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

Maria Diaz/ZDNET

GPT-4, OpenAI’s most powerful large language model (LLM), has been available for months 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 different GPT-4 bots all in one place, GPT-4 has proven itself superior to the publicly available GPT-3.5.

Also: How to use ChatGPT Plus: From web browsing to plugins

Don’t get me wrong — GPT-4 can still make blunders, which are often referred to as hallucinations. But if you’re looking to get some smart answers to some challenging questions, GPT-4 is the answer. With that in mind, here are the technical differences between the free version of ChatGPT and the paid-for version of GPT-4 in ChatGPT Plus.

You should use ChatGPT Plus if…

ChatGPT Plus window introduction on a laptop

Maria Diaz/ZDNET

1. You want more than text responses

GPT-4 is stronger than GPT-3.5, but it’s also multimodal, and capable of analyzing text, images, and voice. For instance, it can accept an image as part of a prompt and provide an accurate text response, it can generate images, and it can be spoken to and then respond using its voice.

Here’s an example: GPT-4 can “view” an image of your refrigerator contents and provide you with recipes using the ingredients it sees. ChatGPT Plus users can also upload documents for GPT-4 to analyze and make inferences or summaries. However, GPT-4 will only answer you with text — unless you ask it to generate an image for you. 

Also: How to publish your own custom GPT chatbot in OpenAI’s store

Users can ask GPT-4 to create an image and it will leverage DALL-E 3’s capabilities to do so; no need to switch to another website.

2. You want to use custom GPT bots or plugins

Access to both the GPT Store and ChatGPT plugins is limited to those with a Plus subscription, as you can only use them while using GPT-4. The new GPT Store is a library of customized AI chatbots powered by GPT-4, and these specialized bots combine different skills, training, and custom instructions. 

GPT bots can be trained on specific data and made available for others to use in the store. You can find bots for solving 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.

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

With plugins, OpenAI and third-party developers can work with external application programming interfaces to make ChatGPT-4 “smarter”. For example, with the Expedia and Kayak travel plugins, you can ask for the best flights to Vancouver. Or with the Ask Your PDF ChatGPT Plugin, OpenAI will seek your answers from any PDF document you point it to. 

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

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 model than GPT-3.5, which means it has a bigger number of parameters. These parameters represent bits of information that the model, in this case, GPT-4, uses to understand and generate text. 

Also: These are technology leaders’ biggest worries about using AI at work

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 has been trained with around 100 trillion parameters. That’s an order of magnitude greater than GPT-3 with its 175 billion parameters. 

GPT-4 also has a longer memory than previous versions. While GPT-3.5’s short-term memory is around 8,000 words, GPT-4’s short-term memory extends to around 64,000 words, which is expected to grow to 128,000 in the coming weeks.

4. You want up-to-date information

The free version of ChatGPT cannot access the internet, but ChatGPT Plus can. OpenAI integrated a ‘Browse with Bing’ feature into GPT-4 recently, which means that the AI chatbot can access the internet and provide 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 late 2021, so its knowledge is limited to events before then.

Also: ChatGPT’s new web browsing feature is a big disappointment. Use this plugin instead

If you were to ask GPT-4 the same question, it would likely respond back 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 bells and whistles sounds like a great idea when you’re talking about ChatGPT, but the truth is that most AI chatbot users don’t need all the extra features that come with a Plus subscription. 

It’s worth noting that ChatGPT, the free version, is already a force to be reckoned with, and a popular one at that. ChatGPT reached 100 million users within two months of being released, months before GPT-4 was launched publicly and before a Plus subscription was created. 

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. Additionally, if you’d rather talk outloud 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, the AI chatbot will respond with a surprisingly natural-sounding human voice, reading the responses from the AI chatbot, a feature that is now included with the free version of ChatGPT.

Also: How to write better ChatGPT prompts in 5 steps

If you’re not very tech savvy, don’t use ChatGPT for intricate data analysis, and if you’re more of an occasional 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. But if you’re on the fence about upgrading to a paid subscription, you should consider using the Bing Chat feature, 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 Bing Chat is a similar experience to using ChatGPT Plus, with the added benefit that you don’t have to pay to access it. Admittedly, the answers from both bots are different: Bing tends to lean quite heavily on search results from different sites and combines them together into several paragraphs, while ChatGPT generates responses that read more naturally. 

But let’s be honest: Bing Chat, GPT-3.5, and GPT-4 are all impressive generative AI tools. 

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