TiPb helps you decide if you should buy an iPhone 4, on which network, and whether you should get it now or wait until the next generation

iPhone Buyers Guide

Trying to figure out if it's a good time to buy that iPhone 4 -- or Verizon iPhone 4 -- or if you should wait for the iPhone 5? Or maybe you're still trying to decide if the iPhone is right for you, and considering some alternatives? No worries, TiPb has your back -- here's our iPhone Buyer's Guide.

Should you buy an iPhone 4 or something else?

iPhone 4 is a fantastic device and without a doubt one of the best phones on the market but no one device is right for everyone. If you want something that "just works", that brings the best internet, apps, and games experience, that's supported by the massive iTunes and Apple ecosystem (tons of content, tons of accessories), and that allows some hacking via Jailbreak, then iPhone might be for you.

First of all, we always recommend choosing your carrier first. If there's no iPhone 4 on the best carrier in your area you will most likely find second-rate service more than annoying. Look into alternatives. If your preferred carrier does have the iPhone, then you have some options.

iPhone advantage

  • Ease of use: iPhone is multilayers but the first layer is so incredibly easy to use that the most non-tech savvy of people, people who are moving up from feature phones, can pick it up and get going with it immediately. At the same time it's highly appealing to expert and veteran smartphone users who want to spend their time getting things done, not getting their phones to do things.
  • Mobile internet: Apple was the first to put a usable web browser on a phone and absent Adobe Flash, Safari is still the best browser in the business. Likewise the built in Mail app shows rich content with pictures. VPN, ActiveSync, and other enterprise-friendly features are also built right in.
  • Apps for that: It's become a cliché but there really is an app for almost everything on the iPhone. Pretty much every major app and currently all the best games are easily available in the App Store and are so functional people actually use them more than the great web browser these days.
  • iTunes: This is the iPhone's killer advantage: iTunes lets you easily sync your existing content and also gives you access not only to the App Store but music, movies, TV shows, podcasts, iTunes U (University) and overall more content in more parts of the world than any other service.
  • More: Apple itself creates a ton of other products to supplement the iPhone, including Mac computers, software for Mac and Windows, and together with their partners provide more cases, chargers, docks, car kits, and accessories of every kind. No other smartphone has the quantity or quality of extras, from fashionable to functional, that iPhone has.

iPhone alternatives: BlackBerry, Android, and more

There's only one iPhone, however, so if you want more hardware choices like physical keyboards, flip form-factors, sliders, etc. and app marketplaces that aren't curated and controlled by Apple, there are alternatives.

  • Android: If you are hugely invested in Google services and want a device you can more or less tinker away with to your heart's content, you might prefer one of the many Dell, HTC, Motorola, HTC, etc. Android phones (see AndroidCentral.com for more).
  • BlackBerry: If all your friends use BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) and you value rapid communications over anything else, you might prefer a BlackBerry (check out CrackBerry.com for more).
  • More: There are also a variety of phones from HP/Palm webOS (PreCentral.net), Microsoft Windows Phone (WPCentral.com), and Nokia (NokiaExperts.com).

Take some time, visit the sites above, try out demos at your local carrier store, and see what suits your tastes. Then compare them again to iPhone and everything it offers and make your decision based on the total package.

Which iPhone should you buy?

Once you've decided iPhone is for you the next step is to figure out which iPhone is for you. Apple typically has 3 models on the market at any one time, currently last year's iPhone 3GS and two versions of this year's iPhone 4. (Verizon only carriers the two versions of iPhone 4).

2010 iPhone models

Which iPhone should you buy?

  • $49: Last year's iPhone 3GS with 8GB of storage fills Apple's budget smartphone slot right now. It's a great phone but doesn't have the Retina Display, FaceTime camera, HD video, and other features of the more expensive model.
  • $199: iPhone 4 with 16GB gives you all the Retina Display, FaceTime, HD video, you can handle with half the storage of its bigger brother.
  • $299: iPhone 4 with 32GB of storage is the high end model with all the same features and twice the capacity.

To help you get a better sense of what you can save compared to what you give up, here are our reviews:

Upfront savings vs. total cost of contract

The bottom line is whether you need to save $150 or $250 up front when you'll be on the hook for an average 2 year contract (in the US, other countries may have longer or shorter contract terms). When you combine voice and data plans, text and other packages, the total cost could easily work out to $2000 or more over those 2 years. If you only have $50 in your pocket and want an iPhone, that won't matter and you can pick up an iPhone 3GS and have a great new handset. If you can afford $199 or even $299 up front you'll have a phone that's more recent and more capable for a tiny difference in total costs.

When should you buy an iPhone?

So you know you're getting an iPhone and you know which one you're getting, your next decision is whether you should go get an iPhone 4 now or wait for Apple to release the next generation iPhone 5 later this year and get more phone for the same price.

Buy in July

Apple has thus far announced a new iPhone once a year, every year during the month of June. If you're reading this in July, a new iPhone has almost certainly just been released and you can safely go buy it without worrying that it'll be made obsolete for roughly another year. (If it's June make sure you keep your browser locked on TiPb so we can tell you the moment the latest iPhone is released!)

Stay away in May

Conversely, if you're reading this in May, Apple is probably just about to announce a new iPhone and unless you don't care and absolutely, positively have to have a new phone now, now, now you should hold off until they do. So far every new iPhone has been the same price -- $199 and $299 -- as the old one but offers more for the money. At the same time the old model has so far been dropped in price (to $99 or $49 right now) so you can save if you need to.

In between, buy when you need

If you're reading this smack dab at the 6 month point, maybe right before the Holidays and you want to know if you should buy, here's the simple question to ask: Do you need it now?

If you've broken your current phone, lost it, or otherwise simply have to buy a new iPhone now get it and have no regrets. There will always be something new on the horizon but that won't help you if you need a phone now.

If you don't need it but just want it, wait as long as you possibly can wait then buy the best iPhone available when you can't wait any more.

Which carrier network should you choose?

Like we said at the beginning, carrier comes first. If you only have one good carrier in your area, that's the carrier you should go with. If you have two or more carriers that are all pretty much the same in your area, then it comes down to things like customer service, whether or not you already have a plan (especially business plans or family plans that would penalize you for switching, etc.), coverage in areas you may travel too, overall speed and reliability of the network, etc. If you're not sure ask your neighbors and colleagues which carriers they use and what they think of the service. Wherever you use your iPhone most, find out which carrier makes the people there the happiest.

Verizon vs. AT&T

In the US there's currently a bigger decision to be made because the two iPhone carriers use different network technologies: AT&T on GSM and Verizon on CDMA. Speed vs. coverage, roaming vs. reliability, you have some choices to make. You won't be able to change later without breaking your contract and buying a new phone (they're not cross-compatible) so think it through. Here's some more information to help you decide:

Where to buy?

That's it. You know you're getting an iPhone, you know when, and you know on which carrier. You've done your homework, you've made your choice, and now it's time buy. But where you should you buy it?

Apple Retail and Apple Online

If you have an Apple Retail Store in your area you can go there, and if it's in stock, leave with your new iPhone right away. They also offer help with your purchase and will even help you get set up free of charge. If you're worried about protecting your investment, they can also get you setup with AppleCare, and their Genius Bar can help you with hardware problems in the future. Corny as it sounds, It's not just shopping, it's an experience. Apple Retail has the best customer service in the business and it shows. There are no discounts, however, not ever.

If there's no Apple Retail store near you there's also Apple Online in many countries. Again, no discounts but you're dealing directly with Apple.

In a lot of countries, Apple Retail and Apple Online are also the only places where you can get full price, officially unlocked GSM iPhones if that's an option you want. (Can be handy for frequent international travelers.)

Carrier Stores and big boxes

If you want brick-and-morter but don't have an Apple Store, your carrier will often have one or several stores in your area. Drop buy or get it shipped to you. If you're getting a upgrade discount or other carrier incentives it's a great way to get it all setup right away.

Big box and chain retailers, everything from Best Buy to the Shack to Tesco also carry iPhones. If you have loyalty points or they're just super convenient, check them out as well.

Buyer beware

Shady operators also try to sell discount iPhones, sometimes devices that aren't even really iPhones but cheap -- and highly breakable -- knockoffs. It goes without saying you should avoid those. Any deal too good to be true probably is. If you save money only to end up with a phone that doesn't run iOS and may not even run on your carrier you really just wasted your money.

After you buy

Once you've gotten your new iPhone and are ready to set it up, get apps, get accessories, maybe get Jailbroken, here's how to get going:

Need more help?

No article can cover every detail or address every unique circumstance or concern. Luckily TiPb also hosts the iPhone Forums, a vast community where users can ask questions, give feedback, and get help. Check them out: