poses the best value in relation to specs, features, and design compared to the Pro models.
Running on Apple's A14 Bionic chip, the iPhone 12 still has the hardware most people need for daily and extended usage for less than the iPhone 13.
The iPhone 12 has many features in common with the iPhone 13, including a dual-camera system with an ultrawide lens, MagSafe, 5G, and IP68 water resistance.
There are few compromises by going with the iPhone 12 over the iPhone 13. You don't get the iPhone 13's newer A15 Bionic processor, or Apple's new cameras with bigger sensors. Apart from that, you're not missing out on much else.
Apple doesn't sell the iPhone 12 Pro anymore, but carriers and retailers still have leftover stock. Just make sure you pay less than its $1,000 launch price
Pros: Excellent camera, good low-light performance, LiDAR enables portrait mode photos even in the dark; ceramic shield glass is very scratch resistant
Cons: Limited availability
With the iPhone 12 Pro, you're getting everything from the standard iPhone 12, including the A14 Bionic chip, a Super Retina XDR OLED display, ceramic shield screen glass, 5G support, wireless charging and MagSafe support, a metal frame, and IP68 water resistance.
The iPhone 12 Pro also comes with a triple camera system that includes the standard lens, ultrawide lens, and exclusive to the Pro models, a telephoto lens that goes up to 4x optical zoom and 10x digital zoom. Extra camera features also include LiDAR for better portrait mode photos, even in the dark, as well as Apple's RAW photo file format.
Be mindful of the iPhone 12 Pro's price tag. Apple doesn't sell it anymore, so you'll have to find it from third-party retailers, which don't always offer older iPhones for lower prices. Be sure to look for a price that's at the very least $900, or preferably less — if you're going to spend $900 on a phone, you might as well spend the extra $100 for the brand new model.
The iPhone 12 Pro Max is still choice for those who want a long-lasting battery, gigantic screen, and sophisticated camera — as long as you can find a good deal on it.
Pros: Long battery life; Excellent camera, ceramic shield glass is very scratch resistant, LiDAR enables portrait mode photos even in the dark
Cons: Limited availability
The iPhone 12 Pro Max shares many qualities as the iPhone 12 Pro and standard iPhone 12. These include Apple's A14 Bionic chip, Super Retina XDR OLED screen, ceramic shield screen, 5G support, MagSafe accessory support, a triple-lens camera system with wide, ultra-wide, and telephoto lenses like the iPhone 12 Pro, and IP68 water resistance.
Other than its significantly larger size, the main difference between the 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max is in its camera. The Pro Max has a 2.5x optical zoom, a 5x optical zoom range, and a 12x digital zoom, compared to the iPhone 12 Pro's 2x optical zoom, 4x optical zoom range, and 10x digital zoom.
You can notice the difference, but it's not a change that's drastic enough to factor into your buying decision. The iPhone 12 Pro Max also benefits from a sensor shift technology, which further stabilizes the camera to reduce blur.
Apple has stopped selling the iPhone 12 Pro Max, so you'll have to find it from third-party retailers, which don't always offer older iPhones for lower prices. Ideally, you're looking for a price well below $1,000, as the iPhone 12 Pro Max's original launch price was $1,100. If you're going to spend $1,000 on an older phone, you might as well spend the extra $100 on the newer model.
With the iPhone SE and iPhone 11 offering good value, there's little justification for buying the iPhone XS, X, or iPhone 8. You should also avoid buying any iPhone model older than these because the tech inside will soon be obsolete.
If you're looking to pay less for a good iPhone, your best bets are the iPhone SE and the iPhone 11 rather than older models like the iPhone XS, X, and iPhone 8.
Chances are you'll be overspending on those iPhones, even if you can find a deal that looks tempting. Plus, you may not even find these in new condition anymore.
As for even older iPhones like the iPhone 7, iPhone 6S, and iPhone 6 generations, there's a good reason Apple doesn't sell them anymore. These phones are now several years old and have aging tech inside, resulting in slow performance.
The processor and RAM are four to five years old and are unequipped to handle new software and apps. Your battery life is also likely to take a hit because the phone will be working harder to accomplish even simple tasks like connecting to your cell network.
Some of these phones ( iPhone 6S and higher) can still get the latest software update of iOS 15, but there's a chance it could be the last software update some of these phones may ever get. That means you'll have an old — and therefore much less secure — version of iOS.
Instead of getting an older iPhone, consider a cheaper Android phone.
Our top picks for affordable Android phones are the $350 Google Pixel 4a and $450 Pixel 5a 5G. They have high-quality cameras that are capable of capturing impressive images rivaling those of the new iPhone 12 — especially in low-light conditions.
Other great choices include the Samsung Galaxy A52 5G, OnePlus 7T and Motorola G Power.
- Samsung's $500 Galaxy A52 5G has the look and feel of a premium Galaxy phone for significantly less. It comes with a vivid 6.5-inch Super AMOLED screen with a high refresh rate, 5G support, a quad-lens camera system and a 32-megapixel selfie camera, and long battery life. The Galaxy A52 5G doesn't have the fastest processor, but it still brings a lot of value for a $500 phone.
- The $349 OnePlus 7T was the best premium high-end smartphone running on the latest and most powerful specs in 2019. At its current price, it's an incredible deal if you're looking for something with a more premium design and faster performance than the Pixel 3a series. The major caveat is that it's only fully compatible with T-Mobile's network.
- The Motorola G Power costs $250 and offers a lot of value for the price, with a large 6.4-inch screen and massive 5,000mAh battery that can easily give you more than two-days' worth of use. Check out the Moto G Power review here.
Here's who should (and shouldn't) upgrade, and which iPhone we recommend for you:
- If you have an iPhone 12 Mini, 12, 12 Pro, or 12 Pro Max: The iPhone 13 series is more of an incremental update than anything else, and we don't recommend that iPhone 12 series users should upgrade. The gains you'd be getting with the iPhone 13 series wouldn't necessarily be worth it, especially if you're paying full price. Apple and carriers have some tasty trade-in offers that can dramatically reduce the price of a new iPhone 13. Still, you'd really have to ask yourself whether it's worth the difference, which will likely cost you a few hundred dollars. As for those on Apple's iPhone Upgrade Program, disregard and go ahead!
- If you have an iPhone 11 Mini, 11, 11 Pro, or 11 Pro Max: Your iPhone 11 series still has plenty of life left, and upgrading to the iPhone 13 isn't a necessity. Sure, the iPhone 13's performance, cameras, and design are better, but the iPhone 11 series is still a modern, current iPhone, and you're unlikely to be amazed with the iPhone 13 if you bought it. And if you're facing battery issues, you have the option to get it replaced for $70, which is a lot cheaper than buying a new iPhone. If the improvements in the iPhone 13 make an appealing argument for you, make sure to consider trading in your iPhone 11 series to help reduce the price of a new iPhone 13. And if you have Apple's iPhone upgrade plan, go ahead!
- If you have an iPhone XS, XS Max, or XR: You'll have to judge for yourself if your iPhone is working fast and smoothly enough for you. If not, then you have your answer — trade it in and get a new iPhone. If battery life is an issue but your phone is still working fine otherwise, you could get your battery replaced for less than the cost of a new iPhone. If you're a conservative spender, you're not missing out on anything that will dramatically improve the core experience of using an iPhone. If you're looking for better photography, the iPhone 13 would be a worthy upgrade.
- If you have an iPhone X, 8, or 8 Plus: If you're conservative with your spending, you could hang on to your iPhone for another year without much issue. If battery life is a concern, you can replace it for less than the cost of a new iPhone. That said, an upgrade to the iPhone 13, or even the iPhone 12 is completely reasonable if you've noticed that performance is slower than your liking. iPhone 8 owners will also benefit from a big jump in camera quality,, the newer designs with better screen-to-body ratios for bigger screens in similarly sized phones, and Face ID.
- If you have an iPhone 7 or 7 Plus, or older: It's time. These phones are likely stuttering and won't last much longer. You'll get a massive upgrade in every aspect by going with the iPhone 13, 12, or even 11 series.
How should you buy your new iPhone?
- Tech enthusiast? Join the Apple iPhone Upgrade Program. You'll basically rent your phone with monthly payments, and you can upgrade to a new one after 12 payments. If you do that, you end up paying half price for the phone and you get a new one every year without hemming and hawing over the cost. T-Mobile has a similar offer, in which you can upgrade as soon as you've paid off half of the phone's entire balance.
- Tech-savvy traveler? Buy your iPhone unlocked so you can pop in local SIM cards when you travel abroad. To do this, buy from Apple, preferably through the iPhone Upgrade Program. Alternatively, you can buy from T-Mobile or Sprint because they have free international service in 100+ countries.
- Budget hunter? Check out all the carrier promotions and maybe wait a few months to buy your new iPhone. You could also jump ahead to our Android alternatives section in this buying guide for more cheaper smartphone options.
Is now a good time to buy?
Now is a great time to buy an Apple iPhone, seeing as the iPhone 13 series is still fresh, and older models like the iPhone 12 and iPhone 11 are still relatively young.
- Processor and RAM: The processor and memory (RAM) are the two most important parts of any phone. They determine how smoothly it runs and works through intense tasks like gaming or multitasking. The newer your iPhone, the better the processing power and RAM. That's why we recommend you buy the most recent iPhone models and we don't recommend any iPhones from more than three years ago.
- Storage space: Storage is also incredibly important because the amount of storage you have determines how many photos, songs, videos, and apps you can have downloaded on your phone. Apple's recent iPhones come with at least 64GB at the base level, which should be plenty of space for most users that take a moderate amount of photos and videos. The newest phones start at 64GB, which is a respectable amount of space.
- Screen size: iPhones have come in several screen sizes over the years: 4.7 inches (iPhone 8/2020 iPhone SE), 5.5 inches (iPhone 8 Plus), 5.8 inches (iPhone 11 Pro and XS), 6.1 inches (iPhone 11 and XR), and 6.2 inches (iPhone 11 Pro Max and XS Max). Phones with small screen sizes have smaller physical bodies, which are easier to hold. Phones in Apple's "Max" and "Plus" line are the largest,, although Max devices have a much bigger screen compared to phones like the iPhone 8 Plus thanks to their bezel-less design.
- Battery life: Most iPhones — and smartphones in general — don't have great battery life. In general, the smaller the iPhone, the worse the battery life. So if you don't mind having a larger-sized phone that comes at a higher price, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is the iPhone to get if battery life is your top priority. However, Apple's medium-sized phones like the iPhone 12, 12 Pro, and iPhone 11 still offer battery life that's typically capable of getting you through a full day without searching for a charger.
- Ports (or lack thereof): All iPhones have a Lightning port for charging, but all iPhones since the iPhone 7 lack the 3.5mm headphone jack. That means you can't plug in your wired headphones or other accessories unless you buy the adapter or use the Lightning earbuds that once came with your new iPhone (Apple recently stopped including earbuds and power adapters in its packaging). We recommend you get a nice pair of wireless headphones.
- Software: Apple provides updates to its iPhones for about four years or more after their release, so theoretically, you can have your iPhone up to date for years before you should buy a new one. Always update your software to get important security patches and new features. You may experience slowdown on older devices, but iPhones typically hold up well.
- Price: Consider your purchase an investment. Your smartphone is more than a communication device — it's your camera, your computer, your photo album, your music player, and your gaming console, too. A good smartphone can last you for years, but a cheap one with poor specs will be outdated more quickly, and you'll end up spending more in the long run. That $1,000 price tag on the iPhone 12 Pro looks less scary when you consider that it could last you for four to five years.
- How to buy: You can get an iPhone from your carrier by paying full price or paying in monthly installments. You can also buy one at stores like Target and Best Buy or directly from Apple. We recommend you buy it from Apple unlocked so you can switch carriers any time you choose. The Apple iPhone Upgrade Program lets you get a new iPhone every year so long as you've made 12 monthly payments on your current phone. It's basically like renting your smartphone so you can upgrade all the time. Some carriers, like T-Mobile, offer a similar program.