iPhone 5: Should you buy it?

September 13, 2012

So Apple has a new iPhone. As happens after many new releases, there’s one prevailing question in the air: Should I buy it? But there are a few things you may want to consider before you decide to log that pre-order.

Finish this sentence for me: “I thinking about the iPhone 5 but. . .

I have an iPhone 4S and I love it: Great! It’s wonderful that you have a phone you like, especially since chances are that you have it on a two-year contract. That means upgrading would have you paying a contract break-up fee and paying full price for a new phone. So what could tempt you to upgrade?

Apple made a few changes to this latest iteration of the iPhone. In addition to making it lighter, the company also made the screen bigger and added LTE capability. Another big change to the phone is in the camera software, which lets you do things like take panoramic photos and take pictures while shooting video.

One note about LTE: consider your carrier before you switch just for faster speeds. Verizon, AT&T and Sprint all have LTE, but the latter two are earlier in the process of rolling it out. You probably want to check if you’re area is in the short-term plans before you spend the money to upgrade.

So if you watch a lot of video on your phone or have found yourself wanting faster data speeds right now, then you’re the perfect upgrade candidate. But if you want to save some money, or think it’s not that urgent that you get a new phone, then you should remember that you lose nothing by waiting.

I have an iPhone 4S and I hate it: Or, because hate is a strong word, maybe you just have some complaints about it. This is an easier decision. Do you like the App Store and the Apple ecosystem but think the screen’s too small or the phone’s too slow? Do you have some extra money saved up? If so, that’s a pretty clear decision.

If only it were that easy for everyone! Chances are your complaints aren’t as tailor-made to the iPhone’s new features as this, though LTE and screen size were two of the top reasons people passed over the iPhone 4S. Again, there are a lot of options to weigh before you do something like pay the penalties for an early upgrade — namely that it’s simply cheapest to stick it out through your contract.

And, if your beef with the iPhone isn’t related to its screen, LTE-capability or camera, then chances are you’d be happy with someone else’s phone and it’s time to research your other options.

I have an iPhone 4 (or earlier): Fair or not, by tech standards your phone is ancient! In any case, at this point you’ve earned the right to upgrade and the fact that you’ve stuck with your phone means you probably like Apple. This is an easy one. The iPhone 5 is probably looking pretty good to you right now, and you’ve saved money by sitting out a product cycle already. Go for it. Just don’t forget the adapters. And a new case.

I have an Android phone: If you’re thinking about coming to the dark side/stepping into the light (depending on your Android/Apple loyalties), there are few things you should consider.

For one, while Apple’s App Store is generally more comprehensive than Google Play, there are a lot of things that Android developers can do that Apple developers can’t. So if you’ve gotten used to things like the Swype keyboard or apps that tinker with the way your phone dials or answers calls, you’re probably going to notice they’re gone.

And if you use a lot of Google services — Google Calendar, particularly — you’ll probably notice that there’s not as much integration on the iPhone. You can, of course, control your Gmail and other services using your iPhone, but it’s not nearly as baked into the phone’s basic architecture.

On the other hand, Apple’s App Store is, as I said, more comprehensive and if developers are going to choose one platform, they’re likely going to opt for Apple’s. That’s a big point in the iPhone’s favor.

Also, since Apple only makes one phone and Android phones are made by lots of manufacturers with lots of ideas, iPhones — in general — run more smoothly than their competitors.

I’ve never had a smartphone: If you're considering getting your first smartphone, then the iPhone is honestly one of the strongest contenders on the market. It’s very easy to use, gives you access to plenty of apps and will likely work with at least one other gadget in your house.

Still, it’s worth going to a store and trying out multiple phones rather than giving in and buying an iPhone 5 sight unseen. You may find you don’t like the Apple home screen, or that you think its mail program is really annoying.

One thing to consider: If you’re not completely sure about the iPhone 5 because of the cost, Android and Windows phones tend to be cheaper, if a bit more difficult to use out of the box.

And, it’s probably worth mentioning that the iPhone 4S still (easily) has another year before it even starts to seem obsolete — and it’s much cheaper on contract.

Related stories:

AP: How the Apple iPhone 5 stacks up against its chief rival, the Samsung Galaxy S III

AP: What LTE on the iPhone 5 will mean to you _ questions and answers

Apple iPhone 5: What reviewers are saying

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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