Best iPhones to buy now: Four iPhone 12 models are not your only great choices

Apple’s iPhones are arguably the best phones available — with responsive performance, regular updates for years, compelling hardware designs, and an ecosystem that appeals to the masses.

We have seen improvements in battery life, advanced multi-camera functionality, and continued improvements to Apple’s iOS. The high-end iPhones are pricey, but Apple’s processor architecture has also proven to be the best in the smartphone world.


Image: Apple

Apple’s biggest and most feature-rich iPhone this year is a mouthful, the iPhone 12 Pro Max. Unlike past iPhones, the 12 Pro Max doesn’t just offer a bigger display and larger capacity battery over the 12 Pro. It also brings improvements in two rear cameras; so if you want the absolute best from Apple you need to choose the larger, and more expensive iPhone.

The telephoto camera has a larger aperture than the iPhone 12 Pro and optical zoom is improved from 2x to 5x. Sensor-shift optical image stabilization is also provided on the wide camera of the 12 Pro Max.

The latest Apple A14 Bionic chip powers this big phone with all of the other features you expect in an iPhone such as a larger 6.7-inch OLED display, 128/256/512GB internal storage options, IP68 dust/water resistance, and more. For the first time, we also see 5G in an iPhone. Colors for the 12 Pro Max include Silver, Graphite, Gold, and Pacific Blue.

Pricing for the big iPhone is dependent on your internal storage preference with the 128GB model at $1,099, 256GB at $1,199, and 512GB at $1,399. Given the high prices we see on flagship phones from Samsung, these are actually competitive prices.

$1,099 at Apple


The Apple iPhone 12 Pro is a bit smaller than the iPhone 12 Pro Max, but still has the triple rear camera array and all of the same features as the 12 Pro Max. As discussed above, there are a couple differences in the telephoto camera and wide cameras, but most people are unlikely to notice those differences.

The Apple iPhone 12 Pro offers a smaller 6.1-inch display; compared to 6.7 inches seen on the 12 Pro Max, this model is more pocketable and manageable for most people.

It is available in the same four color and three internal storage options and will be available in November. The 128GB model starts at $999, the 256GB one is at $1,099, and the 512GB model is priced at $1,299.

$999 at Apple


The Apple iPhone 12 is an interesting device since it has the exact same 6.1-inch display seen on the iPhone 12 Pro so size and battery capacity are not differentiators here. There is one less rear camera on the iPhone 12 and there is no support for the LiDAR scanner. If the telephoto capability is not important to you then you can save some money with the iPhone 12.

The Apple iPhone 12 is also offered in five different colors, including Black, White, PRODUCT (Red), Green, and Blue. I ordered one in Blue since I prefer this over the Pacific Blue iPhone 12 Pro and should be completely satisfied with the dual rear cameras.

The iPhone 12 also starts at a measly 64GB of storage so you have to pay a bit extra to pick up the 128 or 256GB models. Pricing starts at $829 for the 64GB model with the 128GB model at $879 and the 256GB one at $979. There are definitely storage options and camera capabilities to consider when you are trying to decide between the iPhone 12 or 12 Pro since the 128GB 12 Pro is only $20 different than the 256GB iPhone 12 model.

$799 at Apple


In a rather unique move from Apple, we also saw a fourth iPhone 12 model announced with the 5.4 inch display on an iPhone 12 mini. This small iPhone option also has an OLED display so there are no differences there, other than size.

The same Apple processor powers the device with a dual rear camera system that is the same as the iPhone 12. Face ID, 5G, wireless charging, and all the rest from the iPhone 12 is present on the smaller iPhone 12 mini.

The Apple iPhone SE is still available with a 4.7 inch display, but the iPhone 12 mini does offer a $100 savings over the larger iPhone 12. The unlocked iPhone 12 mini starts at $729 for 64GB of storage with the 128GB at $779 and the 256GB model at $879. The iPhone SE is still the most affordable iPhone model, starting at just $399.

$699 at Apple


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While the only differences between the iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max are the display size and battery capacity, for the enterprise user there is a lot to be said about both of these features. It’s easier to work with documents and spreadsheets on a larger display and long battery life is always helpful to power through a day of work.

Apple has once again shown it bests all other phones in benchmarking testing with the Apple A13 Bionic chipset. The iPhone 11 Pro Max has a fabulous OLED screen, large capacity battery with a rating of five hours more than last year’s iPhone XS Max, and new camera hardware (with improved software) to make it a very compelling flagship. It continues to get regular updates and iOS apps are still better than comparable Android apps, despite the improvements in Android phones.

Face ID continues to be one of the fastest and most secure methods of maintaining security on your phone, and the version in the iPhone 11 Pro Max has been improved for better performance. 

The iPhone 11 Pro Max starts $1,099 for a minimal storage 64GB model. There are some attractive colors for enterprise users and compared to the iPhone 11, the Pro Max version is more focused on business users.

$829 at Back Market

$1,099 at Amazon

$1,000 at Best Buy


(Image: CNET)

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My full review of the Apple iPhone 11 Pro led me to almost award it my first perfect 10 score. I held back from that since Apple launched it with just 64GB of internal storage capacity, which I find unacceptable for a $1,000+ flagship phone with a triple camera system — the best video capture system on a phone.

The only differences between the iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max are the display size and battery capacity. After going full circle, it’s clear that the 5.8-inch model works best for me. There’s a lot to be said for a phone that is easily pocketable and capable of satisfying people with smaller hands. It’s usable with one hand.

The iPhone 11 Pro starts at $999 for a minimal storage 64GB model. The stainless steel body, professional business color options, improved battery capacity over previous iPhones, and continued support make it one of the best phones available today.

$670 at Back Market

$999 at Amazon

$900 at Best Buy


(Image: James Martin/CNET)

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While this list starts with the most powerful, and expensive, phones available, ZDNet’s Jason Cipriani was right in stating that the Apple iPhone 11 is probably the best phone for most people. We typically see Apple keep prices the same, or increase them, each year, but with the iPhone 11, we actually saw a price drop of $50.

Unlike the terrible decision to launch the iPhone 11 Pro/Pro Max with 64GB and then charge a massive premium to upgrade to the next level of 256GB, Apple lets iPhone 11 buyers go from 64GB to 128GB for just $50. Thus, the iPhone 11 with 128GB is an excellent option for most people.

The iPhone 11 has a size between the 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max with long battery life, capable processor, several color options, and rear dual camera setup. The iPhone 11 has an ultra-wide angle and standard rear cameras but doesn’t have the 2x telephoto zoom lens found on the other new iPhone 11 models.

The iPhone 11 starts at $699 for 64GB with the 128GB model priced at $749. Six colors are available so there is one to appeal to everyone.

$699 at Amazon

$569 at Back Market

$600 at Best Buy

IPhone SE 2020-1.jpg

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

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Apple isn’t known for making affordable phones, but the new Apple iPhone SE (2020) is a perfect option for those who want an iPhone experience without paying high prices. As a person who primarily uses Android phones, it is also a great option as a second phone for those times you want to use iOS.

The iPhone SE is smaller than nearly all other modern phones and looks like an iPhone 8 on the outside. However, it is the inside that matters here with the Apple Bionic A13 processor, high IP67 dust/water resistant rating, and very capable 12-megapixel camera. You won’t find a budget Android phone with all of these features at this price and it’s wonderful to see Apple offering up such a solid affordable option at this time.

Apple iPhone fans will still likely want an iPhone 11 or something greater, but this is a great option for a first iPhone and one for those who just don’t want to give up on a Touch ID button.

$330 at Back Market

$399 at Amazon

$400 at Best Buy


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The last phone in this list still being sold directly from Apple is the iPhone XR, which is the mid-level predecessor to the iPhone 11. It starts at $599 from Apple, $100 less than the Apple iPhone 11.

The Apple iPhone XR has a 6.1 inch LCD display, six available colors, and also runs the latest version of Apple’s iPhone OS. It has a single camera on the back, capable of portrait mode shots of people.

Battery life is excellent on the iPhone XR and the size is similar to the iPhone 11. For $200 less, I would seriously consider the iPhone SE in lieu of the iPhone XR.

$749 at Amazon

$500 at Best Buy

$750 at Boost Mobile


Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

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While the XS Max is no longer available directly from Apple, US wireless carriers still offer this phone. T-Mobile offers the 256GB model for $999.99, which is $250 less than the 11 Pro Max, so if you want a large iPhone then this is one way to save some money. You could use that savings to get the latest Apple AirPods Pro.

The XS Max has the same physical design features with a stainless steel body, glass back and front, wireless charging, Lightning port, and touch navigation feature with Face ID. There are three available colors.

The phone also has a dual-camera system, IP68 dust and water resistance, and will continue to be updated by Apple.

$486 at Back Market

$1,100 at Boost Mobile


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The Apple iPhone X was one of my favorite smartphones ever and it excited me more than any phone over the previous five years. Its successor, the Apple iPhone XS, is no longer available directly from Apple, but can be found from US carriers and other retailers, like Amazon.

Improvements in the XS over the X include a next-generation Apple processor, improved level of dust/water resistance, and slightly larger capacity battery. The same compact size and performance are present on the iPhone XS.

T-Mobile is offering the 512GB model for $849.99.

$420 at Back Market

$899 at Amazon

$1,000 at Boost Mobile

Model Base Price Base Storage Display Cameras
iPhone 12 Pro Max $1,099 128GB 6.7″ 3
iPhone 12 Pro $999 128GB 6.1″ 3
iPhone 12 $799 64GB 6.1″ 2
iPhone 12 mini $699 64GB 5.4″ 2
iPhone 11 Pro Max $999 64GB 6.5″ 3
iPhone 11 Pro $899 64GB 5.8″ 3
iPhone 11 $599 64GB 6.1″ 2
iPhone SE (2020) $399 64GB 4.7″ 1
iPhone XR $499 64GB 6.1″ 1
iPhone XS Max $719 64GB 6.5″ 2
iPhone XS $639 64GB 5.8″ 2

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