Here it is ladies and gentlemen. Whether you hate it, love it or hate to love it, you’ve heard of this day from just about everybody and everywhere. No matter where you turn, it’s there. Many have waited cash in hand (think Fry from Futurama “Shut up and take my money!”) waiting for the iPhone 5. And some, like myself, were highly disappointed last October when our hopes and dreams were shattered with the iPhone 4S announcement. The question that lies ahead is, was it worth the wait? Let’s find out.
I was one of the lucky few to make it to one of my local wireless provider locations on launch day, and come out with one in hand. Truth be told, I was first in line, but that is beside the point. My first impression on the iPhone (before even seeing it first hand) was “wow, what a simplistic packaging”. Everything is neatly packed inside with such high detail on appearance. Quite frankly, I expected nothing less from Apple.
What is included? Here is something we are all familiar with. Neatly (and tightly) packed in this small box is your usual welcome pack, Apple stickers, power cube, USB cable, and headphones. The big difference this year are the latter two. We have all become accustomed to the typical Apple 30-pin connector but this year, Apple has introduced their new lightning connector; more on that later. Also new? The EarPods. I put these bad boys in my ear and instantly fell in love. Great fit, great sound, more vocals, more bass….so much to share, such little time.
Once we had the iPhone out of the packaging and were done with activation, that is when the fun began. I laid it in my hand and realized there was no exaggeration when it came to the claims of it being much thinner and lighter. At times, it honestly felt it might be TOO light and thin. I held onto it for dear life…for the first 5 minutes that is. At 112 grams, it definitely feels light in hand. Apple claims a 20% decrease in weight over the 4S, and 16% thinner.
Overall, however, it felt great. Once I overcame how used I was to my iPhone 4S, it felt right at home in my hand. I have previously owned a wide array of different handsets (4″+ screens) and must say that while the additional screen real estate can be useful, nothing is more “one hand friendly” than the iPhone. I think the only other device that feels almost at home in my hand, is the Nokia Lumia. But these are two fairly different phones.
The first thing I noted when I turned on my iPhone was how much faster it booted up. Even at first boot it only took a little over 10 seconds to bring me to the initial setup process. With the iPhone 5 Apple introduced it’s “Home brew” A6 dual-core processor. This is the first time that Apple has manipulated an ARM processor to (almost) it’s entirety. The clock speed seems to be a bit of a toss up however as I have come across online posts that lay it anywhere between 1.03Ghz all the way up to 1.3Ghz.
The one thing I have noted with the iPhone as opposed to the Android devices currently available is that clock speed seldom speaks for the phones performance. You see an array of Android devices out there with clock speeds that challenge even powerful laptops, but at the same time have mixed reviews in terms of overall performance. While quad-core mobile processors are quite a feat, they just don’t always add up in the end. They sound nice in your head but that is basically as far as it goes. Can we put that on iOS itself? Or is it simply Apple engineering at its best? It can go both ways.
Looking at the phone, you have at first the appearance of the previous model iPhone 4 and 4S, but taking a closer look you see they took an already appealing device and made it even more fulfilling to the eyes. I have to say hands down, this is the most attractive and sleek mobile device out there, even if it is not full of color options as other devices are. The two tone look, the sharp edges, the beautiful screen and button layout…it is quite a delightful device to look at.
That takes care of the exterior. Where do the biggest changes lie? Inside. The heart of the iPhone 5 is where Apple did the biggest redesign. As far as the internal aspect of things is concerned, the only thing that was kept the same is the storage variations. It is still being offered at the all familiar 16GB, 32GB and 64GB flavors. Storage is still not expandable, but Apple is using iCloud as its “expandable” option. It seems the cloud is the way to go in today’s tech age.
A Storm Is Brewing And It’s Full Of Lightning:
With the iPhone 5 also came one thing many (myself included) were not very happy with; the lightning connector. Just so you aren’t confused, this has nothing to do with the Thunderbolt connection introduced not too long ago. The lightning connector is Apple’s own concoction of plugs being introduced with both the iPhone and the new iPod line. It is smaller than the previous 30-pin connector we were all so accustomed to and resembles the now mainstream micro USB used in various other mobile devices. The big burden? It is not very dock friendly with previous generation devices. I personally own an iPhone dock and a radio, both of which are now useless with my new iPhone.
The good: The plug is much easier to connect. You no longer have to fumble around in the dark trying to figure out which side is which. The lightning plug can go in either way (no, not sideways). It also seems a lot more durable than the previous plug, this is a good thing as many users were prone to damaging the plug as well as the cable itself.
The bad: As I stated above, it’s not compatible with the current billion or so accessories available for the old 30-pin connectors. Add to that the fact that the new lightning plugs have been “locked”, sort of speak, by Apple with an algorithm that has yet to be broken, and aftermarket add-ons will be a long way away. But as we all know, anything Apple locks, someone somewhere in the world eventually breaks into. So don’t shed a tear just yet, I’m sure a company will soon begin producing toys for our new iPhone’s. As of writing, it looks like we have a gleam of hope as it seems someone has already unlocked the lightnings security. Our fingers are crossed.
Long Term Evolution (LTE):
One of the biggest offerings with the new iPhone, is its wireless connectivity options. We are no longer tied to the (at times) painfully slow data speeds of 3G as Apple has finally introduced LTE chips into the iPhone. This is good news for some and more of a “future proof” for others. I originally purchased on launch day an iPhone 5 from Sprint which only has LTE in 25 small markets. Over the weekend however I switched over to Verizon and its almighty LTE service.
The different variants that will be sold around the world, 700MHz AWS bands for LTE for AT&T in the US are supported. Also Rogers, Bell and Telus in Canada and various carriers in Europe and Asia using bands 1, 3 and 5. A CDMA version handles Verizon and Sprint LTE in the US plus KDDI in Japan using Bands 1, 3, 5, 13 and 25.
I ran a few speed tests and as you can see above, the speeds were blazing. To make a comparison, Sprint’s 3G service AT BEST netted me 0.94mbps down and 0.51mbps up. These LTE speeds even beat my home connection which lies at 25/15 respectively. It is definitely a welcome change for the iPhone.
Choosing CDMA vs. GSM comes down to what carrier you’re on, and which carrier you’d rather be on. AT&T is offering the GSM model in the US, while Sprint and Verizon deliver the CDMA variant. Beyond the availability of bands, none of the iPhone 5 models can handle Voice over LTE, so when doing voice calling the phone falls back to either GSM or CDMA, and CDMA doesn’t support simultaneous voice and data. So, if you absolutely need to talk and surf at the same time, you’re tied to AT&T in the US.
WiFi compatibility has also been expanded. The iPhone 5 adds 802.11a support to complete the a/b/g/n compatibility. That connectivity is now dual-band as well, so you can step out of the crowded 2.4GHz world and into the clear air at 5GHz. Along with that, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS and GLONASS also return.
Another welcomed change for the iPhone 5 is it’s display. It now sits at a very comfortable 4-inch size. The 4-inch screen is 1136×640, with a pixel density of 326 pixels per inch. In contrast, the iPhone 4 and 4S have 960×640 screens. What does it all mean? while the iPhone 5’s screen is a few pixels taller, it’s the same width as before. Apple is touting this as “common sense” design due to the ease of use. They are aiming it to the one handed users, me being one of them. That added real estate however is very useful when it comes to web browsing, text messaging and watching YouTube videos.
Does it look better than the previous model iPhones? Honestly, yes it does. The color contrasts on the iPhone 5s screen are very good. Colors are very rich and vivid and they add that “UMPH” factor to most anything you are doing. And I must add, the way the screen sits on the phone is very nice. It all blends in very well with the phones look and feel.
With a bigger screen the demands on the battery are great. Apple was faced with the large task of improving battery life while keeping a slimmer profile than the iPhone 4S. Let me tell you, they did a great job on both sides of the coin.
Seeing as the lightning connector is new, I am no longer able to find an Apple charger as easy as I used to. This meant I was faced with an entire day of usage…on a single charge. This was scary with the previous iPhone (I found myself with ~20% battery by 5PM). But I must say, even when I was faced with that same 20% (which now came in at about 7:30PM) on the iPhone 5, I was able to mustard another 80 minutes of usage.
On a side note, once I had my iPhone plugged up, a 30-minute juicing boosted the battery life by about 15% which was more than sufficient to sustain me for the rest of the evening. The general consensus in the battery-rundown tests got 7 hours, 30 minutes of continuously streaming video over Wi-Fi with the screen brightness at about 50 percent.
One note I must throw out however is that coverage plays a BIG role on battery life. My initial iPhone 5 was with Sprint and unfortunately their coverage was passable, at best. This in turn affected my battery life greatly. If I left my phone fully charged when falling asleep, by the time I woke up the battery was down into the 60% range. In retrospect, my current Verizon iPhone 5 (which gives me 5 bars of LTE most everywhere) wakes up to a 95% battery. Quite a difference, to say the least. This is based on the fact that the iPhone boosts power to the antenna when there is low signal. But hey, your mileage will vary.
This is one of the departments where the iPhone 5 saw very little change. It retains it’s previous 8-megapixel design and overall picture quality. While we can nit pick at things here and there, overall it was nothing to gloat about. The area where the iPhone 5 saw the largest improvement was low light photographs. In dark scenarios you can definitely get a nice picture, whereas the iPhone 4S struggled heavily. It also received some speed improvements. You can now take a constant barrage of pictures with almost no delay. This is a welcomed feature for those hard to take moments, which I’m sure we have all been confronted with. One additional feature to the camera on the iPhone 5 is a sapphire crystal lens. This was added for some additional scratch resistance.
How does the front camera fare? This received a more drastic improvement. It can now do 720p video and does 1.2-megapixel stills, plus it received a backside illumination sensor for better pictures in low light.
We can go on for days with details on what’s new or refreshed, but I’m trying to keep this review as minimal as possible. The big question in the minds of the every day user will be…..Is it worth it?. Well quite frankly it comes down to who you are. I am personally one of those tech guys that needs the latest and greatest in technology so I ran out and had my hands on one the day it launched. For the regular user, it also boils down to what you currently own.
If you are an owner of an iPhone 4S, the biggest gains will come in the battery department and the addition of LTE. If your carrier does not currently support LTE then, again, it will be more of a future proof than an actual useful bit of technology at the moment. I personally feel if you are happy with your iPhone 4S, stick with it. Most iPhone 4S owners currently don’t have an upgrade to begin with (given you’re tied down with a 2-year contract) so I don’t feel it’s worth dropping down a hefty $649.99 on this. However if you own an iPhone 4, go for it. Treat yourself to something nice and part ways with your 4. The gains in picture quality, battery life, LTE speeds, screen size and quality and more will definitely be a welcomed reward.
The iPhone 5 is an incredibly well-made phone. Calls sound good, the battery holds up under intense use, and I would never be able to revert to a 3.5-inch screen again. It is safe to say that this iPhone model will remain at the top for a long time to come. Well, that is until Apple comes out with another new toy for us to play with; iPhone 6? Stay tuned. It won’t be long before the rumor mill is churning red hot with details on what has yet to come
- Thin and light design.
- New connector can be used either way.
- A6 processor makes the phone very snappy and responsive.
- Speedy LTE which can average well into the 50mbps realm.
- Solid battery life, especially for a battery much smaller than your typical Android device.
- Maps on iOS 6 is still in its infant stages.
- Anodized design seems to be very prone to easy scratching.
- Camera improvement over 4S isn’t huge.
- Lightning adapter can be a pricey addition.