You're impressed by the iPhone's features. You love its iconic design. You appreciate how Apple's control over both the hardware and software makes for an integrated experience envied by Android users. But even with all that, you still balk at paying the top dollar that Apple's iPhone commands.
Not to worry — it's pretty easy to find the cheapest iPhone. The biggest question is whether that inexpensive model can meet your needs.
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iPhone SE: The cheapest iPhone Apple sells
Earlier this year, Apple rebooted the compact phone it first introduced in 2016, releasing a new model that mimics the iPhone 8's size and screen. The iPhone SE 2020 also inherited the iPhone 8's title of the cheapest iPhone you can buy from Apple at $399. And it's a title the iPhone SE retains to this day, even after Apple cut the prices on some existing devices after introducing four new iPhone 12 models in the fall. (More on those discounted older phones in a moment.)
The price of the iPhone SE may be discounted, but not all of its features are. You'll have to settle for just one camera — all four new iPhone 12 models have at least two — and like the iPhone 8 before it, the iPhone SE has an LCD panel instead of an OLED screen. In fact, now that the iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 both use OLED panels, the iPhone SE is the only phone with an LCD screen released by Apple this year.
But the iPhone SE doesn't compromise in other areas. It's powered by an A13 Bionic chip, the same mobile processor Apple introduced last year for its iPhone 11 lineup. Bottom line: you're getting a low price with the iPhone SE, but the performance should top many of the best cheap phones. We've got an in-depth look that outlines what's changed in the iPhone SE 2020 vs. the iPhone 8.
Reasons for Getting the iPhone SE: Low price; Widely available from all carriers; Under 5-inch screen size will appeal to fans of compact phones; state-of-the-art processor.
Reasons for Avoiding the iPhone SE: Just one camera; LCD screen; Chunky bezels relative to today's all-screen designs; Smaller battery than nearly every other available iPhone.
As for the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, you'll continue to find them at retail outlets and via wireless carriers — hopefully at reduced prices.
The next cheapest iPhone after the iPhone SE is still the iPhone XR, which came out in 2018 and features an A12 Bionic chip. Apple has kept it in the iPhone lineup even after the iPhone 12 release, but cut the price by $100. You can now get an iPhone XR for $499 — with some prices even lower depending on what deals are available.
The 6.1-inch iPhone 11 is the only model from the 2019 iPhone 11 family to still be on offer at Apple. (The iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max are gone, though wireless carriers and retailers still sell those devices.) With the iPhone 12 mini now starting at $699, the price of the iPhone 11 has been cut to $599.
Other cheap iPhone options: Used phones
Of course, the iPhone SE is only the cheapest iPhone on sale at Apple. You can find inexpensive phones elsewhere, typically older models sold by discount carriers. As of this writing, for example, Verizon-owned Visible is selling a refurbished iPhone X for $350. The iPhone 11 Pro Max is on sale at Metro by T-Mobile for $799.
Going the refurbished route is one way to get a discounted iPhone, and if you want to buy a used phone with confidence, Apple has its own pre-owned offerings. The selection isn't extensive, but you can usually around $200 off an iPhone that's only a generation or two old. You won't find the cheapest iPhone here, but it is a nice compromise between paying full price for a new phone and having to settle for a much older model.
Otherwise, retailers and reseller sites offer a selection of older iPhones at discounted prices. Again, you won't be getting the most up-to-date models if you shop for a used smartphone, but you can find more recent iPhone models for prices that rival what Apple charges for a new iPhone SE. (Just be aware that the the steeper the discount, the less likely your "new" phone will arrive in pristine condition.)
The cheapest iOS device isn't actually an iPhone
There's one other way to get an iOS device on the cheap, but it depends on how strongly you feel about the phone part of the iPhone. Apple continues to sell the iPod touch, now up to its seventh generation.
iPod Touch, 7th Generation: $199 @ Apple
Apple's most recent update can run iOS 14, and it includes may of the features — save for cellular connectivity — as recent iPhones.
The $199 model essentially boasts the same specs as an iPhone 7, only without the ability to connect over cellular networks. That means you'll be limited to using Wi-Fi for surfing the web, sending messages or using apps that require some sort of internet connectivity.
For some users, though, that may be enough, especially considering that the iPod touch supports the latest version of iOS. It also can download the very same App Store offerings available to the iPhone. If you don't anticipate making phone calls from your iOS device, the iPod touch represents a cheap way to stay connected to Apple's vast iOS ecosystem, without having to pay big bucks for an iPhone.