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Maria Diaz/ZDNET

When GPT-4 was OpenAI’s most powerful artificial intelligence large language model (LLM), paying $20 a month for a subscription to ChatGPT Plus was a no-brainer. But since OpenAI announced the availability of GPT-4o, the choice is a bit more complicated. 

In May 2024, OpenAI revealed an omnimodel that makes GPT-4-level intelligence accessible for everyone. Free users can also access features previously reserved for paid subscribers, including the GPT Store for custom GPT bots; the Memory feature to give their conversations continuity; uploading photos and documents to discuss them with ChatGPT; web browsing; and advanced data analysis.

Also: Apple Intelligence FAQ: Every new feature, what models support it, and privacy concerns

As a ChatGPT Plus subscriber, I’ll explain below when ChatGPT will suffice and when you might want to spring for Plus. 

You should use ChatGPT Plus if…

ChatGPT Plus window introduction on a laptop

Maria Diaz/ZDNET

1. You want to use GPT-4o more than most

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 aren’t completely gone. Free ChatGPT users are limited in the number of messages they can send with GPT-4o depending on usage and demand. 

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

ChatGPT switches to GPT-3.5 when free users reach their limit. Though OpenAI doesn’t specify the GPT-4o limit for free users, ChatGPT Plus subscribers have up to five times the capacity of the free tier and can send GPT-4o up to 80 messages every three hours. This means free users should have up to a 15-16 prompt limit every three hours. ChatGPT Plus users still have access to GPT-4 when they exceed their GPT-4o limit. 

Though we expect OpenAI will increase the limits for GPT-4o for both free and paid users, if you’d like to use GPT-4o for more than about 15 messages every three hours, you’re better off with a ChatGPT Plus subscription.

2. You want to generate (reliable) images

GPT-4o Image generation

While GPT-4o for free ChatGPT users can technically generate images, it’s nothing like what you get with a paid subscription.

Screenshot: Maria Diaz/ZDNET & Sabrina Ortiz/ZDNET

One nugget that OpenAI hasn’t advertised as much as other features is that reliable image generation is still reserved for ChatGPT Plus subscribers. 

GPT-4o is multimodal and capable of analyzing text, images, and voice. For example, GPT-4o can ingest an image of your refrigerator contents and provide you with recipes using the ingredients it identifies. Free ChatGPT users can also upload documents for GPT-4o to analyze and make inferences or summaries. But its ability to create images is limited, to say the least.

Also: How to use DALL-E 3 in ChatGPT

GPT-4o in the free ChatGPT tier doesn’t have access to DALL-E, OpenAI’s image generation model. This means that when you ask it to generate images for you, it’ll leverage OpenAI’s advanced data analysis to render a simple vector image of what you requested. While free users can technically access GPTs with GPT-4o, they can’t effectively use the DALL-E GPT through the GPT Store. When asked to generate an image, the DALL-E GPT responds that it can’t, and a popup appears prompting free users to join ChatGPT Plus to generate images. 

As a Plus user, 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.

3. You just can’t wait 

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

OpenAI rolled out GPT-4o to ChatGPT Plus, Team, and ChatGPT free users this spring, with Enterprise users coming soon. 

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

4. You want a tool to create charts and tables

ChatGPT’s upgraded data analysis feature lets users 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 are available only in GPT-4o to ChatGPT Plus, Team, and Enterprise users.

Also: How to use ChatGPT to make charts and tables with Advanced Data Analysis

With these capabilities, you can 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

With GPT-4o rolling out to free users, ChatGPT users will no longer need a Plus subscription to access most of the features that initially attracted subscribers. ChatGPT free users can 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

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. Plus users have a message limit that is five times greater than that of free users for GPT-4o, 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 more popular.

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