Best iPhones Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best iPhones you can buy in 2021.
Apple's iPhone was a revelation when it launched back in 2007. Back then, the word 'smartphone' meant a stuffy interface, fiddly stylus and tiny screen.
Fast forward 14 years and although a lot has changed in terms of consumer technology, in many circles, the iPhone is still the best smartphone on the planet.
The Apple iPhone range covers lots of different screen sizes and prices, but which is the best iPhone for you? Do you want an entry-level handset to handle the basic tasks of making calls, web browsing and taking the occasional picture? Or do you want something more powerful in a premium package with flagship tech and a massive screen? Either way, Apple has an iPhone for you and they all run its iOS operating system, which is a doddle to use.
Screen size is also important. A smaller size is more pocketable, but a bigger screen will be better suited for films, games and TV shows. So think about how you'll use it before you buy. Apple's iPhones use LCD or OLED displays, depending on the model – the iPhone 12 range comprises all OLED models, while the older ranges' cheaper models use LCD.
Then there's the camera. The more expensive iPhones have incredible cameras, but it's worth investigating the cheaper models too. If all you need it for is pointing and shooting, without delving into all the various shooting modes available, chances are they'll more than suffice.
In our experience, iPhones tend to be some of the best-sounding smartphones, while the quality of their screens is always up there with the very best at the money. The only extra bit of kit you might want to factor in is a pair of headphones – either Lightning or wireless, depending on your personal preference. The Apple AirPods and AirPods Pro are good headphones, but their sound quality can be bettered. And while the AirPods Max are superb, they certainly cost a pretty penny.
But we digress. Read on for our list of the best iPhones on the market.
This September, we're expecting the new iPhone to launch. Word is the range will comprise the same-sized models as the iPhone 12, but with some notable jumps in screen tech and maybe one or two surprises thrown in for good measure...
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This is top dog in the iPhone 12 family – it has the biggest and best screen (the largest ever seen in an iPhone, in fact), the best camera and the longest-lasting battery.
Like the others in the range, it's a dream to look at and hold, and its OLED screen is notably brighter than the standard iPhone 12's. The Pro and Pro Max have telephoto lenses (which the standard iPhone 12 doesn't), and the Max's has a larger aperture than the standard Pro's, allowing it to capture more light. It takes superb photos, but you’ll have to be a camera enthusiast to get the most out of it.
Films look strikingly cinematic on the Pro Max's big screen, with deep blacks, super-crisp edges and oodles of detail. And for listening out loud, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is simply the best phone there has ever been. A cheap but good Bluetooth speaker will still beat it, of course, but the openness of the soundfield is particularly impressive when watching a film, and effects extend surprisingly far to the left and right of the screen.
Listen through headphones, and the results are exceptionally musical.
The iPhone 12 Pro Max is well worth stretching to if you’re a keen photographer or videographer. But if you're on a slightly stricter budget, the standard iPhone 12 will prove more than enough phone for all but the most demanding of users.
Read the full iPhone 12 Pro Max review
There's plenty new about the iPhone 12: a new design, new screen, new processor, and, for the first time, 5G. But it's also lost a couple of things from its box – namely a charger and pair of EarPods – and is pricier, to boot.
Despite this, it's another win for Apple. It looks and feels reassuringly premium, the OLED screen is a big step up on the iPhone 11's LCD panel, and it's more durable. The A14 Bionic chip keeps things moving admirably, and it takes better snaps in low light.
Apple has got into the habit of producing some of the best-sounding smartphones on the market and the iPhone 12 picks up where the iPhone 11 left off. It’s a case of more of the same with the smartphone delivering enthusiasm and musicality in spades. The iPhone works well across multiple genres and keeps you entertained right to the last second of every track.
Despite its higher price, the iPhone 12 is the best value handset in a very strong iPhone line-up. A highly tempting and typically Apple package.
Read the full iPhone 12 review
If you have big hands, big pockets and a ‘bigger is better’ outlook on life, then the iPhone 12 Mini probably isn’t for you. This is a smartphone for those who prefer a more subtle and discreet design, where pocket space is at a premium and you’d rather not pull a thumb muscle every time you attempt to write and send a text one-handed. And it's a very good one indeed for Apple fans.
It gets the same flat-edged design as its bigger siblings, meaning it feels premium in the hand; its 12MP dual-lens set-up on the back is perfect for those who want to point and shoot high good quality pictures with minimal fuss in both decent and sub-optimal lighting conditions; and it offers perfectly listenable sound quality by smartphone standards.
Essentially, it offers all the top features of the iPhone 12, but in a smaller, more pocket-friendly package. It is smooth and speedy to use, camera quality is great and picture and sound performance are both excellent for the money. The battery life takes a small hit – there's a drop in both video playback (15 hours versus 17 hours) and audio playback (50 hours versus 65 hours) compared with the iPhone 12 – but that doesn’t really detract from this hugely talented tiny iPhone.
Read the full iPhone 12 Mini review
Although the iPhone 11 lacks some of the headline features of its two Pro siblings you're not really comparing like with like: the iPhone 11 costs a lot less and offers stunning all-round performance.
The camera is a highlight: it's powerful enough to give great results and simple enough to point and shoot. Its screen might not be OLED but it still produces a great picture, and the audio quality is nothing short of superb. Oh, and it runs on the same processor as the Pro and Pro Max, so you shouldn't notice any difference in performance.
If you need a big screen and/or a more advanced camera, consider the more expensive models. But for the vast majority of us, the iPhone 11 is the best value iPhone from last year's range.
Read the full Apple iPhone 11 review
Apple's second iPhone SE follows in the footsteps of 2016's original, with improvements across the board. While the original was basically an iPhone 6S in an iPhone 5S's casing, the 2020 SE takes an iPhone 8 shell and crams in slightly improved innards. Namely: the newer A13 Bionic processor, more advanced camera shooting (with portrait mode and better HDR) and the option of 256GB of storage.
It's a doozy. While admittedly not quite as impressive as the iPhone 11 family, it still gives you that classic iPhone experience, and for £200/$200 less than the cheapest model of iPhone 11.
The LCD screen is decent, the audio impressive, and it has the best user interface and app selection available on any handset. If you want the best iPhone available, this isn't it. But if you want a taste of the full iPhone experience for a fraction of the price of Apple's newer handsets, this is the phone for you.
Read the full Apple iPhone SE (2020) review
The only real difference between the 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max is the size: the Max has a bigger screen, at 6.5in compared to the Pro's 5.8in. That means the Max is a little bulkier: it's 14mm taller and 6mm wider than its sibling, but the depth measurement stays at a slim 8.1mm. So you won't notice the difference too much in your pocket or bag.
The extra screen acreage makes movies, TV shows and games more immersive – it's the best iPhone 11 for consuming content on the move.
Other than that, it shares a lot with the iPhone 11 Pro – i.e. the same camera, processor, operating system and features. Not that that's a bad thing – the 11 Pro is one of the best smartphones currently available.
Of course, the Pro Max is more expensive than the Pro. But if you want the extra screen real estate without stepping up to the 12 Pro Max, this is the best iPhone to buy.
Read the full Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max review
The iPhone 11 Pro's screen is actually a little smaller than the screen on the more affordable iPhone 11. Though at 5.8in, it's still big enough for most. It also uses an OLED panel, which produces fine colours and excellent contrast.
The camera is more advanced than the iPhone 11's, thanks to the addition of a telephoto lens. That gives it more zooming power, not only for getting up close and personal with your subjects, but also for zooming out and capturing more of the landscape.
But really, it's this phone's excellent handling of films and music that has us blown away. Detail levels are superb and the phone sounds as musical as any other member of the iPhone family.
For many, the iPhone 11 will be more than enough. But if you can afford it, and the 11 Pro Max is too big, this could be the best iPhone for you.
Read the full Apple iPhone 11 Pro review
This isn't the cheapest phone Apple makes – that honour goes to the iPhone SE 2020 – nor is it the newest, being a 2018 model. But the XR is still an affordable handset by iPhone standards and still worth considering.
The 6.1in LCD screen is large and produces a nicely rounded and natural picture. And although it uses an older processor, you won't be held back from carrying out basic tasks.
You still get Apple's world-beating iOS operating system with all the apps and features that entails. The audio and visual performance is great for the money and the camera is more than fine for snapping the odd pic or three. Still a bargain by iPhone standards.
Read the full iPhone XR review
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