Best iPhone iMore 2021
Out of all of the devices that we use on a daily basis, the one that probably matters the most is our smartphone. This is why you should have one that is fast, reliable, and future-proof for the next several years. The iPhone is one of the best options out there, but with Apple selling several different models right now, which one is the best? In our opinion, for most people, the iPhone 13 is a great fit for the majority of people because it has all of the best new features from Apple, it works flawlessly with iOS 15, and the price is right.
Best overall: iPhone 13 (2021)
Apple's latest flagship device, the iPhone 13, comes in five amazing colors: midnight, starlight, blue, PRODUCT(RED), and a beautiful new pink. It also features a 6.1-inch Super Retina XDR display. You have a Ceramic Shield on the front screen, which offers four times the drop performance of older iPhones, and a glass back and aluminum design on the rest of the body.
Similar to the previous iPhone 12 lineup, the iPhone 13 (as well as the mini, Pro, and Pro Max) comes with super-fast 5G connectivity, but this time with more band support. This means even faster download speeds and high-quality streaming, as long as your carrier has the coverage for it. The iPhone 13 also has the new A15 Bionic chip, which has a 6-core CPU with two high-performance cores and four efficiency cores. You also get a 4-core GPU that gives you 30% faster graphics, and overall, the iPhone 13 is 50% faster than competing devices. It also has a 16-core Neural Engine for machine learning, and it can do 15.8 trillion operations per second. Pretty fast, right?
The iPhone 13 is also able to make use of the entire MagSafe ecosystem of accessories that debuted with the iPhone 12 last year. This means you can get MagSafe wireless chargers, MagSafe wallets, and more. However, you'll definitely want to make sure that you have one of the best iPhone 13 cases that is MagSafe-compatible to make the most out of MagSafe.
The key differences between the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro lineups largely focus on the camera system and materials used. The iPhone 13 only has a dual 12MP camera system (Ultra Wide and Wide), while the iPhone 13 Pro offers a triple camera system (Ultra Wide, Wide, and Telephoto). The iPhone 13 Pro includes surgical-grade stainless steel versus the aerospace-grade aluminum found on the less expensive model. The iPhone 13 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.
However, the iPhone 13 does gain some camera upgrades over the previous iPhone 12. For one, the Sensor-shift optical image stabilization (OIS) that was exclusive to the iPhone 12 Pro Max has made its way down to all of the iPhone 13 models, which greatly improves overall image quality, and larger sensors in the lenses allow you to take better photographs in low-light situations. You'll also be gaining access to Photographic Styles and Cinematic video mode. The iPhone 13 also starts at 128GB and goes all the way up to 512GB as well, so there's plenty of space for your photos and video.
- Five new colors
- Powerful dual-lens camera system with Sensor-shift OIS
- Starts at 128GB and goes up to 512GB
- A15 Bionic
- Reasonable price
- No telephoto lens or LiDAR
- Aluminum body, not stainless steel
- No ProRes recording or ProMotion display
Best for professionals: iPhone 13 Pro (2021)
Like the iPhone 13, the iPhone 13 Pro (and iPhone 13 Pro Max) feature the A15 Bionic chip, which is Apple's fastest iPhone chip to date, and it has a 5-core GPU. It starts out at 128GB, and for the first time, it maxes out at 1TB of storage (there are also 256GB and 512GB options in the middle too). However, things start to differ from the standard iPhone 13 in a few different ways.
First, while the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro have the same 6.1-inch Super Retina XDR display, the Pro models also have ProMotion displays with a maximum adaptive refresh rate of 120Hz. This means smoother scrolling, graphics, and response time. It's also dynamic, so it automatically adjusts for the situation at hand.
Another big difference between the standard iPhone 13 and the iPhone 13 Pro lies with the camera system. With the iPhone 13 Pro, you get a triple-lens camera system with Wide, Ultra Wide, and Telephoto, along with a LiDAR scanner. And though the Pro gets the same Sensor-shift OIS, larger sensors for better low-light photos, Photographic Styles, and Cinematic mode, there are some extras that you won't find on the regular iPhone 13. For one, you can shoot Macro mode photos only on the iPhone 13 Pro, which uses the ultra wide lens for autofocusing. There is also a new ProRes video recording mode, which is a high quality, lossy video compression format that can support up to 4K resolution in 30fps (except 128GB models are limited to 1080p at 30fps).
The iPhone 13 Pro lineup is also the only iPhone available in Sierra Blue, a beautiful icy metallic blue. Besides Sierra Blue, the Pro is available in silver, graphite, and gold. Like the iPhone 13, the iPhone 13 Pro also works with the best MagSafe accessories, but you'll want to make sure you have a great iPhone 13 Pro case with MagSafe to make sure the magnets can work properly.
- Pro-lens camera system
- LiDAR scanner
- A15 Bionic chip
- Up to 1TB storage
- ProMotion display
- Just four color options
Best small iPhone: iPhone 13 mini (2021)
The iPhone 13 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 13. Inside, you'll find an A15 Bionic chip, and the handset includes support for MagSafe accessories and wireless chargers. Again, you'll want to make sure you have a good iPhone 13 mini case with MagSafe for best results with all of the MagSafe accessories out there. It is also available in the new pink color, just like its bigger sibling.
Of course, due to the smaller size, the battery life on the iPhone 12 mini is a bit lacking compared to the other models (smaller battery), but it does last a little longer than last year's iPhone 12 mini. A good solution for this is to pick up the MagSafe Battery Pack to make your 13 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 12 (2020)
Last year's flagship is still a terrific choice for many buyers, and it's now available at a lower price. The iPhone 12 has a 12MP dual-camera system with wide and ultra wide lenses, an A14 Bionic chip, and a 6.1-inch Super Retina XDR display.
It uses Apple's advanced Face ID biometric scanning (which also means the True Depth FaceTime camera), supports 5G, 4K, and Dolby Vision video recording support, Portrait mode for the front and back-facing cameras, Night mode, is compatible with MagSafe accessories, and a whole lot more. It may not have the latest silicon from Apple, but it's still a fantastic device and will last at least several more years.
- Dual-camera system
- Six unique colors
- A14 Bionic and 5G connectivity
- Supports MagSafe
- Really great price
- No telephoto lens
- Not using the latest silicon
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 big screen lovers: iPhone 13 Pro Max (2021)
The best, most powerful iPhone you can buy in 2021 is the 6.7-inch iPhone 13 Pro Max. Nearly the same as the iPhone 12 Pro, this massive phone is Apple's largest to date. For anyone looking for the best of the best, this is the phone for you.
While the iPhone 12 Pro Max differed from the regular iPhone 12 by having the absolute best camera, this does not apply to the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max. Once again, Apple has made the camera system in both Pro models the same, so you no longer need to get the larger Pro to have the best iPhone camera. However, the iPhone 13 Pro does have a larger 6.7-inch Super Retina XDR display with ProMotion, and the longest battery life of the entire iPhone 13 lineup.
But of course, if you want the absolute best iPhone, it will cost you a pretty penny. The iPhone 13 Pro Max has a starting price north of $1000, and the 1TB version will cost $1600. You'll definitely want to protect your investment with a fantastic iPhone 13 Pro Max case and screen protector.
- Large 6.7-inch Super Retina XDR display with ProMotion
- Longest-lasting battery life
- Up to 1TB storage
- Most expensive iPhone
Best for kids: iPhone 11 (2019)
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 11 remains a great phone at a great price. It comes in six bright colors, supports Face ID, has Animoji and Memoji, Portrait and Night mode, and is a great first iPhone for your kids.
- Great price
- Bright colors
- Face ID
- Portrait and Night mode
- Two years old
- Only 64GB or 128GB
The best iPhone: Bottom line
For the vast majority, we recommend the iPhone 13 as the best iPhone for most people. It has the latest A15 Bionic chip, so it's super fast and it has even more support for 5G connectivity, allowing you to stream and download at even faster speeds than before. While it still has a dual-lens camera system with just wide and ultra wide, you still get the new Photographic Styles and Cinematic video mode features, as well as Sensor-shift OIS and larger sensors that let you take better low light photos. Plus, you have a beautiful 6.1-inch OLED Super Retina XDR display, MagSafe, improved battery life over the iPhone 12, and five new colors to choose from. If you want a smaller form factor, there is also the iPhone 13 mini.
However, if you want the most advanced camera system in an iPhone, and arguably in any phone, you're going to want the iPhone 13 Pro or iPhone 13 Pro Max, since these have the Telephoto lens and LiDAR, as well as ProRes video recording and macro photography. The iPhone 13 Pro models also max out at 1TB of storage, which you'll need if you plan to take a lot of ProRes video, since one minute can take up 6GB of space. Apple also introduced the new Sierra Blue color for the Pro models only, and it has the incredibly smooth ProMotion display with an adaptive refresh rate up to 120Hz.
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.
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