What's my best upgrade option for a teetering iPhone 4?
November 19, 2015 6:09 PM   Subscribe

My wee, sturdy iPhone 4 is reaching the end of its unnatural lifespan. I plan to get a new phone in January and cannot decide from these options: 5s, 6, and [unknown Android capable of seducing me]. Difficulty level: Canadian; have a decent month-to-month phone plan now and don't want to settle for less; smallish hands.

I'm currently paying Rogers $60 a month plus HST for:
- 2GB data
- Unlimited incoming and outgoing minutes
- Unlimited Canadian long distance (regular calls and video)
- Unlimited SMS text/video/pics
- Call Forwarding/Call Transfer/Call Display/Visual voicemail

So that isn't great, but you can see what similar Rogers plans cost here. Telus/Bell/Fido offer similar pricing. The smaller providers often have better deals, but they mostly support Android and not iPhone, and I know from experience that their coverage can be pretty patchy in my neighbourhood.

Probable must haves (I can be talked out of any of these if needed):

1 - Unlocked phone with no contract. I want to be able to move to a better month-to-month plan when needed. Even if a contract gave me a discount on the phone, I would probably pay more in the end when you factor in the available comparable plans OR I would have to downgrade to a lesser plan.

2 - I need to buy something that uses the current o/s. Over the next few years, as new phones come out, I hope to stay no more than one version behind the current o/s so that I can use the apps I want. I would be delighted by a little 5c I could get via Craigslist, but the o/s is too old. The 5s is almost perfect for me (if a little pricier than I want) but I suspect that when a new o/s is released next year, the 5s may not be able to run it and the clock will start ticking. The 6 seems to be in the sweet spot for hardware and software, but 16Gb unlocked is $769 plus tax.

3 - Size matters. I don't want a full-out phablet, so 6+, 6S+ and a lot of the Samsungs people love just won't work for me. 5s feels perfect, 6 feels like something I can adapt to.

Other factors:

Price: iPhones are really not cheap right now, and the best Androids aren't either. $400-500 seems like a great range (yeah, good luck -- the unlocked 16Gb 5s is $599). $700-800 may be acceptable for an iPhone but gawd, I didn't even pay that much for my current laptop. I've been scouting out some Android phones, but the ones that appeal to me are not that much cheaper than the cheaper iPhones.

If I can rationalize a high initial price because the phone would probably last 3-4 years (did I mention that I've already had my 4 replaced once under AppleCare?) I might be able to handle the sticker shock, but this still seems like a ridiculous amount to pay.

Storage: I could probably get by with 16 Gb, but I'll miss the 32Gb on my current phone.

So are there any specific phones or plans you'd recommend? Can you entice me out of Apple's walled garden? Are there any other factors that I should consider?
posted by maudlin to Technology (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
All iPhones going back to the 4S support iOS 9; the 5/5C will probably be supported through iOS 10. 5S? Probably two more OS cycles...
posted by Seeking Direction at 6:41 PM on November 19, 2015

Honestly, I think you'll be happier if you get another iPhone but if cost is still a factor, consider these phones:

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact
probably is best android phone for you. It's not cheap for a two year old android phone.
Nexus 5 hits the sweet spot between price and performance. Timely update from Google and insanely good developer support. However, It's a two year old android phone.
Zenfone 2 ? It's a fabulous deal. However, it's little bit bigger than you like and there are a lot of bloatwares.
posted by Carius at 6:41 PM on November 19, 2015

Apple seems too support iOS on older devices for about five years, so the 5s should be good until 2018, as far as os upgrades go.

If you're going to switch tho Android, spend some time playing with one. Personally, I find Android quirks more annoying than iOS ones.

Cloud services are making memory less of an issue, though increased power gives you more kinds of data on the machine. I'd think twice about giving up the 16G flash.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 6:46 PM on November 19, 2015

I made the leap from 4S to 6 when the 6 was released. Right choice.

You'll get used to the iPhone 6's size in a couple of hours, and a year plus later it still feels very new and fast and snappy to me. It's still the right choice, and I think you already figured that out. There's nothing appreciably better about the new 6S to make it worth the extra dollars right now.

Get AppleCare+. That way if you drop it or throw it down the stairs or otherwise utterly destroy it in the next couple of years, it's replaced for free or close-to-free.
posted by rokusan at 7:43 PM on November 19, 2015

The easy answer is the Nexus 5x.

It's a 5" screen phone that has high end phone specs with 32gb of storage for $429. It has arguably the best camera in any smartphone.

I recently talked my medium tech savvy mom into switching from an iPhone 4 to one of the Google Nexus phones, and she claims that it's easier to use than the iPhone.
posted by gregr at 7:43 PM on November 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

A lot of the other carriers are actually subsidiaries of Telus, Bell, or Rogers and so they mostly use the same network and are really indistinguishable from their parents for the user - and they definitely have no problem with iPhones. In Quebec, you can do a lot better than $60 for your plan. So I wouldn't take Rogers as a given or a limitation.

You'll have to look at available plans and phones, but it isn't always cheaper to buy a phone outright if you get a good deal.
posted by ssg at 9:29 PM on November 19, 2015

Cell plans have gone up in price recently quite quickly, though at 2GB data, price may be dropping at bit according to reports. The new rules for short contracts seem to be the most likely reason they've been able to get away with it, but the consequence is that it's really desirable to keep many older plans now, if possible, as the grandfathered rates can be better than what's on offer.

Looks like you're beating the best public offers for iPhones at your current level of service. Similar BYOD plans on the major three networks aren't better either.

You might be able to get a better through customer retention, but that's a crap shoot. Frequently they'll just offer some short term fix (3 month special offer) leading into the new pricing plans.
posted by bonehead at 9:59 PM on November 19, 2015

I solved a similar problem (with bonus extra-cheapskatedness) about a year ago by getting a iPhone 5C with 32 GB memory to help future-proof it a little more. I was not tempted to get any version of the 6; it's just too large to be practical IMO, for me. I am not deeply invested in getting to use the absolute latest and greatest features, I like the size of the 5, and I scooped it up relatively inexpensively since it had just been discontinued. I expect to use it for a minimum of three years total. I typically use my phones for about 4 years.

My advice is to check out a iPhone 5S with whatever the highest memory is available. As opposed to a refurbished 5C, the 5S gets you the fingerprint sensor and the better accelerometer/gyroscopes to allow the pedometer and similar motion-detecting apps to work for-real-for-real.
posted by desuetude at 11:50 PM on November 19, 2015

The 5s is still an EXCELLENT choice, and not outdated. I know several people(including my partner) who intentionally "upgraded" to it. It has the performance to match all the current top of the line phones on the market besides the 6S. Seriously, go check out a review on like anandtech of say, the galaxy S6 or the nexus 5X or something.

I don't want a full-out phablet, so 6+, 6S+ and a lot of the Samsungs people love just won't work for me. 5s feels perfect, 6 feels like something I can adapt to.

So yea, buy a 5S. It's about 20% slower than the iphone 6, which is a hardy match and stomps the other current phones at a lot of tasks and performance benchmarks(and the 5S is about... the amount slower the other phones are give or take). The 6S is in hyperspace ahead of them to the point that it's overkill. I've used one next to the 6 and 5S i have here. It's really fast, but the 5S and 6 are still very very very fast to the point it didn't feel worth it to me.

It still has an awesome camera, decent battery life, and it's not stupidly huge. It's well built physically and will, following the pattern of previous devices, stay updated until iOS 11.

It's also dirt cheap to get parts for if you break it, and super easy to fix... or for any corner store phone shop to fix, who will have parts on hand.

Everyones always like "buy a current phone", but apple had such a huge lead performance wise with that phone that it took the other companies until 2015 to catch up with their phone from 2013.

I got used to the size of the 6, but if you like the 5S, just buy it. The 6 is not faster in anything but benchmarks that give you a numeric value. Actually trying things out side by side they're equal in any way you can imagine. The used value is also off the charts since they go for about half the price a 6 does right now.

The only things that are noticeably faster on the newer phones are the thumbprint scanner(which has improved repeatedly with software updates) and at times the camera to actually become ready to fire. Once it's open, they're about equal. Launching can be faster on the newer phones.

My advice would be to buy a used 32gb 5S and then immediately pay to put a fresh battery in it. If you want piece of mind, pay the ~$70 at apple. This is exactly what i did with mine for my partner and it's essentially a brand new phone with a new battery.

When it's finally outdated, you can buy the new ~4in phone apple is rumored to be producing soon. Or the "s" version of that phone. I legitimately think the 5S is sort of going to be the mac os 10.6 of iphones though, and last way longer than anyone expects while still feeling great. I only upgraded because i wanted a bigger screen and i have gigantic basketball player hands that make silly phablets look like nokia candybars.
posted by emptythought at 12:30 AM on November 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'd get a 5s if you don't want the larger screen size.

The 5s has the 64bit CPU so will likely be supported for several more versions of iOS. Performance-wise the 5s is still excellent and also has Touch ID which I love.

My 5s is two years old and the ONLY reason I would get rid of it is for a larger screen. Otherwise it is still a great performing phone.

You can pick up a used 5s for a reasonable price.
posted by LoveHam at 4:27 AM on November 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Love my 5s. Also have small hands. It's a really good camera. I will hope for my size options when I finally have to replace it and hope that's at least 3 years off.
posted by leslies at 5:12 AM on November 20, 2015

I'm pretty small, and I got used to the 6 pretty easily. It's costlier, but I think it will last you much longer. Also, the mid-level 6 comes with 64GB instead of 32 like older phones. Get a case, the extreme thinness makes it feel a bit delicate and easily dropped.
posted by Night_owl at 8:09 AM on November 20, 2015

If you want to unlock with your fingerprint, go with the 6 or 6s. I think this has the potential to become something that gets more and more baked in to how the IS works, so I think you'll extend the life of your phone the most. It generally works out cheapest to use your tech until unusable and then go to the most cutting edge. That way there's not a big gap for three to four years. You end up spending more money if you keep getting two generations back.
posted by stoneweaver at 10:33 AM on November 20, 2015

> It generally works out cheapest to use your tech until unusable and then go to the most cutting edge. That way there's not a big gap for three to four years.

Yeah, this. Seconded.

Getting a 5S now will let you get by for 2ish years before you kinda' need to upgrade. So if you do go that route, I'd suggest a used / unlocked phone. But paying for a 6S might let you go a lot longer before requiring an upgrade, if you tend to keep your phones for a while. (And it sounds like you do, if you're still getting by on an iPhone 4. 4S, 5, 5S, 6, 6S - yeah, it'll be a huge upgrade no matter where you jump.)
posted by RedOrGreen at 12:02 PM on November 20, 2015

I just went from a 5s to a 6s and I'm sorry. I have smallish hands and the 6s is really fucking aggravating. It's just the wrong size. And they idiotically repositioned the power button to the SIDE, so when you go to use it you accidentally squeeze the volume buttons on the other side. There is nothing better enough about it to justify the annoyance of having it not fit my hands.
posted by HotToddy at 6:08 PM on November 20, 2015

The Motorola moto g is cheap and fantastic. You can get a Samsung sized one or a smaller one with the same specs, but you won't go wrong with either.
posted by Sebmojo at 10:08 PM on November 20, 2015

So much more feedback than I expected -- thanks! I have been reading the whole thread and am making up a little Excel spreadsheet comparing features that are most important to me.

(It looks as if what many of you consider a "small" Android screen ranges from 4.5 to 5.5 inches, so I'll have to get my paws on some phones in the store to verify how I feel about them.)
posted by maudlin at 10:15 AM on November 21, 2015

If you're going to consider switching to Android, make sure you spend time doing the real stuff that you're going to want to do: that's one thing that's great about the Apple Store. You can hang out in there all day and it's cool.

I suspect that the 5S will be supported longer than other iPhones so far. Phones are getting comparable to computers in terms of power. (Relatively at least). Back in the 90s & early 2000s, new versions of Windows or Mac OS required lots more power because computers were still evolvin quickly. Now though, any computer you bought even from a few years ago (unless it was bottom of the barrel) should last for quite a while. The kinds of things that people typically do don't require massively powerful computers. Things are plateauing. And I think we're getting there with phones. The 5S was the start of the plateau, at least for iPhones.

I'm not sure that Android phones are at the same point yet, especially for the lower prices ones.

So get the 5S and replace the battery.
posted by reddot at 12:54 PM on November 22, 2015

I'll be back to mark best answers later, but just want to let you know that I bought a new 6s and I love it.
posted by maudlin at 10:29 PM on December 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

So I was really tempted by the idea of a used 5s, but I didn't know anyone who was selling one and the Craigslist options looked a bit skimpy and somewhat sketchy. (I've marked some 5S answers as best answers anyway because if you can get a used 5S from a trustworthy source, it's probably an excellent and much less expensive option for many people.)

What finally got me to go for the 6S: one of the more frugal people I know surprised me by arguing for the 6S, using pretty much the same reasoning I've marked as best answers above, and adding that because I was buying the phone for/through my business, the actual cost out of my own pocket was a lot lower than the list price.

My small hands are just fine with the dimensions. It still feels a little light for its size, but the new cases I've ordered off eBay should help me hold on to it. I LOVE how much more I can see on the screen. I still have the iPhone 4 running on home WiFi, and it seems so cramped now after just 2 days with the new phone. While I can't reach the entire screen with my thumb while holding it in the same hand (and I know how to use Reachability, so that helps), the ability to fit in 6 rows of icons on each screen, plus the Touch ID (used for app purchases as well as unlocking) are HUGE gains for me. 3D touch is a cute feature right now, but I could probably live without it.

Thanks again for all the advice. It did really help me assess what I wanted.
posted by maudlin at 9:58 PM on December 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

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