The latest iPhone has been out for a few weeks now. It turns out this is long enough for us here at Dog and Bone to have formed some opinions on it. I’ll share these here.
I’m going to venture out on a fairly sturdy limb and suggest that anyone interested in reading a review of the latest iPhone probably already knows a few things about it. You probably know what it looks like. In case you don’t, I’ve included a photo. The specs for the new device are available pretty much everywhere, so I won’t go into them much. I also won’t really touch on features that are part of iOS6 rather than the phone itself.
Design and Display
As you can see, it looks very similar to the existing iPhone 4 / 4S, albeit one that has been stretched slightly, although the width of the device has not changed. This is really apparent when you place the devices side by side, such as if you’re planning on drag-racing them. Apple claimed that they decided to maintain the current width so that the device remains easy to use one-handed. I suppose this is a kind of oblique swipe at Samsung, whose flagship Galaxy phones are noticeably broader, although I don’t recall seeing small-handed users juggling those haplessly, or having to wrestle them like the wheel on a storm-tossed yacht. They’re all phones, and they all yield their mysteries up readily to anyone with opposable thumbs.
The increased length is to permit the new 16:9 Retina display. It is the first iPhone to have one of these, and it looks splendid, even better than on the iPhone 4S. However, I’d say the improvement is more subtle and refined than the eye-popping saturation of an AMOLED screen. This aspect ratio means that movies can now display in their native resolution, which is important for those users determined to settle in for a good night of viewing in front of their phone, and that it can fit an extra row of icons on the home screen. From having played around with it, I can say that this brings little added benefit. It'll save you a few swipes. I did notice that some older apps now display letter-boxed, with black bars at the top and bottom or on the side depending on the orientation of the device. To summarise, it feels like a bigger screen – and it’s certainly a beautiful screen – but it’s not startlingly bigger, like the screen on the Galaxy and other competing devices, such as the HTC One X.
The iPhone 5 is also lighter than the iPhone 4S, which is admittedly a pretty heavy device, although I don’t recall it causing too many strain injuries. It’s also slightly thinner – 2 mm – but I only know this from seeing the specs. It wasn’t immediately apparent, even after two years using the iPhone 4 / 4S. I should add, however, that it certainly doesn’t feel lightweight or cheap (which some Android phones can).
Probably the only other thing to add from a pure design-perspective is that the glossy glass back has been replaced (which you presumably already knew) with a two-tone design: glossy glass at top and bottom with anodised aluminium in between. I think it looks nice.
The headphone jack has been moved from the top to the bottom of the device, which has almost no impact on usage at all. I suppose users will be more inclined to carry it around upside-down in their pocket now. The ear-bud headphones that are supplied with the phone have also changed. Apple insists they more comfortably nestle within the human ear than the old ones, although I can’t remember ever thinking the old ones weren’t nestling sufficiently well. They aren’t those funky non-tangling headphones, though, which is a shame. Apple says they’re much higher quality.
Perhaps most importantly from a connectivity perspective, the old 30-pin connector has been replaced with a new, smaller Lightning connector. The advantages of this are that it is quicker, and that it is symmetrical (meaning it can be inserted upside down or not). Furthermore, you finally have an excuse to replace all of your existing iDevice peripherals, at considerable cost, since they will now only work with an adapter, which costs extra. I am hesitant to call this an advantage, however. More of a pain in the behind, depending on how many adapters you need to fork out for. Adapters are either $35 or $45 dollars, with the pricier one being quicker. It should be noted that the Lightning connector does not charge the iPhone 5 faster than the iPhone 4 / 4S.
You’ll be both pleased and unsurprised that the iPhone 5 is noticeably faster than the iPhone 4S in pretty much every situation in which speed matters. This is as it should be. Everything loads faster, especially the new Maps app, which is a mixed blessing. Siri is also quicker. There’s not really much else to say about this. Faster computing is never a bad thing.
4G performance is also excellent. The model I’ve been using was on Optus 4G, and downstream speeds peaked at about 28Mbps, although other people have reported faster speeds during zombie attacks in the middle of the night. Again, not much to say. It’s fast, and works well. Reports are that it does the same thing on Telstra. It doesn’t do any of that on Vodafone, because they don’t have a 4G network.
The camera is both faster and better than on the iPhone 4S (which, again, has a pretty nice camera already). Side by side photos are discernibly more vibrant when viewed on a third-party device (to take the improved screen out of the equation). Cnet have done a more detailed comparison of the cameras here. The front facing camera has also clearly seen an upgrade. Apple said it did, and I didn’t find any reason to think they weren’t telling the truth.
Battery life was a different story, however. No one ever really believes the battery life specs the phone manufacturers put out, since these are usually extravagantly fictional at best. Certainly I haven’t spoken to a single person whose iPhone 5 has lasted for eight hours of 3G use, or talking, or even the ten hour claim made for WiFi usage. Six hours seems to be a more realistic figure. I found that using it for just over two hours on 4G almost drained the battery to zero. Basically, be prepared to charge this phone a lot. That’s just the way it is.
I’d love to buck the prevailing trend of iPhone 5 reviews, which cleave without relent to the assertion that the new phone is an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary move. But unfortunately, and try as I might to be iconoclastic, this view is indisputably the right one. Using the iPhone 5 felt just like using a quicker, slightly lighter, slightly stretched iPhone 4S. If your imagination is sufficiently strong you can probably work out what that feels like, and save yourself an expensive upgrade.
Should you get one? I have a feeling you've already decided that one way or another. For my part, I would suggest that iPhone 4S owners will on the whole be unlikely to upgrade, while any committed Apple users with older devices than that will surely be tempted, especially since it is likely their contracts will be expiring in the short term. Those users who aren't committed to Apple - and aren't locked into the Apple ecosystem - would do well to check out some of the very strong alternatives from Samsung, HTC and others.