The Holiday shopping season is upon us, and we’re here to help you decide which Apple product is right for you. This buying guide covers the iPhone, and there are some intriguing choices in 2013. Apple released two new iPhones this year for the first time ever giving you more to choose from. The iPhone is always tough to decide on as you have to consider all of the various phone plans and carriers in addition to the different devices. With that in mind, we’re here to help you find the one that’s right for you, or someone on your gift list.
You get to choose between the iPhone 5S, 5C, and 4S with multiple carriers, colors, and configurations available. They all have their own pros, and cons so let’s get to it.
The device choice is the most important, with three different iPhone models currently available. There’s the brand new iPhone 5S starting at $199 for 16GB. There are other options out there though, as Apple released the new colorful iPhone 5C this year starting at $99 for 16GB, which is based on last year’s iPhone 5, but with a new exterior design. The iPhone 4S came out in 2012, and is now available for free creating three different price structures. The initial cost is always important, but also keep in mind that all phone prices are tied to two year contracts with monthly fees that will add up over the lifetime of your device.
The entry level iPhone plan is about $80 per month, and over 24 months, that’s $1,920, which makes that free or $199 cost seem very small. There’s also an unlocked phone option with no contract, but they cost at least $600 upfront without the contract discount. If you have a budget to pay $1900 over the next two years, don’t let the up front cost impact your decision about your iPhone purchase.
The iPhone 5S launches on all four U.S. major carriers with AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile. Each carrier has their own strengths and weaknesses, and it really depends on where you live. All four carriers offer LTE, though Verizon leads the pack with AT&T trying to catch-up. The main difference between Verizon & AT&T is that Verizon has wider coverage with more consistent speeds, while AT&T has higher potential speeds that aren’t as consistent or widespread. Sprint stands out with their unlimited plan, while T-Mobile distinguishes themselves with their unlocked and contract free plans.
The choice probably comes down to your current carrier as many people just upgrade. The best choice is probably Verizon, but there are smaller factors that can sway you personally to another carrier. The iPhone 5S & 5C have also launched on many smaller regional and pre-paid carriers to add in a whole other dynamic to consider. This is a complex decision that comes down to what you value in your provider. Is it loyalty, speed, widespread coverage, price, contract, pre-paid, the ability to switch phones after a year, and many other considerations.
You need to know what you want to do with your iPhone, and which carriers strengths align the best with what you want to do.
As mentioned above, your iPhone will require a two year contract that will come out to be about $1,900 over two years. This year there are all kinds of options for iPhone contracts as you can get shared plans, contract free plans, upgrade next year plans, pre-paid plans, and more. The one thing to keep in mind is that the iPhone uses a lot of data, so you want to put that at a premium. Most likely, you’re going to be on the hook for at least $80/month minimum unless you go with T-Mobile’s no up front cost plan, or the pre-paid providers.
The tethering option is a great feature to be included allowing you to get LTE speeds on your iPad or laptop when on the go, so if you can think of either situation then you’ll want a plan that includes the mobile hotpot/tethering. That will in turn require more data, so it depends on how often you’re on the go using the various functions mentioned above. It really comes down to how many people you can share the plan with, and how many tasks you can picture yourself using.
There’s also the regional carrier options with many choices around the nation now available with the sixth generation iPhone. You don’t have to be stuck with one of the big four as regional carriers can offer better pricing, and their services piggy back of the bigger networks anyway.
There are three iPhones out there, and we suggest going with the newest model, the iPhone 5S. The $100 difference for the latest and greatest from Apple is your best choice simply because it’s most future proof. You’re going to be paying close to $2000 over the next two years, so the difference between a $200 device, and free device is irrelevant. The iPhone 5S comes complete with the A7 chip, improved camera sensor, and TouchID fingerprint sensor. The iPhone 5C is the same as the iPhone 5 on the inside with the A6 chip, 4″ retina display, and previous generation camera sensor. The iPhone 4S is already two years old, and Apple has forced obsolesence with new iOS updates, so it’s best to have the latest and greatest.
If you, or those on your gift list have the iPhone 5 then it’s not worth an upgrade in 2013, and it’s best to wait for the iPhone 6 in 2014. If the iPhone 4S, 4, or older is still in play, it’s a good time to invest in the 5S. Again it’s dependent upon the current set-up you’re shopping for, but the 5S is your best bet.
Now that you’ve picked the iPhone 5S, there are three configuration options with 16, 32, and 64 GB. The addition of iCloud makes the 16GB option the most attractive as it doesn’t require you to store photos, music, or documents on your iPhone. There are some big apps out there like 3D games, interactive books, and navigation apps (possibly replaced by Apple’s built-in option), but you don’t need a ton of them at all times. iOS 6 also makes iTunes Match a music streaming service requiring a lot less music stored on your device. The 1080P videos and 8MP photos do take up some space, but if you keep on top of Photo Stream and uploading them to your computer, it’s not that big of a deal. Ultimately though, iOS 7 & iCloud make it super easy to have everything from your iPhone on your computer completely wirelessly, and for the most part automatically in the background.
If you can never think of connecting your phone to your computer, then you may want to go for 32 GB, especially if you’re a big fan of taking videos. Your best bet will be 16 GB, and it will handle almost everything you throw at it.
There are a ton of choices when it comes to smartphones beyond the iPhone. There are a number of top of the line Android and Windows Phone 8 devices. They include similar spec sheets and some differences with larger screens, and of course Android 5.0 or Windows Phone OS’ out of the box. There are so many choices out there, and if the iPhone isn’t your thing there are some great alternatives. All have pros and weaknesses, and depend on your mobile OS of choice. There are also consistent discounts out there, as well as many choices for regional and pre-paid carriers. All of the phones are starting to blend together, and the choice can be somewhat overwhelming, and we’ve just tried to clarify the iPhone choice as much as possible.
When it comes down to it, after all of the various choices available, the black 16GB iPhone 5S with a Verizon plan that includes tethering is your best choice to offer the most value over the next two years. There are obvious variations based on your preferences, location, and needs, but our suggestion gets the most out of the iPhone for the cost.