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What are all the differences between the iPhone 5, the iPhone 4S, and the iPhone 4? Which is best for my needs?
With even the most cursory of glances at an iPhone 5 model -- the iPhone 5 (GSM/North America), (GSM/CDMA), (GSM/International), (CDMA China), or (GSM AWS/North America) -- either of the iPhone 4S models -- the iPhone 4S or iPhone 4S (GSM China) -- or either of the iPhone 4 models -- the iPhone 4 (GSM) or iPhone 4 (CDMA) -- one would immediately notice that the iPhone 5 is taller and the rear is primarily aluminum rather than glass like the iPhone 4S and iPhone 4, at least if the devices are side-by-side.
Although the dimensions and materials are noteworthy differences between these devices, there are many other differences that are equally worthwhile.
Photo Credit: Apple, Inc. -- iPhone 4(S), Left, iPhone 5, Right
The iPhone 5 configurations have a 4" (diagonal) widescreen multi-touch IPS LED-backlit 1136x640 native resolution (326 ppi) "Retina" display, which has "integrated touch technology" so the pixels themselves act as a touch-sensitive digitizer. The iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S models likewise have a multi-touch IPS LED-backlit "Retina" display, and it likewise is 326 ppi, but the display is only 3.5" 960x640, so it's shorter but the same width. The iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S have a separate touch sensitive digitizer, which is one reason they are thicker.
Size-wise, the iPhone 5 configurations are only 0.30 of an inch (7.6 mm) thick and weigh 3.95 ounces (112 g), which Apple proudly proclaims is "18% thinner and 20% lighter" than the iPhone 4S. In person, the iPhone 5 is so light it almost feels hollow or fake, but you get used to it in time. By comparison, the iPhone 4S is 0.37 of an inch thick and is a comparatively hefty 4.9 ounces (140 g). The iPhone 4 models are the same dimensions as the iPhone 4S but weigh slightly less -- 4.8 ounces (137 g).
The iPhone 5 has a largely aluminum housing with "diamond cut" chamfered aluminum around the sides and a mostly aluminum back offered in either a matte black finish or a matte silver finish and corresponding glossy black or white glass fronts. By contrast, the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S models use the same general stainless steel body design and likewise have a thin metal "band" that wraps around the sides of each phone. However, both the front and back are black or white glass, which adds considerably to relative thickness and weight.
Finally, the iPhone 5 has a bottom mounted headphone jack and a smaller, easier-to-use USB 2.0-based "Lightning" port to connect the iPhone 5 to a computer, power adapter, or stereo, as well as built-in speakers and three noise canceling microphones. The iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S models have a more convenient top mounted headphone jack and a larger, but more finicky, 30-pin "Dock Connector" that provides much greater compatibility with iPhone-compatible devices made since its inception in 2007, as well as smaller built-in speakers and two noise canceling microphones.
All iPhone 5 models, even the "CDMA" models (which support an assortment of GSM connectivity, too), have an access panel on the right side of the metal band for the enclosed tiny Nano SIM card (or UIM for the China-only model), whereas the the iPhone 4S models and the iPhone 4 (GSM) likewise have an access panel in roughly the same place, but they use the now older Micro SIM standard. The iPhone 4 (CDMA) does not have an access panel or a SIM card.
For those really interested in details, the iPhone 4 (GSM) has three antenna "breaks" in the metal band (one on the top and one on each side toward the bottom) whereas the iPhone 4 (CDMA), iPhone 4S, and iPhone 5 have four (two on both sides toward the top and bottom).
The iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, and iPhone 5 all have dual cameras, but there are important quality differences between them.
The iPhone 5 and iPhone 4S both have a rear 8 megapixel camera, which includes support for 1080p 30 FPS video recording and Panorama mode. However, the iPhone 5 rear camera has better video stabilization, the ability to take still photos while also recording video, and face detection. It is worth noting, however, that the rear camera on the iPhone 5 is only modestly better than the rear camera in the iPhone 4S in many real-world tests.
The iPhone 5 additionally has a front 1.2 megapixel, 720p "FaceTime HD" camera whereas the iPhone 4S only has a VGA quality front-facing camera, both intended primarily for use with FaceTime video conferencing.
By contrast, the rear camera on the iPhone 4 only is capable of shooting 5 megapixel still photos and 720p 30 FPS video and it has the same VGA quality front-facing camera as the iPhone 4S.
Although the aluminum back on the iPhone 5 makes it easy to spot at the moment, future iPhone models very well may use the same housing. Consequently, one simple way to identify the iPhone 5, iPhone 4S, and iPhone 4 models from one another, as well as differentiate them from all other iPhone models, is by referencing the model number printed in small type on the back of the phone.
The iPhone 5 (GSM/North America) and iPhone 5 (GSM AWS/North America) share model number A1428, the iPhone 5 (CDMA) and iPhone 5 (GSM/International) share model number A1429, and the iPhone 5 (CDMA China/UIM/WAPI) is model number A1442.
Given the above, it clearly is not possible to differentiate between the iPhone 5 devices by model number alone, but for the purpose of this Q&A, it is sufficient to note that A1428, A1429, and A1442 refer to the iPhone 5 rather than another iPhone model. EveryiPhone.com also provides an in-depth evaluation of the differences between the iPhone 5 configurations that may be of interest.
The iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S models are easier to differentiate by model number alone. Specifically, the GSM iPhone 4 is A1332, the CDMA-equipped iPhone 4 is A1349, the global iPhone 4S is A1387, and the China-only iPhone 4S is A1431.
EveryiPhone.com's Ultimate iLookup feature -- as well as the EveryMac app for the iPhone -- also can precisely identify these iPhone models by order number (referred to as "Model" within the iOS "Settings" app under General > About), and the last four characters of their serial numbers as well.
Battery Life Differences
Apple reports that all of these devices provide an estimated maximum of 40 hours of audio playback and 10 hours of video playback, but provides different numbers for voice, mobile Internet, and Wi-Fi use.
Specifically, Apple estimates that the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S models both provide 6 hours of Internet use on 3G, whereas the iPhone 5 provides 8 hours. For the iPhone 4 and 5, Apple estimates 10 hours of Wi-Fi (and only 9 hours for the iPhone 4S). For talk time, Apple estimates 7 hours on the iPhone 4, but 8 hours of talk time on 3G for both the iPhone 4S and iPhone 5.
Finally, only the iPhone 5 provides 4G/LTE support, and Apple estimates that the battery will last for 8 hours using LTE.
Wireless Connectivity & Data Differences
Wireless connectivity is quite different amongst the iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, and iPhone 5.
iPhone 5 models are the only ones to mostly support 4G/LTE, although the bands supported by different configurations vary. Specifically, the A1428 iPhone 5 (GSM/North America) and (GSM AWS/North America) support LTE bands 4 and 17 (and the AWS model adds AWS support on carriers that support the standard), the CDMA A1429 iPhone 5, supports LTE bands 1, 3, 5, 13, and 25, the "International" GSM A1429 iPhone 5, supports LTE bands 1, 3, and 5. The A1442 iPhone 5 (CDMA China/UIM/WAPI) does not support LTE.
All iPhone 5 models support UMTS/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz), and GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz), but only the A1429 CDMA version supports CDMA EV-DO Rev. A and Rev. B (800, 1900, 2100 MHz). The A1442 China only model does not support 2100 MHz CDMA EV-DO.
The iPhone 4S models support both GSM and CDMA networks -- UMTS/HSDPA/HSUPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz), GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz), and CDMA EV-DO Rev. A (800, 1900 MHz). HSDPA is up to a theoretical maximum of 14.4 Mbps.
The earlier iPhone 4 models, support either GSM or CDMA networks, but not both, and each device only supports a maximum theoretical HSDPA download speed of 7.2 Mbps.
All three models support 802.11n Wi-Fi, although the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S only support it on the 2.4 GHz frequency and the iPhone 5 supports both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequency. The iPhone 5 and iPhone 4S support Bluetooth 4.0 and GLONASS in addition to GPS, whereas the older iPhone 4 only supports Bluetooth 2.1+EDR and GPS, without its former Soviet counterpart. The China-only iPhone 5 and iPhone 4S models add "WAPI" support as required by the Chinese government, as well.
Unfortunately, it also is worth noting that Apple has disabled the CDMA capability on unlocked iPhone 4S models purchased in the United States. As first discovered by iDownloadBlog, the Verizon iPhone 5 model is sold unlocked, albeit with a two year contract, but this still made it the top choice for Americans interested in traveling outside of the US. More recently, though, the iPhone 5 (GSM/LTE/AWS/North America) is offered on T-Mobile unlocked but bound by a contract, as well.
The iPhone 5 packs a "twice" as fast dual core 1.3 GHz Apple A6 processor as well as 1 GB of RAM, compared to the iPhone 4S -- which has a 1 GHz dual core Apple A5 processor and 512 MB of RAM -- and the iPhone 4, which has a single core 1 GHz Apple A4 processor and 512 MB of RAM.
Although capacities have shifted over the years, as of the date published (see top), the iPhone 4 is available with 8 GB of storage (it originally was offered with 16 GB and 32 GB options), the iPhone 4S is available with 16 GB of storage (it originally was available with 32 GB and 64 GB configurations, too), and the iPhone 5 is available with 16 GB, 32 GB, or 64 GB of storage.
The iPhone 5, iPhone 4S, and iPhone 4 models all are capable of running iOS 6, but only the iPhone 5 and iPhone 4S are capable officially of running "Siri," Apple's hit-or-miss "intelligent assistant" software program that makes an effort to answer questions, find nearby businesses -- it seems to be particularly adept at locating burritos -- and perform basic tasks like setting an alarm or entering a calendar appointment.
These differences -- display, materials, connectivity, cameras, identifiers, battery life, processor, and storage -- along with pricing information are summarized below for your convenience:
|Processor:||Apple A4||Apple A5||Apple A6|
|Cores:||Single Core||Dual Cores||Dual Cores|
|Original Storage:||16, 32 GB||16, 32, 64 GB||16, 32, 64 GB|
|Current Storage:||8 GB||16 GB||16, 32, 64 GB|
|RAM:||512 MB||512 MB||1 GB|
|HSDPA:||Yes (7.2 Mbps)/No||Yes (14.4 Mbps)||Yes (DC-HSPDA)|
|4G/LTE:||No||No||Yes/No (China Only)|
|802.11n:||2.4 GHz||2.4 GHz||2.4 GHz/5 GHz|
|Talk Time (3G):||7 Hours||8 Hours||8 Hours|
|Talk Time (2G):||14 Hours/No||14 Hours||N/A|
|Battery (Web - 3G):||6 Hours||6 Hours||8 Hours|
|Battery (Wi-Fi):||10 Hours||9 Hours||10 Hours|
|Battery (Music):||40 Hours||40 Hours||40 Hours|
|Battery (Video):||10 Hours||10 Hours||10 Hours|
|Standby Time:||300 Hours||200 Hours||225 Hours|
|Connector:||Dock (30-Pin)||Dock (30-Pin)||Lightning|
|Headphone Jack:||Top-Mounted||Top-Mounted||Bottom Mounted|
|Original OS:||iOS 4.0/4.3||iOS 5||iOS 6|
|Maximum OS:||iOS 6+||iOS 6+||iOS 6+|
|Still Camera:||5 Megapixels||8 Megapixels||8 Megapixels|
|Dimensions:||4.5 x 2.31 x 0.37*||4.5 x 2.31 x 0.37*||4.87 x 2.31 x 0.30*|
|Weight:||4.8 oz. (137 g)||4.9 oz. (140 g)||3.95 oz. (112 g)|
|Price (Intro):||US$199, $299||US$199, $299||US$199, $299, $399|
|Price (Current):||US$0†||US$99†||US$199, $299, $399†|
* In inches, height x width x depth.
† These prices are for the iPhone models on AT&T with a two-year contract in the US. Pricing on other carriers, such as T-Mobile, is different. Unlocked and contract free iPhone models are available at a premium.
So, which iPhone model is best for my needs?
If you've decided that you want an iPhone, rather than a rival smartphone, and that the often expensive monthly plan is within your budget, the iPhone 5 is the best choice of the three devices for most. For those not buying an unlocked and contract-free model, most of the cost is tied to the monthly plan, rather than the upfront price. Those who cannot afford an extra US$100 or US$200 upfront probably should not be spending so much money on the monthly plan, either.
The iPhone 5 has a modestly larger screen, but because the housing is thinner and lighter than the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S it doesn't really "feel" bigger overall. The aluminum iPhone 5 housing also generally is more durable than the glass iPhone 4/4S housing, although it is more subject to nicks and scratches, so much so that some have been scratched before even leaving the factory. Most notably, the iPhone 5 also is significantly faster than then iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S, has faster 4G/LTE networking support (with the exception of the China only model), and has better cameras, too.
However, those who travel frequently to countries other than their home country are likely to find the slightly older Micro SIM card standard easier to find than the newer Nano SIM that the iPhone 5 uses. Additionally, those with significant investments in accessories may also prefer an iPhone 4 or an iPhone 4S for the older "Dock Connector" port rather than using the iPhone 5 "Lightning" port with expensive adapters or having to also buy new accessories at the same time.
Also see: What are all the differences between the iPhone 5 models?