Design and Form Factor
Apple’s design is one thing that sets it apart from its competitors for one reason or another. Either because they decide not to change it for two years, or because when they do, they come out with something that looks incredibly beautiful. This time around, that’s exactly what’s been achieved. In the right light and held at the right angle with the screen off, this thing looks like a precious black jewel. It’s simply stunning. The delicately chamfered edges close to the screen help it feel comfortable, but also glisten beautifully. The fit and finish is so accurate, it’s sickening. If we’re to believe the promotional videos, the tolerances are measured in nano-meters.
The back is something of an homage to the original iPhone, which came with a two-tone aluminum design. This time around the top and bottom are ceramic glass, while the bulk of the middle section is painted anodized aluminum. It helps give it a more sturdy feel as well as being more soft to touch and textured than the horrid, slippery glass back of the iPhone 4/4S. Cupertino’s design team has come under some criticism for how easily it scratches, although I’ve not experienced it myself, it’s clearly something that comes as par for the course with a painted metal back. What I do love is that the black phone doesn’t have bland metallic accents like the previous model. Instead, it’s been painted/dyed a deep blue, slate color. From a looks point of view alone, this phone is easily the most elegant phone on the market, bar none.
Perhaps the most significant change is that on the bottom edge. Instead of the 10 year old 30-pin connector, Apple designed a brand new Lightning connector that’s 80% smaller than the old one. The smaller connector means the designers could fit in the headset jack as well as the usual mic and speaker grille alongside the connector. All-in-all, the bottom edge is the best looking of any iPhone to date. It was always the one part of the phone that looked hideous. Now, it looks more solid, and minimal. Every angle of this phone looks like so much thought went in to how it looked and felt.
It’s not just the aesthetics that catch the eye, or send your pleasure sensors going crazy. The dimensions (123.8 x 58.6 x 7.6 mm) ensure that the phone still fits very neatly in anyone’s palm, and at 112g it’s extremely light. While all its competitors are filling the market with gigantic handsets, Apple has been brave and gone with something that makes a lot more sense. It’s paid off too, with 5 million phones sold in the first weekend alone. There could be an argument that the phone is a tiny bit too thin, but, it’s most likely because I’ve been using the 4S for almost an entire year, and the 4 before that. My hands have become so accustomed to the previous design that it’s taken a little while to get used to this.
All the buttons and switches are easily accessible and give an assured, quality feedback. I love that Apple stuck with metal volume, mute and power/lock keys. They help to round off the quality and premium feel of the device.
It’s hard to know where to start with the display. The size? The quality? The flaws? It’s a 4-inch Retina display, and represents the first time Apple’s moved away from its original 3.5” screen. With a 1136 x 640 pixel resolution display, it’s certainly sharp. It still measures in at the same 326ppi density that existed on the iPhone 4 and 4S. And, since they only made it longer and not wider, it’s ensured that adapting existing iOS apps to fit is relatively simple. Even ones that aren’t optimized still look fine on the screen with the black letterbox barely noticeable.
Apple boasted during the launch event that they’ve not only increased the size. The color saturation has been boosted too, and clarity should be much better thanks to removing the usual layer of touch sensors and embedding them in to the display panel. The proof of the pudding – as the proverbial saying goes – is in the eating. And boy is it good. The screen is crystal clear, its contrast levels have improved, and colors are significantly more vivid than in any previous Apple smartphone. It’s one of the best displays I’ve ever used. In fact, the only one that compares on clarity levels is the HTC One X’s huge SLCD panel. But, even then, colors are much better on the iPhone. I wasn’t wowed by the Galaxy SIII, but, once Sammy decides to depart from the PenTile-based folly it’s using right now, that could change. Moving away from the “bigger is better” mentality and focussing only on the quality of the image on screen, the iPhone 5 has quite possibly the best display on the market.
There is one major issue, and it’s the same that’s plagued every iPhone since 2007: it’s awful in bright daylight. Good luck if you’re outside on a sunny day, and decide to wear sunglasses. It’s very difficult to make anything out with any clarity. Fortunately, I live in Cumbria and the chances of it being sunny here are very slim. I’m perhaps being a little harsh, it is a little better than the 4/4S, but not much. Not enough to rave about.
The camera was one area I didn’t think Apple could improve much upon. The 4S’ snapper was a rival to most point-and-shoot cameras. Its 8MP, backside illuminated sensor was a revelation last year, and has essentially been squeezed in to a much smaller package this time around. Normally, making a camera unit would normally harm it, but, in all my tests with the new lens/sensor setup it’s been as good as (if not better than) the 4S. In lowlight it’s much better than its predecessor, but still produces quite a lot of noise if it’s too dark.
Despite normally avoiding using the LED flash like the plague, the effectiveness of this one is impressive. It floods nearby scenes in brilliant white light. But, as with any uncontrollable flash, it will over-expose anything that’s too close to the camera. One big issue I have with the camera is the user interface. Don’t get me wrong, I love the new round shutter icon. What I don’t understand is why it doesn’t use the entire display. The image uses exactly the same ratio as previous iPhones, leaving a letterbox. On one of Apple’s own, key, default apps, this just makes no sense. Unless Apple is keen on keeping to the regular, old school photograph dimensions. Again, doesn’t make a lot of sense in this day and age. But, on a positive note: shutter speed is incredible. It’s practically instant. Gone are the days of waiting a second or so before your image is processed. HDR and Grid Lines alongside Panorama ensure that the feature list is growing. With the plethora of photography apps in the App Store now, you can achieve almost anything you want.
Video quality is as good as can be expected. It’s full HD, and looks great. Even when I panned or moved the phone quickly while recording in pretty low light, it still gave a smooth end result. I’m mightily impressed. Although it’s not going to be replacing an high end DSLR cameras like the 5D or a HD video camera, it’s much more than you’d expect on a smartphone.
The FaceTime camera has now been updated to 720p HD, and over a WiFi connection will give you a high quality, smooth video call. Hit 3G, and it could get a tad glitchy depending on your signal strength. It’s not a make a break feature for me, as I rarely video call from my phone, but it’s great to see Apple improving as many individual areas as possible. All-in-all, the camera and video offerings on this phone are outstanding.
The 4S was no slouch. It was the first dual-core iPhone, and showed off its abilities well, handling most apps with consummate ease. In most day-to-day tasks, you’re not going to notice a huge increase in performance. Loading times for apps like Facebook, Safari and Mail are comparable, but it comes in to its own when you launch graphically intense games. Temple Run, Blast A Way and FIFA 12 load much quicker on the iPhone 5, and thanks to the boosted display, they look great too.
There’s nothing this phone does that you think needs speeding up a little. We’re living in an age where everything can be done almost instantly, and it’s the same with the 6th generation iPhone. In fact, I’ve not noticed a single delay. Not one. Even with a few days solid use. The WiFi has been enhanced, and a ridiculous number of GSM/CDMA bandwidths are covered with its radio chipset. Sadly, 4G LTE isn’t operational yet in the UK so I wasn’t able to test that. Thankfully, I am on EE, which means I’ll get it as soon as it’s available in my city. But, over WiFi it certainly seems zippier than the 4S. Not by much, but enough to notice.
The 4S and even iPhone 4 both suffered with less-than-stellar battery performance once the iOS 5 update launched. Unlike previous models of iPhone, the two would need charging at least once per day. And I didn’t have my bar of expectation set particularly high for the iPhone 5, knowing that in terms of actual specifications, there was little difference in battery capacity.
I was surprised. Delighted even. I’ve not charged my phone since Saturday night. It’s now Monday night and it’s down to 5%. Apple claimed I’d get 8 hours use out of it, and so far I’ve got up to 6 hours and 52 minutes of use, with 1 day and 9 hours of standby. That’s with 3G and WiFi constantly on, and screen brightness set to around 70%. There have been similar stories of charge longevity from other users too. It just goes to show, you don’t have to have a 2,200 mAh battery to have a phone that’ll last 2 days on a single charge. I’d love to see how this thing does with brightness down and 3G off. I’m delighted with the battery, and that’s down playing it. It’s fantastic.
Thanks to some new-fangled incoming noise cancellation technology and the pre-existing outgoing noise cancelling microphone(s), call quality has never been so good on an iPhone. Again, another thing that impresses me about Apple, is it looks to improve things that matter in day-to-day use, not just features and specs we can show off to our friends. It makes using the phone, as a phone, less irritating. It’s my one caveat with almost every phone out there. I hate making calls on them, which surely means it’s failed at its primary purpose. Thankfully, it all works well in the new iPhone, and even with patchy signal I’ve had some very clear phone calls. No dropped calls so far.
I’ve tested playing music through the new EarPods and through the loudspeaker. It goes without saying that the headphones are always the better option. Compared to the old set it offers a much more direct sound, pointed straight down your ear canals. The frequency range is also much wider, which does give a much fuller sound. Now, having seen the promotional video, and hearing the description make them seem like the most incredibly headphones ever, I was disappointed. The end result is something which is a much needed improvement on the old style. However, I would never pay for them.
Loudspeaker playback is about the same as the previous phone. Decent clarity, and good volume without any major distortion. Nothing to write home about though. Still, for a mobile phone, up there with the best of them.
The entire package is incredible. We have great design, a fantastic display, improved camera, fast performance, great battery life. There’s no such thing as a perfect mobile phone, but, this is pretty damn near. It’s an exceptional phone. There’s no doubt that other manufacturers will release handsets over the next year that rival individual specs and features of the iPhone, but I doubt anyone will release anything that’s as complete as this in every department. Incredible device. It’s the iPhone we’ve been waiting for since 2007. And it’s definitely worth the wait.
With this review, I wanted to leave out software as much as possible, since there’s little difference between iOS 6 on an iPhone 5 and on the iPhone 4S. But, I will write up another article on that.
What are your thoughts on the iPhone 5′s hardware? Is it the best ever, or do you prefer a previous iPhone? Comment or tweet: @TiP_Cam
To check out the rest of our iPhone 5 coverage so far, hit: http://www.todaysiphone.com/tag/iphone-5/