T-Mobile Apple iPhone 5 – Review, Test Report, and First Look

By Jonathan Spira on 12 April 2013
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T-Mobile's new iPhone 5

T-Mobile’s new iPhone 5

When T-Mobile USA announced last December that it, too, would offer the Apple iPhone, it came as little shock as T-Mobile was the only mobile operator in the United States not offering the Cupertino-based company’s smartphone.  It was also assumed that T-Mobile would offer the iPhone 5 and, indeed, that is what T-Mobile started to sell today.

Despite the long lead-time, I found that neither the corporate sales team as well as smartphone tech support at T-Mobile was definitely not up to speed on the phone, how to order one, and what its features were.   While the media had speculated that the actual phone that T-Mobile would sell would be a somewhat different model than what was already being offered, that too turned out not to be the case.

As an Apple spokesman eventually explained, T-Mobile is selling the same model that Apple and AT&T have been selling as the officially unlocked version, the A1428, but this model has received a slipstreamed upgrade that allows it to run AWS HSPA+ 42 on T-Mobile’s network.  The “new” model will also run on AT&T’s LTE network in addition to T-Mobile’s.  While the model number is indeed the same (A1428), it has a new part number, namely ME490LL/A.   Apple sells this in two flavors: the unlocked phone by itself (with options for 16, 32, or 64 GB of storage), or with a T-Mobile SIM.

If you get the new A1428 from Apple, it will for the time being need an iOS update from 6.1.2 to 6.1.3 in order to function properly with T-Mobile’s network, just as mine did.

A T-Mobile sales rep I spoke had to look some of this up and reported back that the SIM-free version cost less than the one that comes with the T-Mobile SIM.  He was partially correct.   According to Apple’s website today, both cost $849 with 64 GB.  However, T-Mobile sells the phone and SIM for $779.99 and has interest-free financing available provided you sign up for a new plan.  (T-Mobile recently introduced no-contract plans that don’t subsidize the cost of the phone but delving into that would be an article unto itself.)


All this not withstanding, I was able to get a model A1428 iPhone 5 from Apple quite easily and a more knowledgeable T-Mobile technical support rep e-mailed me the settings I needed to change on the phone.  T-Mobile supplied a Nano-SIM at no charge for my T-Mobile account and off I was.

A lot has been written about the iPhone 5, including an in-depth review by my colleague Dan Collins when the model first came out, so I’ll focus more on what’s new and different with the T-Mobile experience.

Suffice it to say that it’s very attractive, well made, has an excellent quality 4” Retina display (still smaller than the jumbo displays on some Android phones including the Samsung Galaxy S3 I’ve been using), uses the new Lightning connector, and is a true world phone.

The phone will run on the company’s HSPA+ network as well as its fledgling LTE network, which is available today in only seven metropolitan areas, namely Baltimore, Maryland; Houston, Texas; Kansas City, Missouri; Las Vegas, Nevada; Phoenix, Arizona; San Jose, California; and Washington, D.C.   T-Mobile expects to dramatically increase the reach of that network by the end of 2013, but it already has a very fast HSPA+ 42 network in place in 229 metropolitan areas, with a theoretical downstream speed of 42 Mpbs that should keep users quite content until LTE is rolled out in earnest.

Click here to continue to Page 2Unique T-Mobile iPhone Features, Setup, and Using the iPhone 5

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