Hard core Apple fans began lining up early Thursday to be the first to get their hands on the new iPhones, which go on sale Friday morning. But do you need to rush out for Apple's latest and greatest? Tech experts say while the newest offerings are nice, they're certainly not necessary.
"If you're on an iPhone 4S or earlier, definitely upgrade. It's a great upgrade," says Andru Edwards, a tech analyst with Bothell-based Gear Live Media.
Edwards says he'll be among the first to get the iPhone 5s. It features a new 64-bit A7 chip the company boasts is twice as fast as previous models. It also comes with a significantly improved camera, with a new lens and larger sensor area to improve image quality.
Geeks like Edwards are particularly excited about a new sensor on the home button that lets you use your fingerprint instead of typing a password.
"Just knowing that I can put my own finger or thumb on the home button, it's a matter of convenience. It can save me a little bit of time, especially since I can just swipe to download something on iTunes."
It all sounds cool. But is it worth it? "Absolutely, especially if you want the latest and greatest," says Geekwire's Todd Bishop.
That's a big if. While the iPhone 5s starts at $199 for the 16GB model, you can get the new iPhone 5c for $100 less. The 5c is basically the same phone as last year's iPhone 5 except with a new plastic cover that comes in a variety of colors and improved front facing camera. Still, at a starting price of $99 Edwards says for many, it's a better buy.
"For $99, you're getting an iPhone 5, which is a great device. Actually, I think it's more durable than the 5," he says.
But Bishop says if you have an iPhone 5, you're probably better off waiting until next year for the iPhone 6, especially if you are still under contract with your old phone.
And while most of us really want the latest and greatest, Bishop says a lot of people looking to get their first smartphone on a budget would be fine with Apple's iPhone 4s. The company is now offering an 8GB version of the last generation phone for free with a two-year contract.
"For my mom, my wife, that often becomes my recommendation," says Bishop. "You're getting iOS 7 pre-installed. It's going to be a good experience for you. And it's really hard to go wrong there."
So what's right for you? It all depends on your budget and what you really need out of a smartphone.
"For a moment, forget about all the features. Do you want a great camera? Do you want something that fits in one hand? Do you want a bigger screen?," Edwards asks.
If you're just looking to surf the web, access your email and do other basic things, the 4s is more than good enough. And the price is right. But at 8GB, you'll fill it up pretty quick if you take many pictures or videos, or want a lot of apps.
The 5c and 5s are more powerful and run on the 4G network, which means both are significantly faster than their predecessors in uploading and downloading video and data. So if you like to stream movies or music, you'll notice a big difference that makes the extra $100 or more worth it for many.
For a lot of people, the 5c will be plenty fast. But Edwards says the real game changer is what comes next in software, now that Apple has changed to a 64-bit architecture. That might not mean a whole lot now. But Edwards says in the next year or so it'll mean vastly different, computer-like apps for the 5s and future generations of iPhones.
"It's going to be a revolution in terms of the speed and the games that we're going to see and the different types of apps that you're going to be able to create that you couldn't do on any previous iPhone. It's going to be pretty interesting."
Of course, iPhone isn't the only option in town. There are plenty of other smartphones that run either Android or Windows Phone. Both Edwards and Bishop agree for first time smartphone buyers, with so many choices, it's best to do your homework, try out different models, and determine which hardware and programs feel right to you. But if you've already invested hundreds into apps on one platform like iOS, Edwards says it's pretty tough to recommend switching.
As for me, my two-year contract on my iPhone 4, with a cracked screen, is up. So after careful consideration and given that I'll have my next phone for at least two years, I've decided to spend the extra $100 and spring for an iPhone 5s. That will at least give me a few months before I start lusting after the next must-have, latest and greatest.
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