“Which iPhone should I buy?” is a question we hear on a daily basis from readers, friends and family.
The iPhone 5, iPhone 4S and iPhone 4 are all sold new on store shelves at major carriers and retailers making it a tougher buying decision, but with a few minutes of research, shoppers can pick the perfect iPhone for their needs.
While there are some specifics to consider, picking the right iPhone to buy is one of the easier choices for gadget shoppers, even those who don’t know a lot about the iPhone models sold at AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile.
iPhone 5 vs. iPhone 4S vs. iPhone 4
Apple offers three iPhone models, all of which run the current iPhone software and all of which will run the new iOS 7 software late this fall, but there are some key differences between the iPhone models. The following breakouts will help shoppers find the right iPhone.
The iPhone 5 features a larger screen with a widescreen aspect ratio that offers more screen for movies, apps and browsing the web. There is no major screen resolution bump, so all the current iPhone models support a Retina Display, which translates into great looking photos and very readable text.
The iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S both feature a 3.5-inch Retina Display that some users consider easier to use with one hand. The iPhone 5′s larger display doesn’t rule out one-handed use for many users, but if you have doubts stop at any electronics retailer to check the feel of each phone.
The iPhone 5 supports 4G LTE which delivers faster mobile internet speeds. The speeds will vary based on location and coverage, but users can typically expect 5-12Mbps down and 2-5Mbps up, with actual speeds that are much faster in many cases. This is faster than the home internet speeds many users experience from Time Warner or AT&T.
The iPhone 4S and iPhone 4 only support 3G and 4G speeds. The Verizon models only support 3G. AT&T and T-Mobile support 4G in various formats which delivers speeds between 3G and LTE, and helps with AT&T’s smaller 4G LTE network.
Verizon now offers 4G LTE in 99% of every market where they offer 3G service, equaling 500 markets. AT&T is in second place covering 291 markets while Sprint at T-Mobile are much farther back with limited 4G LTE markets. If your carrier offers 4G LTE in your city, you will need an iPhone 5 or to wait for the iPhone 5S to get the faster speeds.
While each of these iPhone models runs well, there are obvious performance boosts going from the iPhone 4 to the iPhone 4S and to the iPhone 5. These aren’t theoretical speed differences, but speed differences users will notice for daily activities like launching and running apps.
While navigating through apps and the iPhone interface, the iPhone 4S and iPhone 5 are faster than the iPhone 4, and overall the iPhone 5 delivers a better experience. This is important considering most users buy a smartphone for two years. At the end of two years, we will likely see apps that cannot run on the iPhone 4, which will still support the iPhone 5.
The iPhone 4S and iPhone 5 comes with an 8MP camera sensor that many users will be happy with. The iPhone 4 uses a 5MP camera sensor which doesn’t perform as well as the newer iPhones. Camera Plus offers a great look at how the iPhone 4, iPhone 4S and iPhone 5 cameras stack up in a variety of situations.
For users that plan to take a decent amount of pictures, the iPhone 4S is the lowest we recommend going, and even then a jump to the iPhone 5 is a good idea. The iPhone 5 offers slightly better camera performance and is the only model that supports taking a photo and video at the same time.
The iPhone 5 is thinner and lighter than the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S, but this alone is not a deciding factor. While many users like the thinner and lighter feel of the iPhone 5, compared to the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S, we are talking about less than 2mm, which is not a whole lot.
One thing users may want to consider is the taller iPhone 5 design. The iPhone 5 is the same width, but it is noticeably taller than the iPhone 4 and 4S. Adding a case to the iPhone 5 makes it about as thick as the iPhone 4S.
Software and Support
The biggest reason to buy the iPhone 5 over the iPhone 4S and iPhone 4 is software and feature support going forward. Apple is offering iOS 7 for the iPhone 4, iPhone 4S and iPhone 5, but the older models will not get all of the features.
The iPhone 4 will not likely see another major iOS update after iOS 7, and the iPhone 4S will likely only see a stripped down version of IOS 8 or whatever Apple calls its 2014 iOS release. For this reason it’s a good idea to buy the iPhone 5 if you only plan to upgrade after two years, or longer.
Which iPhone Should I Buy?
With all these details in mind, users can make an informed iPhone buying decision. Below we run down the iPhone buying options including the latest iPhone deals, which make the iPhone 5 almost as affordable as the iPhone 4S.
Users should keep in mind the true cost of the iPhone, which is close to $2,000 when you factor in the monthly plans with text, voice and data. With this in mind, spending $50 to $100 more on an iPhone is a very small part of the total cost.
The iPhone 5 is the top of the line iPhone, while the iPhone 4S is a middle of the road model that still delivers what most users need. The iPhone 4 is too old to earn a recommendation for most users.
iPhone 5 – As Low As $75
The iPhone 5 is the obvious choice for the iPhone buyer that wants the latest and greatest iPhone features. It’s also the top recommendation most users, even those on a budget thanks to a host of iPhone 5 deals.
Not only does the iPhone 5 offer the best iPhone experience with a great camera, a larger screen and faster 4G LTE, but it offers better overall performance and a longer life thanks to updates that will certainly come for a longer period than the iPhone 4S and iPhone 4. Users also get some specific features like photo and video at the same time. The iPhone 5 users a new Lightning connector which is the future for all Apple devices.
Read: iPhone 5 Review
The iPhone 5 retails for $199 for the 16GB model, but thanks to a plethora of deals it is available for as low as $75 on AT&T and $50 at Sprint. The iPhone 5 is also available free with an iPhone 4 trade-in at Best Buy for a limited time. Walmart’s $129 iPhone 5 deal is here to stay, offering a great price on the best iPhone.
If you can afford a monthly data plan, the iPhone 5 is a great deal, especially at these prices.
iPhone 4S – As Low as $39
The iPhone 4S is still a good option, but users will need to give up 4G LTE speeds and a larger screen in order to save $100 off the retail price. The iPhone 4S will likely get at least one major iOS 7 update after iOS 7, which is good for users that plan to get an iPhone and keep it for two years.
Read: iPhone 4S Review
The iPhone 4S is just $39 on a two-year contract at Walmart, but users could spend $35 to $80 more and get a much better iPhone experience for the next two years.
iPhone 4 – Free
The iPhone 4 is free for a reason. The iPhone 4 is two years old and won’t likely be on sale anymore after the iPhone 5S arrives later this year. As it slips off store shelves users will also begin to see support for new feature slip as well. The iPhone 4 camera also can’t compete with the iPhone 4S and iPhone 5. Even though the iPhone 4 is free, we recommend saving $40 ot $75 and waiting a month to get a vastly better phone.
The iPhone 5S should arrive later this year, likely in September or October which will push the prices of the iPhone 5 and iPhone 4S down further. We’ve covered why you should wait for the iPhone 5S and why you shouldn’t wait, for users who are thinking about waiting for a new iPhone.