Sometimes the best new phone for you is the one that launched a year and a half ago.
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I spent an exciting, exhausting week last September with the new Apple iPhone 14 in hand before it went on sale. I did everything I could over the course of that week — navigating, web browsing, recording video, gaming, selfies, ferry rides, selfies on the ferry, you name it — to try to answer the $800 question: should you buy it?
The answer then, which I stand by now, is “probably not.” It’s a great phone, but it’s not meaningfully better than the iPhone 13. Sure, it makes sense to pick the 14 if your carrier is giving you a great deal or you spend a lot of time out of cell range where the new Emergency SOS might be a literal lifesaver. Or go for the iPhone 14 Pro if you’re after the very latest features. But for the rest of us, the iPhone 13 is just as good with the added benefit of costing a little less.
I’m a woman of my word, so when it became clear that it was time to upgrade my iPhone 11 before its trade-in value fell off a cliff, I headed straight for the iPhone 13 — the Mini, to be precise, which is down to $600. Since the end of last year, I’ve spent a lot of time testing the latest generation of high-end phones: the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra, Google Pixel 7 Pro, and a recent revisit of the iPhone 14 Pro. They’re all amazing phones in their own ways. But when it came time to make my own decision about which phone to buy, I didn’t pick any of those latest and greatest devices. Nope, I traded in my 11 (along with a small piece of my soul) to Verizon for the humble little iPhone 13 Mini, and I haven’t looked back.
I opted for the Mini because I love a small phone, and it seems very likely that the 13 Mini is going to be the last good small phone. But even if you prefer a bigger phone, I still think the 13 is where it’s at. You don’t get the upgraded camera hardware and processing offered by the 14, but it’s still a good camera overall — decent portrait mode photos, very good video, and an ultrawide for a little drama. And you do get photographic styles and cinematic video mode — both of which I use regularly (rich contrast stans, unite!).
Outside of the camera, the 13 Mini remains a really good phone by modern standards, even a year and a half after launch. Battery life isn’t its strong suit, but it’s enough to get me through a day of moderate use with a comfortable margin. It fits beautifully into the outer pocket of my mom-at-the-playground-chic belt bag. It’s plenty fast and responsive with its A15 Bionic processor. It has MagSafe and, therefore, wireless charging. It also has a physical SIM tray, whereas the iPhone 14 is all eSIM. Most people don’t need to worry about this; I change phones once a week, and eSIM makes my life a living hell.
The 13 Mini isn’t perfect. There are things I wish it had but that, for the most part, I wouldn’t get on the iPhone 14 anyway — they’re features reserved for the pricier 14 Pro. And while the 14 is just moderately more expensive than the 13 Mini ($800 versus $600), the $1,000 14 Pro is a lot more expensive by comparison. A smooth-scrolling 120Hz screen, telephoto lens, always-on display: all Pro-only. They’re very nice things to have, but are they $400 nicer? Maybe. But not for me, not right now.
That’s the question it always comes down to: not which is the best phone but which is the best phone for me? That’s the question I spend most of my days trying to help people answer. It’s fun to declare winners and losers, but when it comes to something as personal as your phone, picking the right one to live with is always a little more complex than that.