If you’re looking to get an iPhone as a gift for a friend or loved one, you’ve probably come across some very realistic fakes if you’ve been looking online at all, particularly if you’ve visited eBay or other online retailers. How do you make sure that you get a real iPhone out of all of the impostors out there? Well, that’s what this installment in our Learning iPhone series is here to help you with! Now let’s figure out how to spot a fake iPhone.

Fake iPhone

Know Thy iPhone

First, let’s cover a few basic facts about the iPhone that should help you eliminate the questionable devices from your shopping list.

There have been 3 iPhone models made by Apple to date:

  • The first-generation iPhone, also referred to as the 2G iPhone (where 2G refers to the cellular network technology it uses, also known as EDGE, and not its version) came in 4GB, 8GB, and 16GB capacities. It first became available in the U.S. in June 2007 and was replaced by the iPhone 3G in July 2008. It’s most distinguishable physical characteristic compared to later models is its back cover, which is mostly brushed aluminum with a matte black plastic portion at the bottom. It has a 2-megapixel camera with a fixed-focus lens and cannot record video or send MMS messages.
  • The iPhone 3G was released in July 2008 and is available in 8GB and 16GB capacities. The 16GB versions are available in two colors – white and black – while the 8GB version is available only in black. The iPhone 3G’s casing is all plastic, unlike the partially-aluminum casing of the first-generation iPhone. The 3G designation refers to the cellular network technology it uses, allowing it connect to networks that offer faster data connection speeds with more bandwidth. It also has a 2-megapixel camera with a fixed-focus lens and cannot record video, though it can send and receive MMS messages.
  • The iPhone 3GS was released in July 2009 and is available in 16GB and 32GB capacities. This time around, both capacities are available in black or white and it looks nearly identical to the preceding iPhone 3G model – the only outward physical difference is the lettering on the back that has a glossy chrome finish compared to the flat white lettering on the iPhone 3G. The ‘S’ designation stands for ‘Speed’ and does not denote anything special about its cellular network capability. It has a 3-megapixel camera with an auto-focus lens and it can record video and send and receive MMS messages, and it has a internal digital compass not found in previous models.

A few more facts:

  • All iPhone models have capacitive touchscreens – these screens react only to materials that can conduct electricity, such as your finger. A stylus made of plastic or metal will not work with them.
  • None of the iPhone models have an expansion card slot that will accommodate a microSD or other type of card to increase its storage capacity.
  • All iPhone models have both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi radios.
  • None of the iPhone models have an FM radio built in (technically, a tear-down of the iPhone 3GS by iSuppli shows that it has a chip with FM radio capabilities, but it is not active).
  • The battery in all iPhone models is not user-replaceable.
  • All iPhone models only have one SIM card slot.
  • None of the iPhone models come in red, blue, yellow, or any other color aside from black or white (iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS only).

Eye on the Prize

So, now you know the basics about all of the iPhone models, you know what to look out for. If you see any product descriptions or hear claims from sellers that the iPhones they’re selling have two SIM card slots and a 5-megapixel camera, you know they’re not real. Look carefully at the listed specs for the iPhone you’re considering and ensure it’s in line with what’s described above. You can also compare it to Apple’s official spec sheet here.

Still not convinced it’s real? If you can’t inspect it physically yourself, ask for the iPhone’s serial number – it’s printed on the iPhone’s box on the bottom label and is visible in Settings/General/About on the iPhone itself. You can go to Apple’s site here and enter the serial number to see if it’s valid – if so, you’ll be shown its model name and warranty status.

If the seller won’t give you the serial number or provide other proof (a purchase receipt from an authorized iPhone reseller) that it’s a real iPhone, you should move on and find another place to buy one.

Caveat Emptor

Many of the iPhone fakes out there look very convincing – enough so that the packaging and even the device itself may fool those who know what a real iPhone looks like very well. From what we’ve seen, it’s the phone’s software that will be the ultimate indicator. The iPhone’s operating system is proprietary and is not licensed to any other manufacturer and Apple put a lot of effort into every detail of its interface. An iPhone clone will not look as uniform and consistent throughout and will almost undoubtedly be less intuitive. Check out this video by MacMedics for a demonstration of a fake iPhone that looks a lot like a real one on the outside but its software clearly gives it away as a fake (in addition to the strange accessories it comes with):

A fake iPhone will not be recognized by iTunes on your computer as an iPhone and none of the apps available on the App Store will work on it.

Of course, your best bet is to go ahead and buy an iPhone directly from an official carrier or Apple store. To get to a list of where an iPhone can be purchased in your country, go to this page on Apple’s site.

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That’s all for this installment in our Learning iPhone series. We wish you great success in your holiday shopping and may you encounter no fake iPhones along the way! We always welcome your own tips and comments – feel free to share them in the comments section below.