iPhone 5 vs. iPhone 4S vs. iPhone 4: Which iPhone should you get?

iPhone 5 vs. iPhone 4S vs. iPhone 4: Which iPhone should you get?

While some might consider the the latest, greatest 2012 iPhone 5 a no brainer when it comes to their next purchasing decision, Apple keeps the 2011 iPhone 4S and the 2010 iPhone 4 around for a reason. For some people, up-front price really does matter. However, over the lifetime of a typical contract, you'll be paying a couple thousand dollars, so it's important to really run the math on this and see what suits you best.

2012 iPhone product line

For the last few years, when Apple's introduced a new iPhone, they've kept previous years' iPhone models around at a reduced storage size and price point.

iPhone 4: $0 on contract, $450 unlocked

2010's iPhone 4 with 8GB of storage is Apple's zero cost, on-contract iPhone option. Externally, it's almost identical to the iPhone 4S, so much so that almost no one will be able to tell which one you have at a glance. It has the same Retina display and front-facing FaceTime camera for video calls, along with a snappy Apple A4 processor and a good quality, 5 megapixel camera capable of shooting 720p HD video. It also runs almost everything iOS 6 has to offer.

What iPhone 4 doesn't have is the 4x faster, 14x more graphically powerful Apple A6 processor of the iPhone 5, the great 8 megapixel, 1080p camera, or the artificially intelligent Siri voice control system of its newer, better brothers. Also, 8GB of storage may not get you very far with a device this good at gaming, media, photos, and video.

If you literally have no money in your pocket walking in and really want an iPhone, if you're shopping for a teen and don't want to risk a higher end phone, if you're brand new and just dipping your toes into the smartphone market and don't want to dip too deeply, iPhone 4 can be a good starter smartphone.

iPhone 4S: $99 on contract, $549 unlocked

iPhone 4S: Everything you need to know

2011's iPhone 4S has everything the previous generation has to offer only more. The new Apple A5 processor gives it 2x the speed and 7x the graphics power of the iPhone 4... but still only half that of the new iPhone 5 Apple A6. The camera gives it 8 megapixel photos with more light sensitivity and better sharpness, and 1080p video, but it doesn't have all the bells and whistles of the iPhone 5's glass. Likewise it has a FaceTime camera in front rather than FaceTime HD. It does have Siri, Apple's virtual personal assistant and and will run iOS 6 fantastically well. The screen is smaller than the iPhone 5, however, at 960x640 and 2:3 instead of 1136x640 and 16:9. It also doesn't have super fast LTE networking, and the back is completely glass rather than aluminium like it's big brother.

You get 16GB of storage, so it's not as anemic as the iPhone 4. But you don't get options for 32GB or 64GB like you do with the iPhone 5.

If you absolutely can't scrape together the $199 needed for an iPhone, but want something better than the iPhone 4, this is your middle ground. With the new software update, it's still a great iPhone. It's just not the best iPhone any more.

iPhone 5: $199, $299, $399 on contract, ~$699, $799, $899 unlocked (availability varies by region)

The iPhone 5 is the newest, baddest iPhone on the planet. It has a new, bigger, 4-inch, 1136x640, 16:9, in-cell Retina display and a blazing fast LTE/DC-HSPA radio. It also has a unibody design with a metal back plate, 3 microphones, an improved camera, and the newer, smaller, Lightning Dock connector. It's also roughly 20% lighter and thinner than the iPhone 4S, which really needs to be felt to be appreciated. Apple offers iPhone 5 at three price points depending on the amount of storage:

  • 16GB - $199
  • 32GB - $299
  • 64GB - $399

If you know you want a top of the line iPhone, with every feature and function Apple provides, then you want an iPhone 5.

Up-front savings vs. total cost of contract

Before you make up your mind, it's important to remember that while the iPhone 4 is free and the 64GB iPhone 5 is $399 on contract, all of those prices require a 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.

$100 or even $399 isn't as big an amount when you consider the 24 month carrier commitment and total cost of ownership of your phone. They are, however, huge amounts when you consider paying the current months rent.

I'm not going to lie to you. The better iPhone is better. But this year even the free iPhone still has fantastic hardware, is available on AT&T and GSM carriers around the world as well as Verizon and Sprint in the U.S., runs pretty much every iPhone app in the App Store, and will more than see to anyone's needs for the year to come. For just $99 more, an iPhone 4S will give you all that, only better, and throw in Siri.

If you can afford an iPhone 5, get an iPhone 5. If not, get the best iPhone you can afford and be 100% happy with your purchase.

iPhone 5 buyers guide

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 5 vs. iPhone 4S vs. iPhone 4: Which iPhone should you get?

25 Comments

actually it won't. read the fine print on the bottom of Apple's site.
http://www.apple.com/ios/whats-new/

Flyover and turn-by-turn navigation are available only on iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPad 2 or later, and iPod touch (5th generation). Cellular data charges may apply.

FaceTime video calling requires a FaceTime-enabled device for the caller and recipient and a Wi-Fi connection. FaceTime over a cellular network requires iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, or iPad (3rd generation) with cellular data capability. Availability over a cellular network depends on carrier policies; data charges may apply.

no problem. i don't see why they 4 can't handle turn by turn. i don't think you need siri technology to simply pronounce a direction. Same with facetime over cellular (vs the 4S that is). I think its a ploy to get people to buy the 4S or 5 over the 4.

There's a free program called Waze that does great turn by turn and traffic on my iPhone. I like it better than some I paid for. And does traffic and speed cameras by community too.

Mapquest also has a free turn by turn navigation app. I didn't like the UI all that much, but it gets the job done.

As one who has to manage several hundred iPhones and Androids... I'll take the SIII over the iPhone 5 everyday of the week and twice on Sundays. No competition. As a corporate device and in the mobile managemnet field, it isn't even close. Apple is a nightmare. Apple will not release vital API's for development. Want to make a GPS tracking location on Apple. Nope. Apple won't allow apps to auto start on restart. Know many employees who will choose to turn on their own tracking??? Google has a ways to grab the corporate brass ring the way RIM did, but they certainly are leaps and bounds ahead of Cuppertino.
http://www.iphonbuzz.com/iphone-5-iphone-4s-and-iphone-4-heres-the-techn...

As someone who manages a few hundred devices for our company, I have to say, good luck with your SIII, or any Android device. They have NO native support for MDM, and only work with TouchDown (as far as email applications go). As far as other MDM solutions, you need to download a 3rd party app, and hope it doesn't crash. We went full on with Android 2 years ago due to a carrier contract, and not one of the Droid users we have isn't chomping at the bit for iPhone because it is more stable and doesn't have the issues Andriod still has (and will as long as it's open source). I've got 100 iPhones in service, and not one has had a single problem to date in a year and a half.

And now, speaking just to the S3, have fun fielding the "My phone crashed" and "My email is no longer syncing" phone calls, and be ready to have the battery pull procedure MEMORIZED, because you'll be reciting it A LOT.

If Apple won't allow the API, how is Google Location doing it, and how does AirWatch do it, because they both seem to have no problem. ;)

Nope, I'm not saying that at all. I'm saying in my experience, as well as several others, the phone freezes a lot, and it is less stable than the iPhone. If waiting for 2010 technology for 2 years as some state means that I'll have a stable phone that crashes less than 5 times in it's entire lifecycle (as my iPhone 4 has over the past 18 months) then I'll gladly wait for a feature until it is polished. And when you add in that I support almost 200 of them all by myself, yes, I'll take the stability of this phone over any Android phone, because it means less time supporting the phones and more time doing the 30+ other things I have to do on a daily basis for 600+ users.

20 million people may be happy as can be with the S3 (still half what the 4S sold in their first quarter, FWIW). I've yet to find one person that has personally given a positive review. In addition, I've yet to have 1 friend NOT complain about the stability of an Android phone, no matter what the manufacturer, and that's not even mentioning that most Android phones are still on software that is 3+ years old at this point. I like that Android, and Windows phones, work for some people, because it keeps my phone fresh too (Apple wouldn't even be trying if it wasn't true), but when I personally look for a phone stability and dependability are higher on my list than customization and having a phone fail on me when I need it. It is, after all, a phone first and foremost.

You talk about carrier costs with contracts, but with a no-contract phone, you still have to pay for phone, text and data from someone, else your getting a glorified iPod Touch.

I'm sure unlocked carriers will end up being a bit cheaper in the end, but I don't think it's significant.

I ordered my 13 year old son the iPhone 4 yesterday and it just arrived. Super happy about that. He's leaving his old android and is very happy with the iPhone 4. No complaints. As long as he can play games watch videos and listen to music, he's a happy kid. At $0 no complaints here. That just saved me some cash to buy myself the iPhone 5.

In Australia you can get most phones on a plan with nothing up front and spreading out the repayments. The telcos have to tell you the total cost over the life of the contract. Just different, not sure which I prefer.

I know not directly on point with the thread although there is a reference to it with the fine print "cellular data charges may apply". If I use turn by turn navigation on the 4S, is it using "cellular data" so that if I am in the US for example, I would pay crazy data roaming fees, or is it using the dedicated GPS chip in the phone (like my old HP which I keep around only for GPS) which is NOT using "data" and therefore NOT counting against my data limit in Canada (6GB) or roaming in the US, but is only using GPS, for which I do not pay anything?

The iPhone has a dedicated GPS chip, as well as Assisted GPS using cell phone towers to determine location faster while the actual GPS is still calculating your more exact position. You can also buy external, Bluetooth GPS receivers that work with non-GPS equiped iOS devices (iPod Touch, iPad).

The data charges would be for navigation applications that do not store the maps directly on the device (an example of this is the current Google Maps app). I personally use Navigon, which allows me to just download the mapping data for my home state of Michigan, plus any other states if we go on a road trip outside of Michigan.

You will be paying for roaming charges if you use Google Maps, regardless whether you're using turn-by-turn directions or not. Google Maps requires an active Internet connection to work.

I recommend buying a 3rd party GPS app, they have their maps stored locally and do not require an active Internet connection.

What would such a program be titled? I think the new Google maps allows for offline caching. I haven't tried it yet.

part of it is offline vs online maps. the other part is how agps works

standard gps units download the satellite positions and almanac data from the sat signal which is very very slow. this is why standard gps units can take a few min to lock on to the positioning.

Phones with agps support pull that information from servers over the cell service to help it lock on faster. combine that with online maps instead of offline maps and thats where your data fee's come in.

Rogers Wireless are crooks, if anyone didn't know. They now want to charge me 180 dollars to HUP early by 1 yr, on my LONGEST IN THE WORLD contract of THREE yrs. Then they brain wash their supervisor to try to convince me that they're giving me a good deal of 90 dollars, and that it's necessary. O please.... consumers in Canada have been taking it up the ass for too long, and now this? When I signed it was 2 yrs. Now it's 180 to HUP on top of the 199 minimum. Let's all boycott Rogers, I promised to move my business elsewhere, once i'm free. It's insane how they rob their customers. You U.S./American ppl are lucky. I wish i had 2 yrs.

Insightful. However, I do have to suggest for the men and women with large hands the iPhone 5 would be a better option. Even though the width of the screen is still the same, landscape mode typing will be quite satisfactory. (I only assume, since no one has the iPhone 5 to try out yet)

the Samsung i9505 Galaxy S4 & Apple iPhone 5 64GB are brand new unlocked and ready for use in any country with any SIM card/ Network Carrier Sim Card

End Of Year Promo Sales On Mobile Phones

Apple iPhone 5s 16GB
Apple iPhone 5c 32GB
Samsung Galaxy S4 zoom SM-C1010
Apple iPhone 5 32GB
Samsung Galaxy i9505 S4 32GB
Samsung Galaxy Note 3
Apple iPad 4 64GB Wi-Fi + 4G
BlackBerry Q10
Nokia Lumia 1020