This year's iPhone 13 deals are the best yet from Apple - but are they worth it?

iPhone 13 deals hero
(Image credit: Future)

On paper, this year's iPhone 13 deals offer a very tempting array of options indeed. As always, the name of the game is trade-ins; a time-honored tactic favored by the big carriers and Apple itself to get those customers upgrading to the latest and shiniest devices. With multiple options for free devices, this year's offerings look particularly strong - but are they worth it?

Now we've had time to sit back and see the full array of iPhone 13 deals available from leading carriers, and some time with the devices themselves, it's time to think objectively about value. As an iterative upgrade, the iPhone 13 isn't such a tempting jump up from the iPhone 12 as some would have hoped. Some may be looking to hold on to that aged device for just one more year - in that case, let us help you out with some well-informed analysis.

We're going to deep dive into the best iPhone 13 deals in this article, cover why they're so strong this year, and also measure them up against the iPhone 12 and older Apple devices. We're also giving an overall verdict as to who we think this year's iPhone 13 deals are best for - spoiler: it's more complicated than you'd think.

Apple's iPhone 13 deals: on point this year

Firstly, let's take a quick look at what Apple itself is offering in regards to iPhone 13 discounts. 

Apple iPhone 13: save up to $790 with an eligible trade-in at Apple

Apple iPhone 13: <a href="https://apple.sjv.io/c/221109/435031/7613?subId1=hawk-custom-tracking&sharedId=hawk&u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.apple.com%2Fshop%2Fbuy-iphone%2Fiphone-13" data-link-merchant="apple.com"">save up to $790 with an eligible trade-in at Apple
Retailing at $799 upfront, customers going via the official Apple store this week can score themselves a whopping trade-in rebate of up to $790 right now. Available on all new iPhone 13 models, this is a particularly good choice if you're looking for an unlocked device. See this same deal <a href="https://apple.sjv.io/c/221109/435031/7613?subId1=hawk-custom-tracking&sharedId=hawk&u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.apple.com%2Fshop%2Fbuy-iphone%2Fiphone-13-pro" data-link-merchant="apple.com"" data-link-merchant="apple.com"">on the Pro models here. 

So, straight off the bat we're pleasantly surprised by Apple's maximum trade-in rebate value of up to $790 on all iPhone 13 device pre-orders. For context, that's the biggest possible saving we've seen yet from Apple - a company that's always been known for its rather conservative (some would say meager) deals on iPhones. 

Normally trade-in values range anywhere from the $210 to $500 range, the former of which was the maximum saving with last year's iPhone 12 at release and over Black Friday. In short, Apple is really beefing up its trade-in program for this year's releases.

Current trade-in estimates for the iPhone 13 range from the full $790 for an iPhone 12 Pro, $530 for an iPhone 12, and $340 for an iPhone 11. Those are sums that can cut the price on a new iPhone 13 significantly and you can even get a nice little $110 trade-in rebate for the iPhone 8 - if it's still in good condition that is.

Carriers are also upping their game

Take those trade-in rebates over to the major carrier's and you've potentially got even bigger savings on your hands.

For example, both AT&T and Verizon are offering trade-in rebates of up to $800 off right now on the iPhone 13 and a whopping $1,000 off on the Pro models. That's potentially enough to bag a free device, although the catch, of course, is all deals are tied to pricey unlimited data plans.

There's no way around the dreaded plan tie-in, unfortunately, but the good news is that both carrier's iPhone 13 deals are available as a simple upgrade on a single line. That means that unlike some iPhone launches, existing (loyal) customers are no longer getting left out in the cold here with their upgrade rebates.

Again, like with Apple's iPhone 13 deals, these carrier options are far better than what was offered for the iPhone 12 previously and well worth considering. Verizon's best deal last year, arguably, was its Black Friday trade-in rebate of up to $700 with an additional $400 for new customers. The kicker with this one is that it was locked behind a new line on an unlimited data plan, so existing customers didn't have many upgrade options. AT&T was also offering $700 off with a new plan - again, much more limited than its current iPhone 13 deals.

iPhone 13 deals specs image

(Image credit: Apple)

An iterative upgrade?

So, why are this year's iPhone 13 deals so generous with their trade-in options? We think the answer is fairly simple - the iPhone 13 is just a very, very iterative upgrade overall over last year's iPhone 12.

Don't get us wrong, if you're looking for the most powerful, shiniest new device on the market then the iPhone 13 is still going to be the device of choice. But, a new processor, camera upgrades and the battery can't really take away how similar this device is overall to last year's 12 models.

A few years ago, Apple would tide over its yearly phone release cycle by releasing 'S' variants of already released devices - essentially new phones in the same chassis', but with a little 'extra' oomph under the hood. We saw this with the iPhone 6S, iPhone XS, and to an extent also with the iPhone XR. The iPhone 13 is very much an 'S' model in disguise, albeit a very powerful and fully featured one with a ton of sensible improvements. 

The jump from the iPhone 11 to the iPhone 12 felt like a quantum leap in comparison. Not only did you have beefier internals, but a brand new look, and for the first time in an Apple device - full 5G compatibility. It's likely that many iPhone 12 users are looking at their devices right now and wondering whether it's worth the upgrade.

Cue the big carriers and Apple offering extra juicy trade-in rebates to tempt those users over to the dark side. Since Apple devices always tend to come out in the September and October period, this time of the year is big business for carriers looking to tie customers in for another round of unlimited plans. And, you'll notice even the most modest carrier iPhone 13 deals always come with expensive unlimited data plans. 

iPhone 12 deals preorders pro apple price

(Image credit: Apple)

Old friends - now cheaper

Speaking of the iPhone 12, Apple hasn't officially discontinued the 2020 standard model or the iPhone 12 Mini. In fact, the tech giant has kept these older devices as part of its lineup for late 2021 with a newly discounted $100-off price. Right now you can pick up an iPhone 12 for $699 upfront and an iPhone 12 Mini for $599 - and that's before you factor in any trade-in rates.

A $100 discount on both devices makes them very tempting options indeed for those who are looking to save a bit of cash on an unlocked device. In regards to internal upgrades, they're obviously not as powerful as the latest iPhone 13 models, but both devices are still excellent 5G capable flagships. 

If you're not eligible for an expensive carrier trade-in deal, then a freshly discounted iPhone 12 could be a good pairing with something like a cheaper prepaid plan. You won't save big bucks on your device upfront, but you'll escape having to pay through the nose for a minimum of two years on a pricey unlimited data plan. Mint Mobile and Visible Wireless are two particularly good choices if you're looking for a very cheap 5G unlimited data plan that doesn't break the bank.

The bottom line - is the iPhone 13 worth it?

This year might just be the trickiest one so far in regards to determining whether it's worth the upgrade. The iPhone 13 isn't a big step up from the 12, but this year's upgrade deals are good enough to make even the most jaded of Apple fans sit up and take notice. 

If you already have an iPhone 12 and think you can make do for another year without upgrading, then sitting this one out is definitely a viable option. The basic design is the same, your device is still plenty powerful for 2021, and you'll only forgo a better battery life and screen. That said, if your iPhone 12 is eligible for a lucrative carrier trade-in then it's definitely worth investigating a 'free' upgrade - especially if you're deadset on sticking with a big carrier and don't mind renewing your line. 

Where things get less nuanced, in our opinion, is for Apple fans still using older hardware such as the iPhone 11 or older. For these users, even those with unlocked devices, this year's iPhone 13 deals offer really great trade-in rates on even devices showing their age now. They are far, far better than last year's offerings so it's definitely a great time to consider making the jump to a 5G flagship. Plus, the newly discounted iPhone 12 series gives yet another good choice if you're looking to save a bit of cash on the side.

Alex Whitelock
Deals Editor

Alex is deals editor at TechRadar. With over three years of experience on-site and eight years working in e-commerce, Alex has made it his personal mission to share all his favorite tips, bargains, and deals with our readers here at TechRadar. At work, he specializes in computing, phones, and covering huge sales events like Black Friday and Amazon Prime Day. Outside of work, you'll find him indulging his keen love of photography and PC gaming, or down at the local climbing gym hanging off boulders far too difficult for his abilities. His editorial bylines also include contributions to T3 and GamesRadar.