iPhone 5 review

Posted by: Brett

The iPhone has definitely made a name for itself since 2007. Each year, it’s broken previous iPhone sales records, introduced new features – hardware and software – and has captivated even it’s creators. Five years later, the fabled iPhone 5 is finally here. Sure, some may say it looks the same and there’s no real differences between it and it’s predecessor, but is that really true? Is Apple starting to slide? Keep reading for my full review of the iPhone 5.

Hardware

There’s a lot to talk about with the iPhone 5 in the hardware and design department. Although the design looks similar to it’s predecessor, it’s pretty much all new and you really have to see the phone in person to get a feel for what’s changed. The device is surprisingly light and if you’re not careful when taking it out of the box, you may drop it. Weighing in at just under 4 ounces, it’s hard to discern the one ounce difference between it and the 4S when holding them together. The drop in weight is something you’ll notice as you continue using the phone, as is the decrease in thickness. The 5 is 18% thinner than the 4S which really gives the device a good feel compared the 4S.

When you turn the iPhone 5 over, you’ll notice an aesthetic change. Rather than one piece of glass, the back plate is divided into three different pieces – a glass RF window at the top, a large aluminum slab in the middle, and another glass RF window at the bottom. Apple has also polished the edges of the device to give them a sleek, mirrored finish.

If you picked up a black model, the metal band that runs around the device and the back slab will be a darker, anodized aluminum and the antenna band splits have a black piece in them. The white model has a lighter, brushed aluminum metal band and back slab. Both of the aforementioned design colorings are of course in addition to the black or white housings of each respective model. Other design changes include a relocated headphone jack (now at the bottom next to the dock connector and speakers) and a slightly relocated FaceTime camera (now above the earpiece).

Display

The only change Apple has made to the iPhone’s display in the five previous models was with the iPhone 4, giving it a higher pixel density. The iPhone 5 has finally received a 4-inch display (up from 3.5 inches) which is something customers have yearned for for years. The 640 by 1136 resolution keeps the screen at 326 ppi, retaining the “Retina Display” moniker, has 18% more pixels, and 44% better color saturation. Widescreen video looks better than ever due to the 16:9 aspect ratio. Apple also merged the display into one layer allowing for it to be thinner, have better viewing angles, and keep the overall device thin.

Other than widescreen HD video playback, the screen only allows for more content to show in Safari and other apps, as well as an extra row for icons on the home screen. Apple has not given the device any major capabilities due to the larger screen, but there are minor tweaks such as the Weather app showing persistent hourly forecasts for the current day. Apple was focused on increasing the display size, but allowing for easy one-handed use just like with previous models, which is why the width of the screen and device is exactly the same as the 4S. Overall, the screen leaks fantastic and colors pop. It’s easily one of the best displays on a smartphone in today’s market.

Note that apps that haven’t yet been updated to support the 4-inch display will be “letterboxed”, meaning black bars will appear above and below the app, which will give it the look of an iPhone 4S app.

Internals

The iPhone 5 features a new processor custom made by Apple called the A6. While the A6 chip is still dual-core, graphics and overall performance are both twice as fast, as quoted by Apple. Device teardowns reveal the  GPU (graphics processing unit) is a triple-core processor. The clockspeed of the A6 chip isn’t stated by Apple directly, although it’s said to range from 1 GHz to 1.29 GHz in each core. The iPhone 5 also finally has 1GB of RAM like the iPad 3 which should help with overall performance and things such as having a bunch of Safari tabs open or apps frozen in the background not having to reload when switching back to them. Overall performance is definitely noticeable going from the 4S to the 5. Apps open faster, Safari is lightning fast, and pinch-to-zoom and scrolling is better than ever. Whether or not it’s something to switch from the 4S over is still up for debate. In addition, the A6 chip in the iPhone 5 has been yielding better performance test results than the A5X processor in the iPad 3.

Apple has really improved things audio-wise. The speakers at the bottom are larger and offers crystal clear audio, the earpiece at the top is also clear, and there is a third microphone which, with the help of the other two that were improved, definitely help with noise cancellation and call-quality.

Cameras

The cameras have been tweaked slightly, but it’s nothing to go crazy over. Apple has given the iPhone 5 a sapphire crystal lens cap which will make the lens less prone to becoming scratched as well as helping to improve image quality slightly. Image quality is as good as ever, even though it’s still an 8 megapixel shooter. Apple greatly improved macro performance because as most of us know, moving in too close with the 4S camera would make images blurry and even focusing didn’t help. Low-light performance is also markedly better on the iPhone 5.

The front-facing camera has been upped to 1.2 megapixels and also shoots in 720p HD. Although this feature is also on the 4S in addition to the 5, iOS 6 brings the ability to take panoramic photos. You can slowly pan your device around the seen to take one continuous photo, and in the case of the iPhone 5, panoramas can be up to 28 megapixels. Apple also says images can be taken up to 40% faster than before.

Miscellaneous

Much to the dismay of many customers, Apple has changed the design of the 30-pin dock connector after years and years of it’s use in all mobile Apple products. The new Lightning port on the iPhone 5 is a remarkable 80% smaller than the old connector and includes a mere 8 pins rather than 30. The connector is reversible so you don’t have to mess around with it to get it in the right way. Apple even said they wouldn’t have been able to fit the 30-pin port into the new design, so a compromise had to be made. The downside to this new port is that connectors and other accessories like speakers that plug into the 30-pin port won’t fit into the new one so a $29 adapter bought from Apple. Otherwise, the port is still USB 2.0 and doesn’t really offer faster transfer speeds.

Included with the iPhone 5 are the new EarPods, which are the redesigned Apple headphones. Apple said they spent years trying to get them to fit better, more securely, and more comfortable in most customer’s ears and for the most part, they’ve succeeded in doing so. Although they’ve got a weird name and a funky design, they fit rather well and don’t fall out when running or doing every day tasks. Audio is improved also and if you want the headphones without purchasing the iPhone 5, you can get them for $29 from Apple. If you’re looking for high quality headphones, these may or may not fit the bill and may or may not be worth the price since you can probably find better ones for  at a comparable price point.

The iPhone 5 also includes LTE like the iPad 3, although the chip used is slightly different. The chip in the iPhone 5 includes both voice and data so, depending on your carrier, you can talk on the phone, and use data at the same time. It’s also a smaller chip allowing for more room inside. LTE speeds with the iPhone are similar, if not exactly the same as the iPad 3 and can reach up to 100 mbps. There is a new WiFi radio which has dual-band 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequencies allowing for up to 150 mbps. Battery-wise, although it has only been improved by 10 mAh’s, battery performance is solid and definitely comparable to the iPhone 4S.

Software-wise, the iPhone 5 is running iOS 6, build 10A405, a slightly differently build number but nonetheless the same operating system. There really are no exclusive software features for the iPhone 5, except for the fact that everything is optimized for the larger display, processor, and other internals. As you can read about in my overview of iOS 6 here, it features a new Maps application by Apple, updates to Siri, Facebook integration, Passbook, FaceTime over cellular, and more as apart of the over 200 new features.

Conclusion

So, is the iPhone 5 the best iPhone thus far? Of course it is. Apple put it’s best foot forward with the iPhone 5 it’s without a doubt their most ambitious model to date. The iPhone 5 is definitely a great upgrade for 3GS and 4 users, as well as new iPhone owners but whether or not it’s worth it to upgrade from the 4S really depends on what you want. If you’ve been waiting for a larger screen and LTE or just want the latest iPhone, then the device is for you. If you could care less about the “bigger screen” or faster data speeds, definitely hold off because iOS 6 offers all the software features the 5 has. While this is definitely the best iPhone yet, Apple still has work to do to ward off the oncoming competitors.

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