Review: Apple iPhone 5
September 26, 2012 — by Per Christensson
The iPhone 5 is a great phone and possibly the best smartphone on the market. However, it is not without its drawbacks. I've been testing the new iPhone 5 over the past five days, and here's what I think.
The screen is the most notable change in the iPhone 5. For the first time since the original iPhone, Apple increased the size of the iPhone's screen from 3.5 inches to 4 inches (measured diagonally). The screen width is the same, but the display has been lengthened, so it is now has a 16x9 ratio, which is the same as HDTV. This means iPhone users can finally watch HD videos in fullscreen without the sides getting cut off.
The longer screen isn't just great for video, it provides an extra row of icons on the home screen and improves many other apps as well. For example, you can see more names in your Contacts list, view more Mail messages and text messages at once, and fit more of each webpage on your screen. Apple's choice to keep the width of the screen the same while extending the length seems like a good compromise to compete with all the large screen smartphones that have come out recently. You can see more content at once, but you can still easily use the phone with one hand.
The quality of the display seems to be slightly better than my old iPhone 4. The colors are definitely more vibrant and the retina display seems even more crystal clear than before. My only gripe is that the natural tone of the screen is much warmer than my iPhone 4. Bright whites even look a bit yellow. Additionally, the yellowish tone becomes more pronounced as you tilt the screen, meaning the colors aren't consistent as the viewing angle changes. I thought I would get used to this after a few days, but it still bothers me.
The iPhone 5 uses Apple's new A6 processor, which is supposed to be twice as fast as the previous A5 chip. After testing out several different apps on my phone, I'd say the 2x speed bump is pretty accurate. This iPhone feels much more responsive than my iPhone 4 and even basic tasks like scrolling through text messages and opening emails are much smoother.
The 4G technology is also a nice improvement, though I haven't seen anywhere close to the 100 Mbps download speeds that are possible with LTE. I think this is mainly because 4G LTE is not offered in my area, so I am using some other proprietary AT&T 4G technology for my data access. The fastest speeds I have measured on my iPhone 5 over 4G is 5.64 Mbps downstream and 1.30 Mbps upstream. That is a lot slower than the 24 Mbps / 3.85 Mbps speeds I get over my Wi-Fi connection.
The iPhone 5's new camera is pretty awesome. It is substantially faster than my iPhone 4's camera and the images are cleaner with less artifacts. The new camera captures color pretty accurately (though some colors are a bit over saturated) and it does a great job of accurately monitoring lighting conditions. Apple hyped up the low-light performance of this camera, saying it was far better than before, but unfortunately I haven't noticed much of an improvement when taking dimly lit shots.
I really like the new Panorama feature that allows you to take ultra-wide panoramic landscape shots. It takes awhile to get used to moving the camera slowly and keeping it level, but when you do it right, the result is amazing. The iPhone 5 provides a much more natural way to take panoramic shots than the photo-stitching method other cameras use.
The new iOS 6.0 is installed by default on the iPhone 5. It's not much different than the iOS 5, but includes a number of small improvements. One of the more notable improvements is the new Apple Maps feature, which replaces Google Maps. So far, I haven't had any major problems with the Maps app like some users have reported, but the app is definitely less responsive and less accurate than Google Maps. The new turn-by-turn navigation feature, however, is awesome and makes using the Maps app while driving much easier and safer.
Siri has been improved in iOS 6 as well. Since my previous phone was an iPhone 4 (not a 4S), my previous experience with Siri was limited to testing it on my friends' phones. Now that I have Siri on my own phone, I am highly impressed with how well she understands what I say. While her responses aren't always helpful, she can answer common questions and commands very well. For example, asking Siri, "How do I get home?" is a much easier way to get directions back to your house than typing an address into the Maps app. Asking, "What was the score of the Vikings game?" is quicker than looking up the score using the Web or even a sports app.
Look and Feel
Even though the iPhone 5 is more powerful than the iPhone 4S and has slightly longer battery life, Apple somehow managed to make this iPhone thinner than the previous model. At only 0.30 in (7.6 mm), you can hardly tell when you have the iPhone 5 in your pocket. Additionally, the new black and slate finish looks really sharp and the beveled edges give the phone a well-crafted Applesque appearance.
While the iPhone 5 may be the best-looking phone on the market, it may also be the most difficult to pick up. If the iPhone 4 was difficult to grab on a flat surface, you might just need a spatula to peel this this flat device off the table. Additionally, the rectangular, hard-edged shape is not very comfortable to hold without a case. Unfortunately, when Apple released the iPhone, almost no cases were available.
Apple succeeded in providing several million iPhone 5s on the launch date (Sept 21, 2012), but did a horrible job of providing accessories for the iPhone. Apple uncharacteristically did not provided any cases, including its own signature "bumper" case when the iPhone was released. To make matters worse, I've heard it may be several weeks before most cases are available. If I was a conspiracist, I might say the delay is because Apple wants people to use the phones without cases for awhile to show off the new design. But it's possible it was simply because Apple didn't finalize the design until recently and therefore sent the specs to case manufacturers later than usual.
The iPhone 5 is the first iOS device to use the new Lightning connector instead of the old Dock Connector (which was adopted from the iPod. While I think the new I/O connector is a great improvement, the new iPhone doesn't work with any of my old iPhone-compatible devices (like my Sony clock radio, which I use to charge my iPhone every night). So I just need an adapter, right? Well, Apple is working on an adapter, but supposedly it won't be available for several weeks. Therefore, for the next month or so, I have to plug my iPhone into the wall each night to charge it and I can't use it with anything else in my house. I don't know what would cause the delay of such a simple and necessary component, but Apple really dropped the ball with this one.
This is my fourth iPhone and it is definitely the best one so far. I especially like the longer screen and the faster processor. This phone is so fast, it almost feels like I am using a tiny laptop rather than a smartphone. Additionally, the thin form factor makes this version the most portable iPhone yet. Unfortunately, the sleek design also makes the new iPhone rather uncomfortable to hold, so I am looking forward to getting a case that will improve the ergonomics. Finally, I have to dock the iPhone an extra point because I can't use it with any of my iPhone-compatible accessories.
While it's not perfect, the new iPhone is a substantial improvement over the previous model. If your cellphone contract allows you to get a discounted phone, I highly recommend the iPhone 5. You just might want to wait until some cases and Lightning adapters are available.