Sport & Auto
- About Future
- Digital Future
- Cookies Policy
- Terms & Conditions
- Investor Relations
- Contact Future
I’ve had two weeks and two weekends with the iPhone 5, enough time to really get to know it, and enough time to stand up and say: best iPhone ever. If you’ve got an iPhone 4S under contract, it’s perfectly fine to not upgrade -- wait for next year’s iPhone 5S or whatever it’ll be called. But if you use an older iPhone -- or you’re new to the iPhone -- you literally cannot do better than this phone. It’s awesome.
But you knew I would say that, didn’t you? It’s telling when the one of the major “criticisms” of a product like this is that it’s not different enough, it doesn’t innovate enough. The hype machine made us wish for the moon, and all we got is an iPhone? How disappointing! Well, no. The iPhone is the best-selling phone of all time, Apple’s best-selling product of all time, just a juggernaut of a success. So why would Apple start from a blank slate? It makes so much more sense to continue incrementally improving the phone we have, and that’s what happened with the iPhone 5. It’s a little taller, thinner, lighter, a lot faster, but at its heart it’s still an iPhone. As it should be.
The first thing everyone I’ve handed the iPhone 5 to says--exclaims, really--is how light it is. It feels almost like a joke--the glass-wrapped iPhone 4 and 4S that we’re used to, those have heft. They feel like computers. This one feels like an empty shell with a screen on it. Even though it’s a bit taller (0.37 inch), it still fit in my jeans pockets, and with the light weight (just 3.95 ounces, almost a full ounce lighter than the 4S), sometimes I’d forget it was there.
The smooth aluminum back, silver on the white phone and a deep charcoal on the black phone, looks fantastic, even if it feels a bit on the slippery side, and picks up fewer fingerprints than the glass back of its predecessor. Strips of ceramic glass on the top and bottom of the iPhone’s rear provide radio-transparent zones for the antennas, which wouldn’t pick up a good enough signal through solid aluminum. The back and sides are handsomely matte, with a highly polished beveled edge (called the chamfer) cut by a crystalline diamond. The home button feels stronger and “clickier,” the matching metal volume buttons, sleep button, and silent switch feel substantial--the whole package feels very solidly put together.
The 4-inch screen is 1136x640, with a density of 326 pixels per inch. The iPhone 4 and 4S have 960x640 screens, so while the iPhone 5’s screen is 176 pixels taller, it’s the same width as before. This is so you can still navigate with your thumb while holding the iPhone 5 in one hand.
In my testing, this mostly worked. Thumb-typing on the onscreen keyboard was the same, and flipping the keyboard to landscape mode provided slightly larger letters to hit. And my thumb could reach both sides of the screen, but reaching way up to the top corners proved tricky--I kept “shimmying” the phone a bit in my hand to reach, say, Safari’s back button, Facebook’s list button, and any other buttons in the top-left of the screen (holding the iPhone in my right hand). Clever developers may think of ways to reposition buttons in the lower part of their interfaces, which would help, but even as things are, the hand-shimmy quickly becomes second nature. Maybe over time my thumbs will stretch--just kidding. Having an extra row of icons on the home screen is awesome, and it only took a day or two max before my iPhone 4S’s screen seemed like the weirder of the two, for being so darn short.
The screen is incredibly thin and looks even better than the 4S’s screen, with deeper blacks that make the colors pop. Viewing “letterboxed apps” (apps not optimized for the larger screen run in the center with black bars on the top and bottom) on the black iPhone 5, you have to look closely to tell where the screen meets the iPhone’s black face, that’s how dark it is. And iFixit found in their teardown that the screen is relatively easy to replace, giving the iPhone 5 a better repairability score (7 out of 10) than the 4S (6 out of 10).
Last year we dinged the iPhone 4S for not having LTE, or Long-Term Evolution, the next generation of cellular networking. iPhone 5 has LTE, which works on all the U.S. carriers, Sprint, Verizon, and AT&T -- and all those carriers are rolling out LTE networks in more and more cities all the time. LTE can achieve theoretical maximum download speeds of 100Mbps, and although we never saw speeds that fast, we did see 26Mbps on several occasions, faster than our home Wi-Fi network’s average of around 18Mbps. Music and video streams with hardly any buffering time and the progress bars for downloads zip along. Going back to the iPhone 4S for a bit, it’s immediately noticeable how much faster the iPhone 5 is.
That speed is also thanks to Apple’s dual-core A6 system-on-a-chip with an integrated triple-core GPU. It clocks in at 1.3GHz, much speedier than the 800MHz A5 chip in the iPhone 4S. The beefed-up graphics power is needed to run the 4-inch, extra-bright Retina display, but it also makes graphics-intensive games really scream--in GLBenchmark tests it even bested the iPad 3. You’ll notice zippier response the entire time you use iPhone 5, from opening apps to loading websites to looking at email attachments. It feels more like a computer and less like a phone with every iteration.
With more power and a bigger screen, the demands on the battery are more than ever, and while Apple gained a little vertical space inside the case, they also lost a little thickness. But happily, in my first two weeks with the iPhone 5, I got excellent battery life.
Since I don’t have nearly as many Lightning cables (two) as I do 30-pin iPod cables (maybe a dozen), I would find myself trying to go the whole day on a charge--and I’d nearly always succeed. Once I started getting low-battery warnings, I’d just keep using the phone--it ran another 51 minutes just to drop from 3% to the point where it shuts itself down.
Once I got a Lightning cable hooked up in my car, just juicing it up for a 30-minute commute home boosted the battery life by 10 percent and kept me going until bedtime--better life than I’m used to getting with my year-old iPhone 4S. (Keep in mind that these percentages are just estimates.) In a battery-rundown test, I got 7 hours, 22 minutes of continuously streaming video over Wi-Fi with the screen brightness at 50 percent--not bad.
My iPhone is my most-used camera by far--and with an adorable blonde baby living in my house, I take a lot of snapshots these days. So my favorite thing about the iPhone 5’s 8-megapixel camera is its speed bump--it’s faster than ever to start it up and take a picture. Firing it up from the lock screen (just “flick up” on the camera icon next to the unlock slider) until snapping a picture takes just 2 seconds, and doing the same from the home screen took 1.9, noticeably faster than the iPhone 4S. Snapping repeated pictures seems quicker too, and the low-light performance is improved. It’s the only iPhone that can take still photos while shooting video, a nice touch that parents especially will love. Apple covered the lens with sapphire crystal for its scratch resistance--it’s second in hardness only to diamond. But in total, the iPhone 5’s camera isn’t as big a step up as, say the 8-megapixel 4S camera was compared to the 5-megapixel iPhone 4.
The front camera on the iPhone 5 saw a more dramatic improvement, now capable of 720p video and 1.2-megapixel stills, plus it got a backside illumination sensor for better pictures in low light. Nice for Instagram shots of yourself, but the back camera is still the one to use, of course.
One way Apple saved space inside the super-thin iPhone 5 is to ditch its 30-pin port for a new, dramatically smaller, proprietary port they’re calling Lightning. This means you can’t use your old iPod cables to charge it, or connect it to existing speaker docks without an adapter.
But judged on its own, the 80 percent smaller Lightning connector is a dream to use. It’s reversible, so you literally can’t put it in wrong. There’s no metal-on-metal crunch of pins connecting--it glides right in but then snaps into place, with enough tension to support the weight of the phone from the cable. (Which isn’t technically good for it, we’re sure, nor is swinging it around above your head like a cowboy.) Apple includes one Lightning-to-USB cable, so you still charge via USB on your Mac or any USB charger you have lying around already--just don’t lose that cable, since replacement ones are $19, only from Apple until third parties can license the technology.
The bottom line. The iPhone 5 is an incredibly well-made phone, and it’s tough to imagine any existing iPhone user finding many problems with the hardware itself. (iOS 6 has been good to me, too, but I live in an area with excellent Maps data.) Calls sound good, the battery holds up under my rigorous use, and I’ll never be able to go back to a 3.5-inch screen again. It’s sure to remain king of the smartphone mountain for another year until Apple figures out how to improve it some more--and I can’t wait to see how.
Specs: A6 processor, 4-inch 1136x640 Retina display, dual-band Wi-Fi, LTE, Bluetooth 4.0, 8-megapixel 1080p iSight camera with LED flash, 1.2-megapixel 720p FaceTime camera, Lightning port. Includes Lightning-to-USB cable, USB charger, and Apple EarPods.
So thin and light. New connector is reversible. Really fast. Speedy LTE. Solid battery life.
Camera isn’t a huge improvement. Lightning adapters pricey and not available on day 1.