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

The iPhone waiting game has begun. In this edition of Ask Maggie, I offer advice to a desperate iPhone 3GS devotee on whether he should hold out for the iPhone 5.

It's that time of year again, when anxious smartphone shoppers flood my inbox with questions about whether they should buy the current iPhone now or wait for the new version.

And with good reason. No one wants to be the dupe who buys the older version of a product a week before the latest model is introduced. In this edition of Ask Maggie, I advise a reader who recently lost his iPhone 3GS to the smartphone gods about whether he should buy an iPhone 4S now or wait another three to six months for the new iPhone to be introduced.

I also explain why I think buying screen savers and cases for new smartphones is a waste of money.

The iPhone waiting game

Dear Maggie,
My iPhone 3GS recently bit the dust. I'm an AT&T customer so I was able to slot my SIM card into my wife's old Google Android device. But I really miss my iPhone. I know that Apple is probably going to announce a new iPhone this summer. Or they may release it in the fall like they did with the iPhone 4S. Anyway, I don't know what I should do. Do you think I should wait for the new iPhone 5 or just go ahead and get the iPhone 4S?

Thanks,
Steve

Dear Steve,
This is a tough question to answer because we really don't know when Apple will announce a new iPhone, nor do we know exactly what the new features will be on this new device once it's announced.

As you pointed out in your question, Apple has historically released a new iPhone in the summer. But last year it switched things up and released the iPhone 4S in October. This means that at the earliest, Apple will probably release the new iPhone in three months. But it could be another six or seven months until the new one is released.

And that's a long time to be using a temporary device that you aren't completely happy to be using. If you can live with a loaner for a few months, then go ahead and wait. But honestly, I think you won't have any major regrets if buy the iPhone 4S now. And here's why.

Even though we don't know exactly which new features will be on the new iPhone, we might have some hints of what's coming. Last week, Apple introduced its third-generation iPad, which may have given us a preview of features to be expected for the iPhone 5 or whatever Apple chooses to call the next generation iPhone.

My CNET Reviews colleague Kent German already wrote a post about what we me learn about the upcoming iPhone from the most recent iPad .

Based on what I've seen from the new iPad, I don't expect the iPhone 5 to be a revolutionary product. Once again, I expect Apple to make some nice enhancements to the product, as it did with the iPhone 4. But I don't think the changes will be so drastic that people who buy an iPhone 4S now because they need a new phone will be kicking themselves over their purchase.

The most substantial change that Apple might make to the new iPhone from a design perspective is the screen size. Since it was introduced, Apple has maintained the 3.5-inch screen size on the iPhone. Many people say they like this screen size since it easily fits in their hands and pockets.

Meanwhile, every other top-of-the-line smartphone on the market has grown to 4.3 inches and larger. Of course, I don't expect Apple to change the size of the screen just to follow the competition. But as more people use their mobile devices for watching video, playing games, and viewing other content on their devices, there seems to be a market for bigger screens. And it would make sense for Apple to increase the size of iPhone screen.

If it does this, I'd expect Apple to also increase the resolution of the screen. The Retina Display on the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S is already terrific, sporting 960x640 pixels. But Apple has proven with the latest iPad, that it can push the limits on screen resolution.

The new iPad will have a true high-definition screen with 2,048x1,536 pixels. German said he doesn't expect Apple to go that far with the iPhone. After all the iPad is a much bigger device with a 9.7-inch screen. But if Apple increases the iPhone's screen size it will also likely boost the resolution a bit.

The other major improvement to the iPhone 5 will likely be the addition of 4G LTE network connectivity. This will allow the new iPhone to operate on a faster network with download speeds averaging about 12 Mbps. And unlike other LTE devices on the market, Apple is promising that the battery life of the iPad will stay the same, around 9 hours. This is good news for potential iPhone 5 with LTE. Hopefully, Apple will make sure it's battery life isn't affected by the 4G LTE technology.

Other than that, I don't expect to see Apple make any other major improvements. German noted in his story last week that the iPhone 4S already has a dual-core processor. And the new A5X chip found in the iPad is also a dual-processor chip with better graphics processing, something that is an important improvement for a device with a larger screen. The overall design of the iPhone 5 may change slightly, but I don't expect it to be drastically different.

As far as features that can be added via software, it also seems to me that Apple is committed to keeping the iPhone 4S around for a while. The phone was eligible for the latest iOS 5.1 update released last week, which says to me that Apple wants to keep the device up to date. My guess is that when the new iPhone is released, Apple will still make many, if not all the new software features, compatible with the older iPhone 4S.

So the bottom line is that unless you really want an iPhone with a larger screen, or you must have an LTE phone, you will probably be very happy with your iPhone 4S, even after Apple introduces the iPhone 5.

Believe me when I tell you that I understand your angst. I typically experience buyer's remorse for almost any big purchase I make. But the iPhone 4S is such a solid device and such an improvement over your iPhone 3GS that recently died, that I think you will be happy with your purchase no matter what Apple announces in June or September.

I hope this advice was helpful. Good luck making your decision!

The case for not buying a smartphone case

Dear Maggie,
I just bought the Razr Maxx that features a Gorilla Glass display. Do you think I may still benefit from a screen protector? I got one with glare reduction, but I believe it takes a lot of the glory of the fantastic screen in the phone. On the other hand, my HTC Incredible did not have one and it fared pretty well (for scratches) until it fell on its face and the glass broke to pieces. Somehow I think that if the Incredible would've had a screen protector, it may have fared the fall better.

On the other hand, if I may say, the phone is so large and somehow slippery that I think I also might need a skin or case. What do you think? Do you have an opinion on screen protectors or cases?

Thanks for your input,
Jorge

Dear Jorge,
I'm going to be honest with you. I am not a fan of cases or screen protectors as a general rule of thumb. I think they're just a ploy to get consumers to spend more money. Sure it may protect your device. But what are you really protecting it from?

Gorilla GLass 2
Corning

It's like those old ladies who wrap their sofas in plastic. What's the point? The sofa is meant for sitting, so sit. And a smartphone is meant for touching, so touch it. And by the way, the device already comes in a case, which I believe should be durable enough to handle most wear and tear.

I've owned several smartphones over the years and have tested even more, and I've found that most displays hold up pretty well without any additional protection. The only device that I had significant screen scratching problems with from being carried around in my purse or backpack was the original BlackBerry Storm.

Gorilla Glass is supposed to be more scratch resistant and durable than other displays. And for the most part, I've heard good things about it. But there have been some complaints here and there regarding minor scratches.

Trying to break Gorilla Glass at Corning's CA facilitiy
Corning's Gorilla Glass is certainly stronger than the typical stuff. Lynn La/CNET

If this is something you can live with, then I'd forget the screen protectors and cases and save your money for something really useful.

The only reason I might consider a screen saver or case is if I plan on selling my iPhone in the future. In that instance, you could probably get a better price for your device if it's in pristine condition. In that case, it makes more sense to protect it from the minor scratches that come along with actually using a device.

I'm sure there are plenty of people who would disagree with me on this point. But since you asked for my opinion, I thought I'd share it.

I hope this advice was helpful. And good luck!

Ask Maggie is an advice column that answers readers' wireless and broadband questions. The column now appears twice a week on CNET offering readers a double dosage of Ask Maggie's advice. If you have a question, I'd love to hear from you. Please send me an e-mail at maggie dot reardon at cbs dot com. And please put "Ask Maggie" in the subject header. You can also follow me on Facebook on my Ask Maggie page.

 

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