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.
The iPhone 5’s box is actually longer and a little wider than the iPhone 4 and 4S packages—a first, and offset only by a slightly shorter height. Otherwise, very little has changed from the iPhone 4 to the iPhone 4S to the iPhone 5 in packaging; like the iPad and unlike most iPods, all iPhones remain packaged in thick cardboard boxes rather than see-through hard plastic, perhaps due to cardboard’s higher perceived value, or as a theft deterrent for stores.
Black iPhone 5s are shipped in jet black matte boxes, using glossy ink for the Apple and iPhone 5 logos that appear on its sides, while white iPhone 5s arrive in white matte boxes with silver foil branding. An iCloud logo that appeared on last year’s package has disappeared, and the iPhone 5’s slender profile has been emphasized with both a narrowed front-of-box photo and thinner Myriad Pro branding text on the sides. We’d characterize the packaging design as fine rather than impressive in any way; something new would be welcome next year.
On the other hand, plenty has changed inside the box. Apple now packages the iPhone 5 with a boxed set of its EarPods with Remote and Mic, which were released one week earlier, and as noted our our review represent a major improvement over the earlier Apple Earphones with Remote and Mic. While serious listeners will still want to invest in or continue to use fancier models, this is an even better starter set than before. Apple includes a hard plastic carrying case with the EarPods, as well.
Still inside is Apple’s diminutive iPhone wall charger, which was recently renamed the 5W USB Power Adapter, yet looks and works exactly the same way as before: it supplies 1 Amp of power to the iPhone 5, enough to let the device’s battery refuel even while it’s being used for most purposes. Apple has replaced the classic 30-Pin Dock Connector to USB Cable with a new Lightning to USB Cable, more fully discussed here. Like the EarPods, the USB Power Adapter and Lightning to USB Cable are predominantly white with gray and silver accents, each using glossy plastic that’s attractive-looking but very narrowly tailored, and slippery to the touch.
Inside a cardboard sleeve, Apple also includes a conversationally written, photo-illustrated Quick Start Guide titled “Hello,” notably making zero reference to the iPhone 5 name, as well as an ultra-thin single-page regulatory and warranty page. Two large Apple logo stickers are also inside the sleeve, but one thing—a SIM card removal tool—was not, at least with the multiple U.S.-purchased iPhones we tested. To eject the iPhone 5’s SIM card tray and new “nano-SIM,” which is functionally identical to prior SIM cards but smaller and physically incompatible, you’ll need to self-supply a paperclip or find an old Apple removal tool, instead. International iPhone customers, including Canadian iPhone 5 buyers, will likely find this tool included with their devices, and it looks basically the same as the original version Apple shipped years ago.