Review: Apple iPhone 5 (16GB/32GB/64GB)
Pros: Apple’s fastest and most capable iPhone yet. The first iPhone to include a 4” screen, LTE cellular support, and two truly impressive cameras. Improved screen and camera color accuracy, plus dramatically improved low light camera performance. Excellent noise cancellation capabilities noticeably improve phone call quality; headphone port and speakers both feature sonic enhancements, as well. Solid iOS 6 software foundation includes polished built-in apps, third-party apps with varying degrees of support for new screen and processors. Enhanced 3-D graphics capabilities and CPU power increase frame rates and speeds of numerous power-hungry apps. Thinner, lighter new aluminum body designs reduce risk of shattered rear glass; relocated headphone port makes device easier to protect with cases.
Cons: Battery performance too often falls below Apple’s best case estimates, particularly for cellular calling and data. LTE service remains inconsistent between neighborhoods, cities, and countries, with widely varying data speeds and availability; some users will see no cellular speed improvements over the iPhone 4S. CDMA versions still can’t talk and access cellular data at same time. Some iOS features, such as FaceTime Over Cellular and HD Voice for phone calls, remain unavailable or limited on certain cell networks due to carrier limitations. New Lightning connector breaks physical compatibility with all past docking iPhone accessories; adapters are not included or initially even available in stores for testing, nor are new third-party Lightning accessories. Aluminum body is easily scratched and dented; some iPhone 5s shipped from factories with modest damage, and inconsistent screen brightness.
“Boring.” “Predictable.” “Iterative.” After releasing the legitimately “revolutionary” original iPhone in 2007, Apple has faced annual accusations of overzealously marketing strictly evolutionary sequels, but the reality isn’t so simple. Rather than antiquating each prior iPhone with something hugely different, Apple has instead employed a tick-tock strategy, debuting a fully new body style every two years while staggering various internal improvements annually. Since many iPhone customers are locked into two-year cellular contracts, this strategy works particularly well, and long-time users have generally followed one of two different upgrade paths: some went from the iPhone to iPhone 3GS to iPhone 4S, while others have moved from the iPhone 3G to iPhone 4 and iPhone 5, occasionally with a zig or zag in the middle. It’s now a truism that every new phone becomes the “best iPhone yet” overall, so potential customers are left with only two questions: are a given year’s improvements collectively compelling enough to secure a purchase, and are there any serious problems that might justify waiting for the sequel?
Since Apple’s iPhone 5 ($199/16GB, $299/32GB, $399/64GB) is the biennial model with a new body design, it’s harder to dismiss as purely iterative. It looks different than past iPhones, is considerably faster, and includes a screen and cameras that are decidedly better than before. Yet it surely is evolutionary relative to its predecessor, taking only a few small steps forward from the nearly year-old iPhone 4S, while making a bigger jump past the two-year-old iPhone 4. Consider for a moment the following chart, which provides an oversimplified but useful summary of the key differences between these three models.
In short, while there are several meaningful improvements in the iPhone 5 relative to the iPhone 4S, virtually every major technical feature of the iPhone 5 is markedly superior to the iPhone 4. Some of these differences are things you’ll immediately see and feel—a larger screen, a stretched but overall lighter and thinner body, and snappier performance—but others are less obvious “quality of life” tweaks that make an already great product even better. Not a single change makes the iPhone 5 so completely different that you must run out and buy one now, but taken together, all of the improvements make Apple’s latest smartphone its most appealing yet: by design, it guarantees all but complete satisfaction for at least one, if not two more years of active use.
There’s far more to discuss with the iPhone 5 than mere numbers and specs, and as is generally the case, not everything has improved. On the hardware side, Apple has switched to a new accessory connector, breaking compatibility with thousands of past products—at least, for now. Battery life remains a concern, an issue exacerbated by the iPhone 5’s lack of recharging solutions. And on the software side, the otherwise impressive iOS continues to exhibit issues with marquee features such as Siri and Maps. So while this is Apple’s best iPhone, it’s still not the perfect iPhone, and understanding both its pros and cons up front will improve your experience should you decide to buy one.
As always, iLounge’s comprehensive 10-page review of the iPhone 5 has been assembled without any involvement from Apple, and is based upon our independent testing of multiple actual production units. Many hours of active testing, debate, and consideration have gone into this review. Enjoy it.