A relative recently asked me whether he should get an iPhone 4 as his first iPhone, two models behind the iPhone 5, released roughly 6 months ago. I imagine the advice I gave will probably apply to the same question around this time next year, substituting model numbers.
No one knows when the next iPhone will be coming out, but odds are in favor of August or later. I would definitely recommend against the iPhone 4 at this point in time - I had it for 2 years, and it was great when it was new, and is still decent now, but starting to show its age. And when you buy a phone, you’re committing to 2 years of using it. Disregarding the points situation1, an iPhone 4 is free (or maybe $1) when you sign up for a 2-year contract. The iPhone 5 is only $199, which is nothing compared to how much you’re going to be spending on a service plan over the life of the contract.
I’ve owned the 1st-gen iPhone, the 4, and now the 5, always buying them at launch, and have been relieved to upgrade both times. After a couple of years, the older phones start to feel slower. Apps run slower, you start to get constrained by the memory, and you’ll lose support for the latest OS sooner. I would strongly recommend the iPhone 5 if it’s at all possible - the 4G/LTE alone justifies the price difference, not to mention the larger screen, and thinner/lighter design.
I might add, depending on the person, to wait for the next model. If I were ready for a new phone, that’s what I would be doing. I had to wait 2.5 years between iPhone 4 and iPhone 5, because of the change in release cycle they began with the 4S. If I were impatient (or didn’t care about obsolescence), I would have gotten a 4S when my 4’s contract was up.
My upgrade strategy for Apple devices though, is to wait for the next model when I’m ready to upgrade. You guarantee yourself the longest period between product releases you could possibly anticipate. Of course, that doesn’t apply if your phone/computer breaks and you need a new one, but if you’re in a position to do so, I would recommend it. Also, you may be someone who doesn’t care about having the latest and greatest, and every model of iPhone has been great, so you have to make your own decision.
He has reward points from a credit card which can help him get a phone at a discount. ↩