iPhone 5 review

The iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S are things of beauty, and it’s clear from where the iPhone 5 draws its inspiration.

When you first pick it up, you can’t help but notice that the iPhone 5 is incredibly light and thin. Indeed, it’s a mere 7.6mm thick and weighs a paltry 112g. At the same time, the metal case (a change from the glass used in the iPhone 4 and 4S) gives it a strong, solid feel – though it was rather prone to picking up fingerprints.

One complaint we can level against the iPhone 5’s form is that it’s sides are quite sharp, and the back is entirely flat, which means that it doesn’t sit very comfortably in your hand. The other is that, while it is taller than its previous incarnation (123.8mm vs 115.2mm) it’s the same width (58.6mm), which makes it seem slightly awkward and imbalanced in use.

The positioning of the ports, buttons, and switches remain largely the same. The power/wake button is at the top right, with the volume buttons and silent switch along the left side, and the nano-SIM slot on the right. The 3.5mm jack has been moved to the bottom – a welcome, change in my opinion – along with the lightning port wedged between two speaker grills.

Around back in the top left corner, is the 8 megapixel camera. The front, from top to bottom, has the 1.2 megapixel camera, earpiece, 4-inch screen, and the home button.

The iPhone 5’s design is a refinement over its older siblings and it remains a thing of beauty, though it seems to take form over function in some cases.

iPhone 5 internals and performance

The iPhone 5 gets a bump in performance thanks to the new A6 system-on-chip (SoC). According to teardowns, it features a dual-core 1.2GHz CPU, PowerVR SGX 543MP3 GPU, 1GB RAM, and either 16GB, 32GB or 64GB of internal storage.

Naturally, there’s WiFi a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, and HSPA+ (up to 42.2Mbps down and 5.76Mbps up). There’s also LTE support, though our operators are apparently at Apple’s mercy when it comes to getting this feature enabled.

Something I always do with an iPhone is scroll one screen left, to the search screen, as that’s always good for a stutter on the first try. True to form, the iPhone 5 still has this problem, though admittedly beyond that almost everything else performed smoothly.

iPhone 5 black - front and rear
iPhone 5 black – front and rear

iPhone 5 screen and responsiveness

Probably one of the biggest changes to the iPhone 5 is that of the size of the display. Gone are the days of the 3.5-inch iPhone screen, to be replaced by a 4-inch panel. It seems like a small change, but it’s immediately noticeable. The resolution has changed as well, to 1136 x 640, which keeps the 326ppi pixel density intact.

There have been many arguments about screen size, with large numbers of Apple fans saying that 3.5-inch is the perfect size for a screen (often leaving out the important qualifier “for them”). What we can say is that size does matter in this area. However, whether you like a larger screen or not is completely up to you, though I have no doubt that vocal individuals will appear to explain why the 4-inch screen is superior to everything else.

The screen itself is crisp and clear, rendering images and text beautifully. Viewing angles were superb, and if you max out the brightness on the iPhone 5, it’s easily legible in direct sunlight.

Responsiveness was generally quite good, though we did have a few occasions where it didn’t pick up presses, most commonly around the edges (the letter “p” was a common casualty).

iPhone 5 sound and call quality

Call quality was good, and neither side had any complaints against the other.

The speaker on the iPhone 5 is decent and probably one of the better ones you’ll find, though that’s not exactly high praise. It’s plenty loud, but the quality can get a bit thin.

The earphones that come with the iPhone 5, named EarPods, are definitely some of the better bundled earphones we’ve come across. The EarPods are oddly shaped when compared to common circular earphones. They fit and sit snugly and, most importantly, stayed there.

Audio quality from them was impressive, with a surprising amount of bass and a distinctly warmer sound (which we tend to prefer). Whether EarPods can truly rival high-end headphones which cost hundreds more is up for debate, though we’d guess that audiophiles will still prefer their carefully selected gear and casual users will be happy for the upgrade.

iPhone 5 cameras and battery life

The 8 megapixel camera on the iPhone is one of the best I’ve used. It gave great detail, resulting in crisp, clear shots. Colours were generally good, though they tended to be slightly over-saturated. It also offered some great close-up shots, something that a lot of otherwise great phone-cameras struggle with.

The front-facing 1.2 megapixel camera was more than good enough for video chats, and even for self portraits if that’s your thing.

Battery life on the iPhone 5 was stellar. It easily lasted a day (calls/texts, browsing, social networks, and a bit of gaming) and getting multiple days of use wasn’t uncommon.

iPhone 5 with Ear Pods
iPhone 5 with EarPods

iPhone 5 software

The iPhone 5 features the newest version of iOS – iOS 6. Looking through the list of changes made me think that I’d notice them everywhere, but that simply wasn’t true. Sure, there are things like Do Not Disturb, and a bunch of visual flourishes if you look closely, but it’s mostly the same iOS you’ve grown to love (or hate).

In lieu of new features to discuss, you start noticing the cracks in what’s left. For instance, apps that aren’t “optimised” for the new screen size are displayed with black borders along the top and bottom (as opposed to scaling them up).

Apple’s notification toasts, which appear along the top of the screen, still display over the currently open app’s UI, usually cutting off most of the top-bar navigation. Perhaps Apple should have used the extra real estate to push things down when you get a notification and display the notification in that space.

The Notifications Centre hasn’t received the attention that it deserves either. It’s still maddeningly difficult to clear notifications, and beyond the initial popup, there’s still nothing to remind you that there’s something in there worth looking at.

The camera app now includes the ability to take panoramic photos – a very nice addition that’s implemented quite well. Except, it doesn’t support landscape use.

Then, of course, there’s the veritable fiasco that was Apple Maps.

In my review of the iPhone 4S I said the following about iOS 5: “In iOS 5 it feels like Apple has forgotten that which is important to it, and has lost focus.” There’s nothing in iOS 6 to make me think any differently.

iPhone 5 white
iPhone 5 white

iPhone 5 conclusion

In the end what are we left with? A lighter, thinner, faster, taller, better-camera-wielding iPhone. When put like that it sounds like it should be marvellous. Though it is good, the truth is that the competition has caught up, and the competition isn’t showing signs of slowing down.

It’s undoubtedly the best iPhone ever made, though standing amongst competitors such as the HTC One X and Samsung Galaxy S3 does leave you looking at the latter more often than not.

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iPhone 5 review