Last autumn saw the unveiling of four new iPhone handsets: the 12, 12 mini, 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max. Add that to the SE, 11 and XR, all of which are still available, and you've got seven different iPhones to choose from.
For many diehard fans the obvious choice is the most recent iPhone with the best specs. But many people simply don't need - or can't afford - the most expensive model. So you must think about what matters.
What's your budget? How large a screen do you want and need? Are you happy with a single-lens camera on the back, or is it worth paying extra for twin or triple lenses?
After much passionate debate, we've racked our brains to rank the iPhones from best to worst for the average buyer, taking into consideration age, size, price (on contract or SIM-free), performance, battery life and more.
iPhone comparison 2021
1. iPhone 12 - Best overall
The iPhone 12 is quite simply the best iPhone for most people right now. It's a fantastically well specced phone, but by making a few sensible compromises here and there Apple has kept the price tag relatively affordable.
The high-resolution OLED screen is a pleasure to use, and the camera setup is superb, capturing colourful, detailed shots in some of the most difficult conditions we were able to find. The 12's support for 5G and its frankly excessive processing power will both become more valuable in the future.
The only fly in the ointment is that battery life is solid rather than dazzling, but it should get you through a day of typical use without any worries.
Read our iPhone 12 review for detailed analysis and testing.
2. iPhone 12 mini - Best for value
This was a very close call. On another day, perhaps, the 12 mini might have pipped the 12 in the race for top spot, and they are both brilliant choices we would happily recommend.
We've ranked the 12 higher because its larger screen (6.1in, rather than 5.4in) is more in line with what today's buyers expect from their smartphones. But our experiences suggest that the more petite 12 mini offers a perfectly usable amount of screen space - remember that a display of this approximate size was regarded as large when the iPhone 6 Plus came out - as well as being cheaper and more portable.
Aside from size, the 12 mini is a brilliantly featured and specced phone, with superb cameras, a secure and user-friendly operating system, and processing power to burn. It matches or almost matches the Pro models in every key area, at a far lower price.
Read our iPhone 12 mini review for more information.
3. iPhone 11 - Best of both worlds
Before the 12-series handsets came out, the iPhone 11 was the clear leader of this chart, offering a superb blend of features and value. And it remains a very decent phone with a large screen and a price tag that's more appealing than ever - if you can live without the updates in the new generation.
This phone's LCD screen, for example, seems more of a hindrance now because OLED displays are available across the entirety of the 12-series range (rather than being confined to the Pro models, as they were in 2019). It's also not 5G-ready, which is something to consider if you want to keep the phone for a few years, and its A13 processor has about a year less of future-proofing than the new A14.
But most of the good stuff still applies. The A13 remains a very powerful chip (and comfortably fast enough to run anything on the App Store right now), while the cameras, including Night Mode, 'next-gen' smart HDR, 4K video and a 12MP lens for selfies, are superb.
If you want a large screen and great cameras at a lower price, this is still an excellent choice.
Read our iPhone 11 review for in-depth analysis and testing.
4. iPhone SE (2020) - The budget option
The SE (2020) is a simple sell, but a compelling one: a fast phone offering good camera performance at a bargain-basement price of £399/$399. And on that basis we'll be recommending this to a lot of friends and family members.
The A13 Bionic chip + 3GB of RAM combination isn't the quickest you can get these days (the A14 is obviously quicker, and the 11- and 12-series phones have 4GB or even 6GB of RAM), but the SE is very much Fast Enough. It will be able to run demanding apps and install iOS updates for years to come.
The biggest compromise you'll be making, really, is the design, which is six years old and looks it: a small screen, chunky bezels, and Touch ID rather than Face ID. Battery life is also weaker than that of other iPhones - although we found it respectable - and while photography in general is good, low-light shots won't match the iPhone 11 and above; you don't get Night Mode.
But overall this is a strong offering for the money. Read our iPhone SE (2020) review for more.
5. iPhone 12 Pro - Best for cameras
For simplicity's sake we've split up the 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max as best for cameras and best for overall performance respectively. But really they are both exceptional in both departments, and your choice will come down to two questions: how big a screen do you want, and how much money have you got?
Thanks to its more portable chassis and lower price tag (everything is relative!), and on the basis that 6.1in is enough screen space for most tastes, we've ranked the 12 Pro the higher of the two.
This is an attractive smartphone with an extremely fast processor, state-of-the-art cameras and the best mobile operating system. The 12 Pro is also exceptionally future-proofed: its (currently overkill) processing power will come good when handling the apps of 2022; the LiDAR scanner will become more important as AR becomes more widespread; its 5G capabilities will do the job when the coverage is there.
If you can afford it, this is about as good as smartphones currently get. Although fans of super-size screens may prefer the next entry in our chart...
Read our iPhone 12 Pro review for more details and testing.
6. iPhone 12 Pro Max - Best for performance
If money's no object, this is the iPhone to go for. It is exceptional in every way, surpassing even the 12 Pro for screen space and battery life (it has a more powerful optical zoom, too) and matching it in all other areas... except portability.
Like the 12 Pro this one is built to last. Its A14 Bionic processor, coupled with 6GB of RAM, will merrily smash whatever developers put on the App Store in 2022, and it supports 5G so you'll be well placed to enjoy improved connection speeds when coverage is more widespread.
Thanks to Smart HDR 3 and Night Mode the cameras are capable of handling the most difficult conditions, and in friendlier lighting they simply produce stunning, colourful shots.
Read our iPhone 12 Pro Max review for more information.
7. iPhone XR - Big screen on a budget
It's getting on a bit now, but the iPhone XR keeps fans interested with a handy price cut to celebrate the launch of the 12-series handsets. It's a very low price for one of Apple's desirable notched-screen handsets, with a big 6.1in display and Face ID facial recognition.
Of course, there are compromises. The A12 processor is fast enough right now, but has fewer years ahead of it than the newer A13 and A14 chips. The XR also has an LCD rather than an OLED screen (although the differences are manageable), and there is only a single camera on the rear and a 7MP lens on the front - the 11- and 12-series phones have two or more lenses at the rear and 12MP at the front.
It comes in several cheerful colours which recall the iPhone 5c from 2013. If colour is a big thing for you, check the options carefully, since the iPhone 11 and 12's choices are different.
Read our iPhone XR review for more information.