A Buyer's Guide to Apple iPhone Basics and Features

Mini computer features, solid design, and cutting-edge tech set the iPhone apart

The iPhone 13 and its predecessors are more than just fancy cell phones. With their range of features – from phone to web browser, from music player to mobile game device to high-end security measures – the iPhone is more like a computer that fits in your pocket and your hand than any cell phone.

Standard iPhone Specifications

Physically, the iPhone 13 series is somewhat similar to the iPhone X, XS series, and XR or iPhones 11 and 12. It is, however, very different from earlier models, like the iPhone 8, iPhone 6S series and others.

The key difference between the look of the iPhone X through iPhone 13 series and earlier models is that the recent models have nearly edge-to-edge screens and a notch on the top of the screen. The notch contains the Face ID facial recognition system. Otherwise, the phones include a glass face on the front and back, wraps the antenna around the outside of the phone (which caused antenna problems on old models), and are slightly thinner.

Recent iPhones come in three different screen sizes — 5.8, 6.1, and 6.5 inches — all of which are touchscreens that employs multi-touch technology. Multi-touch allows users to control items on the screen with more than one finger simultaneously (thus the name). It’s multi-touch that enables some of the iPhone’s most famous features, such as tapping the screen twice to zoom in or “pinching” and dragging your fingers to zoom out.

All modern iPhones use a suite of sensors to produce some of their best usability features, though none of these models offer expandable or upgradeable memory.

iPhone 13 buying guide

Lifewire/Nick Kova

Typical Built-In iPhone Features

Because the iPhone is like a mini-computer, it offers the same wide range of features and functions that a computer does. The major areas of functionality for the iPhone are:

  • Phone: The iPhone’s phone features are solid. It includes innovative features like Visual Voicemail and standard features like text messaging, voice dialing, and free conference calls.
  • Web browser: The iPhone offers the best, most complete mobile browsing experience. Though it never supported the Flash browser plug-in, it doesn’t require dumbed-down "mobile" versions of websites, instead offering a full web browser experience thing on a phone.
  • Email: Like all good smartphones, the iPhone has robust email features for use with email services like Gmail and can sync to corporate email servers running Exchange.
  • Calendar and Contacts: The iPhone is a personal information manager, too. It has pre-loaded apps for ket features like calendar, address book, stocks, weather, and other features.
  • Music Player: One of the iPhone's core features all along has been its terrific music player features. Music options on the iPhone got even more compelling with the release of the Apple Music streaming service.
  • Video playback: With its big, beautiful screen, the iPhone is a great choice for mobile video playback. You can choose from the YouTube app, adding your own video, or buying or renting content from the iTunes Store.
  • Apps: Thanks to the App Store, iPhones can run all kinds of third-party programs, from games to Facebook and Twitter to restaurant finders and productivity apps. The App Store makes the iPhone the most useful smartphone around.
  • Cameras: All recent iPhone models have two cameras — though the iPhone 11 Pro sports a three-camera system on its back camera. All of the cameras can be used to take still images, record HD or 4K video, or even get pro-quality effects with Portrait Lighting. The user-facing camera is for FaceTime video chats and taking selfies.
  • Face ID: The iPhone X and newer models include the Face ID facial scanner. This very-hard-to-defeat security system is used to unlock the iPhone, authorize iTunes and App Store purchases, and to finalize Apple Pay transactions.
  • Apple Pay: The iPhone supports secure, wireless transactions based on holding your iPhone close to payment terminals in stores. Add a credit or debit card to your Apple Pay account, and authorize with Face ID, for this smooth process.
  • Siri Every iPhone model in recent years has included Apple's voice-activated, virtual assistant, Siri. Use Siri to get answers to questions, to automate actions on your iPhone, and much more.
  • Wireless Charging The iPhone X and newer models don't need to be plugged into a cable to charge. Just place them on a compatible charging mat and the battery will top up.

The iPhone Home Screen

You can re-arrange the icons on the home screen or create folders. This is especially helpful once you start adding programs from the App Store, as you can group similar applications or the ones you use the most often, together.

Being able to re-arrange icons also leads to some unexpected events, like all the icons on your screen shaking.

Curious about just how many folders and apps you can have on your iPhone? You'll be surprised! Find out in How Many Apps and Folders Can an iPhone Have?

Standard iPhone Buttons and Controls

Though the iPhone’s coolest control features are based around the multi-touch screen, it also has a number of buttons on its face that are used for control.

  • Side button: At the side of the iPhone (or at the top right corner on older models), you’ll find the Side button. Pressing this button locks the screen and/or puts the phone to sleep. It’s also the button used to restart the phone.
  • Volume buttons: On the left side of the phone, buttons that move up and down control the volume of music, video, and the phone’s ringer.
  • Ringer button: Just above the volume control is a smaller rectangular button. This is the ringer button, which allows you to put the phone into silent mode so the ringer won’t sound when calls come in.
  • Lightning Port: This port, at the bottom of the phone, is where you plug in the cable to sync the phone with a computer, as well as accessories.

The iPhone X and above removed the physical Home button. Find out what replaced it by reading iPhone X Home Button Basics.

The iTunes Advantage

You can sync the iPhone, and manage content on it, using iTunes.

The Wireless Option: Using iPhone with iCloud

Prefer a wireless experience? Use your iPhone with iCloud instead.

Think you might want to plunk down dollars for an iPhone now? Here's our take on the best iPhones available right now.

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