Tech

Apple now sells five iPhones — here's how to pick the right iPhone for you

Key Points
  • Apple sells five different iPhones right now, including the iPhone SE, the iPhone XR, the iPhone 11, the iPhone 11 Pro and the iPhone 11 Pro Max.
  • That's confusing for many people.
  • Here's a breakdown of what each offers so you can figure out what the best iPhone is for you to buy.
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Apple just unveiled a new, cheaper iPhone

Apple announced the iPhone SE on Wednesday. It starts at $399, making it the most affordable in Apple's family of iPhones, behind the next most expensive, the $599 iPhone XR.

But with the new model and some of the old ones being discontinued, you may be a bit confused when trying to figure out which is the best one for you.

I'm here to help you out. Here's a look at all the iPhones Apple sells: the iPhone SE, the iPhone XR, the iPhone 11, the iPhone 11 Pro and the iPhone 11 Pro Max. For the sake of organization, I'll go from cheapest to most expensive. Don't let the prices fool you, though. The iPhone SE, while more affordable, is not a bad phone. You'll see in this breakdown.

iPhone SE

Courtesy Apple

The iPhone SE, Apple's newest iPhone, is best if you're on a budget and don't mind a smaller screen.

It starts at $399 for 64GB of storage and moves up in price to $449 for 128GB of storage and $549 for 256GB of storage. I recommend people buy the mid-range 128GB model. Pre-orders for the iPhone SE begin on Friday and it will arrive by April 24.

The iPhone SE borrows the design of the iPhone 8, but packs in updated stuff, like the A13 processor that's found in the more expensive iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro. That means you get pretty much the same performance for demanding apps and games as the much more expensive iPhone 11, which starts at $699.

The iPhone SE has the smallest screen of any iPhone Apple sells, at 4.7 inches, which is more in line with Apple's older phones, like the iPhone 6, iPhone 7 and iPhone 8. It still has features you'll want, like wireless charging, fast charging with an 18W power cord ($29 and not included), a solid wide-angle camera and more.

You don't get Face ID, Apple's facial recognition platform, but you still have a home button and Touch ID for unlocking your phone and buying stuff with your fingerprint.

And, sorry folks, no headphone jack here or in any of the iPhones Apple sells.

iPhone XR

The 6.1-inch iPhone XR is a sort of in-between phone, and if at all possible, it's a better deal to just spend the extra $100 for the iPhone 11.

The $599 iPhone XR is the last available version of the iPhone X family (that's a roman numeral 10, not the letter X), which was launched in 2018. Apple still sells it as an attractive lower-cost phone that offers some of the stuff you'll find in higher-end iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro models.

That includes Face ID, if unlocking the phone using your face is important to you, and a larger screen that's nicer for watching movies. It starts at $599 with 64GB of storage and is also available with 128GB of storage for $649.

On the inside, it's got an A12 processor that's slightly older and less powerful than the one in the $399 iPhone SE, or in Apple's iPhone 11 lineup. You probably won't notice the performance hit, but know that you're not getting the most advanced technology with the XR.

iPhone 11

iPhone 11
Todd Haselton | CNBC

I still believe the 6.1-inch iPhone 11 is the best iPhone for most people, as I said when I reviewed it last September.

It might be tough to justify spending a lot of money for a new phone given the uncertainty in the economy right now, which is why folks should buy the iPhone SE if they're on a budget, but the iPhone 11 is still a better phone. It starts at $699 for 64GB of storage, but a 128GB model will set you back $749 and the 256GB option costs $849.

For that price, you get great battery life, a second ultra-wide camera lens that's a lot of fun to use for capturing more of a scene, stereo speakers, Face ID and Apple's latest A13 Bionic processor. It just doesn't have as fancy a display, or some of the other aesthetic refinements such as steel accents, as you'll find in Apple's more expensive iPhones. At a time when people are concerned about losing their jobs, you should either buy this or the new iPhone SE.

iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max

iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max
Todd Haselton | CNBC

The iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max are for people who want everything Apple can stuff into a smartphone.

They're the best of the bunch, with prices that reflect that. They have pretty much identical features save for price and screen size.

Both iPhone 11 Pro models give you the brightest and most colorful screen Apple offers. The phones have an extra camera sensor for 2x optical zoom, in addition to ultra wide and wide angle sensors. They have a nicer finish, with steel borders instead of aluminum like on Apple's other phones, which I like since they add a premium touch. And they have great battery life and better water resistance than the iPhone XR and iPhone SE, so you can worry less if your phone falls in the pool.

The iPhone 11 Pro has a 5.8-inch screen, making it compelling for folks who think the iPhone SE is too small and the iPhone XR and iPhone 11 are too large. It starts at $999.

The iPhone 11 Pro Max has the biggest display Apple sells, at 6.5 inches, and starts at $1,099. The iPhone 11 Pro Max is my personal favorite, because I like having all the bells and whistles. But I'm a gadget reviewer, and most people don't need everything. 

New phones likely in the fall

iPhone SE
Apple

Right now, given the current economic situation and fears of job loss, it's certainly hard for me to recommend you spend any money on a phone. Keep in mind that Apple releases new high-end phones every fall, so if you buy any phone except for the SE now, it might seem out of date in a few months anyway. If your phone works fine and you're happy with it, keep it.

But lots of people I've spoken to need new ones, and that's why it's pretty smart of Apple to launch the iPhone SE right now. At $399, it's the phone most people on a budget should buy.

If you can't wait for a new phone and can spend a bit more, get the iPhone 11. And if you're in a good financial position and want the very best of everything Apple can pack into a phone, then the iPhone 11 Pro or iPhone 11 Pro Max are your best bets.

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iPhone 11 review: Lots of small improvements that add up to a solid phone