As you no doubt know by now, the latest version of the iPhone is now available in stores. Known as the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro, the new models bring a series of upgrades compared with previous years, but that doesn't mean it's always easy to know whether it's a good time to replace what you already have. To make things more complicated, there are two more versions--the iPhone 12 Mini and iPhone 12 Pro Max--coming in a few weeks.
It's reasonable to wonder whether the new models are just hype or whether they're worth forking out the money for an upgrade. Here's a good rule--first, figure out the reason you want to upgrade. Are you upgrading because your current device is no longer functional enough to meet your needs? Or are you upgrading because you always want the latest flashy features?
Most people fall somewhere in between, so I'll break down what I think are the reasons you might upgrade, and what you should get:
I just want an iPhone that works well with the latest software.
Most iPhones are supported and continue to receive software updates for four or five years and should remain functional for at least that long. There are plenty of people happily using their iPhone 7 or 8, and some using older versions than that.
If your main goal is to have an affordable device that works well with iOS 14 and all of the latest apps, and you aren't interested in features like 5G, I recommend the iPhone 11 ($599). The A13 processor inside is faster than anything in any mobile device that isn't the iPhone 12 series. By the way, that processor is in the iPhone SE ($399) also, though the smaller display means some apps won't function quite the same (though they'll still work).
I want to take advantage of more current features.
On the other hand, iPhone features usually change the most over a two-to-three-year span. For example, in 2017, the iPhone X came out and was the first of Apple's current redesigned form factor. The iPhone 12 takes that design and refines it further with flat edges for a price that starts at $829, or $799 through most carriers.
The cameras, however, didn't change that much this year compared with last, other than on the most expensive version, the iPhone 12 Pro Max (starting at $1,099). That means that upgrading every two years is probably enough to always have the latest design and features. An iPhone 11 or iPhone 12 will give you essentially the latest feature set (except 5G on the iPhone 11), and will last long enough to hold you over for a few years until something truly new comes along.
I want to go for the best overall value.
One of the great things about the iPhone is that Apple generally keeps older models around for a few years at a discounted price. For example, this year you can get an iPhone 11 for $599, or an iPhone XR for $499. If you're still using an iPhone 6, 7, or 8, these represent a pretty big step up in features and performance, at a really reasonable price.
Alternatively, the iPhone SE actually packs the same camera as the XR and the internal processor from the iPhone 11, and it's only $399. Plus, it still has Touch ID, which comes in handy when you're wearing a mask.
Of the latest versions, I definitely recommend the iPhone 12 as the best option for most people. It has most of the same features as the Pro models, but you can save yourself a few hundred dollars depending on how much storage you get.
I just want to always have the very best.
If this is you, you're probably already upgrading each year, or two at the most. You're probably buying the iPhone 12 or iPhone 12 Pro--more likely the Pro. After all, those three extra letters are the way Apple lets you know you're getting the best it has to offer. It's worth mentioning that this year, the difference between those two models isn't as great as it has been in the past. The iPhone 12 now has an OLED display as well as 5G, the same as the Pro.
The major difference is what Apple calls the 2X telephoto lens on the Pro version, as well as the addition of ProRAW and the ability to shoot 4K video at 60fps with Dolby Vision HDR. That's a fancy way to say that the photos and videos you take with any of the iPhone 12 versions (but especially the ones with Pro in the name) will look outstanding for a very long time.
As a final note, if you really want to buy the very best, this year that's the iPhone 12 Pro Max, which has better image stabilization on the 1X wide lens, as well as a longer telephoto than the iPhone 12 Pro. It also sports a 6.7-inch display, which might be a bit big (and pricey) for most people, but, hey, if you want the very best, this is it.