Apple’s offers five different iPhones, including the iPhone 11, the iPhone 11 Pro, the iPhone 11 Pro Max, the iPhone XR (from 2018), and most recently, the 2020 iPhone SE.
There are so many options now it can seem overwhelming when it comes time to choose the right iPhone for you. We break it down so you know exactly which iPhone to buy for your needs and budget. We also tell you which ones to avoid at all costs so you don’t end up paying hundreds of dollars for a three-year-old iPhone that is already obsolete.
For most people, we highly recommend the iPhone 11, which costs a relatively reasonable $699 but still includes the most important new tech on any phone: the latest processor. The 2020 iPhone SE is the cheapest iPhone you can buy at $400, and it’s also the smallest, so if you want an affordable phone with a small screen, it’s the best choice. It too has the newest processor, though its design is old school and reminiscent of the iPhone 8.
The iPhone 11 Pro and the iPhone 11 Pro Max are great buys for tech addicts who want the absolute best, shutterbugs who love high-end camera tech, and people who want a larger (Max) or smaller phone (11 Pro).
The iPhone XR from 2018 now costs $599, but the iPhone SE is the better buy. The iPhone 8, and iPhone 8 Plus are also decent options if you can find a deal, but you’d do better to buy the iPhone SE since they don’t have the latest tech or processor.
Apple no longer carries the iPhone XS, XS Max, X, or 8 models, but you can still find them new from third-party retailers. If you can find a good deal on the iPhone XS and XS Max at Best Buy or from your carrier, they are still solid options, though it’d be smarter to buy the iPhone 11. The iPhone X is Apple’s first iPhone to use face-recognition security and bezel-less display, but we would recommend the iPhone XS iPhone XR instead.
Why should you listen to me? I’ve personally reviewed every iPhone since the iPhone 6 in a professional capacity as a tech writer and editor. Before that, I owned an iPhone 3GS and an iPhone 5, so I have run the gamut, so to speak. We also have a team of seasoned tech reporters who have owned or used iPhones since the first model was introduced.
Here are some key things to know before you decide which iPhone to buy:
- Processor and RAM: The processor and 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 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. Never buy a 16GB iPhone — you will run out of space and regret it. 32GB is okay for most people, but if you take a lot of photos, have tons of songs or videos downloaded, or you’re an app junkie, you will want 64GB, 128GB, or 256GB of storage. Unfortunately, adding storage costs money. Luckily, the newest phones start at 64GB, which is a truly respectable amount of space.
- Screen size: iPhones come in several screen sizes: 4.7 inches (iPhone 8), 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. The iPhone 11 Pro Max and the Plus line are the largest phones to hold and they are the same size, but the Max has a much bigger screen, though, thanks to its bezel-less design. The iPhone 11 Pro is physically a tad bigger than the iPhone 8, so it’s very comfortable to hold.
- Battery life: Most iPhones — and smartphones in general — don’t have great battery life. The smaller the iPhone, the worse the battery life. The iPhone 11 Pro Max has the best battery life of any iPhone, but the iPhone 11 Pro also gets good battery life, as does the new iPhone 11. However, all three have made huge leaps in terms of battery life.
- Ports (or lack thereof): All iPhones have a lightning port for charging, but the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus; iPhone XS, XS Max, XR; and iPhone 11, 11 Pro, and 11 Pro Max all 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 come with your new iPhone. We recommend you get a nice pair of wireless headphones.
- Software: Apple provides updates to its iPhones for about four years after their release, so theoretically, you can have your iPhone up to date for four 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 is 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 11 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.
Here are the best iPhones in 2020:
- Best iPhone overall: iPhone 11
- Best small high-end iPhone: iPhone 11 Pro
- Best big high-end iPhone: iPhone 11 Pro Max
- Best budget iPhone: iPhone SE (2020)
- Best big budget iPhone: iPhone XR
- Best small iPhone for less: iPhone XS
- Best big iPhone for less: iPhone XS Max
Updated on 06/12/2020 by Antonio Villas-Boas: Added more info on the iPhone SE and updated buying advice. Also added new Android alternatives based on testing.