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The best cheap iPhone
There’s no truly “cheap” iPhone, at least when compared with the cheapest Android phones. Apple is notoriously resistant to selling budget devices, and whenever it does target that market with new products, it’s more likely to repackage older components at mid-range prices. Still, you don’t have to spend $799 or more to get a quality iPhone.
The best cheap iPhone: The iPhone SE (2022)
We’ll be blunt: in many respects, the iPhone SE is outdated. It still has a home button, it uses Touch ID instead of Face ID, and it has gigantic bezels at the top and bottom. Its camera, charging, and display technologies aren’t nearly as good as those on the iPhone 15, and on top of that, the base configuration is limited to 64GB of storage in an era when 128GB can be confining.
What makes it worthwhile is that for $429 (or less, depending on where you shop), you’re still getting things like 5G cellular, the same A15 Bionic processor in the iPhone 14, and IP67 water resistance. It’s going to keep up with the vast majority of iOS apps — including games — and some people may even prefer its compact 4.7-inch screen to the 6-inch displays on other models.
In fact, the only serious reasons to avoid the 2022 SE are the likelihood of a 2024 refresh, and weak photo quality. The current SE just isn’t that great at low-light photography, and it lacks telephoto or even ultra-wide lenses. If you don’t mind those caveats, it’ll fit the bill — we strongly recommend paying extra for 128 or 256GB of storage however, and at that point you might be eyeing our next recommendation.
The runner-up: The iPhone 13
For some it might seem strange to see the iPhone 13 here, but it’s still a very capable iPhone, and down to $599 at Apple. You’ll probably find it for less at some third-party retailers or as a refurb.
Think of it as an upgrade from the SE. You’ll get a bigger, brighter, and sharper 6.1-inch display, not to mention Face ID, better low-light photos, MagSafe wireless charging, and a secondary ultra-wide lens. Storage options start at 128GB and run up to 512GB. There’s even an A15 Bionic chip inside, since the truth is that the iPhone 14 was Apple skimping on production costs and trying to nudge more people towards Pro iPhones.
Should I consider an iPhone 12 or something older?
Possibly. Apple still sells refurbished models of the iPhone 12, which remains superior to the iPhone SE in ways such as Face ID, a 6.1-inch screen, and better low-light shooting. It has the same storage tiers as the SE though, and you’re stuck with a slower A14 processor, all while paying a minimum $449 pricetag (direct from Apple, anyway). You’ll have to decide for yourself whether the tradeoffs are worth it, and you may have trouble finding models beyond the base 64GB.
We wouldn’t recommend anything older unless price is your utmost concern. Even an iPhone 11 is going to be hard to find if it’s not sold used, and that far back, feature sacrifices start to be come noticeable. You can’t install this year’s iOS 17 on anything older than 2018’s iPhone XS and XR — so consider that your hard cutoff.