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Best iPhone 2021: Which Apple iPhone model should you buy?

We've reviewed every iPhone on the market to bring you our list of the best iPhone to suit all needs.

iPhone 12 in a hand

Every year Apple makes it harder to choose which iPhone to buy. More choice means there’s more to weigh up in the decision making.

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Back in 2008, when the first iPhone came into existence, there was just one iPhone on offer. Those simpler times are a thing of the past.

In September last year, Apple launched four iPhones within the iPhone 12 family: iPhone 12 Mini, iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max. Oh, and the iPhone SE (2nd gen) entered the fray a few months before, which was a welcome addition to those looking for a more wallet-friendly iPhone.

Then there’s the iPhone 11 range, which is still considerably alluring, despite being almost two years old. But with iOS updates coming to all these versions, even older models still feel up-to-date.

And, if that wasn’t enough to choose from already, Apple has just revealed the new iPhone 13. But, that means there’s no better time to assess your options and decide whether investing in the new iPhone 13 is worth the money or if one of the older models is a better fit for you and your needs.

We’ve spent some quality time with six recent iPhones we think should be worth considering and have put together a guide to make the selection process more informed than a game of eeny, meeny, miny, moe.

There’s a lot to consider, so it’s worth doing the research, especially since your iPhone is probably the most important gadget you’ll have on you at all times, that you rely on for socialising, work, catching up on the news, consuming media, photographing important moments, and keeping entertained around the clock.

Want a more detailed breakdown of how the iPhone models compare? Try our iPhone 12 mini vs iPhone SE and iPhone 12 vs mini vs Pro and Pro Max guides.

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How to choose the best iPhone in 2021

There are criteria by which you can evaluate an iPhone, but like with any decision, it’s about what you prioritise. Here are some things to consider:

  • Design: It’s worth considering which iPhone is going to be the most comfortable to use. For instance, if you’ve got smaller hands, an iPhone 12 Pro Max might feel unwieldy. Each iPhone is available in different colours too. Many of the recent models don’t come with a power cable in a bid to be more environmentally conscious, so that’s another thing to bear in mind.
  • Camera skills: As the saying goes, ‘the best camera is the one you have with you’, so that’s probably your smartphone then. Will you require 4K recording? Will you need to use your camera at night? These are all worth considering when it comes to what sort of camera set-up is going to fit the bill.
  • Battery life: iPhones vary in battery life, and that’s down to two factors. Firstly, there’s the size of the battery cell; larger iPhones tend to have larger batteries. But also, the processor is responsible for power consumption and cleverly preserving as much energy as possible when the phone isn’t in use.
  • Performance: Apple has made considerable leaps in processor improvements in recent years, and the latest A14 Bionic Chip thrashes the competition for speed and power. The A13 Bionic chip is no slouch either, but it’s only the iPhone 12 Mini, iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max, which are 5G ready.

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Available to buy now, the iPhone 13 is Apple’s new flagship device. 

Sky Mobile has some brilliant deals on the new models, so we’ve picked out some we think are worth shouting about. 

Looking for advice on whether to upgrade your phone? Head to our iPhone 13 vs iPhone 12 guide to see how the flagships compare.

How much do you want to spend on a new iPhone?

The advantage to Apple launching a new series of iPhones every year is that the older models get a price slash, which is great for those looking for a deal. Plus, last year saw the return of the iPhone SE (2nd gen), which puts all the essentials into a slim iPhone for a fraction of the price.

On the other end of the spectrum, iPhones are some of the most expensive smartphones on the planet yet offer some of the most premium design and features to boot. Take the iPhone 12 Pro Max, for example. This is the priciest iPhone right now, offering top-specs and premium design, built from stainless steel and glass. However, with the iPhone 13 pre-orders going live on Friday 17th September, it could be the target of those price cuts we talked about.

The cheapest iPhone is the aforementioned iPhone SE (2nd gen) which starts at £399, and although it’s a fantastic package, it doesn’t benefit from the latest Apple internals. The iPhone 12 Pro Max is £1,099 but is packed with every feature Apple has to offer. And the other iPhone models all fall somewhere in-between.

Consider your budget, then work out your iPhone wish list, whether that’s camera specs, battery life, or whether or not it’s 5G-ready. Then you’ll be able to find the best iPhone for you.

Should you buy the iPhone 13?

There’s always a buzz around a new iPhone release, and the iPhone 13 has been no different. Announced on Tuesday 14th September, the new Apple smartphone was revealed alongside iPad mini 6 pre-orders and Apple Watch 7 pre-order window.

The iPhone 13 pre-orders are now live, and, like the iPhone 12, there are four models on offer; the iPhone 13 mini, the iPhone 13, the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max.

Unfortunately for many Apple users, there was no AirPods 3 release date despite continued interest around the brand releasing new wireless earbuds. 

But, with the release of the new iPhone, the goalposts have moved a little, and w need to answer the question; Is the iPhone 13 worth splashing the cash on? Or, is an iPhone 12 model or iPhone SE still the better option? Put simply, it depends on what features are most important to you and how much you’re willing to spend.

If you’re not someone who has to have the latest release, we suggest waiting for the Black Friday iPhone deals that are bound to be available on all four iPhone 12 smartphones, thanks to the release of the iPhone 13. All these phones are only a year old and still contain some top-quality specs. 

The Black Friday 2021 and Cyber Monday 2021 sales start earlier and earlier each year, and we expect some great offers from the beginning of November. You may want to read our iPhone 13 vs iPhone 12 guide before delving into the deals as we compare the two flagships in detail. 

In the coming weeks we will be getting all four new iPhone 13 models to test. Be sure to check back in for an extensive review of each Apple device.

Best iPhones at a glance

Best iPhone to buy in 2021 right now

Apple iPhone SE (2nd gen)

Best budget iPhone

Apple iPhone SE (2nd gen) homepage

Pros:

  • Light, slim, comfortable in the hand
  • five-year-plus software support

Cons:

  • Battery drains quickly
  • Smallish screen
  • No fast charging
  • No face ID

The iPhone SE was introduced in 2016, and it’s been four years since Apple has given it the much-needed update it deserves.

The iPhone SE (2nd gen) is Apple’s cheapest iPhone, and it’s a seriously good option for those looking for an iPhone bargain. For sub £500, you get 2019’s A13 Bionic Chip, a functional design, a decent screen, and a very good 12MP camera that handles daylight shots with vibrancy and accurate colour reproduction.

The camera is by no means class-leading and quite behind some of the other iPhone models, with only one 12MP main camera and a 7MP front-facing camera capable of bokeh portraits with the help of software, don’t expect incredible selfies, though. Despite this, the main camera is excellent in good light, and the drop in quality between photos taken on an iPhone SE (2nd gen) and the likes of the iPhone 11 Pro are hugely different.

Sure, the screen is only an LCD (retina HD), as opposed to OLED like some of the more premium iPhones on offer, but having a class-leading display isn’t the be-all and end-all for many.

Battery life is OK, it’s water-resistant, and the latest iOS keeps it up-to-date with the latest features on offer, such as picture-in-picture support, enhanced privacy, and a more in-depth health app.

The iPhone SE (2nd gen) is available from:

Read our full iPhone SE (2nd gen) review.

iPhone 12

Best all-rounder

Apple iPhone 12

Pros:

  • OLED screen
  • Decent battery
  • Good camera
  • 5G
  • MagSafe

Cons:

  • No telephoto camera
  • No charger in the box

The iPhone 12 is the goldilocks of the iPhone 12 series. Not too small, or too big, too much of a show-off like its massive sibling, the iPhone 12 Pro Max. It’s the base model iPhone 12 and comes with the latest and much-celebrated A14 Bionic processor.

You’ll find all the latest Apple tech here, including 5G and Apple’s new MagSafe, which allows for speedy charging and is compatible with a number of MagSafe accessories.

Apple fans rejoice that for the first time, the base iPhone is blessed with a stunning 6.1-inch OLED screen and Dolby Atmos stereo speakers.

The dual 12MP camera plus the 12MP front-facing camera are an ideal combination for most scenarios. While the iPhone 12 doesn’t get a telephoto lens or LiDAR sensor, image quality is fantastic, particularly in daylight. The colours are vibrant but not over-saturated. You’ll miss out on getting detailed zoom shots, and low-light videos won’t be as crisp as the more premium iPhone 12 Pro, but that’s not really a deal-breaker for most.

The iPhone 12 offers the most choice when it comes to colour options, too, coming in blue, green, black, white, (product) RED, and the new purple flavour.

The iPhone 12 is available from:

Read our full iPhone 12 review.

iPhone 12 Mini

Best for small iPhone

DSCF1152

Pros:

  • Great small size
  • 5G
  • MagSafe

Cons:

  • Middling battery
  • No charger in the box

The iPhone 12 Mini is a unique package offering all the latest Apple tech, including the Bionic A14 Chip, all in a small and light body. While the battery life is only OKAY, and the base model coming with only 64GB RAM isn’t overly generous, the iPhone 12 Mini has a lot going for it.

In essence, it’s a shrunken iPhone 12 aimed at those who want a properly dainty phone but don’t think that means corners have been cut to achieve this.

The iPhone 12 Mini is built from the same Ceramic Shield protective glass as the iPhone 12, with matt aluminium edges and a glossy back, available in the same varieties, too: blue, green, black, white, (product) RED, and purple.

The 5.4-inch OLED screen is excellent for consuming videos and films, particularly HDR content, and it’s a step up from the inferior LCD screen seen on the iPhone 11.

With the addition of 5G, the iPhone 12 Mini feels future-proof, and there’s also MagSafe on board, which allows it to connect many compatible accessories, which allow for faster wireless charging.

With an identical camera array to the iPhone 12, there’s not a lot to complain about with stunning photography results and the ability to film in 4K at 60fps. Dolby Vision HDR will bring even more detail to footage, a real step up for what’s considered the ‘entry’ iPhone 12 Mini.

The iPhone 12 Mini is available from:

Read our full iPhone 12 Mini review.

iPhone 12 Pro

Best for photography

Apple iPhone 12 Pro camera

Pros:

  • OLED screen
  • Brilliant photography with a telephoto lens and LiDAR sensor
  • 5G
  • MagSafe

Cons:

  • No charger in the box
  • Battery life is only OK

The iPhone 12 Pro is £200 more expensive than the standard iPhone 12, and most of the advantages are all about the cameras. Rocking a trio of 12MP cameras, there’s an extra telephoto lens and a LiDAR sensor, which you won’t find on the standard iPhone 12. This means the iPhone 12 Pro is going to take some of the best quality smartphone photography.

However,  so much of the photography talents are powered by the A14 Bionic Chip and computational algorithms, which optimise results using techniques like photo fusion and Smart HDR 3. What’s more, the premium iPhone 12 Pro can shoot in ProRAW, which might be an enticing proposition for shutterbugs.

It feels substantial, weighing 189g and built with a matt glass back and a stainless steel band, so it feels every bit premium. A protective Ceramic Shield coats the screen for extra toughness.

Battery life is middling, but MagSafe is on board, and the iPhone 12 Pro can go from 0-50% in 30 minutes, provided you’re using a 20W or higher power adapter.

The glorious OLED screen is bright with punchy colours and loads of detail, making it great for watching films and videos, and the Dolby Atmos stereo sound will take care of the soundtrack.

The iPhone 12 Pro is available from:

Read our full iPhone 12 Pro review

iPhone 12 Pro Max

Best for battery and screen

iPhone 12 Pro Max review

Pros:

  • Great battery life
  • Stunning, massive screen
  • Superb camera

Cons:

  • Difficult to handle
  • Expensive

The iPhone 12 Pro Max is for those with deep pockets, in both the literal and metaphorical sense. Yes, it’s Apple’s priciest iPhone, but it’s also its heftiest and largest with an enormous 6.7-inch OLED screen.

To signify its premium status, like the iPhone 12 Pro, it sports shiny stainless steel flat edges and ‘Ceramic Shield’ glass which offers extra protection against scratches and accidental drops.

The iPhone 12 Pro Max comes with the latest Apple tech: the A14 Bionic Chip, MagSafe, 5G,  and then Apple’s most powerful camera to date. With a trio of 12MP cameras and a LiDAR scanner on the back, there’s a 12MP front-facing camera too. The main 12MP has a slightly improved sensor from the one found on the iPhone 12 Pro, which can capture more light, and thus, more detail, especially in low-light scenes. Image quality is stunning, and although it’s only marginally better than the other iPhones in this series, it’s still worthy of an accolade.

It’s ideal for content creators, packing Dolby Vision and recording 4K at 60fps. Handy that it comes with a minimum of 128GB storage, as that type of content will fill up the iPhone’s data capacity quickly.

The larger iPhone is fitted with a larger battery too, which should mitigate fears of the power-draining before you’ve plugged in again. Plus, like the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro, it’ll go from 0-50% in 30 minutes, with a 20w or higher power adapter.

The iPhone 12 Pro Max is available from:

Read our full iPhone 12 Pro Max review.

iPhone 11 Pro

Best iPhone camera deal

Apple iPhone 11 Pro Design

Pros:

  • Great camera
  • Lovely design

Cons:

  • No 5G
  • Not the latest Apple tech

If you want that extra telephoto lens for zoomed-in photos and accurate portraits, but aren’t too fussed about 5G, MagSafe and having the latest Apple hardware, then it’s worth considering the iPhone 11 Pro.

The iPhone 11 Pro has curved sides, rather than the newer and boxier iPhone 12 aesthetic, and although it feels a touch dated, it’s really comfortable to hold. There’s a lovely frosted glass back, and it’s available in gold, grey, silver, and midnight green.

At its heart is the A13 Bionic Chip, which is a few steps behind Apple’s latest chip but still fully capable of multitasking and gaming. Plus, Apple’s latest iOS is on offer and constantly being updated, so it still feels fresh.

The camera is brilliant, capturing punchy colours and heaps of detail in good light. The additional telephoto lens is fantastic at close-up portraits too. In low-light scenarios, the main sensor applies a long exposure depending on available light, and the results are pretty good but not as crisp as the iPhone 12 Pro Night Mode.

Hopping onto 5G networks can drain power, which isn’t an issue for the iPhone 11 Pro as it’s not 5G-ready, which also means it won’t benefit from the blazing speeds once they are widely available.

The iPhone 11 Pro is available from:

Read our full iPhone 11 Pro review.

How we tested the best iPhones

When there are so many iPhones that are all deserving of attention, we look at a series of criteria and take into account cost. We weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of each model and explore the overall impact of any shortcomings.

Design and set-up are really important. For an iPhone to score highly, it must be easy and enjoyable to use and comfortable in hand, built from high-quality materials.

Cameras are one of the focal points of assessing iPhones as they’re a defining quality of smartphone technology. We analyse image quality in all scenarios, pixel-peeping to see where there’s a lack of detail and how the iPhone fares in trickier lighting scenarios.

Performance is another key metric. We run Geekbench tests and stack up all the competitors to show where the A13 and A14 Bionic Chips stand. More than that, though, we test these phones with some heavy gaming, video editing, and multitasking to see how they cope when the going gets tough.

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Finally, what good is any of this if the battery life is rubbish? That’s why we add notes on battery life and take this into consideration when working out which iPhone deserves a spot in the list.

For more guides, reviews and the latest news, head to the Technology section. Looking for more Apple products? Read our AirPods vs AirPods Pro comparison or detailed Apple AirPods Pro review