Should you buy an iPhone 5? Probably and here’s how.

Why I often prescribe Apple

Beck Diefenbach/Reuters

The other day, a friend asked me whether he should buy the new iPhone 5. By virtue of writing about technology and gadgets for a living, it’s a question I get all the time – not necessarily about the new iPhone, but friends generally wanting advice on what smartphone they should get.

There’s never a simple answer, since every person’s needs are different. And it’s not just the device itself that matters, the carriers that offer them also factor into such a decision. My response is therefore always a flurry of questions in return: do you like physical keyboards, what kind of computer do you use, do you want to surf the web a lot, how much do you want to spend, do you travel a lot? Oh, and what are your politics? More on that last one in a second.

From there, we winnow down the options. If the buyer is on a budget, we’ll generally talk Android phones. If they don’t leave their home city much, we’ll discuss discount carriers such as Wind and Mobilicity. If a keyboard is a must, then it’s on to BlackBerry.

All things being equal, though, I often prescribe the iPhone, since it’s the best total package on the market. Not only does Apple produce top-notch hardware and software that works fluidly with it, it’s also got the widest catalog of apps available. While many have pointed out that the sheer number of apps means little (Apple boasts 600,000, or much more than competitors), in actuality it is important. Simple math equates that the more apps there are over all, the more likely it is that there will be more quality apps to choose from.

It’s definitely the case with Apple. Developers tend to create apps for its ecosystem first and they tend to put the most effort into it, because in doing so they can reach the millions of iPhone, iPod and iPad users out there. Other smartphones may have the iPhone beat in hardware specifications, but such devices are only as good as what users can do with them. In this sense, you can generally do more with an iPhone than with any other kind of smartphone.

Not surprisingly, Apple has the highest customer satisfaction rating of any smartphone maker, according to several measures including the American Customer Satisfaction Index and J.D. Power. Rare is the person who buys an iPhone and is dissatisfied with it.

Indeed, the iPhone 5—officially releasing this Friday—will continue that trend. While the new device has been criticized for being merely evolutionary rather than revolutionary, it still does everything well and just about every aspect is better than its predecessor.

That brings us back to my friend’s question: should he buy the iPhone 5, and more specifically, how should he buy it? As I noted last week, Canadians are in an especially tough spot when it comes to smartphones. Apple charges an arm and a leg for its phone. Whether you buy it unlocked and contract-free through one of the company’s stores or through a subsidized agreement with a carrier, you’ll end up paying through the nose.

Canadian carriers, meanwhile, are unique in insisting that buyers agree to three-year contracts, while two-year agreements are the norm elsewhere. That means Canadians tie in to the iPhone for longer and more money than just about anyone else. And just to add insult to injury, all iPhone models are $50 more in Canada than in the United States for no real reason.

My friend makes good money, travels a fair bit and, like many Canadians, has a distaste for our wireless carriers. I suggested he buy an unlocked version of the 16-gigabyte iPhone for $699 directly from Apple, which is not exactly easy to do. Such purchases can only be made online for now, since the company is looking to extract even more profit from early buyers by forcing them to activate their purchase with a wireless carrier in store, at least for the first few weeks. As reports have noted, doing this ensures Apple will get monthly kickbacks from the carriers.

My friend was willing to wait a few weeks for his new phone, so he ordered online. And really, unless your existing device is on its last legs, there’s no reason why you can’t also take this route. Once you’ve got that unlocked phone, a world of possibilities opens up.

For one thing, you can shop around for a plan from the various wireless carriers. In my experience, I’ve found that the big carriers tend to treat customers who bring along their own unlocked phones as unwanted stepchildren; without the ability to tie you into a contract, you’re a risky proposition who could flee at any time. They also know that all their monthly plans are in careful equilibrium with rivals’, so it’s not like you’re going to get a better deal somewhere else if they refuse to negotiate.

That said, no carrier likes to lose customers. It raises their churn rate, which financial analysts hate, and no carrier wants to see its stock punished by unhappy financial analysts. So if you’ve got an unlocked phone with no contract, your existing carrier has at least some incentive to try and make you happy.

Perhaps more importantly, the unlocked device is primed for local SIM cards if you travel to a different country. In most cases, you can buy a pay-as-you-go SIM, pop it in and use your phone without fear of an astronomical bill upon your return home. The iPhone 5 and other LTE phones may not work at their fastest speeds in other countries because of differing standards, but Apple’s device runs on a plethora of different frequencies, so you should be okay in most places.

In a worst-case scenario, you can at least get a prepaid voice SIM card that offers cheap local calling. I saw these being sold through a vending machine in New York’s JFK airport last week. Let’s face it – only executives with big expense accounts can afford to pay roaming charges.

The last bonus to an unlocked iPhone is its high resale rate. The iPhone 6 will inevitably come next year (or maybe it’ll be the iPhone 5S), with another one the year after that, and so on. Maybe you’ll want to move onto a different phone entirely. Who knows, maybe Research In Motion will come back with a BlackBerry that everyone will want? Stranger things have happened.

In any event, iPhones are like Toyotas—they retain their resale values nicely. Apple itself was offering up to $345 for the iPhone 4S as part of its recycling program. The bottom line is, there are many reasons to buy an unlocked iPhone.

Of course, not everyone has $700 to shell out up front. In that case, a three-year contract is the only option. The big three Canadian carriers are selling the three iPhone 5 models for $179 (16 GB), $279 (32 GB) and $379 (64 GB). In this case, there’s no real reason to go with the more expensive models. Only business users with very specific needs—or people who like to watch movies on really tiny screens—are likely to find any benefit to going with more storage, with 16 GB being more than enough for the average person.

Which brings us to that final question. It’s been said that the two things you should never discuss in public are politics and religion, because they inevitably end up setting people off into arguments. Apple can probably be added to that list. It’s a company that people either passionately love or hate.

Pure techies often hate on Apple because of the closed nature of its products and the controlling nature of the company itself. The non-techie majority, however, tend to love Apple products because they’re simple and elegant, even if they are pricey. That’s why the company has sold zillions of iPhones, iPads and iPods.

My circle of friends is made up of both types and there are some who would rather give themselves their own enema than buy an Apple product. For them, it’s a question of politics, or morals even.

That’s fair enough, yet it’s also amazing how the world has turned over the course of a few short years. There was a time, not so long ago, when the people who bought Apple products (mostly Mac computers) were elitists who looked down on the unwashed masses with scorn. Now, it’s the other way around. Those who swear off Apple’s products consider the millions who do buy them to be sheep.

How long till the pendulum shifts back again?




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Should you buy an iPhone 5? Probably and here’s how.

  1. Perhaps more importantly, the unlocked device is primed for local SIM cards if you travel to a different country. In most cases, you can buy a pay-as-you-go SIM, pop it in and use your phone without fear of an astronomical bill upon your return home.

    Does the 5′s new nano SIM cause problems there? I know it makes it harder to switch quickly from your old phone to a new one in some cases (since your old SIM won’t fit in an iPhone 5) but do most carriers just have the nano SIMs on hand making this a non-problem when wanting to pop in a SIM overseas?

    • It’s possible to trim regular SIMs down to the nano size, but it’s apparently quite a bit of a pain (the big problem is the nano SIMs are thinner, so older SIM cards have to be sanded down as well as cut). It’s not something you could just do at the airport after picking up a SIM card from a vending machine.

      • Yeah, I’d heard that was possible but let’s face it, most people aren’t going to make physical modifications to their phone’s SIM card. SOFTWARE modifications seem to be a bridge too far for a lot of smartphone users.

  2. I don’t think you’ll disagree with this, but it’s not too explicit above. If someone is happy with their current phone then I see ZERO reason to upgrade to an iPhone 5. If you like your 4S, or your Galaxy S3 (or heck, in my case your Galaxy S2, which is still perfectly fine for me!) then there’s really no need to move to an iPhone 5.

    That may seem self-evident, but it seems to me that a lot of people hear that there’s a new iPhone out and just assume that it must be a great technological breakthrough that changes the entire cellphone game, and that they’ll be left behind if they don’t make the switch. However, whatever one thinks of the iPhone 5′s improvements, I don’t think that even the most rabid fanboy would argue that the iPhone 5 is some big leap forward. There are certainly reasons why someone at the end of their contract, and/or with an older phone, might want to jump on the iPhone 5, but if you’ve got any one of at least a half dozen recent phones, and you’re happy with it (and for my personal purposes I’d even include the Galaxy S2, even though it’s technically a generation old now) there’s LITERALLY no reason, imho, for you to buy an iPhone 5.

    • This is the issue that the “techies” have. The “non-techies” are being taken advantage of by Apple with the iPhone5. The iPhone3 was a triumph. The iPhone4 was great. The iPhone5? Everyone with an up to date phone should probably pass.

    • You’re right. I think that one of the questions that the author should be asking his inquisitive friends is, “What do you have right now, and what’s wrong with it?” I have a second-hand Blackberry that is probably a couple of generations out of date, but when I ask myself what is wrong with it, I come up with … nothing much, really. The new toys sure are nice and shiny, though.

      • No, you’re the exception. A second-hand Blackberry might as well be a LANDLINE.

        (LOL, J/K).

  3. I would probably challenge the assumption that Apple produces top-notch hardware (its the same as you get in other phones, sometimes less so) and also mention that Android Apps are increasing at an exponential rate, even faster than what Apple has had in the past.

    Given I can play any kind of codec on my Android without having to dick around converting it and that I don’t have to use the monstrosity of that horrible media player called Itunes, I’ll stick to my Android.

    I’m actually finding it hard to see what is so special about Apple? To me its kind of like meh? Should also mention i saw a guy drop his Iphone the other day from about 4′ and smash, glass everywhere!…not very durable things those Iphones.

    • The vast majority of iPhone users don’t know and don’t want to know what a codec is.
      Apple successfully targets a huge demographic.

    • There is actually a big difference in the ‘average quality’ of apps available on Apple app store vs the Android apps store. Developers complain about Apple’s approval process, but it does help keep the “why did I waste my bandwidth on this piece of garbage that doesn’t work or do anything right except push ads” apps off the store.

  4. One major problem with the iPhone 5: It lacks NFC technology.
    If I were to buy this phone at Rogers, I’d be stuck with it for 3 years. If NFC revolutionizes shopping in the next year (or even 2 years), I’m stuck with a phone that can’t take advantage of that technology, until 2015 or 2016 when I’m eligible for a hardware upgrade.
    I’m not sure why NFC technology was excluded from the iPhone 5? It seems like a no-brainer to me. Samsung and HTC have already incorporated it into their phones.

    • I think Apple wants to hold off on NFC because so much of thier revenue is based on media, apps, etc. NFC (and the hacker community) would find a way for iPhone users to share media.apps/etc, which cuts into Apple’s bottom line. As much as an Apple fanboy as I am, there is no denying that Apple cares about nothing more than they care about the bottom line.

      • Interesting! I hadn’t thought of that. The problem for Apple is that they can’t hold off forever. They’ll eventually have to incorporate NFC into their devices, and that could disrupt their whole business model.

    • NFC will not start to revolutionalize shopping until Apple embraces it. Only then will banks, credit card processors and retailers decide to make the financial investment in the necessary cash register upgrades.

      NFC is basically the only significant feature missing from the iPhone 5. This time next year, Apple will be pushing it as a reason to upgrade to the iPhone 6.

  5. I’m amazed that the tech guys at maclean’s (Nowak and Brown) don’t know how how to add a target=”_blank” attribute to a link so it opens up in a new tab or window instead of replacing the one you’re reading.

    The other writers do. Maybe it’s a political thing. ;-)

    • Or maybe the tech guys know how annoying it is to have new windows pop up. It’s good for the advertiser to have a new window but I’ve gotten to the point of habitually dragging a URL up to the bar when I can’t be certain.

      If I wanted to open another tab I can always CTRL-click, thank you very much.

      • It’s good for the advertiser to have a new window

        Right – tell me again how sheep bladders can be be used in the prevention of earthquakes..

  6. Does anybody but me find it odd to see an article about why you should buy a phone that doesn’t once reference calling anybody? Doesn’t talk about whether the mic is good in the wind and what the sound quality is like?

    Or am I just that old in actually using the phone to speak to other people directly?

  7. I’m happy with my Nokia Unlocked WiFi phone and my iPod touch WiFi.
    Seems like the Rip-off is in the years of contract they make you buy.

  8. Currently I have an iPhone 4 and I love it, it’s almost 2 years old and I can’t upgrade for another year without getting robbed by both Rogers and Apple. But do I want to anyways? One of the things I love about iPhone 4 is it’s physical design, it’s beautiful. Sleek, simple, glass and metal… gorgeous. It still feels and looks like something from the future.

    This iPhone 5… I dunno. Sure it’s thinner, has a bigger screen… don’t care. All most all of the new features will work on a 4S, and almost all of those features I don’t even care about anyways. Shared Photo Streams? Shrug. Panoramic photos? I already have an app for that. (A new Maps app that doesn’t work right and replaces a perfectly fine Maps app… Why!?)
    Guess I’m saying I don’t really care about the new iPhone, which is a first for me. Nope, when Rogers gives me ‘upgrade blessings’ I’ll get probably go with an iPhone 4s, which will be offered for $0.00.

  9. The very fact that Apple decided to replace Google Maps by something that is totally not working tells a lot about the company. I still have 1 year with the Iphone and will go open source (android) so I won’t be fed apps without my consent.

  10. Anothe topic not included here is that the Iphone can be unlocked by nearly any carrier (not including Bell) for a small fee 30 days after the contract has started (ie after the point that the contract can be cancelled) that way you do not need to pay the extra high Apple store price and still get international functionality. Also now that the nano sim is in the iphone it will start showing up at the travellers kiosks.

  11. “If the buyer is on a budget, we’ll generally talk Android phones.”

    How about if the buyer actually has a brain and wants to be able to use it and the “phone,” which is really a mobile computer with various communication possibilities, with some degree of freedom? Is it your idea that people who are untaught can be more easily manipulated and controlled and separated from their money? When is price NOT a consideration, especially when you are getting less function? Does the “i” in all those products from Apple really stand for idiot? Apple, in case nobody’s noticed. does not start with “i.”

  12. Slightly off topic, but when will Canada (Ontario) offer excellent cell/smart phone plan rates that compare to those in the USA? What about a plan for Canada/USA with no roaming and no long distance when in Canada and the USA? Just trying to find a reasonable but functional plan is difficult.

  13. Yes we have the iPhone (4, 4S,& 5) in stock for sale at considerable prices.

    i Phone 4G 16GB Cost……….US$390
    i Phone 4G 32GB Cost……….US$410
    i Phone 4s 16GB Cost……….US$470
    i Phone 4s 32GB Cost……….US$490
    i Phone 4s 64GB Cost……….US$550
    i Phone 5 64GB Cost……….US$770
    i Phone 5 32GB Cost……….US$720
    i Phone 5 16GB Cost……….US$650

    We are located here in Malaysia, USA, UK, and India where we ship to every part of the world and within 48-72hrs you receive your product right at your Door-Step without any delay.

    Are you interested in buying the iPhone from us, then provide us with your (Full Names, Shipping Address & Mobile number so we can reach out to you.)

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  14. Horse n carriage for some and modern day autos for those of us who don’t like horse shit.

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