iPhone me--which model do I need 4, 4S, or 5?
December 13, 2012 8:56 PM   Subscribe

iPhone me! --which model do I need: 4, 4S, or 5?

Much to the astonishment of friends/family, I am about to jump from a dumb-but-cheap phone to an iPhone.
Using a data plan will be new to me--other high-use features will be basic voice, text, personal notes/calendar and selected apps.
The camera and video will be used sparingly--I think.
A big part of me wants to go for the iPhone 4 [it's "free"] which has 8GB capacity, but longer standby time.
I don't think I need/want SIRI, but is it foolhardy to go for "only" 8GB?
What will I miss out on by getting a 4 instead of 4S with Siri and 16GB capacity?
And is the 5 so much better that I will regret not going for that model?

Also…what is the difference between going to an AT&T store and an Apple store?
[I am near both storefronts…]
Do you recommend Apple's insurance plan over AT&T insurance?
Going rogue with no insurance?
Some non-negotiables...
*I am staying with AT&T;
*I'm pretty committed to an iPhone over Android,;
*I am just now starting to use a Macbook Air and the Apple universe, but I will probably never be a power user of iTunes, video, or photo services…
so with those snowflakes, what's your advice on iPhone models?
posted by calgirl to Technology (40 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Before you say "it's free" about the iPhone 4, consider that they all have the same subsidized data plan rates. Over the life of a two-year contract, the iPhone 5 is only $8.33 more per month, or about 10% more expensive. Personally, I would just save two months' worth of data plan costs and then get the iPhone 5.
posted by stopgap at 9:06 PM on December 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

Mr. BlahLaLa and I just switched from dumb phones to iPhones. We got the 4s. I have to say I really like Siri for hands-free dialing when I am driving. (With my old dumb phone I could dial numbers by touch, because the buttons were raised. With the iPhone's smooth screen it's impossible to do that, so Siri comes in handy.)
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:13 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have a 4S and I have had no urge to upgrade. I have also updated my phone to run iOS5, which is what the 5 runs.

Are you going to use your phone as an iPod? If so, you might want to consider more storage space. The camera on the 4S is also of higher quality than the 4. I use mine all the time, it takes great pictures.

The 5 also works with 4G. I don't know what that's like on an iPhone but the Droids I've seen with 4G have pathetic battery life.

I used to have insurance back when I had a dumb phone, but I don't think that carries over to smartphones, however I'm not sure. I just have an Otterbox which has survived many drops.
posted by thank you silence at 9:18 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yep, what you're paying for, most of all, is that two-year contract, and you don't have an existing data plan that you can grandfather in with AT&T, so that's not an issue. There's definitely an argument for the 4S over the 5, especially if LTE isn't an issue for you, but given the cost of the contract, the iPhone 4 feels like a false economy.

So: think about what kind of phone you want to be owning in the summer of 2014, potentially two further iterations of iOS down the line, given that the iPhone 4 already doesn't get many of the goodies of iOS 6.
posted by holgate at 9:21 PM on December 13, 2012

When I got my first iPhone (as a pre-existing AT&T customer), it was right when the 4 came out. There was a three week wait on the 4, and I needed a phone right away. So I opted for the 3gs. It did well for two solid years, and I never had a problem having an older phone.

So on the one hand, sure, get a 4s if that works for you.

On the other hand, I now have a 5 and I like it a lot. Especially now that there's finally a Google Maps app.

Re 4G/LTE, battery life, etc -- it honestly seems about the same as my old phone. Battery life is a bit better, but not as good as I'd hoped it would be. Data speeds seem the same -- I really don't know what the hype over 4G is. I do really like Siri, and if I were you I'd opt for a phone with Siri, whether that's the 4s or the 5.

I have never insured an iPhone and have had no problems. That said, I'm very careful with my electronics and live a pretty sedate life. You'll definitely want a case for it, but I haven't found the Otterbox or any of the other heavy duty ones to be necessary.
posted by Sara C. at 9:33 PM on December 13, 2012

At least the 4s. No need to buy something two generations old already. It'll be supported (ie the new OS in the future will run on it, whereas they will phase out the 4 sooner). The camera is awesome and you'll end up using it a ton. Siri is great for driving and walking.
posted by barnone at 9:34 PM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I was about to ask exactly the same question, though I already have an iPhone 4, but need a new phone due to power problems. I considered the "free" downgrade - but also found it comes with a $30 'transfer fee' or something. While the upgrade to the 5 is $100. So we're down to only a $70 difference, which is less than one month's phone bill. That made it an easier decision.

What's swaying me to spring for the 5 is (a) Siri - I already do a dangerous amount of fiddling with the phone during navigation while driving, and would like to stop doing that, and (b) the camera. I no longer use my former camera at all - the phone camera is great, and a better camera is a better camera.

I do think they tend to tempt you with too much storage, but that ends up not being the defining feature uless you want to hold all your music, photos, video etc. on your phone. I sync too often to worry about that. I got the 16gig originally and I'm only using 5, and that's with loads of playlists and podcasts. So it comes down to Siri and camera.
posted by Miko at 9:41 PM on December 13, 2012

Get 4S at least. There's a big speed difference between the 4 and 4S, not as much between 4S and 5. Also, some iPhone 4's had a flaw with the Home button that only shows up after a year or so.

I never have gotten Applecare for a phone, because it doesn't cover loss or liquid damage (two most common ailments). OTOH it would have fixed my Home button issue...
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:08 PM on December 13, 2012

I don't know what that's like on an iPhone but the Droids I've seen with 4G have pathetic battery life.

The main reason why Apple hadn't come out with an LTE phone until the 5 was because they were waiting for lower-power LTE chipsets to come out. The earlier power hungry ones used on earlier Android handsets didn't cut it for Apple's standards.
posted by zsazsa at 10:33 PM on December 13, 2012

I have an iPhone 4. I really want an iPhone 4S. I was convinced that when the iPhone 5 came out that I'd upgrade right away (I have a discounted upgrade from my provider), but when I saw my sister's new 5 I felt pretty underwhelmed by the upgrades, and I don't think I'm going to bother until the next generation.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:19 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you are set on getting a 2 year contract, there is no reason to get anything but the iPhone 5.

If you want to save money, I would recommend picking up a used 4S and going with a prepaid unlimited plan. That will save you around $700 over 2 years. You can still be on AT&T's network.
posted by wongcorgi at 11:20 PM on December 13, 2012 [5 favorites]

Best answer: There is no good reason not to get the 5. No matter which you get, the upgrade fee and the data plan is the same, and the latter will be the bulk of your expenses over the contract. AT&T even has refurbished 5's out for $50 off (and in my experience, Apple refurbished items are very close if not indistinguishable from brand new ones). They just have a slightly shorter warranty (cause they are extended from the original owner's warranty date).

If your area has LTE, it is pretty useful - not because it is faster (because on a phone, you can't download stuff all the time), but because the signals penetrate buildings better. In areas where you will have middling 3G reception and things will time out or fail to load, LTE will actually work.

Insurance: after more than four years of iPhones, I've never felt the need. They come with a full year warranty, which means if things stop working (and it's not obviously your fault), you go to the Apple store and they hand you a refurb - which itself has 90 days of warranty or the remaining duration of the original phone's year, whichever is longer. I do use a case to avoid cracking the screen, but beyond that and water damage, iPhones have been pretty indestructible for me. The phones I've sold after two years of heavy use pretty much worked identically to new, hardware-wise - except for the home button which is doomed to lose its "clickyness", being the button you push for doing anything. Hint: enable assistivetouch.
posted by meowzilla at 11:39 PM on December 13, 2012

Best answer: You say you probably won't take many pictures, but I'll bet you do in the end! The iPhone camera is pretty remarkable.

Echoing what most are saying here, I'd go for the 5. Do you have small hands? In not, the extra screen real estate is a big improvement over the 4s.

Here's a good review of the iPhone 5
posted by panaceanot at 12:17 AM on December 14, 2012

On the insurance question, I just wanted to point out that the AppleCare+ plan covers, to my knowledge, accidental and water damage. They do charge you something like $50 to replace your phone if it's accidentally damaged. When I broke the screen of my old iPhone, back when I didn't have AppleCare+, it turned out it was either going to cost $200 to fix a phone that was already getting fairly outdated, or I could pony up an obscene amount of money (like...$700?) for a brand new phone. It was not a happy corner to be backed into. So now I have AppleCare+ and feel a lot better about what would (will) happen if (when) I drop and break my phone again.
posted by ootandaboot at 12:39 AM on December 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

All I can say is, cross the 4 out. Something is fucking cursed about that phone. It's so fucking slow. If you put it side to side with the 4S, there's no comparison.
posted by phaedon at 12:42 AM on December 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

I would probably just get the latest one. The extra cost is very little over the 2 years. The feel is much nicer, it's much lighter, and the camera is once again substantially improved. People are going crazy over LTE if you have it, so that's another good thing.
posted by Magnakai at 12:42 AM on December 14, 2012

Agreed with everyone else. I have a 4 and my boyfriend has a 4S, and he often gets a 3G signal where I don't. The antenna must be better on the 4S or something. For me, that alone would be enough of a reason to go for at least the 4S.
posted by phoenixy at 1:32 AM on December 14, 2012

FWIW, while you are comparing the utility of various iPhones, I thought I would just be the lone voice in the woods saying: I think Siri is creepy and I hate her. Unless you've tried the 5, don't just assume Siri is a feature you would love and miss.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:48 AM on December 14, 2012

The 5. Not that much more money over the life of your contract, LTE is much faster than 3G, Siri is good for quickly setting reminders and appointments - in general it's quite handy, but has the potential to be annoying when it refuses to understand you. Camera is great.
posted by backwards guitar at 3:02 AM on December 14, 2012

I've used, serviced, and taught all Apple products that have emerged for more than twenty years and the only thing I can add to these wise suggestions is that I've never seen anyone with a portable device regret AppleCare. The rule among techies I know is that the more portable a device the more we recommend AppleCare. The large iMacs in our fleet don't don't get it unless they're prototypes and we've heard of potential issues, but the MacBook Pros, iPads, iPhones, and Touches all do.

It's not just insurance. When you call with any question about the device for the life of AppleCare you're channeled to a whole other team specially trained in a higher level of customer service. Wait times are shorter, they stick with a problem until a solution is found, and they'll work with you if you've done something not typically covered. You'd particularly benefit because of your new acquaintance with all things Apple. Your questions about how the device works with another device are covered, and those questions are the meat of the technology.
posted by R2WeTwo at 3:20 AM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Get the 5. I have one and decided against AppleCare+. It depends how careful you are with your electronics. Without AppleCare+, you get a 1 year warranty for problems that are not your fault. AppleCare+ extends that to 2 years. If the damage is your fault, AppleCare+ will fix/replace your phone for $50 up to 2 times. AppleCare+ costs $100, so that's $150 if you break your phone once. The cost of out of warranty repair/replacement is $230 (cost may go down in a year when a newer model comes out). I got a hard case for the phone with a lip to protect the screen for $20, and, historically, I've been fairly careful with phones, so I figure the chance of me damaging my phone are low. I'm willing to bet on the $80 difference in repair cost, and not get the warranty. If you think you may drop your phone once or twice, then I think AppleCare is worth it. Either way, get a case!
posted by bluefly at 3:27 AM on December 14, 2012

AppleCare is the reason Apple is so rich. Never have so many paid so much for so little.
posted by spitbull at 4:34 AM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Husbunny and I upgraded from 3 to 5. We went in for the 4S, but they were all out. We LOVE these things with a passion. We sit at dinner and stare lovingly....into our games.

We're with AT&T. We got ours at an AT&T store (NOT an authorized dealer, but the real deal). We have U-Verse, so we're bundled up tighter than Randy in A Christmas Story.

I noticed that although we paid out of pocket for the phones, ($199 apiece) that we got charged $81 for a transfer fee. I called customer service, coughed a couple of times and they credited me for that.

We have the data plan for 2MB. We download nothing unless we're on the wireless network, so we never come anywhere NEAR the cap on that.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:37 AM on December 14, 2012

I have the iPhone 4, my girlfriend has the iPhone 5. These phones are not comparable. When she lets me get my hands on her phone I'm amazed at how quickly the phone does everything. I use to think my iPhone 4 was holding up well, but not any longer. Compared the 5 it's very frustrating to use. And it's only going to get slower. I was going to try to hold out for the iPhone 6, but I'm not sure, after using a 5, that I'll be able to wait.

So if you're going to use your phone at all, I can't imagine having an iPhone 4 for the next 2 years. I would at least go for the iPhone 4s. The difference between the 4s and 5 is less significant, but still there. Make no mistake, the iPhone 5 is a better phone than the 4s. Do not believe anyone that says they LTE doesn't make a huge difference. LTE, as long as you're area is covered, is much, MUCH faster than 3g. It's also faster than my home wifi connection. And even with LTE my girlfriends 5 gets better battery life than my 4.

As far as insurance, it depends on the person and if you choose to use a case. But remember, Apple care is 100 dollars, and I believe there's a 50 dollar fee for each accident (I believe, check it out to make sure). That's 150 dollars. You can get your screen replaced for quite a bit less. So if you're constantly dropping your phone, and don't want to use a case, it could be useful. Otherwise I'd say no.
posted by justgary at 5:44 AM on December 14, 2012

Nthing what wongcorgi said and here is a link to information about how to save a lot of money on your cell phone plan by going pre-paid. When my contract is up, I am definitely switching.
posted by getawaysticks at 5:57 AM on December 14, 2012

I got the 4, and wish I had gotten the 4S. The dictation feature on the Siri devices is really good. I don't mind typing by hand most of the time, but I really wish I had the ability to speak my emails or metafilter comments.

I would get the 5. I'm not an "I have to have this" type of person, but I happened to play with one in the store and I really wanted it, like, immediately. (I still have my 4 and will keep it for a couple more years, though, because I am cheap and use things until they are just unusable.) The 5 is a nice phone - and you pay for the contract, not the phone itself, really.
posted by k8lin at 6:52 AM on December 14, 2012

I'd get a 5, only for the LTE. I have a 4 now, never wanted to upgraded to the 4s, because Siri kind of sucks.
posted by empath at 6:56 AM on December 14, 2012

I'd say, if you're willing to spend money on the phone, get the 5. If not, the 4 is still an awesome phone (I have it, got it right before they became the "free" phone, a little sad about that...) I just never thought the 4S was worth the extra cost. When it comes right down to it, the big differences are: the 4S has Siri, a better camera, and is a world phone. If none of those things are particularly important to you, don't bother with the 4S.
posted by Weeping_angel at 7:32 AM on December 14, 2012

Also keep in mind, if you are going to use the phone for 2 years and then upgrade, you'll be able to get more on the sale of your old phone if you get the 5, so the price difference there is reduced. If you are going to keep it until it dies, than that won't be a concern.
posted by markblasco at 7:47 AM on December 14, 2012

If you go with a contract, be aware that you will be stuck with that phone for about 2 years.

2 years from now, it's very likely that Apple won't support updates for the iPhone 4 anymore. This happened with my fiance's iPhone 3G (two versions behind the iPhone 4), which hasn't seen an update for about 2 years. On the flip side, I had the 3GS (one version behind the iPhone 4) and still get iOS updates from Apple, but that's because the iPhone 3GS had a revolutionary processor chip for its time. You can't guarantee that the iPhone 4 will be like that 2 years down the road, especially considering that the 4's processor wasn't a major upgrade from the 3GS. The 4S, however, did see a major processor upgrade from the 4, just like the 3GS did with the 3G.

So if you want to guarantee 2 years of Apple software updates on your phone, I would definitely recommend the 4S or newer.
posted by nikkorizz at 7:50 AM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I recently upgraded from the 4 to the 5 (on AT&T). There is no contest. While I was concerned there weren't enough upgrades before I got my hands on it, it's actually a really superior device.

And yes, get Applecare. I had my 4 for 2 years, dropped it a billion million times, and never had any problem (it did have the home button issue, and they replaced it for free then -- meaning I went from a refurb to a new phone!) My 5, I woke up one morning, with no recollection if it having been dropped, and it had a giant crack across the entire screen. Luckily, I'd bought Applecare 3 days prior. I took it to the Apple store last night, and they did NOT charge me the $49 incident fee since it was just a single hairline crack, and not splintering. So don't bank on not getting charged, but also bear in mind Applecare will get you far with idevices.
posted by pixiecrinkle at 8:12 AM on December 14, 2012

Also, LTE is rolling out on AT&T -- most major cities I've been to since I've gotten the phone have it, and it's striking how much faster than 4G it is. You won't get that with the 4 or 4s.
posted by pixiecrinkle at 8:13 AM on December 14, 2012

You'll get about 3 years of software updates from Apple. The 4 is already near it's end-of-life, meaning you'll probably stop getting updates before a 2 year contract is up.

In addition, I recently upgraded from a 4 to a 5, and while I don't use Siri, I really notice the difference in speed, screen, and camera when I compare it to my wife's iPhone4.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:17 AM on December 14, 2012

AppleCare is the reason Apple is so rich. Never have so many paid so much for so little.

I think this has historically been true, if only because Apple store employees had pretty wide leeway to replace your iPhone, meaning that "don't be a dick to the Apple store employees" was pretty much the only extended warranty you needed. However, since John Browett became head of Apple retail, the higher ups have really locked down the process and now, as I understand it, even store managers need special authorization to give somebody a new device for free.* Maybe it will revert to the old model now that he's been kicked out, but I kind of doubt it. So, in conclusion, AppleCare+ is sadly a much better deal these days, because you probably will drop your phone and it probably will shatter into many tiny shards.

* Source: all five million of my friends who are current or ex-employees of the St. Louis Galleria Apple store.
posted by invitapriore at 8:29 AM on December 14, 2012

Get the 5. Each new release of iOS is designed for whatever's new, and features are removed from it when installed on older phones (whether this is because those phones won't run those features acceptably or just a prod to get you to upgrade is an open question IMO). So the 4 running iOS 6 has a number of dumbed-down features, and that's only going to get worse with iOS 7 (if it can be upgraded at all); the 4S also has dumbed-down features.

I recently upgraded from the 4 to the 5 and I like it.
posted by adamrice at 9:04 AM on December 14, 2012

Best answer: iPhone 5. The lower weight, bigger screen, thinner chassis and a guaranteed extra year before obsolescence is worth it. If you're in an urban area where AT&T has gone LTE, it's a slam dunk. Having a wireless device with more bandwidth than my already significantly-above-average Cable modem has been fantastic.

iOS vs Android: I've owned probably a dozen macs over the last 10 years, currently have three of them, and there are six iOS devices in my house. I'm not a 'fanboy' but up until recently nothing could touch them on design and user interfaces. And apple makes the best hardware out there, for sure.

But, I got a Nexus 7 a couple months ago (ie, state of the art Android device) because my iPad was a bit large to schlep around everywhere. This is the first Android thing that was really compelling to me, both because the OS has advanced and because the hardware was fantastic.

What's striking is that iOS is almost entirely "app" based and the core OS doesn't feel particularly 'connected' to the internet. If I'm not in an app, iOS isn't doing much for me. The apps themselves are still MUCH more refined and better to use, don't get me wrong, and the OS still feels faster and more polished. But it feels dumb and lifeless. Android feels smart. Really smart. Google Now is the first time I've ever experienced a device telling me stuff in some kind of proactive way, thinking a few steps ahead of me. It's incredibly cool.

For example, I had to drive to a funeral 8 hours away. A week before, I was searching for restaurant reviews on yelp, and looking at their locations on a map. I also reserved a hotel in Lancaster and the confirmation email gets sent to my gmail. Boom. Google has figured out what's up. The day of my hotel reservation, it pushed me a card with driving time/route info to get to the hotel, and a card showing my hotel reservation details. I get to the hotel and hop on the wifi. Now pushes me a few cards, with driving directions and reviews for those restaurants I searched for last week. After the meal, Now pushes me directions to get back to the hotel.

It isn't perfect yet, by any stretch, and it misses a lot. But holy cow...this feels so far beyond anything Apple is doing that I wonder how the hell iOS competes in year or two when all of the kinks have been worked out. The stuff Google does well (language processing, search algorithms, etc) is the bedrock for what mobile is becoming. Apple is terrible at these things. They don't do 'cloud' well (90% of iCloud services are junk), either. And if you look at just the last two iOS apps Google released (new gmail and new maps), the user interfaces are so damn pretty and polished and USABLE that it makes Apple's apps feel like complete clunkers....definitely a first.

Apple is on the cusp of falling behind for the first time. I would be reluctant to invest heavily in the ecosystem right now, and would be tempted to avoid a contract entirely and just pay out of pocket for the phone so I could sell it and move on when the next gen Nexus 4 shows up...
posted by pjaust at 9:05 AM on December 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

I recently upgraded from a 4 to a 5. If for no other reason than the screen improvements (bigger, denser, noticeably easier to read), it was worth it.
posted by kjs3 at 9:57 AM on December 14, 2012

Response by poster: Lots of great information and points to consider. This is just what I needed to get me closer.
I will leave it unresolved for another day, but thank you all for helping me with my plate 'o iphone beans. It really is looking like an iPhone 5 is in my future! Any additional comments are welcome!
posted by calgirl at 2:13 PM on December 15, 2012

FYI, I just saw the other day that Walmart (yuck) has discounted the iPhone 5 to $129 for Christmas. I have no idea if they offer AT&T plans, though.
posted by stopgap at 3:07 PM on December 15, 2012

If nothing else, AppleCare+ nets you a replacement when your battery starts to die at around 18 months in.

Get the 5.
posted by JaneL at 7:24 PM on December 16, 2012

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