The best iPhone to buy in 2020

Andy Boxall
·15 min read

It’s all change in the iPhone world at the moment with the iPhone 12 series on its way. The iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro launch on October 23, while the iPhone 12 Max and new iPhone 12 Mini will follow on November 13. That means if you’re about to buy a new iPhone, it’s both a good and bad time. It’s good because the very latest model is here, but bad because you may have to wait to get the one you want.

While we’re confident the new models will be great, we have not given them our full review treatment yet, so our top pick remains the iPhone 11 Pro. It’s always worth waiting for reviews before buying an expensive new smartphone, so unless you’re a die-hard Apple fan who would normally have spent days and nights in a tent outside an Apple Store ready for the new phone, just wait a little longer before ordering.

The iPhone 11 Pro has spent the last year at top of our list of the best smartphones. 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. It’s not the only iPhone available though, so here’s our essential guide to buying the right iPhone for you in 2020.

We’ve also found some of the best iPhone deals available right now ahead of Black Friday 2020.

Best iPhone at a glance

  • Best overall iPhone: Apple iPhone 11 Pro

  • Best value iPhone: Apple iPhone 11

  • Best productivity and video iPhone: Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max

  • Best budget iPhone: Apple iPhone SE (2020)

  • Best refurbished/used/old stock iPhone: iPhone XS

Best overall iPhone:

Apple iPhone 11 Pro

Apple iPhone 11 Pro
Apple iPhone 11 Pro

Why you should buy this: We recommend waiting to see the iPhone 12 Pro before buying. The iPhone 11 Pro was everything you expect from an iPhone, with the best screen in the most manageable size, the best camera, and a battery that lasts the whole day.

$900 from Best Buy

Who it’s for: If you want the best iPhone money can buy, this is for you.

Why we picked the iPhone 11 Pro:

The iPhone 11 Pro has now been superseded by the iPhone 12 Pro, which will be released on October 23. It’s a little larger than the 11 Pro, this time with a 6.1-inch screen, plus it has a new faster processor, an updated triple-lens 12-megapixel camera system, the A14 Bionic processor, and 5G connectivity. It also has a slick new design and some new colors to choose from. While there is nothing wrong with the iPhone 11 Pro, it’s worth waiting to buy until reviews have been published to see how the iPhone 12 Pro improves on it in the real world.

Why did the iPhone 11 Pro top our list? When you hold it you’ll start to understand. 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, and it’s going to be fascinating to see if the iPhone 12 Pro’s larger screen and other changes affect this at all.

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. It’s retained on the iPhone 12 Pro. Inside there are three 12-megapixel lenses for standard, wide-angle, and telephoto shots and if you want an iPhone for photography, it’s the one to buy. The iPhone 12 Pro’s wide-angle camera has a larger aperture, there’s a new ProRAW editing feature onboard, and Smart HDR 3 enhancements too. The video system shoots HDR video with Dolby Vision at 60fps.

Apple’s A13 Bionic processor in the 11 Pro is a strong performer, and has been updated in the 12 Pro with the A14 Bionic. When we reviewed the iPhone 11 Pro it took the top score in our benchmark tests, beating every other phone available at the time. The phone’s stainless steel and glass body has an IP68 water resistance rating, while the battery is recharged using a wired or wireless charger, and easily lasts a full day. The iPhone 12 Pro has tougher Ceramic Shield glass for 4x better drop protection, and Apple’s new MagSafe wireless charging system.

For the iPhone 12 Pro the cheapest $999 model now comes with 128GB of storage, compared to the 64GB basic iPhone 11 Pro, and that spec alone makes it worth waiting for if you’re still undecided. We’ll have our review soon after the phone is available in stores, and are confident it’ll be a worthy successor to the iPhone 11 Pro. If you already have the 11 Pro, wait to see the reviews before deciding to upgrade.

Read our Apple iPhone 11 Pro review

Best value iPhone:

Apple iPhone 11

iPhone-11-hands-on
iPhone-11-hands-on

Why you should buy this: We recommend waiting to see whether the iPhone 12 or iPhone 12 Mini replaces the iPhone 11 on our list. The iPhone 11 represented better value than the iPhone 11 Pro, and while you had to make some compromises, you’d save $300 on your purchase over the Pro model.

$699 from Apple

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 same advice we gave regarding the 11 Pro applies for the iPhone 11, but is a bit more confusing. The iPhone 12 Mini is the new value iPhone on the block as it’s priced at $699, but it won’t be out until November 13. It’s also much smaller with a 5.4-inch screen. The iPhone 12 starts at $799 and has a 6.1-inch screen. These are the newest models so will be better long-term purchase decisions than the iPhone 11.

However, because the iPhone 12 Mini has been introduced it’s hard to say whether it will become the best value-based iPhone to buy before we try both it and the iPhone 12. The iPhone 12 and the iPhone 12 Mini have two cameras, an ultra-wide and a standard, on the back but no dedicated telephoto camera like the iPhone 12 Pro. They also miss out on the LiDAR sensor for improved focusing, and don’t have the “pro” photo modes like ProRAW editing.

The iPhone 11 was an easy buying decision, as it cost $300 less than the iPhone 11 Pro with only a few 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. Apple has updated the iPhone 12 and 12 Mini’s screen to the same Super Retina XDR OLED as the iPhone 12 Pro.

Apple has made life a little more difficult for the bargain-hunter with the iPhone 12 range, so we definitely recommend waiting to see what reviews say about the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Mini before buying.

Read our Apple iPhone 11 review

Best productivity and video iPhone:

Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max

Why you should buy this: In this case we recommend waiting to buy the iPhone 12 Pro Max. It still has a bigger screen than the iPhone 12 Pro, but it also has some additional features too.

$1000 from Best Buy

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 iPhone 12 Pro Max replaces the iPhone 11 Pro Max at the top of the new iPhone range, and for once there are a few more differences between it and the iPhone 12 Pro. It’ll be released in November. Regardless, like the iPhone 11 Pro Max, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is likely to remain supreme for video and productivity, as the screen size is bigger than ever before at 6.7-inches. It also has a more technically impressive camera system, with a special new optical image stabilization mode, plus a greater 5x optical zoom.

The trade-offs will be the same. The Pro Max is bigger and heavier than the Pro. It’s 228 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 is noticeable, as is the additional bulk in your pocket. Otherwise the phone is the same as the iPhone 12 Pro.

The iPhone 12 Pro Max will cost the same as the

Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max

making it the most expensive iPhone you can buy. It starts at $1,099 for the standard 128GB model, up from just 64GB on the 11 Pro Max, but we recommend the 256GB model. The more internal storage the phone has, the longer it lasts. This costs $1,249.

Read our Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max review

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.

$399 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 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).

Read our Apple iPhone SE (2020) review

Best used/refurbished/old stock iPhone:

Apple iPhone XS

iPhone XS review
iPhone XS review

Why you should buy this: Get a similar look to the latest iPhone models without the massive price tag with Apple’s 2018 flagship iPhone, which can be found for a bargain price if you shop around and don’t mind buying refurbished.

$440 from Amazon

Who it’s for: Anyone deeply inside Apple’s ecosystem who wants a cheap full-size iPhone for a family member, or someone who wants to get started with an Apple phone without spending much.

Why we picked the iPhone XS:

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, and was followed up the year after by the iPhone XS, making it a great refurbished buy today. It has a 5.8-inch, 2,436 x 1,125 pixel OLED screen with Face ID face unlocking, and the phone is new enough to still receive Apple’s software updates for a while yet 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. Apple’s A12 Bionic processor powers the phone, it has a battery that will last all day, and it supports wireless charging. If you want fast wired charging, you’ll have to pay out for a special charging block from Apple though. 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 XS models through its own store, with prices around $549 up. If you search online stores like Amazon and Walmart, the iPhone XS can be picked up for around $500 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 2018, remember that iPhones hold their value, which helps you when the time comes to trade it in.

Read our Apple iPhone XS review

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 Series 6 or Apple Watch SE — 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. While the new iPhone 12 models haven’t arrived yet, we’ll be hard at work on our reviews when they do. 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. Check back very soon to see where the iPhone 12 models fit into our list.