T-Mobile’s iPhone 5 Brings Its A-Game

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T-Mobile was a little late to the iPhone 5 party in the U.S., but that didn’t keep the carrier from offering a stellar device on a great network. It’s a good buy for any user already on the T-Mobile network and could be the tipping point for someone already considering a switch to T-Mobile.

In general, the iPhone 5 on T-Mobile’s network is bolstered by great LTE speeds and high-definition voice calling with the ability to reap the benefits of T-Mobile’s well-priced contract-free plans.

You’ll have to pay $149 up front for the device – T-Mobile removed the iPhone 5 from its $0 down plan – but it’s a solid investment. T-Mobile focuses its data network on certain areas, so checking out its LTE map may be a smart thing to peek at before putting your cash on the table.

4G LTE Support

T-Mobile’s network of 4G LTE coverage is still growing, but the company has made significant investments to grow it quickly. In areas without LTE support, the company offers a HSPA+ 42 service which, while not quite as fast as LTE, still beats 3G speeds handedly.

For its LTE network, T-Mobile has started deployments in major U.S. cities where it already had a large consumer base. The biggest coverage areas include Baltimore, Houston, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Phoenix, San Jose, and Washington D.C., but it provides support in 116 metropolitan areas.

Unfortunately, T-Mobile is getting beat by AT&T (237 markets) and Verizon’s LTE (roughly 500 markets). For these, a market typically means a city, its metro area and some surrounding suburbs.

T-Mobile users will consistently see speeds greater than 15 Mbps for downloads and uploads faster than 7 Mbps, but these can peak at much higher rates. Using a baseline around 15 Mbps includes browsing and downloading when the network is at a high-usage time, such as everyone in Washington D.C. meandering around at lunchtime on their phones.

Users typically report a 5 to 7 Mbps download speed and roughly 2 Mbps upload speed on the HSPA+ 42 network.

Call Clarity and HD Support

T-Mobile was the first major carrier to add in HD-quality voice support for the iPhone 5 in the U.S., giving users access to a wideband service that prevents muffled voice sounds and can cancel out some background noise. The HD Voice feature beefs up the quality of your call and makes both you and the recipient of your call have clearer voices if you’re both using HD Voice devices. T-Mobile offers a series of these devices besides the iPhone 5.

The general call quality of the device is on par with other iPhone 5s and is generally considered to be good. Most reviews have found the microphone sufficient to pick up a voice without grabbing too much background noise. The speaker on the iPhone five continues to get mixed reviews but is an improvement on previous models. The downside to the HD Voice feature is that it isn’t often well explained to users. This means they often expect the improved quality for all of their calls which, unfortunately, isn’t the case.

HD Voice only works when calling other voices with the support on T-Mobile’s network. This means calls to iPhone 5s on AT&T or Verizon networks won’t be of the same quality. The problem with this limitation is that most people aren’t aware of what network their contacts have so it is not a limitation that is easy to intuit if it wasn’t clearly explained at the time of the device’s purchase.

Phone and Plan Costs

One great benefit to the iPhone 5 arriving on the T-Mobile network is that customers can take advantage of T-Mobile’s affordable price plans. As of August 2013, T-Mobile offers a better deal than almost any other plan on any of the major U.S. carriers.

The cost for the iPhone 5 on T-Mobile needs to be looked at over a two-year period. A user will pay $150 up front for the phone and then $20 each month for the next two years. The baseline data and voice plan costs $60 each month and includes 2.5GB of data plus unlimited talk and text. In total, this reaches $2,070 for two years. It’s worth mentioning that T-Mobile will charge you the full remaining price of the device if you cancel your phone’s data and voice plan.

On Verizon, the iPhone 5 will cost $200 up front and then $100 each month for the next two years when including a shared data plan, its line access fee and other fees. This reaches $2,600, about $530 more than T-Mobile’s costs. Using AT&T’s 1GB or 4GB plan, you’ll run up a bill of $2,480 or $2,840, respectively.

Sprint, which charges $99 for the iPhone 5, offers two plans that differ on monthly minutes. The 450-minute plan has a two-year cost of $2,020, slightly cheaper than the T-Mobile plan. For unlimited voice, Sprint’s cost rises to $2,740, roughly $670 more expensive.

Device Details

If you’re leaning toward a T-Mobile plan and want that final push for the device, look no further than the specs the iPhone 5 offers.

The iPhone 5 features a 4-inch (measured horizontally) screen that can support 4G LTE and more than 10 hours of battery life when browsing the Web on your home Wi-Fi network.

It has a slim profile and is lighter than its predecessors, but offers a screen with better touch recognition. This makes your apps work a little smoother and the increased processing power also makes high-definition apps work without any hiccups.

Since its launch, app makers have been releasing updates for their products to meet the specifications and capabilities of the iPhone 5. This means apps aren’t stretched to fit the larger screen and many have added enhanced browsing or playing options that use the better memory and processor.

Another hardware gem is the new 8 megapixel camera that supports panoramic photos. The resolution of these photos actually rises to 28MP and the camera provides solid photos even in low-light conditions, something prior models struggled with.

All of which is to say that Apple has provided significant updates to its device and T-Mobile will allow you to affordably take advantage of those updates.

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