16GB, 32GB, or 64GB: Which iPhone 5 storage size should you get?

16GB, 32GB, or 64GB: Which iPhone 5 storage size should you get?

Decided to get a brand new iPhone 5 but not sure which storage capacity to get? 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB all have their pros and cons, so it's important to weigh all the options carefully and get the very best price/performance ration for you.

iPhone 5 price for storage breakdown

Could Apple offer carriers iTunes affiliate revenue to subsidize LTE data plans?

The current US prices for iPhone 5, with full carrier subsidies are:

  • 16GB: $199 or $12.44 a GB
  • 32GB: $299 or $9.34 a GB
  • 64GB: $399 or $6.23 a GB

While the US isn't currently offering the iPhone 5 unlocked, based on Canadian prices, we can guess:

  • 16GB: $699 or $43.69 a GB
  • 32GB: $799 or $24.97 a GB
  • 64GB: $899 or $14.05 a GB

At first glance it may look like 64GB is twice the price for four times the storage, in other words a really sweet deal. But nothing is ever really that simple, is it? Basically, 16GB for $199 (or $699 unlocked) is Apple's lowest margin device. After that, Apple is getting you to pay a pretty premium for every additional doubling of storage. Think of it this way, going from 16GB to 32GB costs you $100. Go look at the cost of a 16GB SD card and you'll see how much more you're paying for that bump. Now the $200 premium for an additional 48GB of storage is more interesting, because it's for more expensive, double density NAND Flash. But it's still not $200 more expensive.

Hey, that's why Apple has over $100 billion in the bank.

If your goal is to pay Apple absolutely the least amount of money as possible, the 16GB might tempt you. But hold on, there's a lot more to consider than just the cost of storage...

iPhone 5 and iCloud

The ultimate guide to iCloud

iCloud gives you free, unlimited storage for all your iTunes stuff. That includes iBooks, music, movies, TV shows, and apps, as well as 30 days or 1000 Photo Stream photos. You also get 5GB of additional storage for backups, data, etc. In many countries, you can use iTunes in the Cloud to download your media only when, and as needed. You can even purchase more iCloud storage for the following yearly fees:

10GB: $20/year 20GB: $40/year 50GB: $100/year

All of this might make that 16GB iPhone all the more tempting, since you could keep most of your media nearline in iCloud, and maybe even by a little extra iCloud space if you need to.

It's not a crazy idea but it's important to remember that online storage isn't always as available, fast, or convenient as onboard storage. For starters, you can't really play a movie from iCloud, you have to download it at the same time you watch it, which means you have to have enough space available on your iPhone 5 to handle the download. If you want to watch a lot of movies, you may have to watch, delete, watch, delete, over and over again. Annoying.

iCloud also isn't as open as things like Dropbox (which is also an option to consider), so you can only really store what Apple lets you. If your movies and videos don't come from iTunes, that's an important consideration. Also, in our tests, iCloud's free 5GB could get filled up pretty quickly by photos and especially videos.

Bottom line, iCloud means you can get away with managing more content on your device, but you still want to have enough local storage for what you need, when you need it.

iPhone 5 and photos and video

How to take awesome HDR photos with your iPhone

The iPhone 5 can take 8 megapixel photos, 28 megapixel panoramas (?!), and shoot 1080p video at 30fps, and those can be some big files. About an hour of video can take up roughly 10GB of storage. 16GB doesn't seem so roomy now, does it?

I take a ton of photos and videos on my iPhone and back when I had a 16GB iPhone 4, I ran out all the time. And that was just at 720p. And it's a huge pain in the butt to have to go through and figure out what to delete if I'm not near my computer and can't sync stuff of. So if you're really into the camera, 16GB might not work.

iPhone 5 and apps, games, and media

The other thing that can fill up our iPhone quickly is apps, especially games. It's not uncommon for some console-quality games to be well over 1GB in size these days. Even basic apps might include interface assets for the new iPad, which are huge, and which all add up.

iTunes movies can be 1-3GB in size for SD depending on the length. If you prefer watching HD, they can be 3-5GB. iTunes TV shows can be a quarter to half the size of movies, but more than make up for it by the number of episodes typically available. If you get your movies and TV shows from somewhere other than iTunes, you're still looking at about 400MB an hour for SD and over 1GB (sometimes way over) an hour for HD. Music files are generally quite small but can add up as well, especially if you have lots and lots of albums you want to keep with you everywhere. Even with something like iTunes Match or a similar music locker service, or a streaming service like Slacker you need local storage for offline playback. Again, it all adds up.

Who should get 16GB iPhone 5

If you don't use a lot of apps, if you don't want to have a lot of movies and TV shows, or a huge amount of music, if you don't intend to shoot and keep very much 8mp photos or 1080p video on your iPhone, you'll probably be okay with 16GB.

Some people like to keep their iPhones light and do all their gaming and media on their iPad, and some people just don't shoot a lot of pictures or video. If that's you, you can save yourself some cash and get a 16GB iPhone 5.

Who should get 32GB iPhone 5

If the iPhone is your primary device, if you play games on it and watch movies and TV shows on it, if you have a decent-sized music collection you want to keep with you, and if you shoot an average amount of photos and videos, 32GB is your sweet spot.

Some people like to have one device that, while it doesn't do everything all the time, it's capable enough to do most things most of the time. If you do a fair but not overwhelming amount of stuff on your iPhone, your probably better off going for 32GB.

Who should get 64GB iPhone 5

If you're a power user who wants to keep as much as possible for as long as possible, if you have a large amount of apps and games, TV and movies, and a huge music collection you simply have to have with you all the time, or you shoot photos and video almost non stop and don't want to have to bother transferring it all the time... we'll, you've probably already decided on 64GB, haven't you?

Some people really do want their iPhone to do everything, all of the time, and never (or rarely) have to worry about running out of space. They probably want 128GB -- or even 256GB if they could get it! -- but they'll use the most they can, whenever they can. That's 64GB.

What if you choose the wrong iPhone 5 size?

Remember, in most places you have time to try out your new iPhone 5 and return it if you don't like it. Make sure, as soon as possible, you put your iPhone 5 to realistic use. Load up all the apps and games you want with you, load up your movies and TV shows, go out and take some photos and shoot some video. Give it a complete and thorough workout and see.

If it feels like you got too much storage, say 64GB and you haven't even gone past 2GB, or if you got too little, say you're already at 15GB of 16GB, then take your iPhone 5 back and exchange it for one that better suits your needs.

If you come to this realization too late, after the exchange period is over, remember you can buy additional iCloud storage, or look at other options like Dropbox which will let you keep your stuff available online and potentially free up some much needed space on your iPhone.

iPhone 5 buyers guide


Senior Editor at iMore and a practicing therapist specializing in stress and anxiety. She speaks everywhere from conferences to corporations, co-host of Vector and Isometric podcasts, follow her on Twitter @Georgia_Dow and check out her series at anxiety-videos.com.