iPhone Buying Advice

A number of people have recently asked my advice on buying an iPhone so I thought it worth writing up my current thoughts.

iPhone or Android (Samsung/HTC)

At the moment any phone marketed as an “iPhone competitor” is running Google’s Android software. I have not personally used an Android phone beyond a quick demo of friends’ devices but a survey of articles suggest that latest software has a comparable set of features to the iPhone, and every Apple-hater will quickly tell you that Android is better because it can do X, Y and/or Z, which Apple are too arrogant or controlling to allow. If you are someone who understands what feature X, Y or Z is and feel you need it, then you should get an Android phone. Everyone else should read this quote from a review of the newly released iPad-clone from people that make Blackberries:

“Browsing on the PlayBook ends up feeling very much like an Android device – perfectly usable, but not up to iOS [i.e. iPhone] standards.”

Whether this is something you find annoying enough to justify a more expensive iPhone over an Android device can to some extend be determined by spending some time with a friend’s phone or an in-store demo, so I highly recommend doing this. Another frequent complaint about Android phones is that the battery life is worse than that of an iPhone1, especially those models with the larger screens.

One of the major features of Android is the ability to install apps which have not been vetted by Apple. However it is highly unlikely that an average user would want to install an application that was banned by Apple so that advantage is moot. There is also an argument that since the iPhone+iPod+iPad2 platform is currently making developers a lot of money, and Android upgrades must be blessed by the phone manufacturer3 after being released by Google, iPhone owners are likely to get the latest and greatest apps before Android owners, and certainly no later.

It is natural that older Android phones which do not have all the latest iPhone features are practically being given away by the phone companies (so too the two-year old iPhone 3GS) but recently released Android phones are also considerably cheaper than iPhone 4s. For example today on orange.co.uk a £35 per month contract for 24 months will get you the recently released HTC Desire S for £0, while an iPhone4 costs £119 on the same monthly tariff. I don’t think I can tell you whether it is worth you paying that extra £119, only hands-on demonstration and experimentation with a phone will tell you whether you think the phone will be good enough, the right apps available for what you want, and the battery life long enough.

Should I buy an iPhone 4 now or wait for iPhone 5?

While Apple are highly secretive about their product plans, it is widely believed that Apple have unofficially set media expectations that unlike previous years they will not be announcing a new device at their annual developer conference in June. There is no reliable information as to when a new iPhone might be released but the smart money is on a September announcement alongside this year’s iPod line-up.

Historically, supplies of new models has been extremely limited for the first few months so waiting until September realistically means waiting another month or two after the release date, and expect to pay at least the current cost of an iPhone 4. At the moment (May 2011), there is the possibility you may find a carrier able to offer some sort of discount on an iPhone 4 which will easily give you 18 months of good service before an Autumn 2012 release of the next generation.

Do I need a screen protector for my iPhone?

No. The iPhone 4 screen is designed to be touched directly and manufactured to a high quality. Placing an additional layer of low quality plastic between you and the screen will impair its function. I can really recommend the InCase Snap case (~£10 on ebay.co.uk, or half that for a clear plastic knock off) which protects the back and has a raised ridge around the front preventing contact should the phone be placed face down on a surface. If you need to protect the screen while the phone is not in use (e.g. inside a hand bag or similar) then buy a case that has a cover you put over the screen when not in use, or store the phone in a sock when inside the handbag.

  1. 7 hours of talk time and 300 hours standby is claimed by Apple [back]
  2. a.k.a. “iOS” [back]
  3. This is significant since if an app requires the latest version of Android and your manufacturer has not blessed it yet then that app will not be available to you, even if it it is available on other Android phones. [back]