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The Verdict on the iPhone 4S: Wait for the iPhone 5

Why the new “world phone” is not enough.

Should you answer the call of the new iPhone? Unless you’re a longtime Sprint customer, probably not, analysts say.

Apple aficionados around the world were expecting a slimmer, faster and more glamorous iPhone 5. Instead, they got a rather tepid upgrade. It will be available on Verizon Wireless, AT&T and – for the first time – on Sprint from Oct. 14th. But for those who already have an iPhone 4, is this slightly improved version worth the upgrade? Most analysts agree that it’s great news for Sprint customers. And the rest of the world? Not so much.

The iPhone 4S was not the big game-changer consumers had been waiting for. It’s not lighter than the iPhone 4 and it doesn’t have a larger screen like many of its Android rivals. It has a better quality camera, faster operating system and “Siri” voice-activated personal assistant. As expected, however, the iPhone 4S is a “world phone,” which means it can be used on any overseas wireless network while traveling. Put bluntly, this world phone is not enough.

For those  who already have an iPhone 4 – or a comparable Android handset – this upgrade probably doesn’t warrant the costs of early termination fees or switching carriers. They’re better off holding the phones and their funds until the iPhone 5 arrives, likely next summer.

Changing phones is expensive, says Alex Goldfayn, a consumer electronics expert who hosts the nationally syndicated radio show “The Technology Tailor Minute,” As Pay Dirt reported, the iPhone 4S starts at $199 for a 16GB model when you sign a two-year cell phone contract. However, the 8GB iPhone 4 is now $99 at AT&T and Verizon, and the iPhone 3GS is now free with a two-year AT&T contract. “It’s a big hassle to switch,” he says.

The big winners are Sprint customers, says Samir Sakpal, industry manager and senior analyst for Frost & Sullivan. Sprint currently has three flat rate plans for unlimited data: $70, $90 and $100 a month. Verizon and AT&T have both stopped offering unlimited data this year. Verizon has half-a-dozen smartphone data plans from $30 a month for 2GB. AT&T has a three-tiered smartphone data plan starting at $15 a month for 200MB, $25 for 2GB and $45 for 4GB.

However, even diehard Apple fans are holding off this time. Mark J. Wilkinson, a marketing manager from Portland, Ore., says he doesn’t need unlimited data. “I have upgraded the first day on every new iPhone,” he says. “This time, I’m holding off until I see it in action. Is it significantly faster? Is the camera noticeably better? There’s not much other reason to upgrade. And talking into a computer or phone to give it commands is so 2005.”

Pay Dirt readers, will you be upgrading?


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    • I have a 2+ year old 3GS and I’ll be upgrading. I think there a slew of pre-iPhone 4 users that are dying to upgrade. Look around at the hype today. There were many people that wrote about being “disappointed” with the 4S vs 5, but the results appear clear that the 4S is hit! I presume the 5 will be an even bigger hit with the 4 crowd. Why? Because hungry 4 users will be dying to get a 5. Since they added Sprint as a carrier and made the 4S a “world” phone, they have millions of potential NEW users for the 4S, so why waste all your tricks by releasing a 5 now? Saving the 5 for next year generates an extra year of buzz for Apple. Put a bigger screen and make it thinner and they’ll sell millions of 5′s. Even the 4S users will be upgrading. Apple lovers, and there are millions of them, obviously don’t care about any fancy Android features…it’s still not an iPhone. The market clearly proves that. I don’t think it matters what Android phones come out. Apple has created a massive loyal following that, for the most part, will never switch. For those of you that go Android, good luck and enjoy…it’s still not an iPhone.

    • I pass. Some of the more interesting features are not inherent in the hardware, but in the updated O/S. Since iOS 5 is a free upgrade for the 3GS on upwards, I see nothing that compels me to drop a considerable amount of cash on a “meh” hardware upgrade. I’ll wait for 5, or perhaps I’ll take a good look at Android 4.0 that will be available very soon.

    • I have an iPhone 4 on AT&T. I’m still upgrading.

    • Faster processor, better camera, Siri, better antenna, 64 GB… Not enough for the skeptics, but great for me. I run multiple apps (not games) all the time that bog down the phone and have lots of music that doesn’t fit. Remember all the relative lack of enthusiasm when the iPad2 was announced, and yet it was impossible to get one at launch. I’ll get a 4S 64GB and sell my 4 32GB on Ebay so the upgrade won’t cost that much.

    • I think the 4s is the result of the final months of steve’s reign. People were probably unable to go against what he said but he may have been there for only a small part of the week. The iPhone 5 will be the true indicator of where apple is heading. This pre release secrecy has backfired big time for apple. will the new CEO change this? Apple is way behind the field with this phone….the real iPhone 5 needs to be outstanding and it needs to be released summer 2012 at the latest.

About Pay Dirt

  • Pay Dirt examines the millions of consumer decisions Americans make every day: What to buy, how much to pay, whether to rave or complain. Lead written by Quentin Fottrell, the blog examines these interactions, providing readers with news, insight and tips on shopping, spending, customer service, and companies that do right – and wrong – by their customers. Send items, questions and comments to quentin.fottrell@dowjones.com or tweet @SMPayDirt.