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iPhone generations: which Apple iPhone model is the right one for me?

iPhone generations: Various iPhones laid on a blank surface
(Image credit: Apple)

The number of different Apple iPhone generations can be quite baffling to the ordinary consumer, and the naming conventions don't exactly help. From the iPhone SE to the iPhone 13 Pro Max, few people outside a small number of tech obsessives have any clue which iPhone is which and which is the right one for them. Which is where we come in.

In this article we list all the most recent iPhones – all of which are still on sale – and explain the differences between them. We'll also provide a few key details for older iPhones, in case you see a refurbished or second-hand model at a cheap price. 

So whatever you want to use an iPhone for, our guide to the different iPhone generations will help you choose the best model for you.

iPhone generations: iPhone models available today

(Image credit: Future)

1. iPhone 13 Pro (2021)

The best iPhone overall

Release date: September 2021 | Dimensions: 146.7 x 71.5 x 7.7mm | Weight: 204g | Rear cameras: 12MP f/1.5, 12MP f/1.8 ultrawide, 12MP f/2.8 telephoto | Front camera: 12MP | Display: 6.1-inch Super Retina XDR (OLED) | Processor: A15 Bionic | Storage options: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB

Perfect for photography
Runs quickly and smoothly
Beautiful display
Battery life better in the Max

We'll keep things simple for you. The iPhone 13 Pro is our pick as the best iPhone you can buy today. 

It's the best iPhone for photography, with three top-class lenses (standard, ultra-wide and telephoto sensors) offering focal lengths of 26mm, 13mm and 78mm respectively. The telephoto range jumps from 2x with the iPhone 12 Pro to 3x. There's a new Cinematic mode for video, a new macro mode for stills, and the camera works better in low-light too. 

The beautiful OLED display is a treat for the eyes. Battery life is very impressive. The A15 Bionic chip makes everything run quickly and smoothly. You can get up to 1TB in storage. 5G is supported. And the phone is water resistant to IP68 standards.

In short, this is the best iPhone to date in all but two respects. The iPhone 13 Pro Max (next on our list) has even better battery life, and is larger; which may be a pro or a con depending on your opinion. Either way, given that the iPhone 13 Pro is considerably cheaper, we still feel this is the best iPhone overall for your money.

• See also iPad generations

(Image credit: Apple)

2. iPhone 13 Pro Max (2021)

The best iPhone if money's no object

Release date: October 2021 | Dimensions: 160.8 x 78.1 x 7.65mm | Weight: 240g | Rear cameras: 12MP 13mm f/1.8 Ultra Wide, 12MP 26mm f/1.5 Wide, 12MP 77mm f/2.8 telephoto | Front cameras: 12MP f/2.2 TrueDepth | Display: 6.7-inch Super Retina XDR (OLED) | Processor: A15 Bionic | Storage options: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB

Large screen 
Best battery life
High specs overall
The most expensive iPhone

As we mention above, the iPhone 13 Pro Max matches the iPhone 13 Pro in all but two respects. Firstly, it has a bigger screen (6.7 inches to the latter's 6.1). And secondly, it boasts the longest battery life of any iPhone. So, for example, Apple promises up to 28 hours video playback versus up to 22 hours on the Pro. 

Technically, then, this is the highest spec iPhone there is right now. However, it's much more expensive, and we don't think the relatively small differences justify the price hike. That's why we didn't pick it as the overall best iPhone. If money's not an issue, though, knock yourself out!

iPhone generations: iPhone 13 (2021)

(Image credit: Apple)

3. iPhone 13 (2021)

The best modern iPhone for value

Release date: September 2021 | Dimensions: 146.7 x 71.5 x 7.7mm | Weight: 174g | Rear cameras: 12MP, f/1.6, 26mm (wide), 1.7µm, dual pixel PDAF, sensor-shift OIS; 12MP, f/2.4, 120˚, 13mm (ultrawide) | Front camera: 12MP, f/2.2, 23mm (wide), 1/3.6", SL 3D, (depth/biometrics sensor) | Display: 6.1-inch Super Retina XDR (OLED) | Processor: A15 Bionic | Storage options: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB

Fast processor
Supports 5G
Value for money
No telephoto sensor

The iPhone 13 looks and feels very similar to the iPhone 13 Pro (number one on our list), but is much cheaper. So what are the main differences?

To start with, the display on the iPhone 13 isn't quite as good. It offers a maximum 800 nits of brightness, compared with the Pro's 1,000; and a 60Hz refresh rate rather than the Pro's 120Hz. It's a similar story with the cameras. The iPhone 13 doesn't shoot in low light quite so well, and lacks the new ProRes video compression format introduced in the Pro.

Overall, though, most of the high specs of the iPhone 13 Pro are matched in the iPhone 13, including the A15 Bionic chip, 5G support, and strong battery life. Which means the cheaper price of the iPhone 13 still makes it very good value. 

(Image credit: James Artaius)

4. iPhone 13 mini (2021)

The best iPhone for portability

Release date: October 2021 | Display: 5.4-inch Super Retina XDR (OLED) | Dimensions: 131.5 x 64.2 x 7.65mm | Weight: 140g | Rear cameras: 12MP 13mm f/2.4, 12MP 26mm f/1.6 | Front camera: 12MP, f/2.2 TrueDepth camera | Processor: A15 Bionic | Storage options: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB

Light 
Portable
Matches iPhone 13's features
Less battery life than iPhone 13

Want the same specs as the iPhone 13 but in a smaller handset? That's what the iPhone 13 mini has to offer, with its small but perfectly formed 5.4-inch screen. The battery life isn't quite as good, but otherwise this is basically the same phone, but smaller.

iPhone generations: iPhone 12

(Image credit: Apple)

5. iPhone 12 (2020)

Last year's model is still very capable

Release date: October 2020 | Dimensions: 146.7 x 71.5 x 7.4mm | Weight: 164g | Rear cameras: 12MP 13mm f/2.4, 12MP 26mm f/1.6 | Front camera: 12MP, f/2.2 TrueDepth camera | Display: 6.1-inch Super Retina XDR (OLED) | Processor: A14 Bionic | Storage options: 64GB, 128GB, 256GB

Impressive specs
Value for money
Lacks the latest processor
Lacks a telephoto lens

If you want a 5G iPhone that's cheaper than any of the iPhone 13 generation, then the iPhone 12 is a great option. Especially as it has a pretty similar design to the iPhone 13.

As a slightly older phone, it's cheaper for a reason. For example, its A14 Bionic chip isn't quite as zippy as the A15 in the latest models. Nor does it have a dedicated telephoto sensor, although it does offer digital zoom of up to 5x. And the display maxes out at 600 nits, compared to 800 nits on the iPhone 12. 

The camera isn't as good either. The iPhone 13’s 12MP wide sensor takes in 47% more light than the 12, and so there's less noise in images. Battery life is much improved in the iPhone 13. And the maximum storage you can get in the iPhone 12 is 256GB: half that of its successor.

In day to day use, though, most of these differences won't be immediately noticeable, especially if you're not a pro photographer. And so the iPhone 12 remains a very capable phone that's well worth the money.

(Image credit: Basil Kronfli/Digital Camera World)

6. iPhone 12 mini (2020)

The same as the iPhone 12, but smaller

Release date: April 2021 | Dimensions: 131 x 64.2 x 7.4mm | Weight: 133g | Rear cameras: 12MP 26mm f/1.6, 12MP 13mm f/2.4 | Front camera: 12MP, 23mm f/2.2 TrueDepth camera | Display: 5.4-inch Super Retina XDR (OLED) | Processor: A14 Bionic | Storage options: 64GB, 128GB, 256GB

Lightweight
Portable size
All the features of iPhone 12
Small screen may not suit

The iPhone 12 mini is essentially a smaller version of the iPhone 12. It has all the same features, the same cameras and the same 5G support. The only difference is that it has a smaller screen (5.4 inches to the iPhone 12's 6.1 inches), and it's smaller and lighter overall.  

(Image credit: Apple)

7. Apple iPhone 12 Pro

Great for photographers who don't need a telephoto lens

Release date: October 2020 | Dimensions: 146.7 x 71.5 x 7.4 mm | Weight: 189g | Rear cameras: 12MP, f/1.6, 26mm (wide), 1.4µm, dual pixel PDAF, OIS; 12MP, f/2.0, 52mm (telephoto), 1/3.4", 1.0µm, PDAF, OIS, 2x optical zoom; 12MP, f/2.4, 13mm, 120˚ (ultrawide), 1/3.6" TOF 3D LiDAR scanner (depth) | Front camera: 12MP, f/2.2, 23mm (wide), 1/3.6" | Display: 6.1 inch Super Retina XDR OLED | Processor: A14 Bionic | Storage options: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB

Impressive camera
Fast processor
5G support
Less powerful telephoto than 13 Pro

While it's a year older than the iPhone 13 Pro, number one on our list, the iPhone 12 Pro is surprisingly similar, and so if you can get one for a significantly lower price, it's well worth considering. 

The changes between this older model and its successor are fairly small and incremental. For example, when it comes to photography, both offer a standard, ultra-wide and a telephoto lens. The iPhone 13 Pro’s standard lens has a slightly wider aperture, though (f/1.5 vs f/1.6), and also uses the larger sensor size. Its ultra wide angle lens also has a wider aperture (f/1.8 vs f/2.4 lens). 

Perhaps most strikingly, the telephoto on the older model is 2x, compared to 3x on the 13 Pro. These difference do make for better photos, but it's still a close-run thing.

Elsewhere, you get the same display, the same processor, the same 5G connectivity. And so if you're not that concerned about the cameras, the iPhone 12 Pro may be your better bet considering how much cheaper it is than the 13 Pro. For more details, see our comparison article iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 13 Pro.

(Image credit: Amy Davies/Digital Camera World)

8. iPhone 12 Pro Max

The largest of the 2020 iPhones

Release date: September 2020 | Dimensions: 150.9 x 75.7 x 8.3mm | Weight: 194g | Rear cameras: 12MP, f/1.6, 26mm (wide), 1.7µm, dual pixel PDAF, sensor-shift OIS; 12MP, f/2.2, 65mm (telephoto), 1/3.4", 1.0µm, PDAF, OIS, 2.5x optical zoom; 12MP, f/2.4, 13mm, 120˚ (ultrawide), 1/3.6" | Front cameras: 12MP, f/2.2, 23mm (wide), 1/3.6", SL 3D, (depth/biometrics sensor) | Display: 6.7 inch Super Retina XDR OLED | Processor: A14 Bionic | Storage options: 64GB, 256GB, 512GB

Larger screen than 12 Pro
Better camera than 12 Pro
Better battery than 12 Pro
Expensive

As the name suggests, the main difference between the iPhone 12 Pro Max and the iPhone 12 Pro is the larger screen, which is 6.7 inches in diameter to the latter's 6.1.  

The Max also has the better camera, well just. While both phones boast three 12MP (wide, ultrawide, and telephoto), the iPhone 12 Pro Max lets in more light thanks to its 47% larger wide sensor. That makes it much stronger in low light conditions. There's also a difference in focal length in the telephoto: f/2.2 to the Pro's f/2.0.

You can also expect better battery life in the iPhone 12 Pro Max. In most respects, though, the two cameras are virtually identical. So it's worth weighing up the price difference between them to decide which offers the most value to you.

(Image credit: Apple)

9. iPhone SE (2020)

The best cheap iPhone

Release date: April 2020 | Dimensions: 138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3mm | Weight: 148g | Rear camera: 12MP, f/1.8 (wide), PDAF, OIS | Front camera: 7MP, f/2.2 | Display: 4.7 inch Retina IPS LCD | Processor: A13 Bionic | Storage options: 64GB, 128GB, 256GB

Low price
Covers the basics
Only one rear camera lens
Slower processor

Want an iPhone but don't have much money? The iPhone SE is a pretty basic model that should fit the bill. 

It has a much smaller screen than the iPhone 12 or even iPhone 12 Mini at 4.7 inches. It has just 3GB of RAM compared to the 4GB in those models, and an older processor (A13 Bionic rather than A14). It doesn't support 5G. And its cameras are just a basic 12MP lens on the rear and 7MP on the front.

On the plus side, it has the same amount of storage. And at the end of the day, despite the compromises, you're still getting an iPhone for not a lot of money.

(Image credit: Apple)

10. iPhone 11 (2019)

An older iPhone with a lot to offer

Release date: September 2019 | Dimensions: 150.9 x 75.7 x 8.3mm | Weight: 194g | Rear cameras: 12MP 13mm f/2.4, 12MP 26mm f/1.8 | Front camera: 12MP, f/2.2 TrueDepth camera | Display: 6.1-inch Liquid Retina (LCD) | Processor: A13 Bionic | Storage options: 64GB, 128GB, 256GB

Triple-lens camera
Value for money
No 5G support
LCD not OLED screen

Given how much the world has changed since 2019, it can seem like a lifetime ago. But strictly speaking, the year the iPhone 11 was released wasn't that long ago. And this model now offers great value to anyone not needing the latest premium specs.

You won't get 5G connectivity, an OLED screen, a telephoto lens, or the latest processors. But what that leaves is still a very powerful phone. 

Casual photographers will be happy, thanks to a 12MP ultra wide sensor with an aperture of f/2.4 and a 120° field of view, plus a 12MP wide sensor, with an aperture of f/1.8. You also get 4K or 240fps video recording, and top-notch tools including Portrait mode, Focus Pixels, Smart HDR and optical image stabilisation. 

The 6.1-inch LED display is bright and crisp, with a decent resolution of 1,792 x 828, and Apple’s A13 Bionic processor does a good job of running everything smoothly. So while this isn't the newest or most powerful iPhone, it's still very much a contender for your money.

(Image credit: Apple)

11. iPhone 11 Pro

This advanced model from 2019 is still worth considering

Release date: September 2019 | Dimensions: 144 x 71.4 x 8.1mm | Weight: 188g | Rear cameras: 12MP 13mm f/2.4; 12MP 26mm f/1.8; 12MP 52mm f/2 | Front camera: 12MP, f/2.2 TrueDepth camera | Display: 5.8 inch Super Retina XDR OLED | Processor: A13 Bionic | Storage options: 64GB, 256GB, 512GB

Triple-lens camera
Generally high specs 
No 5G support
Older processor

As one of the most advanced of Apple's 2019 phones, the iPhone 11 Pro still has a lot to offer. For photographers, there's a triple-sensor camera, each boasting 12MP. The standard lens offers a 26mm equivalent at f/1.8, the ultrawide provides 13mm at f/2.4, plus there's a telephoto lens giving 52mm at f/2.0. You also get Night mode for low-light shooting, smart HDR, and 4K video recording up to 60fps. 

The 12 Pro is better in low light, thanks to its LiDAR scanner and f/1.6 aperture. And the 11 Pro lacks support for the ProRAW file format or Dolby Vision video recording. But otherwise, photography-wise, they're not that different.

Elsewhere, the main things you're losing compared with the iPhone 12 Pro are 5G support, an older processor, and a slightly bigger display (6.1 inches in the 12 compared with 5.8 inches here). 

(Image credit: Apple)

12. iPhone 11 Pro Max

A larger version of the iPhone 11 Pro, with a bigger battery

Release date: September 2019 | Dimensions: 144 x 71.4 x 8.1mm | Weight: 188g | Rear cameras: 12MP 13mm f/2.4, 12MP 26mm f/1.8, 12MP 52mm f/2 | Front cameras: 12MP, f/2.2 TrueDepth camera | Display: 6.5 inch Super Retina XDR OLED | Processor: A13 Bionic | Storage options: 64GB, 256GB, 512GB

Large screen
Large battery
More expensive than the 11 Pro
Big screen may not suit

The iPhone 11 Pro Max has the same cameras, processor and operating system as the iPhone 11 Pro. The main difference is that it's bigger, with a 6.5 inch screen. It also has a larger battery, offering 3,969mAh to the iPhone 11's 3,046mAh.

iPhone Generations: Older models

  • iPhone XS (2018): Released September 2018. Rear cameras: 12MP, f/1.8, 26mm (wide), 1/2.55", 1.4µm, dual pixel PDAF, OIS; 12MP, f/2.4, 52mm (telephoto), 1/3.4", 1.0µm, PDAF, OIS, 2x optical zoom. Front cameras: 7MP, f/2.2, 32mm. Display: 5.8 inch Super Retina OLED. Processor: A12 Bionic.
  • iPhone XS Max (2018): Released September 2018. Rear cameras: 12MP, f/1.8, 26mm (wide), 1/2.55", 1.4µm, dual pixel PDAF, OIS; 12MP, f/2.4, 52mm (telephoto), 1/3.4", 1.0µm, PDAF, OIS, 2x optical zoom. Front cameras: 7MP, f/2.2, 32mm (standard); SL 3D, (depth/biometrics sensor). Display: 6.5 inch Super Retina OLED. Processor: A12 Bionic.
  • iPhone XR (2018): Released October 2018. Rear camera: 12MP, f/1.8, 26mm (wide), 1/2.55", 1.4µm, PDAF, OIS. Front camera: 7MP, f/2.2, 32mm. Display: 6.1 inch Liquid Retina IPS LCD. Processor: A12 Bionic.
  • iPhone X (2017): Released November 2017. Rear cameras: 12MP, f/1.8, 28mm (wide), 1/3", 1.22µm, dual pixel PDAF, OIS; 12MP, f/2.4, 52mm (telephoto), 1/3.4", 1.0µm, PDAF, OIS, 2x optical zoom. Front camera: 7MP, f/2.2, 32mm. Display: 5.8 inch Super Retina OLED. Processor: A11 Bionic.
  • iPhone 8 (2017): Released September 2017. Rear camera: 12MP, f/1.8, 28mm (wide), PDAF, OIS. Front camera: 7MP, f/2.2. Display: 4.7 inch Retina IPS LCD. Processor: A11 Bionic.
  • iPhone 8 Plus (2017): Released September 2017. Rear cameras: 12MP, f/1.8, 28mm (wide), PDAF, OIS; 12MP, f/2.8, 57mm (telephoto), PDAF, 2x optical zoom. Front cameras: 12MP, f/1.8, 28mm (wide), PDAF, OIS 12MP, f/2.8, 57mm (telephoto), PDAF, 2x optical zoom. Display: 5.5 inch Retina IPS LCD. Processor: A11 Bionic.

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Tom May

Tom May is a freelance writer and editor specializing in art, photography, design and travel. He has been editor of Professional Photography magazine, associate editor at Creative Bloq, and deputy editor at net magazine. He has also worked for a wide range of mainstream titles including The Sun, Radio Times, NME, T3, Heat, Company and Bella.