Apple iPhone 5 – Review

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It’s probably the most rumoured and anticipated handset ever, at least since the day after the 4s was released to a tepid applause.  It’s taller, lighter, thinner and has a couple of other little tweaks, but these are not necessarily the features that have caught the public’s attention and so far the iPhone 5 has received a pretty rough ride from press and increasingly technologically educated consumers.

Apple product cycles are becoming more and more predictable, and the iPhone 5 was hyped and leaked all over the place for the last few months.  Interestingly, the vast majority of those rumours turned out to be true and it seems as if Apple are losing their touch a little when it comes to those ‘one last thing’ moments.

With iOS 6 on board, most of the features had already been revealed to us at the WWDC back in June meaning there were very few things left to expect come launch. Whether or not the hands on experience was going to live up to all this expectation, it would still be fascinating to see whether it all pulled together in to a phone that could compete with the new massively popular breed of bigger Android handsets such as the Samsung Galaxy SIII.  I got the iPhone 5 32GB in White and tested it on the Vodafone network.

 

External

There’s no denying it. This, the sixth addition to the iPhone family line is beautifully finished and feels solid and well constructed – if not a little sharp on the palm. With it’s angular aluminium sides and tapered glass frontage it’s clearly still more of an evolution from the last two predecessors rather an a revolution. An anodised aluminium plate takes up roughly three-quarters of the back, rather than the more fragile glass which adorned the 4s.

Despite dealing better with drops and impacts, aluminium is not safe from all wear and tear and could be easily scratched by comparison.  This has proven to be the case for some who have received their new iPhones with scratches already on them.  I am fortunate enough to report that mine was free of any defects and is so far still free of scratches after two weeks of use, contact with keys and all the usual day-to-day table landings.

              

The top plays hosts only to the power / wake button on the right, staying true to previous design direction. The headphone jack has gone down-under and been repositioned on the bottom left edge, whilst on the bottom right you’ll also find the speaker guarded behind an intricate array of precisely machined holes. There are more holes just next to the headphone socket, but they serve only to protect the microphone and balance out the design of the bottom in absence of the universally known 30-pin docking port.  Nestling in between is the considerably smaller ‘Lightning’ connector. Despite being still curiously based on USB 2.0 standards and lacking any of the video or iPod standards it’s bigger brother possessed it will clearly make Apple’s life easier going forward; whilst possibly frustrating those not wanting to rely on Apple’s airplay standards for video output.

The left side has a familiar configuration of mute switch and volume buttons whilst the right features only an inconspicious flush tray for the seemingly ever-shrinking nano SIM card.  It’s now just a wafer of silicone and copper that you’ll want to take extreme care with if you ever have to eject the tray.  Whilst inspecting mine, it flew out of it’s tray and on to the floor where it was nearly hoovered up by two curious dogs

             

Above the rear aluminium plane is a saphire-lensed 8 MP camera that Apple likes to refer to as the ‘iSight’ camera. It’s got all the bells you’d expect from any of this year’s top-end smartphone such as 1080p video at 30 FPS, auto face-detection and picture and video stabilisation. There’s a slightly larger LED flash than previous models and a secondary microphone sits between the two.  Front and centre, a 1.2MP camera with 720p video capabilities sits above the calls-only speaker and light sensor.

 

Internal

You’ll never get to see the internals but Apple’s baked up a new processor in the form of the dual-core 1.3GHZ A6 processor, which features a triple-core GPU for some rather zippy performance. The battery is rated at 1440mAh, only slightly up from the 4s, despite being far from the highest capacity amongst its rivals seems good for a day’s worth of heavy use which can go up to a couple of days with moderation and some battery-saving tweaks.

              Motorola Atrix

Apple’s biggest adjustment to the iPhone comes in the form of the 4″ ‘Retina’ screen, up from 3.5″ whilst keeping the same width and instead adding an extra 176 pixels to bring the screen resolution up to 1136 x 640.  The quality of the screen really is exceptional, and thanks to a new method of laminating the screen and touch-digitiser elements together give icons a ‘printed on’ feel by putting elements much closer to the finger.  This extra screen real-estate makes for a much more pleasant video experience and also brings with it an extra row of on-screen icons and extra viewable content in apps that have been updated to accommodate it. Those that have not are centred with black bars either side – not ideal, but then the vast majority of apps are being quickly updated.

As nice as the IPS-LCD screen is, being a welcome forward progression from the company who’ve traditionally stuck to 3:2 screens on the iPhone; I couldn’t help thinking Apple could have squeezed in something slightly larger without compromising the ergonomics that apparently weigh apple’s design decision heavily.  I did find it noticeably sharper than my 18 month old Motorola ATRIX , with considerably better off-angle contrast and colours. That said, it’s a tough contest these days, and if put up against other new AMOLED and Super-LCD handsets it isn’t quite the best screen around – but comes close. Those looking for the almost perfect screen without objecting to a larger form should take a look at the HTC One X which is widely regarded to have the best balance of resolution and colour.

 

Extras

There are three essential accessories included with the iPhone 5.  Firstly there is the ever-familiar triangular USB mains charger, which provides power to the Lighting connector at up to 1A to fully charge in two to three hours. With their new TV adverts Apple wants you to pay attention to the re-designed headphones included.  They come in a excellent little headphone tidy that if used regularly would prevent twisty headphone cable messes.

Now referred to as ‘Earpods’, Apple has assured us that normal circular headphones are just not good enough; and what you really need is some rather lovely looking but still suspiciously spherical new buds.  Their clarity is not quite as flattering as their design, but as far as bundled headphones go, they’re a big improvement over the old ones.

            

 

Camera

This is where the last two versions of the iPhone have really excelled and in almost every regard so does their new model.  It’s exactly the same sensor as included in the 4s but now has a sapphire lens and anti-reflective coating.  If you compared to its predecessor, it is slightly faster to launch and take photos thanks to the increased processing power.

There have been a lot of talk about the ‘Purple Haze’ effect which has afflicted early adopters, where photos are adorned by a purple hue if pointed towards bright light sources.  I only managed to replicate this occasionally, and in most lighting conditions the 8 mega pixel sensor manages to capture some rather excellent photos.  There’s a distinct lack of adjustment on the included camera app, which generally doesn’t affect the results as the iPhone does very well with automatic settings.  Of course, if you feel the need to filter and tweak your photographic results, there’s a plethora of camera apps available on the App Store.

             

It’s been notably absent from the iPhone up until now, but finally they’ve implemented a Panorama mode for taking full resolution wide screen photos. I found the results a little mixed at first, with some obvious tearing and warping of the image.  I did however find that once I was a bit more patient and carefully took note of the on-screen balance arrow the results were more acceptable. Apple’s dreams of iPhone created vistas adorning people’s bedroom walls is not quite there yet, but they’ve certainly made it an easy enough process without any tedious manual adjustment of the picture.

 

iOS 6

Apple continues to add new features annually, and with the 6th generation of their mobile OS, they’ve continued to keep the faithful’s interest in some regard. A feature you’re unlikely to have missed is the new Apple maps, that have somewhat controversially replaced the previous Google-based mapping app.  This was apparently necessary for Apple to be able to integrate native turn-by-turn navigation.  Having gone to a myriad of mapping partners including Tom Tom has left a very mixed experience for the end user, with mapping details in many countries outside America distinctly lacking in detail.  Even here in the UK, Apple has made a number of map ‘fails’ that have driven the meme-engine ever since.

Even if you are fortunate to live in a location where Apple has managed to collate the data in an accurate and detailed manner, you may still be in for a number of surprises if you’ve enabled the apps much vaunted 3D mode. The 3D modelling which has been automatically generated in the vast majority of instances is just totally wrong.  Bent and distorted roads, bizarre shifts in terrain height and warped national landmarks are just some of the glaring mistakes that are disappointingly common, whilst many smaller location anomalies have been explained away by Apple as being a work in progress than can only improve if used more.

This unfortunate miss by Apple only really has one positive side-effect which is that the fiasco will no doubt lead to even better third-party mapping experiences on iOS, and Apple have admitted that whilst they attempt to iron out some of the problems you should maybe consider using another mapping app such as Waze or MapQuest.  They’ve even suggested going to the Google mobile site instead.

Aside from Maps, Apple has finally fully integrated Facebook, but happily doesn’t force you to use it.  You can instead opt for using the freely available Facebook app if you don’t want Facebook fully entwined in your contacts and photo applications.  You’ll also find that events and birthdays will automatically appear in the calendar to help make sure you don’t miss that all-important birthday.  As well as being able to post directly to Facebook from Siri, you can directly share photos, links and map locations directly to Facebook.  You’ll also find that you can “Like” content directly from iTunes and the App store. Most of these features have been available on Android handsets I have used for a few years now, so I don’t see it as anything close to a new killer feature.

Next there’s the ‘Passbook’ app, which Apple feels is a worthy substitute for the NFC capabilities which adorn many new smartphones.  Companies such as airlines, coffee shops or department stores will be making their own apps available to tie in with Passbook, although the up-take in America is likely to be much faster than here in the UK. Still, Passbook does make mobile payments alot easier to implement as it uses an on-screen barcode.

Basic functions such as video and music playback are very sleek and intuitive. Never did I find myself waiting for video or music to start, and navigation of the menus and app interfaces is a testimony to Apple’s obsession with continuity throughout the whole experience.  My only complaint here is having to go all the way to the top left of the screen to navigate backward in app interfaces.

 

Feedback

As I haven’t ever owned an iPhone, and only played with previous models, I decided to talk to a group of current iPhone owners and find out what their feedback was on the new iPhone 5. Once they’d got past fondling it’s outward beauty and larger new screen, they had a number of interesting points they felt would delay their immediate decision to upgrade.

– The Speaker is positioned as such so if you were holding the phone in both hands to watch a video, your right hand may obstruct the only speaker output drastically reducing the volume output.

– Wi-Fi often disconnects when you put device to sleep, which then switches on mobile broadband services – could be very costly for some people until Apple fix. It’s worth noting that some report this to be a problem with iOS 6 rather than the hardware itself as the issue has also been reported on other devices.  It’s likely Apple will push a fix for this soon.

– Lightening connector – We couldn’t test it with any docks or any other accessories that they already owned.  Apple’s adaptor that transforms the 30-pin connector to the new Lighting connector has just become available at the almost preposterous price of £25.  Many people would want three or four of them meaning a huge additional outlay on accessories.  What’s more, the Lightning cables are not currently available from anyone other than apple due to an authentication chip in the connector.

– Some buyers were hoping that additional UI changes such as the Widgets breaking away from the notifications bar and coming to the home screen, whilst others are comfortable with the basic yet functional design. We’ll have to see what iOS 7 has to bring!

– iOS is home to an excellent selection on the App Store, but there still isn’t as many developers choosing the freemium model and I found demos not as prevalent on iOS as on Android.

 

Conclusion

Overall the iPhone 5 presents an obvious upgrade for many existing iPhone users. If you are set on staying inside Apple’s ecosystem then it would be a certain upgrade for any owners of the 4 or earlier. 4s users on the other hand may not jump ship straight away and wait until the prices start to drop before picking it up, as apart from the slight external adjustments and taller screen, the 4S is a very similar phone with iOS 6 on-board.

Frustratingly my biggest niggles are with the software rather than hardware. People are much more aware from news and social media’s microscopic analysis where the iPhone 5’s failing lie.  It appears as if the smartphone playing fields have started to level out and Apple can’t afford to rest too much when it comes to truly inspiring innovation. Of course, Apple’s design prowess is in no doubt with the iPhone 5, and it executes standardised smartphone functions exceptionally.

Of course being a dedicated Android user, it took me some time to really appreciate the iPhone 5. Because of iOS 6’s failing – mostly the maps and total lack of customisation, I personally haven’t yet been persuaded fully.  But I can’t deny that the iPhone 5 is still sitting towards the top tier of the smartphone kings.

 

Positives

+ Very well constructed and finished.
+ Fast camera that turns out impressive results.
+ Bigger, better screen with more usable widescreen ratio.

 

Negatives

– Some aspects of iOS 6 such as Maps still feel thoroughly immature next to other’s offerings.
– iOS is starting to feel dated next to the latest Android and Windows Phones.
– Lighting connector upgrade will frustrate those with many existing accessories.

 


Price
: 16GB – £529 , 32GB – £599 & 64GB – £699. Or from £33 a month on Vodafone
More Info: Apple
Size: 123.8mm x 58.6mm x 7.6mm, 112g.
Audio Formats: MP3, AAC, AIFF, WAV.
Video Formats: H.264, M4V, Mp4, MOV, AVI.
Other: JPG, TIFF, GIF, DOC, DOCX, PDF, PPT, PPTX, TXT, RTF, XLS, XLSX & proprietary Apple formats.
Extras: Wi-Fi (802.11 A/B/G/N), aGPS, Bluetooth, 5MP rear camera with 720p HD Video, 1.3MP front facing camera.
Battery Life: 1440mAh, up to 10hrs 720p video.
Memory: 16GB onboard storage memory, 1GB RAM
Processing: 1.3 GHz Dual Core Apple A6 with integrated graphics
Screen: 4″ LCD capacitive touch-screen, 1136×640 resolution.

 

 

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Posted in: Mobile, Reviews

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