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What are the main differences between all iPhone models? How can each be identified quickly?
When the original iPhone was introduced, EveryiPhone.com provided an in-depth evaluation of the device and likewise compared the subsequently introduced iPhone 3G to the original, the iPhone 3G to the iPhone 3GS, the iPhone 3GS to the iPhone 4, the iPhone 4 to the iPhone 4S, the iPhone 4 to the iPhone 4S and iPhone 5, and finally the iPhone 5 to the iPhone 5c and iPhone 5s. For those interested in complete details comparing each iPhone to its immediate predecessor, these Q&As remain the the best option.
However, for those interested only in the main differences of each iPhone and how to quickly differentiate them from one another, this Q&A can help. Each iPhone is differentiated primarily by design, features, performance, and operating system support and are externally identified -- at least collectively -- most easily by model number.
Design & Model Number Differences
Visual differentiation works well for the original iPhone (sometimes called the "1G" in reference to its generation or "2G" in reference to its networking capabilities), as it has a rounded silver-colored metal back with a plastic portion at the bottom.
However, other iPhone models, like the iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS -- which share plastic black or white cases with a rounded and tapered design -- or the iPhone 4 (GSM), iPhone 4 (CDMA), iPhone 4S, or iPhone 4S (GSM China) -- which share a similar flat glass back and a metal band that wraps around the sides of the phone -- are difficult, if not impossible, to differentiate visually if they are not next to one another. It can be a challenge to collectively differentiate iPhone 5, iPhone 5c, or iPhone 5s models, as well (and it is not possible to visually differentiate models within each series).
* These devices share Model Numbers. Each can be uniquely identified with other details.
To find this information, click the "Settings" icon on the homescreen and select General > About and then scroll until "Model" (or Serial Number) is visible. If the iPhone you need to identify does not have a unique Model Number, you will have to refer to the Serial Number listed within the SIM carrier.
Other than the external housing, the first noticeable difference between all iPhone models is the display -- the original iPhone, iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS models all have a 3.5" display with 320x480 resolution at 163 ppi and the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S models have a 3.5" display with 960x640 resolution at 326 ppi, IPS technology for improved viewable angle, and LED-backlighting.
Finally, the iPhone 5, iPhone 5c, and iPhone 5s models have a taller, but not wider, 4" display with 1136x640 resolution at 326 ppi, along with IPS and LED-backlighting.
Apple refers to the display in the iPhone 4 and subsequent models as a "Retina Display."
Cellular Connectivity Differences
The original iPhone supports the EDGE "2G" mobile wireless standard and the iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 (GSM) -- support EDGE and faster 3G networking (with the iPhone 3GS adding faster 7.2 Mbps HSDPA support and the GSM-equipped iPhone 4 also supporting HSUPA networks for compatibility with more cellular carriers worldwide). The iPhone 4 (CDMA) model, on the other hand, instead supports CDMA (EV-DO, Rev. A, 800 MHz, 1900 MHz).
The iPhone 4S is a dual-antenna equipped "world phone" that supports 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) -- and the "antenna automatically switches between send and receive." HSDPA is faster than the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 up to a theoretical maximum of 14.4 Mbps.
The iPhone 5 models were the first to collectively support 4G/LTE, although the bands supported by different configurations vary. Finally, the majority of the iPhone 5c and iPhone 5s models support significantly more 4G/LTE bands, but the different iPhone 5c and iPhone 5s models support different bands.
All iPhone models have at least one camera and all recent models have two cameras. The capabilities of each vary significantly, though.
The original iPhone and iPhone 3G have a 2.0 megapixel still camera whereas the iPhone 3GS has a 3.0 megapixel video camera with VGA video recording at 30 FPS.
The iPhone 4 and all later models have dual cameras. The iPhone 4 has a 5 megapixel HD video/still camera (720p at 30 FPS) and a VGA quality video/still camera. The iPhone 4S has a rear camera capable of shooting 8 megapixel stills and 1080p 30 FPS video and the same VGA quality video/still camera as the iPhone 4 on the front.
The iPhone 5, iPhone 5c, and iPhone 5s additionally have a better front 1.2 megapixel, 720p camera. The iPhone 5 and iPhone 5c have a rear 8 megapixel camera like the iPhone 4S. However, the iPhone 5 and 5c rear camera have better video stabilization, the ability to take still photos while also recording video, and face detection.
Finally, the iPhone 5s rear camera also has an 8 megapixel sensor, but the pixels are smaller (1.5 micropixels), it has an f/2.2 aperture (for more light) and a dual LED flash that Apple refers to as "True Tone."
Minor Feature Differences
The iPhone 3G and later models all have GPS support with the iPhone 4S and later models adding support for GLONASS, it's former Soviet counterpart, too. The original iPhone does not support GPS at all.
The iPhone 3GS and later models have a digital compass whereas earlier models do not. The iPhone 4 and later models have a three-axis gyroscope for more 3D gaming options, and earlier models do not. Finally, the iPhone 5s adds an "M7 motion coprocessor" that "continuously measures motion data."
The iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 both have VoiceOver for accessibility, voice control functionality as well as integrated Nike + iPod support, and earlier models do not. The iPhone 4S and later models add support for "Siri," Apple's "intelligent assistant" software program.
The performance difference between iPhone models is notable as well. Although no official processor and memory information is available, the original iPhone and iPhone 3G both are believed to be powered by a 412 MHz Samsung ARM 11 processor and have 128 MB of RAM. As a result, these models provide similar performance.
The iPhone 3GS, on the other hand, has a significantly faster processor (600 MHz up from 412 MHz, with a dramatically improved graphics processor as well) and twice the RAM (256 MB up from 128 MB). The iPhone 4 has an "Apple A4" processor with a maximum clockspeed of 1 GHz that is believed to commonly run around 800 MHz. The iPhone 4 models both have 512 MB of RAM as well. As a result, the iPhone 3GS is faster than previous models and the iPhone 4 is faster still.
The iPhone 4S is even faster than the iPhone 4 models, with a dual core 1 GHz "Apple A5" processor and much faster graphics although it still has the same 512 MB of RAM.
The iPhone 5 and iPhone 5c are faster still, with a a dual core "Apple A6" processor and a three core graphics processor, most likely a 266 MHz PowerVR SGX 543MP3. It has a variable speed processor that commonly runs around 1 GHz with a top speed of 1.3 GHz. It has 1 GB of RAM, too.
Finally, the iPhone 5s is the fastest of all, which has a dual core, 64-bit "Apple A7" processor that runs at 1.3 GHz. It has 1 GB of RAM like the iPhone 5 and iPhone 5c models.
iOS Support Differences
The original iPhone does not support versions of the iOS (then called the iPhone OS), beyond 3.1.3. The iPhone 3G officially is able to run versions of iOS 4 up to 4.2, but not all features are supported (perhaps most notably, multitasking is not supported), and numerous users complained about performance going as far as suing Apple over the issue.
The iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S models all fully support iOS 5, but the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 only partially support iOS 6. In turn, the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S models only partially support iOS 7. The iPhone 5, fully supports iOS 6 and iOS 7 alike, whereas the iPhone 5c and iPhone 5s only support iOS 7.
The differences enumerated above, as well as other more minor differences, are summarized in the below charts:
|Speed:||412 MHz||412 MHz||600 MHz||1 GHz|
|Processor:||ARM 11||ARM 11||ARM A8||Apple A4|
|RAM:||128 MB||128 MB||256 MB||512 MB|
|Storage:||4, 8, 16 GB||8, 16 GB||8, 16, 32 GB||8, 16, 32 GB|
|PPI:||163 ppi||163 ppi||163 ppi||326 ppi|
|Front Color:||Black||Black or White||Black or White||Black or White|
|Back Color:||Silver||Black or White||Black or White||Black or White|
|Camera:||2.0 MP||2.0 MP||3.0 MP||5.0 MP|
|3G Talk:||None||5 Hours||5 Hours||7 Hours|
|2G Talk:||8 Hours||10 Hours||12 Hours||14 Hours|
|3G Web:||None||5 Hours||5 Hours||6 Hours|
|Wi-Fi Web:||6 Hours||6 Hours||9 Hours||10 Hours|
|Music:||24 Hours||24 Hours||30 Hours||40 Hours|
|Video:||7 Hours||7 Hours||10 Hours||10 Hours|
|Standby:||250 Hours||300 Hours||300 Hours||300 Hours|
|Max iOS:||3.1.3||4 (Partial)||6 (Partial)||7 (Partial)|
|Speed:||1 GHz||1.3 GHz||1.3 GHz||1.3 GHz|
|Processor:||Apple A5||Apple A6||Apple A6||Apple A7|
|RAM:||512 MB||1 GB||1 GB||1 GB|
|Storage:||16, 32, 64 GB||16, 32, 64 GB||8, 16, 32 GB||16, 32, 64 GB|
|PPI:||326 ppi||326 ppi||326 ppi||326 ppi|
|Front Color:||Black or White||Black or White||Black||Black or White|
|Back Color:||Black or White||Slate or Silver||Colors||Metallic|
|Camera:||8.0 MP||8.0 MP||8.0 MP||8.0 MP|
|Wi-Fi:||802.11b/g/n||Dual Stream||Dual Stream||Dual Stream|
|3G Talk:||8 Hours||8 Hours||10 Hours||10 Hours|
|2G Talk:||14 Hours||14 Hours||N/A||N/A|
|3G Web:||6 Hours||8 Hours||10 Hours||10 Hours|
|Wi-Fi Web:||9 Hours||10 Hours||10 Hours||10 Hours|
|Music:||40 Hours||40 Hours||40 Hours||40 Hours|
|Video:||10 Hours||10 Hours||10 Hours||10 Hours|
|Standby:||200 Hours||225 Hours||250 Hours||250 Hours|
|Max iOS:||7 (Partial)||7 (Full)||7 (Full)||7 (Full)|
It is hoped that this basic overview of the differences between all iPhone models is helpful for you decide which is best for your needs whether you are buying a new one, buying a used one, or trying to decide whether or not to upgrade from your existing iPhone to a new or newer model.
iPhone Purchase & Repair Options
There are any number of places to purchase a new or used iPhone as well as services. However, purchasing from a quality company with extensive iPhone knowledge -- and after sales support -- will provide the best experience and save you money and time, too.
Site sponsor Mission Repair offers free diagnosis and 24-hour repair for cracked displays, dead batteries, broken buttons, and more for all iPhone models in the US and ships parts worldwide for self-replacement.
Please also see EveryiPhone.com's Ultimate iComparison feature to dynamically compare any iPhone model to any other iPod, iPhone, or iPad.