Every iPhone ranked, from worst to best

By

Nicole Arbour 3
What was your favorite iPhone?
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

The new iPhone XS and XS Max are generating rave reviews. Having marked the iPhone’s 10th anniversary with last year’s awe-inducing iPhone X, Apple has now set the stage for a second decade of smartphone innovation.

But what about all the awesome iPhones that led us to this point? Which models are the classics that will occupy museum shelves long after they’ve stopped working? I decided to dive in at the deep end and rank every phone Apple ever made. Wish me luck!

Every iPhone ranked: A few provisos

I know: A ranking such as this is bound to be flawed. What exactly is being ranked — performance, cultural impact, sales or design? The answer is, “All of the above.”

This list is an attempt to rank iPhones on pure greatness. The goal is to combine all these aspects into one mystical measurement of each individual iPhone. The goal is to summarize how much we liked using each model and how we look back on them all today.

Yes, there are all sorts of challenges and inherent contradictions in trying to do that, but there are really no bad iPhones. Just great ones and even greater ones. Here’s how the ranking went down.

The Rokr E1 was the first Apple-sanctioned cellphone. It wasn't good.
The Rokr E1 was the first Apple-sanctioned cellphone. It wasn’t good.
Photo: Apple

21. Rokr E1

At the risk of spoiling this list up top, there’s no such thing as a crappy iPhone. But what fun is a roundup like this without at least one truly terrible entry? The Rokr E1 isn’t a true iPhone, but it is the first iTunes phone — and Apple’s first attempt at entering the phone market. And, man, was it terrible!

Created in collaboration with Motorola, this 2005 disaster was an attempt to cross a cellphone with an iPod. Unfortunately, it was fiddly to use, locked to Cingular Wireless, uninspired in appearance, and generally rubbish. Apple discontinued support just a year after introducing it.

App Store on iPhone 3GS
The iPhone 3GS proved speedy but uninspiring.
Photo: Apple

20. iPhone 3GS

2009’s iPhone 3GS isn’t a bad phone, it’s just not hugely exciting. It boasted better performance (the “S” stood for “speed”) and an improved, 3-megapixel camera that let users shoot video. But it marked the first time it felt like Apple was only introducing an incremental iPhone improvement rather than something revolutionary.

By this point, the iPhone’s unchanged design looked a little long in the tooth, too. Especially considering what followed with the iPhone 4.

19. iPhone 4s

Given how much I’m going to gush about the iPhone 4 later (spoiler alert), I feel a bit bad about leaving the iPhone 4s languishing back here. There’s a good reason, though.

While there was a lot to like about this handset, it didn’t change much from its predecessor. Its big addition — Siri — turned out to be a bit of a dud early on, too. The addition of an 8MP camera was swanky, though.

5c
The iPhone 5c was Apple’s most colorful iPhone yet.
Photo: Apple

18. iPhone 5c

I was going to rank the iPhone 5c lower initially. After all, this was the first time Apple split the iPhone into two versions, with the lower-spec iPhone 5c pitched as a budget option. Unlike the iPhone 5s, the 5c didn’t get the Touch ID sensor everyone was talking about in late 2013.

But the colorful design was a fun nod to the more cheerful, less austere products in Apple’s history, like the iBook and iMac G3. For that reason, the iPhone 5c remains a sentimental favorite.

17. iPhone 5s

iphone 5s
The iPhone 5s introduced us to Touch ID.
Photo: Apple

The iPhone 5s falls into the same category as a lot of the other “S” model iPhones. It builds on a very solid foundation, but doesn’t leap out as a memorable iPhone. The introduction of Touch ID was very nice, but it’s easy to forget how slow and unreliable the first-gen sensor was.

This was also right around the time that Android makers started to embrace larger “phablet” devices. The iPhone 5s may have been perfectly formed, but its 4-inch display felt small next to other handsets on the market.

16. iPhone 8

This one was tough to place. The iPhone 8 was a very solid phone in a lot of ways. However, it ultimately proved an unspectacular addition to the line. It marked the fourth year in a row that Apple went with the tried-and-true iPhone 6 design, which made it seem boring. More importantly, the iPhone 8 paled into insignificance next to the iPhone X, which Apple released the same year.

Wireless charging was nice, the camera was great, and True Tone technology was nifty. But the iPhone 8 just doesn’t stand out as a big technical leap forward.

15. iPhone 8 Plus

The iPhone 8 Plus was the iPhone 8, but bigger. As it turns out, this was Apple’s last “Plus” iPhone model, before the branding was switched to “Max.” Apple’s mind was clearly on other things by this point.

iPhone
The iPhone 6s built on the solid foundation of the iPhone 6.
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

14. iPhone 6s

There’s no getting around the fact that people (including myself) are hankering after bigger and bigger smartphones these days. The iPhone 6s built on the groundwork laid by the iPhone 6, and added features like 3D Touch and Live Photos.

Personally, I was never a huge fan of this iPhone design. Its surfboard design was more ungainly than some of its predecessors, and it felt slippery in your hands. The visible antenna bands and protruding camera lens may have been necessary from a technical perspective, but they also looked ugly and compromised. New features like 3D Touch were good, although it perhaps hasn’t lived up to its early promise.

iPhone 7
The iPhone 7 launched in to positive reviews in2016.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

13. iPhone 6s Plus

The iPhone 6s Plus was Apple’s second 5.5-inch smartphone, showcasing the company’s willingness to embrace the phablet craze. The bigger screen size is the sole reason this model ranks higher than the 4.7-inch iPhone 6s.

However, it also had the same optical image stabilization feature as the previous year’s iPhone 6 Plus.

12. iPhone 7

Like the iPhone 5s or iPhone 3GS, by the time the iPhone 7 came out, its design was starting to feel slightly tired. But the iPhone 7 did make a few noticeable improvements. For one thing, the antenna bands were redesigned to be less noticeable than on previous models. This was especially true on the stunning jet black color option.

Apple also took the first step toward eliminating the Home button by replacing the physical button with a haptic one. The new Home button simulated clicks using clever vibrations from the so-called Taptic Engine.

The introduction of a (Product)Red color option was also very welcome. People were sure upset about the lack of a headphone jack, though!

11. iPhone 7 Plus

As elsewhere on this list, it’s hard to separate the regular and Plus-size versions of iPhones due to their extreme similarity. The iPhone 7 Plus ranks higher than the 4.7-inch version, however, due to the much-sought-after extra screen real estate. Plus, it came with fancy dual cameras.

iphone SE
The iPhone SE was a great phone with a terrible name.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

10. iPhone SE

“Underrated” is my word for the iPhone SE. Admittedly that shouldn’t make sense, since this is my own personal rating for every iPhone. But it feels like an iPhone that we’re really going to miss now that it’s gone.

While it lacked features such as 3D Touch, the 4-inch iPhone SE did a great job of combining one of my favorite iPhone designs of the past with up-to-date internals. In some ways, I think the iPhone SE should rank even higher. But since it was more about dusting off an old design and giving it a tweak, this feels like the right place for it.

9. Original iPhone

This one’s tricky to rate. Technology isn’t like movies: iPhone sequels are typically better than the original. The first-generation iPhone, launched in 2007, was more about innovation than perfection. It was locked to AT&T, lacked an App Store out of the gate, and ran on the painfully slow 2G wireless network.

By today’s standards, its 3.5-inch display is practically microscopic. Oh, and its 4GB storage option was so ridiculously paltry that Apple dropped it after three months. However, this device sparked the smartphone revolution. It proved far more exciting than the BlackBerry, Motorola and Palm rivals of its day. I think this position on the list is about right.

8. iPhone 3G

iPhone 3G
The iPhone 3G was a big step forward.
Photo: Apple

I ummed and erred about whether to rate the iPhone 3G above or below the original iPhone. It didn’t have the “oh my god, everything’s changed” impact of the first model. But it took what worked about the first iPhone and improved it. It added GPS, tri-band UMTS/HSDPA, and a brand new plastic polycarbonate housing.

The most crucial change, however, was the introduction of 3G. This transformed the experience of using the internet on a phone whose big selling point was the ability to use the proper (not mobile) internet.

Plus, the iPhone 3G introduced the App Store — with a whopping 500 apps to choose from on Day One. This model also gets bonus points for being the first iPhone to come in multiple colors, or at least your choice of black or white.

7. iPhone XS

Trying to place the new iPhone XS on this list is difficult. After all, every other handset on this list has had at least a year of regular use to ascertain its respective strengths and weaknesses. You can check out Cult of Mac‘s iPhone XS review here.

My own TLDR version? It’s a beautiful handset, but probably not a big enough leap forward from the iPhone X to rank higher on this list.

6. iPhone XS Max

The iPhone XS Max may have a terrible name, but it’s a beautiful phone. Combining the form factor of the iPhone X with the size of the iPhone Plus models, it’s an instant attention grabber. Check out our review here.

5. iPhone 6

The iPhone 6 brought the biggest design change in an iPhone since 2010’s iPhone 4. It and its larger sibling instantly became insanely popular. Plus, at that point, even the smaller iPhone 6’s 4.7-inch screen felt luxurious.

As I noted earlier on, I wasn’t a giant fan of this design. There’s no getting around the fact that it changed the game for Apple, though. This iPhone was just crazy popular!

iPhone 6 Plus
The iPhone 6 Plus was Apple’s biggest phone yet.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

4. iPhone 6 Plus

The 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus was the first iPhone that didn’t comfortably fit into most people’s hands. But the fact that Apple proved willing to finally make a phablet made up for it. Everything I wrote about the iPhone 6 still stands, but the 6 Plus offered a better viewing experience.

It also brought the bonus of optical image stabilization, which was markedly better than the digital image stabilization of its little brother. Sure, this design fueled Bendgate when some users’ phones got deformed. But like so many Apple controversies, this felt massively overblown.

iPhone X Unleash ad
iPhone X put console-quality gaming in the palm of your hand.
Photo: Apple

3. iPhone X

Last year’s iPhone X was Apple’s biggest reimagining of its smartphone in years. Visually stunning, it finally brought the edge-to-edge display fans had been hankering after. We lost Touch ID, but Face ID turned out to be even better. Heck, rivals even copied the controversial “notch” as quickly as they could. This was a great, great iPhone.

The iPhone 4 was a beautiful iPhone on every level.
The iPhone 4 was a beautiful iPhone on every level.
Photo: Apple

2. iPhone 4

You can bandy about talk of the overrated Antennagate all you want. To me, the iPhone 4 remains one of the best iPhones Apple ever created.

This stunning redesign — a whopping 24 percent thinner than its predecessor — ushered in a flatter, Braun-inspired aesthetic. New features like FaceTime, the first front-facing iPhone camera, and a vastly superior Retina display made it a “must have.” The iPhone 4 still looks superb nearly a decade on.

iPhone 5
And our pick for the best of the bunch!
Photo: Apple

1. iPhone 5

How do you top a great device like the iPhone 4? With an even better device like the iPhone 5. This 2012 model, the first iPhone produced entirely under Tim Cook’s leadership, took what worked about the iPhone 4 and added to it. It was thinner and lighter, while also sporting a taller display that approached a 9:16 aspect ratio.

In terms of new features, the addition of LTE support stood out. Some folks were initially annoyed at the replacement of the 30-pin connector with the new Lightning charger, but we’re totally over that now! A terrific iPhone in every way.

What’s your favorite iPhone?

Everybody’s got a specific iPhone they love (and maybe one they hate). Which model stands out for you? Do you agree with our rankings? And where do you think the iPhone XR will sit on this list? Let us know in the comments below!