Mon, 24 Sep 2012 iPhone 5 review
iPhone 5 testing, feature comparison, and buying advice. Which iPhone should you buy?
- Manufacturer: Apple
- Pros: Lighter and slimmer design, improved camera, faster connectivity (even on 3G), faster processor, 4-in screen is amazing for movies
- Cons: Expensive, Lightning port is annoying and replacement accessories are also expensive, no 4G LTE yet in the UK, 4-in screen isn’t incredibly different from 3.5-in display on iPhone 4S
- Min specs: iOS6 smartphone; A6 processor; 123.8x58.6x7.6mm; 112g;UMTS/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz); GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz); LTE (Bands 4 and 17); CDMA EV-DO Rev. A and Rev. B (800, 1900, 2100 MHz); UMTS/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz); GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz); LTE (Bands 1, 3, 5, 13, 25); GSM model A1429: UMTS/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz); GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz); and Bluetooth 4.0; assisted GPS and GLONASS; Digital compass; 4-inch (diagonal) widescreen Multi-Touch display; 1136x640-pixel resolution at 326 ppi; 8-megapixel iSight camera; FaceTime HD camera with 1.2MP photos and HD video (720p) up to 30 frames per second; Built-in rechargeable lithium-ion battery
- £529 (16GB)
- £599 (32GB); £699 (64GB)
- Star rating:
Many Apple products are launched to something of a fanfare, and the iPhone 5 was no exception. While it’s easy to get carried away in the queues, high-fiving Apple store staff, and endless reports, rumours, and rapid-fire reviews: it’s worth taking a deep breath, standing back, and taking a good look at what’s on offer. This is our iPhone 5 review: gloss, shine, warts and all.
Let’s start with the facts: the iPhone 5 starts at £529 in the UK for a 16GB model, with 32GB (£599) and 64GB (£699) options available. Apple has two colour options available: black and white.
This is the sixth generation of iPhone that Apple has made, and replaces (or rather augments) the iPhone 4S, which was previously sold for £499, but is now sold for £449. The iPhone 4 in turn replaces the iPhone 3GS as Apple’s entry-level model at a very respectable £329.
Note that these prices are all for an unlocked model and you will need to purchase a nano-SIM card with call, text and Internet allowance separately. Most carriers will also be selling the iPhone 5 on contract with different up-front payment, and monthly rates.
Inside the iPhone 5 technology
Notable new technology includes a 4in display, a new A6 processor (designed entirely by Apple and making the iPhone 5 the fastest smartphone ever), 4G LTE connectivity, a better camera, and a HD FaceTime camera.
The new iPhone features a black or white anodised aluminium rear, instead of (smashable) glass, and it’s lighter and thinner than before (although the increased screen size means it’s taller).
Apple claimed that battery life is better, although our tests suggest it isn’t, although it does come close. The iPhone 5 battery lasted 8 hours and 21 minutes - 6 percent less than the iPhone 4S and about 4 percent less than the iPhone 4.
There is a new dock connector called Lightning which replaces the 30-pin Dock connector that has been present on every iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and most iPods from the dawn of time (since 2001). This is a more fundamental change that carries positives and negatives depending on your circumstances.
The iPhone 5 also has Apple's new A6 processor, which UBM Insights has revealed as a faster dual-core CPU and, interestingly, a triple-core CPU which is presumed to be a PowerVR SGX 543MP3 running at 266Mhz. The A6 is a 28nm process node which it is believed to be made by TSMC rather than Samsung. Geekbench reports that the processor is running at 819Mhz (slightly faster than the 800Mhz of the iPhone 4S) and that it finally has 1GB of RAM.
Our speedmark tests have revealed that the iPhone 5 is significantly faster than the iPhone 4S. We'll be posting the full results soon but Geekbench 2 reports a benchmark speed of 1647 over the 635 for the iPhone 4S. It's a 159 per cent faster than the model it replaces
What this massive speed boost means in real terms isn't that relevant, however (although it is something that could make other smartphone developers sit up and take notice). Most apps ran at optimum speed in iOS anyway. It may be that developers can make truly faster games that work better on the iPhone 5 than on other models of iPhone, although we've noted in the past that these tend to come down the line as most game developers want to catch the broad pool. Apps like Garageband and iMovie will render audio and video more efficiently, but most general users may not notice any real gain from the faster speeds. That Apple's first fully crafted in-house processor is such a blinder bodes well for the future though.
The iPhone 5’s new 4in Retina Display reviewed
The iPhone 5 has a new, taller 4in display in a 16:9 ratio (compared to a 3:2 aspect on previous models). This is the same ratio that most HD TVs offer, and it means that when you turn your iPhone on its side to watch TV or movies you will no longer see black bars.
Apple’s not the first to offer a larger screen, but while Apple has made the display taller, the phone is only 9mm taller and no wider, so it still feels comfortable in the hand. Apple’s biggest competitor, Samsung’s Galaxy S3 phone looks like an ugly giant in comparison.
Apps can be redesigned for the larger screen (it’s 176 pixels taller and gains 113,000 pixels), or stay at their current size with black borders at the top or bottom, which doesn’t look as bad as you’d imagine. There aren’t many games that have been resized yet, but the ones that do fit the full screen look special. When you look at it technically Apple’s approach makes a lot of sense. Apps can be redesigned for the larger screen, or stay in their current size with black borders at the top or bottom, which doesn’t look as bad as you’d imagine although it demonstrates how long the iPhone form factor is.
Our only grumble would be that when you’re holding the iPhone vertically (which you do most of the time) it’s hard to see any real gain with the slightly taller screen. You get an extra row of apps on the Home screen, and many list-based apps can pack in an extra story or two, but you won’t benefit from the wider keyboard layout you now get in landscape mode.
When you’re holding the iPhone vertically (which you do most of the time) it’s hard to see any real gain with the slightly taller screen. You get an extra row of apps on the Home screen, and many list-based apps (like newsfeeds) can pack in an extra story or two.
It is better, but it’s certainly not in the same league as the jump to Retina Display introduced on the iPhone 4.
Turn the iPhone 5 on its side, though, and things start to make a bit more sense. Movies, in particular, look much better when displayed full screen in 16:9 ratio. There aren’t many truly amazing games that have been resized at the moment (Real Racing 2 is an odd omission), but the ones that do fit the full screen look pretty special.
So the screen is better for movies and games, which are the key areas where you want a device to focus visually.
iPhone 5 Size and design
We can’t emphasise enough how gorgeous the iPhone 5 is. The amazing thing about the iPhone 5 is that the device manages to feel smaller, while the screen is bigger. Partly this is a combination of the lighter weight, slimmer design, and a smaller bezel. The depth is just 7.6mm and it weighs 112g (the 4S was 9.3mm and 140g).
The design is similar to the iPhone 4S, with the same circular volume buttons and mute switch, although upon close examination they’re all slightly smaller, and the sleep wake button on the top is slightly thinner.
It really is a slinky little thing, especially if you compare it to some of the ever increasingly brick-like Android and Windows phones coming out. The Samsung S3 looks like a monster next to it, which might appeal to some teenage boys subconsciously playing the ‘mine’s bigger than yours’ game, but to the rest of us disheartened by carrying around increasingly heavy bricks it comes as a relief that Apple insists on thinning and slimming its devices even while introducing newer hardware.
In terms of design it is thematically very similar to the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S.
The White & Silver iPhone looks similar to the white iPhone 4S model, but with a anodised aluminium backing; the Black & Slate model couldn’t be more black if it tried: black screen, bezel, slate-like backing, black antenna on the sides; and shiny black logo and lettering.
The design is similar to the iPhone 4S, it has the same circular volume buttons on the side and mute switch (black, in case you were wondering), although upon close examination they’re all slightly smaller, and the sleep wake button on the top is slightly thinner. On the whole though it’s really a thinner, lighter, slight taller iPhone 4.
The only real design change is the 3.5mm minijack for the earphones, which has been moved to the bottom of the phone, as it is on the iPod touch. We prefer it at the top because when you put it in a pocket or back the volume controls sit up and are more accessible, but it’s a very minor issue.
Black or white is always a preference thing, but we prefer the black model. It looks slightly more different to the iPhone 4S that we’re upgrading from, and looks thinner (black is more slimming, apparently). Also we think that the black borders that appear on older apps look better when set against the black surface.
Apple iPhone 4G LTE in the UK
The presence of 4G LTE networking is a step forward, although at the moment only subscribers to new network EE (Everything Everywhere) formed by the merger of Orange and T-Mobile will be able to access the 4G services offered by this version of the iPhone from 30 October (in a handful of cities).
Potential customers will need to sign up with the new network, and get a special EE nano-SIM to use the service. EE has no information on how much it intends to charge.
If you want 4G EE is really your only option. The other UK networks are waiting for the government to auction off the spectrum that they will be using for 4G, unfortunately this spectrum isn't the right specturm to work with the iPhone 5 in its current state. There is more information about 4G in the UK here: Should I buy an iPhone 5? Here's what you will, and won't, get
But do you really need 4G networking? The iPhone 5 also supports the new DC-HSDPA standard for 3G and we are getting a download speed of 13.49Mpbs on the Three 3G network from the Macworld offices in London. That’s faster than many 4G LTE users are reporting from the US, and certainly faster than we can imagine needing during the lifetime of the iPhone 5.
4G LTE has other advantages, however, such as a more reliable and persistent connection with further reach, so when the network is rolled out it’ll give more rural areas decent mobile internet. But for the time being city dwellers will find the 3G connection good enough.
iPhone 5 Camera review
Apple has made improvements to the camera of the iPhone 5, and it shows in the quality of the shots. The 8-megapixel count remains the same, but the 4S tops out at ISO 800, which gives pretty poor images in low light conditions. The iPhone 5 goes up to ISO 3200 for better pictures in darkened environments.
The surface of the lens is made of sapphire crystal, which Apple says helps protect your lens and makes your images clearer and sharper. In addition, Apple claims the iPhone 5 offers improved noise reduction, all of which add up to better low-light photos. Images certainly appeared to be better in low light and were less noisy. We compared the iPhone 5 and 4S and it was better, with one exception: the 4S seemed to do a better job in our low-light video test.
The iPhone 5’s A6 processor has made a big difference to the speed of taking photographs. Both the focus and the shutter work much faster in the iPhone 5. Taking pictures is noticeably faster, even with poky HDR captures.
The front-facing FaceTime camera now snaps 1.2-megapixel images and records HD video.
One thing that we were keen to observe was whether the Camera and Photos app would take shots and record video in the new 16:9 ratio, or stick to the 3:2 mode of earlier phone models. It turns out that photos are captured in the regular iPhone format (the button sits at the side of the snap, rather than overlaying the photo) but video is captured in 16:9 format, which makes sense. On new feature is that you can now take photo snaps while recording video, and these are snapped in the new 16:9 format – so if you want widescreen photos turn on video mode and snap from there.
iPhone 5 audio and speaker test
There are several improvements to audio, including multiple microphones to cancel noise and make you sound much better. The iPhone 5 also supports HD voice. See this article about HD Voice for more information.
The audio quality of the iPhone 5 is really good, but you are more likely to listen via earphones. The good news is the new EarPods (shown right) are significantly better than the iPod earphones they replace. The new look is designed to fit into the ear more comfortably, which they do, and also provide improved audio quality. They also reproduce more bass than the models they replace.
One other enhancement is the iPhone 5 speaker (there’s only one despite grills on the left and right of the Lightning port). With its history of iTunes and the iPod, music is clearly important to Apple and it shows. The audio quality of the iPhone 5 – given the small stature of the device – is really good.
In our comparison test the sound was slightly different to the iPhone 4S, but this might be due to the different form factor of the iPhone rather than internal components.
The new EarPods are manifestly better than the iPod earphones they replace. The new look is designed to fit into the ear more comfortably, which they do, and also provide improved audio quality. They especially have more bass than the models they replace. While they’re not as good as a pair of Shure or Etymotic earphones, they do offer fantastic audio for a free pair of earphones.
Apple iPhone 5 Lightning Dock versus 30-in cable
Apple has introduced a new connection standard called Lightning with the iPhone 5, replacing the 30-pin cable and dock connection that’s been present on every iPhone for over 10 years.
It’s smaller and thinner, and you can slot it in facing either side up. There’s no tangible speed increase, however, as it’s still USB 2.0 and not the faster USB 3.0.
There’s no gain for the customer here, in fact on the contrary, the downside is that all those dozens of legacy iPod, iPad, and iPhone cables and accessories no longer work unless you buy a pricey adapter from Apple.
Some have questioned why Apple didn’t go for a Micro-USB. We’ve heard that the Lightning port offers Apple more functionality than standard micro USB connectors, including the ability to directly control accessories from the iPhone screen, which is good for third-party accessory makers. We also understand that Apple wants to earn money from licensing its system to these accessory makers. But it’s still a pain having to replace cables and accessories we have accumulated over the years.
Which iPhone should I get?
Obviously many people are upgrading from previous models of iPhone to the new iPhone 5, and there’s no doubt it our mind that it’s the best iPhone ever and the best smartphone on the market.
Partly it’s the right balance of features with size, and partly it’s Apple’s ecosystem of apps, iTunes, and iCloud services. All of this combines to provide an experience that’s manifestly better than Android handsets.
The iPhone 5’s speed boost is most noticeable on more processor-intensive apps such as games, but apps open almost immediately. It’s fast.
Apple has consistently improved each model of iPhone to introduce new features, slimmer more fashionable design, better performance and better battery life. And the iPhone 5 is no exception. It follows a familiar pattern of thinner, sleeker, faster and slightly better.
Apple has already beaten its pre-order rates for the iPhone, and each model sells more and faster than the last, Apple has just announced 5 million sales on the first weekend.
However, there is some musing as to whether the 4in screen is enough of a killer feature to upgrade. If we look at things historically, the iPhone itself was a revolution, 3G was enough of a reason to upgrade to the iPhone 3G, the 3GS had video recording and a faster processor which chimed nicely with the app store launch, the iPhone 4 introduced the Retina display and FaceTime, and the 4S introduced Siri.
All of these were killer individual features that came along with steady enhancements to iOS. Does the slightly larger screen sit alongside Siri or the introduction of the Retina display? Probably not, to our minds. Even though it’s a really nice piece of kit, it’s simply less interesting than the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S. And both Lightning and the iOS 6 Maps fiasco have taken some of the sheen off the launch.
It’s becoming stock advice, but if you have last year’s model (in this case the iPhone 4S) you’ll get on just fine with the iOS 6 update, which gives you most of the features here. The screen and camera are nicer, but not to the tune of £529. Upgrading from a 4S is a different matter, although in itself not a massively different one. As well as the larger screen you’d get Siri and Flyover functionality. The camera is manifestly better on the iPhone 5 than the iPhone 4, but aside from that core functionality is largely similar; it even looks pretty similar.
The iPhone 4 is now only £329 and that’s a hell of a bargain. There’s a lot to be said for getting the iPhone 4 and seeing how things pan out with the iPhone 5S.
Here’s a controversial opinion. The iPhone 4 offers much of the same core functionality as the iPhone 5 and it costs £200 less. What exactly do you get for that extra £200? The slightly taller screen (nice, but not really a deal breaker), Siri and Flyover, both of which we can put it in the ‘fun and futuristic’ camp, but they’re not day-to-day tools. That leaves Facetime over 3G, which is either vital or not really important depending on your own personal circumstances.
You also get an extra 8GB of storage, which is very practical but with iTunes Match taking a lot of the strain from the music syncing you might get by. You’d have to be more careful with apps and video lovers might want to think twice, but actually. That’s a really good deal. The iPhone 4 has the Retina display, the interface feels pretty snappy; it’s a really good phone. £200 less!
At £449 the iPhone 4S is less of a bargain, and we’d stump up the extra to upgrade to the iPhone 5. But it’s a sign of how close they are that the price has to be closer together than it used to be. If you already own an iPhone 4S, we’d be tempted to sit this one out and see what the iPhone 5S or iPhone 6 has to offer. Especially if would rather have an iPhone running iOS 5 while Apple improves its Maps offering.
Should I upgrade to the iPhone 5?
There is some musing as to whether the screen is enough of a killer feature to upgrade though. If we look at things historically, the iPhone itself was a revolution, 3G was enough of a reason to upgrade to the iPhone 3G, the 3GS had video recording and a much faster processor which chimed nicely with the app store launch, the iPhone 4 introduced the Retina display and Facetime, and the iPhone 4S introduced Siri.
All of these were killer individual features that came along with steady enhancements to iOS (camera, and connection ports). Does the slightly larger display sit alongside Siri or the introduction of the Retina display? Probably not, to our minds.
So although you can go from an iPhone 4 to an iPhone 5, you might want to just get the iOS 6 update on your iPhone which offers much of the same functionality, and save the money. We’d be tempted to sit this one out and see what the iPhone 5S has to offer. Especially if you plan on keeping hold of iOS 5 for a while until Apple manages to improve its Maps offering.