Sep. 13, 2012 at 3:47 PM ET
You can pre-order the iPhone 5 starting at midnight. But should you? Or would it be better to wait and see it in person before plunking down wads of cash? Well, there are reasons to do it, for sure. But there are also reasons to hold off.
Take our poll: Which iPhone 5 feature do you like best?
Larger screen - Going from a 3.5-inch screen to a 4-inch screen isn't that big a jump, not when Samsung's current bestseller is a 4.8-incher. But the extra screen real estate means more icons on the home screen, more navigation options in apps and HD movies shown without the black bar "letterbox" effect.
4G LTE connectivity - Even if you don't know what 4G refers to, you probably know that it means faster data on phones. "LTE," another admittedly mysterious term, is the best flavor of 4G, delivering data so fast it can feel like you're on a cable modem. Apple is the last smartphone maker to join the 4G party, and it's about time it did.
Better battery life - The trouble with 4G LTE is that it tends to be a battery drainer. But Apple seems to have solved that problem, and even managed to give the iPhone 5 better battery life than its predecessor, too. Battery life is Apple's stock and trade: The company will sacrifice features to keep battery life long, but in the iPhone 5, there doesn't appear to be a real downside.
Less glass - It's hard to find an iPhone user who hasn't smashed their screen at least once, so it was a little bit bizarre when Apple decided, with the iPhone 4, to give it a second pane of glass, on the back. Yes, it made the phone astoundingly beautiful, but it meant more to smudge and yes, more to shatter. With the iPhone 5, we return to the more sane world of just one glass pane.
Thinner and lighter - This may not be apparent from the presentation, but take it from me, when you hold it, the phone feels impressively thin and impressively light, especially given the larger screen and longer battery life.
Faster chip - While most of us mere mortals, me included, don't need to worry about the processor power of our smartphones, gamers who yearn for console-like experiences will appreciate the improved processing and graphics might of the iPhone 5's brand-new A6 chip. And the rest of us might notice that photo and video processing, and everyday app usage, have gotten a tad quicker.
iOS 6 on older iPhones - Many of the amazing new features discussed by Apple — turn-by-turn navigation, 3-D maps, Passbook ticket and gift card system, sports-score-spouting Siri — come with free iOS upgrade for anyone with a 4S. (Most, though not all, of the features are actually available to anyone with a recent-model iPhone, iPad or iPod.) Since the upgrade goes live on Sept. 19, it's probably smart to take advantage of it (assuming we don't report any hiccups). If you're happy with iOS 6 on your current phone, you may not need the new one.
Camera isn't big step up - Pictures will look better on the iPhone 5, and you can shoot smart panoramas, and get better results in low light. But the camera is not radically improved — it's just a shrunk-down version of last year's 8-megapixel camera. Don't expect a monster difference for most of your snapshots.
Design not as iconic - Though the two-slabs-of-glass approach did lead to extra shattering, the iPhone 4 (and 4S) made a design statement that nobody but Apple could have pulled off. The design of the iPhone 5, while attractive and (in our reader poll, at least), a new favorite for Apple fans, lacks the timeless industrial look of its predecessor.
Lack of 4G LTE coverage - Check your carrier's coverage maps before you buy! That sweet 4G LTE technology isn't going to be everywhere. It's not a dealbreaker: The current iPhone is quick enough for most cellular data needs, and even without LTE, the iPhone 5 will be too. But if you're buying for powerhouse data speeds, you have to know the territory. Here's where to check coverage on AT&T, Sprint and Verizon Wireless.
Lightning port-speaker dock incompatibility - I don't want to belabor this, because the new Lightning connector is a design improvement and long overdue, but it's worth pointing out that if your current lifestyle includes many iPhone docks and car chargers, these will require an awkward $29 adapter if you want to keep using them with an iPhone 5. Some car chargers have a USB port, so you can connect any cable you want — in this case, you'd want to buy an extra $19 USB-to-Lightning cable. It's cheaper, and will come in more handy later. But unless you go wireless, and stream audio via AirPlay or Bluetooth to a compatible sound system, you may need to buy a new Lightning-compatible dock — once it's available.
You're not eligible for upgrade - Maybe you're dying for an iPhone 5, but you only bought an iPhone 4S six months ago. Well, you're gonna have to pay three times what someone who's up for an upgrade will have to. Bummer but the carrier-subsidized pricing system only adds up when customers buy phones at set intervals. It's just math. (To see if you're eligible on your particular carrier, check out this article.)
Android and Windows Phone advantages - This isn't a piece about what's better, iPhone or its competitors running Android and Windows Phone. But we have to at least mention this: Although technology-wise, the iPhone 5 has caught up to most of the competition, there are other phones with larger screens and software benefits that people in the market for a new phone may want to check out. Both Android and Windows Phone still have a distinct advantage in home screen customization, for example, and Android still wins on notifications, data management and voice recognition.
Hopefully this helped you make up your mind somewhat. I'm definitely interested in seeing more of this phone, but we also want to provide enough information for you to make a sensible decision for your own situation. Apple has confirmed that pre-ordering starts Friday at 12:01 a.m. Pacific/3:01 a.m. Eastern, but unless you're 100 percent sure, give it a few days, and don't forget to grab that iOS 6 update on Sept. 19!