iPhone 5 Review: Is Apple still on top?

iphone-5-review-header

11 months after Apple releases the iPhone 4S, here we have the iPhone 5. It has a new design, dual-core A6 chip, 4G LTE, 4-inch display, and iOS 6. Five million were sold in the first three days of availability, and two million were sold in the first 24 hours. It’s the most popular iPhone to date and will undoubtedly become the most popular smartphone on the market.

Let’s dive right in to see all the highs and lows of this blockbuster handset.

The Good
  • Looks and durability of the design are excellent
  • Both hardware and LTE speeds best the competition
  • Camera remains one of the best in any smartphone
The Bad
  • Siri can be useful, but still needs work
  • Apple Maps is overall a downgrade from Google Maps
  • Early adopters will notice many apps are not yet optimized for new 4-inch display

Hardware

Let’s run through some of the notable hardware components. The iPhone 5 is made entirely out of glass and aluminum. The front has a brand new 4-inch 1136x640 resolution display, a home button below it, and a speaker and FaceTime HD camera on top that has great 720p quality for a front-facing shooter.

On the back is an 8MP camera with a microphone and LED flash to the right. The 8MP camera is similar to the one found on the iPhone 4S, but it has improved low-light performance, faster shooting times, and some subtle enhancements to the overall quality of the photos. On the bottom of the device is one of three microphones (the other two are on the front and back) plus there’s a speaker, the headphone jack (previously located on the top) and the new Lightning connector port, which is just a smaller reversible version of the 30-pin. Time to either save up for some new accessories or buy Apple's 30-pin to Lightning adapter for $29.

Inside, there’s Apple’s new dual-core A6 chip clocked at approximately 1-1.2GHz according to reports and 1GB of RAM.

Design

Glass and aluminum — those are the only two materials you’ll find on your iPhone 5. The front is naturally consumed by the glass, but the sides use that aluminum as does a large chunk of the back, save for two glass inserts on the top and bottom for wireless connection purposes.

Apple was able to slim down its latest handset to just 7.6mm thick and just over 4 oz in weight, the latter most likely due to the removal of the giant glass back plate in the iPhone 4 and 4S design.

The iPhone 5 comes in two colors variations: black/slate and white/silver. I have the black and slate one. So far I have mixed feelings about the aesthetics. I love the aluminum back making a welcome return from the first-generation iPhone, but the slate color of the black model is what’s throwing me off. I think the black and silver designs of the iPhone 4 and 4S might be slightly more elegant. I tend to enjoy having the contrasting colors between the black and silver, but the 5 is just a totally dark device. There’s no shiny silver band around the side anymore and even the silver circle surrounding the lens of the back camera has been replaced with a black one. I’m absolutely positive this will grow on me over time (it’s already begun to) and many people love it already, but for me it’s a bit of an adjustment.

Picky criticisms aside, there is no doubt that the iPhone remains one of the most beautifully designed handsets out there, if not the absolute best. The attention to detail here is remarkable as we’ve come to expect from Apple and the design in general just blows away the competition.

Build Quality

Just like the design itself puts the competitors to shame, so does the build quality. This thing is solid, just like nearly every iPhone that came before it. Even though it’s significantly lighter than its predecessor, it still manages to feel like a product that I won’t easily break. It doesn’t use cheap plastic like most of the Android phones out today and nothing feels like it’s going to pop out of place.

One major advantage of having the aluminum on the back is drop protection. If you dropped your all-glass iPhone 4 or 4S onto pavement just once, there was a good chance you shattered the phone. I’m happy to report that I don’t feel like I have to worry about dropping my phone anymore. The numerous drop tests results on YouTube can attest to this. I suspect this is why Apple didn’t release a bumper case for the iPhone 5. The phone seems to hold up well against scratches too.

A small observation worth noting is that if you shake the iPhone 5 near your ear, you can hear ever so slightly the volume up and down buttons jiggle. I also hear it when I gently throw it down onto a couch. I’m not sure if this is just my own iPhone, but by no means does the subtle jiggling sound give the impression that the buttons will break or fall out any time soon.

Guts And Glory

I could post all sorts of charts and graphs with benchmark results that would ultimately mean very little to you when using the iPhone 5 out in the real world, so take my word for it, this phone zips.

Most apps load up around twice as fast as before as promised, panning through the Maps app in 3D mode is silky smooth with not one stutter, and LTE is just an added layer of speed. It’s about as fast as my WiFi connection at home. The phone never felt like it was lagging at all and kept up with every single task I threw at it. Put simply, it’s the fastest iPhone by and far the fastest smartphone available right now — fact.

Credit should go to the new dual-core A6 processor, 1GB of RAM, and I'm sure the plethora of performance optimizations made in iOS 6.

Software

I don’t want to spend too much time talking about this because, frankly, iOS is still iOS. Sure there’s some new features to enhance the experience, but nothing revolutionary has happened to it since its debut as “iPhone OS” in 2007. For many people, that’s a good thing because iOS is still a fantastic operating system and arguably one of the best available for smartphones today. For others, their purchase of an Android device speaks for itself.

There’s a few new things worth noting. The Maps app is Apple’s own child for the first time and it’s under fire for lacking features/data and being inaccurate in certain parts of the world. I have to agree that it’s a downgrade from Google Maps, and I’d honestly be surprised if Apple didn’t realize that. The amount of location information Apple Maps present is minuscule compared to Google’s. I want more labels and more buildings. An overly simplistic map is never a good thing. On the bright side, I had no problems with navigation and getting where I need to be accurately, plus Yelp integration for businesses is useful.

Siri can now answer questions about movies in theaters, sports scores, and help you book reservations at nearby restaurants. I’ve noticed that Siri is far better at correctly recognizing what I say compared to on the 4S, so I’ll give credit to the new set of microphones on the iPhone 5 for that. As much as Siri can do, it still needs work. For instance, it’ll find movies, but it won’t tell me what’s on TV. There’s a wide range of potential for Siri and I’d like to see Apple channel more of that hopefully without waiting until iOS 7.

Facebook integration is Facebook integration, shared Photo Streams are shared Photo Streams, iCloud tabs are iCloud tabs, and VIP mail is VIP mail. My point is that they all work exactly as advertised, so there’s really no need to go too in depth with describing them. They’re nice additions to the OS. I didn’t get a chance to try out Passbook because there’s currently little to no apps supporting it, but many are getting on board soon and I do think it’s going to take off within the next few months and best NFC.

What I love most about new iOS releases are the little things. Pulling down Notification Center lets you quickly send a tweet or post to Facebook. Swiping up when receiving a call allows you to send a text message to the caller to get back to them later. Do Not Disturb mode won’t wake you with a bright screen or vibration in the middle of the night when all or just certain contacts try to call or text you. iMessage can combine your Apple ID and cell phone number into a unified ID for universal access to all messages and FaceTime calls.

Once you add all of this up, you’ll find iOS 6 to be a very pleasant experience and one that especially shines on the iPhone 5.

Web Browser, Multimedia And Camera

Web Browser

Mobile Safari is still one of the best if not the best smartphone web browser. Web pages look great and if bigger companies and services don't already have an app for the iPhone in the App Store, you can bet they've optimized their website to near perfection in Safari. Plus, the addition of LTE in the iPhone 5 makes downloading web pages on par with WiFi speeds. The 2x faster GPU is good for buttery smooth scrolling and zooming as well. Lastly, the 4-inch display lets you see more of each web page you visit, but at the same time keeps it all within the reach of one hand.

Multimedia

iPhone is still the king of multimedia. Apple has an insanely large collection of music, movies, and TV shows in the iTunes Store plus hundreds of thousands of quality apps in the App Store. Downloading all of it just got faster with LTE support for the first time ever in the iPhone and viewing and/or using all of it just got better with the new 4-inch display, up from 3.5-inches in all preceding iPhone generations. Arguably best of all is that you can keep everything in sync thanks to iCloud. It's a remarkable ecosystem.

Camera

The camera on the iPhone 5 is superb. It’s basically the iPhone 4S camera except it is faster at taking photos, uses a sapphire crystal lens cover, and has dramatically improved quality in low-light conditions and a subtle boost in quality overall. New on the software side is better video stabilization, the ability to take photos while recording video, and panorama shots. The shooter on the front now takes 720p HD video and actually takes decent photos as well. The cameras are on par if not better than the best smartphone shooters on the market, but rather than talk all about it, it’s best if you see it for yourself.

 

 

Call Quality And Battery Life

For once on an iPhone, call quality isn’t just acceptable, it’s good. It seems like Apple went to great lengths trying to improve the “phone” portion of the iPhone, squeezing in three microphones plus better speakers in the iPhone 5. Callers on the opposite end said my voice sounded particularly clear. On my end, the sound quality of theirs was impressive as well — and sound quality has been strengthened across the board here. Rejoice for the ability to stop trying to figure out what people are saying to you and start actually listening and communicating with them.

The call quality and speed of the handset don’t mean anything once the iPhone 5 dies though. Fortunately, you shouldn’t be let down by battery life either. It’s improved slightly from the iPhone 4 and 4S. It arrived at my home fully charged at about 4 p.m. ET on Friday afternoon. After initially re-downloading all my apps, some web surfing over LTE and WiFi, taking about 20 photos, watching a YouTube video, plenty of texting, a couple of short phone calls, and about 10 minutes of game play, the iPhone 5 died at about 2:30 p.m. on Sunday afternoon. Things to note: brightness was on auto and I shut the device off when I went to sleep for roughly seven hours on Friday and Saturday night. Not too shabby at all.

The Final Take

For some, iOS is a deal breaker. It doesn't offer the flexibility Android clearly boasts. For many, iOS has the right combination of speed, apps, and overall function to be the operating system they choose to use every day of their life. If you're one of those people, you will not be disappointed with the iPhone 5 by any means. As I write this review, it's the fastest smartphone on the market, the hardware design isn't even in the same league as many of those cheap plastic competitors, and the small boost in display size is quite useful. Like anything else, it has some minor shortcomings but in a nutshell, the iPhone 5 is a fantastic phone and if you haven't already bought one like the millions who have, I'd recommend it.

Back to top ▴

  • Mike

     so no downsides to the new iphone?  wow if I didn’t need to find my way correctly to places I would so totally buy it.  especially based on this non-apple fanboy review.

    Here’s a tip: a review talks about the good, bad and ugly…not just the cherry picked features.

    • http://www.twitter.com/gtinari George Tinari

      I detailed some “bads”. And what happens if there aren’t any uglies?

    • Matt

      Coming from a completely unbiased perspective, your comment was an illiterate attempt at trolling on a relatively neutral review.

      One of the things I noticed in this review (read every word) is that, despite Mr. Tinari’s evident affection for the iPhone, he still pointed out a few things he isn’t happy with:  “As much as Siri can do, it still needs work.” He also dedicates an entire paragraph to his dissatisfaction with the Maps app. He points out plenty of negative aspects, you just decided not to read them.

      Here’s a tip for you: think before you speak. 

  • Elie Sokhen

    are you on apple’s payslip?:p

    this is the best phone on the market??

    absolutely wrong

    bad manufacturing
    bad upgrades
    bad location services
    bad design (fragile)

    worst phone ever launched by apple and i hope it lives through out 6 months before apple releases it’s next phone ;)

  • Marin

    WHAT A FANBOY!!!

    • Marin

      Just joshing. Nice review man. 

      • http://www.twitter.com/gtinari George Tinari

        lol thanks Marin!

    • Marin

      Just joshing. Nice review man. 

  • Marin

    WHAT A FANBOY!!!

Back to top ▴