In a sense, there’s no such thing as a cheap iPhone. Apple is notoriously resistant to selling budget products, and when it does target that market, 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 good iPhone.
The best cheap iPhone: The iPhone SE (2022)
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We’ll be blunt — in many respects, the iPhone SE is outdated.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 14, and on top of that, the base configuration is limited to 64GB of storage in an era when 128GB could be confining.
What makes it worthwhile is that for $429, you’re still getting things like a 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-plus sizes on other models.
In fact, the only serious reasons to avoid the 2022 SE are Apple’s impending September iPhone refresh (we might see an upgrade) and photo quality. The SE just isn’t that great at low-light photography, and it lacks ultra-wide or telephoto lenses. If you don’t mind these caveats, it’ll fit the bill — just be sure to pay extra for 128 or 256GB of storage.
The runner-up: The iPhone 13
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It might seem strange to see the iPhone 13 here, but the dirty secret is that the iPhone 14 is essentially the same device with minor enhancements, namely crash detection, the Photonic Engine, Emergency SOS via satellite, and a tweaked A15 processor with an extra GPU cores. Given that most people will never notice the difference, it’s worth saving $100.
The iPhone 13 is relegated to runner-up status because of its $699 price tag, which is “cheap” only by Apple standards. Think of it as an upgrade from the SE instead. 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.
Should I consider an iPhone 12 or something older?
David Imel / Android Authority
Possibly. Apple still sells and supports 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 however, and you’re stuck with a slower A14 processor, all while paying a minimum $599 price tag (direct from Apple, anyway). You’ll have to decide for yourself whether the tradeoffs are worth it.
We wouldn’t recommend anything older unless the price trumps everything. Even an iPhone 11 is going to be hard to find if it’s not used, and at this level, feature sacrifices start to be noticeable. You won’t be able to install iOS 17 on anything older than 2018’s iPhone XS and XR, so consider that your hard cutoff.