Preorders for the iPhone 5 start tomorrow, so it’s time to consider which model you’re going to drop your hard-earned cash on.
There are several things to consider when purchasing a new iPhone. The iPhone 5 you buy depends on your carrier preference, storage requirements, and most importantly, how much you’re willing to spend.
Choosing The Right Carrier
With the introduction of ultrafast LTE networking in the iPhone 5, choosing the right carrier is more important than ever. Grandfathered unlimited data plans are difficult to keep these days, so its equally important to know what your current carrier’s policy is for existing unlimited data subscribers.
The three major iPhone carriers in the U.S. are AT&T, Verizon and Sprint. There are pros and cons to buying the iPhone 5 on each network, so it all depends on what’s more important to you.
AT&T will let grandfathered unlimited data subscribers keep their existing plans when upgrading to the iPhone 5, while Verizon will not. On AT&T, you have the option to keep your current plan, choose a traditional plan, or choose a new Mobile Share plan. You technically have more options when signing up for an iPhone 5 with a two-year contract on AT&T, but there’s a catch: you won’t be able to use FaceTime over cellular in iOS 6 without first subscribing to a Mobile Share plan.
Verizon is a different story. Unlike AT&T, Verizon will not let grandfathered unlimited data subscribers keep their existing plans when upgrading to the iPhone 5. Instead, new and existing customers will have to purchase a subsidized iPhone 5 with a new Share Everything plan. Like AT&T’s Mobile Share plans, these pooled data plans tend to be more expensive for individuals and less expensive for multiple devices sharing a large allotment of data each month. You can technically keep your grandfathered unlimited plan on Verizon if you pay the full, off-contract, unsubsidized price of the iPhone 5, which starts at $650 for the 16GB model.
While AT&T is choosing to only offer FaceTime over cellular to Mobile Share subscribers, Verizon is placing no restrictions on what plan you have to be on. It’s worth noting that Verizon isn’t allowing FaceTime over cellular because it’s not allowed to. The FCC will not let Verizon block or limit how a certain application is used on the carrier’s 700MHz block of LTE spectrum.
“When it comes to pure pricing, Sprint is clearly the winner”
Sprint has taken a higher road when it comes to data pricing. The nation’s third largest carrier is offering truly unlimited 4G data (no throttling like AT&T and Verizon), voice, and text for just $80 per month. That’s quite an attractive package for any potential iPhone 5 owner.
When it comes to pure pricing, Sprint is clearly the winner. AT&T and Verizon are basically in the same boat (1GB per month of shared data with unlimited talk and text on one device will run you $85-$90), but AT&T is more financially attractive for grandfathered unlimited data subscribers who are still paying $30 per month.
Apple has a great comparison of the plans offered by AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint on its website.
“Verizon is still way ahead of AT&T in terms of LTE deployment”
There’s also LTE coverage to consider when selecting a U.S. carrier for the iPhone 5. And unfortunately, coverage is where Sprint falls short. While you’ll get a better deal on your plan with Sprint, coverage won’t be near as good as AT&T and Verizon in most places. AT&T is generally considered to have faster 4G LTE speeds in most parts of the country, while Verizon usually has more consistent coverage. Verizon tends to do better in highly populated areas as well. Verizon is still way ahead of AT&T in terms of LTE deployment, but the two will likely catch up with one another in the next year or two. There are free services that help show you the kind of coverage you have in your area, so be sure to do a little research before making your final decision. Overall, it looks like Verizon is the better choice for LTE right now.
Another thing to consider is that the iPhone 5 is not a ‘world phone’ like the iPhone 4S. Apple packed GSM (AT&T) and CDMA (Verizon) into the 4S, but separate GSM and CDMA version of the iPhone 5 are being sold this time around. You won’t be able to take an iPhone 5 you buy on AT&T and use it on Verizon or Sprint like with the 4S. (An unlocked GSM iPhone 5 can be used on T-Mobile’s unlimited data plan, but don’t expect great LTE coverage.)
Conclusion: Sprint has the best price,
Storage And Color
“For the average joe, 16GB is plenty of room”
Apple will sell the iPhone 5 in three different storage capacities: $199 for 16GB, $299 for 32GB, and $399 for 64GB. Unless you want to put your whole iTunes library on your iPhone, there’s really no need for more than 16GB of storage. With iCloud and streaming services like Spotify, less and less hard drive space is required for accessing content on the go. For the average joe, 16GB is plenty of room for a decent amount of apps, pictures, video, and music.
Instead of “black” and “white,” Apple is calling the iPhone 5’s two color options “black & slate” and “white & sliver.” This is because of the new two-tone aluminum design of the backplate. Choosing a color is purely an aesthetic choice, but the black & slate iPhone 5 will probably look better with most accessories and cases.
Conclusion: Unless you absolutely need a ton of space on your iPhone for apps and media, 16GB is enough. As for color, you can’t clash with black.
Making The Decision
For the remaining iPhone owners that really care about keeping their AT&T grandfathered unlimited data plans, AT&T is still obviously the way to go. You won’t be able to use FaceTime over cellular, but you won’t be sucked into the shared data vortex like everyone else. If unlimited data is your saving grace, then stick with AT&T for the iPhone 5.
New and non-grandfathered customers should buy the Verizon iPhone 5. LTE coverage is better, FaceTime over cellular is unrestricted, and you’ll be paying $100 per month for 2GB of data and unlimited talk/text. AT&T only offers 1GB and 4GB of shared data at the lower end of its Mobile Share strategy, while 2GB seems to be a more reasonable middle-ground for most customers. Internationally, you’ll be able to use more LTE networks if you go with Verizon in the states.
Conclusion: The 16GB Verizon iPhone 5 in Black is Cult of Mac’s recommended purchase.
You can preorder the Verizon iPhone 5 from either Apple or Verizon tomorrow. Check out our ultimate preorder guide for more.
Let us know which iPhone 5 you’ll be buying and why in the comments!