Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about ourreview process here.We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.The RundownBest Overall:Apple iPhone 12 at Apple"The perfect balance of price, performance, and cutting-edge technology."Best Camera:Apple iPhone 12 Pro at Apple"A top pick for serious shutterbugs with a triple-lens camera, LiDAR Scanner, and amazing computational photography features."Best Mini:Apple iPhone 12 mini at Amazon"Packs a ton of advanced technology into the most pocketable iPhone in years."Best Splurge:Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max at Best Buy"A gorgeous 6.7-inch XDR OLED display plus 4K Dolby Vision HDR recording makes this a great pick for serious pros."Best Value:Apple iPhone 11 at Best Buy"A great and affordable choice for those who don't need the latest 5G technology."Best Budget:Apple iPhone SE (2nd generation) at Walmart"Offers the same performance as Apple's iPhone 11 in a classic form factor."Best Entry Level:Apple iPhone XR at Amazon"A really affordable way to enter the modern iPhone era with Face ID and an advanced LCD display."
We've come a long way from the days when Apple only released a single new iPhone model each year; with this year's iPhone 12 lineup featuring four different iPhone models in three different sizes there's truly something for everybody, and on top of that Apple still has three other models to help those who don't need the latest and greatest technology get into the iPhone ecosystem at a much more affordable price.
Of course, the big boost to Apple's big iPhone 12 lineup this year is the inclusion of 5G technology, bringing Apple's smartphones into the fast lane, and U.S. models now even pack in ultra-fast mmWave technology that can allow for speeds into the gigabit ranges. Combine that with Apple's ultra-powerful A14 Bionic chip and even more advanced computational photography features across the entire lineup and each and every one of these new iPhones is a winner in its own right.
The downside to this of course is that such an embarrassment of options can make it hard to decide which iPhone the right one for you, but the good news is that the differences aren't as significant as you might think at first blush, so if you simply focus on price and size and don't worry too much about spec sheets it's actually pretty easy to pick the best iPhone.
Best Overall:Apple iPhone 124.7 Buy on AppleBuy on VerizonBuy on Att.comWhat We Like
Same OLED display and processor as iPhone 12 ProWhat We Don't Like
Accessories not includedApple iPhone 12 Review
A direct successor to last year's iPhone 11, Apple's 6.1-inch iPhone 12 continues the tradition of striking the perfect balance between price and performance, packing in almost all of the important features of Apple's flagship"Pro"models at a much more affordable price. Just like its predecessor, it remains the best iPhone for most people, and even moreso now that Apple has included faster 5G technology in the mix, including ultrafast mmWave technology in the U.S. models.
In fact, this time around the iPhone 12 is an even more compelling choice, since it also closes the gap with the"Pro"models even further, gaining the exact same Super Retina XDR OLED display as its considerably more expensive siblings. This means you get deep, rich blacks thanks to the 2,000,000:1 contrast ratio, along with a P3 wide colour gamut, Apple's True Tone colour matching technology, and full support for Dolby Vision and HDR10. Plus the flexibility of OLED means that the 6.1-inch display can truly get right up to the edges of the iPhone 12 in a way that was previously the exclusive domain of the iPhone Pro lineup. Apple's new Ceramic Shield glass screen also promises four times better drop performance so you won't have to worry about breaking that beautiful display.
Ultimately, all you're really missing from the more expensive iPhone 12 Pro is the third telephoto lens and LiDAR scanner, but for most folks we really don't think these are worth the extra cost, especially since the iPhone 12 packs in the same insanely powerful A14 chip for advanced computational photography, so the dual-camera system can take some pretty amazing shots with support for the same Portrait Mode, Night Mode, and Deep Fusion features, plus 4K video recording at 60fps. The iPhone 12 also continues to offer excellent battery life—up to 17 hours of video playback and 65 hours of audio playback—along with Apple's new MagSafe technology that not only allows for faster 15W wireless charging, but also opens the door to a whole new ecosystem of accessories.
"The iPhone 12 is Apple's best sub-$1,000 smartphone in years, delivering a premium, polished handset that is packed with power and style alike."— Andrew Hayward, Product Tester
Best Camera:Apple iPhone 12 ProBuy on AppleBuy on VerizonBuy on Att.comWhat We Like
Excellent camera system
Powerful A14 Bionic chip
ProRAW photo captureWhat We Don't Like
Accessories not included
With this year's iPhone lineup, Apple has really put the"Pro"in the iPhone 12 Pro, with a series of features that are clearly geared even more strongly to power users, serious photographers, and actual professionals. It's actually pretty amazing what the iPhone 12 Pro can do, so if you're looking for the most advanced photographic features you can get, then Apple's iPhone 12 Pro will easily be worth the premium price tag.
Although Apple has closed the gap by bringing its gorgeous Super Retina XDR OLED displays to the entire lineup this year, the iPhone 12 Pro still distinguishes itself by not only adding a third 2X telephoto camera, but also a LiDAR Scanner that helps to enhance the photographic experience even more by reducing autofocus time—it's up to 6x faster in low light conditions—as well as allowing for Night Mode portrait shots and other similar depth mode photography under low light conditions.
The three-camera system features an f/1.6 seven-element lens as the main camera, while the ultra-wide, which has an f/2.4 aperture and a 120-degree field of view, is joined by a third f/2.0 telephoto camera. In total, this gives a full optical zoom range of 4x, plus a digital zoom of up to 10x, and while the camera system is still only 12 megapixels, Apple has repeatedly proven that it's what you do with those megapixels that counts.
Specifically, Apple's A14 Bionic chip not only takes last year's computational photography features like Night Mode and Deep Fusion to a whole new level, but it also enables support for a new ProRAW photo format that combines the benefits of RAW photography with the extra layers of photographic intelligence, so photographers will be able to capture RAW photos without losing the benefits of features like Smart HDR and Deep Fusion. Even more significantly, however, the iPhone 12 Pro supports native recording of 4K/60fps Dolby Vision HDR video, making it the first camera in the world that's capable of doing this, not just among smartphones, but even among pro movie cameras, and thanks to its ultrafast 5G technology you'll be able to upload and share those 4K videos more smoothly than ever.
Best Mini:Apple iPhone 12 mini4.5 Buy on AmazonBuy on Best BuyBuy on AppleWhat We Like
Amazingly compact size
Full feature parity with iPhone 12 Pro
Great priceWhat We Don't Like
Accessories not included
If you've been longing for the days of the more pocketable iPhones, then this year's iPhone 12 mini is for you. Coming in with a 5.4-inch screen size, it's the smallest iPhone Apple has made since the first-generation iPhone SE was released back in 2016, but it's also the first time Apple has packed so much into such a small frame.
The iPhone 12 mini is the equal to the larger 6.1-inch iPhone 12 in every way except its size, which hearkens back to the days of the iPhone 5s. In this case, however, you're pocketing the most powerful chip ever found in a smartphone in the form of Apple's A14 Bionic CPU, a dual-camera system, and—for the first time in a standard iPhone model—Apple's Super Retina XDR OLED display.
This means that you're getting the exact same 2,000,000:1 contrast ratio with deep rich blacks and wide colour gamut as Apple's more expensive"Pro"iPhone models, along with a stunning 1,200 nits of brightness, full support for HDR and Dolby Vision, and 2340‑by‑1080-pixel resolution at 476 ppi — the highest pixel density Apple has ever put into an iPhone.
Although the iPhone 12 lacks the triple-lens camera of its more expensive siblings, the pair of 12MP shooters still take some fantastic pictures thanks to the new seven-element lens on the main camera combined with the computational photography features of Apple's A14 Neural Engine. Plus, the addition of 5G support—including ultrafast mmWave in the U.S. models—makes the iPhone 12 mini the smallest and lightest 5G phone on the planet.
Best Splurge:Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max4.8 Buy on Best BuyBuy on AppleWhat We Like
2.5X telephoto lens
Native 4K Dolby Vision HDR recording
Expansive OLED displayWhat We Don't Like
Accessories not includedApple iPhone 12 Pro Max Review
This year the iPhone 12 Pro Max actually leads the pack if you're looking for the ultimate iPhone, since there's more to it than just the larger size. While it's mostly similar to the its smaller 6.1-inch sibling, we can't deny that the incredible Super Retina XDR display looks even more amazing at 6.7-inches, which means you'll be able to more fully enjoy the latest movies—in 4K Dolby Vision HDR no less. The larger size also makes the elegant and slick stainless steel and glass design really stand out, especially in the unique gold and Pacific Blue colours.
While Apple's larger iPhones have sported identical features to their smaller counterparts for the past couple of years, the iPhone 12 Pro Max pulls a bit ahead this year with a better camera, taking the triple-lens system of the iPhone 12 Pro up a notch with a 2.5X 65mm f/2.2 telephoto lens that increases the overall optical zoom range to 5X (2X ultra-wide, 2.5X telephoto), and the digital zoom range up to 12X. It also includes a 1.7µm sensor, which is 47 percent larger than the one found on the iPhone 12 Pro, giving it a big boost for capturing better photos in lower light conditions.
The iPhone 12 Pro Max also includes new sensor-shift optical image stabilization technology that is able to cancel out even higher-frequency movements like vibrations from a moving car, and thanks to Apple's A14 chip, it can actually make up to 5,000 micro-adjustments per second so that your photos will be crisp, clean, and in focus no matter where you happen to be shooting from. Of course, you're also still getting all of the amazing advanced camera features of the smaller iPhone 12 Pro too, including the new ProRAW format and native 4K/60fps Dolby Vision HDR video recording and editing.
“With 63 percent better single-core and 28 percent better multi-core performance than even the Galaxy Note20 Ultra, a more expensive, top-of-the-line Android phone, Apple's mobile speed advantage is more pronounced than ever.” — Andrew Hayward, Product Tester
Best Value:Apple iPhone 114.5 Buy on Best BuyBuy on AppleBuy on Boost MobileWhat We Like
Same internals as iPhone 11 ProWhat We Don't Like
Lacks OLED Display
Last year the iPhone 11 became the new baseline for modern iPhone technology, quickly surpassing its predecessor, the iPhone XR, as the best selling smartphone across all brands, so it's really no surprise that Apple is continuing to offer this popular model, and the lower price tag makes it the best value you can get in an iPhone right now.
In fact, if you're looking to save money and don't care about getting 5G, the iPhone 11 is a really great choice, since you'll get most of the features of the newest iPhone 12 at a much more affordable price. This includes a dual-camera system that's almost identical to the one found in Apple's newest iPhone 12, with f/1.8 wide and f2.4 ultra-wide lenses, plus advanced computational photography features like Smart HDR, Night Mode, and Deep Fusion, all powered by Apple's A13 Bionic chip.
Ultimately, the biggest thing you'll be missing from the newer iPhone 12 is the better OLED display, which we won't deny is a much nicer screen, but don't underestimate Apple's Liquid Retina display technology either, which still provides a 1,400:1 contrast ratio and the same 625-nit nominal brightness, along with True Tone colour matching technology and a P3 wide colour gamut that makes it about as good as an LCD display can get. Plus, it actually packs in the same great battery life as Apple's newer iPhones, with up to 17 hours of video or 65 hours of audio playback.
"An affordable iPhone that does not skimp on power, performance, and battery life."— Lance Ulanoff, Product Tester
Best Budget:Apple iPhone SE (2nd generation)4Buy on WalmartBuy on AppleWhat We Like
Same performance as current iPhone 11 models
Portrait Mode camera systemWhat We Don't Like
Single-lens camera system
Apple's iPhone SE is not only the most affordable iPhone that Apple has ever made, but it's easily one of the best budget smartphones on the market today. While it features the more classic design of the 2017 iPhone 8, with a home button and Touch ID sensor, don't let that fool you as it features the exact same A13 Bionic chip found in Apple's iPhone 11 and recent iPhone 11 Pro models, which not only means that it will perform just as well as those iPhones, but will also be supported by iOS updates for years to come.
Of course, while it may have the same A13 performance, that doesn't mean Apple hasn't had to cut a few corners to bring it in at a much lower price. The display and camera hardware are virtually the same as those found on the three-year-old iPhone 8, although despite the single rear camera the A13 Bionic chip sitll allows you to take advantage of more modern photography features like Portrait Mode and Portrait Lighting, and you can even shoot 4K video at a full 60fps, although the lack of the fancier TrueDepth camera on the front means you not only don't get Face ID, but you'll be limited to 7MP selfies and 1080p video.
That said, the more traditional design of the iPhone SE not only offers a lower price tag, but will definitely appeal to users who still prefer the older design and the Touch ID fingerprint sensor, and it still offers up to 13 hours of video playback or 40 hours of listening to audio, plus support for Qi wireless charging and wired USB-C fast charging.
“The Apple iPhone SE is the best, affordable iPhone on the market. It's a canny piece of rebranding for an aging design that reinvigorates it through silicon and ultra-smart programming.”— Lance Ulanoff, Product Tester
Best Entry Level:Apple iPhone XRBuy on AmazonBuy on AppleWhat We Like
Good battery life
Essential iPhone experienceWhat We Don't Like
Single-lens camera system
Older A12 chip
When it was first released two years ago, Apple's iPhone XR quickly became not just the most popular iPhone ever, but the best-selling smartphone on the planet by a pretty big margin, thanks to delivering the same basic specs as Apple's premium iPhone models at a price tag that was within the reach of many more customers. It was lauded by reviewers as the iPhone most people should buy, and began a journey that's ultimately led to this year's iPhone 12, which is even closer to Apple's much more expensive flagship lineup.
The iPhone XR has become such a hit that Apple is still selling it two years later. While it's now the oldest iPhone in Apple's lineup, it's no slouch thanks to its powerful A12 Bionic CPU, which offers performance that still runs rings around many competing smartphones. While it's still not the most inexpensive iPhone in Apple's lineup—that distinction belongs to the newer second-generation iPhone SE—it's actually a great option for those who want to take advantage of newer features like Face ID, the edge-to-edge display, and the front TrueDepth camera at a much lower cost of entry.
The Liquid Retina LCD offers an edge-to-edge display—or about as close as a non-OLED screen can get to the edges—along with a 1,400:1 contrast ratio and a 1,792x828 screen resolution with a 326ppi pixel density and a P3 wide colour gamut. It's actually the exact same screen that's in the newer iPhone 11, and it's really about as close to OLED as an LCD can get, while also offering Apple's True Tone technology, which adjusts the screen's colour temperature to the ambient lighting for excellent colour accuracy no matter where you are.Final Verdict
Apple's iPhone 12 continues the tradition of being the ideal iPhone for most folks, especially with the addition of an OLED display and advanced 5G technology, but if you're looking for something to do serious photography, the iPhone 12 Pro is still the iPhone to buy thanks to its triple-lens camera system.
About our Trusted Experts
Jesse Hollington is a tech journalist with over 10 years of experience writing about technology, with an especially strong expertise in all things iPhone and Apple. Jesse previously served as Editor-in-Chief for iLounge, authored books on the iPod and iTunes, and has published product reviews, editorials, and how-to articles on Forbes, Yahoo, The Independent, and iDropNews.
Lance Ulanoff is a 30-plus year industry veteran and award-winning journalist who has covered technology since PCs were the size of suitcases and “on line” meant “waiting.” Previously, Lance served as a columnist for Medium, Editor-in-Chief of Mashable, and Editor-in-Chief of PCMag.com.
Andrew Hayward is a Chicago-based writer who's been covering the mobile industry and products since 2006. He reviewed a number of phone on this list, particularly the iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro Max, and iPhone 12 mini.
What to Look for in an iPhone
Cameras: These days smartphones are about taking great pictures as much as anything else, so if you're an avid mobile photographer, you'll definitely want to focus on one of the newer models—a triple-lens one with OLED if you can afford it. Not only do these offer better lenses and advanced computational photography features to make your photos look great, but higher-resolution screens ensure that the results look the way they're supposed to.
Size: Apple now offers its iPhones in three basic sizes, offering choices from smaller iPhones that fit easily in your pocket to big “phablet” sized iPhones with nice big screens for watching videos or just having a larger canvas to work on. Just keep in mind too that whatever size you do pick, you'll probably want to add a case, as Apple's all-glass iPhones are fragile and even a bit slippery.
Storage: There are several storage tiers available for each iPhone, although Apple limits the largest capacities to the top-tier models, which means that they come in at even more of a premium. That said, however, right now 128GB is more than enough for most users, especially if you're willing to use iCloud or Google Photos to keep your photos and videos in the cloud.