Apple iPhone 5 full review
The iPhone 5 is now almost a year old, but is still an incredibly popular phone. While some will want to hold off in the hope that Apple will soon launch the iPhone 5S or iPhone 6, or whatever the next iPhone might be called, there will equally be those who want to get a new smartphone now, should they consider the iPhone 5?
We published a review of the iPhone 5 back in September 2012 but a lot has changed in the almost 11 months since. (You can read our original iPhone 5 review here).
How much does the iPhone 5 cost?
Apple's price for the iPhone 5 price hasn't changed since it launched last September. The price starts at £529 in the UK for a 16GB model, the 32GB model is £599 and there is a 64GB option available for £699. Apple has two colour options available: Black & Slate and White & Silver. 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. For example, Apple offers a 3 pay and go deal on their Apple Store website that includes 300 minutes, 3000 texts and unlimited data for £15 a month.
The mobile phone networks in the UK offer a range of deals for the iPhone 5. Some of the best deals follow (we are not recommending any of those below).
You can get a 16GB iPhone 5 in white on a 24-month T-Mobile contract with 2,000 minutes, unlimited texts, and unlimited data for £37 a month from DialAPhone, and that deal includes 6 months free line rental.
A deal from affordablemobiles.co.uk gets you a 16GB iPhone 5 in black for £89.99 on T-Mobile, with 500 minutes, unlimited texts and 1GB data for £27 a month for 24-months.
You may prefer to go straight to a mobile network. O2 is offering a 16GB iPhone 5 on a 24-month agreement, with unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, 1GB data. You pay £37 a month.
O2 doesn't yet offer 4G, if it's 4G you want, EE is offering a 16GB iPhone 5 on a variety of tariffs. For example, you could opt for a one off payment of £9.99 and get a 16GB iPhone on 4G, with 20GB data, unlimited calls, unlimited texts, and a monthly fee of £51. If you want to pay less each month, EE offers a plan that offers 500MB data, unlimited calls, unlimited texts, and a monthly fee of £26, but you need to pay £249.99 a month up front.
You can find the best iPhone 5 deals here.
Can I get a cheaper iPhone?
One reason why people are opting to buy an Android smartphone rather than an iPhone is the fact that Apple’s iPhone 5 tends to be more expensive than many of the other options out there. Some people simply cannot pay a premium and the iPhone remains an aspirational item for some.
However, those with less cash in their pocket can still own an iPhone. Apple sells the iPhone 4S and iPhone 4 at a lower price. A 16GB iPhone 4S is available from Apple for £449 and the iPhone 4 costs £319. Many of the networks will offer these cheaper iPhones on more affordable contracts.
There are also rumours that Apple will launch a low-cost iPhone soon.
How does the iPhone 5 compare to the iPhone 4S?
The iPhone 4S was just 9.3 millimeters thick and weighed a meager 140 grams. In photos the silver-and-white iPhone 5 doesn't look that different from the white iPhone 4 or 4S, but photos don't do justice to how thin it feels when you pick it up; the thinness is palpable and the iPhone 5 is about 80 percent as thick as its predecessor. In fact the iPhone 5 is so thin that its overall volume is 12 percent less than that of the iPhone 4 or 4S and a third less than the original iPhone.
Even more noticeable is the weight difference. At just 112 grams, the iPhone 5 is a fraction of the weight of the iPhone 4S and it just feels comfortable in your hand.
The biggest difference though is the display. The iPhone 5 is nearly nine millimeters taller than the iPhone 4 and 4S and this is so that it can accommodate a taller screen.
The iPhone 5 screen: bigger and better
Before the iPhone 5, all iPhone models had a 3.5-inch display with a 3:2 aspect ratio. The iPhone 5 screen is just as wide as previous models, but it has a 4in display that is 176 pixels taller and therefore it has a 16:9 aspect ratio like your HDTV.
Other smartphones have larger screens but we find that the iPhone 5 is much more comfortable to hold and use one handed. As Apple’s design guru Jony Ive explained at launch, the iPhone 5 has been designed so that you can reach all areas of the screen with your thumb without shifting your hand. Perhaps people with bigger hands can do this with the Galaxy S4, we can’t.
The extra screen real estate adds roughly 113,000 pixels to the total and means you can get an extra row of apps at the bottom of your Home screens. Widescreen movies and TV programmes will play full-screen mode, rather than in letterbox mode, and when you shoot video with the iPhone 5 camera, you can see the entire frame of what you're shooting.
When the iPhone 5 launched few apps had been updated to take advantage of the new screen so they were viewed with black bars top and bottom. Now apps have been updated to take full advantage of the screen available to them. We love being able to view taller webpages and larger maps and when we view the same on an older iPhone we really feel limited by the smaller screen.
The lighting port on the iPhone 5
Probably the one new feature that met the most disdain on the iPhone 5 was the Lightning port. We felt it was a little unfair to criticise Apple for changing the port on the iPhone for the first time in 10 years, but many were annoyed that their existing accessories wouldn't work with the new phone.
The 30-pin connector first appeared on the third generation iPod in 2003. Technology has advanced a great deal in that time. As Phil Schiller noted during the keynote that launched the iPhone 5, in the past decade much has changed and so many of the things we used to do over the wire can now be done wirelessly. For example, we use Bluetooth to connect to speakers and headphones; Wi-Fi can be used for audio and syncing; and iCloud can be used for downloading content wirelessly and backing up.
Given the fact that we are in a wireless age, is there really a need to plug the iPhone in anyway?
Incidentally, in the decade where Apple changed their iPhone cable once Samsung changed their connector 18 times.
Why did Apple replace the dock connector with Lightning? There are plenty of reasons, starting with size – the new connector is shockingly smaller than the old one. It's smarter than micro-USB because it's got more pins, and it needs those extra pins to enable extra dock connector functions. It's also better, because there's no wrong way to insert the cable into the device – either way will do.
Performance: How fast is the iPhone 5
The iPhone 5 is faster than the iPhone 4S. Its dual-core A6 processor makes it the fastest iOS device yet. But on a mobile device, there's another place where speed matters: cellular data. And the iPhone 5 can connect to LTE cellular networks, also known as 4G (LTE stands for Long Term Evolution and although marketed as 4G, it doesn’t meet the technical requirements the 3GPP consortium has adopted for its new standard generation).
LTE 4G: In the UK there are still networks that don't offer 4G, and it's debatable whether the 4G that is on offer should really be called 4G. EE started offering LTE 4G last year but the bandwidth that they are using isn't the same as what will be offered by the other network when their services launch later this year. Those networks will be offering 4G via the bandwidth (the 800MHz and 2.6GHz frequencies) auctioned by Ofcom earlier this year, and this should see mobile broadband rolled out to at least 98% of people in villages, towns and cities across the UK. You know how right now you can't get 3G in most places? When proper 4G launches you will be able to get it very nearly everywhere. You can read up on 4G here.
For now if you want LTE 4G you can get it on EE, but it's pricy, and it still only has coverage in a number of major UK towns. People we know who are using the iPhone 5 on 4G say it's fast, like carrying their home broadband around with them, and admit they are paying more a month for their contacts. One common concern is that they are using much more data than they anticipated. Many note that they get great coverage in London/Manchester and other big cities, but outside those cities coverage is non-existent.
(Blue patches in the above image are 4G, according to EE).
Of course a number of new phones have launched since we ran the speed tests on the iPhone 5. Now it looks like the Geekbench scores are around 3163 for the Samsung Galaxy S4, 2687 for the HTC One and the LG Nexus 4 is on 2040. The iPhone still beats the BlackBerry Z10 and the Galaxy S3 though. We expect that the launch of the iPhone 5S/iPhone 6 will reset the smartphone speed records.
Interestingly when we ran GeekBench on the iPhone 5 we found that it’s score was higher than it was last September (1655), perhaps this is down to the various updates to iOS.
The iPhone 5 camera: What are the photos like on the iPhone 5
The iPhone 5 offers an 8 megapixel camera, like the iPhone 4S and many other smartphones on the market. Megapixels aren’t the only - or even the best - indicator of camera quality though. When Apple launched the iPhone 5 it said that the phone could offer faster photo capture, better low-light performance and improved noise reduction and in our tests we found this to be true.
The other big change to the rear facing camera, compared to the 4S, is the fact that it is capable of recording 720p video. You’ll also find its better for FaceTime and taking selfies with the front facing camera.
Regarding low-light performance, where the 4S topped 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.
In addition, the surface of the lens is made of sapphire crystal, which Apple says helps make 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. Our low light images certainly appear to be better and were less noisy than those taken on older iPhones.
We also found the iPhone 5 much faster for taking photographs than the older models. Both the focus and the shutter work much faster in the iPhone 5, the HDR feature was noticeably faster on the iPhone 5.
(The iPhone 5 is great for taking cat pictures too)
With the wider screen we wondered whether the camera would take shots and record video in the new 16:9 ratio, or stick to the 3:2 mode of earlier phone models. 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. It would be nice to have the option of choosing to take a wide format picture. Of course, the panoramic shooting feature is Apple’s solution to that request, and it works surprisingly well, once you get the hang of it.
Battery life: Is the battery any good on the iPhone 5?
Apple claims the iPhone 5's battery life is roughly comparable to that of the iPhone 4S, back in September 2012 we found that to be roughly the case. In a workday of using LTE during a commute and Wi-Fi at the office, the battery seemed to drain much the same as the battery on the iPhone 4S.
A year in how’s that battery doing? We certainly find that there are days when our battery drains far faster than we would expect, but we always find that some app or other is running in the background, hogging power and potentially using GPS. It’s a hassle to remember to close apps from time to time, but we always find its the apps that are to blame and our advice to people complaining that their battery is draining is always to close apps. Alternatively, invest in a battery pack, either as a separate unit or in the form of an integrated case.
Of course if you need to be sure to get more than a days use out of your phone we can’t guarantee you would get that from the iPhone 5, especially if you are using power hungry apps as a necessity. For example, when we were using the Tom Tom app in Greece recently the external battery pack was a must to get any more than five hours out of the phone’s battery.
There are various ways to extend the life of your iPhone battery, switching it to Airplane Mode is a quick fix, turning of data can extend the battery life as well (and has the benefit of people still being able to call you). Other solutions include turning down the brightness and turning off 3G.
It would be good if Apple’s next iPhone offers longer battery life that meets the needs of power users who find that they can’t get a day’s worth of use out of the iPhone 5, however, for many the iPhone 5 will last a day.
iPhone 5 audio quality
One little change to previous iPhone models is the fact that the headphone port is now at the base of the phone. This can take a bit of getting used to, but it’s not a big deal. That headphone port is the home for Apple's new EarPods headphones that ship with the device. They sound better than the older earbuds that used to ship with Apple’s devices, and they fit our ears more comfortably.
Of course we are now using our own headphones with the iPhone.
There are several improvements to audio, including multiple microphones to cancel noise and make you sound much better. We still get frustrated from time to time when we can’t make out what a caller is saying, however, and we’re unsure if it’s our phone or their phone (iPhone 4) that’s to blame (or maybe it’s our hearing!)
The iPhone 5 also supports something called "wideband audio," which is known elsewhere as HD voice. It's a technology that expands the range of frequencies transmitted over a voice call, making calls sound richer and more natural. (If you've used Skype or FaceTime, you know very well how poor the plain-old telephone system is when it comes to audio quality.) At launch only a few UK networks offered HD voice, including Orange and Three, as we explained in this article: Will iPhone 5 HD Voice work in the UK? To take advantage of the new technology you would need to be calling someone on the same HD voice ready network.
Software: What software does the iPhone 5 come with
One reason why, despite the iPhone being one of the higher prices smartphones, and despite the fact that Apple only updates it once a year, people still flock to buy the device, is the software. The sheer volume of apps available via the App Store is certainly one feature in favour of the iPhone.
And it’s not only Apple’s ecosystem of apps, there’s also iTunes and Apple’s iCloud services. All of this combines to provide an experience that’s manifestly better than Android handsets.
The other reason why the App Store is a decision maker for many is that they have already spent money on apps. Many will not switch to a different operating system because they will have to repurchase apps.
Luckily for Apple the app developers are still choosing to invest their time predominantly in building apps for the iPhone - perhaps because of the marketshare for the device, or perhaps because as APple makes the software and the hardware it’s easier to build an app that just works - on the other hand is the Android operating system which is in fact a number of different operating systems on a number of different devices.
The other benefit of the App Store over the other app marketplaces is that Apple vets each and every app, so you can be sure that it won’t reck your phone once you install it.
What are the alternatives to the iPhone 5?
As we said above, Apple also sells the iPhone 4S and iPhone 4. A 16GB iPhone 4S is available from Apple for £449 and the iPhone 4 costs £319. There are also a number of smartphones on the market that give the iPhone 5 a run for its money - especially because a number of these phones have functions and features that Apple’s iPhone doesn’t yet have, such as NFC and extendable memory, and of course a larger screen.
These include the Nokia Lumina 920 (includes NFC and image stabilization); Nokia Lumina 820 (includes wider screen, expandable memory via microSD card slot and NFC); Motorola RAZR M (includes NFC); Motorola RAZR HD (includes Kevlar cover and micro-HDMI port and NFC); Samsung Galaxy S4 (includes larger, improved display, removable battery and NFC); Samsung Galaxy S III (includes larger display, removable battery, expandable memory and NFC); Galaxy Note II (includes big screen and stylus); HTC One (includes larger display, NFC); Sony Xperia Z (includes large screen, dust and waterproof); Samsung ATIV S (includes expandable storage via microSD card and NFC); Motorola DROID RAZR MAXX HD (includes expandable storage via microSD card and NFC); HTC Droid Incredible (includes removable battery, microSD memory card support and NFC); HTC Windows Phone 8X (includes NFC); Motorola Atrix HD (includes expandable storage); Google Nexus 4 (includes NFC and a resolution of 342ppi); Samsung Galaxy Nexus (includes removable battery, larger display and NFC); BlackBerry 10 'L-Series' and 'N-Series' (includes removable batteries).
iPhone 5 Buying Advice
If your two year contract on your existing iPhone has come to an end should you upgrade to the iPhone 5? If you are thinking of buying your first smartphone should you buy an iPhone 5? If you have had it with your Android phone should you switch to Apple?
In most cases we’d advise waiting for the launch of the next iPhone, which we expect to see in September. However, not everyone wants the top of the range iPhone, this is evidenced by the fact that Apple still sells the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S and they remain incredibly popular phones. In previous years we’d have expected that the launch of the new iPhone would bring a price reduction for the existing models as this was always Apple’s strategy. However, now rumours are suggesting that the company may launch a new low-cost iPhone that could well replace the older models as the cheaper iPhone options. If this was the case the next couple of months may be your only chance to get your hands on an iPhone 5.
We’ve enjoyed our eleven months with the iPhone 5 and would say it’s definitely the best iPhone we’ve ever owned. Over the past year various changes to Apple’s operating system on the Mac have made the iPhone even more useful for us, with syncing of documents in iCloud and iMessage now working on the Mac as well as the iPhone. We’ve been wondering what our friends who are still holding onto their iPhone 4 and 4S are waiting for... We expect that the next iPhone will be worth the wait, but the iPhone 5 was worth it too.