So the iPhone 5 has finally arrived.
Is it just an incremental upgrade? Is the larger screen and performance worth the extra cash? Is the maps application really that bad? Having had time to experience what it’s like to actually own this phone, I’ll share some thoughts with you. Read on for my views on Apple’s latest smartphone.
Firstly, there is no denying the similarities the iPhone5 has to it’s forebearer, the iPhone 4S. Think taller, lighter and thinner, and you’re about there. This is not a bad thing, however. The iPhone 4 when launched was a design benchmark. It was, and still is, a fantastic looking device. The iPhone 5 takes this design further with a thinner handset, which, whilst still fronted by glass, is backed by aluminium. The black model is particularly striking to this reviewer’s eyes, and both are an improvement to last year’s model.
The first thing I noticed when unboxing the unit wasn’t the height, or how thin it is, it was the weight. The iPhone weighs 1/5 less than it’s predecessor.. that combined with the larger screen gives an impression of a very light phone indeed. Then again, the iPhone 4 always did feel like you could take a burlgar out with it, at a push.
Handset design is a strange beast, some will love it, some will be disappointed it’s not the often rumoured ‘tear drop’ design, or something more of a departure from the previous model. Personally, I am more than happy with how it looks. I spend most of my time looking at the screen rather than the handset, but it’s still important to have this level of craftsmanship on what is clearly a premium product, both in terms of price and ‘feel’.
Although technically part of the design, the screen deserves a special mention. The size has been increased from 3.5″ to 4″ and the resolution upped from 640×960 at 326 ppi to 640 × 1,136 pixels at 326 ppi. Apps that haven’t been written to take advantage of the newly increased real estate will display black borders on either side, as the app is displayed at it’s native resolution. This sounds fairly hurrendous written down, but in practise (particularly on the black model) isn’t nearly as big a deal as it sounds. Hopefully, developers will update their apps, and certainly quite a few (Flipboard, Twitter, Facebook) already have. Safari and all the native Apple apps have already been updated.
The larger screen is particularly welcome when viewing web pages or viewing video, it makes the phone a much more versatile device.
It never occurred to me the 4S needed more horsepower, it always seemed very responsive. Then I started to use the iPhone 5. It’s in a different league. The new processor shines particularly when taking pictures, and web browsing. The speed at which the iPhone 5 knits together web pages is faster than any mobile device I’ve used before. That includes the Nexus 7 running the speed demon Chrome browser. I used to wait for my iPhone before I could move from menu to menu, now it waits for me. Forget that it’s ‘only’ a dual core processor, there have been many reports of benchmarks outstripping the Galaxy S3, and I can believe it. This phone blazes.
Battery life is always a tough category as it depends very much on how your phone is configured, and how much you use it. I have my phones configured in mostly the same way. Two gmail accounts, with respective calendars and contacts, all on push. I regularly check Twitter, Facebook, Google Reader (using the excellent Reeder app) take a few pictures and listen to music. I would say that I use my phone approximately 35% more than most people. There, let’s use that as a yardstick. It’s also important to mention I’ve only used the phone in earnest since the evening of the 21st September. That’s approximately a day and a half, so it’s far to early to be giving definitive answers to the battery life question.
Having said all of that, how am I finding it? Pretty good actually. My Galaxy Nexus usually *just* makes it to the end of the day on a full charge, whereas the iPhone 5 comfortably does so, to the tune of about 35%. Anecdotal evidence, for sure, but that’s battery life for you. The bottom line is, if you’re upgrading from an iPhone 4S, you’re probably not going to be disappointed. If you’re upgrading from a Galaxy Nexus, you definitely won’t be. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to compare battery life with the Galaxy S3, which also has outstanding staying power.
“Still 8mp, oh man!” I’ve been hearing this since the keynote, but it doesn’t matter. I’m glad that manufacturers appear to have stopped trying to one up each other with pointless specifications, and actually improving image quality.
So how does the iPhone 5 camera perform? Still great, and a little more. Low light shots are slightly better, and shots with good lighting are very slightly crisper, but not the same jump we’ve seen with previous iPhone iterations. Still, I’ve never used a camera phone that could compete with the iPhone 4S, so ‘slightly better than the best camera phone on the market’ isn’t too shabby. (I’m deliberately omitting the Nokia 808, as to my mind that’s a camera with an average phone attached to it as an afterthought).
It’s worth noting that the Galaxy S3 and HTC One X also have great cameras, that only just fall short of the 4S / iPhone 5 – but for me the iPhone takes consistently fantastic pictures. Whilst the One X in particular is capable of some fantastic shots it’s harder to entice them out of the phone.
I was going to attach a number of panorama shots and camera samples to this review, but unfortunately it decided to rain heavily all day, and I don’t fancy getting my £600 smartphone wet. I’ll update this review with some examples. As it’s released to the general public now, though, finding example pictures won’t be difficult.
Calls sound fantastic on this phone. To my tastes, I’ve always thought Apple lacked in this area. Samsung manufactured phones (particularly the S3 and the Galaxy Nexus) have fantastic call quality, and the iPhone sounds as good. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to try HD voice yet, although the handset (and some UK networks) support this feature.
The in-built speakers are also good, calls are clear and loud, music sounds as passable as it ever does (seriously kids, just use headphones!)
Music sounds predictably fantastic, especially on a pair of decent headphones (The ‘earpods’ are better than the previously bundled phones, but still fairly average. Yes, you can probably do better for £25, but with the Apple mic and controls? doubtful. There are plenty of better offers for around the £40 mark however.
Plenty has already been written about ‘mapgate’, so I won’t delve too deeply here. I will say I have tested the in-built navigation over a few short journeys and it performed without a hitch. It’s also very cool to have Siri direct to home (yes, I know Android has done this for ages…). StreetView is now completely gone. What started as a cool trick, actually turned into a very useful addition to Google Maps, and it’s to the detriment of Apple’s iOS that this is no longer possible. Hopefully Google will turn in a ‘Google Maps’ app soon, and Apple will allow it through! Still, at the moment, it’s clear maps is not going to trouble Google Maps any time soon. Hopefully Apple can start to improve the in-built app quickly.
The biggest difference in iOS6 I’ve noticed so far is Siri. It seems to work MUCH faster now. I’ve always found Siri to be very accurate at listening, but sometimes faltering with the subsequent transaction between the phone and Apple’s servers. Well, no more. It’s fast. Whether this is down to the faster processor, of improvements within iOS6 remains to be seen but Siri is now much more useful.
iOS6 hosts a number of new features, including posting to Facebook (which Siri can now do.. sorry to anyone that is friends with me and had to endure my numerous updates while testing). The music app has been redesigned, the YouTube app is now missing by default (although present in the App Store). FaceTime is now able to make calls over a 3G network (which works very well, slightly better than Skype in my opinion). Full screen viewing in Safari is a welcome addition, too. It’s slightly odd that Apple chose to implement this feature at the same time as a bigger screen. This would have been a welcome addition years ago, when there was no choice but a 3.5″ iPhone display. Still, it will definitely be a boon for iPhone 4S users.
There are still a number of strange layouts in iOS that I’m amazed Apple haven’t corrected. Why is it require so many presses to activate or de-activate bluetooth and private browsing in Safari. These are features that people will want to turn on and off regularly.
Whilst iOS is showing it’s age, it’s still a versatile, fast, and crucially reliable operating system. I haven’t yet encountered a single application crash, almost a daily occurence on other phones I’ve used recently.
You’ll notice I haven’t banged on about specs very much in this review. That’s by design. The iPhone is all about the user experience, and specs don’t ever tell the whole story. There are those who love the iPhone experience, and those who feel somewhat constrained by it. If you fall into the latter camp, the iPhone 5 is not going to change your mind. If you’re in the former though, you’re going to REALLY enjoy the new iPhone.
Best smartphone on the market? On balance, yes, but only just, and I don’t expect that to last too long. Google are closing the gap.