The Best iPhones to buy in Fall 2021: Apple has an iPhone for every budget!

The Best iPhones to buy in Fall 2021: Apple has an iPhone for every budget!

Apple’s new iPhone 13 series is here and as usual, they bring some exciting new features. But if you want to save a little, there are older or other iPhone options that are still very capable. Apple has a myriad of options, from the gigantic iPhone 13 Pro Max to the petite iPhone SE or Mini series. And thanks to Apple’s best-in-industry software updates, you can buy an older phone and still get the latest Apple experience.

If you’re looking for more options, we have recommendations on the best Android phones, and a combined recommendation list for the best phones.

Navigate this article:

Best iPhone for most people: iPhone 12

iPhone 12 in white

You may be wondering why we kept the iPhone 12 on this list when the iPhone 13 exists. Well, it’s because this category isn’t necessarily about the absolute most powerful or newest phone that money can buy, but rather the best option for the average consumer after taking into account all the features and price. It’s about recommending a phone to people that is the most practical and value-oriented option, without being majorly outdated or having any deal-breaking flaws.

The iPhone 12 stays in this spot because, while the iPhone 13 is better, it’s not so much better that it’s a no-brainer purchase option for more money. For example, the much larger image sensors and 120Hz refresh rate Apple introduced this year are exclusive to the iPhone 13 Pro models only, so the standard iPhone 13 won’t bring those improvements over from the iPhone 12. Likewise, there are cheaper iPhones out there, but those are significantly less powerful or use an outdated thick-bezeled design. To us, the iPhone 12 is still the happy medium — “all the way premium flagship that’s expensive” and “cheaper but noticeably older iPhone.”

The iPhone 12, as if you need a reminder, offers a 5nm A14 Bionic SoC (that still outperforms the Snapdragon 888+ by the way); a 6.1 inch OLED display; and a still very capable camera system. At its current $699 price (and likely to drop further), this is the best value iPhone.

    iPhone 12
    The standard iPhone, as the name suggests, is the right iPhone for most people. The omissions of a telephoto zoom lens or stainless steel frame won't matter to most people who would rather save a couple hundred dollars.

Best flagship iPhone: iPhone 13 Pro Max

iPhone 13 Pro Max

If you want the absolute latest and biggest from Apple, then the iPhone 13 Pro Max is your de-facto choise. While it doesn’t look too different from the iPhone 12 Pro Max, there are worthy upgrades once you put the phone to the test. The screen refreshes at twice the speed, for example (120Hz, which Apple calls ProMotion), the main and ultra-wide camera sensors are larger, and the latter got a faster aperture to boot. What this means is the iPhone 13 Pro Max is noticeably better than the iPhone 12 Pro Max in low light photography.

Some of us here at XDA actually find this model a bit hard to use with one hand. But if you have large hands or don’t mind using a second hand more often, because you want the largest most capable iPhone possible, then the iPhone 13 Pro Max is the one to get.

    iPhone 13 Pro Max
    The iPhone 13 Pro Max is the biggest and baddest iPhone ever, getting you all the features and the most battery life in an iPhone ever.

Best iPhone for power users who don’t like big screens: iPhone 13 Pro

iPhone 13 in Sierra Blue

Last year’s iPhone 12 Pro lacked some of the new camera hardware that its bigger brother 12 Pro Max got, so power users had to get the bigger sibling. This year, Apple is playing more fairly. The iPhone 13 Pro is exactly the same as the iPhone 13 Pro Max other than its physical size (including battery). This means that if you want the absolute best that Apple has to offer in a smaller package — then look no further.

The iPhone 13 Pro runs on Apple’s newest all-powerful A15 Bionic SoC and has cameras with larger image sensors across the board. Our favorite feature though is “Cinematic mode,” which is like “Portrait Mode,” but for video.

    iPhone 13 Pro
    The iPhone1 3 Pro may not be the biggest iPhone, but its the right choice for those who dislike the Pro Max's size but still want all of its features.

Best affordable iPhone for most people: iPhone 11

iPhone 11 in yellow

If saving money is a priority, it’s worth buying an older iPhone, and the iPhone 11 is one of the best value options around in the Apple ecosystem. It is two generations old, but its 7nm A13 Bionic chip and dual-camera system are still very capable in 2021, and you’re still getting a modern iPhone design with minimal bezels and Face ID.

The iPhone 11 also comes in livelier colors (like the yellow you see above) than the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 series, so that’s another bonus if you want your phone in bold colors.

    iPhone 11
    The iPhone 11 comes in a variety of colors and still offers a lot of processing power in 2021; it might be worth considering if you want to save a few hundred dollars.

Best small iPhone: iPhone 12 Mini

The iPhone 12 Mini is very small

The same reason we kept the iPhone 12 in the first category over the iPhone 13 is the same reason why we are keeping the iPhone 12 Mini here instead of the iPhone 13 Mini. There just aren’t enough upgrades on the 13 Mini to justify it over the 12 Mini.

The iPhone 12 Mini is not just small, but downright petite. Most people should be able to palm the entire device and reach all four corners of the screen with their thumb easily. At $699, it’s also the cheapest new iPhone in years.

Don’t be fooled by its dainty build, however. The iPhone 12 Mini still packs the same punch as the iPhone 12, so you’re still getting a 5nm powerful SoC, and very good main and ultra-wide cameras.

    iPhone 12 Mini
    The iPhone 12 Mini is the answer to everyone who laments the escalating size of phones. You'll be able to one-hand this phone easily; its relatively low price doesn't hurt either.

Best budget iPhone: iPhone SE (2020)

iPhone SE in red

If you want the absolute cheapest iPhone possible (that’s not used or several years old), the 2020 edition of the iPhone SE is the only sub-$400 iPhone around. It may lack the flashier all-screen design of the other iPhones listed here, but it comes in a petite size, and in this age of constant mask-wearing, having Touch ID instead of Face ID may actually be appealing to consumers.

With this model you’re still getting the 7nm Apple A13 Bionic, IP67 water-and dust-resistance (rare for a sub-$500 phone), and a good single camera with OIS.

    iPhone SE (2020)
    The iPhone SE (2020) is the absolute cheapest iPhone right now that you can buy brand new.

Best tight-budget iPhone: iPhone 8

The iPhone 8 in rose gold

Released in 2017, the iPhone 8 is the oldest iPhone we can still recommend in 2021. It’s just old enough that it has a price firmly in the budget territory, but not so old that performance will be frustratingly slow (which would be the case for an iPhone 6 or 7 in 2021). The Apple A11 Bionic used here is still decently powerful in 2021, and Apple’s software optimization helps keep the phone running zippily.

The iPhone 8 is also the last mainline iPhone to use the iconic circular home button, so this has some nostalgic value for iPhone fans or collectors too.

    iPhone 8
    The iPhone 8 may be four years old, but the phone still brings solid performance thanks to Apple's fine optimization. It's also very cheap by Apple product standards.

No matter which iPhone you choose, you’ll be well served

Even though we here at XDA have a soft spot for Android and all the customization the platform brings, we can concede that when it comes to providing software updates in a timely and long-term manner, Apple does a much better job with the iPhone. With the exception of the iPhone 8, every iPhone we listed here will be guaranteed to get iOS updates for at least four to five years, if not more.

About author

Ben Sin
Ben Sin

I'm a senior editor at XDA Developers. I have been a journalist for a decade, the last five years covering the mobile tech scene closely, reviewing just about every phone and attending trade shows and launches. I also run a gadget review channel on YouTube.