16GB, 32GB or 64GB — which storage capacity should I buy in my next iPhone?

BY Kelly Hodgkins

Published 13 Sep 2013

Color is not the only consideration when you are deciding which iPhone to buy. One of the most important, but often overlooked factors is capacity. Many consumers look at the price tag and go with the cheapest device. This strategy is great until they hit their storage limit when trying to download a new app. Here’s a guide to help you decide which storage capacity to choose.

Capacity and Pricing

There’s no getting around the fact that if you want additional storage, you have to pay more for that extra space. How much more does this extra capacity cost?

Let’s look at the iPhone 5s as an example. The base 16GB model will cost you $649 for the phone outside of a contract. The next tier doubles that storage to 32 GB and bumps up the price by a $100 to $749. Add another $100 and you can grab a 64GB model.

This $100 increase doubles your storage space and applies to both the iPhone 5c or iPhone 5s as shown in the table below. In most cases, it makes financial sense to spend that extra $100 to double your capacity, as long as you need that space.

16GB 32GB 64GB
iPhone 5c on-contract $99 $199
iPhone 5c retail $549 $649
iPhone 5s on-contract $199 $299 $399
iPhone 5s retail $649 $749 $849

Are you a space hog?

No, I’m not talking about those pigs. I’m talking those customers who can blow through a GB of storage without blinking an eye. Do you download a lot of music, watch a lot of movies, try out a lot of apps or take a lot of photos and videos? If you answered yes to one or more of those questions, then you could use the extra capacity afforded in a 32GB or 64GB device.

Heed my advice and be realistic about how you will use your device. Don’t underestimate your usage when deciding whether to buy a 16, 32 or 64GB device. I know a lot of people who opt for the 16GB version to save money and then come to me in five months with questions about clearing space on their device because it is filled to its maximum capacity. Spend the money upfront now to get the storage that you think you will need. It will save you a lot of headache later on.

Who should buy the 16GB model?

The 16GB device is great for the casual user who doesn’t store a lot of data on their device. They either don’t download a lot of apps or rely on the cloud to store their music or photos. These customers use their phone for a few key activities and are not interested in storing half their life in their pocket. The 16GB also is a great starter model for the person who is new to the iOS platform and doesn’t have a lot of music in iTunes or apps they “must have” on their device. Looking beyond the casual user is the cloud user, who has a lot of data but doesn’t store it on their device. Because most of their data is in the cloud, they may be able to squeeze only the critical files they need on a 16GB model and access the rest over the internet.

Who should buy the 32GB model?

The 32GB version is the one I recommend for most users. It gives you plenty of space for photos, music and apps. You can use your device for months without deleting a file and still have room to spare. It’s the model I use, and I’ve never run out of space, even though I take a ton of photos and download a lot of apps. The 32GB is also reasonably priced, it’s only a $100 more than the 16GB and well worth the cash to avoid the hassle of having to constantly delete music when you want to download a new album. If you are unsure what capacity to buy, then buy the 32GB model. You won’t regret it.

Who should buy the 64GB model?

In my opinion, the 64GB model is an option that only extreme users should consider. They may be a DJ or  a VJ and  have a large music library they need to carry around with them or they are reporters who take a lot of photos or videos in the field and need the space to store the clips until they get back to the office. These folks are dealing with a lot of large files and are not the average users. For most casual users, the 64GB option is overkill. They would be better off saving that $100 and using it to buy a good case or AppleCare+.

What is this cloud you speak of?

Many iOS users turn to iCloud or other cloud apps to store files remotely and not locally on their device.

Many iOS users turn to iCloud or other cloud apps to store files remotely and not locally on their device. With iCloud, users can store iBooks, music, movies and the last 30 days or 1000 Photo Stream photos. These items can sit in iCloud and you can re-download them when needed. Apple also introduced iTunes Radio in iOS 7. This music streaming service may be an easy way to listen to music without loading up your phone.

Some apps use iCloud to store their date and Apple gives each user 5GB of free storage space for backups, data and so on. You can purchase additional storage in the following increments:

  • 10GB: $20/year
  • 20GB: $40/year
  • 50GB: $100/year

Besides iCloud, there a variety of other cloud services like Dropbox, Box.net or Google Drive, which will offload your photos and other files. For music, you can subscribe to a service like Spotify. For a small monthly fee, you can stream your music to your phone and not store a single music track on your phone.