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3/28/13

IPHONE 5

iPhone 5 review

iPhone 5 review

The new iPhone is here – but is Apple in danger of delivering too little with its latest upgrade?

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The excitement of the rumour mill, the titillation of every leaked photo led to higher than ever levels of expectation over the iPhone 5 features, and while the announcement was greeted with some derision at the lack of perceived headline improvements, the record sales tell an entirely different story.
Given the underwhelming changes to the iPhone 4S, the iPhone 5 launch really needs to re-energise customers to prove Apple can repeat the game-changing trick it managed with the iPhone 4.
The iPhone 5 price is predictably high, so consumers will need to bear that in mind too when looking for their next smartphone.
So is the Apple iPhone 5 the greatest smartphone ever, and did it finally see Apple ascend to the top spot in our 20 best mobile phones chart? Or was it a case of too little, too late... and what about those darned Maps, eh?

Design

We'll begin in the traditional manner: how the thing actually feels in the hand. With the iPhone 5 there will be many types of prospective buyer: the upgrader from the 4 (or more-money-than-sense iPhone 4S upgraders), those tired of their Android handset and those taking their first steps in the smartphone market and want to get one of them iThingies their friend/child has.
iPhone 5 review
Well, all of those picking up the iPhone 5 will have the same reaction: this thing is amazingly light. You've probably heard the numbers by now (20 per cent lighter than the predecessor, as well as beating most of the opposition too at 112g.)
It's an odd sensation, but it actually detracts from the experience when you first pick it up. We've praised the weighty feel of the iPhone in the past, lending it a premium feel in the face of toy-like phones, and it's almost disappointing that Apple decided to join that clan.
However, through extended use this problem quickly disappears, as the overall effect of the phone is still a chassis designed for strength, it just sits more anonymously in the pocket.
You'll obviously see the change in height too – the iPhone 5 stands 123.8mm tall to allow for the larger 4-inch screen. In truth, those not familiar with the iPhone 4S probably wouldn't notice the difference, which is why it's a good move from Apple to include the larger screen if it's not going put people off that hate larger phones.
iPhone 5 review
The decision to stick at 4-inches is Apple's admission that while it recognises people are all over the idea of having more screen real estate to play with it doesn't want to move away from the thumb-friendly nature of the device.
Through a mixture of moving the centre of gravity slightly as well as repositioning the screen within the bezel, it's still possible to scroll your thumb mostly around the whole display one-handed, which Apple is clearly keen to keep hold of.
iPhone 5 review
However, we're not convinced of that argument any more, and the power button was still a little out of reach when using the phone normally, as was anything in the top left-hand corner of the screen.
This was no issue in reality, as scooting the phone down a touch in the palm is a natural action. But if that's the case, then why not offer a 4.3-inch screen at least?
There's more to a phone than a screen these days (although increasingly less and less) and the general construction of the iPhone 5 is excellent to say the least.
iPhone 5 review
We've tested both the ceramic white version and the anodised black, and the two tone effect on the back of the phone is stunning, both visually and under the finger.
It doesn't beat the sheer beauty of the HTC One S, with its micro-arc oxidised back and rounded lines, but it's well-set in second place.
iPhone 5 review
The two sections of pigmented glass at the top and the bottom of the phone add a pleasant effect, and the sapphire glass is meant to be thoroughly durable, to complement the Gorilla Glass on the front.
Apple knows consumers get furious when they drop and iPhone, and is clearly seeking to stop the smashes before they happen with a tougher exterior - although it seems the anodised black version is pretty prone to scratching, with a number of users mentioning chipping on the darker hue.
Phil Schiller, Apple's Senior Vice President of Marketing, reportedly replied to an email from a user pointing out that aluminium will scratch and chip in natural use - and we're also hearing that white iPhone 5 models are being returned through flaking as well.
We kept our black iPhone 5 in a soft pocket in a bag for much of its life, yet saw the following chip with minimal key / coin contact in under a fortnight:
iPhone 5 chip
For a device of this premium quality, users will expect it to survive the pocket test, and especially do so for the first two weeks of life. It's a big fail for Apple to expect users to accept that a product can be damaged so easily.
The same industrial band around the outside is in effect again as on the iPhone 4 and 4S, with small sections removed where the antenna joins.
Apple has gone for a more advanced form of antenna here, meaning the days of lost signal are gone, and generally increasing the power of your call connection and GPS lock on too.
iPhone 5 review
There are other big design changes here too: the headphone jack has moved to the bottom of the phone, and the iconic 30-pin connector has been retired in favour of the new Lightning port, giving a headache to all those that have invested in chargers, docks and other accessories over their iPhone lives.
You can buy an adaptor, but it's pricey at £25. And unless you want to keep it permanently attached to the bottom of the iPhone 5 you'll need to buy a few, which is far from ideal.
However, let's not harangue Apple too much for this: a smaller connector is not only easier to use (you can plug the smaller cable in either way round, and the connection feels more solid), but you're rewarded with a thinner and more compact phone to boot.
iPhone 5 review
There's also a small chink of light on the top right hand side of the iPhone 5 - when the screen is illuminated, you can see it under the band if you really, really look for it. It's been seen by a number of users, but is hard to actually replicate unless you mask the screen and hold it at the right angle.
It's again a sign of slightly under-par machining from Apple, but in day to day use it's almost completely invisible.
The decision to move the 3.5mm headphone jack to the bottom is an odd one, as while it allows you to slip the phone into the pocket head-first when listening to music, which is a more natural action, it's a real pain in the posterior for some apps that will only work in landscape a certain way up.
Using it this way means your headphones experience will be one of having to jiggle the jack around two fingers.
It's not the most comfortable way to hold a phone, and even when using the phone in portrait mode, the jack gets in the way somewhat. Plus it's miles away from the volume keys, which makes it hard to change the audio level in the pocket if you don't use the dedicated headphones.
There are other smaller design changes to the iPhone 5 too, such as the iSight front-facing camera moving to the middle and the home button being noticeably more robust to help reduce instances of a broken portal to your home screen.
iPhone 5 review
But enough about what the phone looks like - the killer question is how the thing feels in hand. And we'll sum it up by saying: smooth. It's a little slippery, and we were always worried we would drop the darned thing.
But that's the only negative thing about the design (apart from the low weight initially and scratching aluminium) as it sits in the palm nicely and allows you to do it all with one hand, including hitting the top-mounted power/lock button with ease.
That lock button is actually still loose, as it was on the iPhone 4S, meaning when you shake the phone around you can hear it clicking away, which undoes a lot of the premium feel Apple is going for.
Make no mistake, the iPhone 5 is one of the most beautifully crafted phones out there - but when you're paying £529 up front for the thing, we'd hope this would be the very minimum Apple would be doing.
iPhone 5 review
And while it looks nice, from the front it doesn't really add much to the design of the iPhone - it's certainly not the same as the jaw-dropping design of the iPhone 4 compared to the 3GS... it's another evolution in the iLine. It's not bad, but for those that hoped the iPhone 5 would be another step change there's a good chance they'll be disappointed about the look... until they feel the lovely back on offer.
There was a real chance here for Apple: remove the bezel and give the front of the screen a look that's similar to the OLED TVs from the likes of Samsung or LG… but instead we're treated to the same lines as before.
You always get the feeling that Apple saves what it can for the next iteration of the iPhone, and while there's nothing wrong with the current construction we can see the edge-to-edge screen becoming something amazing on the iPhone 6 or iPhone 5S.
The technology on offer from Apple with regards to the new 4-inch display is impressive – but only on a scale that matches that seen with the launch of the Retina Display in 2010.
There's such a temptation with new technology to bash it for not always innovating and pushing things further, especially when Apple's announcements are so full of hyperbole that it's often hard to tell what's actually exciting.
However when Steve Jobs took to the stage to announce the Retina Display, he said it was sharper than the human eye could discern – and he was right, as despite other far-reaching efforts to up the sharpness nothing has really made us squint at a display in awe than that first shown on the iPhone 4.
iPhone 5 review
So we're not going to berate Apple for sticking with the same 326ppi resolution, nor 'only' extending the iPhone 5 display to 1136 x 640 pixels - it's the look that matters, and overall effect of the screen is very pleasing indeed.
There are black bars above and below when using older iPhone apps that haven't been optimised for the screen, but after the novelty of seeing them for the first time we barely noticed anything different after two or three days' use - and already we're seeing a number of optimised apps springing to life in the App Store after just a few weeks of life.
Apple has done away with layers of technology below the screen to bring the display as close to the glass as possible, something it says will bring increased brightness and sharpness to the user's eye.
In practice, it's quite different from the iPhone 4S in quality and brightness, although tilting the phone to extreme angles lacks the impressive look we've seen on phones like the HTC One X. However, just because you can't see the colours as accurately at acute angles isn't really something to criticise a phone for, unless you're in the habit of letting your friends watch films from two seats away from you.
iPhone 5 review
But enough of the comparisons: how does the screen look to the new user? Well, the answer is crisp, clear and bright with no discernible over-saturation when watching movies or browsing the web. We noticed no obvious discolouration - some people say the iPhone 4S had a slight greenish tint to it - so it's clear this is the best Apple display yet.
It's a lot better than the iPhone 4S in side by side comparisons, with the new phone definitely looking brighter, crisper and more true to life than its predecessor.
However, for all the reality on offer, it's not got the snap and pop that still wows us on the Samsung Galaxy S3, with its Super AMOLED HD display with superb contrast ratios. If asked to choose which handset we'd like to watch movies on, browse the web or go navigating in the car with, we know we'd pick the Galaxy S3 every time.
Both displays have the same 'painted on' effect when looking at the home screen that makes you wonder if you're looking at a dummy model with a sticker on, but those that say 4.8-inches of screen is too big haven't played with the S3 very long - we predict at least half would be enamoured by the larger size within a day.
iPhone 5 review
That's not to say the iPhone 5 display is too small, as for many it's the most they'd accept in screen evolution. It's just that if 3.5-inches was the perfect one-handed size, 4-inches is a little too big (try getting your thumb up to the top-left corner to head back through apps) so if that's the case, a little bit bigger wouldn't make much difference and would give an improved experience to the apps so crucial to a smartphone user today.
We can't say we really felt the extra screen space added much to the feel of the iPhone 5 - typing was still slightly cramped as there's no extra width on offer, and while having a taller screen allowed for more information to be present, it didn't have the feel of a massive step change from the iPhone 4S.
When it comes to the interface on the new iPhone 5, well, there's not a lot new about it at all. You can read our full iOS 6 review to get a good flavour of the new treats on offer with Apple's latest platform evolution, but let's talk about how they work within the phone itself.
For the uninitiated, Apple's iOS is designed to be all about simplicity, which is why you're presented with a grid of apps that can be easily sorted into folders by long pressing on any one and dragging on top of another.
iPhone 5 review
This method will also uninstall apps too, making it a much simpler system than anything you'd find on Android, where you have to jump through a few more hoops generally to create folders and get rid of unwanted software.
However, the downside to this trick is the fact it's been there so long. If this is your first smartphone (or first iPhone) then you'll be impressed by the simplicity - but then again, you may wish you had a bit more power under your fingertips.
For instance, where Android is so strong is in its customisation - meaning if you want to have one home screen full of widgets and another full of icons and a third with a massive widget for your music player, that's as easy to do as just filling the whole thing with icons.
With iOS 6 you've only got weather and stock widgets in the notifications bar, which is accessed by pulling down from the top of the screen to give information on apps or message that have come through.
It's similar to that seen on Android phones, but with Jelly Bean (Android 4.1) we're offered the chance to see larger message previews and interact with important parts of apps without having to open them - impressive and a much more intuitive way of doing things.
Intuition is the thing iOS 6 now lacks. Where Apple wowed the world with the simple nature of the original iPhone, the current set up isn't really that far removed from that first iteration, at least visually.
Things like all settings being locked down to one place, meaning you have to jump in and out of the apps to simply do things like alter the amount of days to sync in Mail, is ridiculous. Contextual menus have been absent from the iPhone ecosystem for far too long.
iPhone 5 review
Another issue is the fact Apple isn't able to work out how to do live icons effectively. While some show new information, such as the Calendar, the likes of Weather still say the same 23 degrees with a sunny outlook.
We know you can do better than this Apple, and when you look at the awesome Live Tiles on offer from Windows Phone, it beggars belief that the Cupertino firm seems to think users wouldn't appreciate the chance to take a glance at the screen and know who that missed call was from, see what the temperature is outside or simply attach a contact as an icon for quick access.
It's also extremely frustrating to not at least have the option to have the icons auto-arrange still. When you delete an app all the others don't automatically line up to fill the space, which hurts the OCD nature in many of us.
We get that Apple knows some people want to keep icons in familiar places, but the auto-arrange option should be there.
But let's talk hardware here: the A6 chip on offer in the iPhone 5 may only be dual core, but it's certainly ridiculously snappy. It's meant to be much faster than the A5 chip powering the iPhone 4S, and in practice it really is, with GeekBench telling us than the clock speed is 1.1 to 1.3GHz on each core.
It manages to nab a score of around 1450 on GeekBench, which is over twice as fast as the iPhone 4S - impressive given they're both dual core phones.
And that's the beauty of Apple's iPhone strategy, and one that pays dividends for users: it doesn't play the numbers game, as it will only end in criticism. Sure, a quad core CPU would have been a good marketing tool, but at the expense of battery life and design Apple knows that consumers will get an equally great experience with just the two cores.
iPhone 5 review
We didn't notice anything approaching lag during our time with the iPhone 5, with everything snapping back and forth with the kind of speeds we'd hope to see. Holding down the home key to access Siri was instant every time, and double tapping to bring up the list of apps running was equally fast.
This may all sound obvious, but some smartphones will introduce some delay into oft-used tasks, where the iPhone was happy to keep chugging along with no problems.
There was one issue we encountered during an iCloud backup to bring all the apps and settings from our previous phone, and that was during the repopulation some apps wouldn't delete, and would sit there installing forever until the phone was forced into a restart.
This was irritating as it stopped other apps from downloading at the same time, meaning we had to keep turning the blasted thing on and off again just to actually get all the apps we wanted on it.
There are those that have criticised the 'multi-tasking' window in the iOS system, stating that it's not true multi-tasking... which is true.
But try keeping all those apps running at once and using the phone for more than half a day, and you'll realise that Apple's strategy of putting some apps in stasis or shutting them down (but still showing them as recently used for easy access) is a good move on the whole.
We do wish more apps were able to run in the background (Skype would be a great start, as would many social networks) but on the whole we're fans of battery life, and there's every chance Apple will refine the process in the future.
After a couple of weeks' use, we slipped easily back into the familiar iPhone routine with iOS 6 and the standard interface. It does feel irritating at times, especially when having to jump in and out of the settings menu, but the new visual touches permeating the device mean that you won't feel thoroughly short changed by iOS.
And of course there's the debate of not getting to have a clean slate when you get a new phone, with iCloud / iTunes backup meaning you've got exactly the same experience as before on your device. Of course, this is mega lazy as you can choose a fresh install and manually update your information, but for a lot of people a spring clean on a new phone is outweight by convenience.

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