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The New Apple iPhone 5 – To Buy or Not to Buy?

iPhone 5, front and back

On September 12, 2012, Apple announced the release of the new iPhone 5. For some avid Apple technology fans, there is no doubt. They must immediately upgrade to the latest version. But if you’re like me, the decision is a bit more complicated. The more I learn about the features of the iPhone 5, the more my geeky side wants to play with the new toy. However my practical side says that in spite of the fact that my iPhone 4 is now technically two generations out of date, it is only two years old and still does everything I want it to do. Apple’s website has a handy chart that compares the features of the iPhone 5 with the iPhone 4 and 4S. But I find that lists of specifications don’t really convey the true impact of the changes. So I did some research to try to understand what the changes mean in real terms.

The most obvious change is the size of the phone. The iPhone 5 is almost 4/10 of an inch longer.  That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it increases the screen size from 3.5 inches to 4 inches. That means it will display more of Web pages, emails, contact lists, etc. And since the width hasn’t changed, it’s still easy to operate with one hand, reaching across with your thumb. At the same time, Apple made the new phone considerably thinner. So the increase in screen real estate does not mean a phone that feels bulkier or clunkier. They achieved this slimming down by replacing the glass back with aluminum. As a result, the iPhone 5 is nearly an ounce lighter. Of course, the most important aspect of whether you like the new size may be one that requires hands on testing: How well does it fit in the pocket of your favorite jeans?

The iPhone 5 incorporates the latest LTE technology for significantly increased data capacity and speed. I’ve seen reports of the phone being faster than a home wi-fi network. Unfortunately, if your carrier is Sprint or Verizon, you won’t be able to use voice and data at the same time. That means you can’t look up the address for a restaurant while chatting with the friend you plan to meet there. Also, great as LTE service is, its availability is still pretty limited. Before buying a new phone for the awesome data speed, double check whether your carrier has LTE coverage in your area. Also, be sure to find out how the upgrade will affect your current pricing plan. If you have an unlimited data plan, not all carriers will allow you to apply that to the iPhone 5.

Another change that will have a major impact on users is the replacement of the standard 30-pin connector with the new Lightning connector. That means that using your old iPhone and iPod accessories just got more complicated. Apple is selling an adaptor that will allow you to continue to use corded accessories. But that won’t work for everything. Any device, like a speaker set or GPS holder that works as a dock, is a problem because the adaptor won’t allow the phone to sit in the slot properly. Also, the adaptor does not support video output. On the plus side, the new connector is smaller but sturdier, is all-digital, and is reversible. No more trying to figure out which side is up. Switching over may be painful, but it appears that this is the direction Apple is moving with all future devices. So it’s a matter of when, not if, we make the change.

There are several other upgrades and changes that may be important to you, but there is simply not space here to discuss all of them. If you use your phone as your primary camera, you may want to check out the changes to the camera capabilities, especially if you still have an iPhone 4 or use your phone to record videos.

So, to buy or not to buy? I’m still undecided. Charts of specifications and second-hand accounts only give so much information. I really need to get my hands on an iPhone 5 and play with it for a while to see if it can convince my practical side to give in to the geek. Of course, many of those buying an iPhone 5 will be selling their nearly new 4S phones. I may just opt for an incremental upgrade to tide me over until Apple’s next latest and greatest iPhone.