Choosing a new iPhone feels like it should be easy. But like so many other modern problems (have you just tried? choosing something to watch on TV lately — an impossible task) it is a bit more complicated than it seems. Counting past models still hanging around along with all the Pros and Pluss and Maxs Apple is currently selling eight different iPhone models on its website. Eight! It’s almost as confusing as trying to buy an iPad.
But fear not; there is help. After much rigorous testing, daily use, and many blue chat bubbles, I’m here to help you navigate Apple’s vast catalog of products. Whether you want an iPhone that lasts two days on a single charge, an iPhone that actually fits in your pocket, or the cheapest iPhone money can buy, we’ve got recommendations.
The best iPhone to buy in 2023
Best iPhone for most people
Yes, you read that right. If you’re buying an iPhone in early 2023, the smartest choice might be the 2021 iPhone 13. This is especially true if you’re paying some or all of the costs out of pocket and aren’t getting an “iPhone on us” deal. If you the terribly latest and greatest, then it’s worth skipping over to the 14 Pro or Pro Max – more on that below. But the regular iPhone 14 is such a minor update to the 13 that you might as well save an extra $100 and just go for the (still excellent) model from the previous generation.
In the iPhone 13, you still get an Apple A15 Bionic chipset, a 6.1-inch OLED display, MagSafe wireless charging, and an IP68 rating. If you opt for the iPhone 14, you get a slightly improved camera and a version of the A15 with an extra GPU core plus a new SOS satellite feature that lets you message emergency services even when you’re out of range. Nice, but is all that an extra $100 nice? That’s up to you: With a 36-month payment plan, it won’t add much more to your monthly bill — only about $3. However, if you pay upfront, it might feel better to keep that extra cash in your wallet. You can buy something nice with it, like a few dozen eggs.
As it is, the iPhone 13 is fast enough for most people, takes great photos and videos overall, and will continue to receive OS updates well into the foreseeable future thanks to Apple’s habit of releasing devices with new iOS versions for five or six years.
Best high end iPhone
Apple iPhone 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max
If cost isn’t a big concern or you can get a good carrier deal on a new iPhone, then this is a good year to spring for the top model. The 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max get a new main camera sensor with some useful upgrades, an all-new A16 Bionic chipset, an always-on display, and a new UI element called Dynamic Island that displays some current system and app information on the top of your screen.
None of them are really life-changing, but they are features that Apple will almost certainly include in new models in the future, and third-party app makers will follow suit. It’s the iPhone to get if you suffer from technology FOMO.
The 14 Pro and Pro Max support those new features with great performance. They differ in screen size – the 14 Pro offers a 6.1-inch screen and the Pro Max goes big with a 6.7-inch screen – but they’re both ProMotion screens with up to 120Hz refresh rate for super-smooth scrolling. The Pro Max also has a larger battery, but other than those differences, the two phones are largely the same. There’s a new 48-megapixel main camera sensor with a neat 2x lossless crop zoom, alongside a dedicated 3x telephoto camera. It all adds up to a very capable camera system with some of the best video quality you’ll find on any phone anywhere.
Best little iPhone
Apple released the iPhone 12 and 13 in two sizes: one with a 6.1-inch screen and a Mini variant with a relatively small 5.4-inch screen. They bombed a bit, so there is no iPhone 14 Mini. But like the iPhone 13, Apple is still selling the 13 Mini new – and it might be your last chance to get this tiny screen form factor before it completely disappears from the company’s store shelves.
Aside from a smaller screen and battery, the 13 Mini packs everything we like about the 13: good cameras, a speedy A15 Bionic processor, a robust IP68 rating for water and dust resistance, and MagSafe for accessories and wireless charging. Did we mention it fits absolutely in your pocket? Try that with a Pro Max.
There’s one big downside: the 13 Mini’s battery life isn’t great. It’s good enough to get through a day of moderate use, but if you’re doing a lot of battery-intensive stuff on your phone, like recording 4K video or gaming, then you’ll need to top it off during the day. Either way, most people looking for a small phone probably don’t place mobile gaming high on their list of priorities, so it’s probably not an issue for the Mini’s target demographic.
Best Cheap iPhone
The third generation iPhone SE, released in 2022, is something of a standard winner in this category. It’s the least expensive iPhone you can buy, and for its starting price of $429, it includes some major feature upgrades that most mid-range phones don’t offer, such as wireless charging, a flagship processor, and an IP67 water-resistant rating. – and dust resistance. For sheer ROI, the iPhone SE is a fantastic choice.
But this recommendation comes with some major caveats, starting with the screen. It’s small – at 4.7 inches it’s significantly smaller than the iPhone 13 Mini’s screen, even though the SE is slightly taller and wider than the Mini. That’s because the 2022 SE uses a very old iPhone design that dates back to the iPhone 6S. The screen feels cramped and the LCD technology looks dated. It’s also the only surviving iPhone to keep the home button and fingerprint scanner instead of Face ID, which might be preferable if you hate gesture navigation. Most of us get along just fine without a home button, so this really comes down to personal preference.
There are a few other lows: the camera system has no night mode, and there’s just 64GB of storage on the base model. But if you’re used to a larger phone screen, that 4.7-inch LCD might be the hardest thing to live with. There are also rumors of an iPhone SE in 2024 with a 6.1-inch OLED display – big if true, literally. That’s an upgrade worth waiting another year for if you can wait. But if you don’t mind a small screen, then there’s no better deal than the iPhone SE.
The 2022 iPhone SE should last more than five years if cared for properly, thanks to Apple’s excellent track record of providing iOS updates for older devices. But the tiny 4.7-inch screen feels cramped now and could be difficult to use in five years, while apps and web pages are still being designed for larger screens.
iPhone with the best battery life
When the iPhone 14 series went on sale in September 2023, it was missing one model: the 14 Plus. It was announced at the same time as the other three devices, but wasn’t available until three weeks later, by which time much fanfare from new phones had died down. That’s a shame too, because the 14 Plus has one deservedly great upgrade over the 13: excellent battery life.
That’s sort of a by-product of another feature: a large 6.7-inch screen, the same size as the Pro Max’s screen. Makes sense: a bigger screen makes for a bigger phone, which means more room for a bigger battery. But the battery endurance of the Plus is particularly good because the screen, with its standard refresh rate and no always-on display, doesn’t use as much energy as that of the Pro Max. The 14 Plus can at least get two full days of light before you need to charge the battery. The Pro Max can’t match that.
The 14 Plus has the same minor upgrades as the regular 14, such as satellite emergency messaging and an improved main camera. But with the screen size and battery advantage, it feels like a phone worth spending a little extra on, while the 14 doesn’t quite meet that bar.