Opinionated World

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Reviewing The iPhone 5

This morning, I woke up bright and early, quickly got dressed and headed downstairs. I sat on the sofa, watching TV,  jumping out of my chair at every engine sound I heard. I was awaiting the delivery of my shiny new iPhone 5.

I have spent two years in the company of the iPhone 4 which was the last major smartphone release from Apple. My contract expired in June after 24 months and I briefly considered upgrading. Ultimately I knew it was far better to wait – I also skipped the 3GS in favour of the bigger upgrade on the iPhone 4. The phone still runs brilliantly and got a new lease of life with the release of iOS6 which seems to have boosted it’s speed and removed any hint of lag it had previously. I’ll be handing this down to my fiancée who currently has a 3GS, before she upgrades in March.

Today though, three months after my contract ended with O2, I received the latest and greatest handset. Apple sold two million pre-ordered iPhone 5’s in 24 hours, doubling the sales record they set with the 4S of ‘just’ one million over the same period. I was lucky enough to have ordered before delivery times slipped to over three weeks.

I ripped open the DPD delivery bag, tore the nano sim-card off the sim holder and then removed the box for the phone. At which point, I slowed down. Un-boxing any Apple product is always a pleasure, it’s so well thought out. I scored the plastic wrapping around the bottom and removed the lid. At first glance, it’s just an elongated 4S.

Designed by Apple in California.

Designed by Apple in California.

Then I took it out. And wow. I don’t deny being an Apple fanboy but the weight and depth they’ve removed from the previous generation is incredible. It immediately felt light in the hand, significantly so. And the thinness too, it’s impossibly thin. Apple says it’s 18% thinner and 20% lighter which is no mean feat. The internals are so tightly packed in that it’s frankly amazing they crammed in two even better cameras.

iPhone 5 back.

iPhone 5 back.

The black version now sports a black anodised aluminium band around the outside which is chamfered to both the front and the back. No more flat, angular ridges but seamless integration. The whole device feels totally solid, a premium product – as we’re used to – but even more so. The looks of the Galaxy Nexus still rival it, but the build quality is nowhere close. This is an Audi and that’s a Vauxhall.

Two major changes are the re-positioning of the headphone jack, which is now positioned on the left of the all new Lightning connector at the bottom, which is the other major change. The dock connector, which has been used extensively over the past decade has been dropped in favour of something around a fifth of the size. The connector is also reversible, so it now fits in both ways – just like a Magsafe on the companies laptops.

The new Lightning connector.

The new Lightning connector.

Of course, I’ve left out the main change – the display. Finally they’ve increased the screen size to four inches from the previous 3.5. Upon the release of the first iPhone in 2007, the screen was considered large, but with newer, modern displays at an expansive 4.5in or more, it was time to make this change. Without it, the iPhone would have fallen behind it’s competitors (arguably it already was in some cases) but instead, the iPhone just re-took the lead as the World’s best smartphone.

iPhone 4 and iPhone 5 comparison.

iPhone 4 and iPhone 5 comparison.

The display retains the 326 pixels per inch density it had previously, only over a larger area. The resolution is now up to 1136×640 from 960×640 and it has 44% better colour saturation too. 18% more pixels result in seeing a great deal more information. Mail now shows more messages, Safari shows more of the web page. Facebook shows more status updates and Twitter more tweets. Unfortunately, the OS doesn’t make as good use of the greater display size, but for now, the extra room is a welcome relief.

After just a few minutes use, going back to the iPhone 4 display is a huge change, it feels tiny. Where people thought the longer display of the iPhone 5 would feel and look wrong, the iPhone 4 display now feels short. It’s amazing how quickly things can change once you’re accustomed to something.

The camera takes an update too, still 8mp but now with better low light performance, improved noise reduction and a hugely improved capture speed. iOS6 also brings Panorama mode to the camera app (also on the 4S). Seamlessly stitching together images to create a panorama of 28 mega pixels through 240 degrees. HD video recording has better stabilisation and face detection. Not only that, but you can take stills as you’re shooting live video. Small but significant changes.

The front facing camera also received an update to allow for Facetime calls over 3G rather than just Wi-Fi. Now sporting 720p quality you can also record video of yourself, should you want to!

In terms of speed, the phone feels immensely snappy. The 4S is no slouch but based on the Geekbench test of the 5, it out-performs it by more than double. To put it into context, the iPhone 5 scored a higher Geekbench result than Apple’s quickest and meanest 2004 desktop computer – the Power Mac G5. So what’s inside? Apple’s brand new A6 chip and two times more memory, now at 1GB. Battery life supposedly remains the same at 8 hours for 3G browsing, 8 hours talk time or 10 hours of video playback. Mine has used 15% (down to 35% from 50%) after four hours of on and off usage this morning.

Depth comparison with the iPhone 4.

Depth comparison with the iPhone 4.

I chose Three as my new network, moving over from O2 who I’d used exclusively since 2004. While their general coverage wasn’t bad, their 3G coverage was terrible and living in the countryside meant I had to travel 10 miles just for those faster speeds. No more though because I’ve currently got a full 3G signal where I previously had half a GPRS signal on O2. My download speed is better than my broadband at 7.1mbps and my upload speed is over five times as quick. I expect I’ll probably have poorer general coverage but when I do have a signal, it’ll be 3G. In this day and age, GPRS is good for virtually nothing and loading web pages, Facebook, Twitter or even receiving email was a chore. I also paid less for the handset and reduced my monthly bill. Win win.

The box also contained the brand new EarPod headphones. Apple say they spent three years designing these new buds, so I expected good things. Thankfully they look far more durable, though they’ll still go brown fairly quickly if you’re a dirty sod! They’ve received a total re-design, the controller is slightly more rounded and feels more solid. The buds themselves no longer have the big round grill but actually serve to direct the sound straight into your ear. Some people had a problem keeping the previous generation in their ears, but these seem to fit a little tighter which will serve as a relief. The bass is hugely improved but while they sound significantly better than before, they’re never going to out perform your premium ‘phones. Why it took them three years, I’ve no idea but at least they’re here now – for another decade probably.

The all new EarPod's.

The all new EarPod’s.

I don’t currently have a case for my shiny new device but I will do soon. For now, I want to enjoy the lightness and thinness. However I ultimately want to keep it in a best shape as possible, no marks and scratches. I’m concerned about the black coming off the anodised band after a few reports supporting that theory. Once I’ve had it a while, I’ll cave and buy a nice case which will prevent it marking up.

Safari and Mail on the 4" display.

Safari and Mail on the 4″ display.

Despite the huge array of positives for the iPhone 5, I’m still disappointed at the lack of development with iOS. Take a look at the home screen for example and note the differences from the very first iPhone in 2007. A different dock, custom backgrounds and folders. That’s it. Why they’ve still not added live icons, or even changeable ones, like on the calendar app , I have no idea. What’s to stop them doing the same with the weather app icon? Unfortunately, the OS has become somewhat stagnant and while I’ll never move away to Android, I feel there are so many features or changes that need to be made. I could never transition to Android anyway – I’ve got far too much invested in iOS, too much spent on apps and a lot of reliance on iCloud, iMessages and more.

Another gripe that remains is all the skeuomorphism present in the OS. For those of you unaware of it’s meaning, it’s where a digital interface resembles its real word counterpart. For example, the leather in the calendar app or the linen background we see everywhere – or the awful green baize in Game Centre. I find it all quite tacky and according to reports, so do some of the team at Apple.

A fantastic panorama.

A fantastic panorama.

Finally, one huge negative is the change from Google maps to Apple’s own. At present, the whole service feels somewhat incomplete. The detail is lacking, you can’t zoom in as far, traffic information isn’t as thorough, locations are sometimes mistaken for others and crucially, there’s no Street View. Apple’s relationship with Google deteriorated to a point where Apple wanted to distance itself from the company based in Santa Clara. iOS6 also comes without an integrated YouTube (also owned by Google) app forcing users to download an official one from the App Store. This isn’t so much of a problem, Apple’s license simply expired and the official app is far better anyway. For maps however, it’s a massive step back. Apple’s mapping service comes with Flyover – a new 3D way to view major cities, Siri integration for turn by turn directions and a nicer interface. Flyover though, while pretty, is only available in cities and slightly gimmicky. Nice to look at, but not particularly useful – unlike Street View which was the feature I used most. Google has submitted their own, extensive mapping application to the App Store but it remains possible that Apple may reject it. It’s obvious the new maps application will improve over time, it needs to and Apple apparently has their team under lockdown to fix it. It’s been released half baked and that seems odd. Maybe they should have put it in iOS6 under beta, like they did with Siri.

A particularly bad maps comparison.

A particularly bad maps comparison.

I can’t knock the iPhone 5 for the problems with iOS, those remain in each device it’s installed on. In short, the iPhone 5 is a huge step from the 4S, whether first glances say so or not. It’s quicker, snappier, has two improved cameras, it’s lighter, thinner, has a much improved display and even nicer build quality. The release of the iPhone 4 over the 3G models was a big step and I feel this is comparable. What lacks in software updates is more than made up for with new hardware.

If you’re at the end of your contract or have the spare money to buy it sim-free, I suggest doing so. The things I missed by not upgrading to the 4S, such as Siri, make this upgrade far more significant for me than just making the jump straight from the 4S. Despite that, there’s enough change in terms of hardware to warrant an upgrade. Lets hope that Apple give the entire operating system a big overhaul when iOS7 is released next year – more on that later.


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