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Apple's iPhone 5: Everything you need to know (FAQ)

All the details about Apple's latest iPhone are out of the bag, but there are still plenty of questions readers have been asking. CNET has the answers.

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Kent German Former senior managing editor / features
Kent was a senior managing editor at CNET News. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he reviewed the first iPhone and worked in both the London and San Francisco offices. When not working, he's planning his next vacation, walking his dog or watching planes land at the airport (yes, really).
Josh Lowensohn
Kent German
12 min read
Apple's iPhone 4S (left) next to the new iPhone 5 (right). CNET

Apple's new iPhone is here, and even with a nearly two-hour keynote, a Web site full of specifications, and CNET's must-read review there are plenty of questions that need answering.

CNET has put together this FAQ to help get to the bottom of some of them. These range from what's new to where you can get the phone to the differences between what you get with each carrier.

This is a living document and is likely to be updated this week and beyond. If we missed any big questions, please drop them in the comments and we'll do our best to get them answered.

What's different about the iPhone 5?
On the outside, the iPhone 5's main difference is its taller, thinner design. The display now measures 4 inches diagonally (up from 3.5 inches), which gives you an extra row of icons and more space for browsing, apps, and movies. Inside there's LTE support, a faster A6 chip, camera improvements, and an extra microphone. You can read all about it in our iPhone 5 review.

The new Lightning connector and cable mean that you'll need an adapter for existing accessories. CNET

What about that new dock connector?
What Apple calls Lightning is a new proprietary connector that's 80 percent smaller than the old 30-pin connectors. Its main feature: there's no top or bottom, so you can plug it in either way. The older plugs needed to be oriented correctly.

Of course, this change means your old cables and things like docks and third-party audio systems won't work with your new phone (yeah, that's annoying). To get around that, Apple's got an adapter that you'll have to buy (naturally), and it ain't cheap. It's $29 per adapter. Alternatively, Apple will sell a Lightning-to-USB cable for $19 and a Lightning-to-30-pin cable for $39. Expect cheaper third-party adapters to surface in the future, but for now your options are very limited.

The glass on the back is gone?
Yes and no. The back of the new device is mainly metal, though there are glass windows on the top and bottom of the phone to let the various antennas communicate. Apple's done something similar on past versions of the iPod Touch, and even the iPad with 3G.

Does this mean it will be more durable, or less prone to breaking when dropped?
That remains to be seen.

And the SIM is even smaller?
Indeed. The iPhone 4 brought us the smaller micro SIM card (first seen in the original iPad), and now we're getting an even smaller nano SIM. Unfortunately, larger SIMs won't work in the iPhone 5 even if you try to shave them down. The newer spec isn't just smaller in shape, it's thinner too.

Will the battery life change?
There's no change in battery life between last year's model and this year's mode when it comes to talk time. Like the iPhone 4S, the iPhone 5 is rated for 8 hours of talking over 3G.

The iPhone 5 has an edge on battery life when it comes to other features though. The iPhone 5 gets 8 hours of Web browsing over LTE, up from the 6 hours the 4S gets over 3G. When on Wi-Fi, the iPhone 5 also gets 10 hours of browsing on Wi-Fi, up an hour from the iPhone 4S' 9 hours.

Standby time has improved to 225 hours, according to Apple, up from the iPhone 4S' 200 hours. Both are significantly shorter than the 300 hours the iPhone 4 is rated for under Apple's testing standards.

CNET, of course, will conduct our own battery tests.

iPhone 5
The new metal back on the iPhone 5. CNET

When will it be available and which carriers will get it first?
The iPhone 5 goes on sale September 21 at 8 a.m. Pacific Time at Apple's retail stores. Major U.S. carriers like AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint are also selling the device in their retail stores on September 21. So T-Mobile is left out of the loop again.

Will smaller carriers like U.S. Cellular or MetroPCS get it?
U.S. Cellular and MetroPCS have not announced any plans to carry the device yet.

However C-Spire, GCI, Bluegrass Cellular, Appalachian Wireless, and Cricket will all get the device on September 28. Cricket notes that it will be available only in "select" markets.

How much will it cost and what sizes and colors will be available?
Just like the iPhone 4S, the iPhone starts at $199 for the 16GB model, then goes up to $299 for the 32GB model, and tops out at $399 for the 64GB flavor. All of those are with a two-year contract from the carrier.

Colorwise, there's still just black and white. Gone from the new model is a single-colored glass back. Instead, you get colored aluminum, which sits between two small panes of colored glass.

This comparison between the iPhone 5 (top) and the iPhone 4S shows the difference in screen size. CNET

Will carriers require a specific plan for the iPhone 5?
No. Like with any smartphone, though, you'll have to select both a voice and a data plan. Keep in mind that AT&T and Verizon both have tiered-data plans, so your usage will cap out at a certain point (the limits vary, but as a general rule the more data, the more expensive the plan). Sprint, however, is sticking to its unlimited plans for the iPhone 5. That makes it the only major carrier to have that option. Cricket is still finalizing its iPhone plans. We'll know more before the September 28 release.

If you're planning to use FaceTime over the cellular network (that's a feature even iPhone 4S users will get with iOS 6), your options will vary by carrier. AT&T customers will need Mobile Share plans to use the feature. Verizon and Sprint, on the other hand, will make no restrictions. A Sprint representative told CNET today that customers "will be allowed to use FaceTime with Sprint's current unlimited data offers while on the Sprint network."

I bought an iPhone 4S. Will I be able to upgrade at the subsidized price?
If you quite literally just bought an iPhone 4S, there are options that let you return the phone and pick up the newer model when it's out next week. In Apple's case, there's a 30-day return policy. However, you need to work out the contract part with your carrier, meaning that if you just signed up for a new two-year contract to get the phone, you'll need to call them up and try and broker an iPhone 5 purchase without losing your number if you've ported it from another carrier.

Each carrier has differing return policies. For AT&T, it's 30 days plus a $35 restocking fee. Sprint and Verizon both have 14-day return windows. Sprint will refund you your activation fee if you've purchased the phone within the last three days, otherwise you'll have to eat that cost. Verizon, meanwhile, charges a $35 restocking fee.

For non-Apple or noncarrier stores: Target has a 90-day return policy, Best Buy is 30 days, and RadioShack is 14 days.

If you bought an iPhone 4S when it came out last October (or any other handset in the last year), your upgrade options will depend on your account status. Carriers limit how many times per year you qualify for a subsidy, even if you agree to extend your contract. So it's best to check with your carrier individually. If you purchased an iPhone 4 when it came out in June, 2010, then you should be able to upgrade and get the subsidy without a problem. You can check your status with all three U.S. carriers who carry the iPhone by clicking here.

What do I need to know about LTE? How do I know if I get it in my area?
LTE is a 4G technology that carriers started pushing out in the United States over the last couple of years. As you might expect, it's faster than 3G, with exact speeds depending on your carrier. The result for you, though, will be faster downloads and uploads, faster streaming, and faster Web browsing.

HSPA+ on AT&T's 3G network. The iPhone 5 has 4G LTE.
HSPA+ on AT&T's 3G network. The iPhone 5 has 4G LTE. CNET/Josh Lowensohn

To confirm whether you have LTE in your area, you'll have to check with your carrier. The color-coded maps you find online or at the store are a start, but there's no substitute for real-world testing. If you know someone with an LTE phone (it can be any model), ask to borrow it and see how LTE reception is at home, at your workplace, and in between. If LTE is really important to you, you should absolutely test it before buying the iPhone 5. There's also an issue with LTE roaming overseas, but we'll get to that in a specific question below.

The AT&T and Verizon LTE networks are pretty widespread, with coverage touching the major urban and suburban areas. For the moment, though, Sprint is at a disadvantage since its LTE network covers only 19 cities. It's growing, but Sprint will play catch-up for a while.

It's also worth noting that up until now, Apple and the carriers have played fast and loose with the definition of 4G. If you remember, AT&T iPhone 4S owners suddenly saw a 4G icon on their phones when they upgraded to iOS 5.1. That was because AT&T was calling its HSPA+ network 4G even though there was disagreement about whether the technology really qualified.

I don't get LTE coverage where I live. Will the phone still work?
Yes, the phone defaults down to a 3G connection, just like it goes back down to EDGE when there's no 3G available.

I've heard 4G LTE can be a battery hog, can I turn it off when I'm not using it?
Yes, unlike the iOS 5.1 update earlier this year -- which took away 3G toggle (and never brought it back) -- you can manually switch down to the 3G network only.

Will I be able to transfer an iPhone 5 between different carrier networks in the United States, like T-Mobile?
With the exception of Verizon (see next question), any iPhone 5 you buy from a carrier will be locked to that specific network, which makes interoperability a no go. But even unlocked phones aren't always transferable between carriers. Though both the Verizon and Sprint iPhone 5 use the same CDMA bands, transferring a phone between them is a tedious process, if you can do it all. Not only do you have to unlock the phone (no easy feat), but the other carrier would have to agree to activate it on its network. That's a long shot.

If you were able to unlock an AT&T iPhone 5, you could use it on T-Mobile (provided, of course, that you had the appropriate SIM card), but you won't get any LTE coverage.

LTE interoperability is equally problematic because, as CNET's Maggie Reardon told us earlier this year, LTE roaming between multiple networks generally isn't possible.

Hands-on with the sharp, slim iPhone 5 (pictures)

See all photos

Will I be able to use the iPhone 5 overseas?
Yes, though there are a couple of caveats. With the iPhone 5, Apple is doing away with the dual-mode GSM/CDMA support that we saw in all versions of the iPhone 4S. Instead, it's selling three distinct iPhone 5 versions: one CDMA-based model and two GSM-based models with slightly different LTE bands. Having separate versions is another factor that makes carrier interoperability difficult. On the other hand, losing the CDMA support on AT&T phones is irrelevant since AT&T customers have no use for it anyway.

To globe-trotters, though, things don't really change. AT&T's GSM model will work abroad (GSM is the dominant cellular technology worldwide), but so will the Sprint and Verizon models. It's in the fine print on Apple's site, but the CDMA iPhone 5 will support quad-band GSM/EDGE (2G) and UMTS/HSPA (3G) networks. So, yes, the iPhone 5 will be a mostly global phone no matter which version you have.

Just note that most carrier versions of the iPhone 5 will come locked to specific overseas roaming partners. Sprint will unlock the global SIM if you've been a customer for 90 days and are in good financial standing (your bill is paid). We're still waiting on an answer from AT&T. Though Verizon originally said it would unlock global SIMs for customers who have been with the carrier for 60 days, Big Red now tells us that its iPhone 5 is unlocked. That means you could even use it on AT&T's 3G networks, but not on LTE (remember what we said above about LTE interoperability).

But what about global LTE roaming?
As of now, none of the carriers is offering LTE roaming outside the United States. And this is where it gets complicated. Though the CDMA iPhone supports five LTE bands, AT&T's iPhone 5 supports only two. We're not sure why. That won't make a difference when you're home, but that means the AT&T iPhone 5's global LTE coverage will be less extensive, if we ever get it.

I don't want to sign a carrier contract Will Apple sell unlocked iPhones?
Specifics were scant at first, but Apple updated its iPhone comparison tool with the following information shortly before preorders started:

For those who are not qualified customers, are not eligible for an early upgrade, are purchasing an unlocked iPhone (for supported GSM wireless service provider networks only), or wish to buy an iPhone as a gift, see your carrier, an Apple Retail Store Specialist, the Apple Online Store, or an Apple Authorized Reseller for pricing. In CA and RI, sales tax is collected on the unbundled price of iPhone.

The unsubsidized price starts at $649 for the 16GB model, $749 for the 32GB model, and $849 for the 64GB model. Yet, we expect that Apple won't offer the unlocked models right away. For instance, the unlocked iPhone 4S didn't go on sale last year until November 11 -- almost a full month after the carrier-subsidized versions.

The iPhone siblings side by side. CNET

Up until now, CDMA iPhones don't run simultaneous voice and data. Will that be the same with LTE?
Thanks for opening that can of worms. Current Android LTE phones on Sprint and Verizon offer simultaneous voice and data as long as you're connected to an LTE signal (the same is true on AT&T LTE phones). Sounds great, right? Well, not so fast.

In theory that capability should extend to an LTE iPhone 5, and AT&T will let you browse while calling as much as you like. Sprint, however, has confirmed to CNET that "simultaneous voice and data capability on LTE does not apply to the iPhone." Verizon's statement was different, but equally disappointing. "The iPhone 5 was designed to allow customers to place a voice call on the Verizon Wireless network, while simultaneously allowing customers access to the Internet over Wi-Fi," the company told us. When we inquired as to the reason for the restriction, a Verizon spokeswoman told us to contact Apple.

The New York Times, reported that Apple declined to add a third antenna to the CDMA iPhones that would have enabled the simultaneous voice and data transmission. CNET reached out to Apple, which offered this statement. "iPhone 5 supports simultaneous voice and data on GSM-based 3G and LTE networks. It is not yet possible to do simultaneous voice and data on networks that use CDMA for voice and LTE for data in a single radio design." Without getting too technical, that means it's a hardware limitation of the iPhone 5.

It's also worth noting that the iPhone 5 won't support Sprint's HD Voice at launch.

When can I order it?
Now. Preorders for the iPhone 5 began September 14 just after 12 a.m. Pacific or 3 a.m. Eastern on Apple's site. U.S. carriers like AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint are all putting the device on sale then too.

Release day supply on those preorders has already sold out though, at least from Apple and some of the main carriers. Apple was the first to push back new orders by two weeks. AT&T and Verizon followed suit. The wait has currently stretched to three to four weeks.

Anything we missed? Please let us know in the comments.

Updated at 10:52 p.m. PT: to include the unlocked iPhone 5 pricing and the New York Times report.

Updated September 14 at at 11:06 a.m. PT: to include statement from Apple.

Updated September 22 at at 6:08 p.m. PT: with information on Verizon's unlocked iPhone 5.

Watch this: iPhone 5: Hands-on at CNET