Apple iPhone 5 Review: In Depth

The Apple iPhone 5. It’s the flagship Apple fans have been waiting for and arrives complete with a redesigned chassis and a host of new features, not to mention the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS 6.

With weekend sales topping 5 million and Phones4U reporting a 500% increase in pre-orders in comparison to the iPhone 4S, it’s on track to be one of the biggest phones of the year. But with Android gaining ground, the Samsung Galaxy S3 has been a huge critical and commercial hit, shifting sales numbers typically associated with iPhones. So does the iPhone 5 do enough to satisfy fans and silence the competition?

Apple iPhone 5: Design

It’s probably understating the situation to say that Apple fans have been looking forward to a new iPhone design for some time. Fortunately, Apples’s design team have created an exquisite, new phone, paying attention to minute details, from the diamond cut bevelled edges, to the glass and aluminium back constructed from the same material used in MacBooks.

We’ve said this before, but Apple phones feel premium – something we can say about high-end HTC and Nokia smartphones and something we wish Samsung would take on board. Having said that, those edges and the flat back certainly don’t fit to the contours of your hands as comfortably as the HTC One X for example, suggesting Apple finally has competition on the design front from other manufacturers.

The iPhone 5 is slimmer and taller than the iPhone 4S at just 7.6mm, but being the same width never feels oversized. We’ve got large hands so had no issue using it one handed, but those with smaller hands may find reaching for the power button a stretch.

At 112g, the iPhone 5 is 20 per cent lighter than the iPhone 4S, which feels heavy in comparison. It almost feels too light though and during testing we worried about dropping it. The mere fact it performed so commendably in the Android Authority drop test does however bode well for real world butter fingers.

Some Apple owners have complained of scratches on the edges and back, revealing aluminium underneath – something more obvious on the black version to which Apple’s Phil Schiller replied: ‘That is normal.’ Certainly from our experience the aluminium body is more scratch-prone than the glossy iPhone 4S.  Our advice would be to get a case – although that defeats the point of getting a phone that looks as good as this.

The 3.5mm jack has moved from the top to the bottom of the phone, though we actually preferred the old location finding it more ergonomic when navigating across the phone by touch.

In order to create an iPhone that is thinner and lighter Apple has had to redesign key components. The phone takes the new nano-SIM format, 40 per cent smaller than a microSIM. The charging port has been superceded by the new 80 per cent smaller Lightning connector,  which is reversible (so works either way). In order to use existing docks or chargers you’ll need to get the an adaptor, priced £25, though this might not support all accessories such as docks.

Apple iPhone 5: Screen

Finally, Apple has increased the screen size from 3.5-inches to 4-inches. It’s the same width, just longer, with a resolution of 1136×640 pixels in comparison to the 960×640 on the Apple iPhone 4S and Apple iPhone 4. PPI remains the same at 326 (Retina display credentials) so it’s just as sharp.

It’s the first iPhone to have integrated touch technology, so instead of having layers between the screen and sensor , the screen itself has a built in touch sensitive digitizer. The screen is made of Gorilla Glass and it has fingerprint resistant oleophobic coating.

The differences don’t end there. Saturation is 44% higher so icons have much deeper, more vivid colours – the App Store icon has a greater tonal range and deeper shades of blue.

Comparing the LCD screen of the iPhone 5 with the HD Super AMOLED screen of the Samsung Galaxy S3 and it’s personal preference which you prefer. Colours on the S3 are vibrant, bold and a little oversaturated with deeper blacks. That said, whites have a blue tint, whereas on the Apple iPhone 5 colours are more subdued and natural, with crisper, cleaner whites. 

The iPhone 5’s new screen size means an 18 per cent pixel boost and 16:9 aspect ratio, this is great for watching  movies, creating a more cinematic experience. For now, most third party apps will have letter boxing, although many have been updated to support the new aspect ratio. An example of both can be seen below.

Apple iPhone 5: User Interface

One of the things we’ve always found appealing about iOS is its simplicity – give an iPhone to an elderly person or child and they’ll be able to move and open apps and create folders within minutes. iOS 6 is better, especially coupled with the additional screen size, though it’s very evolutionary. 

It almost feels too simple now, with an iOS revolution overdue. We’re not saying we want Apple to make iOS unrecognizable, but iOS 6 brings over 200 new improvement and all feel under the hood. There are features common to other operating systems that would greatly enhance the user experience here, such as live tiles (Windows Phone) or live widgets (Android), especially given the additional screen space.

Facebook integration is welcome addition though, it’s very quick to post by swiping down and selecting Tap to Post and there’s a new Facebook icon on the new Share menu for web pages and photos. In being impressed, we’re also left wanting more, with integration not going far enough. We’d like to see social networking contacts synchronised and a way of quickly sending a message to people across multiple platforms for example.

Elsewhere when an unwanted call appears a quick swipe up offers Reply with Message or Remind Me Later options. Do Not Disturb mutes incoming calls and message alerts. Schedule it to activate before sleep, then turn on when you wake up and set it so that Favourite contacts calls aren’t silenced. These are all great value adds, and Passbook is an interesting addition too.

Siri was the standout feature of the iPhone 4S. Now with the arrival of business search, it’s better – much, much better. Ask it for the nearest restaurant and it will find it. You can also get Barclays Premier League fixtures and results in seconds using it. Siri also works as a hands-free sat nav in conjunction with Maps – ask Siri for directions and it will launch the application and start navigation. Occasionally ask Siri a question and it will launch the browser, but voice recognition and the quality of the results are far better than Samsung’s S-Voice.

A lot has been written about Maps and we’ve looked at them in detail here. We’ve used them on foot and in a car, with them causing no problems getting to our destination. Traffic hotspots are shown on the map and three routes were calculated correctly.

But there are mistakes – spelling mistakes, incorrectly named cities and areas covered by cloud. Apple is addressing these and is keen for users to report mistakes. Transit routing is available, but only via third-party apps – which is hardly a seamless solution. 

Google Maps took years to become the app so many of us know (and appear to miss) so Maps will improve, but it will take time and what’s so frustrating is that it seems in a bid to avoid using a Google product, Apple released a product that was not ready.

Apple iPhone 5: Keyboard

Despite the bigger screen, Apple has retained the same size keyboard, instead of adding an extra row. Text prediction is fairly accurate – suggestions are highlighted in blue, continue typing to accept or tap the cross to reject. Mistakes are highlighted in red, tap to alternative view suggestions.

Choose between QWERTY, AZERTY and QWERTZ keyboards, multiple languages and select customised shortcuts such as ptoo – put the oven on.

We’ve never really had any issues with Apple’s keyboard, but it isn’t as innovative as the excellent SwiftKey 3 Android app, which learns the way you type and predicts accordingly saving keystrokes. It’s a real shame Apple doesn’t enable third-party keyboard apps.

Apple iPhone 5: Camera and Multimedia

The iPhone 5 has a primary 8-megapixel iSight camera. Despite having the same megapixel rating as the iPhone 4S, it’s 20 per cent smaller and made of tough Sapphire Crystal, which is less likely to scratch.

We were impressed with the camera on the iPhone 4S and this camera is even better. The phone is quicker at launching the camera app and taking a photo. Photographs are excellent, close-ups are sharp and detailed, but low-light performance is probably what impressed us the most. The shot below was taken at a gig in dim light without the flash and noise control is excellent, there’s superb dynamic range and the ambience is closer to what we’d expect from a quality compact camera.

The most exciting feature of the iPhone 5 camera is Panorama. Hold the phone vertically and pan right (to 240 degrees) to create one. We’ve seen a similar feature before from Sony with Sweep Panorama and it’s very simple to use, but the great thing about the iPhone 5’s implementation is that it generates huge images that can be cropped and zoomed in on without fear..

Apple’s updated the forward-facing camera, boosting the video resolution to 720p HD, improving the quality of FaceTime (which now works over 3G) or Skype video calls.

The iPhone 5 captures impressive HD video at 1920×1080, motion is smooth, colours are natural and it’s effective in bright and dim lighting. Video stabilisation has been improved too and face detection can recognise 10 faces. It is now possible to take a still photograph mid-movie by tapping the on-screen camera button. These pictures are just 1920×1080 in size – around 2-megapixels – which is adequate for email.

Apple has finally given its much-sneered at earbuds a makeover. They are still Apple white, but now called EarPods with a new design, allowing sound to be directed straight into your ear. Sound quality has been vastly improved – particularly the bass – however we didn’t find them particularly comfortable for prolonged periods of time and there are better headphones for the price.

Apple iPhone 5: Connectivity and Storage

The iPhone 5 isn’t as connected we’d like it to be. There’s Bluetooth 4.1, DC-HSPA+ and aGPS as expected. A neat feature is support for WiFi at 5GHz as well as 2.4Ghz frequencies, 5GHz is a less crowded spectrum, which means it should be able to handle faster WiFi transfer rates.

Instead of DLNA you get AirPlay, enabling music and video to be streamed to Apple-approved devices, but there’s no NFC.

The iPhone 5 is 4G enabled, so users will be able to enjoy ultra-fast connectivity, however this much anticipated feature is not something all iPhone 5 owners will be able utilise. If you buy and iPhone 5 and want 4G within the next 12 months, make sure you buy it unlocked or from Orange or T-Mobile. Check out our 4G speed test video underneath. Read more about 4G here.

Browsing on the iPhone 5 on Vodafone or WiFi was fast and hassle free – noticeably quicker than the iPhone 4S. Alongside the existing Reader (which strips away pictures and borders, leaving text) Apple’s made a few tweaks to the browser, turn it horizontally, then tap the right-hand icon and it enlarges to fill the 4-inch screen, with small icons for moving back and forward (above).

The iPhone 5 comes in three storage capacities: 16GB, 32GB, 64GB, though unsurprisingly, it’s not expandable, unsurprisingly, although you do get 5GB iCloud storage free with the option to buy more.

Apple iPhone 5: Performance and Battery

Apple has never been the type of manufacturer to put an unnecessarily powerful processor in its phones. This means you don’t get a quad-core chip like many rivals, leaving you instead with Apple’s dual-core A6 chip, which is twice as fast as the A5 chip from the iPhone 4S and in day-to-day use feels incredibly quick.

MacWworld benchmarked the iPhone 5 using Geekbench and it scored 1647 – more than double the iPhone 4S, which rated 630. iOS is very efficient when compared to Android and the iPhone 5 is a very fast phone. Apps open straight away and you can quickly jump across tasks and stream video with ease.

Part of the reason Apple has opted for a dual-core chip was probably to conserve battery. The A6 has been designed to work with iOS 6 for power efficiency and with the iPhone 5 you get battery performance very similar to its predecessor.

Apple quotes around 8 hours 3G talk time, 8 hours of internet use on 3G and 10 hours video playback. With Wi-Fi on, moderate browsing, some video playback it lasted until early evening, which is no better or worse than many flagships, but still isn’t good enough in our opinion. We’re very curious to see how the battery performance will be affected by 4G.

By adding an extra noise-cancelling microphone, Apple has drastically improved call quality since the iPhone 4S. With three microphones in total, calls sound clearer and more lucid.

Apple iPhone 5: Conclusion

The iPhone 5 is an example of fastidious design, creating (in our opinion), the best looking phone money can buy. It’s incredibly powerful and quick to use, has a beautiful screen for browsing the web, watching movies and playing games and the camera is excellent.

However, things have changed a lot in the mobile market over the last 12 months. Yes, iOS is simple to use, but we’d like to see some extra features (like better contact integration and live updates) and tweaks to take advantage of the extra screen real estate. Maps should only have been released in Beta and 4G will only work on one UK network for now.

If you’re an iPhone 4S owner considering paying for an early upgrade, it might be worth waiting. Design changes aside, there’s nothing here that will make you go – wow. If you’re an Apple fan none of this will bother you though. Apple has always progressed at it’s own pace, carefully considering it’s next step, yet always creating something familiar, better and (especially in this case) more desirable. Is it worth your pennies and pounds? That decision is yours and yours alone, but the reality remains – this is the best iPhone Apple has ever made. 

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