The iPhone 5, by Apple, is considered by many to be the biggest product launch in the history of consumer electronics. The iPhone has been hyped for what feels like forever, even prior to the iPhone 4S, when many people thought it [the 4S] would feature all of the 5′s design cues. After months of leaks, many of which can be blamed for taking the “surprise” out of the iPhone 5′s announcement, it’s finally here and after spending the last week with it, I’ll give you my review of this smartphone that changed it all in 2007, but is it really the biggest thing since the original iPhone? Read on to find out. (Our iOS 6 review will come shortly, this review is on the iPhone 5 hardware as a phone only.)
External Hardware (Overview):
When my iPhone was delivered, I immediately cut the box open and carefully slide that perfectly designed box off the top. At first glance, it had a very familiar look to it, when I picked it up and held it in my hand, that’s about all that was the same. My first statement was, “Are you kidding me?” I couldn’t believe the weight of this device. You might have read similar statements elsewhere, but until you’ve actually held one, you can’t fully appreciate it. In the past when opening several Android devices, that feature a removable battery, I had that instinct of wanting to look in the box for the battery. It’s hard to believe that this device is only 7.6mm thin and is made of metal and glass and only weighs 3.95 ounces (112grams). It’s hard to believe that the Galaxy S III, which is constructed of plastic—typically considered lighter—, is thicker at 8.6mm and weighs more at 133grams.
When you hold the iPhone 5 in your hand, you’ll immediately understand how much thought Jony Ive and his team put into designing this device. Some may say that it looks like a stretched iPhone 4S, but it’s much more. When Apple says they are now measuring certain aspects in microns, they weren’t kidding. As their website clearly points out, this type of precision is typically found in a finely crafted watch, not a smartphone. Every angle and curve is expertly designed to hold the interior hardware and of course that new 4-inch (1136×640) Retina display.
This is the first time Apple has strayed from their 3.5-inch screen since the iPhone was introduced in 2007. When leaked images of the device surfaced, many wondered how it would feel in the hand, it looked to long and thin, but fear not, the iPhone 5 feels damn near perfect in your hand. It fits comfortable in your palm and allows for your thumb to easily reach all the way across and all the way to the top and bottom. Despite the fact that Apple added .5-inches to their screen size, they managed to retain the same 326ppi as the iPhone 4/4S, which makes this device a Retina screen too. The biggest difference in the display really isn’t the size, although that is the most notable. The biggest change comes from the display’s new technology, called “in-cell.” Basically what this means is that the touch sensors that are typically on top of the actual display, have been built into them, thus eliminating an entire layer over the display. But Apple didn’t stop there, they didn’t just make it larger and thinner, they actually made it better, by achieving real sRBG color certification, meaning colors are more vibrant and realistic, over 40% better than the iPhone 4S and it shows. Also, on the front is the much improved front-facing camera, a 1.2-megapixel camera, capable of 720p video capture and HD Facetime. The moment you fire up the FFC, you’ll see the difference, the graininess that we’ve come to know from the 4 and 4S is gone, so now all those girls who want to keep taking pictures of themselves making the infamous “duck face” can do it all in HD.
Aside from the display and front facing camera, on the back, Apple replaced the full glass back of the 4 and 4S in favor of an aluminum back, with two small glass “windows” at the top and bottom that allow for better radio/signal reception. The new back also makes the device thinner and lighter, as well as creating a nice uni-body frame. On the top of the back, you have the camera, which remains 8-megapixels, but drastically improves image quality, low light pictures, image stabilization and color over the 4S camera, which until the iPhone 5, was the industry’s best mobile phone camera. Apple managed to take everything that was great in the 4S camera, make it smaller and better to fit within the iPhone 5′s 7.6mm thin design. To cap it off, they covered the lens with sapphire crystal to keep it safe, as sapphire crystal is the second hardest stone (mineral or whatever) next to a diamond, again, the type of material and craftsmanship you’d find in a Rolex or Breitling watch. Apple also moved the headphone jack to the bottom of the device, most likely due to design limitations, but honestly, it’s a welcome change. Most people, when they hold their phone, hold the ear piece at the top and push that end into their pocket first, leaving the bottom facing up. It makes sense, so that when you pull it out, you don’t have to turn it around to read it and now with the headphone jack out of the bottom, pulling your phone out to change songs, will feel more natural. You’ll also notice a new pin hole between the camera and flash, this is a new third microphone that Apple has added to improve overall sound quality. Finally, Apple covered all the metal in a gorgeous black metal, or slate, finish which looks great, but if you’re not careful, can scratch off, just as paint can be scratched off plastic.
Aside from the overhauled design of the exterior, Apple essentially upgraded everything within the iPhone 5. Starting off, we have a new dual-core A6 fluctuating processor (meaning it changes clock speed, depending on the process at hand) that features a triple core GPU. Even with the iPhone 4S using the A5, which was already fast, the A6 powers the iPhone 5 to blistering speeds and is something even old iPhone users will notice. iOS is already smooth and with the A6, it’s now like silk. It also powers games to an unseen level, as demoed with EA/FireMonkey’s Real Racing 3. In tandem with the new processor, Apple also boosted the iPhone’s memory from 512MB to a full 1GB, which will surely come in handy as more games and apps take full advantage of its power. Perhaps one of the most demanded features, finally made its way to the iPhone, LTE. Apple’s flagship device can now take full advantage of the super fast wireless speeds. In my tests, which were on Verizon, I managed to pull down 40Mbps on my first attempt and 47.9Mbps on my second. Assuming you’re in an area that has LTE coverage, you’re in for a treat and Apple’s made the iPhone 5′s LTE radios compatible with AT&T, Verizon and even Sprint’s new network. LTE aside, Apple supports a crazy amount of wireless bands, like UMTS/HSDPA/HSUPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz), GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz). As with previous models, the iPhone 5 still has an accelerometer, gyroscope, GPS, digital compass, Bluetooth (4.0), improved Wifi (a/b/g/n) 2.4GHz and 5GHz.
I briefly talked about the display, in terms of pure specs, but now let’s talk about its performance. The iPhone 4 and 4S have had a display that has been tough for Android competitors to match until about last year with the inclusion of some 720 HD displays, but they all opted to go bigger in size, so none of them were able match the pixel density of the Retina display. When it was confirmed that Apple would be adding another 175 pixel (vertically) to the iPhone, but would maintain the same 326ppi, I was skeptical on how nice this display would be, but when I fired up the iPhone 5 for the first time, its display not only matched the 4S, it blew it away. The colors are so rich and vibrant, the blacks are blacker, the display is larger and clearer, it really makes the iPhone 4S look severely outdated when the two are placed side by side.
Apple’s new display, which as I said earlier, is fully capable of sRBG color standards, is also incredible thin because of the new in-cell technology. When viewing the iPhone 5′s display at an angle, it almost looks as though the icons, or whatever is on the display, are printed directly onto the screen because a layer has been removed. As far as the new 4-inch display size, I’ve heard some say it takes a little getting use to, but honestly, for me, it didn’t. This may be something that only exists if you’ve only used an iPhone in the past, but because I’ve used an EVO 4G, Nexus S, Galaxy S II and most recently, a Galaxy S III, I’m more comfortable with larger displays. Granted, the iPhone 5′s display is no 4.8-inch monster like that found on the Galaxy S III or 5.5-inches like the Galaxy Note II, but I find that it’s more comfortable to use because my thumb can reach from side to side and top to bottom, without having to jostle the phone around in my hand. The size makes me feel more secure, in that, I won’t drop my phone. There is also something to be said for that feeling you get when you can comfortably get more than just your finger “tips” around the bevel of a device. It just feels right.
Games and apps, assuming they’ve been updated, all look fantastic. It really is amazing what an extra half inch of display can do for your viewing experience. Could it be bigger, sure, but at what point is do things just become to big? With 7-inch tablets out there, that means they are only 3-inches larger than your phone, or in the case of the Galaxy Note II, an inch and half. At that point you might as well just have a tablet, not a phone, slapped to your head. I think Apple has found a sweet spot with the iPhone 5′s 4-inch display. It’s tall enough to get more of the information you need and also plays video in an almost perfect 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio.
The Apple designed A6 processor, which is still a dual-core, is a beast. Make no mistake about it, this processor can hold its own, if not beat, many of the quad-core processors already on the market. Although, some of the iPhone 5′s performance also owes a bit of thanks to the design of iOS. With the A6, Apple has managed to have the processor change its clock speed to run as low as 800MHz and as fast as 1.3GHz. The reason for this is better battery life and performance. If you’re using you email app, chances are you don’t need a 1.3GHz processor, but if you fire up a graphically intense game like Infinity Blade II or ShadowGun, that processor will kick into high gear and give you high performance that will make those games shine. The A6 processor, while remaining a dual-core like the A5, is actually smaller, 22% smaller in fact, and yet it’s more powerful and more energy efficient that its predecessor. During my tests over the past week, I played games like Real Racing 2, Infinity Blade 2, Modern Combat 3, and Galaxy on Fire II HD. All of these games are extremely intense when it comes to graphics and the iPhone 5 handled them with ease. While we haven’t played any games that have been fully optimized (i.e. built for the A6 and 1GB of RAM) for the iPhone 5, if this games give us an idea, than they should be just as smooth and gorgeous, if not better.
The iPhone 4S already had a great camera, one that still beats almost every phone on the market. So how do you make that camera even better? According to Apple, you make it thinner, faster and stronger. With the iPhone 5′s design being so much thinner, their engineers had the difficult task of making a camera that was better than the 4S and making it fit in a design that was 20% thinner, somehow they did it. The iPhone 5′s camera still features the same 8-megapixel sensor and five lens technology as the iPhone 4S, but it’s now behind a sapphire crystal lens cover, which I mentioned before. On top of that, because of the A6 processor, it takes pictures 40% faster and features improved image stabilization and better performance in low light situations and removes noise thanks to software improvements, perhaps one of the only problems for the iPhone 4S. The camera continues to record in full 1080p, but now can recognize up to 10 faces and the image stabilization has also been improved here as well.
The biggest addition to the new iSight Camera, is the ability to take panoramic shots, a feature Apple calls Panorama. Simply select the option, tap the button to start and slowly move the camera left to right and when you’re finished, tap the button again. Apple’s software will smooth out the photo and remove any anomalies it may find. While this feature is nothing new for Android users, one cool and unannounced feature, is the ability to take “vertical” panoramic shots. So for instance, say you’re standing in NYC and want to take a picture of the new World Trade Center building as it’s being built. Simply turn your iPhone sideways, start the same way and but instead of going left to right, you go up. The result are nothing short of awesome, this is one of those features you’ll want to show everyone.
On the front of the iPhone 5 is a new and improved front facing camera, that is now 1.2-megapixels, that record in 720p, so you can now FaceTime in HD. Speaking of FaceTime, depending on your carriers rules and regulations, you can now use the video chat program over cellular, instead of just WiFi. I was pretty impressed with the quality of the connection in the three different tests I ran, one was over LTE, which of course was flawless, then the other two were on 3G, in an area with no LTE and it still performed smoothly. It should be interesting how this service affects people’s data usage, all I can say is if you’re not on an unlimited plan, watch your account closely.
Let us not forget that the iPhone 5 is actually a phone too. Within this newly designed iPhone, Apple added a third microphone to help with noise cancellation. There’s a microphone at the bottom, one on the front and now, one on the back. The front and back mics, together, use a technology that Apple calls “Beamforming” that helps the phone focus on where outside sound is coming from and deliver clearer sound at the source. I didn’t really notice this, but the overall sound quality was good, same as the iPhone 4S, which was also a good phone. So perhaps it worked so well that I didn’t notice any outside noise, or I just never paid much attention. As for the sound output, via the speakers, I was blown away. Apple really stepped it up here. The sound out of the bottom of the new iPhone was nice and clear, for once it didn’t sound like a tin can and didn’t put off any reverb, something I hear on my Galaxy S III, even when the phone is off speaker and next to my ear.
Apple also stepped it up in the area of sound by including new ear buds that they call EarPods. With three years of development and testing, including over 100 different prototypes, Apple finally managed to release a set of ear buds that produce rich bass sound, feature a comfortable fit and don’t have to suction to your ears, causing pain in your ear canal after wearing them for a while. While they may not be a pair of Beats or Souls, for $29, or free with your new iPhone, they feel like a steal.
The NEW Lightning Dock connector
Perhaps the most controversial change Apple made to the new iPhone 5, has to be the new, smaller dock connector. After nearly a decade of using the 30-pin connector that was introduced with the first iPod, Apple decided to replace it with a connector that is 80% smaller and features only 8-pins. While this may have ticked off some people, who found themselves with accessories like stereo boxes, chargers, docks that they can no longer use, unless they pony up $30 for an adaptor. For me, it really didn’t. The only accessory I would need to replace would be a $5 car charger I got off eBay. I know my experience my differ from others, but if getting rid of the old connector, so that Apple could make a phone that is only 7.6mm thick, features a 4-inch display, a bigger battery and LTE, then I’m cool with it. Look, times change and products change with them. We’ve seen USB 3.0 replace USB 2.0, we’re seeing the introduction of Thunderbolt, which offers faster data transfer, but again, in order to achieve this, we must embrace change and get over the fact that our older accessories will have to change with them.
As for the cable itself, it’s nice, it feels sold and less fragile than the 30-pin adaptor. I also have to point out that the new Lightning cable is double-sided. Meaning you can plug it in either way. While I know this may sound trivial, I can’t thank Apple enough for this design. Reason: My wife gets up early for work, sometimes at 5 or 6, so she goes to sleep early. I am more of a night owl and so when I go to bed, I walk into a room that is pitch black, if I turned a light on to so I can plug in my charger, I’d be going to work the next morning with a black eye, if you catch my drift. But with the double sided Lightning cable, I just fumble my way to my nightstand like a drunk at 2 am and reach for my cable and don’t have to think about how it plugs in, it just works. Again, it sounds trivial, but all you need to do is ask someone else with an iPhone 5, “how do you like that double-sided Lightning connector?” Good luck getting them to shut up about it.
Lastly, while Apple hasn’t said anything, I believe that this plug (which is all digital) charges my iPhone 5 way faster than the 30-pin did my 4S, which had a smaller battery. While the iPhone has always charged up pretty quickly, the iPhone 5 just seems to be a little quicker.
The iPhone 5 features a 1440mAh battery, which is only slightly larger than the iPhone 4S’s 1432 mAh. Yet, the iPhone 5 promises 225 hours of standby, compared to the 4S’s 200. With that little bit of extra battery, it’s amazing to see that the iPhone 5 features virtually the same battery life when compared to the iPhone 4S. It has 8 hours of life when talking over 3G, browsing over 3G and even browsing over 4G LTE. 10 hours on WiFi and watching video and 40 hours playing music. I know I’ve probably said it a million times by now, but when you consider the iPhone 5′s thinness, it’s hard to believe that this battery which is only marginally better than its predecessor, produces the same results, especially with LTE, which has been a significant problem for Android devices. LTE forced Motorola to create a RAZR Maxx with a 3,000+mAh battery because people complained about the shortness of battery life. With a battery half the size of the DROID RAZR Maxx, Apple’s iPhone 5 lasted all day under heavy use, including email, web surfing, a lot of Twitter updates and text messages. Toss in a few games, apps and phones calls, but this phone kept up and by 11:30 pm (started at 8 am) I was only down to about 33%. The battery’s life is a testament to just how well the A6 processor works with iOS, this is area where Android OEM’s don’t spend enough time. They take the OS, cram in the high-end hardware and a big battery and that’s their solution. Apple really understand how important it is for a processor to work with the software, which ultimately takes a lot of stress off the battery. The iPhone 5 really shows how well Apple engineers their hardware.
Despite this glowing review, the iPhone 5 does have some caveats, perhaps the biggest for me (being an owner of a black model) is how easily the black, or slate, paint can be scratched off. While it’s not going to come off if you use your finger nail, but a good drop or hit with a key or something metal or concrete may end up scratching your device. If you own a white model, you may not encounter this problem, as the aluminum is raw (unpainted), but the issue must be noted. The other issue, again has to do with the aluminum. If you have sweaty hands, be careful, this phone is prone to slip from your grip, so I suggest you hold it tight or get a case. If you’re like me and hate cases, then get something like a Zagg Invisible Shield, which is clear, thin and has a “rubber-ish” feel to it and should make holding your device much easier (this was not a paid plug, just experience). Because Apple changed the iPhone’s display size, not all of your favorite apps may be updated to utilize the extra half inch, that being said a lot of apps have been updated, but there are still a few that haven’t been, and because Apple isn’t forcing developers to update them, depending on the developer, you may be stuck using your app in letter box format. Which leads me to my next issue, the letterbox format for apps. If you the owner of a black iPhone 5, chances are you won’t even notice this issue, because of the deep blacks the new display offers, the letterbox bars blend right into the black glass on the front. However, if you own a white model, you won’t have that luxury and those black bars will be very noticeable.
If you’ve read this whole review, there is no doubt that you know by now that I thoroughly enjoy iPhone 5. It’s amazingly light and thin, it has great battery life, features LTE for super-fast internet browsing, 700K apps, most of which hit the Apple’s App Store first. Its display is better than anything else on the market (as of right now), despite the size. It feels great in your hand, it’s comfortable to use for hours on end and it’s made of high-end materials like aluminum, glass and ceramic glass (on the white model). Its screen may not be 5.5-inches, it may not have Live Wallpapers, widgets or NFC, it may not have Google Maps, but what it does offer is an easy to use interface, a powerful processor that saves me battery and delivers console quality games with no lag or stuttering.
Simply put, the iPhone 5 is the best smartphone on the market. Regardless of the fact that it has been playing catch up to Android, Apple sat back and waited for LTE coverage to grow and chips to become smaller and more battery conscience, in the end, it worked. Just in time for the iPhone 5′s launch Verizon has over 200 million people covered, AT&T is catching up and now Sprint has officially launched their network in almost a dozen cities. Apple delivered an LTE experience like no one else, in a device that is thinner than any other LTE enabled device (including the RAZR with its “fat lip”) from top to bottom. It features a larger display, without forcing the overall footprint of the device to increase much larger than the iPhone 4S, in fact, by volume, it’s actually smaller. When you have the time, take this phone and hold it, turn it sideways, look at its profile and think, this phone, that is only 7.6mm thick, has a 1440mAh battery, an LTE radio (and several other radios), 1GB of RAM, a 4-inch display, a new dock connect, a gyroscope, accelerometer and if you’re mind is not blown, then I’m not sure what you’re looking for in a “smartphone” other than just a big screen size.
The iPhone 5 is a marvel of engineering and design. Pure and simple, and to the haters who can’t see beyond “Apple” or “Steve Jobs” then you’re not a fan of technology, you’re just a fan of your brand. The iPhone 5 is almost, the smartphone perfected.
There is no number rating on this review. I think it words above speak for themselves.