The iPhone 5 - Aussie Todd's Rundown of Everything You Need to Know
Apple’s iPhone 5 has debuted as “the biggest thing to happen to iPhone since iPhone”. Global sales opened first at 8AM on Australia’s east coast on the Friday the 21st of September, so now people can finally get their hands on the device and find out if that’s true.
Among the first people to buy the iPhone 5 - Aussie Todd having lined up for 68 hours to get it - we’ve got a rundown on what to expect from Apple’s latest iPhone.
Everyone who gets their hands on the iPhone 5 has the same thing to say straight off the bat: “It’s so light!”. Weighing in at only 112 g, the iPhone 5 is 20% lighter than its predecessor, the 4S, and 15.8% lighter than it’s main competitor, the Galaxy S3. Despite this airy-quality, holding the phone in your hand, it feels surprisingly sturdy.
Compared to the S3’s polycarbonate casing, the aluminium unibody feels solid even though the bevelled edges don’t sit as well in the hand as the S3’s curved design. But they sure are shiny - Apple used a crystalline diamond to cut those edges.
It may be this exact wow-factor that’ll turn people off of Apple’s latest device - according to tweets from the release day, people fear that the lack of a hefty weight behind the iPhone 5 means it’s fragile. What they don’t realise is that the anodized aluminum body is a lot sturdier than it looks and feels to be, even beating out the shattered S3 in drop tests, even without a cover.
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Just like its forebearer, the iPhone 5 has two colour options with a few slight changes: white and silver or black and slate. There have been reports that the black and slate model's anodized surface wears around the edges and the silver aluminium base starts to show through, giving the phone a worn look. That may sway you towards the white and silver model but keep in mind that most apps will be ‘letterboxed’ until they are updated to fit with the new screen size - it may be easier on the eyes to get a black model then. Not to mention the light-bleed some users have experienced on the white model - a small spot near the power button with a tiny gap in between the gorilla glass 2 display and the aluminium body plate where the iPhone 5's backing light shows through. This may just be a factory defect that Apple plans to fix in upcoming batches of the iPhone 5.
Whichever you pick, the iPhone 5 retains the classic Apple iPhone look - many will see this as the phone’s greatest drawback. Largely, the form factor of the iPhone 5 is a rehash of the previous model. For fans of the 4/4S that might not be a problem but any who were holding out for a revolutionary new design will be sorely disappointed.
It’s What’s on the Inside that Counts
Apple may not have reinvented the design of the iPhone radically but the interior has been completely renovated. Nearly every major technical component has seen a major revamp, from the processor to the camera and beyond.
The extra half inch in the display gives the iPhone 5 an extra 18% pixels over the 4S, still retaining the Retina Display status and a new resolution of 1136 by 640. It’s only an extra 8.6 mm in height, but it’ll make a few major differences. For one, the 4 inch display closes the gap in the handset market a bit - the Samsung Galaxy S3 is 4.8 inches, the Note is a massive 5.3 and HTC’s One X is 4.7. The new resolution is great news for movie-watchers on the go. You’ll now be able to watch 16:9 films on your iPhone 5 without clipping or letterboxing.
From a usability standpoint, the longer screen needs longer thumbs to use. For general use, you won’t notice it too much, but with the redeveloped apps coming out reaching that top left hand corner to hit the ‘back’ button (if you're right handed) while browsing requires an ever so slight adjustment of the hand that wasn’t necessary before.
Less than half a centimeter extra doesn’t seem like it’ll make much difference, and truthfully, it doesn’t. You get an extra row or two of text while browsing, an extra tweet or email shows up and about an extra floor in Tiny Tower is visible. The tallness of the iPhone 5 may seem abnormal to previous iPhone owners, but it’s surprisingly easy to get used to. If you’re coming in from an Android device with a larger screen, the lack of display space may upset you, but Apple weren’t kidding when they said they called the size a “dazzling display of common sense”.
The biggest thing to happen to iPhone since iPhone
The size of the display isn’t the only change worth noting: the 44% deeper colour saturation is clearly visible, especially when put side-by-side with a 4S - images look easily more vibrant. While the LCD screen of the iPhone 5 shows vivid colours and crisp images, the colours aren’t over-saturated like some AMOLED screens tend to be.
With a 30% thinner screen, thanks to new ‘in-cell’ touch screen technology, the light emitting electrodes are that much closer to the user making the display clear and bright. Colours do show up richer on the S3, but they can fall into the over-saturated end of the spectrum while the iPhone 5’s display doesn’t feel washed out at all. With low brightness settings on the iPhone 5, the lack of backlight bleed on the S3’s HD AMOLED comes in handy, colours not showing up as superiorly vivid on the Apple device when the setting is backlight is turned down. The S3’s 306 ppi is pretty impressive, but it doesn’t hold up to the iPhone 5’s 326 ppi. It’s hard to not appreciate the retina display.
The A6 CPU is Apple's first attempt at building a chip from the ground up. It's supposed to have twice the CPU and GPU speeds of the A5, the chip that powered the iPhone 4S. It boots faster at start-up, it opens apps faster, it works faster. But all of that is expected from an upgrade to 4S. The real question is how the A6 speeds compare to the competition.
The Samsung Galaxy S3 is Apple’s best selling competitor and the two phones are technically quite close in terms of hardware: the S3 (international version) runs on a Quad-Core 1.4 GHz Exynos processor while Apple’s A6 is a dual-core chip. Even so, in benchmark tests and just general usage, the iPhone 5 does seem to outperform the S3, opening apps faster. Even on the same telco network, the iPhone 5 fared better in a speed test. The differences aren’t astounding, but still present.
When it was first leaked there was a lot of noise (thunder, get it?) about the Lightning cable all over the internet. Why would Apple force years worth of dock accessories into redundancy? One of Apple’s greatest selling points is its universality (within the Apple family, of course), with iPod, iPad and iPhone sharing the same roots - their docking port. The departure from the traditional and iconic 30 pin connector is going to take a lot of getting used to, both for customers and accessory developers alike. But it’s not all for naught.
The new 8 Pin ‘Lightning’ cable is supposed to be more durable than the former, but the most exciting developments concern size and usability. The new dock connector means a new dock port, and with the significant decrease in size in that regard means a lot more room for other iPhone 5 internal components. While the speed of the lightning cable for data transfer or charging times in comparison to the older cable isn’t remarkably improved, the new Lightning cable may be worth the switch simply for the fact that it's reversible and much easier to plug in.
The screen got bigger, but the Sim got a whole heap smaller, 40% to be exact. A Nano-Sim measures just 12.3mm wide, 8.8mm tall and 0.67mm thick, a measly size that tucks away neatly into the iPhone 5's internals without taking up too much room. We could harp on and on about the benefits of individual pieces like the SIM and the dock connector going in and making an iPhone that is overall, much thinner and lighter. But we won't. Suffice to say that the smaller Nano-Sim is required to use your iPhone 5 - get one from your telco.
Samsung's flagship handset has been 4G capable for a while now, utilising the faster internet speeds select carriers have been offering. Because of that, analysts expected a significant leap forward in the technology by Apple - perhaps a universal LTE chip rather than the fragmentation of models that currently exists. Instead, Apple has come out with three separate iPhone 5 model types - A CDMA model and two GSM's. That's not to belittle the technology. Apple managed to combine both audio and data on the same chip to save up on space without impacting performance. We've tested the iPhone 5 running 4G LTE on Telstra's network and were blown away by the speed and consistency of coverage. We haven't had a chance to see how the other networks stack up, but carriers aside - the iPhone 5 handled those speeds well and we were not left waiting for web pages to load.
Battery. Smartphones have notoriously low stamina and with the departure from the traditional 30 pin cable, chances are there aren’t any compatible cords lying around for your use wherever you go. Samsung has really powered through here with a massive 2100 mA battery, but even better is the option to swap out the battery by simply removing the backing plate and popping it out. Third parties and even Samsung themselves have created larger batteries for the S3 that customers can buy and use.
In contrast, Apple’s iPhone has a 1400 mA battery - 8 hours 4G LTE browsing or talk time, 10 hours watching videos and up to 225 hours standby. It’s isn’t removable and if it ever conks out, you’ll have to pay to get a new one put in. While it’ll likely last the regular user a whole day of moderate LTE browsing and calls, and it'll have a slightly longer charge than the iPhone 4S, the iPhone 5 may not be the right choice for those who plan on gaming heavily or who use 4G LTE constantly.
If you just go by what's on the box, it may seem like Apple haven't done very much to their camera. If you had just gone by the box, you'd be wrong. Although they've stuck with an 8 MP camera - the same as the S3, One X and just shy of Nokia Lumia 920's 8.7 - they've made some minute changes that impact your photo taking experience drastically. Apple excel with the little design details - the covering of the 8 MP iSight camera on the back of the iPhone 5 is made of Sapphire Crystal to resist scratches. They made quite a few changes to the technical aspects too - you can now record in full 1080p HD, and even the front facing camera has had a major boost to 1.2 MP 720p HD (great for all those FaceTime calls you can now make over 4G/3G).
If you’re planning to upgrade to the 5 from the iPhone 4S, I wouldn’t do it based solely on the camera quality. Don’t get me wrong, the iPhone 5 camera is excellent, but so is the 4S. In testing both, the video quality is largely what separates the two: the iPhone 5 stabilises faster and more fluidly for less jerky movements and the focus works faster, making objects come into the shot without as much blurring. Also, the low light capabilities of the 5 show more detail and more accurate shots in dark settings where the 4 only picks up barely-there shapes and indistinct black blurs.
It can be said though that Apple's largely playing catch-up in terms of camera functions outside of their hardware updates. The new panorama option is going to make for some interesting Instagram posts, but it's hardly innovative. Even on a mobile platform, Android has had a panorama function on its phones (HTC One X and Samsung S3 for example) for some time now. And the ability to take a photo while recording was a large selling point of the S3.
The QVB in Sydney photographed by the iPhone 5 (left) and the Samsung Galaxy S3 (right) on an overcast afternoon.
The S3, in true Android fashion, has many more options than the native iPhone 5 camera app, like the ability to switch between auto, macro and face-detection focus modes, a timer, burst mode and scene modes. In terms of picture quality, they both have 8MP cameras, but the iPhone 5 is sporting an F2.4 camera while Samsung’s S3’s got an F2.6. Even so, the picture quality on both phones is astoundingly realistic. The only differences you’ll find concern colour saturation and light interference. The iPhone 5 fared better in a medium light, outdoor setting, the colours showing up truer to reality than the S3’s, but both shots came out clear using the default settings for both. If we got into it and fiddled with the Android camera options, things may have turned out differently - but that is where the iPhone platform shows it’s strengths: simplicity and ease of use.
A large flaw that has largely been ignored in the older generations of the iPhone is the quality of phone call they can produce. Sound quality has never been astounding on the Apple devices, calls coming in crackly and broken. With the iPhone 5's 3 microphones, your conversations are crisp and clear. Don't count on the hardware change to make Siri any less hard of hearing - she still struggles somewhat with the Australian accent.
Those two extra microphones are really apparent if you play back audio or a video recorded on the iPhone 5 - gone is the crackling background noise of the 4S.
All the good work Apple has done in bringing their latest handset up to speed hardware-wise with the competition is largely undone by their accompanying software update. Remember 'antennagate?' Well, meet its evolved form: the Great Apple Mismap. Or the Maptastrophe. Whatever you call it, it spells bad news for Apple.
Many users of older iPhones refuse to upgrade to iOS6 simply to keep their Google Maps app. While you could just upgrade and use the browser version on your iPhone, I don’t blame them for not updating. Apple Maps is a colossal failure. Aesthetically, the idea is amazing - 3D renders of the entire world letting you view every angle of a skyscraper or landmark without leaving your room. In practice, the Apple Maps world looks like a giant Sim City, and not a very modern version. Greenery is reduced to large, blocky areas, houses melt into one another and buildings are rendered indistinctly from the ground and their surroundings.
Even these drawbacks could be surmounted - the vector based graphics rendering on the iPhone 5 was smooth and fast, especially using 4G LTE speeds, and it’s asking a lot for our current technologies to afford us completely accurate imaging of the entire planet in our pockets - if it wasn’t for the complete and utter unreliability of the app. While lining up outside the Apple store on George Street, Sydney, we tried to find our locations in app and found out that we were actually at the Darrell Lea chocolate shop across the road. It’s more than a little bit distressing when Apple’s Map app can’t find their own store. Don't disparage though - Apple is taking steps to hire former Google Maps employees, so if we give it time, Apple Maps may yet blossom into something worthwhile. Or fall flat on its face, unable to get up. Either way, it's fun to laugh at how horrible the app is now, even if it's not good for anything else.
We didn’t get to try the turn-by-turn navigation (something Android users have been using via Google Map’s Navigation for some time), but hearing all the horror stories of being told to turn into houses or the GPS on the phone tracking your movements in the wrong direction, we’re glad that the feature isn’t available here yet. Not to mention the lack of public transport information and the incredibly lacking system of traffic tracking in the Apple Map app.
If you manage to get past the broken Map app, iOS6 does have a few perks that make it worth the upgrade. Passbook, integrated Facebook, significant upgrades to Siri and more.
Integrated Facebook makes using Facebook faster and easier - you can now post right to your wall from a number of native iPhone apps. Again, Android has had a similar feature for a while, allowing any social media post-capable apps from accessing the native apps (if you choose to allow them, of course), but the integration isn’t as complete as in the iPhone 5.
Siri’s latest perks - integration with third party apps like Flixster, Yelp and the like - won’t roll out in Australia for a while. Do-Not-Disturb and the other phone call features are something that should have come packaged with the iPhone a long time ago - again, Android has had similar features for ages. Being able to import images and videos into the native email app is basic stuff and if it didn’t roll in the sixth iteration of the OS, then something would have been seriously wrong with Apple’s software DEVS. All in all, not a very inspiring software update from Apple.
Easily the best iOS6 feature rolled out by Apple is Passbook, and that’s not saying much. Being able to store all those fiddly bits from your wallet in a digital space is handy, but only if they’ll be accepted in that format wherever you go. Support for boarding passes on Passbook is low to nonexistent here. Physical loyalty cards, movie tickets and coupons are welcome to fade into obscurity, but with all the hype over NFC in PassBook and the lack of it now, it’s hard to be too excited by what many consider an incomplete addition to the iOS. While Google Wallet is still an infant in the mobile payment world, the fact still remains that Android has NFC technology while Apple does not.
Apple’s iPhone accounts for a large share of their sales, so you ‘d think that they’d have revamped the default accessories that ship with it long ago. The iconic white earphones have been largely untouched since the very first iPod debuted and their age is showing. these new EarPods though are a largely dividing upgrade - Apple is touting them as ‘ear shaped’, but whose ear? While testing, they sat snug and didn’t fall out and there was a marked improvement in sound quality, but others have complained of an ill fit, the EarPods slipping out or not fitting in right. Either way, you can always buy much better earphones or a set of headphones to fit your exact preferences and ear shape.
Plans and Deals for the iPhone 5
Aussie Todd's Final Verdict?
Should you buy the iPhone 5? If you've never had an iPhone before and have been toying with the idea, give it a go. The iPhone 5 is easily the best iPhone out - despite the 4S being a great phone in its own right. If you're a current iPhone user thinking of upgrading, then by all means do so. The technical upgrades from the 4S to the 5 are significant enough to warrant the change, if you're not locked into a contract and don't mind spending the cash.
If you're not too sure about upgrading, you might want to consider holding off - the iPhone 4S is a great phone in its own right and if Apple sticks to its patterns, an update to the iPhone 5 (5S/6?) will be released in a year. If you're tossing up between the iPhone and the Samsung Galaxy S3 or the HTC One X, it'll largely come down to personal choice. No one of these handsets can claim all-encompassing superiority over the others so the final decision will rest on whether you're an Android or iOS person. If you're neither, you can always hold out for the Nokia Lumia 920 or the Motorola Droid RAZR MAXX HD- the proposed specs seem outstanding.
If you do decide to change from an Android device to the iPhone 5, check out our guide on how to transfer everything over properly.