X
CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

Apple's Left a $500 Hole in Its iPhone Lineup, and Android Phones Are Filling That Gap

Commentary: Apple's near-absence from the cheaper phone market lets rival phones provide more modern features for less money.

michaelsorrentino.jpg
michaelsorrentino.jpg
Mike Sorrentino Senior Editor
Mike Sorrentino is a Senior Editor for Mobile, covering phones, texting apps and smartwatches -- obsessing about how we can make the most of them. Mike also keeps an eye out on the movie and toy industry, and outside of work enjoys biking and pizza making.
Expertise Phones, texting apps, iOS, Android, smartwatches, fitness trackers, mobile accessories, gaming phones, budget phones, toys, Star Wars, Marvel, Power Rangers, DC, mobile accessibility, iMessage, WhatsApp, Signal, RCS
Mike Sorrentino
6 min read
iPhone 13 Mini

The iPhone 13 Mini could have been a great $499 phone alongside the discounted $599 iPhone 13, but Apple discontinued it this year. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

When Apple discontinued the iPhone 13 Mini this year, the company left a big opening in its lineup. For a second year in a row, Apple no longer offers an iPhone priced at $499, even though other companies have launched competitive Android phones in that price range.

The last time Apple offered a $499 model, it was the iPhone 11 in 2021, which had been discounted from its original 2019 price of $699. The model was the last non-5G iPhone in Apple's lineup, but even today it still gets new features from Apple's iOS 17 while providing a larger 6.1-inch screen with a Face ID sensor. However the iPhone 11 was discontinued last year, following the debut of the iPhone 14.

Instead, Apple's lineup now jumps from the $429 iPhone SE to the $599 iPhone 13, leaving nothing but higher storage variants of the SE in-between.

Read more: Best iPhone of 2023

Remember, the SE is the last iPhone model with a home button. On the inside it sports modern iPhone features like an A15 Bionic chip, 5G, an IP67 rating for water and dust resistance, and it runs on iOS 17. But it's housed within a dated and repurposed body from an iPhone 8. Technically, the 2022 version of the SE has the same back glass as the iPhone 13, which costs $179 more.

The $599 iPhone 13 comes with 128GB of storage and is still a solid phone despite entering its third year on the market. Compare that to the SE, which comes with 64GB of storage and can be upgraded to 128GB for $50, bringing the price to $479.

2023 prices for iPhone SE, 13, 14 and 14 Plus

PhoneStorageUS PriceUK PriceAU Price
iPhone SE 64GB$429£429AU$719
iPhone SE 128GB$479£479AU$799
iPhone SE 256GB$579£579AU$969
iPhone 13 128GB $599£599AU$1,099
iPhone 13 256GB$699£699AU$1,299
iPhone 13 512GB$899£899AU$1,649
iPhone 14 128GB $699£699AU$1,299
iPhone 14 256GB$799£799AU$1,499
iPhone 14 512GB$999£999AU$1,849
iPhone 14 Plus 128GB $799£799AU$1,499
iPhone 14 Plus 256GB$899£899AU$1,699
iPhone 14 Plus 512GB$1,099£1,099AU$2,049

It's odd that there isn't another iPhone model option between the iPhone SE and iPhone 13. This speaks more about Apple's strategy toward affordable phones and how it's the opposite of the way other phone makers approach low cost devices. Instead of making a cheaper iPhone with a slower, less pricey processor and including more cameras, even if they aren't good, Apple prioritizes performance, longevity, camera performance and access to Apple's services.

That $179 price gap between the iPhone SE and 13 becomes even more apparent when you compare Apple's lineup to Android rivals like Samsung, Motorola and Google. Those phone makers offer competitive options across a wide variety of price levels well below $429, increasing by roughly $50 to $100 with improved features to match what a customer would pay. 

iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini: Check out the redesigned camera module and smaller notch

See all photos

Several of these lower-priced Android phones can and do outsell Apple's iPhone SE. I should note that Apple doesn't officially release a breakdown of how many phones it sells by model and that this is based on analyst estimates. 

Apple may very well have an answer for this gap next year if a rumored fourth-generation iPhone SE debuts.

Galaxy A54, Pixel 7A and Pixel 6A in a hand

Samsung's $449 Galaxy A54 5G alongside Google's $499 Pixel 7A and $349 Pixel 6A. All three phones provide more modern designs and features than Apple's $429 iPhone SE.

Andrew Lanxon/CNET

Cheap Android phones sell big

While the 2022 iPhone SE does sell well enough to break onto global sales charts, Samsung's Galaxy A series with phones that cost $450 and less often break into an otherwise-iPhone dominant list. The $250 Galaxy A13 and $160 Galaxy A03S are the only two non-Apple phones to break into Counterpoint Research's global top 10 list for best selling phones in 2022, both of which include more modern full-screen designs at lower prices than any iPhone that Apple currently sells.

That trend appears to be continuing into 2023, with the $200 Galaxy A14 5G ranking fifth among the US' top-selling smartphones in July, according to Counterpoint.

Read more: Best Phones Under $500

When moving up to phones that cost closer to the iPhone SE's price, Google's $349 Pixel 6A is the top Android phone in Japan in the first quarter of 2023, according to Counterpoint, alongside the $599 Pixel 7 and $899 Pixel 7 Pro

2023 Samsung and Google phones priced between $300 & $700

PhoneStorageUS PriceUK PriceAU Price
Samsung Galaxy A23 5G 64GB$300£289NA
Samsung Galaxy A54 5G 128GB$450£449AU$699
Samsung Galaxy S23 FE 128GB$600NAAU$999
Samsung Galaxy S23 FE 256GB$660NAAU$1,099
Google Pixel 6A 128GB$349£349NA
Google Pixel 7A 128GB$449£449AU$749
Google Pixel 7 128GB$599£599AU$999
Google Pixel 7 256GB$699£699AU$1,129

Motorola also has its bountiful line of budget to midrange Moto G phones, with the company last month touting that the series has sold 200 million devices over its decade-long life. OnePlus also offers its Nord line, which has marketed several new phone options for $300 or less since the line's inception in 2020.

By not offering a regularly refreshed $499 option, instead filling that price niche with just larger storage variants of the iPhone SE, Apple has allowed other companies free rein to go after customers who are looking for a decent phone with modern features at a wallet-friendly price. Many of these Android rivals even include 1,080p-resolution screens with high refresh rates, newer yet budget-focused processors from Qualcomm and Mediatek and multiple cameras. 

Instead, Apple's iPhone SE includes a processor that's largely identical to that of 2021's iPhone 13 -- which again is still excellent -- but is shoehorned into a body that's based on a 6-year-old design. The only affordable Android phones that have the same processor as their flagship siblings are Google's Pixel 6A and 7A. And that A15 Bionic in the iPhone SE still beats every sub-$500 Android phone sold today in terms of performance and longevity.

Geekbench 6 performance scores compared

PhoneProcessorGeekbench 6 single-coreGeekbench 6 multicore
iPhone SE A15 Bionic2,2375,177
Google Pixel 7A Tensor G21,4393,560
Samsung Galaxy A54 5G Exynos 13801,0062,780
Motorola Moto G Stylus 5G 2023 Snapdragon 6 Gen 19452,497

The most apparent iPhone SE feature that is subpar compared to affordable Android phones is that 4.7-inch LCD screen. It's the same one that debuted on the iPhone 8 in 2017 and looks dated compared to a phone like the Galaxy A54 5G which is just $21 more. Today's phone apps and services are often designed with larger screens in mind, making the use of an iPhone SE feel cramped in comparison.

Four iPhone models

You can still find older iPhone 11 and iPhone 12 models for around $499, but they probably will be from the refurbished market.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

You can find a $499 iPhone, just probably not from Apple

Apple itself might be ignoring the $499 market, but that doesn't mean other retailers are. Some prepaid carriers like Metro by T-Mobile do stock the iPhone 11 -- but at the same $500 price that Apple last offered it for in 2021.

After that, you are at the whim of the refurbished market and your comfort level with retailers that polish up previously owned devices. Apple's Certified Refurbished store occasionally pops up with a refurbished iPhone 12 offered for $449, and that's basically as close as you can get to buying a new, large-screen 5G iPhone that Apple itself has conditioned to be like new. When buying a Certified Refurbished device from Apple, the company even throws in a one-year warranty.

If you want to get the now-discontinued iPhone 13 Mini, Amazon's renewed program sells the phone for around $500, but warranty policies vary if they are offered at all. For instance Amazon does offer a one-year warranty on a "Renewed Premium" model of the iPhone 13 Mini, but a $512 iPhone 13 that Amazon sells as just "Renewed" comes with just a 90-day warranty. 

Other used smartphone sellers like Gazelle have iPhone 12 Pro Max models for under $500, but you need to keep in mind the level of wear and tear that the phone has already endured.

iPhone SE

The iPhone SE is a capable phone, but compared to other phones at similar prices, it feels dated.

Patrick Holland/CNET

A new iPhone SE can't get here fast enough

The best way Apple could attract more buyers looking for a phone that costs under $500 would be to release a refreshed iPhone SE. There is a strong possibility that this could happen. Alongside several rumors that Apple is developing a cheaper iPhone that's designed after the iPhone 14's design, the current SE model will enter its third year on the market early next year without any price reductions. Meanwhile other iPhone models -- like the iPhone 13 -- receive a $100 price drop roughly every year before being discontinued after its third year on the market.

However the sales success of cheaper Android phones, alongside all the opportunities to buy refurbished older iPhone models, shows that there is an appetite for a cheaper iPhone model that is able to keep up with most current services without all of the $700 and up frills. Instead of driving those customers into the used and refurbished market, Apple could perhaps follow the Pixel 6A in releasing an iPhone XR-like phone with 5G, a newer processor with a slight step down in display resolution and camera quality. Or bring back the retired iPhone Mini design as the next SE.

Or if nothing else, Apple in 2024 will at least start making texting to cheaper Android phones better once its Messages app supports RCS.

I Took 600+ Photos With the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max. Look at My Favorites

See all photos