How to Pick the Best iPhone

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A few years ago, when you wanted to buy a new iPhone, the choice came down to one thing: how much storage would you get and, as a result, how much would you pay? Then the iPhone came to Verizon and other phone companies and you had to decide not only how much storage you would buy, but also what carrier you wanted.

Now that each generation of iPhone comes in two models—beginning with the iPhone 5S and 5C and carried over to the iPhone 6, 6S, and 7 series—picking the best iPhone for you and your needs has gotten more complicated.

Instead of just having to choose between two storage capacities and two phone companies, there are now five models—​iPhone 7, 7 Plus, 6S, 6S Plus and SE—and four phone companies: ​AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon. Unlocked versions of these iPhones are available on Amazon.com, too (see links to buy below).

If you're planning to buy a new iPhone soon, you need to figure out what matters to you in a phone, what doesn't, and which model to choose. Here are some tips that may make that decision a little easier.

iPhone 7 Plus

Pros

  • It's the biggest and the best - The iPhone 7 Plus is the top of the line model. It's got the largest screen—5.5 inches—which makes for terrific gaming and multimedia. In any other place where features are different from the 7, it's got the better options: better camera, more battery life, etc.
  • Longer battery life - The 7 Plus' battery is big and offers longer life than any other model. Apple claims up to 60 hours of audio playback and 16 days of standby time for this phone. 
  • Improved camera - The 12-megapixel cameras on the both iPhone 7 models deliver great photos, even in low light, and are almost identical. The difference is that the 7 Plus offers wide angle and telephoto images, plus enhanced depth-of-field effects that make photos taken on the phone comparable to those on multi-thousand-dollar DSLR cameras. Photographers will want to look closely at this.
  • 3D Touch screen - The screen on the 7 Plus can detect how hard you're pushing on it. As a result, it can respond in different ways to different kinds of touch. Not only does this enable eye-catching features like Live Photos, it also opens a whole host of new user-interface options.
  • Touch ID fingerprint scanner - Apple's 2nd generation fingerprint scanning technology is built into the 7 series, so entering passwords and making purchases is as simple as pressing your phone's Home button.
  • NFC & Apple Pay - Both iPhone 7 models include support for NFC (Near-Field Communication), the wireless standard that is used for transactions with the Apple Pay mobile payment platform.
  • Newer processors - The latest, fastest, and most capable chips show up in both iPhone 7 models: the 64-bit A10 processor and the M10 motion co-processor. The 6S series and the SE offers the previous generations of both.
  • Apple Watch compatible - Every phone on this list works with both generations of the Apple Watch.

Cons

  • No headphone jack - Famously, the iPhone 7 series doesn't include a standard headphone jack, instead requiring either wireless earbuds like Apple's AirPods or an adapter for connecting traditional headphones.
  • Bigger size - Due to its 5.5-inch screen, the iPhone 7 Plus is really big. Like almost 1.5 inches taller than the SE. It may not fit in your pockets. If you're not sure you want a big phone, get your hands on one at a store before buying.
  • Higher price - Because of its bigger screen and better features, the 7 Plus costs more than the equivalent iPhone 6S models.

iPhone 7

Pros

  • Big screen - The iPhone 7 offers a 4.7-inch screen. While that's not as huge as the 7 Plus', it's a good deal bigger than the 4-inch screen on the iPhone SE. The 6S series has the same options for screen sizes as the 7.
  • Nearly identical features to the 7 Plus - Almost every feature of the 7 Plus is also present on the 7 (for a list of the ones that aren't, check out the cons below). The two phones are identical when it comes to storage options, processors, 3D Touch, Touch ID, support for NFC and Apple Pay, and Apple Watch compatibility. Other than the depth-of-field effects noted below, the quality of the cameras is very similar, too.
  • Less expensive than the 7 Plus - Each model of the iPhone 7 costs less than the equivalent iPhone 7 Plus. 

Cons

  • Smaller screen than 7 Plus - The iPhone 7's screen is about three-quarters of an inch smaller than that on the 7 Plus, so if you need the biggest screen possible, check out the other model.
  • Less battery life than 7 Plus - The 7 also offers a shorter battery life, though it's still very good: 40 hours of audio playback and 10 days of standby, according to Apple.
  • Lesser camera - The camera on the 7 doesn't include the wide angle, telephoto, and high-end depth-of-field effects, so photos in some circumstances may not be as nice as those taken with the 7 Plus (for the everyday photographer, though, the difference probably won't be noticeable).
  • More expensive than 6S or SE - Because it's one of the latest models, it's more expensive than the earlier generation. 
  • No headphone jack - Like the 7 Plus, the 7 doesn't have a traditional headphone jack.

iPhone 7 Series Review

Buy at Amazon

 

iPhone 6S Plus

Pros

  • Large screen - Like the 7 Plus, the 6S Plus sports a 5.5-inch screen, dwarfing the screens on the 7, 6S, or SE.
  • Lower price than 7 Plus - Since it's one year older than the 7 Plus, you can get a similarly equipped 6S Plus for around $120 less.
  • Very good camera - While it doesn't pack in all the features of the camera on the 7 Plus or even the 7, the 6S Plus sports a 12-megapixel camera with hardware image stabilization and great video features.
  • 3D Touch screen - Like the 7 series models, the 6S Plus has a 3D Touch screen that reacts based on how hard you press it.
  • Touch ID fingerprint scanner - Like 7 series, the 6S series has the improved, second-generation Touch ID scanner.
  • Support for Apple Pay and Apple Watch - As with all models on this list, the 6S Plus supports Apple Pay and the Apple Watch.
  • Headphone jack - The 6S series is the last iPhone with a traditional headphone jack. If that's important to you, check out this, the 6S, or the SE.

Cons

  • Lower storage capacity - The 6S Plus maxes out at 128 GB, while both 7 series models offer up to 256 GB for storing music, photos, apps, and more.
  • Slower processors - The 6S series is built around the A9 processor and M9 motion co-processor, one generation behind the chips used in the 7 series.
  • Lesser camera features - While the 6S Plus has a good camera, it lacks the wide angle, telephoto, and depth-of-field features of the 7 Plus.
  • Less color range on screen - The screens on the 7 series models display a wider range of colors for a brighter, truer image. You won't find that on either 6S model.

iPhone 6S

Pros

  • Lower price - The 6S is $100 cheaper than the equivalent iPhone 7 or 6S Plus. 
  • Nearly identical features to the 6S Plus - All of the hardware features of the 6S Plus that make it such a good phone, with the exception of the camera (more on that in a minute), are present on the 6S, making it a great option. 
  • Headphone jack - Like the 6S Plus, you'll find a traditional headphone jack on the 6S, too.

Cons

  • Lesser camera than the 6S - The camera on the 6S lacks the image stabilization features of the 6S Plus. It's still a good camera, just not quite as good as its bigger sibling's.
  • Same hardware drawbacks as the 6S Plus - All of the hardware drawbacks found on the 6S Plus are present in the 6S as well.

iPhone 6S Review

Buy at Amazon

 

iPhone SE

Pros

  • Lower price - Since it's not the top-of-the-line model, but the 64 GB SE is $200 less than the 32 GB iPhone 7.
  • Small form factor - If you don't want a big phone and prefer something easier to slip into a pocket or purse, the SE is it. With its 4-inch screen, it's much smaller than any other phone on this list. 
  • Good camera - The SE's camera offers the same 12 megapixels as the 6S and takes similar photos.
  • Traditional headphone jack - No adapters needed here; you can use standard headphones with the SE.
  • Touch ID fingerprint scanner - The SE offers the enhanced security and convenience of Apple's first-generation Touch ID scanner.
  • Support for Apple Pay and Apple Watch - Key new Apple technologies like Apple Pay and the Apple Watch work just fine with the SE.

Cons

  • Older processor than 7 series - The SE is built around the same A9 and M9 processors used in the 6S series, both of which are one generation behind the chips used in the 7 series. 
  • No 3D Touch - Only the 7 and 6S series include the 3D Touch screen.
  • Smaller screen - If small size and small screen aren't selling point for you, look elsewhere. The SE sports a 4-inch screen, smaller than the 4.7-inch screen on the 6S and 7, or the 5.5-inch screen on the 6S Plus or 7 Plus.

iPhone SE Review

Buy at Amazon

The Bottom Line on Which iPhone to Choose

The general rule when making a technology purchase is to buy the most device that you can afford. That's true when it comes to deciding which iPhone to buy.

If you can afford the iPhone 7 or 7 Plus, get it. It will last the longest, offer the best performance and features, and will hold its value longest if you want to resell it. If you're more price conscious, the iPhone 6S series will serve you well, too.

Only look to the SE if cost or size of the phone is a major consideration. 

For a quick comparison of how all five models stack up in terms of features and price, check out this chart.

iPhone Models Compared

 iPhone 7
Plus

32 GB
128 GB
256 GB

 
iPhone
7
32 GB
128 GB
256 GB

 
iPhone 6S
Plus

32 GB
128 GB
iPhone
6S
32 GB
128 GB
iPhone
SE

16 GB
64 GB
Songs Held8,000
32,000
64,000
 
8,000
32,000
64,000
 
8,000
32,000
 
8,000
32,000
4,000
16,000
 
Screen Size*5.54.75.54.74
Resolution1920x10801334x7501920x10801334x7501136x640
3D TouchYesYesYesYesNo
ProcessorApple A10Apple A10Apple A9Apple A9Apple A9
Camera*2
cameras:
12 & 7
2
cameras:
12 & 7
2
cameras:
12 & 5
 
2
cameras:
12 & 5
 
2
cameras:
12 & 1.2
Wide Angle
& Telephoto
YesNoNoNoNo
Depth of Field
Effects
YesNoNoNoNo
Records
Video
4K HD
at 30 fps 
4K HD
at 30 fps 
4K HD
at 30 fps 
4K HD
at 30 fps 
4K HD
at 30 fps 
Live PhotoYesYesYesYesNo
FaceTimeYesYesYesYesYes
Touch ID2nd gen.2nd gen.2nd gen.2nd gen.1st gen.
NFCYesYesYesYesYes
SiriYesYesYesYesYes
Weight
(ounces)
6.634.876.775.043.99
Size**6.23
x 3.07
x 0.29 
5.44
x 2.64
x 0.28
6.23
x 3.07
x 0.29
5.44
x 2.64
x 0.28
4.87
x 2.31
x 0.30
Battery Life
(in
hours)
Talk: 21
Video: 14
Web: 13
Audio: 60
Talk: 14
Video: 13
Web: 12
Audio: 40
Talk: 24
Video: 14
Web: 12
Audio: 80
Talk: 14
Video: 11
Web: 11
Audio: 50
Talk: 14
Video: 13
Web: 12
Audio: 50
ColorsJet Black
Black
Silver
Gold
Rose Gold
Jet Black
Black
Silver
Gold
Rose Gold
Space Grey
Silver
Gold
Rose Gold
Space Grey
Silver
Gold
Rose Gold
Space Grey
Silver
Gold
Rose Gold
PriceUS$769
$869
$969
$649
$749
$849
$649
$749
$549
$649
$399
$449

 

* in megapixels
** in inches

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