Best iPhones in 2020: Which iPhone should you buy?

There’s been a shake-up in the best iPhones rankings with the arrival of the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro. But Apple’s not done introducing new iPhones this year.

The iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 Pro Max will show up later this month, and both could challenge the iPhone 12 Pro to become one of the best phones overall.

As part of the iPhone 12 launch, Apple’s entire lineup of available phones has undergone a revamp. In addition to the four new iPhone 12 models, the iPhone 11 and iPhone XR are still here, but at reduced prices. And the iPhone SE introduced earlier this year isn’t going anywhere, either.

Here are our recommendations and rankings for the best iPhones available right at this moment.

Black Friday 2020 deals
In the market for a new iPhone? In addition to waiting for the remaining iPhone 12 models to ship, there’s also holiday sales to keep in mind. Black Friday deals have already kicked off, and you can already find savings on Apple’s new phones. Make sure to check out our guide to the best iPhone deals right now.

What are the best iPhones?

Based on our testing, the iPhone 12 Pro now heads our list of the best iPhones. It’s got a power A14 Bionic processor and 5G connectivity — features included in every iPhone 12 model, to be fair. But the iPhone 12 Pro continues to set the standard for mobile photography, giving it an edge over other iPhones.

Still, the iPhone 12 is worth your consideration, especially since it costs $200 less than the iPhone 12 Pro, and it offers many of the same top features. We plan on revisiting our ratings once the iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 Pro Max go on sale Nov. 13.

You have lots of options now if you don’t care for high price tags. Apple slashed the price of the iPhone 11 by $100. That used to be the best iPhone for most people, and it remains an excellent choice even a year after its release. The iPhone XR is cheaper, too, at $499, but anyone who wants the cheapest iPhone available will likely turn to the iPhone SE, especially if they prefer phones that are compact.

The best iPhone you can buy right now

best iphones: iphone 12 Pro

(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

1. iPhone 12 Pro

The best iPhone overall

Screen Size: 6.1-inch OLED (2532 x 1170) | Processor: A14 Bionic | Cameras: 12MP wide (ƒ/1.6), 12MP ultra-wide (ƒ/2.4), 12MP telephoto (ƒ/2.0), LiDAR scanner rear / 12MP front (ƒ/2.2) | RAM/Storage: Unknown/128GB, 256GB, 512GB

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Best-in-class cameras

A14 chip sets the mobile standard

Tough Ceramic Shield display

5G takes a toll on battery life

No charger in the box

Apple hasn’t held much back with the iPhone 12 Pro. The phone runs on an A14 Bionic — the fastest mobile processor we’ve tested — and offers compatibility with 5G, no matter what kind of network a wireless carrier has built. The three rear cameras from last year’s iPhone Pro models are now augmented with a LiDAR sensor for improved photo features. And Apple did all this while holding the price of the phone to $999.

You’ll have to get by without an included charger, but the iPhone 12 supports Apple’s new MagSafe interface in which wireless charging pads attach to the back of the phone magnetically for a more consistent charging experience. Spring for a 20W fast charger and you’ll get a 50% charge in 30 minutes — which you’ll need since 5G connectivity eats into battery life.

It’s the cameras on the iPhone 12 Pro that really delight, especially now that portrait mode works at night and you can use Night Mode with both the Ultra-Wide camera and the front TrueDepth camera. This is the phone to get if you want the best that Apple has to offer, without having to go too far above the $1,000 threshold.

Read our full iPhone 12 Pro review.

Best iPhones: iPhone 12

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2. iPhone 12

The iPhone’s top features for less

Screen Size: 6.1-inch OLED (2532 x 1170) | Processor: A14 Bionic | Cameras: 12MP wide (ƒ/1.6), 16MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.4) rear / 12MP front (ƒ/2.2) | RAM/Storage: Unknown/64GB, 128GB, 256GB

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Attractive new design

Impressive cameras

Comprehensive 5G coverage

Only 64GB of storage in base model

No charger in the box

The iPhone 12 features many of the best aspects of the iPhone 12 Pro, but for less money — this model starts at $200 less than Apple’s Pro handset. But you’re not making too many compromises to get this more affordable iPhone.

After all, the iPhone 12 has the same A14 Bionic processor and comprehensive 5G connectivity as the more expensive Pro model. You only get two rear cameras on the iPhone 12, but they perform better than ever, thanks to software improvements Apple made. A new 7-element lens on the main camera combined with a wider aperture than before means better photos in low-light and sharper images overall.

The LCD panel Apple used on the iPhone 12’s predecessor is gone, replaced by an OLED screen that offers the same 6.1 inches of display real estate as before. You’re still confined to 64GB of storage in the base model and there’s no charger included with the phone, but otherwise, this is a stellar addition to the iPhone lineup.

Read our full iPhone 12 review.

Best iPhones: iPhone 11

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3. iPhone 11

The best iPhone bargain

Screen Size: 6.1-inch LCD (1792 x 828) | Processor: A13 Bionic | Cameras: Dual 12MP wide (ƒ/1.8) and ultra wide (ƒ/2.4)/ 12MP front (ƒ/2.2) | RAM/Storage: 4GB/64GB, 256GB, 512GB

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Affordable price

Great battery life

Faster A13 processor

64GB of storage in base model

No fast charger included

The iPhone 11 is no longer the new kid in town, replaced by Apple’s iPhone 12 models. But it’s still available and it’s the least expensive it’s ever been at $599. That price, combined with the fact that the A13 Bionic processor is still more powerful than more recently released Android phones, makes this a good buy even a year after the iPhone 11’s debut.

As with the iPhone 12, you are giving up a dedicated telephoto lens, as the iPhone 11 features a 12-MP wide angle and ultra wide angle shooters. But it’s capable of the same camera effects as the rest of the iPhone 11 family, including portrait shots, ultra wide angle selfies and Night Mode for better low-light photos. You can also expect more than 11 hours of battery life from the iPhone 11, though you’ll have to spring for a separately-sold fast-charging adapter to juice back up at the quickest speeds.

See our full iPhone 11 review.

best iPhones: iPhone SE 2020

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4. iPhone SE 2020

The least expensive new iPhone

Screen Size: 4.7-inch Retina HD (1334 x 750) | Processor: A13 Bionic | Cameras: 12MP (f/1.8)/12MP front (f/2.2) | RAM/Storage: Unknown/64GB, 128GB, 512GB

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Affordable price

Top-of-the-line A13 processor

Compact design

No Night mode on camera

Big bezels

You can’t keep a good iPhone down, which is why Apple revived the iPhone SE four years after launching the original low-cost, compact iPhone. The iPhone SE 2020 is a little larger than before — adopting the 4.7-inch screen and form factor of the discontinued iPhone 8 — but it’s kept a low price that will appeal to iPhone fans looking for the best bargain around.

It’s not just the price that makes the iPhone SE so appealing. The phone runs on the same A13 processor you’ll find in the iPhone 11, so the iPhone SE will remain a top-performing phone for years into the future, especially as regular iOS updates add new features. You’ll just get one rear camera with this phone, but it’s a good one, augmented by the A13’s Neural Engine to augment your photos with computational photography.

This isn’t the longest-lasting iPhone by any stretch of the imagination, as our iPhone SE 2020 battery tests found, and we wish that camera would support Apple’s Night mode for better low-light photography. But if you want some premium power in a phone that fits comfortably in one hand, the iPhone SE was built with you in mind.

Read our full iPhone SE 2020 review.

best iphones: iphone xr

(Image credit: Future)

5. iPhone XR

A big-screen iPhone for less

Screen Size: 6.1-inch LCD (1792 x 828) | Processor: A12 Bionic | Cameras: 12MP (f/1.8)/ 7MP front (2.2) | RAM/Storage: 3GB/64GB, 128GB, 256GB

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Very long battery

Sub-$600 price

LCD screen is big and bright

No 2x optical zoom

Bigger bezels than more recent iPhones

If the iPhone SE’s small screen doesn’t work for you, you can still get an iPhone with a large display and a low price. The iPhone XR now costs $499, and while the phone is two years old, it’s still an option for people who don’t mind sacrificing a few features for a less expensive device. In fact, you could even argue that the iPhone XR is a better value than the iPhone SE.

The XR has an LCD panel, not the OLED screen found in newer iPhones, and you’ll have to get by with just a single rear camera while the similarly sized iPhone 11 and iPhone 12 feature two lenses. But for many users, those won’t be significant sacrifices, especially in light of what you get in return.

Though the newer iPhone models have a faster processor, the A12 Bionic powering the  iPhone XR still holds its own. The iPhone XR also gets great battery life — on par with our iPhone 11 test results and only 15 minutes behind the iPhone 11 Pro Max’s 11 hour, 40 minute result. And if you value design, you’ll appreciate the rainbow of colors the iPhone XR comes in. The iPhone XR isn’t very compact, but it delivers a great balance of price and performance, even newer iPhones providing more features. 

See our full iPhone XR review.
 

How to choose the best iPhone for you

The best way to determine the iPhone you should buy is to take stock of the features and capabilities that matter most to you. If battery life is especially important, seek out a larger iPhone, as they tend to have bigger batteries to match their screen size. What’s more, because iOS is known to be generally efficient in terms of energy consumption, even the smaller models tend to last longer than average on a charge.

If you’re basing your next iPhone purchase off camera quality, the top-tier Pro variants are easy recommendations, thanks to triple-lens designs that allow you to capture multiple different perspectives, from zoomed-out ultra wide-angle images to shallow depth-of-field portraits. They’re also remarkably good in challenging lighting scenarios, like when shooting in a dimly-lit indoor space, or outdoors at night.

All that said, if price is king, and saving the absolute most on your next smartphone purchase is your top priority, you should have no reservations about nabbing an iPhone SE 2020 or iPhone XR. These may be on the cheaper side of Apple’s range, but they’re still made of flagship-quality materials, with enough power and performance to sustain years of use.

However, be mindful of storage. Apple’s most recent iPhones start at $599 for the iPhone 11 and $699 for the iPhone 12. Those base prices get you a phone with 64GB of space, but if you want more capacity, be prepared for that price tag to go up. A 256GB iPhone 12 will cost you $949 — almost as much as an iPhone 12 Pro. At least Apple has upped the base storage on the iPhone 12 Pro models to 128GB.

If you buy your iPhone through Apple, you may be able to save money by trading in your current phone. Apple’s trade-in rebates range from up to $140 off for iPhone SE 2020 purchases to a potential $370 rebate on iPhone 12 Pro orders. We can help you find the best iPhone deals from retailers and carriers.

When Apple releases new iPhones, it cuts the price on the models it keeps around. The iPhone XR now costs less than $500, for example while the iPhone 11 has dropped to $699. Apple is no longer selling the iPhone 11 Pro or Pro Max, but retailers and carriers might be. Just confirm that the price is lower than what you’d pay for the iPhone 12 Pro models.

Speaking of the iPhone 12, we’re still waiting for the release of two more models — a 5.4-inch iPhone 12 mini and a 6.7-inch iPhone 12 Max. Both phones have 5G connectivity and feature OLED screens. They’ll ship Nov. 13, though you can pre-order the iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 Pro Max starting on Nov. 6. To help you decide which model to choose, we’ve got an iPhone 12 vs. iPhone 12 mini vs. iPhone 12 Pro vs. iPhone 12 Pro Max comparison.

All of the iPhones mentioned here run the latest version of iOS, Apple’s mobile operating system. And they can upgrade to iOS 14, the new version that ships on the iPhone 12. (In fact, iPhones dating back to the iPhone 6s and original iPhone SE will be able to run iOS 14.) 

How we test iPhones

As with any smartphone we test at Tom’s Guide, we evaluate iPhones for days in real-world use cases. We also benchmark Apple’s phones using a gamut of performance-measuring apps that allow us to compare iPhone performance to what Android devices are capable of. In addition to synthetic benchmarks, we also run real-world tests, including a video transcoding test in Adobe Premiere Rush that compares the iPhone’s processing speed with other devices.

In our lab, we use a light meter to ascertain display quality data, like brightness and color accuracy to help us evaluate the display of the best iPhones. Our proprietary battery test determines longevity on a charge by endlessly streaming webpages over an LTE network; we then recharge the iPhones to see how quickly they charge in 15-minute intervals.

To compare cameras, we take any iPhone we review out and shoot photos in a variety of settings. We also bring along a comparable smartphone to see how the iPhone’s photographic output measures up.

We explore Apple’s iOS improvements, test gaming performance and evaluate the phone’s speakers — and each of these factors play a part in our final verdict.

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