This article was last updated by Digital Trends contributing editor Andy Boxall on 5/4/2020.
The iPhone 11 Pro is right at the top of our best smartphone list, singling it out as our recommendation for the phone to buy this year. It’s the combination of stellar performance, superb camera, reliable and simple to use software, and the outstanding build quality that puts it ahead of the competition.
However, the iPhone 11 Pro is not the only model in Apple’s range, and certainly not the only iPhone you’ll find in stores. Therefore, if you’re after a new iPhone, the decision may not be so precisely cut-and-dried, especially if cost is a factor, or if you have a specific usage scenario in mind for it. Here’s our essential guide in buying the right iPhone for you in 2020.
Best iPhone at a glance
- Best overall iPhone: Apple iPhone 11 Pro (Review)
- Best value iPhone: Apple iPhone 11 (Review)
- Best productivity and video iPhone: Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max (Review)
- Best budget iPhone: Apple iPhone SE (2020) (Review)
- Best used/refurbished/old stock iPhone: Apple iPhone X (Review)
Best overall iPhone: Apple iPhone 11 Pro
Why you should buy this: It’s everything you expect from an iPhone, with the best screen in the most manageable size, with the best camera, and a battery that lasts the whole day.
Who it’s for: If you want the best iPhone money can buy, this is for you.
Why we picked the iPhone 11 Pro:
When you hold the iPhone 11 Pro, you instantly realize why it tops our list. The size is exactly right, the build is superb, and the in-hand comfort is almost unrivaled. The 5.8-inch, 2,436 x 1,125 pixel OLED screen is beautiful, it comes with Apple’s newest version of iOS 13 installed which is quick to learn and easy to use, plus the camera is the most versatile Apple has ever put on an iPhone. It’s the complete package.
The design was controversial upon release due to the triple lens camera bump on the back; but as this has become more commonplace, it has become more visually acceptable. Inside there are three 12-megapixel lenses for standard, wide-angle, and telephoto shots. The iPhone 11 Pro introduces a night mode for great lowlight images, a 12-degree wide-angle mode for better landscape shots, and a host of software improvements all resulting in consistently brilliant photos. If you want an iPhone for photography, it’s the one to buy.
Performance is strong, and the phone uses the latest A13 Bionic processor, which is seen throughout the iPhone 11 range. When we reviewed the phone, it took the top score in our benchmark tests, beating every other phone available at the time. All the apps you want are available from the Apple App Store, and like iOS 13 itself, are well designed, reliable, and fast. The phone’s stainless steel and glass body is comfortable to hold and has an IP68 water resistance rating, while the battery is recharged using a wired or wireless charger, and easily lasts a full day.
The cheapest version of the iPhone 11 Pro you can buy is $1,000, but that only gives you 64GB of storage, and this probably won’t be enough if you want to keep the phone for several years. It’s worth buying the 256GB version for $1,100 for some peace of mind.
Best value iPhone: Apple iPhone 11
Why you should buy this: It represents better value than the iPhone 11 Pro, and while you will have to make some compromises, you’ll also be saving at least $300 on your purchase over the Pro model.
Who it’s for: If the iPhone 11 Pro is too expensive, the iPhone 11 is a great alternative.
Why we picked the iPhone 11:
The iPhone 11 Pro may be the best iPhone you can buy; but there’s no question about it being anything less than a significant financial investment. What do you do if you want a brand new iPhone, but not the massive bill that comes with the 11 Pro? The answer is to buy the iPhone 11. It’s not the best iPhone, but it’s still great.
The aluminum iPhone 11 costs $300 less than the iPhone 11 Pro, and that’s a considerable saving to make. For that you will make some compromises. The 6.1-inch screen has larger bezels than the 5.8-inch 11 Pro, and is not an OLED panel, resulting in a slight different viewing experience mostly due to the 1,792 x 828 pixel resolution. Taken entirely on its own, the screen still looks bright and attractive, but on paper it can’t compete with competition from Android phones.
You also get two camera lenses instead of three, and miss out on the telephoto lens. This does mean you can shoot 120-degree wide-angle photos, so it’s still versatile in a way that last year’s iPhone XR was not, and most of the excellent software improvements are onboard including Smart HDR for better contrast, Night mode, and Apple’s semantic rendering, where multiple images at different exposures are stitched together to create the best possible image.
It has the same A13 Bionic processor as the 11 Pro, the same version of iOS 13, and even longer battery life. The iPhone 11 Pro may be the better smartphone, but for the price, the iPhone 11 will be more than enough for most people, especially if you’re coming from an iPhone 8 or earlier.
Best productivity and video iPhone: Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max
Why you should buy this: It’s the iPhone 11 Pro, but with a bigger screen
Who it’s for: Whether you want to work on your iPhone, or watch a lot of video, you’ll enjoy the benefit of a larger screen.
Why we picked the iPhone 11 Pro Max:
The main differences between the iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max are to do with size. This phone has a 6.5-inch, 2,688 x 1,242 pixel resolution Super Retina XDR screen, up from the 5.8-inch screen on the regular Pro. This makes it easier on the eyes when using it for extended periods of time, such as movies or when working.
However, the trade-off is the bigger, heavier body. It’s 226 grams in all, and both wider and longer than the iPhone 11 Pro. If you’ve got small hands, it’s a seriously big smartphone, and over long periods of use the additional weight over the 188 gram iPhone 11 Pro is noticeable, as is the additional bulk in your pocket.
Otherwise the phone is the same as the iPhone 11 Pro. This means you get the triple lens camera, the A13 Bionic processor, iOS 13, the same superb build quality, and an IP68 water resistance rating. The battery has more to cope with due to the bigger screen, but will still last an entire day unless you’re really hammering it with video or gaming. However, it’s a shame a fast charger doesn’t come in the box.
The iPhone 11 Pro Max is the most expensive iPhone you can buy. It starts at $1,100 for the standard 64GB model, but we recommend the 256GB model. The more internal storage the phone has, the longer it lasts. This costs $1,250.
Best budget iPhone: Apple iPhone SE (2020)
Why you should buy this: If the iPhone 11 is financially out of reach, the iPhone SE (2020) is the cheapest way to buy a brand new iPhone from Apple.
Who it’s for: You want an iPhone, and you want to save some money
Why we picked the Phone SE (2020):
Apple’s new iPhone SE 2020 starts at $400, making it the cheapest brand new iPhone you can buy at the moment. The good news is it’s a great little smartphone, provided you understand its limitations. The phone takes the iPhone 8’s design, which has stayed surprisingly fresh-looking from the back, and puts the new A13 Bionic processor inside. This gives it up-to-date performance, and tweaks to the camera’s ability too.
The screen measures 4.7-inches and has a 1334 x 750 pixel resolution, while the single-lens camera on the back has 12-megapixels. It operates on the latest version of Apple’s iOS software, and is very slim, light, and pocketable. The camera performs well in good light and has a portrait mode, while the screen is great for general browsing, some video, and a little gaming too. The Touch ID fingerprint sensor is very reliable, but the phone does not have Face ID.
Where the iPhone SE (2020) suffers is when you watch a lot of video or play a lot of games. The small battery struggles to keep up, and may not last a full day if you hit it hard. The camera isn’t great in lowlight either. Otherwise, if you want all the desirable Apple benefits from great software to Apple Pay, there’s no cheaper way to get them than with the iPhone SE (2020).
However, don’t forget about the iPhone XR, even when considering the iPhone SE (2020). We called it the, “best iPhone of the year,” when we reviewed it at the end of 2018, and said it represented great value at the $750 it cost then. Now it costs $600 and despite being more than a year old, it still has a similar look to the modern iPhone 11, unlike the iPhone SE (2020).
Best used/refurbished/old stock iPhone: iPhone X
Why you should buy this: Get the same look as the latest iPhone models without the massive price tag with Apple’s 2017 flagship iPhone, which can be found for a bargain price if you shop around and don’t mind buying refurbished.
Who it’s for: Anyone deeply inside Apple’s ecosystem who wants a cheap iPhone for a family member, or someone who wants to get started with an Apple phone without spending much.
Why we picked the iPhone X:
The iPhone X changed the way iPhone models looked when it was introduced to celebrate the iPhone’s 10th anniversary at the end of 2017. This means the infamous notch is at the top of the 5.8-inch, 2,436 x 1,125 pixel OLED screen, so you have Face ID face unlocking, and the phone is new enough to still receive Apple’s software updates too. On the back is a dual-lens camera, taking 12-megapixel images along with 2x optical zoom shots.
It’s not as advanced as the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro’s camera, or as high performance. Still, Apple says its A11 Bionic chip is 25% faster than the A10 Fusion found in the iPhone 7. Plus, the iPhone X is new enough that app support will be the same as buying an iPhone 11, with most tailored to appear correctly on the screen.
You will compromise on the battery life. In our tests when we reviewed the phone, it did run out before the end of the day with heavy use. The phone does not come with a fast charger, but it does have wireless charging. When it was new, the iPhone X started at $1,000, so how much can you get one for today?
Apple often sells refurbished iPhone X models through its own store, with prices around $600 up. If you search online stores like Amazon and Walmart, the iPhone X can be picked up for around $400 up, which represents very good value. Local retail stores specializing in refurbished phones may also have good deals, as could eBay. While this may sound expensive for a phone released in 2017, remember that iPhones hold their value, which helps you when the time comes to trade it in.
Things to remember when buying an iPhone
Buying an iPhone is a shrewd purchasing decision. Not only are you getting a well-made smartphone that will serve you well for several years, but it will be supported with software updates from Apple for up to five years after its launch date. This means even if you buy an iPhone X now, it should still receive the latest software until 2022.
Additionally, regardless of which model you choose, the trade-in value of an Apple phone is usually higher than any other brand. Prices vary depending on where you sell it, its condition, whether it’s an unlocked device or not, and the age and memory capacity of the model. When you decide to upgrade to a new phone, the extra return from your old iPhone is a considerable benefit.
If you’re coming to an iPhone from an Android phone, remember that some data may not easily transfer over, and you will have to get used to a new software operating system. For example, data saved in some messaging apps (WhatsApp, for example) can be difficult to export or import, so you may start with a clean slate. While iOS is logical and easy to use, it will feel different, so expect a learning curve before it feels like home.
Another aspect newcomers may not realize straight away is that Apple iPhones do not have expandable storage. When you buy a 64GB, 256GB, or 512GB iPhone, that’s all the storage space you get. Some Android phones have a MicroSD card slot, but not an iPhone. Instead, you can use the included iCloud online storage as an additional space; but bear in mind you only get 5GB free. To increase this, you have to pay a monthly subscription starting at $1 per month for 50GB. This is why we recommend paying extra for larger capacity iPhone models when you buy one.
Finally, once you’re inside the Apple ecosystem, it can be difficult to escape. Many accessories are Apple-only, apps you purchase can’t be swapped to Android or vice versa, and if you buy an Apple Watch — which we recommend if you want a smartwatch — then it only works with an iPhone. Provided you understand the commitment you’ll be making for the next two years minimum, an iPhone will serve you so well, you may not want to switch to another brand at all.
How we test
Why should you pay attention to our recommendations? We have reviewed iPhone models since the very beginning, along with almost every major Android smartphone too. When we try out a phone we live with it everyday, mostly as our only smartphone, to see how it performs doing the tasks we all need it to on a daily basis. This way, we get to see where it excels, and also where it may fail. Then we tell you all about it.
For that reason, we can make educated recommendations on which phones are worth it. Buying one of these is not just a lot of money, it’s committing to one phone for up to two years, should you buy it with a contract through a carrier. You need to make sure the decision is the right one, and being as informed as possible ahead of laying down your money is sensible.
We’re confident buying an iPhone is one of the best decisions you can make in the smartphone market, based on our experience, and the models above are the ones that deserve your attention.
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