Should you buy an iPhone 5? Now there’s a question. If like us your financial resources are disappointingly finite, it’s time to decide whether the wallet can take another battering, and whether the practical benefits and impractical frivolity the iPhone 5 will bring are worth £529.
If the answer is no, the good news is that Apple is continuing to sell the previous two models at a reduced price. If you’re willing to make some compromises, it’s possible to join the iPhone world for as little as £319 – and you can still access some of the exciting new features of iOS 6, which offers limited compatibility with older handsets.
We’ve summarised the main differences between the various iPhones on the opposite page, but it’s not quite as simple as weighing up the specs. Every Apple fan is different, and every Apple fan has different priorities.
If you’ve got an iPhone 4S
Apple’s iPhone evolution usually allows owners to skip a generation without too much worry, but the new screen is a big tempter for 4Sers. It’s 4in compared to 3.5in, meaning more space for content; it’s also in a 16:9 ratio rather than Apple’s favoured 3:2, making it better for movies. The 5 is also 18 percent thinner and 20 percent lighter than the 4S and, according to Apple, twice as fast in processing power and graphics.
Finally, it’s the first iPhone to support 4G in the UK. Faster mobile broadband on the go is a great reason to upgrade, although accessing it isn’t entirely straightforward.
In the negative column, the iPhone 5’s smaller Lightning dock means your existing accessories will need an adaptor, which costs £25. Each. And since the iPhone 4S gets iOS 6 in all its glory, many new features can be yours with a free software update.
If you’ve got an iPhone 4
Now we’re talking. Jumping two generations brings a double set of upgrades: as well as lacking the big, movie-suited screen, thinner chassis and 4G capabilities of the newest model, the iPhone 4 is well behind both 4S and 5 in its photographic fidelity and has no Siri voice assistant. It’s also about a quarter as fast as the iPhone 5.
In terms of iOS 6, bear in mind that the iPhone 4 – while undoubtedly gaining in powers with the latest software update – will miss out on some of the showier improvements.
If you’ve got an iPhone 3GS or earlier
A lot of people happily use an iPhone 3GS and don’t have a problem with it; and upgrading to iOS 6 will add even more pleasures to your experience.
But it could be time for a hardware upgrade, and we promise you’ll be impressed by the iPhone 5. To the advantages enjoyed by those upgrading from a 4 or 4S listed above, you can add the delights of Retina displays: a marvel of touchscreen technology with pixels so closely packed they can fool the human eye, and a far cry from the 3GS.
If money’s tight, consider a partial upgrade to the iPhone 4, giving you a Retina display that’s slightly smaller but just as crisp. The 4 is now just £319.
If you’re excited by iOS 6 but you’re willing to sacrifice a few features
The iPhone 4 is now exceptional value for money at £319, and most of the new features in iOS 6 work with it: the main things you lose are Siri, FaceTime over 3G, Flyover and turn-by-turn navigation (check the full details on Apple’s dedicated page at apple.com/uk/ios). And don’t forget the classic design and sharp Retina screen that wowed people two years ago.
Do you really need Flyover? It’s very cool, but probably not. And you still get (deep breath)… Shared Photo Streams, Passbook, the enhanced Phone app and its Do Not Disturb mode, Mail’s new VIP Inbox, Offline Reading List and full-screen browsing in Safari, and wider Facebook integration.
If you’re a keen photographer
None of today’s cameraphones can replace a digital SLR for top-level photography, but iPhones are definitely getting better in this area. The biggest single step forwards was the 4S, which gave the rear-facing camera’s megapixel rating a jump and made it faster to shoot as well; with iOS 6 it also gets a clever new panoramic shooting mode. At £449 this model could now be the value sweet spot for keen mobile snappers.
Megapixels aren’t everything, of course, and the iPhone 5’s camera improves on its predecessor’s in further ways: it offers enhanced low-light capabilities and better noise reduction, for example. But on a bang-for-your-buck basis, we reckon the 4S is a tempting option for photography.
If you love watching movies on the go
For film fans, we strongly recommend the iPhone 5, whose widescreen display is ideal for a mini-cinematic experience. Bear in mind that movies will quickly fill up storage, so the 32 and 64GB models are probably worth the extra investment.
If you’re a mobile gamer
This one depends on what kind of games you like. The 3GS is entirely competent for simple gravity puzzlers, but if slick, processor-intensive graphical feasts like Infinity Blade II are your thing – and if you intend to keep playing the latest games in the future – then the A6 chip in the iPhone 5 will be worth the price of admission. Our experience suggests that at least 32GB of storage is advisable for heavy gamers, although you can get by with less if you’re willing to focus on a few games at a time, and uninstall them once you’re finished.
If you’re a business user
Unless they’re desperate to show off the latest iPhone while networking, or are big fans of gaming and movies in their spare time, business users can probably get by with an earlier model; a super-fast processor will be wasted if your principal needs are email, contacts management and light browsing.
Consider the iPhone 4S with iOS 6: this allows you to make FaceTime calls over 3G and videoconference when outside Wi-Fi range: a handy option for the business-inclined.