On 21 September 2012, people all over the world queued up for the biggest thing to happen to iPhone since iPhone — the iPhone 5. The iPhone 5 is the fastest, largest, thinnest and lightest iPhone Apple has ever made. It is also the very first Apple product to ditch the 30-pin dock connector for the new Lightning connector.
I was fortunate enough to receive an iPhone 5 on launch day, and I’ve been testing it for the past 2 weeks or so. Bear in mind that we purchased this review unit from Apple Australia outright, so it’s unlocked and not bound to a contract. Therefore, we will be giving away an iPhone 5 at the end of this review!
If you’re looking forward to owning a brand new iPhone 5, please read on to find out which exact model it is.
iPhone 5 – Introduction
The iPhone 5 comes in 16GB, 32GB and 64GB configurations in either black or white. Upgrades over the iPhone 4S include:
- Apple’s A6 chip
- 1GB of memory
- 4-inch 16:9 display
- 1.2MP front-facing Facetime camera
Prices vary from country to country, and especially if one is purchased with a wireless service plan. Fortunately, Apple Australia sells the iPhone 5 outright without a binding contract to a telco. Therefore, I bought a 32GB black iPhone 5 for AUD$899, unlocked and ready to go. It’s arguably the most popular model due to its capacity and colour; even until the time of writing, it is back-ordered with a shipping time of 3-4 weeks.
For most people, the iPhone only has one competitor — the Samsung Galaxy SIII. It’s a very logical choice — it’s well-made, supports Near Field Communication (NFC) and runs Android — and some would say it’s the best Android phone in the market right now. The Samsung Galaxy SIII is also significantly cheaper than the iPhone 5.
Which should you choose? My advice is to visit a store and have a go at both phones before making your decision.
iPhone 5 – Initial Impressions
Due to the fact that the iPhone 5 is 8.6 mm longer than its predecessor, it obviously needed a bigger box — a lot bigger. Whereas the box for the iPhone 4S only measured 13 cm (H) x 7.5 cm (W) x 6.2 cm (D), the box that nestles the iPhone 5 has a dimension of 14.5 cm (H) x 8 cm (W) x 8 cm (D) — a 53.5% increase in volume. To be honest, I was quite surprised at the dramatic increase in volume per unit because Apple has always tried to minimise its footprint in favour of reducing shipping cost.
On the inside, the iPhone 5 rests in a recessed plastic frame — a particular packaging design which hasn’t changed since Apple introduced the iPhone 2G; even though opening the box generates a slight vacuum, sometimes causing the iPhone to fall out.
For new iPhone owners, Apple provides a user guide on how to get started with iOS 6 and make the most of it, along with a SIM tray removal tool, and yes, you guessed it, Apple stickers.
Here’s the culprit. This explains why the iPhone 5 comes in larger box — Apple ships a pair of EarPods with every iPhone 5. Not only that, the EarPods has its own plastic carrying case which, in my mind, is quite unnecessary. Finally, you’ll also find a 5W wall plug and a Lightning connector packed snugly at the bottom.
Before we move on, I’d like to take some time to address Apple’s new EarPods. Despite the amount of research they’ve dedicated to re-inventing the earphones, the Earpods are still mediocre at best. It delivers too much bass, and probably caters to those who aren’t too particular about quality. For audiophiles however, these go straight in the bin.
iPhone 5 Design
The iPhone 5 takes a radical shift from its predecessor and features a 4-inch 16:9 Retina Display with a resolution of 1136 x 640 pixels, making it 8.6 mm taller but not wider than the iPhone 4S — a fact that has been grossly exaggerated and ridiculed. The truth is, the iPhone 5 sits quite comfortably in my hand, partly because it’s exactly the same width as the iPhone 4/4S. Then my brain starts to register its weight, and it starts to hit me — it’s lighter than I remember, and thinner as well. The experience is slightly euphoric — the iPhone 5 is new and has a larger screen, but is somewhat familiar.
The black model, otherwise known as “Slate” has a black aluminum frame; whereas the frame for the white model is au naturale and isn’t pigmented. I quite like that Apple chose to dye the aluminum frame for the black iPhone 5 because that gives it a distinctive difference over the white model, apart from the faceplates of course. The Facetime camera now sits above the earpiece, and that’s about all the cosmetic changes visible from the front.
On the rear, however, you’ll find a very significant change. In order to shed weight, Apple decided to forego the rear sheet of Gorilla glass, replacing it with an unremarkable anodised aluminum panel and 2 sheets of plastic on either end. Personally, I find this looks atrocious, slightly reminiscent of the iPhone 2G, and is a huge step backwards in terms of elegance and design. I’m guessing the plastic panels supposedly improve wireless and cellular connectivity, but separate panels also mean additional gaps. And gaps always lead to dust collection.
Just reading or hearing about how remarkably thin the new iPhone 5 is probably does nothing for you. So here’s a comparative shot between the iPhone 5 and an iPhone 4. Notice that the iPhone 5 is just slightly thinner, yet the difference is quite noticeable. Again, this is most likely better appreciated when holding the iPhone 5 in your hand.
And finally, after 4 years of being next to the sleep/wake button, the headphone jack made its journey to the bottom of the device. And as you can see, the 30-pin dock connector has been replaced by the Lightning connector. Interestingly, both the Lightning connector and the 30-pin dock connector only support USB 2.0, but my tests have revealed that Lightning is significantly faster than the 30-pin dock connector at syncing and transferring files. Perhaps the dock connector was never really efficient to begin with?
iPhone 5 Review
The new 4-inch Retina Display screen looks marvelous. Being able to fit an additional row of icons may seem trivial but it definitely makes a difference. I found that I scrambled between home screens less often than I did before, and most of the applications I frequently use fit on the first two home screens. More and more apps have been updated to support the larger screen, and those that haven’t will display black bars above and beneath the application screen to compensate for the additional height.
Several other reviews I’ve read stated that all four edges of the new screen are reachable by the thumb while holding the iPhone 5 with one hand. Personally, I’ve had trouble reaching the top right corner with my left hand after trying to reach the bottom left corner whilst not letting go of my grip. Perhaps my left hand isn’t as agile as my right, or maybe I’ve just got small hands. Either way, I can’t do it and it’s probably a fair assumption that some ladies will face the same issue.
One of the more impressive aspects of the new iPhone 5 that appealed to me was the particular glass used — it seems slightly more oleophobic and is much more resistant to fingerprints as well as swipe marks. Swiping my finger across the screen leaves a trail of condensation which evaporates quickly seconds later, and nothing else. This is honestly a huge improvement over the iPhone 4/4S.
Apple also seemed to have found the solution for the unresponsive Home button which users have been facing the past few years. The Home button on the iPhone 5 is a touch more elastic and resistant, and coupled with the prowess of the A6 chip, certainly feels more responsive than the one on the iPhone 4/4S.
So far, I haven’t experienced any issues similar to antenna-gate or the grip of death. The iPhone 5 happens to be rocking on solidly reception-wise, clutching on to LTE where available and regressing to 3G if necessary. Although LTE reception is slightly spotty in the area I live in, I managed to run a Speedtest, which shows off the 4G capabilities of the iPhone 5. And when your mobile internet connection is twice as fast as your home broadband, something’s not right.
Battery life on the iPhone 5 is unremarkable. With moderate use (checking emails, messages, browsing), the iPhone 5 will probably survive the day. However, an active user will struggle on a single charge — battery life is most definitely not sufficient. And it’s somewhat unsettling to have a new phone and not being able to use it as much as you’d hope.
From what I’ve read, wavering data connection apparently causes the battery to drain quicker because the antennas are forced to work harder to maintain a weak data connection. Disabling 4G where reception is poor may help to improve battery life.
The new iPhone 5 utilises a new SIM card standard called the nano SIM. The nano SIM measures 12.3 x 8.8 mm and is 40% smaller than the micro SIM and a hair thinner (0.09 mm).
You can certainly understand why Apple chose to utilise the nano SIM in a thinner and lighter phone, especially when the nano SIM tray fits in a micro SIM tray with room to spare.
Should You Buy It?
The iPhone 5 is a mixed bag. Admittedly, it’s lighter, faster, and has a beautiful 4-inch display. But the case design took a huge step backwards and iOS 6 is a nightmare. If you have yet to use an iPhone, try looking elsewhere first. Try Android. Try the Samsung Galaxy SIII. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. Plus, it’s more affordable anyways.
But if you’re like me, and you’re enveloped by the Apple ecosystem, and you already use an iPhone 4/4S; upgrading to the iPhone 5 is a logical step. It’s so much faster, you’ll feel more productive using it.
MakeUseOf recommends: Buy it (if you’re already using an iPhone)
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