Ranked: Every iPhone in order of greatness

UPDATE: Where does the new iPhone SE rank amongst the greats?

Every iPhone has been a great iPhone – and nearly all of them have been excellent. Love 'em or hate 'em, Apple knows how to make fantastic devices.

So, 13 years after the first model launched, how to rank them? If we merely lined up the 25 distinct models in order of technical excellence, then the list would end up just being a chronological affair from oldest to newest... with the possible exception of the odd iPhone 5C or SE.

No, what's needed here is context. Many of these phones have been game-changers in their time, ushering in hardware advancements, new ways of interacting with gadgets, and software additions that became indispensable. And with that in mind we've considered their impact and influence, the quality of competition and any major flaws, in addition to obvious factors such as form and function.

Now, on with the show...

25) iPhone 5c (2013)

The iPhone 5 was a brilliant phone when it was released in 2012, and it was still pretty great when Apple dressed it up in plastic and knocked £80 off the price in 2013. And those colours! Whether or not you liked them, you have to admit they were daring (or utterly mad) picks by Apple.

But as the only iPhone ever released to date specifically to be a "lesser than" model, it was hard to drum up too much enthusiasm for its release. It was a year-old iPhone housed in cheaper materials to save a chunk of change, yet it was still a pricey Apple device. If it was your first iPhone, the 5c was probably still one heck of an introduction. But for the rest of us, it just couldn't stack up.

24) iPhone 4s (2011)

Here's an "S" upgrade that was very nice at the time, but ultimately not as critical in the grand scheme of things. The iPhone 4s built upon the revolutionary design and Retina display of the original iPhone 4, with enhancements to the camera and graphics capabilities. And the revised antenna design avoided the issues some encountered on the iPhone 4.

But the biggest feature addition was that of voice assistant Siri, which… let's face it, didn't end up being as useful as it initially seemed. Still, we have to give the 4s props for one thing: longevity. It even received the iOS 9 upgrade back in 2015, four years after its initial release, making it the first iPhone to stay active for that long.

23) iPhone 3GS (2009)

When the iPhone 3GS launched in 2009, it was certainly a notable enhancement over the prior iPhone 3G. The "S" stood for speed, and it was surely felt: the 3GS ran upwards of twice as fast as its sluggish predecessor, plus it added a better camera – with video capabilities! – along with voice control.

But in the historical context of core iPhone upgrades, it feels like one of the least consequential of the bunch. It doesn't help that it's sandwiched by the upgrade to 3G data on one end and the iPhone 4's beautiful design and Retina display on the other. If you got the 3GS, you surely appreciated the upgrade. If you didn't, well, you didn't miss that much.

22) iPhone 8 (2017)

For the fourth year in a row, Apple's core 4.7in iPhone opted for incremental enhancements... making the iPhone 8 yet another great everyday phone, albeit one that felt more dated than ever.

The just-better-than-720p display still seemed simply adequate and hardly enough on a £699 phone. The back camera was very good, but not as impressive as that of the Plus model. And the addition of glass backing and wireless charging were nice-to-haves, but hardly ushered in the great design overhaul that we had been longing for after a few mostly identical entries.

Apple still sold a bunch of them and satisfied a lot of users, but the company clearly set its ambitions higher with even pricier handsets – the iPhone 8 Plus and the iPhone X. The core iPhone, once the crown jewel of the smartphone world, couldn't help but underwhelm even as it mostly impressed.

21) iPhone 5s (2013)

Whereas the iPhone 5c took the iPhone 5 and made it feel cheaper, the iPhone 5s started from that same device and made it markedly better. The Touch ID sensor was the most obvious perk, offering innovative security functionality that worked startlingly well (even if not perfectly), but the upgrade to a 64-bit processor also allowed for glossier game and app experiences.

That said, the iPhone 5s launched at a time when Android makers were pushing into phones with much larger, sharper screens, and Apple's phone couldn't help but seem a little dinky by comparison. It was still a great device; it just about is still a great device today, in fact. But after the brilliant iPhone 5, the 5s couldn't help but seem a little too familiar.

20) iPhone 6s Plus (2015)

Like the iPhone 6s elsewhere in this list, the 6s Plus didn't bring massive changes over its predecessor. Still, it offered the complete iPhone experience, including a 3D Touch screen and super-fast fingerprint scanner.

It also had the bonus of optical image stabilisation, which resulted in better low light shots and more stable video recording – something which the iPhone 6s lacked. Its battery life was also impressive, and had us reaching for the charger less than any other iPhone before it. It was still bloomin’ massive though, and didn't yet bring a game-changing upgrade like the iPhone 7 Plus would ultimately provide...

19) iPhone 7 (2016)

Before its release, rumours abounded that Apple was going to wave goodbye to the humble headphone port on the iPhone 7 - which is exactly what happened. Besides a few heckling headlines, though, did it make much difference? Well, apart from needing a pesky peripheral to use standard jack-equipped 'phones, the rest was business as usual.

Sure, the iPhone 7 saw a raft of upgrades and it's still a fabulous smartphone - but much of that was about building on what had gone before.

The screen was improved, the home button refined and the range of finishes expanded - not to mention the 7's quicker chip and longer battery life - but it's definitely a case of refinement over revolution. We still gave it five stars, mind.

18) iPhone 6s (2015)

The term ‘evolution not revolution’ is thrown around almost as often as the over-used ‘Keep calm and…’ message, but - as with the 7 - it applied well to the iPhone 6s (and its larger 6s Plus brother).

Apple’s 2015 flagship looked almost identical to its predecessors which, granted, was no bad thing, given how sleek and handsome it was. The main changes were hidden beneath the iPhone 6s’ aluminium body, the most notable of which was Apple’s 3D touch display.

The new screen responded to pressure as well as touch, letting users playback Live Photos, resulting in Harry Potter-like moving images. Pressing harder also served up extra menu options, or opened links in a mini window instead of a proper browser. Fancy stuff, but arguably nothing that would force you to upgrade from the iPhone 6.

Read more