iPhone on 4G review: is it worth getting 4G for your iPhone?

The marketing for 4G promises a world of superfast mobile broadband that will enrich and enliven your day-to-day existence, but can that really be the case?

I recently took the plunge and swapped my iPhone 5 from a perfectly reasonable 02 service on their 3G network to an all singing all dancing 4G contract with EE the love child of Orange and T-Mobile. I wasn’t certain the difference would be all that noticeable, it is.

First off the speed increase over standard 3G is great and downloading big files is much, much faster, but where I've found it makes the most difference is for those little things like emails with attachments, Vine video or Instagram – all pop up as speedily as they would on a fast home broadband connection, it’s same with getting apps. Strangely the 50MB limit on downloading from the app store still applies, which is a pain, however the speed bump is noticeably impressive.

Battery life takes a hit, but I can just about get a full day out of the phone in normal use, though I think I probably use it a bit more than a normal person. As a veteran iPhone user I'm never that far from a charger anymore either, but at worst 4G seems to eat an extra 10-20% ish battery life over 3G. During the course of an 8am to 5pm day without a charger I’m down to 10% battery life. Tethering eats battery life like there’s no tomorrow, but then that’s nothing new and you’ll likely have backup battery solutions anyway.

I've found coverage pretty good and even where I live in Halifax, West Yorkshire, which is hardly the centre of the tech universe, I get LTE all day long in the house and surrounding areas. When I’m in more populace areas such as Leeds or Manchester LTE has remained strong and speeds impressive. Even better, though this is perhaps a bit of a cop out, when the iPhone drops off LTE its mostly to 3G so the speed reduction doesn’t feel all that bad.

Out in the sticks LTE reception is still patchy at best, though 3G seems to be pretty constant, probably to be expected at this stage of the roll out. The fact is, however, that even though mobile operators claim near 100% UK coverage there are areas of the UK where that means a voice signal at best. Recently I went on holiday to the area around Hadrian's Wall and 3G was extremely limited, there wasn't even Edge - so no chance of 4G that's for sure, I even managed to get somewhere with no reception at all, not even voice. Both a blessing and a curse.

Thanks to mobile data caps I’m not sure that 4G is a home broadband replacement just yet, but as prices fall and caps grow then I could realistically see myself using a mobile connection at home too. I’ve been randomly testing speeds with the Speedtest.net service and even where the signal wasn’t at full strength I was recording around 10Mbps for downloads.

It’s always difficult to quantify the improvement in a service where ‘faster’ is the main benefit. For me the improved speeds make a huge difference. The whole process of doing stuff on the go is better. My iPhone does stuff more quickly and I can tether my MacBook or iPad to fast broadband data when I’m on the go. The data caps are still a bit of a restriction for fulltime 4G use and battery life does take a hit, but overall it’s worth it. 

Check your 4G coverage here

Watch the EE ad starting Kevin Bacon below. 

OUR VERDICT

It’s always difficult to quantify the improvement in a service where ‘faster’ is the main benefit. For me the improved speeds make a huge difference. The whole process of doing stuff on the go is better. My iPhone does stuff more quickly and I can tether my MacBook or iPad to fast broadband data when I’m on the go. The data caps are still a bit of a restriction for fulltime 4G use and battery life does take a hit, but overall it’s worth it.

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