Apple iPhone 5 Review

iPhone 5 was announced just a few weeks ago and fell into users hands last Friday.  I’ve spent a few days reviewing the iPhone 5 and I will say it feels solid and is noticeably quicker.  I used the device as my daily driver, and, for the most part, I like the new iteration of the iPhone 5 and iOS 6, but there are some items I’d like to see resolved. Check out my thoughts on the iPhone 5 in my review below.

iPhone 5 Video Review

Call Quality

Call quality, overall, has been outstanding.  The calls are clear and there is very little disruptive noise heard on the other line, I believe the 3 mics add for additional clarity and, while the microphones are not visually noticeable, it makes the call quality remarkably better.  I experienced no dropped calls, and the iPhone 5 appears to have a great antenna.  Reception doesn’t seem to fluctuate regardless of how or where you hold the phone.  One oddity is some calls appear to have a one second delay between when I answer the phone and when the caller can hear me. I’m not sure if this can be attributed to a software or hardware issue, but honestly, it doesn’t seem to happen too frequently and most users will probably not notice it.

Hardware

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Quality

As we’ve become accustomed to, Apple has built another piece of solid hardware.  If you watch the Apple PR videos of the manufacturing process you can see how the edges and corners are cut away to provide the sleek bezeled feel around the metallic casing of the device. The anodized aluminum back has been reported to show scratches, but so far it seems to have held up well.  The scratching issue is not something exclusive to the iPhone 5 and can probably be easily avoided with extra care, a case or some plastic adhesive protection.  Overall the iPhone 5 feels solid while remarkably light (3.96 ounces).

A6 Processor

Much has been said about the A6 processor and all those stories are true; it is definitely faster than the A4 and A5 processors.  The speed is particularly evident on boot-ups where the times are noticeably quicker.  I never thought any iPhones versions were slow, but the iPhone 5 feels faster.

Apps load quicker than ever before. I sampled this by running the same apps on an iPhone 4S against an iPhone 5 and the results show the latter loading them faster than the 4S. I didn’t go through and compare every app I had, but most loaded and ran faster without any issue.

From a processing standpoint, Safari load times are significantly faster, swiping/scrolling across pages is smooth and there is no lag.

In summary, the A6 processor is zippy and worth the upgrade. You wont be disappointed.

CDMA-Voice/Data

For CDMA networks, that is Sprint and Verizon subscribers, the iPhone 5 does not support concurrent voice and data usage.  If talking on your phone while using data is a priority, you may want to check out other smartphones or check-out AT&T’s services.

Display

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The iPhone 5 display is the same quality as the 4S, just half an inch larger. The 4-inch Retina Display has pixel resolution of 640 x 1136 at 326 ppi.  The aspect ratio is 16:9, adds an extra row of apps/icons on your home screen(s), larger keyboard for typing and is great for viewing videos and pictures (less letterboxing for wide screen content).

But bigger isn’t always better; while most iPhone users may have become accustomed to the familiar iPhone dimensions, the new longer form factor may require a bit of adjustment for some users to acquaint themselves to the change.  Users with smaller hands may find it a bit awkward trying to power the device on or off.

Lightning Connector

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The Lightning Connector is working its way to be the standard across all iOS, and possibly other, devices.  The new connector works as well as the previous 30-pin variation that has been a mainstay of the iOS line ever since the first iPod was released nearly a decade ago.  The reversible use of the Lightning port is nice; how many of us have tried in pain to attempt to plug in a connector (iPhone, micro USB, etc.) at night only to find ourselves plugging it in the wrong direction?  The connector charges and syncs as advertised.  However, $30 for an adapter is absurd.  Considering how iPod/iPhone docking in cars and various peripherals is in itself a huge industry, a lot of people have invested a lot of money in infrastructure for these devices.  I understand why the new connector is necessary (for visual and hardware needs), but Apple should have made it financially easier for convertees to obtain the dock.

lightning-adapter

LTE

LTE is fast and is a nice welcome for iPhone users.  LTE on AT&T’s network is nearly twice as fast as HSPA+, but it does appear to suffer from poor wall penetration compared to other networks.  This may be a result of the frequency AT&T’s network uses or due to AT&T’s younger network and may be resolved with additional network upgrades.  The device itself demonstrates fast network speeds. About 20 minutes outside of our Irvine HQ, we saw LTE download speeds exceeding 25 Mbps (Thanks Ryan).

 

Battery

While Apple claims battery life on the iPhone 5 is better than the 4S, the results from our own review show that it is not true.  With LTE on, I’m getting about 10 percent less battery life than with the iPhone 4S.  If you are an iPhone 4S user and you ended a full day with 10 percent of more battery life remaining you should not have to worry.  In the tests I ran, I did not attempt to do any battery saving measures (turning off features, turning down display lightning, etc.).  I received about 8 hours of talk time and so should you.

Camera

When comparing the iPhone 5 to the 4S, I noticed very little difference in the stills. Low light level photos seem to be slightly improved versus the iPhone 4S.  Which is always a plus, especially considering the alternative is a flash of bright LED light to compensate for darker situations.

In video however, the image stabilization was very helpful, so shaky hands no more. You will be able to capture all your favorite moments without giving your viewers motion sickness. The recorded audio in the iPhone 5 is much improved, probably a result of the additional (third) microphone.

The front camera received a nice upgrade and the quality difference between front and back-facing camera shots won’t be as noticeable. If you like taking self-portraits using the front-facing camera, you will enjoy making “duck-face” portraits as much as I do.

Panorama as a feature on the iPhone 5 is neat, but a feature most past users have found an app to meet their needs.

 

Wi-Fi

Though Wi-Fi is a feature we do not normally disclose in phone reviews, there are some users reporting Wi-Fi connectivity issues, whether those are user-error or iPhone 5 hardware/software issues, I am not certain.  However, from my own experience, I am experiencing increased range and speed, even to be able to penetrate multiple concrete walls and still attain full connection and fast speeds.  The iPhone 5 has, what appears to becoming the industry standard, multiband support for 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz antennas.

Software

The Good

I’ve complained numerous times about the stale software, but before we jump into that, I’d like to start with what Apple got right in iOS 6.

First off, the app experience is great. The new A6 processor does a great job speeding up processing and it just feels so quick.  Letter boxing is a nice way to bridge the gap while developers play catch up to the new resolution.  Why most developers didn’t already pre-alter their apps in preparation for iPhone 5 is another discussion, but in due time we will see more apps take advantage of the larger screen size.

Siri has matured a bit and is faster. In fact, it is just about as fast as Google Search.  The personal digital assistant may have to contend with more network pressure than Google Search considering Jelly Bean implementation is not yet as wide spread through the Android community. That being said, the latest version of Siri has more capabilities than before (sports, movies, Yelp, OpenTable, open apps)  and feels more natural than previous versions.  Did Siri develop a southern accent? It sounds like her voice has changed a bit.

Facebook integration is really nice, anything to help cut down on the number of clicks to get to what I need is always a plus.  As much as Facebook has been beaten up in the past few months, this feature is a win for the social network.

We’ve written often on TechnoBuffalo regarding Apple’s biggest asset, the ecosystem.  iPhone’s biggest appeal is the way the ecosystem integrates across its devices and iCloud integration is a perfect example of that solid experience; being able to back up and recover devices over iCloud is a great case for the elimination of the home P.C.  Shared Photo Stream is a nice way to share photos with friends and family without the trouble of uploading, emailing, tagging, pinning, etc.

The Bad and The Ugly

Dialing from the Home screen is not as easy as it is from an Android device. I wish there were shortcuts that can be enabled to call my frequent called contacts.

Landscape viewing support is a bit lacking, for example take a look at typing in landscape then double-tap your home button to pull up multi-tasking, not very natural is it?

Siri needs to go back to school and learn some more tricks, I wish it was smart enough to turn my Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Airplane mode, etc.  If NFC is a missing option, at least create a workaround that makes me not need an NFC-like solution. Taking another hint from Android, I wish there was an easier way to view information, Android uses widgets and a more robust notification drop down menu.  iOS just doesn’t have a viable option without running to the arms of the Jailbreak community.

What can I say more about Maps that hasn’t already been stated by the staff at TechnoBuffalo, Maps needs help and it will get there, but there is a lot to for after the release of the current version of Maps.

YouTube too, lost its integration in this round of iOS 6, and has been replaced with a separate download from the App Store.  It’s not as elegant or as user friendly as the previous version.  Which is sad considering how well it synced with the rest of iOS.

Passbook, so far, is quite useless. Just a handful of developers/retails/service providers are taking advantage of this feature, with Starbucks coming on board later this month.  Passbook has a ton of potential and is supposed to make life a lot easier, but unless the micro-ecosystem that is passbook doesn’t gain traction this feature is dead where it stands.

Conclusion

Hands down iPhone 5 is the best iPhone yet.  If you have an iPhone 4 or earlier this is a worthy upgrade.  If you have an iPhone 4S, I would only upgrade if LTE and the larger screen are priorities for you.  Otherwise, all the features are available through an iOS upgrade (which can’t be said for other previous iPhones).

As usual, Apple comes in years ahead of the competition when it comes to design, materials and build quality.  The only competitor that comes remotely close to Apple is HTC, and it is a very distant second.

The iPhone 5 and iOS 6 aren’t bad, but both fall short of Apple’s trend of innovation pushing the bar with each new product release.  You can call it a result of their own success, but the iPhone 5 and iOS 6 doesn’t match the innovation improvements and joyous enhancements we’ve seen from previous iterations.

The iPhone is still a great buy for anyone looking for an iPhone or any smartphone.

I give the iPhone an editor’s choice rating of 9 out of 10, one point was deducted for some software shortcomings and the lack of concurrent voice/data on CDMA iPhone 5S.

Rating - Mobile - 9 - Editors Choice

iPhone 5 Gallery