The Best iPhones to buy in 2021: Apple has a phone for every need!

The Best iPhones to buy in 2021: Apple has a phone for every need!

In the market for a new iPhone? The good news is Apple has a myriad of options, from the newest and most cutting-edge 5G, 5nm handsets to older devices that are still highly capable thanks to Apple’s best-in-industry software updates. No matter your budget or need, there’s bound to be an iPhone for you — after all, the iPhone is the most mainstream “default” phone. If you’re looking for other options, we have recommendations on the best Android phones, and a combined recommendation list for the best phones.

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Best iPhone for most people: iPhone 12

The iPhone 12 in white

The iPhone 12 is the iPhone to get for most people because it still offers the best Apple has to offer in crucial areas: that 5nm A14 Bionic SoC; the 6.1-inch OLED display; a very capable main and ultra-wide camera; and iOS 14. It lacks the telephoto zoom lens and stainless steel frame of Pro iPhones, but these are extra bells and whistles that the average joe would likely be glad to sacrifice to save $200. It’s a great package overall, and many of us at XDA skipped over the Pro and Pro Max models to get the base iPhone 12 just because it did just about everything and was a better value for money phone in the 2020 lineup.

    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 12 Pro Max

iPhone 12 Pro Max in the hand

There are plenty of large Android phones with a 6.7-inch screen, but the iPhone 12 Pro Max’s 6.7-inches feels even bigger thanks to Apple’s usage of a wider aspect ratio (19.5:9) and a completely flat display and body that doesn’t taper off at the sides. The cameras here also gets several upgrades over other iPhone 12 models, including a larger image sensor for the main camera (47% larger than the iPhone 12 Pro’s sensor), a longer telephoto zoom lens (65mm to the 52mm of the 12 Pro’s); and a superior optical image stabilization system. Truth be told, these hardware upgrades bring only slightly superior performance over the standard iPhone 12 Pro, but it’s still better if you need the absolute best camera Apple has to offer.

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 12 Pro Max is the one to get.

    iPhone 12 Pro Max
    The iPhone 12 Pro Max is for those who want the absolute most iPhone -- the biggest screen, the most capable cameras, the maximum iPhone experience.

Best iPhone for power users who don’t like big screens: iPhone 12 Pro

The iPhone 12 Pro in blue

As we said, the iPhone 12 Pro Max technically has a slightly more capable camera than the standard iPhone 12, but the differences in photo/video quality are negligible in most cases. So that makes the iPhone 12 Pro still very close to the best hardware Apple has to offer, but it comes in a more manageable package. The 6.1-inch screen here is in our opinion the goldilocks size — it should be an easy hold for just about any adult or teen.

You still get a very capable triple camera system, stainless steel sides, and all the other bits enjoyed by “Pro” iPhone users like a telephoto zoom lens.

    iPhone 12 Pro
    The iPhone 12 Pro gives you 99% of what the Pro Max offers but at a lower price and a more manageable size.

Best affordable iPhone for most people: iPhone 11

The 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’s only a generation old, so 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 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

There are two good reasons to get the iPhone 12 Mini: you want a really small phone that you can use with one-hand with ease; or you want the newest iPhone 12 series at the lowest price possible.

On both fronts, Apple delivers. 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 best-in-class 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, 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.

And of course, we’re only in the first half of 2021; more iPhones will come this year, including the iPhone 13, and we will update this list accordingly — so check back often for the most up-to-date advice on which iPhone to get.

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.