iPhone 5
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iPhone 5 Review

With every review of a major Apple product, it is pretty much guaranteed that half of the readers will dislike it. This will be no different. The iPhone 5 is the best smartphone ever made — but not by the wide margin previous iPhones have dominated in the past. Apple has many competitors, but currently only one worthy opponent in Samsung, and their flagship Galaxy S III, which comes right behind Apple’s latest effort in the race for the greatest device.

Samsung’s Galaxy S III gives you one of the best Android experiences, in terms of software implementation and sleekness, but it mitigates the glint of a polished OS with a lackluster design and build quality. While Samsung’s focus may have been more on software than hardware with the Galaxy S III, that is not the case with the iPhone 5. In fact, the opposite could be stated. More on that later.

Now, there are other promising devices on the horizon, like Nokia’s Lumia 920, which has a better screen than the iPhone 5, in terms of pixel density. The 920 is the first truly innovative hardware design in the smartphone space in sometime, but it remains to be seen how people will accept the Windows Phone 8 platform.

Of course, Google’s next device, the unannounced, yet obligatory Nexus phone is expected to be unveiled within the coming months. As usual, the Nexus phone will surely introduce a new iteration of Google’s Android operating system. The new revision of Android — the details of which are still a tightly held secret — will surely capture the attention of many.

Even with these looming announcements and impending releases of strong challengers to Apple’s dominance, the iPhone 5 still stands taller than all of its competitors, even with its issues.

The iPhone 5 is brilliant, no doubt, but flawless it is not. For all of its great qualities, there are a few issues that will agitate you. The software the iPhone 5 runs on, iOS 6, which was announced back in June, is much more of a refinement than the advancement that many expected. Apple has removed Google Maps from iOS 6 and replaced it with their homegrown mapping solution, which at times can seem like they threw it together as a weekend project. But when it all comes together into one resplendent, yet familiarly designed, intelligible piece of tech, it is simply the best smartphone on the market.

While many intricate changes have been made to the iPhone 5, the most apparent and dramatic variance is the 4-inch display.

Display

Since  Android’s proclivity to larger displays began a couple of years ago, a large segment of the iPhone-loving public have been clamoring for an increase in screen size from the 3.5-inch display that has been on the iPhone since its launch in 2007. Apple is not one to take into consideration what the public asks for when building its devices, adhering to what its founder and former CEO Steve Jobs asserted, “the consumer doesn’t know what he or she wants until we make it.”

Even though Jobs didn’t like the idea of a larger screen on the iPhone, stating that the, “3.5 inch handset size is the “sweet spot” for mobile phone design,” Apple managed to find the perfect compromise in their eyes. The iPhone 5 has a 4-inch screen, but the width of the device has not increased over its predecessor.

“It’s clear that this is the best display in a smartphone yet.”

Though the iPhone 5′s height has increased by 8.6mm (0.37-inches), the width has stayed the same as the iPhone 4S, at 58.6mm (2.31-inches). Apple continues to proclaim that the perfect width for a phone has been previously established, and there’s no need to go wider. Forget about the 20 million people who bought the Samsung Galaxy S III — a 4.8-inch monstrosity — they have no idea what they are talking about. Apple is adamant that any smartphone beyond the current width of the iPhone is not applicable with the average human thumb, as evident in their new commercial touting the iPhone 5 display. But what can you say? It working out pretty well for Apple.

The iPhone 5′s resolution is 1136 x 640 — a vertical increase of 176 pixels over the iPhone 4S’s 960 x 640 — equaling out to the same 326ppi of its predecessor. The iPhone 5 now has a 16:9 ratio, the standard for television and mobile devices, giving it a much improved HD presentation. From the specifications given, it may seem like the same screen just taller, but the display has been completely reworked, and it shows. The iPhone 5 has full sRGB coverage, which means that it can properly render every color in that spectrum. Apple also removed layers between the subpixels and the glass surface, bringing greater contrast and brightness to the iPhone 5′s display.

The iPhone 5′s display can actually get brighter than the iPhone 4S. If you are coming from a device with an AMOLED display like the Galaxy S III, which is notorious for its low luminosity, the maximum brightness of the iPhone 5 may be jarring. Colors are crisper and warmer, with the greenish hue of the iPhone 4S’s display gone. Photos taken with the iPhone 4S and shown on the iPhone 5 look markedly better. Another very noticeable trait of the iPhone 5′s display is the dramatic reduction of glare issues from the iPhone 4S’s display when using the device outside. It’s clear that this is the best display in a smartphone yet.

With all of the great improvements Apple made with the display, they did not improve iOS 6 to fully take advantage of the increased real estate. The iPhone 5 does have an extra row of icons, which is nice, but so much more could have been implemented to make this a truly sensational change, instead of a purely aesthetic shift.

Hardware

Though it may look similar to the iPhone 4S, the iPhone 5 is a completely new device. Measuring 123.8 x 58.6 x 7.6mm (4.87 x 2.31 x 0.3 inches), the iPhone 5′s hardware has been completely reworked. Apple’s trademark glass back from the iPhone 4 and 4S has been replaced by an aluminium chassis that covers the back and sides, providing a sturdier, yet easily scratchable surface on the rear of the device. The black and slate version of the iPhone 5 has pigmented glass along the top and bottom of the rear, while the white and silver variation carries ceramic glass, both of which are in place to allow greater signal strength.

The iPhone 5 is 18 percent thinner (7.6mm vs. 9.3mm) and 20 percent lighter (112 grams vs. 140 grams) than its predecessor. When you pick up the iPhone 5, it is impressively lighter than it looks. In fact, if you switch back to an iPhone 4S, it feels short and pudgy. It’s easily Apple’s best designed product to date, feeling incredibly sturdy in your hand. Remarkably, Apple has managed to build an iPhone that has a larger display, less heft, and a stronger body, a truly magnificent feat.

The iPhone 5 comes with an improved processor, the A6, a dual-core chip with noticeably improved performance than its precursor, the A5. Other notable internals include 1GB of RAM, 8GB iSight camera, 1.2MP FaceTime HD front-facing camera (which we will elaborate on in a bit), an improved wi-fi chip with dual-band 802.11n capabilities (the iPhone 5 can now run on 2.4GHz and 5GHz), and of course, LTE.

Utilizing Verizon’s LTE network, we have gotten as high as 27Mbps down, and 19Mbps up, but on average, we’ve gotten around 15Mbps down and 13Mbps up. In the glorious and strange land that is Canada, our managing editor Eric Leamen is reporting 35Mbps down and 25Mbps up on Bell’s LTE network, proving the phrase “I’m moving to Canada” is now truly feasible.

“The iPhone 5 is easily Apple’s best designed product to date.”

The iPhone 5 also features a smaller dock connector called lightning. The 9-pin connector is a necessity in the iPhone 5, as the former 30-pin connector would not have fit into the new device. The upside is the lightning connector is reversible, which will alleviate the fumbling around in the dark that anyone who has owned an iPhone, iPod or iPad over the last 11 years has experienced. The major drawback is that every connector that has been sold over that time period — well over 500 million of them — will not work with the iPhone 5, or subsequent devices. That means that every iPhone dock and car kit made with the 30-pin connector will need the $30 adapter that Apple is selling to be compatible with the iPhone 5.

This is a temporary and a possibly costly inconvenience for many over the next few months, but as the proliferation of the next generation of iPhones, iPods, and iPads continues, this issue will soon be a thing of the past.

One update that everyone will be happy about; Apple has finally upgraded their sub par headphones. EarPods, Apple’s newest invention, has been in development for three years. Specifically designed to ‘comfortably fit a wide variety of ears,’ the new headphones are a considerable improvement over the previous round headphones. You can actually hear the bass in songs, and the remote on the headphones has been increased in size, making it feel much sturdier, which is a welcome addition. The EarPods provide decent noise-canceling, and fits our staff’s ears very well (don’t worry, we all have our own). Apple has also improved the audio on the iPhone 5, adding an extra microphone, for a total of three. The speakerphone on the iPhone 5 sounds clearer, even from a distance.

The iPhone 5 employs a new standard, nano-SIM, in place of the widely used micro-SIM card. Don’t worry — all of the carriers who sell the iPhone 5 have nano-SIMs ready to go, and will happily swap out your current micro-SIM card for it.

Unlike the iPhone 4S, there are two versions of the iPhone 5, the A1428 and A1429, which may be a substantial issue for those traveling outside the country. While both models are compatible with GSM networks, the A1429 operates on CDMA networks as well, and is sold by Verizon and Sprint, while the A1428 is being sold by Canadian carriers and AT&T in the U.S. Here’s the issue: the A1428 utilizes the 4 and 17 LTE bands, which currently only works in the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico. The A1429 works on the 1, 3, 5, 13 and 25 LTE bands, which are used in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and Africa. This means if you’re planning to travel outside North America and would like to use a LTE network, your best bet is to get an iPhone from Verizon or Sprint. Verizon is selling the iPhone 5 unlocked, making traveling outside the country that much easier.

Camera

The new 8MP iSight camera on the iPhone 5 may have the same size sensor as camera in the iPhone 4S, but Apple has made pretty significant strides in the quality and depth of photos taken with the device. The photo quality from the iSight camera removes the need for any sub $500 point-and-shoot camera. Photos are crisper and show more detail, while eliminating some of the slight oversaturation seen in photos from the iPhone 4S. The camera takes much faster photos than the 4S, and a larger shutter button is present in the camera app.

The most noticeable advancement in the iPhone 5′s camera is the vastly improved low-light technology. Indoor photos are much clearer, and night shots show much better visibility, and are more distinguished. Apple has even augmented the lens on the iPhone 5, replacing the glass lens with a sapphire crystal, a much stronger and scratch-resistant material.

Photo taken with the iPhone 5.

Video recording has also been enhanced on the iPhone 5, with improved video stabilization, and face detection, which has been available while taking photos in the iPhone 4S, has been added as well. The improved stabilization is evident; videos are much less shaky while on the move, and face detection works just as if you were taking a photo.

The front-facing camera has finally been upgraded to FaceTime HD, with 1.2MP sensor for taking all the self-portrait shots you can manage. The detail in photos are exceedingly better than the old VGA camera present in the iPhone 4S. Depending on the person, this may be very good, or bad.

Probably the most unexpected feature Apple added to the camera app is Panorama mode. Available for the iPhone 5 and iPhone 4S, Panorama mode allows you to take beautiful panoramic photos, up to 30MP, by following the simple directions on the screen. This feature has been available in third-party apps for years, but Apple integrating it into the native camera app makes it much easier for more users to notice, and utilize.

Software

Since we already have a full review of iOS 6 available for you to read, I’m not going to go into too much detail regarding the basics. iOS 6 is a decent upgrade from iOS 5; aside from a few noticeable updates like Facebook integration, improvements to Siri, FaceTime over cellular (you may have issues with that if you are on AT&T), a semi-digital wallet called Passbook that isn’t ready for primetime, and a great feature called ‘Do Not Disturb’ that allows you to mute calls and notifications for a set time, iOS 6 feels like a tune-up. There are no major game changing improvements.

There is one huge negative — Apple Maps.

Maps

The most controversial decision Apple made while building iOS 6 was to remove Google Maps as the default mapping client and replace it with their own. The resulting product, Apple Maps, has proven to be unprepared for the task at hand.

Apple Maps does have a great feature in turn-by-turn navigation, which wasn’t included in the Google-powered maps, but what Apple didn’t include, and what we have to suffer through is not worth Siri being able to tell us to turn left when we drive. Mass transit directions, street view, and most importantly Google’s database — which powers the search on Google Maps, and has just about every business and location you could think of — is gone from maps in iOS 6.

“When Apple rushes anything, it doesn’t turn out well.”

Apple Maps does have Yelp’s database, which is decent, but by no means comparable to Google. Flyover, Apple’s version of a street view-type service, offers a 3D view of an area, but works poorly unless you live in a major metropolis. Anywhere else, and Flyover defaults back to a faulty 2D view. The removal of Google’s location database from Maps in iOS 6 the biggest blunder Apple has made in years. This blunder will turn out be more costly than Antennagate.

Since the rise of the smartphone in 2008, more and more people rely on the mapping services on their phones to get them around during the day. Most people don’t walk around with a standalone GPS unit in their pockets, or keep physical maps in their vehicles, so when directions are needed, we have become heavily reliant on our smartphones to provide them. In Apple Maps, the directions can be so bad, in some instances they can be downright dangerous (Apple Maps labeled a farm in Dublin, Ireland as an airport).

This isn’t just an issue affecting the States; if you live outside of the U.S, the issues can be even more atrocious. Apple Maps labels a railway station in Helsinki as a park.Once again in Helsinki, Apple Maps shows a road that appears easily traversable, but turns out to be a dock that will drop you straight into water.

When Apple decided to build their mapping solution five years ago, it was expected that they would have until at least 2013, or around the time when their contract with Google Maps was expected to end, according to The Verge. When Google and Apple couldn’t come to an agreement to bring turn-by-turn navigation to iOS — something that Android handsets and tablets have had for years — the failed negotiations through the timing off, and Apple decided to launch Apple Maps early, foregoing the remaining time on their contract, according to AllThingsD. In other words, they rushed it.

When Apple rushes anything, it doesn’t turn out well. The iPhone 4 was rushed through testing, which resulted in Antennagate. Apple Maps has resulted in the current mess on their hands. Antennagate seemed to be a consequence of Apple trying to get their flagship product out to their feverish fan base, while Apple Maps seems like management’s issues with Google have spilled over and begun to affect the quality of their products, and consequently has had an undesired, albeit foreseeable negative affect on the consumer.

Apple Maps will get better over time. It works pretty well in popular tourist areas. You may even be able to navigate around your local city with the service. But there is no doubt Apple Maps is a major step back from Google Maps, and whenever Apple takes a step back with any consumer product or application, it’s cause to worry.

Performance

When it comes to performance benchmarks, the iPhone 5 is the best smartphone ever tested. The previously mentioned dual-core A6 processor runs at fluctuating speeds, depending on your device. My iPhone 5 is running at 1.3GHz pretty consistently, while others have been clocked as low as 600MHz. But there is no doubt the iPhone 5 lives up to its reputation as a blisteringly fast device.

We ran two of the major smartphone benchmarks, Geekbench, a processor benchmark test, and Sunspider, which tests JavaScript capabilities in the browser. On average, the iPhone 5 pulled in a Geekbench score of 1642, with peaks at 1649 the highest ever recorded on a dual-core smartphone (the quad-core version of the Samsung Galaxy S III, which is only sold in Europe and Asia, has been clocked at 1751). For the Sunspider test, the iPhone 5 scored an average of 927.8, over 300 points better than its nearest competitor.

If you are coming from the iPhone 4S, you will notice a slight improvement in app switching and loading speeds, but it won’t be as dramatic as the shift experienced when moving from the single-core iPhone 4 to the dual-core iPhone 4S. If you are coming from the iPhone 4, or any device that came out over two years ago, the speed increase will be shocking. Multitasking is faster, apps open quicker, and your overall experience will be miles ahead of your previous handset.

“The iPhone 5 lives up to its reputation as a blisteringly fast device”

Frame rates are improved considerably in graphic-intensive games, thanks to the new tri-core GPU, though many have not been updated for the iPhone 5′s larger screen yet. That is the biggest grievance with the larger screen; every app in the App Store — all 700K of them — need to be updated to work with the taller display. When apps aren’t updated, they are shown in a letterbox format, with black bars on top and bottom of the app. This is an inconvenience, but over the last two weeks, I’ve seen more app updates than at any point I can remember. iOS app developers are working rapidly to make their apps compatible with the larger display of the iPhone 5, and some of the largest apps like Twitter, Facebook, Flipboard, and Netflix have already been updated.

Battery Life

When Apple released the iPhone 4S last year, the biggest complaint was the drop in battery life from the iPhone 4. That is not the case this year. Even with a faster processor, a more powerful CPU and GPU, a larger and brighter screen, and LTE — all while losing a fifth of the weight from the iPhone 4S — Apple has managed to increase the battery life in the iPhone 5.

Rated at eight hours for 3G/LTE browsing and ten hours for wifi, with 225 hours of standby time (the iPhone 4S is rated at 200 hours of standby), the iPhone 5 is no slouch in the battery department. Coming off of the charger at 9 a.m., the iPhone made it through the entire day with about 18 percent of its battery left, after a full day of emailing, constantly checking Twitter, some light LTE web browsing, a few phone calls, a couple of photos, and multiple app updates.

A brilliant battery-saving feature Apple has instituted with iOS 6 is the shutting down your wifi if your device is asleep for more than five minutes. Much like the Macbook, wifi is turned off to conserve the battery. If you wake your iPhone 5 after it has been asleep for longer than five minutes, you may notice it quickly switches from 3G/LTE back to wifi as soon as the screen comes on.

Conclusion

Even with the abysmal failure that is Apple Maps, the iPhone 5 still lands as the greatest smartphone ever assembled. The brilliance that is the hardware greatly outweighs the mediocrity of the software. Software can easily be improved with an update, but once the hardware leaves the factory, there is no turning back, and it looks Apple is living by that mantra.

Apple has taken a different approach with its software this time around, and it closely resembles the Google approach of “throw it against the wall and hope it sticks.” Google has done this with countless products — Wave, Chrome, Chrome OS, Android 3.0 — some have worked masterfully, and others have failed miserably, but there’s always an opportunity for success. It seems that Apple has taken that approach with Passbook and Apple Maps, though their hand may have been forced on the latter.

“The fact is, Apple doesn’t have to innovate on iOS.”

Apple’s latest creation shows that Apple still has design ideas up its sleeve, when it comes to the physical product, but it may be running out of ideas for iOS. Just look at the plethora of hardware upgrades; LTE, larger screen, aluminum chassis, sapphire crystal for the camera lens, all in a bigger, lighter package. Apple still has the eye for design, but their fear of changing iOS is holding them back.

There has been no innovation on iOS since multitasking was introduced in 2010, unless you want to count Siri, which is technically still in beta. The iPhone is still king, the amazing design quality and simplistic OS proves that, but unless Apple starts innovating on iOS, its reign as the world’s most popular smartphone will come to an end. Or so we think.

Apple may be banking on the poor design quality of Android devices, and the Windows Phone 8 platform still being in its infancy, as their ticket to continued success. It is those simple facts that make the iPhone 5 the best phone on the market. The Samsung Galaxy S III may have great specs, but it is a poorly made plastic device that will make you wait months for software updates. The upcoming Lumia 920 has a great design, but it’s running Windows Phone 8, a platform that is still struggling for market share against RIM, a company who hasn’t released a noticeable device in years.

The fact is, Apple doesn’t have to innovate on iOS. Android makers are only focused on specs and skinning their devices, while Windows Phone makers are designing beautiful devices with software that isn’t quite ready for primetime.

And that is where we are at. The iPhone 5, the greatest phone ever made, is king by default.

Display

Hardware

Software

Camera

Performance

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