Technology

iPhone 14 upgrade guide — who should upgrade from their current iPhone?

Update: Our Apple event live blog is now live, so come check out the latest rumors and updates as we get closer to the iPhone 14 reveal. 

By this time next week, phone shoppers on the hunt for the best iPhone are going to have a decision to make — should they upgrade to any of the iPhone 14 models expected to appear next Wednesday at the Apple September 7 event? It’s a trickier choice than you might think. While new iPhones certainly deliver new features, owners of current models will need to figure out if those improvements are enough to justify the cost of a new phone.

It’s even more of a question this year, with rising prices straining budgets to the point where ponying up for a new phone might not be in the offing. If current iPhone owners are going to be convinced that it’s time to upgrade, the new iPhone 14 models will have to introduce enhancements that fill in features and capabilities existing devices don’t deliver.

We can’t say for certain what the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro will deliver until Tim Cook takes the stage next Wednesday to show off Apple’s latest phones. But enough details have leaked about the four phones reportedly coming out this month that we go into the September 7 event with a pretty good idea of what to expect from this batch of iPhones.

Any decision on whether to upgrade from your current iPhone to the iPhone 14 will have to wait until after the new models move from rumor to reality. But using those rumors, we can tell you what to look for in next week’s announcements so that you can be ready to make a move once iPhone 14 preorders begin.

Image of iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Max, iPhone 14 Pro, iPhone 14 Pro Max rumored designs on their backs in white color.

(Image credit: Sonny Dickson)

We’re going to look at the last three years of iPhones, listing what each model has to offer and where the iPhone 14 could improve upon what you already have. For the purposes of this exercise, we’re excluding the iPhone SE (2022), reasoning that if you bought this particular handset since its spring launch, you’re not in the market for an upgrade. We’re also excluding phones released in 2018 — the iPhone XR, iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max — or later. If your handset is four years or older, any upgrade is going to be a step up in terms of overall performance and camera capabilities; at that point the only reason to stick with your current device is because your budget simply doesn’t allow for an upgrade to a new flagship.

With all that in mind, here’s a look at who should be thinking about an upgrade to the iPhone 14 as Apple prepares to launch its new phones.

iphone 13 camera green

(Image credit: Future)

First released: September 2021

Best features: Best-in-class performance, bright display, superior cameras

What’s missing: No fast-refreshing display, slower charging than rival flagships

What to look for with iPhone 14: The days of upgrading your phone every year are long gone for most people, and the iPhone 14 vs. iPhone 13 differences are likely to illustrate that perfectly. The iPhone 13 remains an excellent phone in its own right, and whatever improvements the iPhone 14 delivers are likely to be more incremental than revolutionary.

Start with the chipset inside the iPhone 14, which is likely to be the same A15 Bionic silicon that the iPhone 13 uses. Apple could increase the amount of RAM in this year’s model, but that’s not going to deliver the kind of performance boost to justify an upgrade. While we’d expect new camera features, we’d guess the camera hardware is staying the same, save for a rumored improvement to the front camera on the iPhone 14.

The biggest area where the iPhone 14 could leap ahead of the iPhone 13 involves the refresh rate of the phone’s display. The standard iPhone 13 remains locked at 60Hz while Pro models enjoy an adaptive 120Hz rate. The iPhone 14 isn’t likely to match that capability, but there is a chance Apple boosts the display refresh rate to 90Hz for smoother scrolling.

Upgrade outlook: Unless there’s a truly compelling new feature, you can stick with the iPhone 13 without suffering from excessive FOMO.

iPhone 13 Pro Max on a desk

(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

First released: September 2021

Best features: The best current cameras in a smartphone, brighter displays, A15 Bionic performance

What’s missing: Faster charging

What to look for with iPhone 14: We’re combining the two iPhone 13 Pro models which — apart from their different screen and battery sizes — essentially sport the same features. And since we declared that the iPhone 13 Pro Max was a “practically perfect phone,” that leaves this year’s models with a high bar to clear.

From the iPhone 14 Pro rumors, Apple is certainly game to try. The new Pro models are expected to get an A16 Bionic chip, which should top the performance of the A15-powered iPhone 13 Pro editions. The main camera is getting an upgrade to 48MP, rumors claim, and we’ve likely seen the last of the notch on the iPhone 14 Pro displays. One of the ares where the iPhone 13 Pro falls behind rival phones — charging speed — is set to improve as well, with the iPhone 14 Pro models tipped to get 30W wired charging support.

Our iPhone 14 Pro vs. iPhone 13 Pro face-off goes into greater detail on potential improvements.

Upgrade outlook: If you really can’t stand the notch, prefer faster charging speeds or think improvements to the wide and ultrawide camera will make the best camera phones even better, you could make the jump from the iPhone 13 Pro or Pro Max to their iPhone 14 Pro equivalents. Just be aware that you’re likely to pay more for this year’s models, as both the Pro and Max are expected to see $100 price hikes.

iphone 13 mini leaning against vintage shoes

(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

First released: September 2021

Best features: Stellar performance with A15 Bionic and excellent cameras

What’s missing: Battery life — while improved from iPhone 12 mini — still lags average smartphones, charging limited to 20W

What to look for with iPhone 14: If you opted for the iPhone 13 mini when it shipped last year, it’s likely because the phone’s compact size and 5.4-inch display appeals to you. The iPhone 14 lineup doesn’t sound like it’s going to scratch that particular itch, with Apple rumored to be dropping the mini from its new round of devices. Instead, the phone maker is going the opposite direction, with a super-sized iPhone 14 Max (or iPhone 14 Plus, depending what name Apple goes with).

Jumping from a 5.4-inch phone to one with a 6.7-inch screen isn’t something most mini owners are likely to do, so the phone to keep an eye on is the standard iPhone 14. It’s not expected to feature big changes from the iPhone 13 mini, even using the same A15 Bionic chipset, according to rumors. The iPhone 14 could see a larger battery, if the iPhone 13 mini’s longevity on a charge bothers you, but faster 30W charging is expected to be limited to the more expensive Pro models. 

Upgrade outlook: Hang on to that compact iPhone 13 mini with all your might, because Apple appears to be done with small phones at the moment.

iPhone 12 in hand

(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

First released: October 2020

Best features: 5G support, excellent cameras, MagSafe-compatible design

What’s missing: Long battery life, lots of storage in the base model

What to look for with iPhone 14: With the iPhone 12 about to celebrate its second birthday, it may be time to consider an upgrade, as the iPhone 14 will feature a lot of the same iPhone 13 vs. iPhone 12 improvements, plus a few rumored additions that should make for a better phone experience. You can expect modest improvements from the A15 Bionic chip likely to power the iPhone 14, and all of Apple’s new phones are expected to get an enhanced front camera. (Here’s our iPhone 14 vs. iPhone 12 comparison for a look at all the potential upgrades.)

You’ll seen an even bigger jump forward by upgrading to an iPhone 14 Pro model, which is expected to benefit from a faster chipset and improved wide and ultrawide cameras. Even if you stick with the standard iPhone 14, you’ll get more storage in the base model than the iPhone 12 offered — Apple no longer starts its flagship phones with 64GB of storage — and we’d expect better battery life thanks to the bigger power pack likely slated for Apple’s new phones.

Upgrade outlook: Based on rumors, the iPhone 14 figures to offer enough changes from the iPhone 12 to make an upgrade worth your while, especially with Apple rumored to stick with the $799 starting price for its base model. If you wanted to squeeze one more year out of your iPhone 12, though, an upgrade to iOS 16 should keep your phone feeling fresh enough until next year’s new iPhones roll along.

iPhone 12 Pro in hand

(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

First released: October 2020

Best features: Terrific cameras, solid performance, durable design

What’s missing: No fast-refreshing display, not a long-lasting phone, some exclusive iPhone 12 Pro Max camera features 

What to look for with iPhone 14: We liked the iPhone 12 Pro a lot when it debuted two years ago, but Apple made some improvements with the iPhone 13 Pro release, and those are likely to continue with the iPhone 14 Pro.

If you stuck with the iPhone 12 Pro, you missed out on the adaptive refresh rate Apple introduced to the iPhone 13 Pro lineup; that feature is all but certain to return with the iPhone 14 Pro. A bigger battery in the iPhone 13 Pro meant improved battery life over this model, and the iPhone 14 Pro’s battery is also expected to see an increase in size. The iPhone 12 Pro also lacked some of the camera features found in the iPhone 12 Pro Max, such as a bigger main camera sensor and a more powerful zoom, which is why we’re separating this model from the Pro Max.

With the iPhone 14 Pro likely to see some substantial changes like improvements to the main and ultrawide lenses, the cameras figure to be a big step up from what iPhone 12 Pro users enjoy. The A16 Bionic chip slated for the iPhone 14 Pro should deliver a performance boost as well, and the lack of a notch on the iPhone 14 Pro models might appeal to some people.

Upgrade outlook: Of all the iPhone 12 models, the Pro is the one that figures to see the biggest changes by upgrading to a comparable iPhone 14 Pro model. That’s not just because of the new features rumored for Apple’s upcoming phones, but also because of the iPhone 13 Pro upgrades you missed out on last year.

iPhone 12 Pro Max review notch

(Image credit: Future)

First released: November 2020

Best features: Top cameras, excellent battery life, stellar performance

What’s missing: Fast-refreshing display

What to look for with iPhone 14: The iPhone 12 Pro Max was easily the gem of the iPhone 12 family, and if you bought the phone back when it came out, you’re still enjoying a top device. Even with the improvements expected for the iPhone 14 Pro Max — the better processor, upgraded cameras and lack of a notch, to name three — the iPhone 12 Pro Max will likely be able to hold its own against Apple’s newer offering.

There is one area where the iPhone 12 Pro Max comes up short, though — the refresh rate of its display is stuck at 60Hz. Apple didn’t add adaptive refresh rates to the iPhone Pro lineup until last year, so upgrading to the iPhone 14 Pro Max would give you a much more immersive screen (and one that likely has a better adaptive refresh rate than even the iPhone 13 Pro Max). 

One other potential area for improvement is charging speed, with the iPhone 12 Pro Max capped at 20W. A rumor claims the iPhone 14 Pro models will see that rise to 30W, meaning your new phone would be able to recharge faster.

Upgrade outlook: If charging speed and display refresh rates are important to you, the iPhone 14 Pro Max is likely to improve on both those aspects. Otherwise, the iPhone 12 Pro Max will continue to enjoy solid performance while adding new features via the iOS 16 software update.

iPhone 12 mini review

(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

First released: November 2020

Best features: Compact design, still impressive performance

What’s missing: Long battery life, lots of storage in the base model

What to look for with iPhone 14: iPhone 12 mini owners face the same dilemma as anyone with an iPhone 13 mini, only with a device that’s a year older — there’s likely to be no mini model in the iPhone 14 lineup.

That means if you want a phone that lasts a long time on a charge — and battery life was the iPhone 12 mini’s biggest flaw when we first reviewed it — the most compact phone you’ll be able to get is the 6.1-inch iPhone 14. On the bright side, that device should have a bigger battery than your current device and a chipset with better power management, too. You’re also likely to get 128GB of storage in the base model after the iPhone 13 family did away with the paltry 64GB base option.

Upgrade outlook: iPhone 12 mini owners who want a longer lasting phone should consider an upgrade. But if the compact form factor of your current device is your favorite thing about it, maybe cling to the mini for another year, and hope that Apple sees the light on small phones in time for its 2023 release.

The iPhone 11 in turqouise stood against a stone wall

(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

First released: September 2019

Best features: Dual camera setup, Night mode, still decent performance

What’s missing: No 5G support, only 64GB of storage in the base model

What to look for with iPhone 14: The A13 Bionic powering the iPhone 11 was the fastest chip when it came out, and you can say the same thing about the A15 Bionic that’s likely to find its way into the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Max models. (That latter version gives you a 6.7-inch display if you find the iPhone 11’s 6.1-inch panel too restricting but have balked at paying iPhone Pro Max prices.) Upgrading to the iPhone 14 will get you all the camera upgrades you missed out on with the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13, though the Pro models are tapped to get the more exciting camera overhauls.

If you opted for the iPhone 11 at any point in the last three years, you likely found the phone’s bright color options appealing. That’s going to continue with the iPhone 14, which is on track to get an eye-catching purple colorway in addition to black, white, red and (potentially) green or blue.

Here’s a look at potential iPhone 14 vs. iPhone 11 changes.

Upgrade outlook: Three years is a long time to go between iPhone upgrades, so if you make the move to the iPhone 14, you’ll benefit from the expected A15 processor, bigger battery and camera improvements rumored for the new phones.

iphone 11 pro max

(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

First released: September 2019

Best features: Bright OLED screen, triple camera setup, still solid performance

What’s missing: Storage in base model is skimpy, iPhone 11 Pro screen is pretty small

What to look for with iPhone 14: As with the iPhone 11 above, just the regular changes Apple has introduced in the last two upgrade cycles would mark an improvement over the everyday experience of iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max users. Throw in the rumored upgrades to the process, cameras, battery size, charging speed and design of the iPhone 14 Pro models, and an upgrade figures to be a big leap forward.

Because the iPhone 11 Pro featured a 5.8-inch screen, owners of that device should have another option to upgrade without paying iPhone 14 Pro prices. The iPhone 14 Max figures to have a 6.7-inch phone for a rumored $899, and its processor would be a step or two ahead of the A13 Bionic inside the iPhone 11 Pro. You could save another $100 by turning to the iPhone 14, since its 6.1-inch screen will still be larger than the iPhone 11 Pro’s.

Upgrade outlook: If you’re willing to pay up for the iPhone 14 Pro models — a challenge given their expected price hikes — you could be in for a night-and-day experience from what you’re used to with the iPhone 11 Pro or Pro Max. Faster performance, improved cameras and faster charging are expected to be on tap for the newer devices.

iPhone SE 2020 review

(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

First released: April 2020

Best features: Low price, good camera, wireless charging support, compact design

What’s missing: Ultrawide lens, Night mode, 5G compatibility

What to look for with iPhone 14: If the iPhone SE (2022) didn’t prompt you to upgrade from this 2-year-old device, maybe there’s something in the iPhone 14 lineup that will tempt you. It certainly won’t be the small screen size, as the new iPhones are likely to ditch the mini, but in every other way, the iPhone 14 would be an upgrade over the older iPhone SE.

As good as the iPhone SE 2020’s A13 Bionic chipset has proven to be, the A15 slated for the iPhone 14 will deliver better performance. You’ll also get an ultrawide lens with the iPhone 14, an upgrade from the lone rear camera on the SE. And unlike the more recent SE models, all of Apple’s iPhone 14 offerings will feature support for night photography.

Upgrade outlook: As big a jump as it will be from the 2020 iPhone SE to this fall’s iPhones — both in size and feature set — you’ll likely need to pay at least $799 for a new Apple handset. Frugal iPhone SE 2020 users looking to upgrade may want to consider discounted iPhone 13 models that remain in Apple’s lineup after the iPhone 14 launch, as those 5G phones will be a step up, too, even if they’re not Apple’s latest and greatest models.

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