What’s the Best Budget iPhone for 2016?

Not everyone needs a brand new iPhone, but which model you pick will depend on what you want to do with it.

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Here at Low End Mac, we like to keep older hardware going as long as we can. Recently Dan Knight upgraded from his iPhone 4S and wrote a brief iPhone History article, and it got me thinking. Why splash out a fortune on new kit when older models could suit your need and save you a fair amount of money?

This is also true of the iPhone market, but how far back you go depends on what you want to use your Apple smartphone for. I take a walk through all the models and let you decide which one could be the one for you.

Priced listed below are accurate as on April 2016. They were taken from eBay UK from phone reselling companies who offer a warranty and are for unlocked models. 

original Apple iPhoneOriginal iPhone

  • Production: 2007 to 2008
  • OS: iPhone OS 1.0 to 3.1.3
  • Requirements: Mac OS X 10.4 and Windows XP SP2
  • Can Be Bought For: £40

These are lovely iconic devices, but with their meager 412 MHz single-core processor and 128 MB RAM, the original iPhone is more of a museum piece than a useable smartphone.

Its lack of 3G – relying on EDGE/2G – and being halted at iPhone OS 3 means it can only really be used as a phone and email device. There are only a handful of apps that still run OS3.

The camera really is poor quality at 2mpx fixed focus.

They were also exclusive to O2 in the UK and AT&T in the US, meaning they will be locked and require unlocking for use on other GSM networks.

Despite them not being fit for much in 2016, they have started to gain collectors status, which has pushed  prices up. Sealed ones can reach over £500, which is crazy for a nine-year-old phone.

Apple no longer offer spares or repairs on these iPhones, so getting one fixed could prove tricky.

Use: Calls, texts, email, light browsing over WiFi, and music.

iPhone 3G

  • Production: 2008 to 2010
  • OS: iPhone OS 2.0 to iOS 4.2.1
  • Requirements: Mac OS X 10.4 and Windows XP SP2
  • Can Be Bought For: £25

A step up from the original, the iPhone 3G added 3G data speeds and GPS to the same hardware as the original. It did receive iOS 4, which the original didn’t (although it is sluggish running it), which helps in terms of software support.

In 2013, Apple introduced a ‘last compatible’ option, allowing you for the first time to download older versions of apps for older versions of iOS. This resolved a lot of problems for those using or buying older iPhones, and if you are running iOS 4 on your iPhone 3G, then you can take advantage of it.

I would class an iPhone 3G as the very bottom line in iPhones if you are hoping to still use it. It is essentially a phone with the added ability to surf and upload to social media.

Apple no longer offer spares or repairs on the iPhone 3G either, so getting one fixed could also prove tricky.

Use: Calls, texts, email, browsing over WiFi/3G, light social media use, some apps (although older versions), GPS navigation, and music.

iPhone 3GiPhone 3GS

  • Production: 2009 to 2012
  • OS: iPhone OS 3.0 to iOS 6.1.6
  • Requirements: Mac OS X 10.4 and Windows XP SP3
  • Can Be Bought For: £26

The iPhone 3GS was a huge improvement over the iPhone 3G in the same style casing. It upped the processor 50% to 600 MHz processor and doubled the RAM to 256 MB. The camera stepped up to a 3 mpx camera, which produced fairly decent images.

The biggest bonus is it can run iOS 6 and does so very well. This gives you a fairly modern OS as well iMessage and access to a larger range of apps and more recent versions of them.

Both the iPhone 3G and 3GS are prone to cracking on their plastic back above the charge socket, so keep an eye on this.

Use: Calls, texts, iMessage, email, browsing over WiFi/3G, social media use, pictures for uploading online, most apps, iCloud, GPS navigation, and music.

iPhone 4SiPhone 4

  • Production: 2010 to 2013
  • OS: iOS 4.0 to 7.1.2
  • Requirements: Mac OS X 10.5 and Windows XP SP3
  • Can Be Bought For: £40

The iPhone 4 brought a whole new all-glass design. The processor once again was upped – by one-third this time to 800 MHz – and again doubled the RAM, bringing it to 512 MB. A high resolution Retina Display brought an ultra-crisp screen.

The cameras were seriously improved. The iPhone 4 packed a 5mpx auto focus camera and flash for the time and also a front facing selfie or FaceTime camera.

The WiFi was increased to support 802.11n (although 2.4 GHz only), and the 3G was upped to 3.5G/HSDPA.

Use: Calls, texts, iMessage, email, FaceTime over WiFi, browsing over WiFi/3G, social media use, taking pictures, taking selfies, videos, torch, light gaming, most apps, iCloud/Photo Stream, GPS navigation, and music.

iPhone 4s

  • Production: 2011 to 2014
  • OS: iOS 5.0 to current
  • Requirements: Mac OS X 10.5 and Windows XP SP3
  • Can Be Bought For: £55

The iPhone 4s was a major game changer. It looks like an iPhone 4, but it packs a dual-core processor and upped the cameras. The back camera went from 5mpx to 8mpx, and the front camera went from 0.3mpx to 0.9mpx. It also brought with it Siri, the personal voice assistant.

Bluetooth was upped from 2.1 to 4.0, offering better connectivity to accessory devices such as headsets and smart watches.

The speed of the iPhone 4s was huge improvement over the iPhone 4 and has given Apple one of its longest serving iPhones. It is also the first iPhone to receive five major revisions of iOS.

Use: Calls, texts, iMessage, email, Facetime and browsing over WiFi/3G, social media use, taking pictures, taking selfies, videos, torch, light gaming, most apps will run albeit slower, iCloud/Photo Stream, GPS navigation, and music.

iPhone 5iPhone 5

  • Production: 2012 to 2013
  • OS: iOS 6.0 to current
  • Requirements: Mac OS X 10.6 and Windows XP SP3
  • Can Be Bought For: £94

The iPhone 5 was the first time screen size was increased. It stretched it to 4”, making the phone taller and providing an extra row of icons. The processor speed was almost doubled, and the RAM went from 512 MB to 1 GB. It kept the same rear camera as the iPhone 4s but increased the front camera to 1.2mpx.

It was the first iPhone to include 4G/LTE, added 802.11n WiFi in both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, introduced the new style ‘lightning’ connector, and moved the headphone socket from the top to the bottom.

Whilst the design was similar to the iPhone 4s, it was thinner and left behind the glass back for a metal back.

Use: Calls, texts, iMessage, email, FaceTime and browsing over WiFi/3G/4G, social media use, taking pictures, taking selfies, videos, light video editing, torch, apps, gaming, Apple Watch, iCloud/Photo Stream, GPS navigation, and music.

iPhone 5ciu

  • Production: 2013 to 2015
  • OS: iOS 7.0 to current
  • Requirements: Mac OS X 10.6 and Windows XP SP3
  • Can Be Bought For: £88

The iPhone 5c is a repackaged iPhone 5 in a plastic coloured case. The internals are the same with the exception of more 4G/LTE bands and a slightly larger battery.

It brought with it a fun new look and proved to be a very popular handset.

Use: Calls, texts, iMessage, email, Facetime and browsing over WiFi/3G/4G, social media use, taking pictures, taking selfies, videos, light video editing, torch, apps, gaming, Apple Watch, iCloud/Photo Stream, GPS navigation, and music.

iPhone 5siphone-5s1

  • Production: 2013 to 2015
  • OS: iOS 7.0 to current
  • Requirements: Mac OS X 10.6 and Windows XP SP3
  • Can Be Bought For: £120

The iPhone 5s brought with it the move to 64-bit processing and a fingerprint sensor home button whilst retaining the design of the iPhone 5. Performance offered about a 30% increase over the iPhone 5/5c, upping from a 1.3 GHz A6 to a 1.4 GHz A7 – and it added the M7 coprocessor.

The camera added a dual-LED flash and offered slow-mo video capture mode.

Use: Calls, texts, iMessage, email, FaceTime and browsing over WiFi/3G/4G, social media use, taking pictures, taking selfies, videos, video editing, torch, apps, gaming, Apple Watch, iCloud/Photo Stream, GPS navigation, and music.

Newer Than the 5s

I decided to stop at the iPhone 5s. Everything else is new and currently available, hardly budget.

Best for You

In the past, I have written specific articles stating which iPhone is this year’s best budget handset. However, it isn’t always as straightforward as that.

Depending on your needs will depend on which model suits you. Just because you sport an iPhone, it doesn’t mean it has to have all the bells and whistles of a new one.

For basic needs, you can pick up an iPhone for under £30, and it gets you into the Apple ecosystem.

I know a few people who use their phone for calls and text and are happy with using an iPhone 3G, as it suits this purpose.

Take a look at the ‘use’ section I tagged to the end of each iPhone description, and it will give you a good idea of what you can use each iPhone model for.

Depending on what version of iOS your phone is running will also have an impact on your performance. In general, the last version your phone gets doesn’t run too well. The iPhone 3G run 4.2.1, but it’s quite sluggish. The iPhone 3GS runs 6.1.6, and it does so very well. The iPhone 4 runs 7.1.2, and performance is acceptable.

The iPhone 4s runs iOS 9 – and at the time of writing this article is the latest version. However, it doesn’t run it well. I know a few people who are frustrated by the experience, but then it is a five-year-old phone.

Anything newer than that, and performance is great. I currently run iOS 9 on my iPhone 5 and find it excellent. It might be a four-year-old handset, but it runs iOS 9 fantastic. It never frustrates me. [Publisher’s note: I agree completely. My iPhone 4S worked with iOS 9, but it was frustratingly slow switching apps or launching a keyboard. My iPhone 5 feels ten times faster, although benchmarks say it is only 3x as fast as the 4S. Dan Knight]

Conclusion

Use the information I have provided above and ask other owners to make an informed choice over which model is suitable for your needs.


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