iPhone 5: Choosing a Model

Just in case you haven’t heard, the iPhone 5 was announced and pre-orders started today. In record time, launch day pre-orders were sold out within 1 hour and shipping time was pushed to two weeks. Despite the negative reactions of many tech pundits, the iPhone 5 will clearly sell millions and millions of units.

So you know you’re getting one, but there are still some decisions to make. Carrier, storage size and color specifically. For this comparison, let’s assume you're out of contract with your current carrier and all options are open. Now it’s between Verizon, AT&T and Sprint.

From what I’ve experienced and the testimonies of friends, I would avoid the iPhone on Sprint if possible. Sprint LTE has barely gotten started (not available in most markets) and 3G Data is the slowest of all three carriers. Reception has also been an issue with Sprint’s iPhone. The one redeeming quality: unlimited data. For me, unlimited data doesn’t trump reception and data speed.

So it’s down to Verizon and AT&T. The most important factor is whether or not LTE is available in your area. Verizon’s LTE network (LTE being a true 4G, fast data network) is the most widespread. And for those of you living in Central Florida, Verizon LTE is available in Tampa, Brandon, Lakeland and even Winter Haven. The downside to Verizon, no simultaneous voice/data on the iPhone. While Android phones with LTE are capable of surfing the web while on a call, the antennae structure Apple chose does not allow this. 

AT&T on the other hand will allow you to surf the web and pull up Maps while on a phone call. From my experience, AT&T has fairly good 3G coverage (and speeds) as well. AT&T LTE is only available in certain markets though. Again, for those of you in Central Florida, it’s only found in Tampa and Orlando, not Lakeland, Winter Haven, etc. This will most likely change over time, but for now no LTE for you.

If you are completely out of contract and don’t care for simultaneous voice/data, choose Verizon. If suring the web while on a phone call is important to you, and AT&T LTE is available in your area, go with AT&T. Personally, I’m on AT&T now and considering I work in Tampa where LTE is available,  I would be going with the AT&T iPhone 5.

Next comes storage size. I’ve had several conversations about this with friends today, because I’m a proponent of the 32GB model. iPhone 5 comes with 16GB ($199) 32GB ($299) and 64GB ($399) storage sizes. The 64GB model seems like overkill and gets fairly pricey, you can avoid this one. Buying the 16GB model could come back to bite you though.

Remember, you really only get about 14GB usable space from the start. If you’re one who likes to sync most of your music library and photos to your phone, that will be eaten up fairly quickly. Even if you don’t load your music and current photos, the apps, pictures and videos you take on the phone itself will add up very quickly. iPhone 5 captures full 1080p video, has an 8MP camera, and there are many apps out there that range from 500MB-800MB (close to 1GB).

If you’re not one to sync your phone through iTunes (which I’m not) you’ll find that more space on the phone will be very useful in the end. Having to unload / load apps and photos whenever you hit your storage limit can be annoying. If possible, go with the 32GB version.

Once you’ve decided on carrier and storage size, then it’s just black & white to choose from. iPhone 5 now has a matte finish on the back, and the outer “band” is different depending on color. The white version has more of a metalic look like the current iPhone, while the black model has a darker finish to blend in with the phone. It’s really up to your preference, but keep one thing in mind. Since the iPhone 5 now has a larger screen, apps that aren’t updated to the new size will show black bars above and below the active area onscreen. A black iPhone will blend in with these bars, while a white iPhone will accentuate this unused screen real estate.

Hope that helps you choose your new iPhone. If you didn’t pre-order and you want one on launch day (next Friday) you’ll probably need to wait in line. Shipping time is now two weeks on current pre-orders. One last thought: If you currently have the iPhone 4S, don’t feel pressured to upgrade. All the features of iOS 6 will be brought to your phone and an extra row of icons on your home screen isn’t life changing. If you currently have the iPhone 4, it’s time to upgrade.