Apple iPhone 5 Review

If Apple had followed the normal cycle of things, then the new iPhone 5 should have been be announced in the first/second week of June at the WWDC 2011 but, this didn't happen. Apple had already launched a revamped iPhone 4 at the start of 2011 though, to support the Verizon network in the USA. They also launched a white version of the iPhone 4. The iPhone 5 was officially announced on 12th September 2012. If Apple had also followed their recent change in direction with iPad naming then it wouldn't have been called the 'iPhone 5' either but, it is officially called the iPhone 5 now.

Pre-orders for the iPhone 5 started on Friday the 14th September, with actual shipping starting on September 21st in the US, Canada, UK, Germany, France, Australia, Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore. Another 22 countries follow soon after. You were also be able to walk into a store on 21st September. The first online batch sold out in under and hour and there was now a two week lead time on the iPhone 5, which then subsequently extended to 3-4 weeks.

We have Picked up a nano-SIM from our local O2 store, complete with adaptors to use it in our current iPhone, whilst waiting for the iPhone 5 to arrive.

The (on contract) price of the iPhone 5 is the same as the current 4S at $199 for 16GB, $299 for 32GB and $399 for 64GB. We guess this means the SIM-free prices will remain the same too. These are 3G contracts though. No mention has been made of the new EE 4G network or possible pricing yet.

The Apple iPhone 5 page lists the SIM-free iPhone 5 starting at £529 for the 16GB version, £599 for the 32GB and £699 for 64GB version.

The iPhone 5 looks much like the iPhone 4, only taller but, it is made entirely out of glass and aluminium. It's 7.6mm thick, 18% thinner than the iPhone 4/4S. At 112g it is also 20% lighter. Apple's claim that this is the thinnest Smartphone in the world is simply not true though.

A6 Processor

The iPhone 5 features a new A6 processor, with twice the CPU speed and twice the graphics capability of the new iPad. The A6 is a dual-core ARM Cortex A15 processor. The new GPU is quad-core. Initial performance benchmarks show the iPhone 5 to be at the top of the pile when comes to performance. Later testing claims it is clocked at 1.3Ghz.

The iPhone 5 A6 system on a chip (SoC) has 1 GB of RAM and a memory bandwidth that has a maximum speed of 8528 MB/s. This is ~33% faster than the maximum memory bandwidth of the iPhone 4S but less than the new iPad.

In our view, the speed improvement is worth the upgrade alone. Everything is now instant. It's a huge improvement.

Battery

Battery life is claimed to be better than the iPhone 4S. This is pretty amazing given that the iPhone 5 is thinner, weighs less and has LTE capability. Apple says that the iPhone 5 provides 8 hours of 3G talk time, 3G browsing and up to 225 hours of standby time. The new LTE chipset enables up to 8 hours of LTE use.

The iPhone 4S had 8 hours of talk time, 6 hours 3G, 9 hours Wi-Fi and 200 hours standby time.

Apple did not provide the specification of the iPhone 5 battery beyond the numbers above but, leaked information suggests a 3.8V 5.4WHr battery with a 1440 mAh capacity. That's a 2.8% increase in capacity over the iPhone 4S.

So far, the iPhone 5 battery seems to be lasting longer than our iPhone 4 did. We've done no back-to-back testing but the way we use the iPhone hasn't changed and it is being charged less. It also seems to charge more quickly.

Memory

The iPhone 5 will be available in 16GB, 32GB and 64GB versions. We were really hoping Apple would increase these numbers, especially given the ludicrous mark-up they put on memory. We have no option but to go for a 64GB verison as our current 32GB iPhone is nearly full.

As ever, our recommendation is to buy the biggest capacity iPhone you can afford. The advent of retina displays has made the apps much bigger. The camera images are also bigger with the 8Mp resolution and the iPhone 5 records 1080p video. A 16:9 aspect screen is also going to encourage you to watch films on it.

Camera

The new rear camera is 8Mp (3264 x 2448) with backside illumination and a hybrid IR filter. It features a 5-element lens with f/2.4 aperture. A dynamic low-light mode provides up to 2 f-stops greater light performance. This is combined with a new image processing chip, with spatial noise reduction and a smart filter that figures out which areas are best for noise reduction and which should be left alone. Photo capture is now also 40% faster. The rear camera can now also make 1080p video recordings and has improved video stabilisation. The front facing camera can record 720p video. It also has face detection.

The camera app now also has a panoramic mode. Just hit the button and pan your phone around to produce images up to a 28MP.

Initial tests are showing that the iPhone 5 camera is not significantly better than that on the iPhone 4S but, that is not such a bad thing. For us it is a massive improvement over our iPhone 4 though. Other tests also show how well the iPhone 5 camera compares to a Canon 5D MkIII digital SLR camera in the right conditions.

Display

Perhaps the worst kept secret in the run up to the launch of the iPhone 5 is the new 4", 1136 × 640 pixel IPS display, which is now taller. This improved aspect ratio is welcome, with this new aspect ratio being 15.975:9, which is very close to the common 16:9 movie format. Apple claim: "For the first time ever we've increased the size of the display. By making the screen taller, but not wider, you can still comfortably use it with one hand."

The extra screen estate allows an extra row of apps on the screen. This is really useful and has allowed us to stop using folders for storing and managing apps.

Whilst the improved aspect ratio is welcome, the increase in screen size doesn't really go far enough in our view. Apple have compromised the iPhone 5 to make sure it doesn't feel too big in the hands of many users. Whilst the iPhone 4/4S is a very pocketable size, it is quite small compared to much of the high-end competition. Apple would have done better to create a new format and size, rather then try and upgrade the 4/4S, which works really well for many people. They really need to create and maintain two distinct form factors.

The iPhone 5 display has 44% more colour saturation and is now fully sRGB, "it's now the most accurate display in the industry".

It was not really mentioned by Apple but, the new iPhone 5 display is a major update. The the new touch sensors are integrated into the glass. In earlier iPhones (and other touchscreen smartphones), the display and touch sensors are two separate and laminated together. With the iPhone 5, there is only one panel with both pieces integrated, resulting in a much thinner screen. This means it will actually be cheaper to replace the new iPhone 5 display if it breaks, as Apple only has to replace one part instead of two.

Audio

The iPhone 5 audio system was upgraded to three microphones, including a new beam-forming, directional microphone for higher quality sound: front, back, and bottom. The speakers now have five magnet transducers (up from three) and these are a huge improvement over our iPhone 4. You can now hear the audio much better.

The ear piece now includes noise canceling on your own audio out. The headphone socket has now moved to the bottom of the iPhone. This works well in most cases but, not so well if the phone is in your shirt pocket.

Apple have also updated the headphones. The news ones are called earpods. The old ones were pretty poor, so any improvement will be welcome. The new earpods will be available separately.

If you want to know what's inside the earpods, have a look here.

Connectors

Note: There are cheaper versions of the Apple official connectors and adaptors available on Amazon already.

The new smaller connector is called 'Lightning'. It's an all-digital, reversible 16-pin (8 signal lines) design and looks just like the images leaked prior to the announcement. Apple didn't make any claims for improved performance of this new connection and interface. It's main benefit is that it is smaller.

Apple will sell an adaptor to connect it to the standard 30-pin dock. There will be some relatively expensive electronics in this though, so it won't be cheap (£25 in the UK). It basically has a digital to analogue converter inside.

One thing to note is that the Lightning adapter won't necessarily work either in all cases either. Whilst it does generate analogue audio output, it doesn't support 'iPod out', which is the iPod control interface and track information. It has been confirmed for example, that this feature doesn't work in a BMW Mini. So before you hand over your £25, you might want to check.

This new adaptor does not support video out.

Our view is that you would better spend your money on going wireless. Both our Mazda 6 and Ford Fiesta use Bluetooth connectivity to support audio and handsfree phone functionality.

Charging the iPhone will only be possible via a standard sized USB port in most of the world but, to comply with the European Commission's legislation that all Smartphones must have a micro-USB connector, Apple is selling a micro-USB adapter in Europe for its new Lightning standard. It will cost £15.

Apple have also confirmed an HDMI to Lightning adaptor will be released shortly, along with a VGA video adaptor.

We don't really see any problem with this connector change and the usability of the new reversible connector will be much better. As we use mainly wireless connections to our iPhones, the only issue we really see is the need to buy a few spare Lightning charging cables (for work, the car, etc.) and it won't take long for cheap 3rd party ones to appear on sires like Amazon and eBay. Or so we thought! It appears that Apple has included an authentication chip in the supplied Lightning to USB cable and this will prevent 3rd parties from manufacturing them. This means that you will need the £15 Apple cable if you want to be able to charge your iPhone 5 :-(

There are also rumours that the Lightning port may also support USB host functionality. If this is true, you can start to see Apple making more money from adaptors than they do from the iPhone 5!

SIM

The SIM wasn't specifically mentioned in the announcement on the 12th September but, it does use the rumoured nano-SIM and a new one is required for this phone. Nano-SIMs were in short supply initially.

You can cut some micro-SIMs down to make a nano-SIM. This trick worked for the standard SIM to micro-SIM but, it won't always work this time.

The nano-SIM will fit into two small plastic trays to make it compatible with phones that use a micro-SIM or standard SIM.

Network Interfaces

The big news is that the iPhone 5 now supports HSPA+, DC-HSDPA and LTE, via a single chip, single radio combination and a 'dynamic' antenna. To enable the 4G/LTE functionality around the world, the iPhone will appear in as a number of models, each with geographic specific support for 4G frequencies. These are documented here.

In Europe there is a lot of adoption of this new dual-carrier HSDPA. It has been confirmed that the iPhone 5 will work on the new UK EE network. It supports GSM model A1428*: UMTS/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz); GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz); LTE (Bands 4 and 17).

The biggest issue here in the UK is that the EE network has a unique frequency supported by a current iPhone variant but, the new frequencies being auctioned are not currently supported by the iPhone 5. As far as 4G goes, the iPhone 5 is effectively locked into an EE or 3 contract for the foreseeable future.

Looking forward, global roaming on LTE is also going to be a huge issue. AT&T customers in the USA and Canadians have a phone that won't work on LTE outside of their country. The AT&T variant won't even work on Sprint or Verizon networks. The UK variant will work in Germany.

The iPhone 5 has 802.11a/b/g/n support including dual-channel 2.4Ghz/5GHz Wi-Fi, with performance up to 150Mbps. This is really good for a Smartphone, especially if you have a home router that supports it and it is connected to a decent Internet connection. We are now planning a router upgrade on our 100Mbps FTTP connection!

Our old iPhone was limited to Wi-Fi speeds of around 17Mbps due to limitiations in the hardware. We haven't done extensive testing yet but, we have seen speeds twice as fast as this already.

The iPhone 5 supports BlueTooth 4.0.

In The Box

In the box, you get the phone, a USB mains-plug charger, a Lightning USB cable and the usual instructions and tool to insert the SIM.

Initial Impressions

The first thing that hits you about this phone is how much lighter it is than an iPhone 4/4S.

The second thing you notice is the obviously larger screen. We set the iPhone 5 up as a new devices and used this as an opportunity to cull the number of apps used. We additional row of apps on screen has virtually eliminated the need to use folders.

iOS6

The iPhone 5 is shipped with iOS 6, which has over 200 new features. Apple has published a the geographic feature availablity, to clarify what each country will get. Many people wil argue that you don't need an iPhone 5 if you have an iPhone 4S or iPhone 4 as many of the improvements will come with iOS 6. Whilst a lot of software updates will arrive, the improved hardware features are very noticable. Apple recently published a comprehensive user guide to iOS6, which is free to download.

This article on 50 tips and tricks for iOS 6 is worth a read.

Apple Maps

iOS has taken a lot of stick on launch for the new Apple Maps app, with Google maps now dropped by Apple. It is not even possible to install a Google Maps app as well. The new Apple Maps supports navigation, routing, and getting directions from Siri. It also supports off-line turn-by-turn satellite navigation too. It has had very bad press due to the huge number of errors in the mapping data.

We much prefer the display once you enter settings and set the label size to 'small'.

The navigation volume can be changed in the maps settings.

Safari

Safari now supports full screen browsing, which is very handy.

Siri

Siri has been updated in iOS6. You can launch apps by voice. Pretty much all the Siri features are now available in the UK, restaurant reservations aside.

When you have a lots of apps on multiple home screens, finding the one that you want can be a pain. In iOS 6, Siri can launch apps for you. Just say 'Open (or Run) App Name' and Siri will launch it.

Facebook

As well as the Facebook app, Apple have added Facebook integration into iOS 6.

Facetime

Facetime now works over 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi. This is a useful article on understanding Facebook integration in iOS 6.

Other Stuff

Ping has finally been killed off in iOS 6. Apples attempt to add social music features has now been replaced with full Facebook and Twitter integration, throughout all apps and services.

Safari adds Reading Lists, essentially a free version of Instapaper.

The Passbook app gives you access to all sorts of loyalty cards, boarding passes and movie tickets. It is not clear how much of this will work in the UK though. This is a good article on how to use Passbook.

You can now see and add comments to your friend's photo streams.

Apps

Most apps have been reworked to work on the taller/wider screen. The rest will inevitably follow. The process is likely to be quicker now that the new iPod touch shares the same screen too.

BBC iPlayer

A brilliant app, that now supports local caching of TV content. This is one reason why we bought a 64GB verison. This app doesn't currently support the iPhone 5 aspect ratio and video has balck bars. This is a good example of why you need a larger capacity iPhone. There will be many such apps coming along soon.

Google Earth

This app doesn't currently support the iPhone 5 aspect ratio and video has black bars.

Google Maps

Whilst there is no replacement Google Maps app yet, there is one on the way. In the meantime, you can go to http://maps.google.com in Safari and add a desktop bookmark to the web version.

The navigation is excellent and works really well. It can also run in the background with the screen off, waking up and displaying directions when required. This means it works excellently in our car, via the Bluetooth integration. The music playing fades out for the voice announcement and then the music fades back in, all through the car speakers.

LoveFilm

This app doesn't currently support the iPhone 5 aspect ratio and video has black bars.

Netflix

This app doesn't currently support the iPhone 5 aspect ratio and video has black bars.

Passport

This new iOS 6 app doesn't seem to have much use in the UK. It is not helped by the fact that there is zero documentation for the Passport app.

TVCatchup

This app doesn't currently support the iPhone 5 aspect ratio and video has black bars.

Vevo

This app doesn't currently support the iPhone 5 aspect ratio and video has black bars.

What Is Missing?

NFC

This is a big omission in the iPhone 5. Apple is obviously has not found a way to monetise NFC yet. Apples Phil Schiller is quoted as saying - "Its not clear that NFC is the solution to any current problem" but this is very short-sighted in our view. NFC support is growing massively and will be a technology to watch in 2013.

Wireless Charging

It's surprising that Apple didn't take a serious look at wireless charging. It's one of those technologies that really does improve the user experience. A cynic might argue that Apple make far too much money out of charging accessories and cables.

Wi-Fi Direct

The iPhone 5 has a Broadcom chip capable of Wi-Fi Direct but, it has not been enabled or exposed in iOS 6.

How To Buy?

Because of 4G will only be available from 3 and EE in the forseeable future, buying an iPhone 5 on contract with any other operate may lock you out of 4G for some time. Despite O2, Orange, Vodafone, etc. committing to lauch 4G, there is no iPhone 5 that can work on the frequncies being auctioned to them in the UK.

If you really want 4G, then buying on contract with EE or 3 looks like the safest route, though they haven't announced pricing yet.

We plan to stick with O2 and our rolling one month contract for now. This gives us the option to move if a better tarrif comes along with 4G.

Summary

Critics of Apple will argue that they haven't really moved the game on or even caught up with the Android-based competition. In pure hardware terms alone this may well be true but, the iPhone has never been about just the hardware. The whole package and eco-system is still well in advance of all the competition in our view and this is why we will be getting an iPhone 5 as soon as we can. Most updates to the current concept of a 'Smartphone' are now incremental. The next big leap will be one where the current Smartphone form-factor is left behind altogether. Our money is on wearable computing.

That said, we wavered when the iPhone 4S was announced and eventually passed on it. With the iPhone 5, we wavered slightly again but, having weighed up all the elements, we have decided to buy one. The competition has the hardware to beat the iPhone 5 now and the user experience of Android Jelly Bean and the supporting hardware and eco-systems from Google and others are catching up very fast. All we can say is that the iPhone 6 will have to be very good indeed.

The noticable improvements that swayed our decision are the faster processor and graphics, better and bigger screen, improved camera and the audio enhancements. We have also just about filled up our 32GB iPhone and need to move to a 64GB model. We are also really looking forward to the improved Wi-Fi speeds and LTE when out and about.

Cases

We always buy a really cheap silicon skin case for our iPhones. We stick some industrial 3M Velcro to the back and use this to mount the iPhone on our bicycle and the dash of our kitcar.

Updates

Someone has published the iPhone 5 blue prints (PDF).

Useful Links

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