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Should you buy an iPhone 13? Check your current phone—and pick the best upgrade

Now that Apple’s newly announced iPhone 13 lineup is available for pre-order, you might be looking at your older phone and wondering if it’s time for a change. Our reviews of the new phones are coming soon—but we’re hoping this guide will help you determine whether you should upgrade at all, and which of the four iPhone 13 models would likely fit your preferences.

WSJ Personal Tech columnist Nicole Nguyen will take you through a series of simple questions to help you make the right decision. Let’s get started.

iPhone 13 Mini ($699 and up)

The new Mini is the most affordable and most lightweight, pocketable phone of the 13 lineup, with the same features as the larger iPhone 13: an OLED display, 5G connectivity, A15 Bionic chip, dual rear cameras and water resistance. Plus, it’s something of a limited edition. Many analysts expect Apple will discontinue the 5.4-inch Mini size option after this year due to poor sales. The big iPhone 12 Mini tradeoff was comparatively poor battery life, but Apple says the new Mini can run 1.5 hours longer than last year’s model. If you still fear running out of juice, you can always get Apple’s snap-on MagSafe battery pack. Or you can get the iPhone 13, which has a larger battery.

iPhone 13 ($799 and up)

When price and specs are balanced, this is probably the right iPhone for most shoppers. It’s 5G ready, with a roomy 6.1-inch display and a battery that should last you all day. It has the same A15 Bionic processor as the higher-end Pro models. The two main features you’d be missing out on by not going Pro are the faster, brighter screen and a third rear-facing camera. The iPhone 13 has two cameras, a wide and an ultra-wide, while the Pro models have an additional 3X telephoto camera. Interested in that telephoto camera? Start with the iPhone 13 Pro.

iPhone 13 Pro ($999 and up)

This is a solid choice for people willing to pay a premium for better cameras. This model has a wide, ultra-wide and telephoto camera on its rear—giving it a full range of 6X optical zoom—and uses a Lidar scanner for faster autofocus and nighttime portrait-mode shots. Its screen is brighter than the non-Pro models, and has a higher refresh rate for smoother scrolling and game animation. The 13 Pro also comes with larger storage capacity options (up to 1 terabyte) and has longer battery life than the iPhone 13 models. If you want an even better battery and don’t mind the bulk (or the price), consider the Pro Max.

iPhone 13 Pro Max ($1,099 and up)

Of all the iPhones, this beast has the largest display (6.7 inches) and battery (rated for 25 hours of video streaming, compared to the 13 Pro’s 20 hours). Like the iPhone 13 Pro, the Max has the A15 Bionic processorand three cameras, a wide, ultra-wide and telephoto, on its rear. You just might have trouble fitting it in your hands, or your jeans pocket.

But do they cost too much?

The newest iPhones always carry the highest premiums. To save money, you have three options in particular:

Buy an older model that Apple just reduced in price. This includes the 5G-capable iPhone 12 and 12 Mini ($599 and up) , the low-frills iPhone 11 ($499 and up) and the good old iPhone SE ($399 and up)—the last iPhone with a home button. My colleague Joanna compared the older models to the new lineup here.

Check with your carrier for pay-over-time pricing, or even discounts. Carriers are already offering promotions on the latest iPhones, generally with a trade-in phone and some form of contractual commitment.

Buy a refurbished iPhone model from Apple. Just remember, getting an older model cuts into how long you can use the phone—Apple stops supporting iPhone models after about six years from their initial sale date.


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