Buying a new iPhone can be intimidating — for first-time buyers and long-time fanatics alike. Many different models and new technology come out every year, so how do you pick? To help you sort through the noise, we've put together a guide on buying an iPhone, packed with everything you need to know about the differences between iPhone models and the best iPhones for different types of users. Let's dive in.
What Makes a Device the Best iPhone to Buy Right Now?
Apple typically releases at least one new device or entire lineup each year, with the average smartphone user replacing their device every few years. Unless you have an upgrade contract, brand new releases can be too expensive for the average user. Instead, many invest in used, refurbished or older devices when they’re ready for an upgrade because they offer a more affordable alternative.
What makes a cell phone a good investment right now? If it matches one or more of the following criteria:
The older a phone is, the more affordable it is — especially if you choose to shop used and refurbished. Buying a used or aged device instead of a new release can save you hundreds of dollars without making huge performance sacrifices.
With each passing year and every new release, some devices are reaching the end of their usable life span. Some smartphones become too old to receive new upgrades or work with today’s applications. For example, someone used to the camera quality and speeds of an iPhone 10 or even an iPhone 8 would have a hard time adapting to an original iPhone from 2007. If a device is a few years away from becoming obsolete, now is the time to buy it — it will still offer a few years of reliable performance for what is likely the lowest possible price
Anticipated Life Span
Though some cell phone users upgrade their device every one to two years, phones can last far longer than that with proper care, like incorporating regular cleanings and inspections into your daily routine. You can also invest in a protective phone case and repair or replace batteries and screens as needed. With these tips in your routine, investing in an old or used smartphone is a great way to save significant money, and you’ll enjoy the same perks as someone who bought it brand new.
Apple's usual pattern is to release new iPhone lineups every year in the fall. Unless you're buying in the few months before the release, it's most likely a good time to upgrade.
Guide to iPhone Models
Whether you're buying used or new, you'll need to decide which iPhone model is right for you. Generally speaking, you can expect each iteration of iPhones to have slightly better displays, nicer cameras and faster performance. The notch at the top of the screen has gotten smaller, and the processors have gotten increasingly faster.
One thing to keep in mind is that newer models will be more future-proofed, meaning Apple will support the phone for longer. Apple does this for quite a while, with software support offered for about a decade. The older the phone, the more likely you'll reach the point of obsolescence and say goodbye to performance and security improvements.
If you want to make sure your phone's software will be supported while you own it, don't go too far back — stick to phones that have been released in the last seven or eight years.
With that word of warning out of the way, here's how the current iPhones on the market compare.
The iPhone 13 lineup is Apple's latest, having launched in September 2021. The phone comes in four varieties — the standard iPhone 13, the smaller 13 mini, the 13 Pro and the 13 Pro Max. These are the same options you'll find in the iPhone 12 and iPhone 11 lineups. Each member of this iPhone family is powered by the A15 chip. This is Apple's latest processor so far, forming the basis for these lightning-fast phones. According to benchmark tests, these chips run miles ahead of other iPhones and the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra.
All versions of the iPhone 13 get the new Cinematic mode for video, which allows you to get more control over your shots and adjust the focus after recording. The Pro and Pro Max phones get some added camera features, as well as the option for up to a terabyte of internal storage. The iPhone 13 is compatible with MagSafe accessories and features the same waterproof rating as all of the flagship phones since the iPhone X.
The iPhone SE that's currently available is the third generation, with the latest one released in March 2022. The SE is a more affordable version of other iPhones, delivering the Apple experience with a more budget-friendly design.
It's smaller than the other phones, with an exterior that looks closer to the iPhone 8. It still uses a physical home button with Touch ID, which the flagship phones haven't used since the iPhone X — but many people prefer that. Internally, the phone's specs are a little more modern. The third-generation iPhone SE has the iPhone 13's A15 Bionic chip and supports 5G.
The SE may be cheaper, but it still offers some stellar Apple features, like wireless charging, a great camera system, a crisp Retina HD display and wireless charging at a much more economical price point.
Like the iPhone 13, you'll find the iPhone 12 in mini, Pro and Pro Max varieties. They're pretty similar to their predecessors, but the iPhone 12 added support for 5G and switched from an LCD display to a higher-resolution OLED display. Apple also added a ceramic shield to the phone for better durability and increased the maximum storage to 256GB.
If you want modern looks at a lower price point, consider the iPhone 11. This iteration of the phone is the oldest one that Apple still sells new. It comes in a standard model, as well as a Pro and Pro Max. The mini was first introduced with the iPhone 12, so you won't find it in the 11 lineup.
The iPhone 11 has a similar design to the 12 and the 13, but the screen isn't quite as nice being LCD instead of OLED. It's also a little less durable without a ceramic shield and is not compatible with MagSafe accessories. Other than that and a few camera features, it offers a pretty similar experience to the 12.
The iPhone X made waves in November 2017 as the first iPhone to remove the physical home button. It featured an edge-to-edge HD OLED screen and the A11 Bionic chip. Without the home button for Touch ID, the X introduced new front camera technology to deliver highly secure Face ID. You could now unlock your phone just by looking at it, rather than typing a code or holding down your thumb.
About a year later, in October 2018, Apple released the XS, XS Max and XR, each of which sported the faster A12 chip, slightly longer battery life and support for dual SIM cards. They also added some camera features, like advanced control for Portrait mode and video stabilization. The XR is the more economical option. It retained the LCD display and nixed the Telephoto lens, while the XS and XS Max got some nicer camera features and better waterproofing.
Apple released the iPhone 8 in September 2017. It only came in the standard option and the 8 Plus. It had a larger battery than its predecessor. If you're after wireless or fast charging, the iPhone 8 is the furthest you can go. This is the first model that featured those technologies. It also bumped the starting internal storage to 64GB.
In September 2016, Apple came out with the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. These phones added fun camera features like slow motion and 4K. The fingerprint ID switched to a capacitive button, and this was the first iPhone to do away with the headphone jack. It was also the first to offer a new 256GB option.
By the time you reach the iPhone 7, you're looking at a phone that may not be supported for much longer and will probably run very slowly.
Last on our list is the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, which came out in September 2014. The 6s and 6s Plus came out in September 2015, which upgraded the 6 to an A9 chip and offered larger storage options. At this point, you're missing out on some modern iPhone features, but you get a handy headphone jack and a very low cost — with a used 6s going for under $100. A 6 or 6s will probably run a lot slower than the newer models and lack water resistance, but if you just need something simple and cheap, it's a good choice.
The Best iPhone if you want a Low Price: iPhone SE 3rd Gen
The iPhone SE 2022 is the third-generation follow-up to Apple’s earlier SE devices, and all were released to be a mid-range option. With a March 2022 release, the iPhone SE price debuts at $429. You won't find it on used markets just yet, but you can find the previous version, the SE second-generation, used and refurbished starting in the low $200 range. The third-generation iPhone SE is compact and easily portable, ideal as an entry-level device for those new to Apple or someone seeking a simple-to-use, no-fuss phone that still performs well and delivers an authentic iPhone experience.
In terms of design, the SE third-generation has larger bezels than most other Apple phones released the same year, but it makes up for it in processor power since it uses the same A15 Bionic chip that the more expensive iPhone 13 models use. The glass-back and low-carbon aluminum frame phone debuted in black, white and red. There is no physical home button, but it does use Touch ID, a feature no longer standard in all Apple phones.
iPhone SE 2022 specs include the following:
- 5.45 inches tall
- 2.65 inches wide
- 5.09 ounces
- 4.7-inch diagonal display
- 64GB, 128GB and 256GB storage options
You also get IP67 splash, dust and water resistance, which means your device can withstand a maximum of 1 meter of water for up to 30 minutes. The device is dual-SIM compatible, but you won’t be able to pair it — or any iPhone on this list — with existing micro-SIM cards.
Like all Apple phones, you can expect regular iOS software updates from Apple, so you’re always running the latest option. The newest SE adds 5G support and a 256GB option. The SE 2022 is also one of Apple’s more eco-friendly designs, since the company now uses 100% recycled rare earth elements for some components and limits plastic packaging.
The iPhone SE 3rd Gen has similar cameras to its predecessor, one on the back and one in the front:
- Back: The lens on the back is a 12MP Wide camera. Though more basic than some of Apple’s other cameras, it can still capture good photos with optical image stabilization, red-eye correction and next-gen smart HDR. Enjoy portrait lighting with six included effects and other bonus features like panorama and burst mode. Digital zoom reaches up to 5x. You can record 4K videos at 24, 25, 30 and 60 frames per second (fps) and 1080p videos at 25, 30 and 60 fps. Video support also includes slo-mo, time-lapse and the ability to take 8MP still photos while shooting in 4K.
- Front: The 7MP front camera features the same portrait lighting and effects, as well as smart HDR and 1080p video at 25 or 30 fps. Recordings have cinematic video stabilization, Portrait mode, slo-mo support and Deep Fusion technology.
Although these cameras are perfectly suitable for a novice smartphone photographer, they do lack some of the low-light finesse we’ve come to expect from Apple.
Apple advertises the SE 2022 as having slightly better battery life than its predecessor with:
- Video playback up to 15 hours.
- Streamed video playback up to 10 hours.
- Audio playback up to 50 hours.
It is fast-charge capable when you pair it with a 20W adapter or higher. Wireless charging is another option.
The Best iPhone if you want a Small Size: iPhone 13 Mini
If you're looking for flagship features in a smaller frame, look no further than the iPhone 13 mini. Since the iPhone 12, Apple has offered its flagships in the mini variety, delivering similar features in a smaller package. The iPhone 13 mini is both smaller and lighter than the iPhone SE. Whether you enjoy petite phone styles or just don't like having a phablet in your pocket, the mini is a great way to enjoy Apple with a smaller footprint. The base 13 mini retails for $699 or $729 unlocked, but you can find them used in the mid-$600 range.
The iPhone 13 mini is very similar to the iPhone 13. The biggest drawback of this phone is its lower battery life. Since the phone is smaller, there's less room for a big battery. Still, if you aren't on your phone 24/7 or running intensive apps like games, you can likely get all-day battery life from the mini.
Appearance-wise, the iPhone 13 mini appears to be a shrunken-down version of the iPhone 13. It features similarly small bezels on the outside, a small notch at the top and a ceramic-and-aluminum, water-resistant build. Plus, it's compatible with MagSafe accessories.
The specs of the iPhone 13 mini are as follows:
- 5.18 inches tall
- 2.53 inches wide
- 4.97 ounces
- 5.4-inch Super Retina XDR OLED display
- 64GB, 128GB and 256GB storage options
You'll find the newest A15 chip in the iPhone 13 mini, along with improved 5G performance and IP68 water resistance, which means it can be submerged at a maximum depth of 6 meters for up to 30 minutes.
One of the best things about the 13 mini is that you don't need to sacrifice camera performance for a compact phone. The iPhone 13 mini features specs across its front and back cameras that are nearly identical to its bigger brother:
- Back: The back camera has a dual 12MP system, with both Wide and Ultra Wide lenses that support optical image stabilization, 2x optical zoom and 5x digital zoom. Both lenses offer exceptional performance in low light, with Apple advertising the Wide lens to capture 47% more light. The camera system works with various features, like Night mode, Deep Fusion, Portrait mode, Photographic Styles, time lapse and the latest Smart HDR 4. You'll also find the same video capabilities as the rest of the lineup, including 4K recording at 24, 25, 30 or 60 fps, 1080p recording at 25, 30 or 60 fps and slo-mo recording at 1080p at 120 or 240 fps.
- Front: The front camera is also pretty powerful, with a 12-MP TrueDepth system supporting Face ID and Animoji and Memoji. It uses the newest Smart HDR 4 and supports similar features as the back camera, like Portrait mode, slo-mo, Cinematic mode and various recording options.
These cameras aren't quite as professional as those you'll find in the Pro and Pro Max varieties, but they offer plenty of options and ease of use for the typical user.
While the battery life on the iPhone 13 mini isn't anything to write home about, it is a bit better than the iPhone 12 mini. It offers about 1.5 hours more battery life and features Smart Data mode. Smart Data mode downshifts your phone's data usage depending on what you're doing to save power. If you don't need superfast 5G speed, it will bring down your data use to preserve your battery.
For different activities, you can expect:
- Video playback up to 15 hours.
- Streaming video playback up to 10 hours.
- Audio playback up to 50 hours.
As with all of Apple's flagships, you can fast-charge the iPhone 13 mini with a 20W adapter and use Qi wireless charging.
The Best iPhone Overall: iPhone 13 Pro Max
If you're after the best of the best, the iPhone 13 Pro Max is your go-to. This is Apple's highest-end phone, with all the bells and whistles you could want — and the price reflects that. The base model of the 13 Pro Max starts at $1,099, but the 1TB version will run you $1,599. The 13 Pro Max offers a stellar camera system, a beautiful 6.7-inch OLED screen and a larger battery.
Of course, you'll also enjoy the latest, fastest processor with the A15 Bionic chip, but you'll also get the bonus of a 5-core GPU for significant speed improvements, versus the 4-core version in the iPhone 13.
This model, along with the 13 Pro, also features ProMotion technology, which delivers 120Hz adaptive refresh rates. In other words, your screen can refresh from 10 to 120 times a second, smartly ramping the refresh rate up or down according to what you're doing. If you're gaming, for instance, it'll ramp up, but if you're just playing music, it might stay low to preserve power.
The iPhone 13 Pro Max is the biggest phone Apple offers, so if an extra-large screen isn't your style, consider the 13 Pro. It offers virtually identical specs with a 6.1-inch display. Both options are good for people who want more professional camera systems, use intensive apps like games or just want a high-performing phone.
This massive phone packs in some impressive specs. Along with the A15 chip, the 5-core GPU and the ProMotion display, you can expect the improved 5G support and Smart Data that are in the other phones of the lineup. Other specs include:
- 6.33 inches tall
- 3.07 inches wide
- 8.46 ounces
- 6.7-inch Super Retina XDR OLED display
- 128GB, 256GB, 512GB and 1TB storage options
The camera of the iPhone 13 Pro Max is where it really shines. By adding an f/2.8 Telephoto lens and reducing the apertures of the Wide and Ultra Wide lenses, the Pro Max's camera system supports various features, like portraits in Night mode, Macro photography and ProRes video recording.
Here's how they stack up:
- Back: The rear cameras deliver exceptional photos and professional-level control over your shots. You can achieve close-up macro photos with the help of the Ultra Wide f/1.8 lens, and enjoy the Telephoto lens' short focal length and 3x optical zoom. The rear cameras offer powerful autofocus, excellent low-light performance, optical zoom up to 6x and digital zoom up to 15x. Plus, Cinematic mode offers shallow depth of field and smarter focus transitions for powerful video recording.
- Front: The 12-MP front camera gets many of the same features, like Cinematic mode, ProRes recording and Portrait lighting. It also has Portrait mode, Photographic Styles and a TrueDepth camera for Face ID and Animoji and Memoji.
If you want the best pictures and the most control over them, the 13 Pro Max is the best iPhone for you. It has a more professional-grade camera system with plenty of control and options.
The 13 Pro Max is also the best option for long battery life. Apple boasts up to 2.5 more hours of battery than the 12 Pro Max, for total use times of the following:
- Video playback up to 28 hours
- Streaming video playback up to 25 hours
- Audio playback up to 95 hours
And of course, you'll get fast charging, wireless charging and MagSafe compatibility.
The Best iPhone if you want the Most Value: iPhone 11, XR, or 8 Plus
If you aren't too picky about certain specifications and are more concerned about bang for your buck, Apple has several options for you. Our top picks for iPhones with the best value are the iPhone 11, XR or 8 Plus.
The iPhone 11 was Apple’s 2019 flagship device, released at a surprisingly low price of $699. The iPhone 11 price is even lower on the aftermarket, with costs ranging from the high $300s to high $500s, depending on the color, carrier and storage capacity. The 11 offers similar processing power to the 2020 lineup and has managed to age well, even in 2022. The cameras are still top-notch, while speed and battery life won’t leave you wanting.
The iPhone 11 debuted in an array of pastels and neutrals — black, white, yellow, purple, green and red — all designed with recyclable low-carbon aluminum and a fingerprint-resistant coating.
The phone clocked in at:
- 5.94 inches tall.
- 2.98 inches wide.
- 6.84 ounces.
- 6.1-inch diagonal display.
- 64, 128 and 256GB configurations.
It runs on the same A13 Bionic chip as the second-gen SE, but this time without Touch ID. Device defense includes IP68 for splash, water and dust resistance, protective for up to 2 meters of submersion for 30 minutes or less. The iPhone 11 is dual-SIM compatible.
As a more premium offering, the iPhone 11 has dual cameras on the back and one on the front:
- Back: The dual configuration includes 12MP Wide and Ultra-Wide lenses, each with 2x optical zoom out and digital zoom in up to 5x. You get the standard Portrait mode, Portrait Lighting and six accompanying effects, with optical image stabilization, Smart HDR and red-eye correction. The Wide lens — which shoots in night mode and Deep Fusion — is six-element, while the Ultra-Wide sits at five. Both are protected by a sapphire crystal covering. Record 4K videos at 24, 25, 30 and 60 fps: 1080p at 25, 30 and 60 fps; or 720p at 30 fps, with audio zoom and digital zoom up to 3x. Video features include slo-mo, quick take and the ability to capture 8MP pictures while recording.
- Front: The TrueDepth front camera is designed for FaceID at 12MP. It shoots 4K and 1080p videos in the same fps configuration as the back cameras, with the same slo-mo support and added cinematic stabilization. It’s also compatible with Animoji and Memoji.
Fast-charge your iPhone 11 up to 50% full in 30 minutes with a 20W adapter or higher. Battery expectancy includes:
- Video playback up to 17 hours.
- Streamed video playback up to 10 hours.
- Audio playback up to 65 hours.
The phone is wireless charging enabled.
Released in October 2018, the iPhone XR still holds its own as a well-performing mid-range smartphone. It debuted at $499, but you can get it for somewhere between the low to mid $300s now, making it a steal if you’re looking for a straightforward, no-nonsense device. Though the design is a bit bulkier than similarly priced devices, the processor and battery life are great, with lots of fun colors to choose from.
The iPhone XR was a fun release, with six color choices — red, yellow, white, black, blue and coral — and most shades having a slightly pearlized finish. It’s rated at IP67 for splash, dust and water resistance, and the entire device is coated in a fingerprint-resistant protective layer.
Specs for the iPhone XR are:
- 5.94 inches tall
- 2.98 inches wide
- 6.1-inch diagonal display
- 6.84 ounces
- 64GB or 128GB configurations
The phone is powered by an A12 Bionic chip without a physical home button or TouchID.
The XR has two straightforward cameras — one on the back and one on the front:
- Back: The back camera is a six-element 12MP Wide lens with portrait mode and lighting, but you only get three effects instead of more recent devices’ six. Optical image stabilization is included for photos, while videos shoot in cinematic stabilization. You can shoot in 4K with 24, 25, 30 and 60 fps; 1080p HD at 25, 30 and 60 fps; and 720p at 30 fps with digital zoom up to 3x. Videos support slo-mo, LED True Tone flash, time-lapse and photo capture.
- Front: The 7MP TrueDepth FaceID camera works with Animoji and Memoji, as well as Smart HDR, Burst mode and auto stabilization.
With wireless charging and fast-charging abilities, the battery life on the XR doesn’t disappoint:
- 25 hours of talk time
- 15 hours of internet use
- 16 hours of video playback
- 65 hours of audio playback
iPhone 8 Plus
Hitting the market in autumn 2017, the iPhone 8 Plus is one of the older devices available. Its original cost was about $800, but you can find it in the low to mid-$200s today. Why include a phone some might consider outdated? Because despite its age, the iPhone 8 Plus is one of the best iPhone deals available. It still delivers optimal performance, now at a price you can’t beat.
When it was released, you could get the iPhone 8 Plus in space gray, red, silver and gold. Color options might not be as varied four years later, but you might be surprised. Apple’s 2017 phones still had Touch ID and a fingerprint sensor in the home button, with a nano-SIM inside.
The 8 Plus specs include:
- 6.24 inches tall
- 3.07 inches wide
- 7.13 ounces
- 5.5-inch diagonal display
- 64GB, 128BG and 256GB variations
Though it runs on the A11 Bionic chip, you’re not likely to notice any difference in speed and performance unless you’re used to Apple’s brand-new devices. It’s even rated IP67 for splash, dust and water resistance.
Dual cameras had just secured themselves as the next big move in smartphone design when Apple created the iPhone 8 Plus. You get two cameras in the back and one in the front:
- Back: The 12MP cameras are Wide and Telephoto lenses, with digital zoom up to 10x. You still get portrait mode and portrait lighting, though only five of the now-standard six effects. All photos have stabilization, auto HDR and panorama abilities. You can shoot 4K at 24, 30 and 60 fps; 1080p at 30 and 60 fps; and 720p at 30 fps. 1080p also shoots in slo-mo. Video includes cinematic stabilization, time-lapse support and still photo capture while recording.
- Front: The front camera, advertised as the FaceTime HD camera, is a 7MP lens that shoots 1080p video at 30fps and has Retina Flash capabilities.
If you shop for certified-used iPhone 8 Plus smartphones that have undergone quality assurance, you won’t have anything to worry about where battery life is concerned. It was advertised with the following:
- Up to 21 hours of wireless talk time
- Internet use for up to 13 hours
- Up to 14 hours of video playback
- Up to 60 hours of audio playback
It’s even fast-charge and wireless charging compatible.
Frequently Asked Questions about Buying an iPhone
If you're purchasing an iPhone, you might have a few questions about them. We've answered some of the top questions about buying an iPhone below.
Which iPhone has the best camera?
As we discussed earlier, you'll get the best camera in the Pro and Pro Max varieties. Currently, that's the 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max. They both have the same camera systems, offering professional-level control and results. Still, you can expect solid photography from any iPhone. You might find higher megapixels in other phones, but Apple's camera software is what really sets the brand apart. Apple is known for excellent image processing, and you'll get that base software with any modern iPhone.
Which iPhone has the best battery?
Typically, the larger the phone, the larger the battery. That means the 13 Pro and Pro Max are the phones with the best battery life. However, as you saw when we discussed specs for the SE and 13 mini, small phones can still get all-day battery life, depending on how you use them.
Battery life generally gets better with each iteration of the iPhone. Also, as modern technology becomes more demanding, it can put more strain on an older phone's battery, further reducing your battery life. If you go back more than a few generations, you might need to top off your battery throughout the day.
When will the next iPhone come out?
Apple's usual pattern is to release flagship iPhones in the fall. They occasionally release SE phones in the spring, as we saw with the latest release in March 2022.
Which iPhone is best for kids?
If you're buying an iPhone for a kid, you'll probably want to go with a low-cost option. Kids aren't exactly known for treating electronics gently. The iPhone SE is a great pick, but you can also go back a few years and get an older model. A great way to save on a phone for a child is to buy used or refurbished. You can save significantly on the price of a new phone so that you're not spending too much when your kid probably just needs basic functionality.
When is the best time to buy an iPhone?
Since iPhones come out in the fall, you generally have the green light to buy at any time outside of the few months before the new models come out. If you buy after a new release, you can usually save on an older model, too. Apple tends to drop the price of older phones after new releases, and the used market is packed with people selling their old phones to get their hands on the new ones.
As for deals, you might be able to find some sales on new devices through your carrier, but Apple generally doesn't discount the iPhone. Used prices don't fluctuate too much, but some sellers offer deals and promotions throughout the year.
How long will my iPhone last?
Apple will only support the phone's software for a limited amount of time, around five to seven years, and Apple's standard is to expect about three years of use from your phone. Many people see a drop in performance after about two years, but an iPhone can still be plenty usable for a few more. How long your iPhone will last comes down to how comfortable you are with a phone that doesn't work as well as it used to. Some factors that might worsen on an iPhone over time include:
- Performance, such as speed and glitches.
- Battery life.
- Physical damage from ongoing use.
- Software support.
In short, an iPhone will probably start seeing problems after about two to three years. If you're not picky or just need simple features, this may not be a big deal. But if you want fast and smooth operation, you might want to plan on upgrading sooner rather than later.
Buying your Next iPhone
iPhones are a great pick, offering a sleek and user-friendly experience with professional-grade cameras and a slew of excellent features. Whichever iPhone you've landed on, consider buying used or refurbished. When you work with a trustworthy seller, used phones are a great way to save big. You can choose the phone that fits your budget, including those in fair, good and excellent condition.
Gazelle offers a wide variety of iPhones, from the newest iPhone 13 all the way to the iPhone 6.
Explore our collection of refurbished iPhones today!