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ChatGPT vs. ChatGPT Plus: Is a paid subscription still worth it?

Maria Diaz/ZDNET

When GPT-4 was OpenAI’s most powerful artificial intelligence large language model (LLM), paying for a subscription to ChatGPT Plus—which costs $20 a month—made sense. But now that OpenAI announced the availability of GPT-4o, I’m not so sure. 

With this latest update, OpenAI revealed an omnimodel that makes GPT-4-level intelligence available for all, so you won’t need a Plus subscription to access it. What’s more, free users can now access features that were previously reserved for paid subscribers, including GPT Store access to use custom GPT bots; the Memory feature to give their conversations a sense of continuity; uploading photos and documents to discuss them with ChatGPT; browsing the web to give more current context; and advanced data analysis. 

Also: 6 ways OpenAI just supercharged ChatGPT for free users

These changes can make it hard to determine who will find free ChatGPT adequate and who should spring for a Plus subscription. As a ChatGPT Plus subscriber, I’ll explain below in exactly which cases you should use one or the other. Once GPT-4o is widely available, I’ll test it to see how it performs for free users and ChatGPT Plus subscribers and report if any further differences arise.

You should use ChatGPT Plus if…

ChatGPT Plus window introduction on a laptop Maria Diaz/ZDNET

1. You use ChatGPT a lot more than the average user

With GPT-4o giving free users many of the same capabilities that were only available behind a Plus subscription, the reasons to sign up for a monthly fee have dwindled but are not completely gone. Free ChatGPT users will be limited in the number of messages they can send with GPT-4o, depending on usage and demand; however, OpenAI doesn’t specify that limit. 

Also: Microsoft Copilot vs. Copilot Pro: Is the subscription fee worth it?

OpenAI says ChatGPT will switch automatically to GPT-3.5 when free users reach their limit. ChatGPT Plus subscribers have five times the capacity of free users. Paid users will be able to ask GPT-4o five times as many questions as free users and will still have access to GPT-4 when they exceed their limit. We expect OpenAI will increase the limits for GPT-4o for both free and paid users. 

2. You can’t wait

OpenAI says it is beginning to roll out GPT-4o to ChatGPT Plus, Team, and ChatGPT free users today, with Enterprise users coming soon. During the Spring Update live stream, OpenAI CTO Mira Murati announced that the new GPT-4o model and the rest of the updates will roll out iteratively to customers over the next few weeks. This means that only a fraction of ChatGPT users currently have access to the new features, with this number increasing shortly.

Also: How to subscribe to ChatGPT Plus (and why you should)

If you don’t want to wait until you get the new update in your account to use Plus features as a free subscriber, you can get a Plus subscription now to stave off the excitement. Note that you can cancel the subscription whenever you want.

ChatGPT Plus users still get early access to new features that OpenAI rolls out, including the new ChatGPT desktop app for macOS. This early access will soon include the new Voice Mode, which will roll out over the coming weeks. OpenAI will also launch a Windows version of the app later this year.

3. You want a tool to create charts and tables

ChatGPT is getting an upgraded data analysis feature that enables users to create interactive charts and tables from datasets. The upgrade also lets users upload files directly from Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive, in addition to the option to browse for files on their local device. These new features will be available only in GPT-4o to ChatGPT Plus, Team, and Enterprise users.

Also: ChatGPT will put your data into interactive tables and charts with GPT-4o

With these capabilities, you could upload an entire research study to ChatGPT and ask it to generate a table with certain parameters (always check that the info ChatGPT enters is correct). Then, you could click on a cell and ask ChatGPT a question about it or prompt it to create a pie chart. The pie chart, which would also be interactive, can be customized and downloaded for use in presentations and documents.   

You should use free ChatGPT if…

Introducing ChatGPT Maria Diaz/ZDNET

1. You don’t want to pay a monthly fee

When GPT-4o is available, ChatGPT users will no longer need a Plus subscription to access most of the features that initially attracted subscribers. OpenAI is making GPT-4o available to all users, whether they are paying or not. 

ChatGPT free users will be able to access the multimodal GPT-4o with GPT-4-level intelligence, get responses from the web, use advanced data analysis, upload files and photos to discuss with the chatbot, access custom GPTs in the GPT Store, and have more helpful experiences with Memory — all of which used to be ChatGPT Plus benefits.

Also: The ChatGPT desktop app is more helpful than I expected – here’s why and how to try it

Although it’s unclear whether free users can generate images natively in GPT-4o (OpenAI did not disclose this during the event), free users will have access to GPT bots in the GPT Store. If DALL-E access remains a Plus feature, free users can still access the DALL-E bot in the GPT Store. 

2. You’re a casual ChatGPT user

There is no need to upgrade to a ChatGPT Plus membership if you’re just a casual user who doesn’t reach the usage limits of GPT-4o. The new GPT-4o model is rolling out to ChatGPT free users with usage limits beginning today, but OpenAI hasn’t specified this limit. Plus users will have a message limit that is five times greater than that of free users, with Team and Enterprise users getting even higher limits.

Also: ChatGPT vs. Bing Chat vs. Google Bard: Which is the best AI chatbot?

If you’re a free user who doesn’t use ChatGPT often and stays within the usage limit, you wouldn’t get much benefit from a ChatGPT Plus subscription now. I expect OpenAI will amend the subscription benefits or the price as time passes and GPT-4o becomes widely available.

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