Normally, we’d ask you to wait for your favourite consumer tech team to review the new iPhones before handing Apple your money. But we get it. Sometimes you just need to upgrade your phone as soon as possible.
This year’s annual iPhone event was a little different than in years past. Due to the pandemic, we didn’t get to fly out to Cupertino and get some real hands-on time with the new iPhones like we normally would. That said, you can expect our hands-on impressions and in-depth reviews in the following weeks. In the meantime, we know enough about each iPhone to help you make a smarter decision now that pre-orders have officially begun.
The Best iPhone for Most People…
Buy the 128GB iPhone 12.
Why iPhone 12?
Last year, we recommended the entry-level iPhone 11 for most people. That phone is sticking around in Apple’s lineup, but we like to err on the side of future-proofing. To be clear, you shouldn’t upgrade your phone just for 5G, but it is a thing, and if you want a phone that’s going to last you a while, it makes more sense to get the iPhone 12 with its ability to connect to next-gen networks. Plus, you do get a new OLED panel and a better camera.
Performance-wise, you’re getting the same A14 Bionic processor in the iPhone 12 as the 12 Pro. They also both have the new Ceramic Shield displays, which are supposedly four times more drop-resistant than the iPhone 11. And while we don’t yet know which phones have what battery, the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro are both rated for 11 hours. In terms of price, the 128GB model of the iPhone 12 is $1,429. That’s $200 cheaper than the base model iPhone 12 Pro, which also has 128GB of storage.
Sure, it doesn’t have as many of the snazzy camera features as the iPhone 12 Pro, like the new telephoto camera, support for Apple’s ProRAW format, and the new LiDAR scanner. That said, even with only two cameras, it can do plenty. It’s got 2x optical zoom, a new ultra-wide-angle camera, and some new modes like Night Mode Timelapse. Unless you’re an avid photographer, these upgrades are more than enough for the average person.
Unless you barely use your iPhone for anything, it’s tough to get by on 64GB of storage these days. It’s only $70 more to upgrade to 128GB for a total of $1,429 while it’s an extra $160 to get 256GB. The combo of a 128GB iPhone and cloud storage should be more than sufficient for most people. If you’re a power user, however, feel free to opt for the 256GB version.
…But if you really are a “pro,” maybe you should just get a 256GB 12 Pro or 12 Pro Max.
Yes, the iPhone 12 Pro models are pricey, but these days, some of us use our phones more than our laptops. If you’re a photographer or video producer, you might want the extra video and photography capabilities on the 12 Pro or 12 Pro Max. That said, you shouldn’t settle for the base storage model; if you’re really heavy into creative work, you’ll run out of space super fast even with 128GB.
The 12 Pro and Pro Max both have that telephoto lens and sweet LiDAR sensor. The Pro will get you 2x optical zoom, while the Pro Max gets you 2.5x optical zoom. Both support Apple’s ProRAW format, and you can record Dolby Vision HDR at 4K resolution at 60 frames per second.
Bumping up storage to 256GB on the Pro is pricey at $1,869 but well worth the expense if you create a lot of content. It’s even more expensive on the Pro Max, which is $2,019 at 256GB. Which one you should get depends on what size you prefer and if you want the cream of the crop. While the Pro Max has a slightly larger sensor in the wide camera for better low-light photos and image stabilisation for blur, but that might not be worth the premium. When it comes to size, there’s a huge disparity: The Pro is 6.1 inches, while the Pro Max is even bigger than last year’s Max model at 6.7 inches.
But what if my tiny hands hate big phones?
Good news, friend: You can get the iPhone 12 Mini! It starts at $1,199 and has a 5.4-inch display, but includes all of the same features as the iPhone 12, including that zippy A14 Bionic processor and OLED display. It’s actually smaller than the iPhone SE, but has a larger screen because you don’t have those hideous bezels. You also get two cameras to the SE’s one.
Am I really losing out with the iPhone SE, though?
That depends on what you value. The SE is $679, which is tough to beat if you’re on a budget. Apple’s cheapest phone has an A13 Bionic processor, just like the iPhone 11, though the its design is a little outdated with a pint-sized 4.7-inch display and a single rear camera lens. But if you prefer Touch ID to Face ID, this is the only iPhone that still has it.
Should I get the iPhone 11 or XR?
Probably not, though the iPhone 11 is still a good phone and is now reduced to around $900. It’s $300 less than the iPhone 12, which also has a 6.1-inch display. However, you’re opting for an LCD display and a slightly older A13 processor with the 11, which is still good, just not the best. If you don’t give a flying flip about 5G, this could be a decent budget choice, as the cameras are still pretty good.
You absolutely should not get the XR. Forget it exists. The XR has an A12 Bionic processor, meaning it’s slower than the SE, which costs $150 less. Your storage options are capped at 128GB, and the camera isn’t particularly great by today’s standards. If you really want to save money by getting an older phone, you’re better off with the iPhone 11.