In case you hadn't noticed, today is iPhone 5 day. UPS and FedEx trucks are delivering shiny, new (and possibly even pre-scratched like mine) iPhones to wanting hands all across the nation today. If you aren't waiting in line or sitting by the door waiting on the delivery truck to drop yours off today (or over the next few weeks), chances are you're a little more cautious or wary than us who are so gung-ho about new devices. You probably like to wait it out, see if any issues arise and play the best possible hand.
That's a good thing, especially when it comes to the iPhone. This time around, the latest iPhone is available in three flavors here in the U.S. – Verizon Wireless, AT&T or Sprint – and each one comes with its own set of benefits. Depending on your situation, it may cost your family less to pack up and leave your current carrier for a new one.
The million dollar question is: which iPhone 5 should you buy for yourself and/or your family?
First and foremost, coverage should be the first thing you check out. No matter what awesome deal each carrier will offer, it's worth little if you can't make a phone call or browse the Web in most of the places you go. So if Sprint offers the sweetest data deal (ahem … can anyone say "unlimited LTE"?) but doesn't provide your area with enough coverage, you may want to spend some time pondering paying a little more and going to AT&T or Verizon.
Of course, everyone should know that by now, and checking coverage maps should be your very first step in the buying process. But the second thing you should inquire about is what each of the carriers have to offer. Let me break it down for you:
On paper and according to my wallet, Sprint's offer is a tough one to pass on. Starting at just $80 per month, it offers a truly unlimited data plan with unlimited messaging and unlimited calling to any mobile phone. Sprint's fresh LTE network paired with unlimited data is a heavy data user's dream come true.
However, check your area for LTE coverage. Sprint's is the newest of them all and, respectively, the smallest. You wouldn't want to buy an LTE phone only to discover you will be stuck on Sprint's 3G – which has been under quite a bit of scrutiny as of late – for the foreseeable future, would you?
When it comes to plan options, AT&T has the largest selection by decent margin. As a new customer, you can select Mobile Share, which offers unlimited calling and messaging while allowing multiple users to share a data pool, or choose a family plan with separate data packages per user.
Individual plans begin at $59 per month for 450 minutes and 300MB of data and range to $139 for unlimited minuted, messaging and 5GB of data. Families can start for $110 with 700 minutes and two 300MB data packages. Or for $250, a family of two can get unlimited calls, messaging and 5GB of data each. A similar setup on Mobile Share would only cost $180 per month.
If you are upgrading on AT&T, you can either opt to switch to Mobile Share or keep your existing plan when upgrading. The nice perk here is the ability to keep your grandfathered unlimited data plan, although it is subject to throttling after 3GB.
The perk with AT&T is that you get a supplementary HSPA+ network that is active in most 3G areas and offers speeds that sit nicely between 3G and LTE speeds.
Verizon has the most concise choices of all. You can either keep what you have or most to Share Everything when upgrading. New customers will be offered Share Everything. And if you have a grandfathered unlimited data plan, you can kiss it goodbye. It will expire once you upgrade and you will have to choose the data tier that fits your needs.
The bottom tier Share Everything plan starts at $80 per month for unlimited calling and texts with 300MB of data. The next step up is $90 for a bump to 1GB of data. From 2GB to 20GB in increments of two, plans increase by $10 more per month. And monthly access fees are $40 per smartphone, $30 per basic phone, $20 per hotspot and $10 per tablet.
Verizon, while it doesn't offer as many choices when it comes to plan offerings, claims to have the largest LTE network in America, covering over 75 percent of U.S. customers. It is definitely large, and Verizon is building it out rather quickly. To some, that may be worth a few extra pennies each month.
Restrictions and technology barriers
Aside from wireless providers' plans, monthly rate options and coverage, there are other individual features to consider.
For example, the CDMA models (both Sprint and Verizon) of the iPhone 5 will not feature simultaneous voice and data like GSM models due to a hardware incompatibility with the network technology. The single chip and antenna design Apple went with means the iPhone 5 cannot simultaneously use LTE and CDMA networks like other CDMA/LTE devices. The AT&T and international GSM models, on the other hand, will support this feature by rolling back to HSPA+ or 3G networks. You can, however, use Wi-Fi while on a call with CDMA iPhone 5s.
Another hot topic pending the release of the iPhone 5 was FaceTime over cellular, a new feature of iOS 6. Verizon and Sprint have agreed not to charge for the service. Meanwhile, AT&T requires users to be on their Mobile Share to use the feature without a Wi-Fi connection.
Beyond these factors, you're getting essentially the same exact phone. You can choose either black or white, 16, 32 or 64GB, which will set you back $199, $299 or $399, respectively, with a two-year agreement with whatever carrier you choose. All models come with LTE and a fantastic camera bolted to the back.
Ultimately, it is up to you and your family to choose what suits your needs best, which carrier provides better services for a better price. Is simultaneous voice and data worth it to you? Consider AT&T. Or do you plan to FaceTime over 3G a lot? I would look at Sprint's coverage in your area as FaceTime will likely chew through data, which can be expensive if you're not paying a flat rate for unlimited.
Do you know which carrier you're going with? Have you already bought your iPhone 5? Which carrier did you choose? Sound off in the comments below, and don't forget to participate in our poll!