Don’t be fooled by the fact that the iPhone 4S looks identical to the iPhone 4. Deciding which iPhone to buy this year is more complicated than it ever has been, and there’s a lot more variable to consider now than there ever have been in the past.
Should you buy an iPhone 4S, iPhone 4 or iPhone 3GS? Should you get one in white or black? Should you get one with 8GB, 16GB, 32GB or 64GB of storage? Should you sign up with AT&T, Verizon or Sprint?
Those are big questions, and the answers will vary from person to person. Still, Cult of Mac has given this a lot of thought, and for most people, we recommend buying the 16GB Sprint iPhone 4S in White.
Below you’ll find our logic, but if you disagree, pipe up in the comments and explain why. We’re going to take the reader consensus and turn it into another post. We can’t wait to hear which iPhone the hive mind will choose.
iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4 or iPhone 4S?
This is a no brainer to us. Get an iPhone 4S.
While the iPhone 3GS is now free, and the iPhone 4 is now $99, both those prices are surrounded by invisible quotations marks. Neither of these iPhone models really cost this little.
In reality, all iPhone prices are subsidized by wireless carriers who want to lock you in to two-year subscriptions, and who make you pay the full value of the month by spreading it out over the next twenty four months. That makes the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 not as attractive as they seem. You’re still going to be spending hundreds of dollars on these phones over the next couple of years.
If you can afford to pony up an initial couple of hundred bucks to get an iPhone 4S, you may as well: you’re not paying all that much more money in the long term, and you’re guaranteeing that when your two year contract comes to an end, your iPhone will still be capable of running all of Apple’s latest iOS software.
Here’s another thing to consider. The iPhone 4S is the only iPhone that is a world phone, meaning that any iPhone 4S can run on GSM networks (like AT&T and T-Mobile) and CDMA networks (like Verizon and Sprint). What that means is that if you buy your iPhone 4S through, say, Verizon, once your contract is up you can take the phone over to AT&T without having to buy a whole new device.
Even if you’re cash strapped, save up $199 bucks and get an iPhone 4S. You’ll be glad you did. It’s a future proof decision, and you’ll be able to take advantage of Apple’s incredible new Siri technology too.
Verdict: Everyone should buy the iPhone 4S.
16GB, 32GB or 64GB?
There was a time when we would have recommended the largest capacity iPhone that you could afford, but no longer.
Why? iCloud’s a big part of it. In the past, our iPhones were stuffed chock with media from our iTunes libraries: music, video, podcasts, you name it. The only way to have that stuff with us when were out on the road was to copy it to our iPhones, taking up valuable storage space.
But iCloud changes all of that. Now, iTunes mirrors all of your content to iCloud using iTunes Match, meaning that if you want to listen to a song that isn’t on your iPhone, all you have to do is download it from Apple’s servers. It’s easy. You’re always walking around with your full media library on your iPhone, and if it isn’t stored locally, you just slurp it down from the iCloud as needed.
In other words, space isn’t really as important as it was. Combined with streaming subscription services like Netflix, Spotify and Rdio, iCloud really obviates a lot of the requirement to have as much storage in your iPhone 4S as possible. Most people can get away with the 16GB iPhone 4S.
There’s one big exception to our logic here, though: gamers. 16GB of storage is plenty for most users if they are relying on streaming media services or the iCloud, since the only thing they have to download locally are apps, which usually don’t take up much space. But games are a big exception. For example, Epic Games’ Infinity Blade clocks in at over 600MB, and some iOS games are over 1GB each. If you play a lot of games, you need 32GB, minimum.
Verdict: 16GB for most people, 32GB for gamers.
AT&T, Verizon or Sprint?
This is probably the most important decision anyone buying a new iPhone 4S can make, and all of the networks have their perks.
AT&T has always been the fastest wireless network in America, and with the iPhone 4S, that lead over the competition is doubled. Only AT&T iPhone 4Ses will support 14.4Mbps “4G” speeds, while Sprint and Verizon iPhones will be locked at a maximum of 7.2Mbps.
But newcomer Sprint has a big advantage over Verizon and AT&T, as it is the only carrier still offering unlimited data to new iPhone 4S customers. With a Sprint iPhone 4S, you’ll be able to tether, stream and download to your hearts’ content, where as overage fees will start kicking in at 2GB on AT&T or Verizon.
With the rise of streaming services like Netflix and the rise of the iCloud, unlimited data is a huge advantage. So much so that we think it trumps AT&T’s 14.4Mbps speeds. After all, what good is faster downloads if you’re just burning through your data cap twice as fast?
The big question is, how long will Sprint’s unlimited data advantage last? Both AT&T and Verizon used to have unlimited data, but the demand the iPhone put on their networks eventually caused them to institute data caps. We expect Sprint to follow eventually… the only question is when.
Verdict: Sprint… for now.
Black or White
Honestly, this one’s up to you, but we think there’s a strong argument to be made that at the end of the day a white iPhone 4S is a better choice than a black one.
First of all, the white iPhone 4S doesn’t show fingerprints as badly as the black model, so if you hate your iPhone looking like a mirror at Studio 54, the white iPhone 4S is going to look more pristine and require cleaning less often.
That’s also true for cracks on the back of the device. Cracks show clear as day on a black iPhone 4S because when the glass panel cracks, the edges of cracks turn opaque. Those cracks are not nearly as noticeable on a white iPhone 4 though.
Scratches? Same thing. And it’s worth noting that eBay, Craigslist and even Apple’s own buy back program offer more for white iPhone 4s than black ones.
In short, if you’re going bareback with your iPhone 4S, the white model will look a lot cleaner and newer than the black model. If you’re planning on rocking a case, though, the choice is up to you.
Look, any iPhone you get is going to be an incredible phone, but at the end of the day, Cult of Mac recommends the Sprint 16GB iPhone 4S in White as the best iPhone to get for most people. Sprint’s unlimited data plan is a huge advantage over the competition, the white iPhone 4S keeps its pristine appearance better than the black model, and with the rise of iCloud, most people can get away with just 16GB. But we know your mileage may well vary, so why not let us know in the comments which iPhone you’re going to buy this year, and why? We can’t wait to read your thoughts!