Apple iPhone 5 review
The thinnest, slickest, fastest iPhone yet
Review Time was, smartphones did little that was actually smart. They had front-facing cameras and maybe a touchscreen, but operating systems geared more for a stylus than fingers. It wasn’t until the iPhone landed in 2007 that things changed. For the next few years Apple continued to deliver the brainiest of smartphones. No one else came close. But now, rivals have stepped up their game – is the iPhone still the leader of the pack?
The iPhone 5, even though it’s the sixth of its kind, is easily the slickest Apple phone yet. No surprise there. But it’s also one of the most beautiful, desirable pieces of telephonic kit from any manufacturer. It looks okay in photos but the in-the-flesh experience is truly remarkable.
Even after more than a week of using the iPhone 5, it feels startlingly different from any other handset and its slimness, lightness and smooth matte aluminium back continue to take the breath away. Though there are other phones that feel fine in the hand – the forthcoming HTC 8X is especially striking – this is a real winner. It’s certainly a more high-end feel than the glossy but plasticky Samsung Galaxy S III.
Expecting someone taller? The 5 isn't so very much bigger than the 4S
That display – the same width as every previous iPhone but a 176 pixels taller – is strange at first. Where other manufacturers have opted for oblongs which are relatively wider, which suits web pages better, arguably, the 16:9 ratio here suddenly makes sense when you’re watching video. Of course, many apps haven’t yet been re-coded to make use of the extra pixels, so these play with black bars at either end.
This should be distracting, but in practice I noticed the bars for the first few minutes and then forgot about them completely. I imagine it will be even easier to ignore them with the black iPhone 5. What you do see every time you look at the display is the improved colour saturation. It’s noticeably brighter and more vivid than earlier iPhone panels and easily on a par with the gaudiness of the Galaxy S III or the upcoming Nokia Lumia 920.
And new screen technology means the gap between the glass and the LCD has been reduced, bringing the action closer to the eye – it looks great. Where the display doesn’t compare is in size. At four inches, it’s a world away from other manufacturers’ flagship phones. The Nokia Lumia 920 will have a 4.5in screen, the HTC One X 4.7in, and the Samsung Galaxy S III is 4.8in. And there’s the phone/tablet hybrid Galaxy Note 2 with its 5.6in screen.
But not everyone wants a such palm-pulling handset, and the iPhone 5 is a decent compromise between providing extra real estate and remaining comfortable. Also – who knows? – if Apple had gone much bigger it may have reduced the need for the still-mythical iPad Mini.
The A6 CPU makes short work of aligning pics into a panorama
The iPhone 5 has a fast processor, the A6 chip. Although Apple don’t reveal absolute speeds, the company says it’s twice the speed of the A5 in the 4S. There are plenty of fast smartphones on the market and, however many gigahertz it really has, this is very nippy. It never dawdles. This is true of the other flagship phones, of course.
The connector, you’ll have heard, is no longer the 30-pin model that arrived with the second-gen iPod in 2003. So it’s fair enough that Apple has upgraded it. I mean it’s not like a different connector for every phone, which happened on Samsung and Nokia phones at the turn of the century. No, Apple has been consistent here. None the less, the change to Lightning is annoying for people with speaker docks. And that’s a lot of people.
Apple really should have decided to bundle an adaptor, at least if a customer had asked for one, rather than charging £25 for this small but crucial piece of plastic. Yes, it's an active adaptor with on-board chippery converting signals from one port to the other, but Apple has the margins - especially given the number of iPhone 5s expected to ship this weekend - for a little generosity. I'd rather have the Lightning adaptor than yet another USB AC transformer.
Of course, the introduction of Lightning doesn’t affect people with AirPlay or Bluetooth speakers, but still.
It’s a matter of personal taste whether the 3.5mm headphone jack that’s been moved from the top to the bottom of the phone is good or bad. Me, I’m not mad about it, but it’s not a deal-breaker.
Better LTE than never
Battery life on smartphones is often an issue. Though the iPhone is better than it was, the more it does the more you want to use it, so it discharges more quickly. However, this is not just an Apple problem. HTC has improved the battery life in its phones markedly, as has Samsung. Things get easier on big phones because you can fit a bigger cell. And in a week of testing, the iPhone 5 has a noticeably improved battery life over its predecessors, thank goodness.
The new software, iOS 6, is available now for the iPhone 5 and some earlier models - and it's reviewed separately, here. There are lots of neat extras here. And some users may feel there’s no need to upgrade since all the star attractions of iOS 6 work on the iPhone 4S, too. But the processor is what makes the difference here, ensuring that the phone handles the camera’s Panorama feature, for instance, with ease.
And downloading the data for the half-baked Maps app’s gimmicky 3D Flyover feature is the fast it can be – there are often delays but that’s mostly down to the speed of connection. Speaking of which, let’s remember that this is the first phone with 4G in the UK. Others will follow and anyway the only network with 4G access, Everything Everywhere, hasn’t turned it on for public use yet.
Vodafone and O2 users can take comfort in the fact that the fast 3G connectivity has a noticeable effect, with data speeds being faster than on previous iPhones.
Limitations? There's the much publicised lack of NFC, but even the iPhone 5 naysayers have to admit there's very little need for it now, certainly as a payment mechanism. Next year, when the iPhone 5S comes out, maybe; but not now. I can't see too many, if any, iPhone 5 users desperately wanting to initiate fileshares with other users by tapping their handsets together.
The new EarPods are better than their predecessors... but that's not saying much
If you’re an iPhone user, you’ll want to move on up to what is surely the classiest handset from Apple yet. Though the 4S still has lots to offer, thanks to the arrival of iOS 6, the iPhone 5 hardware is nevertheless spectacular and deeply seductive. And when 4G arrives for EE customers, it will be an even more attractive package.
Sure, there are other handsets which do as much as or more than the iPhone 5. But Apple’s ease of use, highly populated App Store and irresistibly sleek hardware design are enough to give it the edge. ®
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