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Based on my experience for the two minutes for which my device was jailbroken, I saw little difference between a jailbroken device and nonjailbroken device. All I noticed was a little Cydia icon. Presumably I can add software via Cydia, but I'm curious to know what else jail breaking offers out of the box on an iPhone 4 running iOS 5. Is Cydia really the only starting point, or do other settings magically appear in the Settings app or elsewhere? Are there other benefits?

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My understanding is only Cydia. Everything that changes the phone via jailbreak comes in via Cydia. :)

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That'd be correct. Cydia is your gateway to everything that makes the jailbreak remotely worth it. At current, there are several jailbreaks that greatly enhance Siri's functionality, among a host of other goodies.

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