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ChatGPT vs. ChatGPT Plus: Is it worth the subscription fee?

Maria Diaz/ZDNET

GPT-4, OpenAI’s most powerful artificial intelligence large language model (LLM), is available through a subscription to ChatGPT Plus, which costs $20 a month. If you’re looking for more accurate responses to your queries, AI-generated images, web browsing, data analysis, and access to GPT bots all in one place, ChatGPT Plus has proven itself superior to the publicly available GPT-3.5 in the free ChatGPT.

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Don’t get me wrong — GPT-4 in ChatGPT Plus can still generate nonsensical responses (hallucinations). If you’re looking for smart answers to challenging questions, however, GPT-4 may be the answer. With that in mind, here are the differences between the free GPT-3.5 and the paid GPT-4 when comparing ChatGPT versus ChatGPT Plus.

You should use ChatGPT Plus if…

ChatGPT Plus window introduction on a laptop Maria Diaz/ZDNET

1. You’re looking for more nuanced and accurate responses

ChatGPT uses natural language processing (NLP) to understand, interpret, and mimic human language. OpenAI describes GPT-4 as “10 times more advanced than its predecessor, GPT-3.5. This enhancement enables the model to better understand the context and distinguish nuances, resulting in more accurate and coherent responses.” 

This is, in part, because GPT-4 is a much larger language model than GPT-3.5, which means it has a bigger number of parameters. These parameters represent bits of information that the model uses to understand and generate text. 

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

OpenAI doesn’t reveal the exact number of parameters used in GPT-4. However, according to Andrew Feldman, CEO of AI company Cerebras, GPT-4 was trained using around 100 trillion parameters. That’s an order of magnitude greater than GPT-3’s 175 billion parameters.

GPT-4 also has a longer memory than previous versions, adding to its ability to learn complex language patterns. While GPT-3.5’s short-term memory is around 8,000 words, GPT-4’s short-term memory extends to somewhere between 64,000 words and 128,000 words.

2. You want to use custom GPT bots

Upgrading your ChatGPT account to a Plus subscription gives you access to key features beyond general content creation, including priority access to new features, faster responses, access during peak times, and access to custom GPTs.

Since you can only use custom GPTs with GPT-4, access to the GPT Store is limited to ChatGPT Plus subscribers. The GPT Store features customized AI chatbots powered by GPT-4 that offer different skills, training, and custom instructions.

Also: GPT Store is OpenAI’s most compelling reason to become a ChatGPT Plus subscriber yet

You can find bots in the ChatGPT Store to help you solve math equations with step-by-step answers, like Math Solver; learn about the stock market with Finance Wizard; or generate videos for social media with VideoGPT by VEED. You can also bring a GPT into any open conversation with ChatGPT by mentioning it with an “@,” which brings up a list of GPTs.

OpenAI replaced ChatGPT plugins with custom GPT bots, which perform much like the plugins did.

3. You want more than plain text responses

GPT-4 is not only more powerful than GPT-3.5, but it’s also multimodal, meaning it’s capable of analyzing text, images, and voice. For instance, GPT-4 can accept an image as part of a prompt and provide an accurate text response, generate images, and be spoken to and then respond using its voice. These are all important factors when deciding between ChatGPT and ChatGPT Plus.

For example, ChatGPT Plus can “view” an image of your refrigerator contents and provide you with recipes using the ingredients it sees. ChatGPT Plus subscribers can also upload documents for GPT-4 to analyze and make inferences or summaries. By default, ChatGPT Plus will answer you with text, but you ask it to generate an image for you.

Also: How to use DALL-E 3 in ChatGPT

When you ask GPT-4 to generate images, the LLM will leverage DALL-E 3’s capabilities to do so; there’s no need to switch to another website or modality. This image generation feature is only available in ChatGPT Plus.

4. You want current information

The free version of ChatGPT cannot access the internet. ChatGPT Plus, however, can do so and thus can provide more accurate answers. OpenAI integrated a “Browse with Bing” feature into GPT-4, which means that the AI chatbot can provide up-to-date information on current events.

When you ask GPT-3.5, or the free version of ChatGPT, a question, like, “What is the most powerful iPhone?,” it will likely say the iPhone 13 Pro Max, which launched in 2021. This is because it has only been trained on information leading up to January 2022, so its knowledge is limited to events before this knowledge cutoff.

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

If you were to ask GPT-4 the same question, it would likely respond with the iPhone 15 Pro Max, Apple’s latest high-end iPhone that debuted in September 2023.

You should use free ChatGPT if…

Introducing ChatGPT Maria Diaz/ZDNET

1. You don’t need the extra features

Having all the latest ChatGPT bells and whistles sounds like a great idea, but the truth is that most AI chatbot users don’t need all the extra features that come with a ChatGPT Plus subscription. 

The free version of ChatGPT is already a force to be reckoned with, and a popular one at that. ChatGPT reached 100 million users within two months of release, long before OpenAI launched GPT-4 publicly and created the ChatGPT Plus subscription. 

Also: 4 ways Google is trying to make teachers’ lives easier with AI

The free ChatGPT can generate text summaries, stories, jokes, shopping lists, code, letters, schedules, resumes, solutions to math problems, and more — all without a subscription. It also analyzes pretty much any text data, like code snippets and large amounts of text, like other large language models.

Additionally, if you’d rather talk out loud to ChatGPT, OpenAI’s automatic speech recognition system Whisper is also built into the ChatGPT mobile app. Whisper converts spoken language into written text. When you use your voice to talk to ChatGPT on the app, it will respond with a surprisingly natural-sounding human voice, a feature that is now included with the free version of ChatGPT.

If you’re not very tech savvy, you can use ChatGPT more for personal use than intricate data analysis. If you’re more of a casual user, you’ll do fine sticking with the free version of ChatGPT.

2. You’d rather use it for free

Whether ChatGPT Plus is worth the money or not is a highly subjective question. If you’re on the fence about upgrading to the paid tier, you should consider using Microsoft Copilot, formerly known as Bing Chat, which is an AI chatbot powered by GPT-4 with DALL-E 3 built-in.

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

Using Copilot is a similar experience to using ChatGPT Plus, with the added benefit that you don’t have to pay to access it, unless you choose to do so. Admittedly, the answers from both bots are different, though both use natural language processing: Copilot tends to lean quite heavily on search results from different sites and combines them together into several paragraphs, while ChatGPT generates responses that tend to read more naturally. 

Ultimately, you can’t go wrong: Microsoft Copilot, the free ChatGPT, and ChatGPT Plus are all impressive generative AI tools.

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