It's been a week since Apple finally put the iPhone 5 in customer's hands, and we've been putting the new model through its paces ever since. The iPhone 5 is thinner, taller, and yet lighter than the iPhone 4S it replaces, and it has a sleek new look thanks to its brushed metal back and beveled edges.
Apple promo shot: White and black iPhone 5
The new iPhone also gets faster wireless data network speeds thanks to the addition of LTE support. Like previous models, the iPhone 5 is available in 16GB, 32GB and 64GB capacities. You can choose between white or black, and GSM or CDMA models, too.
Apple says the new iPhone is 40 percent faster than the previous model, that the Retina Display is even better, and FaceTime calls will look sharper. Even your music should sound better thanks to Apple's new EarPod earbuds.
White and black iPhone 5: Brushed metal back
With all of those great features, it sounds like the iPhone 5 is a must have upgrade, and for some people it is. But are the changes significant enough to sway everyone that's contemplating an upgrade, and are those changes worth it? Read on to see if it's time for you to retire your old iPhone or other smartphone and jump into the world of the iPhone 5.
Sometimes Size Matters
Apple bumped up the resolution on earlier iPhone models, but the 5 is the first to leave the 3.5-inch screen behind. The iPhone 5 sports a 4-inch screen that's the same width as earlier models, but taller, which makes room for an extra row of icons on your Home screen. The new screen is 16:9 instead of 4:3, so movies fit better and games and other apps can go wide screen.
iPhone 5 (right) is nearly a centimeter taller than the iPhone 4S (left)
Even though the iPhone 5 screen is taller, it still has the same Retina Display quality (326 PPI) as the iPhone 4S thanks to its 1136x640 resolution. Apple could've dropped the resolution by keeping the same number of pixels as the iPhone 4S, but chose to maintain that higher pixel density screen instead -- and it's the attention to little details like that which set the iPhone 5 apart from other smartphones.
The good news is that it's still easy to one-hand navigate the iPhone 5. The bad news is that none of your previous iPhone cases will fit since the new model is almost a full centimeter taller. The tradeoff is worth it, however, because you get more screen space for icons, apps, photos and movies.
The iPhone 4 and 4S (left) are thicker than the iPhone 5 (right)
The new screen offers 44 percent more color saturation compared to previous iPhones, which makes images and games appear more vivid. That's great because colors looks deeper and richer, but those vivid colors come at a price: If you've been relying on knowing how the colors in the pictures you capture with your iPhone will look on screen, that all changes once you get the new model.
For most photo hounds, the color shift won't matter, but for those that do, it'll really matter. I never recommend using your iPhone or iPad for color critical image editing, and I'll continue to stand by that with the iPhone 5.
Overall, the more saturated colors make for a much nicer viewing experience compared to the iPhone 4S, and the iPhone 5's Retina Display is simply gorgeous.
Even though the iPhone 5's screen is bigger, the phone actually feels smaller -- or at least more svelte. The body is thinner than the iPhone 4 and 4S (18 percent thinner, according to Apple's specs), and it weighs 20 percent less than the iPhone 4S at 112 grams.
For those of you into the numbers, the iPhone 4S measures 5.487-inches by 2.31-inches by .3-inches.
The new iPhone feels so comfortable in my hand that within just a couple minutes of first getting mine the iPhone 4S already felt like a heavy, bulky, clunky box. That's quite an achievement considering the iPhone 4S is still one of the most comfortable and usable phones I've ever owned.
iPhone 5 ready apps really benefit from the extra screen space
You get two color choices when you pick out your new iPhone: black or white. Or more accurately, black and black, or white and silver.
The black model is down right sexy with its black glass front, black aluminum back, black metal antenna band, and black buttons. The phone looks like it should be invisible to radar and I was a little disappointed when I discovered it wasn't actually a frictionless spacecraft.
The white model's brushed aluminum-looking back, antenna band and buttons make for a sleek futuristic look. Toss in an Infinite Probability Drive and it could pass for the Heart of Gold.
I'd be remiss if I didn't bring up one of the biggest complaints about the new iPhone: scratches. Scores of early adopters are complaining that the chamfered metal edges scratch easily, and that scuffs and gouges are far too easy to come by on the metal back.
After several days of use without the protection of a case, my black iPhone 5 still looks good as new, and that's even with setting it in a metal stand on my desk and a heart-stopping tumble across a wood floor. Although I will admit that was the first time I've ever been glad to see my phone slide glass-side-down since the back most likely would've suffered at least minor scratches.
I know my experience isn't in line with many other iPhone 5 users, so keep in mind that while mine still looks pristine there are plenty of other people complaining about first-day scratches and scrapes.
Apple also moved the headphone jack to the bottom of the iPhone 5, just like the iPod touch. Since I've always dropped my iPhone into my pocket top first it'll be easy for me to start using earbuds with mine on a regular basis without having to change my habits; for dock port-down people, it's time to relearn how to pocket your iPhone if you also use earbuds.
While the iPhone 5 is clearly an iPhone in appearance and features, it's still different enough that it'll take some adapting. Despite those changes, the iPhone 5 feels like a great step forward for an already well designed smartphone.
Goodbye Dock Connector, Hello Lightning
After nearly ten years Apple is retiring the tried-and-true Dock Connector in favor of the brand new Lightning connector. The new connector is substantially smaller with 8 pins instead of 30, and its reversible, which means the days of try-to-plug-in-turn-cable-over-and-try-again are coming to an end.
Since Apple seems dead set on throwing all kinds of changes at us with the iPhone 5, it's only fitting that we get a new sync and charging port, too. Sure, Lightning looks like a good move since the 30-pin connector it replaces was getting long in the tooth, but we'll have to deal with a few headaches during the transition.
The Lightning connector (left) replaces the 30-pin Dock connector (right)
First, the Dock Connector-compatible chargers, dock stations and other peripherals will at least need an adapter, and depending on their form factor, may not work at all with the new iPhone. Assuming you have an iPad, you'll need two sync cables as well. It's a safe bet that'll change with the next iPad model Apple releases, but for now the days of interchangeable sync and charging cables are over.
The 30-pin Dock Connector (top) takes up much more space than Lightning (bottom)
The upside is that Lightning takes up less space on your iPhone, is more durable, and even though it connects to your computer via USB 2.0 now, Apple could release a USB 3 version later.
Apple already has its Lightning to 30-pin Adapter plug (US$29) and cable ($39) on store shelves, and is promising Lighting to HDMA and VGA adapters will be available soon.
Even though Apple's Lightning to 30-pin Adapters are available, it's a safe bet we'll be investing in new cables and peripherals, just as us old timers did when the iPod moved from FireWire to the 30-pin Dock Connector.
Warp Speed: Engage
At the heart of the iPhone 5 is Apple's custom-designed A6 processor. Apple says the chip helps give the new iPhone a serious performance boost, and they weren't kidding. In TMO's own benchmark tests, the iPhone 5 performed up to 160 percent faster than the iPhone 4S and even outperformed the Retina Display iPad's quad-core processor.
Along with the A6 processor, the iPhone 5 includes a PowerVR SGX 543MP3 3-core video chip to drive the 4-inch retina display's graphics, and 1GB RAM.
All that horsepower means apps open quicker, scrolling is even smoother and there's an overall feeling that the iPhone 5 is more responsive than the iPhone 4S. That responsiveness is critical because anything that stutters or lags when tapped, dragged or swiped simply isn't acceptable because that pulls users out of the experience and quickly leads to frustration.
That said, I found that my iPhone 5 consistently stalls for a second or so whenever I create a new email message just before the onscreen keyboard pops up. It looks like the performance lag comes from my iPhone accessing Contacts, and my contact database is fairly large. I've been watching closely, and so far that's the only lag I've found on the iPhone 5.
The Elusive LTE
Apple's first device to support LTE, or Long Term Evolution, fast wireless data connections was the Retina Display iPad, and now that feature is available on the iPhone 4S, too.
The upside: Data download speeds can be faster than DSL can cable broadband.
The downside: You may not have LTE coverage where you live.
That's exactly the problem I encountered as an AT&T customer living in Colorado. While Verizon is offering LTE service around Denver and parts of the front range, AT&T is promising coverage by the end of the year. For now, I'm in the same boat as many other iPhone 5 owners: I'm an LTE kind of guy living in a 4G/3G kind of world.
Since I'm out of the LTE loop, I tasked Dave Hamilton with checking out the iPhone 5's high speed data network performance. The result: It's fast.
In Boston, Dave logged 39.02Mbps download and 16.01Mbps upload speeds with a 66ms pings. That blows my Colorado mountain cable broadband speeds out of the water: 11.3Mbps download, 0.96Mbps upload, and 18ms pings.
Knowing what to expect for network compatibility when you choose which iPhone 5 to get can be confusing, and for now there just isn't any way around that. Apple makes three models: a GSM model for the United States and Canada, a GSM model for the rest of the world, and a CDMA model for the United States and Japan.
U.S. iPhone users planning on roaming internationally a lot will probably find the Verizon model will be the most economical since it includes unlocked GSM support. The U.S. GSM iPhone 5 is carrier locked and could leave you stuck with expensive international roaming bills if you aren't careful.
Until someone builds a chip that includes all of the LTE frequencies -- which will be a daunting task -- we'll be faced with multiple iPhone models, just as we are today.
Charge Me Up
Apple touted longer battery life as an iPhone 5 feature, and they pretty much delivered -- or at least gave us enough extra run time so that I don't feel like I need to carry a spare battery charger with me everywhere I go. Life with my iPhone 4S always included a battery pack or at least a wall charger so I could top off part way through the day, but my early tests show I may not need to worry about my battery draining before the end of the day any more.
Regular use -- which for me includes lots of Web surfing, Twitter, Facebook and email on WiFi and 4G/3G, snapping photos and posting images to Instagram, several phone calls, an occasional video, lots of Push notifications, and a few phone calls -- routinely left me with about 20 percent battery by the time I went to bed. In comparison, my iPhone 4S would dip below 20 percent charge by mid afternoon.
The new iPhone uses a Sony-built 1440mAh battery, and it's clear Apple spent time fine tuning its components to be as efficient as possible. That's one of the bonuses of building all your own hardware and the software it runs.
Apple's specs say the iPhone 5 offers up to 8 hours talk time on 3G, 8 hours of Internet surfing on 3G or LTE, 10 hours of WiFi Internet surfing, 10 hours of video playback, 40 hours of audio playback, and up to 225 hours of standby time.
A battery that holds up to daily use is great, but recharge time is important, too. Luckily the iPhone 5 battery holds up there as well. I was able to go from uh-oh-better-plug-in to a full charge in under four hours consistently, and it took just a little over a couple hours to get to a nearly full charge.
In comparison, Samsung's Galaxy S3 smartphone 2100mAh battery that the company claims offers up to 11 hours talk time and over 700 hours standby time. Assuming the S3 lives up to those claims, it outshines the iPhone 5 on run time, but it's also bigger, bulkier and heavier.
Apple may have compromised a little on run time, but in exchange we get a smartphone that's lighter, fits our hands better and looks really sharp, too.
Can You Hear Me Now?
Apple is promising better audio quality with the iPhone 5, and you can hear the difference on phone calls. It's easier to hear callers, and your voice is clearer, too.
The new iPhone also has a feature called wideband audio that's supposed to improve audio quality for incoming calls. Unfortunately, cell carriers need to add support for wideband audio, which means iPhone users in the U.S. won't get to enjoy the better sound until network upgrades are in place. Outside the U.S., however, you're more likely to find carriers supporting wideband audio.
Along with improved audio quality, Apple also retired its iconic earbuds for the brand new EarPods. Jonny Ive said they measured 600 sets of ears, presumably on live humans, and used that data to help find a better earbud shape. After plenty of testing, Apple settled on the oblong EarBuds shape.
EarPods (left) offer better sound than Apple's old earbuds (right)
Apple also redesigned the inside of its new earbuds by using two materials for the speaker diaphragms, and added acoustic channels to enhance tonal quality. The result is a product that sounds noticeably better than the earbuds Apple has been shipping with every iPod and iPhone for years.
And about that redesigned shape and fit? It didn't work for me at all. Yes, the EarPods are more comfortable for me than the earbuds they replace, but I couldn't wear them for more than 15 minutes before my ears felt like they were being torn in half from the inside. As soon as I can figure out how to get them back into the included storage case, they're going back into my iPhone 5 box never to be seen again.
That said, Apple did spend a considerable amount of time to find a shape that's more comfortable for most people, and it looks like they succeeded -- and TMO's Dave Hamilton is among the happy masses. Dave found the EarPods to be comfortable, the audio quality to be much better than he expected, and the inline mic performed better overall than the iPhone 5's built-in mic.
For most people, I'll call the EarPods a win. For me, they're a violation of the Geneva Convention. Your milage may vary.
Shutterbugs Rejoice: The Camera is Faster
The iPhone 5's new rear-facing camera isn't really new at all, although there are some improvements. Like the iPhone 4S, it sports an 8 megapixel camera that supports 1080p video capture at 30fps.
It also has a wider focal length, a new dynamic low light mode, adaptive noise filtering, and a sapphire lens cover that's more resistant to scratching. Mix all those improvements together and you get overall better photo quality.
iPhone 4S photo colors (left) aren't quite as vibrant as the iPhone 5
The iPhone 5 Camera app is markedly faster than previous iPhone models, both at launching and snapping photos. That's a wonderfully welcome improvement because, even though the iPhone 4S camera is fairly responsive, the added speed that comes with the iPhone 5 makes it easier to get those quick and candid shots -- and for anyone that's seen my personal blog, you'll understand why every little bit of extra speed I can get out of my iPhone camera is very welcome.
What seemed like a subtle change at first turned out to be another big camera improvement: Apple changed the shape of the shutter button from oblong to round. The big round shutter button is much easier to tap, which is handy when you're taking one-hand shots and when you're snapping photos in quick succession.
Colors in low light images looked more natural from the iPhone 5 (right) than iPhone 4S (left)
iPhone 5 photos tend to look better than pics snapped with an iPhone 4S, although most casual photographers won't be able to tell the difference. Moving from an iPhone 4 to the iPhone 5, however, is a different story. Moving from the older phone's 5 megapixel camera and different image sensors up to the iPhone 5 is a big improvement, and makes the new iPhone even more suitable as a point-and-shoot replacement.
The iPhone 5 supports iOS 6's panorama photo feature, and after experimenting with it I'm comfortable calling it the single best panorama app for iOS. In fact, the results from my panorama shots were so good I'll have a hard time justifying using Photoshop's photo stitching feature to build panorama images. Yes, it's that good.
Good luck finding the stitch points in the iPhone's panoramas. They're that good.
The panorama feature performed as expected with still shots, like views of the mountains, and totally surprised me when I through a scene with plenty of motion at it. People walking weren't blurred or distorted, and cars didn't stretch or bend. Unfortunately, the cars wouldn't accommodate my review schedule, so I wasn't able to test panoramas with faster moving vehicles which could've shown distortion in my shots.
Pedestrians and slow moving cars didn't distort in panorama shots
Flip your iPhone over, and there's a new and improved FaceTime camera. The updated FaceTime camera is now 720p and that higher resolution shows in your video chats. You'll look sharper and colors are more accurate, so be sure to brush your teeth before accepting FaceTime chat requests. That higher resolution also means you'll see improved quality when using the FaceTime camera to capture photos and video.
The Camera app's Panorama feature didn't distort slow moving cars
iOS 6: New Phone, New OS
Just days before the iPhone 5 hit store shelves, Apple released iOS 6, which also ships on the new phone. iOS 6 brings changes and enhancements, and TMO's John Martellaro has already dug into it and reported back with his findings.
In a nutshell, John thinks iOS 6 is essentially a refinement of iOS 5, and not a revolutionary change. Since I can't leave well enough alone, I have a couple thoughts on iOS 6, too.
What Apple got Right: Do Not Disturb changed how I use my iPhone, quite literally, over night. I set the people that can bypass the feature and set a time for it to automatically start and stop every day. Now I don't need to remember to set my iPhone to vibrate at night, and I know when the important people in my life need to call at odd hours I won't miss them.
Password-free updates for apps is a small but very convenient change. Now I don't need to type my password every time there's an app update to install, which for me can be several times a day.
What Apple got Wrong: Apple dumped Google in favor of its own home grown map solution. The result was the new Maps app, and while it added turn-by-turn navigation -- a feature Google was withholding -- it took away overall accuracy and Street View. This is a first generation map tool, so there are bound to be rough edges.
Luckily, Apple didn't plan on dropping the new Maps app on us and simply walking away. Instead, the company is harvesting data users provide to help improve Maps, and we'll see those changes over time as more and more iPhone and iPad users feed information back to Apple. Tim Cook, Apple's CEO, even shared an open letter to iOS 6 users saying the company is working hard to take their Maps app from 1.0 to a world class service.
Be patient, young Padawan, and keep doing what iOS users have always done: keep an extra navigation app on hand.
That said, Apple's Maps app has done a perfect job of navigating me through the mountains, around Denver, and back up into the mountains again. All of the locations I checked appeared exactly where they should, too, and the 3D view looked better in Denver's LoDo area than anything from Google.
Passbook was the feature I was most excited to see when iOS 6 came out, and it turned out to be the biggest disappointment for me. There weren't any instructions showing how to use the app, nor where there many apps ready to take advantage of its features.
What Apple needed to do was aggressively line up companies to offer Passbook support on day one, and to give users a clear set of app instructions on how to use the loyalty card and ticket management system. I'm betting within a month or so we'll see a long list of Passbook-ready apps and services, and I'm really looking forward to that.
For more on what's new in iOS 6, check out Ted Landau's great article. He took the time to dig through all of the new settings so you don't have to, and as always, he was thorough.
The Bottom Line
The iPhone 5 is a beautiful phone and exemplifies Apple's commitment to quality designs that are also human-friendly. The phone feels solid in your hand even though it's light enough you might mistake it for a prop at first. The color combinations are sharp, and even though it's taller and thinner, it's clearly still an iPhone.
The new model is fast and apps are snappy, the camera is great, and LTE support -- assuming it's available in your area -- is a fantastic bonus.
But is the iPhone 5 worth the price? If you're a first time iPhone buyer this is a great time to join the family, and if you're currently an iPhone 4 or earlier owner, make the jump. You'll be glad you did.
iPhone 4S owners, however, should stop and think about whether or not the upgrade price is worth the cost. You get all of the iPhone 5's features by upgrading to iOS 6 for free, and you don't have to deal with unsubsidized upgrade prices from your cell service provider.
Yes, I upgraded from an iPhone 4S. The faster performance and larger screen made the upgrade worth it for me, and once Passbook and Maps get up to speed I'll consider this the best iPhone I've ever used... until the next model comes out.