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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Apple iPhone 5 review

(Reviewed by phonearena)

They come hard, they come strong! That’s simply the reality of things nowadays for Apple, as competition from all corners has seemingly caught up with the iPhone 4S, and in some cases, surpassed it even. Not only are these competing devices boasting larger displays, faster processors, and higher capacity storage on paper than what the iPhone 4S had to provide, Apple’s pride and joy still somehow managed to stiffen the competition with its imposing mindshare. Last year, when Apple unveiled the iPhone 4S, many were wondering if the renowned company has lost its magical touch – maybe from all the years of being complacent with its past laurels and successes.

Perhaps, that kind of attitude was the requisite inspiration that spurred its rivals to fight back with a vengeance. And boy did they come with arms up and fists slamming, since for the very first time ever, the iPhone’s impenetrable façade exhibited subtle signs of fragility – a miniscule crack that blossomed into a gash, which shook its foundations tremendously. Whatever it was, there was no denying that innovation was now being seen by competitive devices such as the Samsung Galaxy S III, HTC One X, and Nokia Lumia 900 to name a few, which rose to prominence and established their presence in the landscape.

Despite the underwhelming response by critics alike, the iPhone 4S still managed to sell healthily, but under the surface, it still didn’t have enough substance to satiate the demands of hungry consumers looking for the most cutting-edge thing. Regardless of that, Apple managed to address some of the previous concerns, as the iPhone 5 is positioned to be the best iPhone since, well, the iPhone itself.

Interestingly enough this time around, it seems as though Apple is the one that’s actually catching up to the competition, since they’ve finally brought a bigger screen and speedy 4G LTE connectivity to the iPhone 5 – while continuing to improve with a retooled camera lens and new chipset. Add in that it’s flaunting a new design, though still iconic at heart, it would seem that the highly anticipated iPhone 5 is finally that cutting-edge device we drool over in our dreams. Of course, there’s the matter regarding its performance and software experience, which sees the normal tweaks here and there. Surely though, there’s no denying the anticipation riding on the back of this one – so with that, let’s dive in and see if it can continue the legacy.

Apple iPhone 5 Review  Apple iPhone 5 Review


After seeing a stream of leaks showing off the design of the iPhone 5 from the front, we have to admit that we were somewhat initially disappointed, mainly because they showed that the iPhone 5 would merely look like a stretched out iPhone 4/4S. To our shock, that’s exactly how it turned out! But as we now reflect and gaze over its intricate design and attention to detail, we’re actually quite fond of it – as in thoroughly impressed! For the most part, the iPhone 5 maintains the familiar styling of previous iPhones, which in turn, gives it that distinguishable iconic look. Simply, it oozes in every aspect with a genuine love for design that’s unmatched by any other smartphone maker.

Indeed, the handset’s length has been extended to 4.87-inches in contrast to the 4.54-inch length of its predecessor, but we’re comforted to find that its width has been maintained at 2.31-inches. Essentially, the added space enables the device to accommodate a larger 4-inch screen, without compromising on its comfortable grip in the hand. Furthermore, it’s both skinnier (0.3” thin) and lighter (3.95 oz) than its predecessor, which is a welcomed sight for the natural design progression of today’s smartphones.

The Apple iPhone 5’s length has been extended to 4.87-inches in contrast to the 4.54-inch length of its predecessor - Apple iPhone 5 Review  The Apple iPhone 5’s length has been extended to 4.87-inches in contrast to the 4.54-inch length of its predecessor - Apple iPhone 5 Review  The Apple iPhone 5’s length has been extended to 4.87-inches in contrast to the 4.54-inch length of its predecessor - Apple iPhone 5 Review

Cementing its status as being regarded as one of the most elegant devices on the market, the iPhone 5 looks and feels like a high luxury item that’s instantly recognizable anywhere you take it. Gone is the glass surface in the rear used by the last two iPhones, and instead, it’s been replaced by a brushed aluminum casing that further ensures its rock solid construction – while the same metallic bezel wraps around the entire thing to keep it soundly intact. However, if there’s one qualm we have with the design of the iPhone 5, it has to be the sharp feel of the metallic bezel’s diamond cut chamfered edge. Overall, it’s still an instantly recognizable iPhone at heart, but the new backing combined with its more streamlined figure makes the redesign endearing enough for us to fall in love all over again.

Being a staple with the iPhone’s design throughout the years, the slightly recessed, yet springy home button is once again positioned in its familiar slot right below the display. Needless to say, we can’t complain about it, since it’s easily pressed and all. On the opposite edge, we’re greeted to its narrow looking earpiece, light sensor, proximity sensor, and front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera, which so happens to now capture video in 720p.

Just like its predecessor, both its separated volume controls and mute switch are placed on the left side of the handset’s bezel. Thankfully, the rounded volume buttons are distinctive enough to feel out – while still exhibiting a comforting clicky response when pressed. Although the right edge of the handset appears to be clean, it’s where we find the discrete nano-SIM slot, which is again accessed by inserting the SIM removal tool or a clip into the pinhole.

The left side - Apple iPhone 5 Review
Left Side

The right edge - Apple iPhone 5 Review
Right Side

Top side - Apple iPhone 5 Review
Top Side

Bottom - Apple iPhone 5 Review
Bottom Side

Interestingly enough, the top edge is home to only the raised and sufficiently sized power button, while the3.5mm headset jack has been moved towards the bottom where it’s nearby the speaker, microphone, and Apple’s new proprietary Lightning dock port. With the latter, it’s one of the biggest changes seen on the iPhone 5, since for many years now, Apple’s 30-pin port has been a familiar figure. No doubt, there are going to be some inconvenienced by this, especially when many accessories have been fitted to use the 30-pin port, but nevertheless, an optional adapter can be purchased to make them compatible with Apple’s newest toy. In the end, the Lightning jack merely enables Apple to reduce the iPhone 5’s overall size, since you know, it’s now occupying a small amount of real estate.

And finally, the rear of the iPhone 5 is home to the updated 8-megapixel iSight camera with LED flash and noise-cancellation microphone. Even though the megapixel count is the same as its predecessor, it’s been blessed with an improved backside-illuminated sensor and retooled lens, which are safely guarded by a durable sapphire crystal glass. We know you’re dying to know how it fares, but we’ll get into those details a bit later on.


Finally! Some will applaud, some will cry, but whatever you feel, the iPhone is now on the bandwagon of believing that bigger is better. Simply without saying, the iPhone 5 sheds the consistent 3.5-inch display of yesterday’s iPhones, and instead, and replaces it with a more modestly sized 4-inch Retina Display. Indeed, it’s now better equipped to tangle with some of the smartphones out there with ginormous displays on them, but one thing’s absolute – it’s nice that only the length of the handset has been extended. The 640 x 1136 resolution of the iPhone 5’s Retina Display results in a 326 ppi pixel density, same as the previous iPhone – it is detailed enough for our aging eyes to visibly make out fine details in the web browser and everywhere else with little issue.

Being a noteworthy thing to mention as well, the iPhone 5 employs an in-cell touchscreen that merely shaves off a layer, thus, bringing the display closer to the surface. However, it’s almost negligible to the eye because we didn’t notice much of a difference compared to the iPhone 4S Retina Display. Another thing about the display, its color production is noticeably warmer looking than previous efforts – giving it a more vibrant output than before. The colors are now more saturated, but still not too oversaturated as those of most AMOLED displays, which may seem more attractive, but aren't as accurate. Rounding things out, its strong brightness output combined with its superb viewing angles make it relatively easy for outdoor usage with the sun present. Frankly, we appreciate the change in scenery with the larger Retina Display on the iPhone 5, as it’s complemented by an arsenal of great qualities about it, like its detail and superior clarity.

The display's color production is noticeably warmer looking than previous efforts – giving it a more vibrant output than before - Apple iPhone 5 Review    The display's color production is noticeably warmer looking than previous efforts – giving it a more vibrant output than before - Apple iPhone 5 Review    The display's color production is noticeably warmer looking than previous efforts – giving it a more vibrant output than before - Apple iPhone 5 Review
The display's color production is noticeably warmer looking than previous efforts – giving it a more vibrant output than before.


Above the surface, we’ve come to appreciate the new design that Apple bestowed upon its latest iPhone – and without doubt, it’s refreshing to say the least. However, beneath the water, there’s the matter of its software experience, which as we all know by now, is none other than Apple’s retooled iOS 6 experience. So what can we say about it on the iPhone 5? Well people, if you haven’t checked out our review of iOS 6, it’s worth checking out to get up to snuff with the new features. Here’s the thing, it’s visually identical to all previous versions of iOS – though, it’s been updated with some new tangible features (some being removed as well) that make the experience a pleasure to use.

When compared to its rivals, iOS 6 is visually boring looking with its typical grid-like icons taking hostage of its homescreen. Certainly, it was a revolutionary thing to see back in 2007 when it first came to light, but when it’s pitted against some of the graphically intensive UIs of other platforms, it doesn’t particularly come off as eye-catching. However, the rehashed style of the interface is exactly what makes it an iconic (no pun here folks) experience – something that people have come to accept at this point. Now this time around, the larger display provides for an additional row of icons in the homescreen, making the total stand at 5 rows versus the previous 4. Essentially, the look and feel of iOS 6 favors ease of use and simplicity more than visual flare. So yes, it’s a platform that’s uncomplicated, has a low learning curve, and is timely succinct.

When compared to its rivals, iOS 6 is visually boring looking - Apple iPhone 5 Review   The notification panel - When compared to its rivals, iOS 6 is visually boring looking - Apple iPhone 5 Review

As we’ve said, there’s not a whole lot new with the presentation of iOS 6, but there are some useful new features littered around to make it a pleasant experience. First and foremost, we now get Facebook integration throughout the platform – and even better, the notifications panel gives us access to posting messages to either Facebook or Twitter. However, there’s nothing else new found with the iPhone 5’s notification system. Secondly, Siri has been upgraded as well to provide additional enhancements that no doubt come off as entertaining at times. Specifically, Siri is now equipped in providing details surround restaurants, sports, news, and movies. In fact, Siri is smart enough to hone into our GPS location to pinpoint what movie theaters are playing around the area – with detailed info regarding playing times and the synopsis of the flicks. Indeed, it’s amusing and all, especially when it’s fairly accurate with its voice recognition.

Siri has been upgraded - Apple iPhone 5 Review Siri has been upgraded - Apple iPhone 5 Review Siri has been upgraded - Apple iPhone 5 Review
Siri is improved

With the rest of the new features of iOS 6, they’re mainly subtle visual changes that differentiate the platform’s style – such as the new layout of the dial pad and faint increase of the display’s brightness as it’s turned on. From the onset, there are still many apps that haven’t been updated or optimized to take advantage of the larger display, which results in black bars on the top and bottom of the apps. Nonetheless, it’s only a matter of time before they’re updated. Overall, the iOS 6 experience is appreciable enough to tide us over for another year, but it’s desperately in need of a major visual overhaul to keep it attractive amongst other things out there. It’s easy, so that’s partly the reason for its humble styling.

Processor and Memory:

Realizing it more than ever, especially when its rivals tout their fancy schmancy processors, Apple has this other approach when it comes to raw processing power – its real-world performance over specs. To tell you the truth, we really don’t need to know what’s ticking on the inside of this baby, as its brisk performance in all areas is reason enough to win us over. Well, just for those curious out there, the iPhone 5 is packing along Apple’s new A6 chipset, which is of the dual-core variety coupled with 1GB of RAM. Can we say that it’s simply marvelous with all its operations? From opening up apps, playing games, to moving about its homescreen, everything, and we everything is accompanied with fluid executions with very few instances of any hiccups – then again, the platform isn’t graphically as demanding as its rivals. Nevertheless, we’re soundly satisfied with the flattering and smooth performance of the handset.

In a way, we’re not particularly shocked by the revelation, since it’s been what we’ve been exposed to for a while now, but we were still crossing our fingers in hopes of seeing larger storage capacities with the iPhone 5. Alas, that’s not the case, as we’re again presented with 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB capacities. Needless to say, you can quickly fill the handset up if you’re not cautious on what you save, since there’s no expandable memory.

Internet and Connectivity:

Well, what do we have here? It’s an iPhone outfitted with the comforts of 4G LTE connectivity in tow! Yes people, the iPhone 5 has finally taken the plunge in offering the next-generation data connection, which soundly goes to show it’s finally meeting up with the rest of the world. Naturally, the speedy connection complements the already existing wonderful experience of mobile Safari, but there isn’t much of a change this time around except that the browser takes advantage of the extra real estate of the display by offering a full-screen mode. Meanwhile, we’re greeted with Safari’s oh-so sweet fluid navigational controls and instantaneous renders of complex pages. So yeah, the 4G LTE connection will no doubt appease many people!

Unlike last year’s model, which relied on a single unit being manufactured to accommodate all three major carriers, Apple has decided to make three variants of the iPhone 5 to make it compatible with the various 4G LTE networks around. Specifically, there’s one model to support AT&T’s LTE network, another one that’s compatible with the LTE networks of Sprint and Verizon, and a third one to handle the LTE networks in Europe and Asia. As for the other connectivity options on board with the iPhone 5, they consist of the usual suspects – these include aGPS, Bluetooth 4.0, 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, and mobile hotspot (you’ll need to subscribe to gain the feature). Noticeably absent is NFC, which some might find peculiar as many competing handset feature it, but rather, Apple is banking on its Passbook app as an alternative solution.


Flaunting a still clean looking camera interface, iOS 6 brings forth a new panorama shooting mode that Apple states as potentially sizing up to as much as 28-megapixels. Aside from that, everything else has is still intact that we know and love by now – like touch focus/exposure, HDR mode, AE/AF lock, swipe to the right to get to the camera roll, and snapping photos by pressing the volume up button. Thankfully, you’ll never miss the beat with those unpredictable real-world moments, as the camera launches very quickly and gets us into snapping shots right away. In fact, its shutter speed is impeccable – meaning that fast moving objects are no match for this one.

The clean looking camera interface - Apple iPhone 5 Review The clean looking camera interface - Apple iPhone 5 Review The clean looking camera interface - Apple iPhone 5 Review
A clean camera interface

Armed with an 8-megapixel iSight camera, it doesn’t improve upon the megapixel count of its processor, but nevertheless, the addition of an improved backside illuminated sensor combined with a retooled lens coughs up even better visuals with the iPhone 5. We’ve always been satisfied with the iPhone in terms of taking photos, and rightfully so, we can continue to love it even more – especially when it’s an easy point and shoot replacement. Oh yeah, there’s also a new Panorama mode that requires us to snap the shot in portrait, where it’s then stitched together in real-time for minimal wait. And surely enough, it boasts plenty of visual treats to make it a standout and beloved new feature.

iOS 6 brings forth a new panorama shooting mode - Apple iPhone 5 Review

Panorama shooting mode

Winning us over is the fair amount of detail with its shots, accurate color reproduction, neutral exposure, and dreamy depth of field. With the latter, it makes for some wonderful macro shots, as the background features enough defocus to place emphasis on the detailed subject up front. Meanwhile, in low lighting conditions, the iPhone 5 continues to shine with its sharp visuals – though, we needed to mess around with its touch focus/exposure to get the best results. Nevertheless, the LED flash is potent enough to properly illuminate the scenery without distorting colors that much. However, our sole qualm with the iPhone 5 is that shots taken in complete darkness can still come out of focus, since the flash doesn’t turn on prior to the shot for proper focusing. Regardless, the iPhone 5 proves in more ways than one that it’s more than capable of relieving some point and shoots out there.

Likewise, the smartphone’s 1080p video recording is also favorable with its balanced quality. Of course, it excels most with outdoor sunny usage, as it has the perfect blend of sharp details, natural colors, gradual exposure, clear audio recording, and smooth capture rate of 29 frames per second to make it highly usable. Still, there’s no continuous focus with its recording, and instead, it relies on the tried and true touch focus option that has been a staple of the iPhone. Meanwhile, videos recorded in low lighting are still decent, but some evidence of noise and a lower capture speed of 24 frames per second soften the quality of its results.


Much like before, there’s no change with the style and layout of the photo gallery with iOS 6. Obviously, there are some basic editing functions that are available to tweak them on the go, but this time around, we now find some additional sharing options. Seeing that Facebook is now deeply intertwined with the platform, it’s now an available share option as well in the photo gallery – in addition to the already existing options of email, text messages, photo stream, and Twitter.

Five years and counting, it’s almost crazy to say that Apple’s iPod music player is still one of the best out there on any device. At this point, it’s absolutely ready for a new overhaul with its visuals and presentation, but nevertheless, cover flow mode is still one classy looking thing to revisit. For the most part, it follows the conventional approach, but it would’ve been nice to gain access to the music player’s settings within the player – as opposed to going to the general Settings menu. As for the audio quality of its internal speaker, it emits some pleasant tones that don’t have too much strain or distortion at the loudest volume, but it lacks enough substance for it to come off as demanding.

Apple’s iPod music player is still one of the best out there on any device - Apple iPhone 5 Review Apple’s iPod music player is still one of the best out there on any device - Apple iPhone 5 Review Apple’s iPod music player is still one of the best out there on any device - Apple iPhone 5 Review
Apple’s iPod music player is still one of the best out there on any device

Packaged along with the iPhone 5, is Apple’s brand new Earpods headphones, which appear mightily strange with its chubby looks. In terms of comfort, we’re a bit concerned due to its loose feel in the ear – probably because they’re so large in size versus other in-ear headphones. With its audio quality, however, we can’t say we’re totally blown away by them, but at the same time, we were expected something with more punch with its output.

Now that the iPhone 5 is sporting a widescreen display, it’s more ideal for watching videos than ever before. Throw in the fact that its display is wickedly sharp for the occasion, it simply makes for a resounding experience – albeit, it doesn’t quite have that polarizing experience found with some of the smartphones out there with ridiculously large displays to reel us in. Moreover, its support out of the box is fairly limited, as we’re only able to load videos encoded in MPEG-4. Despite those minor issues, we’re still content with the iPhone 5’s offering.


With the introduction of iOS 6, Apple decided to chuck Google Maps in favor of its own home-brewed maps app. Aptly titled as “Maps,” it’s by in large somewhat not as comprehensive as to what Google Maps for iOS had to offer. Sure, it runs smoothly and has all the basic elements we require, but it’s missing some important features as well – in this case, it’s transit directions. Instead, the Maps apps directs us to the App Store to select one of the featured third party offerings that provide it. In addition, there’s no longer street view available with the new Maps apps, but rather, we’re sometimes given an image of the location. However, we find comfort in knowing that there is now free voice guided turn-by-turn directions with iOS 6 – though, it’s fairly primitive in comparison to other offerings out there. And lastly, we have to admit that we’re impressed with the Flyover mode available with the Maps app, which beautifully recreates some popular cities with the aid of its 3D models. Some stay, some go, but for what Apple has to offer with this first time go, we’re content with the offerings, but we’re hoping for a quick and aggressive approach to get it up to par with the competition.

Apple Maps - Apple iPhone 5 Review Apple Maps - Apple iPhone 5 Review Apple Maps - Apple iPhone 5 Review
Apple Maps

Knowing that Apple has decided to forgo incorporating NFC technology with the iPhone 5, some might be scratching their heads wondering what the alternative solution is for them. Well folks, there’s Passbook! Basically, it’s Apple’s way of providing a virtual wallet to its users, since it populates stored content like movie tickets, gift cards, coupons, passes, and much more. We didn’t get too much time checking it out, since there are only a handful of supported apps and services right now, so we’re curious to see how it’ll be adopted by users in the long run.

Call Quality:

Whoa! Talk about impressive noise-cancellation with the iPhone 5! Overall, calling quality is glorious in many ways. For starters, the earpiece emits ample tones to make it very easy for us to listen to our caller’s clear and distinctive voice. However, there’s only a small hint of distortion with voices when switching over to use the speakerphone. Thanks to the aid of its three microphones and a complex system known as Beamforming, our callers are treated to one heck of an exquisite experience on their end. Already, voices are natural in tone on their end of the line, but the most impressive part about the iPhone 5’s calling quality is its superior noise-cancellation. At first, our callers pick up some wind noise in the background as we drive with the windows down, but in no time at all, it’s cancelled out with a strong emphasis on our voice.


So here’s the thing, Apple has mentioned that battery life with the iPhone 5 has been improved over the iPhone 4S, but surely enough, there’s the matter of 4G LTE connectivity this time around. Well, with our Sprint iPhone 5, we’re only able to test it out relying on 3G connectivity, and in our experience, it’s pretty much unchanged from the iPhone 4S. Then again, it’s nice that it offers enough juice to get us by through a solid work day, but with 4G LTE connectivity, it’s almost certain to be a huge battery drain.


Undeniably, the iPhone 5 is the most highly anticipated smartphone of the year – rightfully so considering that this sixth-generation sees one major design overhaul! For some time now, the competition has been leaping over the iPhone 4S’ specs sheet, but with the introduction of the iPhone 5, Apple has seemingly addressed many of the desires and wants of iPhone owners. Upgraded for the modern world, we appreciate the change to a larger 4-inch Retina Display, but even more impressive, is the reality that its overall footprint is still easy on the hands – as opposed to the overimposing stature of some of its rivals. And with that, the iPhone 5 continues to stand tall and proudly as being one of the classiest looking devices on the market – aided by its impeccable construction and quality choice of materials. In fact, it’s treated more like a piece of jewelry than anything else! Additionally, it’s nice to see that 4G LTE connectivity is now on board with the iPhone, which again brings it up to the modern world.

As a whole though, it’s not a game-changing device per se, like the original iPhone back in 2007, but to be honest, it excels in the areas that are most vital to any smartphone owner. Obviously, it has the design to capture the attention of people far and wide, but when we look beyond the aesthetics, we find an iPhone that continues to improve with its performance – like its photo taking quality and wickedly fast processing power. Indeed, the platform experience is still lacking the depth of customization features of its rivals, but again, it’s simplicity that Apple decides to focus on more than anything else.

So the obvious question that remains is whether the iPhone 5 is worth a buy? For $200, you’re getting one of the few devices on the market that has the rich blend of performance and features to soundly satisfy a broad range of needs and wants. Even though we’re still yearning for an updated platform experience with iOS, the iPhone 5 hits a grand slam homerun out of the park with its svelte design, sharp looking display, raw processing power, and detailed photo capturing quality to clear the bases entirely. It works, runs fast, and it’s a looker as well! What more can you ask out of a phone when it wins in those key categories?

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