College students: Is the iPhone 4 a phone for you?

Behold: The iPhone 4 has arrived. See people weep, computer nerds scream with joy in the streets. See even the most dedicated Apple fans toss their iPhone 3Gs into the river and run like salivating Pavlov dogs to the nearest Apple Store...

Well, maybe not. And with a price tag of $199 for the cheapest model, college students on a tight budget might think twice before picking up the latest in "future is now" technology. What's more, there are a lot of questions about the price: "What if I already have an iPhone?" "What if I don't have AT&T?" Or: "What's the deal with the data plans?" White or black phone? That's the least of your worries.

Let's take a look at the benefits and drawbacks of the iPhone 4 for college kids. (For more in-depth impressions of the device, you can check out Engadget's analysis of the phone here and a thorough comparison to the iPhone 3Gs here.)


As Steve Jobs outlined at WWDC, iBooks -- the reader app for the iPad -- is coming to the iPhone with its new operating system, iOS 4. One of the reasons why the iPad has been touted as the next great piece of education tech is because it serves as a possible textbook reader. Now, students can feasibly read their homework assignments on the iPhone (that is, when they're not texting each other).

But this feature doesn't necessarily require the iPhone 4. The 3GS and 3G models of the iPhone will be able to run iOS 4, and Apple's website says iBooks will be compatible with the latest three models. Also take note that the new software will enable you to do something not possible before: run your iPhone 3Gs with a wireless keyboard. That's been one feature iPhone users have clamored to have. So think twice before getting rid of your 3Gs. And if you're new to the iPhone market, consider that 3Gs phones--which fetched several hundred bucks not that long ago--can now be bought for $99. That might be even less if you snag a bargain via eBay or Craigslist.


The iPhone 4 also comes with the capability to "multitask," something the iPhone has never been able to do before. With iOS 4, users can pause a game, keep the app open and respond to a text message while listening to a radio app all at the same time. At long last the iPhone can support multiple functions at once like a computer. Again, however, this doesn't require an iPhone 4. The iPhone 3Gs can also multitask certain functions, and this fall, the iPad will, too.

Photo and video

Okay, here's one of the areas where the iPhone 4 makes the hard sell. The new model is a massive upgrade in terms of video capability. The camera on this thing is 5 megapixels -- that's compared to 3 megapixels on the 3Gs. Also, there's an LED flash on the back.

Also, it takes HD video. The quality is 720p at 30 fps, which compares to reasonably standard cell phone quality on the previous model. Plus, Apple's releasing an iMovie app so users can edit video on the move. It's totally absurd: "Your phone can do what?"

Perhaps this seems unrelated to being a student, but from experience, I've learned that the camera on the iPhone is one of the best note-taking devices out there. Are you at a museum and want to remember the artist's name? Snap a picture of the info pane next to the painting. Are you at a book store and they have something that would be perfect for research, but you can't afford it and want to look it up later to see if you can find it used online? Snap a picture of the book cover. Are you interviewing somebody for a journalism or sociology class? Record the conversation with the video camera.


Here's the biggie. FaceTime is video chat on the iPhone. The front-facing camera tapes you, and the standard camera in the back can show the person you're talking to what you're looking at.

Why is this important to college students? One word: parents.

If your parents still pay the cell phone bill and you're living away from home, this is going to be one of the primary ways to convince them that the latest iPhone is a good investment for the whole family. With FaceTime, moms and dads get to actually interact with their kids with eye contact. It's the future -- one step closer to "The Jetsons," as Steve Jobs pointed out. So change your name to "Elroy" while there's still time.

The only big drawback with FaceTime is that it currently requires a WiFi connection -- Apple is ironing out the details with AT&T and, hopefully, more American cell phone providers in the future. That's been a long-standing rumor, but with all those iPhone users complaining about AT&T's lousy coverage area, you can't help but wonder how long Apple will allow the AT&T relationship to tarnish its forward-thinking image.


Let's talk about the price, shall we? In its initial analysis of the phone, Engadget outlines the different prices for the iPhone 4. Not including the costs of an AT&T contract, the 16GB model is $199 and the 32GB model is $299. If you already have an AT&T phone and want to upgrade to the iPhone 4, dial *NEW#, which will reply to you via text message with your upgrade eligibility status (or just check AT&T's website).

If you're a new user with AT&T, you're probably wondering about data plans. Unfortunately, the unlimited data plan for $30 per month is only available to iPhone users who were already on that plan, according to Engadget. Instead, you will choose between the substantially cheaper $15 per month for 200MB of data (the "DataPlus" plan) and $25 per month for 2GB of data (the "DataPro" plan). Just be aware of the new overage charges-- on the former, it's an additional $15 for another 200MB, and on the latter, it's $10 for each additional gigabyte. It's a reasonably inexpensive data plan, so make sure you're not streaming hours worth of YouTube videos on the 3G network.

So that's $200 for a 16GB phone plus $25 per month for a 2GB data plan, not including other phone usage fees. Another way of looking at it: That's $50 for an HD video camera and 5 megapixel camera that serves as a chat device, $50 for an iPod, $50 for a web browser, and $50 for a phone. Oh, and there are a ton of apps and a state-of-the-art Retina display. Do the math. Is it worth it?

Thrifty Tech is Evan Minsker's column that keeps you plugged in on the latest with smartphone apps, college tech happenings and more. It appears every Tuesday. Send Evan column tips at
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