The iPhone 5 is a device we have been talking and writing about for the better part of two years. The fact that I can finally talk about it in the present tense is strange and a relief. It may not have brought all the changes we were hoping for, like a major redesign, holographic images or projection keyboards, but rest assured it is a solid entry from Apple.
On paper, the iPhone 5 touts a larger display, a faster processor, faster graphics, a more trim profile, an aluminum back, 4G LTE, an improved camera and better battery life over its predecessor, the iPhone 4S. It comes in either black or white, in 16GB, 32GB or 64GB variants and on Sprint, AT&T or Verizon. It also carries the typical pricing starting at $199 with a two year agreement, ranging to $399 on contract.
Is this iPhone worth trading in your old iPhone or even your larger Android handset? Mine arrived via FedEx around 10:30 AM and I have been playing with it steadily ever since. Here are some notable discoveries I've made thus far:
- The iPhone 5 bears resemblance to the iPhone 4 and 4S, but with noteworthy refinements in quality. Apple scrapped the glass back panel for a two-tone panel made of aluminum and glass. It is 20 percent lighter and 18 percent thinner than the iPhone 4S, and it is approximately .38-inches longer than the 4S. The 3.5mm headphone jack has been moved from the top to the bottom edge, the 30-pin dock connector was replaced with the much smaller Lightning port and the speaker and microphone grills have been improved upon. The overall impression that I get from the new design is positive, although the form factor is taking time to get used to. It's lighter and the length makes it appear to be smaller in width than the 4S.
- I will say I love the changes Apple made to the ports on the iPhone 5. I have always been a fan of the headphone jack being on the bottom of a smartphone, it keeps the cord out of the way when using the device. And I already love the Lightning port and its reversibility. I will, however, need to pick up a few extra Lightning cables so I can charge the phone in my car or at my desk.
- While the design itself is growing on me, there is one tidbit I can't ignore. Upon taking the plastic off the iPhone 5, I immediately noticed what I thought was dust on the back and antenna. I wiped at them a few times before I realized they were actually dings in the paint. Upon closer inspection, there are little nicks all the way around the antenna that are barely discernible. (Click the image above for a high-res look.) But make no mistake, they are there, and they were definitely not put there by me. It was shipped like this from the factory. I will be contacting Verizon when I get the chance …
- The iPhone 5 hosts the much-anticipated larger display, although it wasn't the larger display many were hoping for. It is 4-inches diagonally, but it has only been stretched vertically. It is exactly the same width as the iPhone 4S display with 176 additional vertical pixels, making the resolution 1136 by 640 pixels. Luckily, the stretching of the display did not result in a loss of clarity. It still has a Retina Display and the same pixels per inch. However, the colors appear to be more vibrant and it is slightly brighter with a warmer undertone. Some have said it's the best smartphone display on the market, but I will hold my final opinion until I have more extensive time with it and can compare it with the stiff competition, such as the HTC One X and Samsung Galaxy S III.
- iPhone 5 also comes with the latest mobile software from Apple, iOS 6. Due to the taller display, though, the iPhone 5 carries an extra row of icons on the home screen. The new update features Apple's controversial Maps (which replaces inbuilt Google Maps), Siri enhancements, native Panorama mode in the Camera app, Passbook and many less notable improvements. I've been using iOS 6 since the developer beta dropped in July. It's a nice improvement from Apple, but iOS is seriously beginning to show its age.
- I haven't had enough time to give a serious analysis on the iPhone 5 battery. Apple claims they have improved the stamina, despite making the device thinner and adding LTE, a known battery muncher. From what I can tell, battery life seems at least on par with the iPhone 4S, but I spent a lot of my time playing with the device while it was charging. During that time, I did notice something peculiar. It may just be a trick of the brain or one of the quirky things lithium-ion cells do for the first couple charges, but the iPhone 5 seems to charge very rapidly. It took less than 30 minutes to charge from 49 percent to full.
- One of the most anticipated features of the iPhone 5 is the addition of 4G LTE. The iPhone 5 I purchased is from Verizon, and in the Charlotte Metro area, their LTE has been fairly strong in my testing, with downlink speeds ranging from 12Mbps to 20Mbps. Uploads tend to hover around to 10Mbps mark. The first test I ran from my apartment yielded 10.22Mbps down and 0.85Mbps up. The iPhone fared better in a test from the local coffee shop: 11.04Mbps down and 18.01Mbps up. I will definitely be keeping a close eye on this over the next few days.
- Lastly, and most definitely not least, the camera. The camera in the iPhone 5 is actually 25 percent smaller that the previous camera, which you would expect a respective decrease in quality. Maintaining the same five-element lens with f/2.4 aperture and keeping an 8-megapixel sensor, the iPhone 5 camera has actually been improved. From the shots I took this afternoon, I have to agree. (Here's a high-res sample of my dog.) The biggest improvement with the camera is its low-light performance. That said, I do find it odd that Apple kept photos in the same 4:3 aspect ratio as before.
Keep an eye out for the full review next week!