Ever since its introduction in 2007, the iPhone has held its place as the standard against which all others are measured. Love it or hate it, every iPhone brings something new to the table and takes the tech world by storm.
I have the iPhone 5 in my hand. It’s thinner, slimmer, lighter, taller, and faster than its predecessors. But is it the revolutionary next-gen iPhone that we've all been waiting for? Read on to find out.
The iPhone 5 is astoundingly slim and light. If you are coming from the iPhone 4S, you'll be shocked by how light it is. It measures only 7.6mm thick and weighs 112 grams. Compared to the iPhone 4S, that’s 18% thinner and 20% lighter.
Instead of the 30 pin charging/syncing port, the iPhone 5 comes with the new Lighting connector. The new port is about 1/3 the size of the older 30 pin port, and you can plug the cable either up or down. This new port is not compatible with older docks or cables, and it doesn't support audio/video out or iPod controls even with Apple's $30 adapter. Last time I checked, most cars don't support AirPlay, so the 30 pin jack is actually important for listening to music in cars. Aux jacks can output music, but they don't provide hands free iPod controls. The new port seems to be entirely about saving space in the internals of the phone, and not about making customers' lives easiler.
The new speaker sounds better than the one on the 4S, maintaining clarity and bass even at high volumes. The new microphone adds more headroom to your voice, so people on the other end will be able to hear you clearly.
The notoriously shatter-prone glass back has been replaced by an anodized aluminum backplate in either black or white, and the antenna is made out of the same material. The precision-machined edges are either shiny aluminum or anodized black as well, matching the color of the back, and they look beautiful. But...
The bevelled edges are causing some uproar among early customers, because these edges are extremely prone to scratches and dings. Anodization, in a nutshell, is a process of electrically bonding protective oxide layers on metal surfaces. This layer is dyed with color to make either black or silver aluminum backplate on the iPhone 5. Anodized metal can be fairly rugged depending on the thickness of the layer, but Apple seems to have used a very thin layer, presumably to cut costs.
Scratches are especially noticeable on the black iPhone 5. Dissatisfied customers have coined the term Scuffgate to describe the issue, and this term is currently one of the most searched terms on TEK.GADG. The white iPhone 5 I’m using has a small ding and a hairline scratch above the nano SIM slot, and I've had this phone for a few days only. Jeans look great worn out - shiny metal gadgets don't.
The overall design of the iPhone 5 is not a big departure from the iPhone 4/4S design. It may be slightly taller and slimmer, but it’s hard to distinguish between the 5 and the 4 from afar. Is Apple getting over-confident in their hardware designs? As a user affected by Scuffgate, I think Apple took two steps forward and one step back with the hardware design of the iPhone 5.
The iPhone 5 comes with a 4-inch display, an upgrade from the 3.5-inch displays on older iPhones. Screen resolution is 640 x 1136 pixels, retaining the same 326 ppi Retina pixel density of the iPhone 4/4S while getting a vertical increase of 176 pixels. Colors are slightly more saturated on the iPhone 5 display, though most people will not notice the difference.
The display is only marginally larger, so you won’t feel a big change if you are coming from older iPhones. The size increase only amounts to one extra row of icons on the homescreen, and a bit more content on iPhone 5 optimized apps. I'm not really impressed with a mere 176 pixel increase. It really doesn't amount to any meaningful improvement of usability.
The iPhone 5 comes with the latest iOS version, iOS 6.0, preinstalled. Apple kept a pattern of adding big features to new versions of iOS that improved the the user experience significantly: iPhone OS 3 brought MMS, Voice Control, and copy-and-paste. iOS 4 brought multitasking and folders. iOS 5 introduced Siri and Notification Center.
So, what does iOS 6 bring to the table? It strips away Google Maps and inserts a half-baked Maps app in its place.
Apple and Google decided against extending their iOS Google Maps contract, so what we have now is a new Maps app that pulls data from TomTom, Yelp, Open Maps, among others. The result is very poor. These new sources have smaller points-of-interests data than Google, and as a result many buildings and businesses that you can find in Google Maps will not appear in the new Maps app.
Transit search is also gone. When you click on the transit symbol, the new Maps app refers you to other transit apps in the App Store. There are some competent transit schedule apps out there (my favorite is one called The Transit App) but it’s takes extra steps to accomplish the same task. It’s an inelegant solution.
The only useful feature in the Maps app is the new turn-by-turn navigation function. I took it out for a test drive, and it did a passable job of navigating and re-routing while providing useful guides though Siri’s soothing voice. However, even this feature is gimped by the lack of good points-of-interests data. What good is turn-by-turn navigation if you don't know where to go?
The new Maps app also adds Fly Over, but it doesn’t help to mitigate the terrible Maps experience. Fly Over shows 3D models of buildings in certain cities, making the Maps app feel like a video game or a virtual environment. It’s great eye candy, but I don’t think Fly Over is a suitable replacement for Google’s Street View.
The new Maps app was supposed to be the big feature update for iOS 6, but Apple botched it. Apple’s decision to be less dependent on Google is purely a business decision, and customers are feeling the burn as a result.
The new 8 megapixel camera on the iPhone 5 has better image stabilization and low light performance, but I wouldn’t say it’s a big update from the 4S’ camera. There’s also a new Panorama mode that’s pretty neat (click here for a full 10800 x 2332 panorama photo).
What I’m most excited about, however, is the new sapphire lens cover. Older iPhones had scratch-prone glass covers that degraded over time and made photos look blurry. This new sapphire cover is very strong, so it should be reasonably scratch-proof.
The LTE performance of the iPhone 5 is fantastic. I’ve been getting great speeds everywhere in the city, getting average speeds of 30 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up on the TELUS LTE network.
I am very pleased with the battery life of the iPhone 5 - even with LTE turnd on, the iPhone 5 lasts about 20% longer than the iPhone 4S. The 1,440 mAh internal battery will easily survive a whole day of heavy usage - push email, music, internet, connected apps, YouTube - but you’ll still want to charge it every night. Apple wasn’t lying when they claimed improved battery performance with the iPhone 5. It has the best battery life out of all the LTE smartphones I’ve tested, with the exception of the Galaxy Note and its massive 2,500 mAh battery. In my video playback test with LTE turned on, it lasted about 11 hours.
Is the iPhone 5 a great smartphone? Yes. It’s certainly the prettiest phone out in the market right now, and the iOS experience, for the most part, is very polished and intuitive. Apple managed to make a faster phone with LTE and better battery life in a slimmer case - that’s impressive.
The new Maps app, on the other hand, is a big letdown. I’m not sure how fast (if ever) they can catch up to the Google Maps experience. Nevertheless, this is one of the best smartphones on the market. If you are due for an upgrade, do check out the iPhone 5. If you already have the iPhone 4S, you should wait for the iPhone 5S next year.