iPhone 5 roundup (before you buy)

Well it has been a busy week since Apple announced the iPhone 5 on September 12.  Here is a summary of the some of the news concerning Cupertino’s latest offering if you are thinking of getting one.

Availability

The phone itself will be available at the Apple store and at most major retailers on September 21 starting at 8:00 am.  As in the past, there will likely be large numbers of people lining up at these stores, in fact some people have started to lineup more than a week in advance at the Apple Store in New York City.  These retailers usually have a limited number of units for sale on the launch date, but there is no guarantee that they will have the model you are looking for and they may not have any units left by the time you get into the store.  To improve the efficiency of the process, Apple as well as many carriers and retailers, have started to place more emphasis on pre-orders.

Pre-orders were started to be taken at midnight on September 14.  You can still pre-order your phone at Apple but at this point you will have to wait 2-3 weeks to get it.  There will likely be a similiar wait time if you try to pre-order a iPhone 5 at most  Canadian carriers now.  The Futureshop and Best Buy started taking pre-orders on September 15.  For a $50 deposit, you can reserve a iPhone and depending on the availability you may be able to get your phone on September 21.  If you don’t get your phone on the first day you will at least be able to avoid long lineups and disappointment if they run out before you get served.  If you have not already lined up a device from the other sources you could check with your local electronics store to determine if they have any remaining stock for reservation.

Data Plans

As has been done in the past, all major Canadian carriers have announced their famous 6 GB data plans.  By now they know that iPhone users tend to use more data than the average smartphone user so they like to tempt them by offering them this plan.  This particular plan is actually a pretty good deal compared to what you pay for lower data caps.  Six GB is actually is a lot of data and you would likely be hard pressed to surpass this unless you are consuming a lot of video.  You can read the summary that I posted here.

Most Canadian carriers offer similar 6 GB plans with similar prices of around 73-75 $/month. Koodo seems to be a bit cheaper at 63 $/month, while Bell offers 10 hours of its mobile TV per month to their plan.  Other data plans are also available but remember if you will be using your new phone for anything more than checking your email then you should get at least a 1 GB plan because going over your monthly bandwidth allotment can be very expensive (Bell charges 5 cents per megabyte).

Phone pricing

The cost of purchasing a locked iPhone is pretty well controlled by Apple and therefore tend to be same at all carriers.  This time around the costs for the various models are: $179 for the 16 GB model, $279 for the 32 GB model and $379 for the 64 GB.  Remember that to get these prices you will have to sign on for a 3 year term from the carrier with a minimum monthly data plan of at least $50 (check with your particular carrier for the minimum monthly cost).  Also, these prices are for new activations, if you are simply upgrading from an older phone there might be an additional administration upgrade fee.  Rogers typically charges its customers $35 at the time of purchase of the phone.

Lastly, the price may also depend on where you are in your contract.  In the past you were eligible for an upgraded device after 2 years, now many carriers have increased this to 3 years.  You could still get an upgrade but the carrier may charge extra for an early upgrade.  Rogers customers could check their eligibility right from their iPhone, see instructions here.  Sometimes it helps to talk to a Customer Service Representative to negotiate this upgrade cost.  If this does not work, you could always escalate the discussion and ask to speak with a Customer Retention representative.  If you have been with a particular carrier for a long period of time, the people in Retention know the importance of keeping their customers happy and can make good deals, I know of a couple of cases where this persistance has paid off.

Locked versus unlocked

Up until only recently most iPhones sold in Canada (and the US) were locked phones, this means that the phone could only be used on the carrier from which it was purchased.  This pretty well guaranteed that the phone could not be used on another carrier’s network and with the signing of a 2 or 3 year contract allowed them to subsidize the cost of the device.  This is the reason why the iPhone is so much cheaper when purchased with a long term contract; a locked 16 GB iPhone 5 is $179 while the unsubsidized version is $699 at Apple.  You can find out more about Locked and Unlocked phones here.

Although a much higher price, the unlocked phone allows you to shop around for the best voice and data plan to suit your needs without having to sign a long term contract.  If you travel outside of the country you will also be able to avoid paying high roaming charges to use your phone since you could purchase a SIM card in the country where you are travelling and access a local carrier’s network at a much lower cost.  Due to this flexibility unlocked iPhones usually have a higher resale value.

You can purchase an unlocked phone at Apple’s online store and at some electronic box stores.  If you follow this route you would then need to get a SIM card from the carrier with which you choose to activate the phone.  Apple supplies their new nano-SIM cards at no cost to its customers, while carriers and other retailers typically charge $10 for them.  On launch day Apple Stores will only be selling locked phones, if you want an unlocked phone you have to purchase it from Apple’s online store.

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