In September 2021 we saw the unveiling of four new iPhone handsets: the 13, 13 mini, 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max. Those new iPhones joined the iPhone 12, iPhone 12 mini, iPhone 11 and iPhone SE, all of which are still available. With eight different iPhones to choose from there is something for everyone – but which iPhone is the best?
For many diehard fans the obvious choice is the most recent iPhone with the best specs. But many people simply don’t need – or can’t afford – the most expensive model. So you must think about what matters.
What’s your budget? How large a screen do you want and need? Are you happy with a single-lens camera on the back, or is it worth paying extra for twin or triple lenses?
We’ve racked our brains to rank the iPhones from best to worst for the average buyer, taking into consideration age, size, price (on contract or SIM-free), performance, battery life and more.
Please note we are in the process of reviewing the new iPhones for 2021 thoroughly and may change this ranking based on our findings.
iPhone comparison 2021
iPhone 13 Pro – Best iPhone for 2021
Since Apple no longer sells Pro models from the iPhone 12-generation, there is no need to ask whether you should rather choose a previous model or the latest generation. If you want a Pro model and the corresponding Pro features, you must resort to a 13 Pro or the larger iPhone 13 Pro Max – unless you buy the iPhone 12 Pro from a provider other than Apple.
Like the iPhone 13 mini and iPhone 13, the 13 Pro also has a 20 percent smaller notch than its predecessor. But the iPhone 13 Pro brings a lot more new features in 2021 than the iPhone 13 does in comparison to the previous generation, and that is why it’s our number one choice.
The iPhone 13 Pro brings an improved camera system with brighter lenses and an improved optical zoom (6x, on the iPhone 12 Pro there was only a 4x optical zoom range), the new Cinematic Mode, Photographic Styles and the A15 chip.
There is also a significantly improved battery: Apple promises up to 22 hours of video playback, with the iPhone 12 Pro it was only up to 17 hours.
In addition, the iPhone 13 Pro (and Max) now have the option of 1TB of storage – the most ever on an iPhone. However, this should only appeal to a small target market, for most the 128GB default should be adequate.
iPhone 13 – Best for most people
The iPhone 13 matches the features of the iPhone 13 mini, but has a slightly higher price tag.
If choosing between the 13 and the 13 mini the choice will come down to screen size and battery life. But perhaps a more interesting comparison is between the iPhone 13 and iPhone 12, which Apple still sells for a lower price.
The iPhone 13 has a lot to show for itself that does, we feel, justify the extra expense. It offers a smaller Notch, improved 5G, the new more powerful A15 chip and a two-hour improved battery with a total of 19 hours of video playback in the latest generation.
Plus, while the camera specs may not look that different on paper, in reality there are some significant improvements in the iPhone 13, including sensor shift optical image stabilization, bigger image sensors, Photographic Styles and Cinematic Mode.
Apple has also increased the entry-level memory sizes on the iPhone 13: In the smallest possible variant, you have 128GB of memory available.
3. iPhone 13 Pro Max – Best if you want big
What you can say about the iPhone 13 Pro also applies to the big brother: the 6.7in iPhone 13 Pro Max. In 2021 the two Pro iPhones are identical in features, unlike in 2020 when the Max had a number of camera features missing from its smaller sibling.
This means the biggest differentiator between the iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max is the size. If you want a big iPhone with a 6.7in display then this is the only option: Apple is no longer selling the iPhone 12 Pro Max.
There are a couple of other benefits to the Max though: if you prefer a particularly long battery life, the 13 Pro Max offers the most. Apple has been able to increase video playback from 20 hours on the 12 Pro Max to 28 hours.
In addition to all the other new features (see iPhone 13 Pro), the extra battery life sounds quite tempting, of course, but be aware that the Pro Max does not fit in every pocket. While for some the large screen will be a benefit, for many it is a disadvantage and that’s why we can’t wholeheartedly recommend this iPhone.
Like the 13 Pro this iPhone features the A15 Bionic processor, coupled with 6GB of RAM, and it will merrily smash whatever developers put on the App Store. Like the previous generation it supports 5G so you’ll be well placed to enjoy improved connection speeds when coverage is more widespread.
iPhone 12 – Best if you don’t mind last year’s features
In 2020 the iPhone 12 was our recommendation as the best iPhone for most people. Obviously the picture has changed now that the iPhone 13 is on the scene, but the picture hasn’t changed as much as you might think.
When you compare the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 the differences aren’t all that striking. But there are differences that may matter to you, such as better battery life and, while at face value the cameras are the same, the newer phone offers more in the way of camera features.
However, the iPhone 12 is still a fantastically well specced phone, and now that Apple has reduced the price tag it’s even more affordable.
The high-resolution OLED screen is a pleasure to use, and the camera setup is superb, capturing colourful, detailed shots in some of the most difficult conditions we were able to find. The 12’s support for 5G and its frankly excessive processing power will both become more valuable in the future.
The only fly in the ointment is that battery life is solid rather than dazzling, but it should get you through a day of typical use without any worries.
If do not value the new features in the iPhone 13, and you can also cope with 64GB of storage, you can save around £100/$100 by buying an iPhone 12.
Read our iPhone 12 review for detailed analysis and testing.
iPhone 13 mini – Best if small is a big deal
The iPhone 13 mini is Apple’s attempt to fix the errors that were made with the 2020 iPhone 12 mini. That means: A larger battery that lasts two hours longer than its predecessor with a total of 17 hours of video playback.
The future will show whether Apple the 13 mini will appeal to more people (the 2020 iPhone mini was apparently not as popular as Apple expected).But there will always be people who prefer a smaller phone, and the iPhone 13 mini is perfect for them.
In addition, there are of course other features that make the new mini much more attractive than the 2020 equivalent: A 20 percent smaller Notch, the new A15 chip, improved 5G and above all the new cinema mode in 1080p at 30 fps, with which you can get even more beautiful video recordings.
Also great: Apple has increased the entry-level storage sizes: The iPhone 12 mini may be cheaper in comparison, but the 13 mini – in addition to the new features already listed – also has twice as much memory from the beginning: 128GB.
If you do not value the new features and a small battery is not a problem, the iPhone 12 mini will give you many of the same features for less money though.
iPhone 12 mini – Best way to get the 2020 iPhone for less
The iPhone 12 mini, like the iPhone 12, is a great choice that we would happily recommend.
We’ve ranked the 12 higher because its larger screen (6.1in, rather than 5.4in) is more in line with what today’s buyers expect from their smartphones. But our experiences suggest that the more petite 12 mini offers a perfectly usable amount of screen space – remember that a display of this approximate size was regarded as large when the iPhone 6 Plus came out – as well as being cheaper and more portable.
Aside from size, the 12 mini is a brilliantly featured and specced phone, with superb cameras, a secure and user-friendly operating system, and processing power to burn. Since Apple has dropped the price of the two iPhone 12 models, this is a great way to get the last generation’s iPhone at a fraction of the cost.
Read our iPhone 12 mini review for more information.
iPhone 11 – Best for value
Before the 12-series handsets came out in 2020 the iPhone 11 was the clear leader of this chart, offering a superb blend of features and value.
Two years after launch it remains a very decent phone with a large screen and a price tag that’s more appealing than ever (especially since Apple reduced the price even further in September 2021). If you can live without the updates in the successive two generation this is still a good buy.
However, it’s not all good. This phone’s 6.1in LCD screen, for example, seems more of a hindrance now because OLED displays are available across the iPhone 13 and 12-series (rather than being confined to the Pro models, as they were in 2019). It’s also not 5G-ready, which is something to consider if you want to keep the phone for a few years, and its A13 processor has about a year less of future-proofing than the new A14.
But most of the good stuff still applies. The A13 remains a very powerful chip (and comfortably fast enough to run anything on the App Store right now), while the cameras, including Night Mode, ‘next-gen’ smart HDR, 4K video and a 12MP lens for selfies, are superb.
If you want a large screen and great cameras at a lower price, this is still an excellent choice.
Read our iPhone 11 review for in-depth analysis and testing.
iPhone SE (2020) – The budget option
The SE (2020) is a simple sell, but a compelling one: a fast phone offering good camera performance at a bargain-basement price of £399/$399. And on that basis we’ve been recommending this to a lot of friends and family members.
The A13 Bionic chip (as seen in the iPhone 11) plus 3GB of RAM means this isn’t the quickest iPhone you can get these days (the A14 and A15 are obviously quicker, and the 11-, 12-, and 13-series phones have 4GB or even 6GB of RAM to access), but the SE is very much Fast Enough. It will be able to run demanding apps and install iOS updates for years to come.
The biggest compromise you’ll be making, really, is the design, which is seven years old and looks it: a small screen, chunky bezels, and Touch ID rather than Face ID. Although, depending on how you look at it, this last ‘disadvantage’ might be seen as an advantage. If the inclusion of the Home button is important to you this is the only iPhone with a Home button.
Battery life is also weaker than that of other iPhones – although we found it respectable – and while photography in general is good, low-light shots won’t match the iPhone 11 and above; you don’t get Night Mode. Nor do you get 5G, and as the world moves up to 5G you might not want to get left behind.
But overall this is a strong offering for the money. Read our iPhone SE (2020) review for more.
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