iPhone Buying Guide

If you are in the market for a new iPhone, here are my recommendations. In short, buy the latest iPhone model and unless you know you need the extra storage it’s likely that you don’t need to get an upgraded capacity.

When should I get a new iPhone?

This is largely up to you. Some people upgrade every year, some every 2 or 3 years. But these days iPhones are made so well that you can really go much longer than that if the new features don’t excite you. In general, I recommend:

  • 1 to 2 years if your iPhone is one of the primary tools you use to make money
  • 2 to 4 years if you are a fairly heavy iPhone user
  • 4 to 6 years if you are a light iPhone user

This is all assuming you purchase the latest iPhone model. If you purchase a year old iPhone model, you can expect it to last about a year less.

How do I know how old my iPhone is?

Go to the Settings app > General > About. Look for your iPhone model. Below are the release dates for the past several years, along with the headline features so that you know what you are missing. This is not counting all of the various battery and performance improvements we get almost every year.

  • iPhone 15: 2023 (USB-C)
  • iPhone 14: 2022 (Emergency SOS via Satellite)
  • iPhone 13: 2021 (Refinement year)
  • iPhone 12: 2020 (MagSafe charging, OLED on the non-Pro model)
  • iPhone 11: 2019 (Dual camera system)
  • iPhone XS, XR: 2018 (Dual SIM)
  • iPhone X: 2017 (Face ID)

Should I get the latest model?

It may sound counterintuitive, but it actually costs less in the long run to get the latest model most of the time. You can save $100 on a year-old iPhone or $200 on a two-year-old iPhone, but that just means your iPhone will need to be replaced a year or two sooner. Those discounts are too small to make financial sense, as a 6-year estimated lifespan on the latest model works out to $133 per year. Apple makes more money off of you if you take the small discount because you are back again sooner. Not to mention, the newer model has better battery life, double the storage, and additional features such as Emergency SOS via Satellite. And if you don’t like change, you have the added benefit of going extra years before having to get a new phone.

Release year202120222023
Cost as of August 2023$599$699$799
Obsolete year (estimated)202720282029
Years before obsolete if you buy now (estimated)456
Average cost per year if kept until obsolete$150$140$133

What about iPhone SE?

The iPhone SE model may look appealing with its $429 price tag, but most people I know who have it aren’t very happy with it. The screen is much smaller even though the phone body is similar, the battery runs roughly half that of the iPhone 15, they are far less durable, they won’t get updates nearly as long, and Touch ID tends to be much less reliable than Face ID. The only people I can recommend this to are those who absolutely cannot afford anything better right now or people looking for a phone for a child who is likely going to break or lose the phone anyway. It’s around half the price of an iPhone 15 but it’s probably going to last half as long and not be as enjoyable or useful during that time.

Should I get the standard model or the Pro?

For most people, the standard model is going to be the better option, though there are plenty of great reasons to spend the extra $200 on the Pro models if that’s within your budget, so if you are a heavy iPhone user the Pro might make sense. The advantages of the iPhone 15 Pro over the iPhone 15 include:

  • titanium body is more durable
  • an always-on-display lets you see any missed notifications and statuses at a glance
  • the screen is a little easier to see in direct sunlight
  • slightly better battery life
  • better camera including
    • RAW image capture
    • ability to record video directly to external storage
    • spatial video recording for viewing in 3D on the upcoming Apple Vision Pro (coming with a software update in late 2023)
    • 3x telephoto lens on the Pro or 5x on the Pro Max
    • 4K video supports 60fps
    • Portrait Mode in Dark Mode
  • A smaller border around the screen means a slightly smaller phone while the screen itself is the same size as the standard iPhone 15
  • faster data transfer by cable, up to 20 gbps
  • WiFi 6E instead of WiFi 6 (faster, quicker response time)
  • AV1 video playback codec might mean better battery life and lower data usage on supported video streaming services

What size screen should I get?

iPhones come in two screen sizes. The basic screen size is 6.1″. The large screen size is 6.7″. Both of these screen sizes are available on both the standard iPhone 15 model and the iPhone 15 Pro, though the standard model calls it the “Plus” and the Pro calls it the “Max”.

The iPhone 15 Plus is a $100 premium over the basic iPhone 15, but is appealing to people who like to watch a lot of mobile video, who have difficulty with vision, who have difficulty with motor skills, or want just a little extra battery life.

The iPhone 15 Pro Max is a $200 premium over the iPhone 15 Pro Max. In addition to having a bit of extra battery life, it also upgrades you from a 3x telephoto lens to 5x.

If you’re still not sure I recommend going to an Apple Store to see them. You can even put them in your pocket to see how they feel.

What storage capacity should I get?

Apart from color, the only other option to choose is how much storage you should get. In the past, iPhone storage had been anemic at just 16 or 32 GB. Luckily, today’s devices now start at 128 GB, which is enough for most people. But to be sure, you should check to see how much storage you are currently using. Go to the Settings app on your current iPhone then General > iPhone Storage. It will show you the capacity of your current iPhone and how much you are using. If you are the sort of person who likes to keep their iPhones for as long as possible, you might want to consider getting an iPhone that has at least twice the amount you are currently using. If you are the type of person who upgrades every year or two, you probably want to make sure you get at least 20-30% more than you are currently using. It’s better to err on the higher side; you cannot upgrade this later without replacing your phone. The big disadvantage of overbuying, apart from the obvious up front cost, is that when you later trade it in, most trade-in offers don’t take into account how much storage you have.

Should I get AppleCare?

I don’t have a general recommendation on AppleCare. It can be a good program but like any insurance, it’s statistically a loss. However, if you do end up needing it it can be very valuable. If you answer yes to any of these questions then you might want it: Do you often drop things? Do you use your iPhone without a case? Is this iPhone for a child or teenager? Does the thought of spending $800 on a new iPhone make you want to cry?

A lot of cell phone carriers and third parties offer insurance. However, if you want insurance I really recommend AppleCare. Insurance from other providers can be lousy. They may look for ways to get out of paying you, they may replace your phone with a used device that might not have authentic parts. I’ve heard real horror stories. Getting your iPhone covered with AppleCare is so much easier and faster.

Where should I buy it?

I typically recommend buying either from your cellular carrier or (if you are using T-Mobile, Verizon, or AT&T) direct from Apple. If you are a deal hunter you should definitely check both sources, because in the end it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference

The advantage of buying directly from Apple is that they are often better able to help you transfer your data to your new iPhone. And since they are not employees of your carrier they are often more honestly able to advise you on what plan you should be on.

The advantage of buying direct from your carrier is that they sometimes have access to deals and inventory that Apple doesn’t have. You can get those either from your carrier’s website or at a store in person. If you are buying an iPhone within the first few weeks of release, going to a store might not prove fruitful because they often don’t have them in stock.

Be wary of stores that are labeled “Authorized” dealers. For the best customer service, I recommend going to corporate stores only. An Authorized Dealer is required to include something about that in their signage next to the Verizon, AT&T, or T-Mobile logo. Dealers can include independent stores or big stores like Best Buy. While you might have a lousy experience with a corporate store or you might have a great experience at a dealer, corporate stores are a bit more consistent.

When should I buy it?

The best deals are usually available in the first week or two that a new iPhone is announced in September. And if you are coming close to September, I recommend holding off to take advantage of the features of the upcoming iPhone.

What deals are available?

This is a really difficult question to answer because there are so many variables and deals change constantly. In general, the best thing to do is to buy a new iPhone within the first week of it being available for sale. Some carriers give you huge discounts for trading in your old iPhone. Many deals are as good as giving you the new iPhone for free if you are trading in a recent model. Be sure to compare what your carrier offers vs. what trading in to Apple directly offers. Apple does offer carrier deals through their Apple Store app, but I’ve seen times where the carrier has some special they only offer directly.

What about accessories?

Refer to my Product Recommendations list for any accessories such as a case, battery, etc.

Further Help

If you are an existing customer who needs help with this or if you have other questions, or if you are in San Francisco and interested in becoming a client I invite you to book an appointment with me. Otherwise, you may wish to contact Apple Support or find a local Apple consultant.

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