iPhone 5: To Upgrade Or Not To Upgrade

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Apple announced a new iPhone the other day. We’ve schooled you on it, editorialized a little about it, and even jawed on it for close to an hour on the latest episode of the Pocketnow Weekly podcast. No matter how big a technological achievement the iPhone 5 is or isn’t, two things are certain: you’ll be endlessly fighting about it in the comments, and millions of people are debating upgrading to it. Like, right now.

Though customers can pre-order it via Apple.com today, the iPhone 5 is still a week from widespread availability. That means plenty of time for weighing the pros and cons of an upgrade, and plenty of time for your friends to flood your Facebook feed with “should I get the new iPhone or the new Droid or the new Galaxy?” threads. You know, the ones that instantly sprout thirty comments and transmute ordinary laymen into frothing fanboys.

But many people aren’t asking that question, because -like our esteemed Jaime Rivera– they’ve already made the choice to stick with iOS. Maybe it’s because of ecosystem lock-in, maybe it’s because of unwillingness to learn a new UI, or maybe they genuinely adore iOS or Apple; whatever the reason, many existing iPhone owners are contemplating the switch to the new iPhone 5. Only the iPhone 5.

Is it worth it? Well, it depends on which iPhone you’re coming from. We thought we’d whip up a quick rundown illustrating that. A chart might be better, but charts are boring. So there.

Let’s get to it, then. Should you upgrade to the iPhone 5 if you’re coming from …

… the iPhone 3G?

YES you should. Go. Upgrade now.

Do we even need to spell this out? Every measurable metric is improved. Unless you’re dead-set on retaining the pillowy feel of plastic and a heavy, bulky design, you should be waiting in line at an Apple store already. Or, you know, in the midst of a pre-order.

Wow. This is going to be easy.

… the iPhone 3GS?

YES. Again, yes. Why is this even a question?

The 3GS was yesterday’s iPhone 4S (if you get that reference, congratulations; you’re a smartphone geek). It brought a compass and increased speed to the same shell as the iPhone 3G, as well as a nagging suspicion that maybe Apple was going to milk the whole “iterative upgrade” thing after all. There were a few other bumps in there, but really … it’s a souped-up iPhone 3G. You should hop on that new hotness, stat.

… the iPhone 4?

Probably. Yeah.

Here’s where the waters start getting a little murky. The iPhone 4 was a big leap for Apple, probably the biggest in the iPhone ecosystem up until a few days ago. It ushered in the new iPhone design aesthetic, its stainless-steel and glass reminding Steve Jobs of the look and feel of a well-built “old camera.” It was the first Apple device -and the first handheld device period- to boast “Retina”-level display pixel density, and it carried a significant boost in camera quality over most other smartphones.

It also brought us Siri, if you care. (Edit: No, it didn’t. The iPhone 4S did that. Sorry, all – don’t write while tired. Thanks, commenters!)

In short, the iPhone 4 is a much more modern device than any of its predecessors. That statement sounds obvious to the point of bring unnecessary, but it’s crucial to understand how significant the leap was from the 3GS to the 4. The latter is an almost completely different class of smartphone from a hardware, display, and camera perspective. So it’s easy to see why owners of the iPhone 4 might take a little pause when considering dropping some dough on the iPhone 5.

But -and this is a big “but”- users who upgraded to the iPhone 4 during its launch month are now about two years into their device ownership. Those who understand mobile-phone contracts know that the two-year mark is crucial, as it’s generally where carriers extend the offer of subsidized hardware discounts to existing customers. That means that, for iPhone 4 early adopters in the U.S., the new iPhone 5 drops from between $649-$849 (depending on capacity) to a more manageable $199-$399. In exchange for a two-year renewal, of course.

… the iPhone 4S?

Maybe give it a minute.

The problem with the iPhone 4S -besides its status as an iPhone 4 on steroids- lies in its relative modernity. Because it was released much more recently, customers who bought one with a contract will find themselves unable to take advantage of the deep discounts offered to the fortunate folks above. Those looking to pinch pennies may find themselves holding back from pulling the trigger on an iPhone 5. On the plus side, though, these users have future-proofed themselves to a degree compared to their iPhone 4-toting counterparts, placing themselves one step further from the technological obsolescence visited upon owners of aging hardware.

Still, an important point needs to be made here. The iPhone 5, no matter how big a letdown some in the heightened-expectations bath of the tech media find it, is the most significant upgrade to the iPhone line since the two-generations-old iPhone 4. It’s got a larger screen with more accurate input, a new processor, LTE support, enhanced audio, and a new OS (even if it doesn’t look like it). It may not have blown everyone’s hat off, but it is without a doubt -on paper, anyway- the best iPhone Apple has ever made. If I owned an iPhone from any previous generation and wanted to remain within the iOS ecosystem, I would have pre-ordered my ‘5 the minute the link went live, then listed my current hardware on eBay the very next minute. It’s that significant. And if that at all describes you, you should probably do the same.

Unless you’re still rocking an OG iPhone. In which case … keep on pimpin.’

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About The Author
Michael Fisher
Michael Fisher has followed the world of mobile technology for over ten years as hobbyist, retailer, and reviewer. A lengthy stint as a Sprint Nextel employee and a long-time devotion to webOS have cemented his love for the underdog platforms of the world. In addition to serving as Pocketnow's Reviews Editor, Michael is a stage, screen, and voice actor, as well as co-founder of a profitable YouTube-based business. He lives in Boston, MA.Read more about Michael Fisher!