iPhone 4 versus iPhone 4s: antennas, maps, and iOS questions
December 27, 2013 8:54 AM   Subscribe

I have a no-contract plan at Virgin Mobile USA, which I like because it is so cheap ($35/month for unlimited data and enough calling). The downside of cheap and no-contract is expensive phones. However, I just lost my Android phone and would like to switch back to iPhone. My options at Virgin are iPhone 4, for $200, iPhone 4s, for $314, or iPhone 5, for more than I want to pay really. How to decide?

Specifically, the iPhone 4 they sell runs iOS 6, and the 4s comes with iOS 7. I was all set to get the 4s, for a few reasons, but then I read that iOS 7 doesn't run well on anything but the 5. Is that true? Does the iPhone 4 still have "antenna problems" that require a case or bumper? Is iOS 6 the version with Apple Maps instead of Google Maps, and will that be an issue for me? Navigating is one of the things I use a smartphone for most, and I love Google Maps.

I had an iPhone 3 and loved it, a long time ago, switched to Android to save money, dislike it, and want to come back, but the iPhone world seems so much more complicated than it used to be. Thanks.
posted by toomuchkatherine to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
...but then I read that iOS 7 doesn't run well on anything but the 5. Is that true?

The difference between iOS 7 working as it should on a 5/5c/5s and it being somewhat sluggish on a 4s (and really sluggish on a 4) is pretty apparent. An iPhone 4 with iOS 6 is a smarter purchase than a 4s with iOS 7, IMO.

Google Maps is available for iOS 6.
posted by griphus at 9:02 AM on December 27, 2013

I have iOS7 on a 4S and didn't notice any difference in how it ran with iOS6 than how it runs now. I wouldn't let that be a deciding factor at all. I downloaded Google Maps because Apple maps is so awful. And it works fine.
posted by cecic at 9:06 AM on December 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Don't even think about the iPhone 4: it's sufficiently far behind in terms of hardware that you will come to hate it, and also hate the way that many apps are no longer being developed for iOS 6. It's a false economy.

Honestly, the extra $90 to go from the 4S at $314 to the 5 at $405 (right now) would be money well spent in terms of future-proofing and locking in that plan. But if it's too big a leap, then go with the 4S.
posted by holgate at 9:13 AM on December 27, 2013

The camera in the 4S is far superior to the 4.
posted by TheGoodBlood at 9:18 AM on December 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have a 4S with iOS 7 on it and I'm perfectly happy with how fast it runs. The 5 is surely drool-worthy, but if you can't afford it, I bet you can find a way to live happily with a merely miraculous pocket-tricorder rather than an actually magical one.
posted by gauche at 10:02 AM on December 27, 2013

I'm with gauche on this one. I've also got a 4S running iOS7 and have no complaints at all about the speed of the operating system. I thought about upgrading to the 5S but have no reason to, even considering that my phone is over two years old at this point.

I would personally be a bit wary of purchasing the iPhone 5. It was discontinued by Apple earlier this year (in a move they rarely make) upon the introduction of the 5S and 5C. I have heard absolutely horrendous things from friends about the battery life of the 5 and so would avoid it like the plague.
posted by BrianJ at 10:56 AM on December 27, 2013

I'll agree with others here - do not get an iPhone 4. It should not be on sale new today - I realize Apple is still selling it to milk the China market, but don't get it.

Do get iOS 7 - Apple now requires all developers to target iOS 7 first, and more and more apps are 7-only these days.

The 4S is ok - no personal experience, but that's what I hear - but the 5 is a very worthwhile upgrade. It is the same hardware as the 5C, so it will be supported for a while yet. For an up-front investment, you'll have decent hardware for several years to come (at least 3 if, like me, you don't care about latest and greatest).

Can't you buy your own phone off Craigslist or Swappa or something like that and bring it to Virgin Mobile? I see several "mint iPhone 5" listings at ~$300 for Sprint on Swappa.
posted by RedOrGreen at 11:35 AM on December 27, 2013

Mrs A has a 4 that I upgraded to iOS7 and I've noticed no real degradation in performance for standard consumer applications, she's not enthralled with the new UI, but that's not a performance thing.
posted by arcticseal at 12:22 PM on December 27, 2013

I have a 4S and iOS 7 works so damn well it's a blessing.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 12:38 PM on December 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Can't you buy your own phone off Craigslist or Swappa or something like that and bring it to Virgin Mobile?

Virgin Mobile's a Sprint MVNO that's actually owned by Sprint but you can't easily bring other phones to its network or use VM phones on other networks. For smartphones, it's basically no go.

If you change your phone, VM won't grandfather your plan, so if the $35 plan goes up to $40 or $45 at some point by the time your current phone reaches its end of usable life, you have to suck it up or change carrier. Given that carrier lock, the calculation here ought to be maximising the lifetime of that $35/mo plan.
posted by holgate at 12:57 PM on December 27, 2013

Response by poster: Okay, hmm, difference of opinion as to whether iOS7 is going to drag the 4s down or not. Maybe I can go to a store and actually handle a couple of these phones before I decide.

I guess I should also look into the options for warranty or replacement insurance. Having just lost one phone, it seems like it could happen again, and I'd rather lose a $200 or $250 handset than a $500 one.

Thanks for the thoughts!
posted by toomuchkatherine at 1:44 PM on December 27, 2013

I got an iPhone 4S for Ting because it's the newest one that they support. It certainly seems zippy enough to me on iOS7. The problem is the battery life. Maybe I just haven't fiddled with its settings enough.
posted by wintersweet at 8:27 PM on December 27, 2013

Response by poster: Update: I watched a YouTube video with someone comparing iOS 7 and iOS 6 on two iPhone 4s (iPhones 4?) side by side. iOS 6 was definitely faster. That, and price, and battery life concerns, made me go with the 4 for now. Thanks for your input, all.
posted by toomuchkatherine at 10:11 AM on January 6, 2014

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