This week, Apple will announce the new iPhones of this year. she was We expect there to be four of themiPhone 12 Pro, iPhone 12 Pro Max, iPhone 12, and a smaller iPhone that could be called iPhone 12 mini. Apple’s invitation to Tuesday’s event Key phrase included “Hi speed.” Aside from the odd capitalization decisions, the hint of “speed” is embedded in the tagline lines along with the rumors: These will be the first iPhones to feature 5G technology.
If you’re looking to buy a new iPhone this year, even before I see these phones, I can give this simple advice: Don’t just buy one because it has 5G.
This has been my advice to every Android phone with 5G technology released so far, and unless Apple has some reality-defying modem that enables 5G speeds in more places, my advice for the upcoming iPhone too.
The problem with 5G is that it’s not that good yet. In a comprehensive US test of 5G speeds, Mag Computer I found them seriously. In many cases, 5G speeds were slower than 4G speeds. The study also found that the other amplified cause of 5G, the low latency, had yet to emerge.
This is all in line with my experience using 5G on T-Mobile in the Gulf region. When it’s faster, it’s only nominally different. It is often slower and often has a sharp drop in no data at all other than 4G LTE. After a year of testing Android 5G phones, I still haven’t believed 5G is the most important part of any of them.
These speed and latency issues are due to some complex spectrum limitations. Which means that in the future, carriers will be able to unlock faster 5G speeds, but this will not happen overnight. Here’s how Mag Computer Sascha Segan distinguishes the current mode of playing 5G:
AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon are taking very different approaches to 5G. To make a long story short, it looks like AT&T 5G right now is basically worthless. T-Mobile 5G could be a big boost over 4G, but its speeds are just what we’d been expecting from a good 4G – it’s not a new experience. Verizon’s 5G is often amazing, but it’s very hard to find.
As you’ve probably heard by now, there are two different types of 5G mobile networks, each operating in different parts of the radio spectrum. A so-called “sub-6” 5G is similar to LTE in how it travels longer distances and penetrates buildings. Then there’s mmWave 5G, which is what Verizon is publishing so far. It offers extremely fast speeds, but only if you can find it.
I often joke that mmWave is great if you want to stand in one spot outside next to a certain Verizon tower in a particular city – but it’s not really a joke. It’s so hard to find and use Verizon’s 5G that I’m really baffled as to why anyone would want to spend the extra money to build it in a phone. I am doubly baffled as many phones cost $ 100 or more for mmWave compatibility.
Except I’m not confused, not really. The past few years have seen the growth of the 5G Hype industrial complex. American carriers, Qualcomm, and phone makers have all teamed up (someone might say collusion) to lead the huge cycle of hype for 5G. They promised to broadcast games, telemedicine, self-driving cars, and rural broadband to everyone. Some of these promises will come true, but the clear confidence is that networks are nowhere near ready, and that these 5G phones are the clearest evidence of the gap between hype and reality.
We always offer the same advice when reviewing a phone: Don’t buy anything today in hopes of future updates that make it better. This advice usually applies to programs, because a lot of promises that errors will really be addressed come to nothing.
For 5G, that advice still applies – but there are some nuances of it. I don’t think you should buy a phone Because It has 5G, but if the phone you were looking for is already 5G then go for it.
Phone upgrade cycles slow down. More people are keeping their phones for longer. I think that’s cool: it means the phones are good enough to last for several years, that means less waste, and it also saves consumers money. But given the time period of two, three, or more years, getting a 5G phone could make sense, even if it’s not something to look out for yet.
Buying a 5G phone this year is more insurance for the future than an immediate benefit today. Some upgrades are big enough to push the upgrade cycle even if you weren’t planning for it. 5G isn’t that kind of upgrade this year, but it doesn’t hurt if you plan to upgrade anyway.
To bring it back to the new iPhones, I’m afraid Apple will become part of the 5G Hype industrial complex. It’s tricky to promise immediate benefits from 5G – at least in the US – and I hope Apple doesn’t give in to the temptation to do so.
The new iPhones must have other big reasons to update: a new design, better cameras, interesting AR features, or other things I haven’t thought of. Any of these things could be a great reason to buy a new iPhone this year. Just getting 5G is not one of them.