Apple

Happy Holidays! This article is part of our Holiday 2021 Gift Guide where you can find the best-of-the-best recommendations from How-To Geek, LifeSavvy, and Review Geek to help you pick the perfect gift for everyone on your list!
Update, 9/9/21: We’ve updated our recommendations to reflect the best laptops you can buy now. Our iPhone 12 recommendations have been replaced with models in the updated iPhone 13 line.

What to Look For in an iPhone in 2021

The iPhone is Apple’s take on the smartphone that now incorporates a range of models. The original iPhone was introduced in 2007, and since then, the device has been through many different hardware transitions to get to where we are today.

Apple takes a closed approach to its ecosystem, which some users may find restrictive. The boundaries to what you can do on your device are set by Apple, including only installing software from the first-party App Store.

The upside to this is that the iPhone enjoys a reputation for being easy to use since Apple designs the software and hardware with the user experience in mind. Apple has been diligent about enforcing a permissions system that puts the user in control of what apps can do. In 2021, Apple forced app developers to be even more transparent with App Store customers.

The iPhone is alsoΒ well-regarded from a security standpoint, though no device is “hack-proof.” The iPhone pioneeredΒ security advancements like Apple’s secure enclave, which eventually made its way into the Mac. Though iPhone malware does exist, it’s thankfully rare due to how iOS and the App Store are maintained.

There’s an iPhone model for just about everyone, including budget users with the iPhone SE. In recent years, Apple has reserved its bleeding-edge features for the higher-end iPhone Pro line. That means the traditional numbered iPhone releases are now the standard, all-rounder models.

Every iPhone model on sale today uses the standard Lightning cable connector. You can charge many iPhones wirelessly using a Qi wireless chargerΒ or get a more powerful charger and enjoy fast chargingΒ from the wall instead.

If you are thinking of buying an iPhone, also consider an AppleCare+ warranty package. Not only does this extend your coverage to two years (though some countries already have a two-year limited warranty as standard), it also provides two instances of accidental damage cover.

RELATED: What is AppleCare+ and Why Do You Need It?

The Best iPhone 13 Cases of 2021

Best iPhone 13 Case Overall
Apple Silicone Case with MagSafe for iPhone 13
Best Budget iPhone 13 Case
Spigen Liquid Air Armor
Best MagSafe iPhone 13 Case
Apple Clear Case with MagSafe for iPhone 13
Best Wallet iPhone 13 Case
Smartish iPhone 13 Wallet Case
Best Rugged iPhone 13 Case
OtterBox Defender Series SCREENLESS Edition Case for iPhone 13
Best Clear iPhone 13 Case
Phone Case for Symmetry Clear for iPhone 13
Best Thin iPhone 13 Case
Totallee Thin iPhone 13 Case
Best Leather iPhone 13 Case
Apple Leather Case with MagSafe

Best iPhone Overall: iPhone 13

Apple

Pros

  • Same display, chip, and 5G capabilities as the iPhone 13 Pro
  • Dual cameras with Cinematic mode, Photographic Styles, and Dolby Vision HDR recording
  • 19-hour battery life
  • Ceramic Shield drop protection and IP68 water/dust rating
  • Compatible with MagSafe accessories

Cons

  • Expensive compared to similarly powered smartphones
  • No wall charger in the box

The iPhone 13 is Apple’s flagship smartphone for the masses. Starting at $799 on contract (or $829 SIM-free), it’s far from a budget option, sharing more in common with the more expensive iPhone 13 Pro than Apple’s cheaper models.

The iPhone 13 sports a 6.1-inch Super Retina XDR display, a new A15 Bionic system-on-chip, and sub-6 GHz and mmWave 5G capabilities (although mmWave is only available on US models). The iPhone 13 uses Apple’s Ceramic Shield drop protection on the front, and it can survive being submerged in 6 meters of water for up to 30 minutes per the IP68 rating. While tough, we still recommend you get a case to protect the iPhone 13.

There are ultra-wide and wide lenses on the back of the unit with support for Apple’s new Cinematic mode video capture, as well as Dolby Vision HDR recording, in up to 4K resolution at 60 frames per second.

New for the iPhone 13 line is the Photographic Styles feature, which provides intelligent control overexposure by tweaking Apple’s image processing pipeline. There’s also a MagSafe accessory connector for attaching accessories like cases and wireless chargers with a satisfying snap.

The newest iPhone uses Apple’s TrueDepth camera on the front to unlock the device via facial recognition. This year’s revision has seen the “notch” in the middle of the screen shrink ever so slightly, while retaining the same 12MP front-facing camera as the iPhone 12.

Battery life is also improved, with the iPhone 13 rated for 19 hours of video playback on a single charge, with optimized charging in iOS helping to extend the lifespan of the internal battery.

If you’re shopping for a premium smartphone, the iPhone 13 is a great choice. If you want to save a few dollars with a virtually identical feature set in a smaller package, consider the iPhone 13 mini, with prices starting from $729.

Best iPhone Overall

iPhone 13

The iPhone 13 is Apple's flagship iPhone with a beautiful display, 5G connectivity, dual-cameras with Photographic Styles, Cinematic mode video, and Dolby Vision HDR recording, and a 19-hour battery life.

Get the Smaller Version

iPhone 13 mini

The iPhone 13 mini packs the same features as the iPhone 13 into a smaller model with a 5.4-inch display, at a slightly cheaper price point.

Best Budget iPhone: iPhone SE (2nd-Gen)

iPhone SE (2nd Gen)
Apple

Pros

  • Half the price of an iPhone 13
  • A13 Bionic system-on-chip still performs
  • Passable rear and front-facing cameras
  • Same great iPhone experience and app selection

Cons

  • Old-style design lacks Face ID and edge-to-edge display
  • Single camera, no optical zoom or ultra wide
  • Could be jarring coming from a new style iPhone

Apple introduced the second-generation iPhone SE (2020)Β in 2020 at $399. It uses the capable A13 Bionic system-on-chip first seen on the iPhone 11, with a 4.7-inch display. Despite having a smaller display size than the iPhone 13 mini, the iPhone SE is still a larger device overall since it uses Apple’s older form factor.

Unlike newer iPhones that drop the home button and fingerprint scanner, the iPhone SE still has both. There’s no Face ID support because there is no edge-to-edge display, which can be jarring if you’re coming from a new style iPhone.

Despite the outdated form factor, the iPhone SE is still a capable device. The A13 Bionic still feels snappy, and the Retina HD display might not drop jaws, but it gets the job done. There’s a single wide 12MP camera on the back and a decent 7MP front-facing camera for video calls and selfies.

A smaller form factor means less space can be dedicated to the battery, so Apple’s SE is only rated for 13 hours of video playback. You get a meter of water resistance for 30 minutes, which is better than nothing. You can even charge the iPhone SE wirelessly and use faster charging if you get a 20W or better charger.

The closest alternative to the iPhone SE is the iPhone 11. The iPhone 11 features Face ID, an improved 6.1-inch display, and better battery life, and it uses the same A12 Bionic chip at about $100 more than the SE. It’s a good alternative if you want the other features, and it’s got better battery life too, but at this price range, $100 is quite a leap.

Best Budget iPhone

iPhone SE

The iPhone SE offers a snappy but more traditional iPhone experience with a Home button and fingerprint scanner, at around half the price of the iPhone 12.

Budget iPhone with Face ID

iPhone 11

If you want Apple's modern iPhone design with Touch ID on a budget, the iPhone 11 is your best choice.

Best Premium iPhone: iPhone 13 Pro

Apple

Pros

  • Camera system with three lenses plus a LiDAR scanner
  • Made from stainless steel, not aluminum like cheaper models
  • 120Hz ProMotion display for smoother scrolling and adaptive sync
  • Support for ProRAW, ProRes, Cinematic mode, Photographic Styles and Night mode portraits

Cons

  • Upgrades over iPhone 13 won't appeal to everyone
  • Slightly heavier than the identically-sized iPhone 13
  • Expensive even for an iPhone
  • 4K ProRes recording requires 256GB of storage or more

Starting at $999, the iPhone 13 Pro takes the iPhone 13 and adds premium features to please power users and content creators. The smartphone uses the same A15 Bionic processor as the iPhone 13 with the same Super Retina XDR display but adds more RAM and an additional GPU core to take the title of the “world’s most powerful” mobile processor.

New for 2021 is the addition of a ProMotion display which refreshes at up to 120Hz. This means the Pro has smoother animations and a more responsive experience, including for gaming. The display intelligently increases and decreases the refresh rate on the fly to conserve battery life.

The iPhone 13 Pro also includes a new camera system with three lenses: a regular wide, an ultrawide, and a telephoto lens with up to 6x optical zoom. The Pro also gets Cinematic Mode video, Photographic Styles, and Dolby Vision HDR recording in 4K resolution at up to 60 frames per second.

Another new feature for the 13 Pro is the ability to shoot in ProRes, a higher quality video codec used in many professional workflows. ProRAW support is also here for still photographers who want to get the most from the iPhone 13 Pro’s camera system, even if it means massive files.

The LiDAR scanner from last year’s iPhone 12 Pro returns for better AR and autofocus on the back, which allows for Night mode portraits. While many featured are similar between the standard iPhone 13 and the Pro, this is something the iPhone 13 cannot do!

Be aware that due to the stainless steel construction, the iPhone 13 Pro is slightly heavier than the identically-sized iPhone 13. This makes it tougher and more rigid at the cost of an additional 30g of weight. But If you want the premium iPhone experience, the iPhone 13 Pro is the model for you.

Best Premium iPhone

iPhone 13 Pro

With the A15 Bionic processor, the three-lens camera system and a stainless steel build, the Pro model of the iPhone 13 looks and feels premium, with a price to match.

Best iPhone Camera: iPhone 13 Pro Max (256GB)

Apple

Pros

  • Three lens camera system for wide, ultra-wide, and telephoto capture
  • ProRes video, Cinematic mode video, ProRAW stills, and Dolby Vision HDR capture at up to 4K 60 frames
  • A giant Super Retina XDR ProMotion display with 120Hz refresh rate
  • The best battery life of any iPhone

Cons

  • Even more expensive than the standard iPhone 13 Pro
  • Doesn't necessarily do anything you can't do with an iPhone 13 Pro
  • Larger size and stainless steel construction might be off-putting
  • You'll need a 256GB model or greater for ProRes video at 4K

The iPhone 13 Pro Max is Apple’s largest iPhone, and it also comes with the largest base price tag of $1099. For your money, you’ll get a giant 6.7-inch Super Retina XDR ProMotion display that refreshes at up to 120Hz, with adaptive sync to save battery life.

Aside from the display and the unit’s physical size, the iPhone 13 Pro Max is identical to the smaller iPhone 13 Pro in just about every way. If you’d rather have a smaller iPhone that still packs in an uncompromised photo and video experience, the iPhone 13 Pro is a safe option.

But a few things make the iPhone 13 Pro Max look a little more inviting from a photographer’s point of view. The larger display gives you a better perspective of what you’re capturing, whether it’s a ProRAW photo, Cinematic Mode video, or high-quality ProRes video.

If you opt for the iPhone 13 Pro Max for its ProRes abilities, make sure you get a model with 256GB or greater storage capacity, since the 128GB model can only capture 1080p at 30 frames per second in this mode.

The other reason to opt for the Pro Max over the smaller Pro is battery life. The iPhone 13 Pro Max has the best battery life of any iPhone ever, with a whopping 28 hours of video playback quoted by Apple. That’s 6 hours longer than the smaller Pro model, perfect for all-day shoots and video capture.

Best iPhone Camera

iPhone 13 Pro Max

With a 6.7-inch display, the iPhone 13 Pro Max is the biggest iPhone Apple has ever made. While the camera abilities are the same as the smaller iPhone 13 Pro, the larger screen and bigger battery life give it the edge for serious creatives.

Best Battery Life: iPhone 13 Pro Max

Apple

Pros

  • Best battery life of any iPhone, rated at 28 hours of video playback
  • A feature-packed iPhone with all the bells and whistles of the iPhone 13 Pro in a larger form factor

Cons

  • The most expensive iPhone you can buy
  • 6.7-inch display and stainless steel construction may make the iPhone 13 Pro Max too big and heavy for some users
  • A cheaper iPhone and external battery or battery case is better value

The bigger the iPhone, the more room there is for a battery inside. That’s the case with theΒ iPhone 13 Pro Max, which features a whopping 28 hours of video playback as rated by Apple from $1099. This compares with 22 hours on the standard iPhone 13 Pro and 19 hours on an iPhone 13.

In addition to a huge battery, the iPhone 13 Pro Max has a large 6.7-inch Super Retina XDR ProMotion display, one of only two models to feature a 120Hz refresh rate. The rest of the specifications match the iPhone 13 Pro, including the beefed-up A15 Bionic with more RAM and an additional GPU core compared to a standard iPhone 13.

Unfortunately, the only way you can get an iPhone with such impressive battery life is to opt for the largest Pro model, which also happens to be the heaviest most expensive. If you’re looking to extend the lifespan of a smaller phone like the iPhone 13, battery cases like the LVFAN 4800mAh Ultra Slim will do the job.

You can buy these sorts of battery cases for all models featured on this list, including our budget option.

Best Battery Life

iPhone 13 Pro Max

The iPhone 13 Pro Max is the largest iPhone in the range, which means it also has the largest battery. Apple rates this device for 8 hours longer than the iPhone 13 Pro for a total of 28 hours video playback.

Battery Case for iPhone 13

LVFAN 4800mAh Battery Case for iPhone 13/13 Pro

Increase your iPhone's battery capacity by 4800mAh with this rechargeable slip-on case.

Profile Photo for Tim Brookes Tim Brookes
Tim Brookes is a technology writer with more than a decade of experience. He's invested in the Apple ecosystem, with experience covering Macs, iPhones, and iPads for publications like Zapier and MakeUseOf.
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