iPhone 4 buyers guide

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:

Have something to say about this story? Share your comments below! Need help with something else? Submit your question!

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, Vector, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

iPhone 4 buyers guide

31 Comments

I appreicate apple when it comes to building quality but this article is misleading, the only iphone, one should buy at this point is the iphone 5, to advise any other is leading ppl astray. i am using a fist gen ipod touch, the 3g is about to be discontinued as eveidence by the update, so to advise some1 to get the 3gs is siply taking money from their pocket and the only way you can get the 49 price is a new contract., the current iphone 4 has signal erros in the gsm version that are not fixable, the verizon iphone is locked into verizon as their is no jailbreak for 4.3 or 4.2 and being new hardware prob never for the v iphone 4..the future is looking grim for jailbreakers as undoubtedly the security will be high on iphone 5, dont be behind the curb just wait for the att iphone 5 or geta used 4th gen ipod touch with 4.1. to be honest no smartphone is worth it these days as their lifespan is 6mnths. i understand innovation but if tech is availbale right now, get it right the first time include everything even if the phone cost 600-1000 as you will always be trading and upgrading

Why don't you shut up and right your own blog then, Rene's article has alot of facts in it and it's his opinion if you dont like it don't read it instead of bitch about it,but TIPB is the best iPhone blog on the web end of story!

Yeah i know you mentioned those points but as a consumer i usally like definitive answers, but i guess u did give one, nice job on the article it was not a critique of your choices, Scott's a douche ...so Scottie mom has gotten it goin on

This is a good article, but I think that if you don't buy an iPhone within the first two months of its launch you should just wait for the next one. You know that it's coming, and it'll be worth the wait.

Has anyone else noticed the quality of the iPhone 4 screen decrease in terms of brightness and color temp? Bought two iPhones in mid November which had decent screens. Now went through two at an AT&T store and several at Apple, all have dull/yellow tinted screens.

@Darkstar -
Can't agree more, $344+ last I checked, such a good purchase. Not sure how interested you are in the market - if you just bought aapl or actually follow stocks - but the WSJ had an article that was a somewhat amusing read about if it will ever reach $1000. Probably not the most information, but a short enjoyable read. I'll try and find it and post for you just in case.
Rene - very informative and good read. Hit a lot of good points. Only question I have is, I have an iPhone 4 from launch back in July, what's your advice to hold me over until July - incase you can't tell, I'm an early adopter. Haha.
Cheers!

Yea, I read that article already. I'm hoping that article is right! I bought a lot of Apple about a year ago, so I've already seen an incredible return so far. I wish I had bought it 5 years ago, or 10, but we all say that. I'm probably going to buy more with my IRA money this year, lol

Couldn't afford it 5-10 years ago. But I'm steady satisfide with every apple product I've been able ti perchase so far. It's made my school/life easier and that's what I paid for. :-)

i just want to point out something... deciding on whether to buy an iphone now or wait until july also depends if its on contract or unlocked. yes, if its on contract then you should only get one if you absolutely need it, because 6 months later a new phone will come out and you'll be stuck with last gen phone for 18 months.
but if you're buying it off contact (in my case) you can just buy it, enjoy it for 6 months...or even a year until you are sure the next phone is worth the upgrade, then just sell the iphone whenever u want and buy a new one.
and for some reason i dont see iphone 5 being a major change from the iphone 4, despite the rumors
also, you think they'll call it iPhone V (< Roman) and 5 years from now iPhone X

I just got the iPhone 4 this month. I waited for the white one but I don't want to wait for Spring. I'm thinking iphone "5" or "4S" will be a similar upgrade as the iphone 3GS...a good update but not a big enough leap for me to update my 3G.

Uuugghh... tough choice. But thankfully not one I have to make right away (my contract and "new every 2" drop in May). Running a WinMo 6.5/HTC Sense device 'till then. Strongly dis-like Windows Phone 7 (no backwards compadibilty and no classic tree file system for saving data & tweeking). So I WILL be picking between Androis and Apple.
I've decided I can live without a physical keyboard, and that there are apps to play nice with ny existing documents and programs... but man, I really want a dual band or GSM world phone! Praying Verizon's iPhone 5 has a Sim and two radios... otherwise I'll have to consider REALLY going to the dark side (AT&T)! Maybe they'll see improvement of their service with fewer iPhone users and 4g?
I'll be watching the iPhone blog close over the coming months.

One also has to consider IF Verizon does indeed offer the iPhone 5 at end of June/July launch....will the price of the iPhone 4 drop, leaving you to save some ca$h? My NE2 ends at such an awesome time, Feb 9 2011. lol. I was thinking about calling Verizon to bump me to the 3rd (if that's still possible with all these new changes in policy), but then again, I should just be patient and learn from the past that not all bugs are noticed even if a product has been tested in thousands/long period of time. I guess I could deal with my BB Storm 1 (ugh) until June. It's winter too so I probably could hold off buying an iPhone until it finally warms up. Plus my Bday is in July so I could save money on an iPhone 4 if iPhone 5 doesn't have anything that new (can't wait for more rumors haha) and have a bday present to myself. :-) I wish my NE2 wasn't up until June haha. It's only 30 bucks. But my contract does end in June sooooo I have to base it on that if I want to be locked 2 more years 4 months earlier. Hmmm. :-) And I just started coming to this site and people are very mature here, and the editors etc who make TiPb are very up to date/awesome. Thanks guys.

correct me if I'm wrong but it's already been pretty much confirmed that the iPhone5 will NOT have LTE, thats the only upgrade from iPhone4 that would be worth it for me. it already runs great and I am not a gamer so I dont think the dual core chip and upgraded graphics are going to be a noticeable difference.
I'll be picking up the iPhone4 when it drops on Verizon then wait for the iPhone that packs LTE.
now the iPad2......that I am excited about.

My 3GS is falling apart , I'm very tempted to get the 4 but I know I'll be upset when the 5 comes out and it's much better than the 4.

I recently got an iPhone 4 coming from BlackBerry. It was kind of a holiday gift for me, and to me the iPhone 4 is still relatively "new" enough that I had no worries about it becoming "outdated" (my BlackBerry was the 8900 and that was a pretty old phone!). I'm also not very Apple-savvy so I just got it. I love it! I do agree with the article that it's best to go to an Apple Store to get it, which is what I did. Hopefully there's one near you! Oh, and I also have AT&T (and love it) so I'm not too concerned about the Verizon iPhone.

I've been waiting for the iphone to come to verizon for the last 8 months. I'm still using a flip phone and I'm very anxious to get my new phone. However, I was just informed that it is strictly a CDMA phone and I will not be able to surf the web and talk at the same time. My dilema is to wait another
6-7 months for an iphone that can do both on verizon's network or buy the phone now and upgrade in another 2 years to a phone that can do both. I feel like a kid that wants his toy now and just can't wait anymore. Anyone have any suggestions?

Great article. I've been on Verizon for the past 5 years and when the first iPhone came out, I've been wanting it. However I live in a remote part of CA where AT&T service is spotty. Given that, I'm able to upgrade now but I'm holding on until the iPhone. However with the iPhone 5 around the corner I'm a little hesitant. I currently have the original Droid which has been OK, but with the latest update the performance has gone downhill.
When the iPhone announcement was made I was excited, but now I'm on the fence of pulling the trigger on getting the iPhone. I'm wondering what the call reception will be and granted that I most likely won't have 4g (LTE) coverage in my area until 2012, I saw the specs on the HTC Thunderbolt and Bionic and now I'm tempted about waiting for them as I have an iPad, Macbook and Apple TV I can still get the benefits of the App Store.
My main reason I'm on the fence is screen size. For those iPhone4 owners today, is 3.5 fine? The Droid is only slightly bigger at 3.7 but the other phones I'm looking at are over 4. Being that I have other apple products IE iPad, Macbook and the fact that I'm in a non-4G area for at least another year, does it make sense to get the iPhone4 now?

My Droid 1 just took a major crap out on me! The touch screen no longer workers to my touch. It go crazy on its own! Since I got a Droid when it was released in Nov 09 I have been though 10, yes 10! 5 HTC droid Eris, and 5 Droid 1's. I called Verizon explained my problem, said my phone was no longer under warranty. :( That I'd have to buy a brand new phone at full retail! Well I called back spoke to a supervisor. I was then informed that my contract for my droid ended Jan of 2010! So I've been paying for a year on a phone that kept breaking on me. No one after told me, they kept saying my contract was up Jan 2012. No I was lied to yet again. However every time I have had a problem with Verizon, they are fast to fix it and leave me happy with the result. So the supervisor informed me that since the droid is no longer working and I no longer have a contract, I can go get a brand new phone at the discount price for another 2 yrs, which I don't mind. So I went to the store and looked around at the Droid X. I was about to buy it when I told the girl to put it back. I said I'll use my other Verizon phone that I use for my business for 2 weeks, then I am coming back to get the iphone4! Since the Droid's are crapping out on me, I may as well try a new brand and see how that goes. Wish me luck on getting into the store on Feb 10th!

i had a e-mail from apple saying iphone 4 in white released! i went to my local shops in bournemouth to find no one would sell me one? pay and go customers come first! now i have £1,000 in my pocket, ive waited a YEAR now for it in white and i cant buy from a shop?! so i called apple store in southampton to be told yes we have a few BINGO can you put one by for me till tomorrow.....no they said?! apple you need to sort out customer service within store, put more stock in your shops and sell sell sell before you tell tell tell people its out!!!!!!

That guy rene makes me want to go to crackberry and stick to that one iphone thread as opposed to coming here.