With a new iPhone on the horizon, it’s time to ask “what are the best iPhones ever?”
It’s a question that’s both incredibly easy and very difficult to answer. In terms of identifying the bad iPhones and the great ones, it’s very easy. Some iPhones are really good and some are very bad. However, there are a lot of iPhones that are in the middle. They’re separated by degrees of quality. How do you rank those models when identifying the best iPhones? We evaluated each model based on these points:
- Historical Significance
- How It Felt To Use
No one metric is more important than the other, but that last one turned out to be the deciding vote. At the end of the day, how much did we enjoy using that particular iPhone compared to others (and other phones in general)? If we felt like there was a better option out there, that model got knocked down the list. However, if that phone felt like a reliable and fun trendsetter (as all iPhones should feel like) it was bumped up the list.
With that out of the way, here are the best iPhones ever ranked worst to best.
20. iPhone 5C
Give Apple credit for trying to introduce a budget iPhone. Give them no credit for introducing a budget iPhone that felt like a parody of the “real” iPhone. The iPhone 5C was bulky, ugly, slow, and felt cheaper than it actually was (it was only about $100 cheaper than the iPhone 5S). Its similarly priced competition was strictly better in just about every respect, and the phone’s 8 GB model was practically unusable due to how much of that space the phone’s operating system took up. If this was Apple’s way of dissuading people from asking for a cheaper iPhone, then it was a good one.
19. iPhone 3GS
This was a strange phone. It was really Apple’s first attempt at an “incremental” upgrade to the previous iPhone. That is to say that it didn’t feel like the true next iPhone. To be fair, the 3GS was a clear improvement over its predecessor in just about every way. It was faster, sleeker, and just felt better. It also included video recording (a great new feature at the time). However, very little about this phone justified its cost. It was a technical upgrade that felt like Apple’s first attempt at gouging the consumer over their desire to have a new iPhone.
This is undoubtedly the hardest phone on this list to rank. It was the most revolutionary iPhone and one of the most important consumer technology products ever made. Historically, nobody can deny its impact. However, if we’re talking about the “best” iPhones, then it’s hard to defend this model. As a phone, it wasn’t the best available by a long shot. It didn’t offer 3G support, the app store had not yet been launched when it was released, and the original version didn’t even support MMS at launch. It was an iPod that could make phone calls, and it couldn’t eve make them well.
17. iPhone 4S
We’re certainly going to be talking about the iPhone 4 later, but without giving too much away, let’s just say it was a truly great phone. So how do you improve upon true greatness? Don’t ask Apple, because they certainly didn’t figure it out with this phone. We can’t deny that Siri was an incredible new feature at the time, but it wasn’t enough to make this phone feel significantly better than its significant predecessor. Historically, it is stuck between two incredible iPhones. Even at the time, though, it felt like an upgrade many users could skip.
16. iPhone 6S
The thread that binds most of the “S” model iPhones is that they felt like stopgaps between the real iPhones that were mostly targeted at Apple’s most passionate consumers. The 6s is really no different in that respect, and you could argue that it deserves to be even lower on this list. The only thing that keeps it from ranking lower is the fact that it was a pretty impressive standalone device. However, as an upgrade, the iPhone 6s’ iffy 3D touch technology and limited Live Photo features just weren’t enough to really help this phone stand the test of time when you look at what it was surrounded by.
15. iPhone 6S Plus
Yes, the only reason the iPhone 6S Plus ranks higher on this list is that it’s a bigger model. Well…maybe not the only reason. Actually, the fact that the iPhone 6S Plus featured a bigger screen (5.5 inches) isn’t really as significant as the fact that it offered a 1080p screen. That was a huge resolution upgrade at the time that helped set a resolution standard. Unfortunately, the 6S Plus suffers from the same lack of innovation that plagued the iPhone 6S. While the strict technical quality of a phone is a factor, the iPhone 6S Plus’ historical relevance keeps it from ranking higher.
14. iPhone 7
The iPhone 7 could certainly go higher or lower on this list based on preference. Some would argue that it should go lower because of it was the phone that removed the headphone jack, and because it was the phone that made people realize that Apple’s competitors were offering quite a bit more for a lower price. All of that said, though, this really was a pretty good phone. The headphone jack thing isn’t quite as big of a deal now as it was then, the iPhone 7’s camera was the best iPhone camera yet, and the static home button was a great design improvement.
13. iPhone 5S
The last of the “S” models on this list – not counting the Plus models – is the iPhone 5S. There’s an argument to be made that the 6S was actually a better phone. It certainly was from a technical standpoint. However, the iPhone 5S featured a few things that really changed the game for Apple and its competitors. It’s Touch ID sensor may have been a bit wonky, but it was a brilliant idea. The phone’s Apple A7 chip was also the first 64-bit processor ever put into a smartphone. All-told, this was probably the most tempting of all the S models.
12. iPhone 7 Plus
If the iPhone 7 was a controversial phone that was ultimately pretty good, then the iPhone 7 Plus was a controversial phone that was ultimately even better than that. The iPhone 7 Plus’ bigger screen afforded it an incredible 1920×1080 px resolution, while the phone’s slightly better battery helped cut down on potential issues when stacked against the battery of the base model. However, the iPhone 7 Plus’ true trump card was its camera. The dual rear camera featured on the Plus model may have sounded like a minor upgrade at the time, but it proved to set a true new standard.
11. iPhone 3G
This is probably about where most people would rank the first iPhone, but if we’re being honest, the iPhone 3G is probably the phone you think about when you think about the first iPhone. The 3G was technically the second iPhone, but its name can be attributed to the fact it actually featured 3G capabilities. That alone made it a game changer for Apple, but it wasn’t even the best thing that this phone offered. Its universal headphone jack, improved touch screen, MMS support, copy and paste features, and home screen folders were all huge upgrades. The 3G might look archaic today, but it was brilliant in its day.
10. iPhone SE
Here’s another model that’s incredibly hard to rank. It was released around the era of the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus and was very similar to those phones in many respects. However, the SE had one very important feature that makes it one of the most fascinating iPhones in history; it was smaller. That’s usually not a big deal, but the SE was released in response to fans who missed the smaller design of the iPhone 5 models. Apple listened to their consumers and released a cheaper, smaller, but still a well-designed phone. The SE ultimately didn’t accomplish enough, but we’re shocked that Apple abandoned this idea.
9. iPhone 8
A year after its release, the jury is still very much out on the iPhone 8. To be honest, there’s nothing really exceptionally wrong with this phone. It was the logical successor to the iPhone 7, it had a great camera, good screen, great processor, and glass back, wireless charging friendly design. All of that speaks to the iPhone 8 being a great phone. However, the iPhone 8 was not the iPhone X, and the iPhone X was simply superior in so very many ways. This was a viable “budget” iPhone option, but the greatness of the X left many 8 owners feeling like they were missing out.
8. iPhone 8 Plus
It’s actually a little tempting to rank the 8 Plus lower than the iPhone 8 given that it didn’t make that many improvements over the base model, but it’s still hard to argue that it was technically superior the iPhone 8. Its camera was noticeably better than the iPhone 8, its screen was significantly better than the iPhone 8, and it just felt better than the iPhone 8. The actual size of the screen is arguably a matter of preference, but this phone’s enhanced resolution and much-improved camera made it hard to pass on even with its larger price tag.
7. iPhone XS Max
Theoretically, the iPhone XS Max should rank above the iPhone XS is simply because it’s just better enough to justify the slight price increase the model demanded. It’s screen is particularly great one that ranks among Apple’s finest yet. However, it is hard to not be disappointed with how little this phone actually does to improve upon the XS. It feels like the ultimate middle-child in the iPhone lineup. Its technically superior status is as technical as it comes, and there’s just very little reason to buy this phone over competing models when you take into account every factor.
6. iPhone XS
The very, very, very new kid on the block is almost too new to properly rate. However, since this is a ranking of every iPhone currently available, then we do have to talk about the XS. The XS is one of those iPhones that’s tough to rate in this context because it’s really a matter of whether or not being a good phone is enough. The iPhone XS is a very good phone because it improves upon a great one, but when you factor in its price vs. its improvements, then there are certainly reasons to rank this phone lower despite its perfectly fine performance.
5. iPhone 6
It’s hard not to love the iPhone 6. First off, this is the phone that helped establish the super sleek modern iPhone design that we’re used to. It’s still a beautiful phone. It’s also quite a powerful phone – at least it was at the time – thanks to its Apple A8 chip and general hardware layout. This was also the phone that introduced NFC technology to the iPhone (as well as Apple Pay) and the phone that let you record 1080p video. Sadly, this phone’s legacy is hindered by some structural flaws and the fact it wasn’t the most innovative iPhone.
4. iPhone 6 Plus
Another iPhone, another Plus. Yes, the iPhone 6 Plus is basically the iPhone 6, but with a bigger screen. Yes, that still technically makes it the better phone. However, that bigger screen is more important than it has been in the case of some previous Plus models simply because the iPhone 6’s already beautiful Retina HD display felt like it was truly made for the larger screen of the Plus. That being the case, this was one of those Plus models that was tempting regardless of whether or not you actually wanted a larger phone.
3. iPhone 4
This is tough. Any of these three phones could arguably be the best of all-time. That’s certainly true of the iPhone 4. This was the iPhone that showed Apple was not out of tricks. It sported a fantastic design that many still remember fondly, as well as a screen that’s quality arguably holds up. It had a front-facing camera, gyroscope, great processor, and its iOS model introduced Facetime. In comparison to the 3G and original iPhone, it just feels more like a modern phone. If it weren’t for that bizarre antenna issue, then the iPhone 4 would almost certainly rank higher.
2. iPhone X
Honestly, one of the biggest reasons the iPhone X doesn’t take home the top spot is due to the way that Apple made the iPhone 8 the red-headed stepchild of the iPhone lineup in order to hype the iPhone X. Its price was also somewhat questionable based on market value. However, it’s hard to deny that the iPhone X is a beautiful, extremely capable, exciting, and potentially game-changing phone. The talk about the sensor notch ruining this phone’s design has been overblown. Apple may have been late to the party in building a screen like this, but the iPhone X just felt so right to use. It’s a shame that it had such a short tenure.
1. iPhone 5
The biggest knocks against the iPhone 5 are its then-controversial lightning connector and the weak release of Apple Maps. Other than that, it was everything you want from an iPhone. Its design combined the sturdiness of previous iPhone models with the sleekness of future ones. The phone’s screen was a masterpiece. Its battery was genuinely great. It also benefited from the brilliant release of iOS 6. When you used the iPhone 5, you didn’t just feel like you were using something that was better than the previous iPhone, you felt like you were using something that felt like the absolute best-in-class. It’s still a phone that Apple fans swear by.