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Apple iPhone: Which iPhone should I buy?

So, Apple’s iPhone 4S has descended the mountain and come down amongst the people, and while it’s not the iPhone 5 many (OK, us too) were hoping for, it still looks to be another cracking handset from Apple bound for somewhere at least near the top of the smartphone pile.

But our question to you is this: is it worth an upgrade? Is it even worth plumping for over an iPhone 4 or, at a push, an iPhone 3GS? As with every iPhone release, the previous models are taking gracious tumbles down the Apple price ladder. So if you’re still on the fence over Apple’s iPhone 4S, but Google and its Android cohorts leave you cold, maybe it’s time to consider snapping up a bargain iPhone from yesteryear. Intrigued? Have a browse below for our breakdown of which of the iPhone family is best for you.

iPhone 4S – from £499

The iPhone 4S is only £70 extra on top of the iPhone 4 – not to be sniffed at, but if you’re spending £400+ on a smartphone anyway, you’d at least consider stretching to the £500 that the new iPhone will set you back.

In terms of new features, the iPhone 4S didn’t wow us like last year’s iPhone 4 – but that’s not to say there’s nothing to be excited about. Siri, Apple’s new “humble” voice-activated assistant, could go either way for us. Barking instructions at your phone in public (Book me a hotel! Find me a restaurant! WHAT IS THE WEATHER LIKE?!) will make you sound like a mental employer bullying his temps, but if it works while just sitting on our desk or coffee table while we’re watching TV, then Siri could turn out to be very Star Trek indeed.

While the apps in the App Store at present are all designed to work with the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 3GS, new apps taking advantage of the new, faster A5 chip (the same chip that powers Apple’s iPad 2) will start appearing in short order. For a look at what kind of thing you can look forward to, take a look at the video demo of Infinity Blade 2 that Apple showed off during the iPhone 4S keynote. Hardcore gamers will still always plump for the console or the PC, but as we noted in our recent gaming apps feature, the handheld video game market is coming on in leaps and bounds.

There’s also a proper camera in the iPhone 4S (8MP, 1080p video recording). In all its past iReleases, the camera has always been slightly behind the curve, with Android smartphones and Nokia really driving the technology forwards. The iPhone 4S camera may not have all the 3D bells and whistles of the HTC Evo 3D, or the raw pixel count of the Nokia N8, but 8MP and that new sensor puts it comfortably in the same bracket as the current top-end Android handsets, the Samsung Galaxy S2 and the HTC Sensation XE.

Of course, there’s the appeal with the iPhone 4S of having the handset that’s most up to date. Most people won’t be buying the iPhone 4S SIM-free, but on a 24-month contract. It’s a sticky point with Apple that when a new iPhone comes out every year, picking one up on contract means that you know with certainty that you’ll be wandering around with yesterday’s girl for the last 12 months of your deal, so obviously if you plump for an iPhone 4 or 3GS, that problem is multiplied two or threefold.

 

iPhone 4 – from £429

The iPhone 4 is still a corking phone in its own right, packing as it does Apple’s Retina Display, which is still the sharpest display (most pixels per square inch of screen) on any smartphone out there (also on the iPhone 4S). You’re also not missing out on anything in terms of form factor, as the iPhone 4S and its predecessor are, on the outside at least, identical twins.

Specs-wise, the iPhone 4 is starting to fall a little behind the smartphone curve, with just 256MB RAM and Apple’s now-second best A4 processor. The thing is, though, that all the app content you’ll be running on whichever iPhone you buy comes through the Apple App Store, so for the moment, all the content is designed to run on, at most, the iPhone 4, not the 4S. So while you could pay an extra £70 for the latest iPhone 4S, for the next few months all that extra processing power that it draws from the A5 chip will be kicking its heels with nothing much to do.

The camera on the iPhone 4 sits, as you might expect, at a midpoint between the 3GS and the 4S. 5MP is low compared to the current smartphone standard of 8MP (as found on the iPhone 4S), but while we’re all for advancement in tech across the board, you should ask yourself what you’re really likely to use your smartphone’s camera to photograph. Do you need the highest resolution, low-light sensor, flash and all that bumf? Or will you just be snapping photos on nights out for Facebook? If it’s the latter, then perhaps saving money on an under-spec’d but still good camera, is worth considering.

Next week, iPhone 4 users will get the new iOS 5 update bringing iCloud and of course enhanced camera features.

Like we said above, it’s all about the apps when it comes to the iPhone 4S. If you can live without Siri,, a better camera or smartphone gaming, and don’t mind the stigma of not having the latest it-phone, you’ll have to try hard to find a substantive reason to pick the 4S over the iPhone 4.

 

iPhone 3GS – from £319

Apple’s iPhone 3GS is starting to feel a little dated now. The body is all-plastic – a serious fashion faux pas in the days of aluminium HTC unibodies and glass-backed iPhone 4s – and as is always the way with technology, it now looks decidedly chunkier than we remember when we first snapped ours up back in July 2009.

It’s still by no means a poor phone; the screen may have been an upgraded to Apple’s Retina Display on the iPhone 4, but the screen size remained unchanged from the 3GS at 3.5-inches. It’s a little small by today’s smartphone standards, but if you don’t mind the slightly less crisp displays of the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S, then the 3GS will see you right for web browsing or watching movies downloaded from iTunes and of course downloading apps.

An all-plastic casing comes with a couple of silver linings, however. For one thing, you won’t experience the signal drop issues caused by the iPhone 4’s exposed antenna band – there’s no worry of “holding it wrong”. For another, dropping the iPhone 3GS will earn your phone a minor blemish, a mobile battle scar, whereas dropping your iPhone 4 will cause that glass back to shatter spectacularly. If you’re at all butter-fingered with your gadgets, the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S are just expensive accidents waiting to happen.

Also, let’s consider the price for a moment. £319 is just what you’d be paying SIM-free; with a new up-front asking price this low, you’ll be able to snap it up on contract for a steal. If you’ve been put off getting an iPhone by the £35+ per month contract prices and aren’t bothered about getting the latest smartphone, now might be the time to invest in a 3GS on contract.

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