John Kennedy checks out Apple’s newest creation, the iPhone 5, and asks how key differences like a faster A6 processor, an improved Retina display, new earphones and new camera technology, not to mention a new shape and design, measure up in an increasingly competitive smartphone world.
As probably one of the last technology journalists upon the Northern Hemisphere to review Apple’s latest smartphone, the much-anticipated iPhone 5, I had to temper months of following every rumour, recent iOS 6 usage and then angst about getting my hands on the device with a critical and fair review.
The delay in getting my hands on one actually gave me a little bit of distance and perspective. The hoopla and hype had died down and by the time I began initiation I was mildly irritated that I was reviewing something that had been in people’s hands already. What could I possibly add at this stage, I asked myself, but duty prevailed and here we go:
Appearance and size
At first glance, the device looks thinner (it’s 18pc thinner than the iPhone 4S) and narrower, but the real difference you experience is when you pick it up. I’m used to the heft of previous iPhones that I nearly dropped it because it was so light. It’s 20pc lighter than the iPhone 4S and weighs just 112 grams.
The device is surrounded by the metal band that has accompanied iPhones since the iPhone 4 came out, only instead of a glass back as seen on the 4 and 4S, the iPhone 5 has a smooth, metal back that strangely adds, rather than detracts from its elegance. The edging on the front and back of the device is a bright silver that adds a nice shimmer.
What really won it for me – and I am the kind of person that tends to fall in love with things at first sight – was the way the iPhone 5, because of the proximity of the screen to either edge of the device, appeared to present you with information floating in your hand. I don’t know why but this struck me as a very powerful experience to have.
The new device comes with an improved Retina display of 326 pixels per inch on a longer 4-inch screen. This is a curious development from Apple’s perspective. Many of its rivals, like Samsung, are boasting the bigger 4.2-inch screens that are also wider.
The extra row of icons is a welcome change, too, and gives you the feeling of being more organised or being able to organise your apps better, screen by screen.
What Apple has done here is simply elongate the screen to be 4 inches in length but kept it at exactly 2 inches across – exactly the same as on previous models.
Rather than give you the feeling that it’s a bigger, better display, this actually only manages to make the device appear narrower and still much smaller than its rivals.
Smaller does not necessarily mean less beautiful and, if anything, in terms of appearance the iPhone 5 still comes across as far more elegant and prettier than its Android or Windows Phone rivals.
While it is the lightest iPhone yet, the glass and metal materials used also work in Apple’s favour against the plastic feeling of the Galaxy S III.
I’m already a fan of the iOS 6 operating system and many of the amazing 200 new features on the new iPhone 5 were already out of the bag by the time the device came out. But that does not mean it doesn’t pack a few surprising punches.
Processor and speed
The iPhone 5 comes with the new A6 processor and touch sensors are actually built into the display, which is the reason why the device is thinner than the iPhone 4S.
The A6 processor – which is a dual-core system on a chip with a clock rate of 1.3GHz – is understood to be twice as fast as its A5 predecessor and certainly the experience is snappier.
The device is also twice as fast in terms of graphics and the way everything flows on the device as you move between apps like calendar and email and sort through pictures is smooth, elegant and yes, snappy.
Going back to the appearance of the device and how changes in electronics have led to considerable improvements, Apple has changed the design of the speakers on the device in such a way that they take up far less space. It has also moved the headphones jack to be at the bottom of the iPhone 5 and I don’t think this is a bad thing. Certainly when you’re plugged in and the device is also charging from your computer this array actually seems natural rather than the cable stretching over or around the screen. Good thinking, actually.
The headphones have undergone a dramatic design change and feature a new noise cancelling earpiece technology. The new design is welcome in my mind – I’m so tired of manufacturers producing earbuds that won’t stay in your ears. These new earphones from Apple are very light, rest comfortably in your ears and stay put. Sound quality is amazing, voices in phone conversations sound more intimate and natural and if you’re listening to music they provide a private experience that I think comes very close to the experience of expensive, high-end headphones used by professionals and the odd hipster.
iSight camera technology
The A6 processor in the iPhone 5 includes an image signal processor that enables spatial noise reduction, a smart filter that allows you to take better pictures in lower light conditions. Ultimately, it also allows you to take photos faster.
Anyone familiar with the iOS 6 operating system would no doubt be familiar with the Panorama feature that allows you to stitch together a series of photos of a scene in a very intelligent and organised way. Basically, by holding the phone vertical you can stitch together a giant 28-megapixel image while a little arrow guides you frame by frame. What’s incredible is how natural Apple has made this way of taking photos.
The new camera technology in the iPhone 5 is called iSight and the camera is 25pc smaller than its predecessor. The rear-facing camera is capable of taking 8-megapixel photos, boasts a back-side illumination sensor, and it’s capable of shooting 1080p video.
The front camera is 1.2 megapixels and is capable of recording in 720p video. Using FaceTime with this camera is quite intense and fun.
While 4G is a given in many countries that Apple is targeting, in Ireland and the UK 4G is only in the starting blocks and many of the standards and spectrum issues are far from resolved.
So while it is indeed a 4G phone, I can only comment on my experiences with it from a 3G and Wi-Fi perspective. Apple has promised a higher performing wireless experience with the capacity to perform in Wi-Fi networks up to 150Mbps.
While I’m not equipped to verify this kind of performance and I’m limited by broadband connectivity at home and at work, I can say the Wi-Fi experience on the iPhone 5 is quite sturdy and stable and on the road it works well with the nearby HSPA+ networks.
Other than the obvious physical changes to the phone itself and the headphones, the next big change is the connector. Apple controversially replaced the original 30-PIN connector with a smaller dock connector called Lightning. This is bad news for people who may have iPod/iPhone speaker docks supporting 30-PIN connectors and I can’t help but feel a little anxious about losing the one cable/connector I currently have. It also means until I can acquire an adaptor I can’t play music from the iPhone to my speaker system at home.
But wait! As I tested out another interesting creation this week, Toyota’s GT86 sports car, I synched the new iPhone 5 to the car’s multimedia system and instantly I was enjoying high quality audio via Bluetooth. So if you own a speaker dock that accepts Bluetooth, you can still pump music via your iPhone 5. Overall, this is rumoured to be the direction Apple wants audio to go in anyway, music via wireless signal, so we’re being nudged politely in this direction.
I get really tired of the inevitable comparisons between Apple’s iPhone and competing Android devices because I know instinctively Apple doesn’t want to be like any of the others, the others just want to be like Apple.
Spoken like a true fanboi you say? Well, not really. Since the iPhone arrived in 2007 mobile was never the same.
As a computing pioneer, Apple’s ethos was always to break the mould and do its own thing. It has done that in the past in the face of a threat of declining market share but still continued to set the standard. The fact that the iPhone is so important to Apple’s business in terms of revenues, everything rides on the iPhone 5.
The iPhone 5 does not disappoint. The speedier processor combined with the new camera technology and the additional features like the new earphones make a compelling enough reason to upgrade.
But it is the shape, weight and size of the phone that makes the iPhone 5 a winner. I can’t think of a smartphone in the market that is as light and as elegant. Envision an oasis of glass and steel in a sea of plastic and you’ll catch my drift.
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