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Forget iPhone 12: The best deals are on last year's models

You might be surprised at just how affordable Apple's former flagships have become.

Rick Broida Senior Editor
Rick Broida is the author of numerous books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes CNET's popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Travelers Podcast (about the TV show Travelers). He lives in Michigan, where he previously owned two escape rooms (chronicled in the ebook "I Was a Middle-Aged Zombie").
Rick Broida
3 min read

Price drops on previous-generation iPhones are good news for those who don't want to pay flagship prices.


It took a little longer than usual, but this year's Apple event has come and brought new four new iPhone models, with prices starting at $799 (£799, AU$1,349). As always, there are incremental improvements to the processors and cameras, but the real news for 2020 is 5G: All the iPhone 12 models are ready for it.

Do you need it? That's one key question to ask if you're trying to decide whether to splurge on the latest and greatest. I'm all for keeping up with the tech times, but the reality right now is most of us are stuck at home, where perfectly good Wi-Fi renders 5G... less important.

Meanwhile, Apple just cut prices on two previous-generation models, both them excellent by any standard. So let's talk about ways to save on a "new" iPhone.

iPhone XR and iPhone 11 price cuts and Apple refurbs

As always, the arrival of new iPhones means price cuts on earlier models. This year, Apple elected to keep two in the lineup: the iPhone XR and iPhone 11. Those now start at $499 and $599, respectively. The latter originally sold for $699; the former, for $749.

For what it's worth, the iPhone SE remains in the lineup with a $399 starting price, but to my thinking the 6.1-inch iPhone XR is the deal to beat. Read CNET's iPhone XR review to learn more -- and see below for potentially even better deals on that model.

As for the iPhone 11, until today it was "the best $700 iPhone has ever made." Now that same title will almost certainly go to the iPhone 12, but at $600 the iPhone 11 is arguably even more attractive. Read CNET's iPhone 11 review for the full scoop.

It's always a good idea to check out Apple's Refurbished iPhone store, too, where you can often find discontinued models like the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max. They're usually marked a couple hundred dollars below their original prices, and they're literally good as new: new battery, new case, full warranty and so on.

Apple's refurbished iPhone inventory changes over time. Thankfully, there's a free service called RefurbMe, which tracks Apple refurbs and can notify you when an item becomes available.

Third-party iPhone options

Want to score even bigger savings? Keep in mind what's about to happen: As people start buying new iPhones, they're going to start selling their old ones -- and that will result in a glut of used models, which in turn will result in lower prices. Therefore, in the weeks to come, start trolling marketplaces like these:

According to Decluttr's Manisha Metta, "It's best to wait a month after the new iPhones are announced to get the best price on last year's devices. A month after is when prices stabilize and the trade-ins come through."

Here's a good example: Right now, eBay seller Cellfeee has refurbished, unlocked iPhone XR models in various colors for $370. That's already a $129 savings on a new XR. 

In addition to those kinds of auction listings, you can see what's available locally on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. These are riskier propositions, though, as you don't get any kind of guarantee when buying directly from the previous owner. Most of the aforementioned sites offer at least some kind of protection for the buyer: verified inspections, a return window, an in-house warranty and so on.

Take note, too, that when you buy a used iPhone (or a refurb from a source other than Apple), you're taking a bigger gamble. The battery won't be brand-new, meaning it won't give you maximum runtime, and you may end up with a shorter or more limited warranty.

Read more: The best ways to sell or trade in your used iPhone

What do you think? Are these prices low enough for your liking? What are your upgrade plans? Let's talk turkey in the comments!

Watch this: iPhone 12 includes Smart HDR 3 and improved Night Mode

Originally published previously. Updated with new information.

CNET's Cheapskate scours the web for great deals on tech products and much more. For the latest deals and updates, follow the Cheapskate on Facebook and Twitter. Find more great buys on the CNET Deals page and check out our CNET Coupons page for the latest promo codes from Best BuyWalmartAmazon and more. Questions about the Cheapskate blog? Find the answers on our FAQ page.  

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