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Hands on with the iPhone 5

Our initial hands on review of the new iPhone

Apple recently launched the iPhone 5, the sixth generation of its ground-breaking smartphone, running iOS 6. Here is our initial hands on with the iPhone 5, from 12 September. Read our full iPhone 5 review for the definitive verdict.

Key upgrades to the iPhone 5 from previous generations include a bigger screen housed in a thinner shell. There's a faster processor, an improved camera, and much better connectivity - including 4G. But Apple says that the battery life will match that of the iiPhone 4S.

The iPhone 5 costs from £529 comes in 16GB, 32GB and 64GB capacities.

The iPhone 5 is the first generation of Apple smartphone to face stiff competition from Android devices such as the hugely successful Samsung Galaxy S3, as well as the upcoming Nokia Lumia 920 and 820 Windows 8 Phones. In our initial iPhone 5 review we bring you details- and hands on first impressions of the iPhone 5. See also: Group test: what's the best smartphone?

Several PC Advisor contributors have spent time with the new iPhone at the launch events in San Francisco and London this evening. Below we intersperse their first impressions of the iPhone 5 with details of the iPhone 5's specifications. We'll bring you a full review of the iPhone 5 shortly after it launches on 21 September.

For further reading about the iPhone 5, check out: iPhone 5 specs and features and Apple launches iPhone 5.

Video: iPhone 5 review

iPhone 5: Design, display

iPhone 5The iPhone 5 maintains the traditional iPhone candy-bar design, with a bigger 4in touchscreen that has an improved resolution of 1136x640 pixels. Those pixels are packed right in, giving the iPhone 5 a so-called Retina display with 326 dots per inch. The display is a similar width to the iPhone 4s, but taller in portrait mode. Apple has used this space - in part - to add an extra row of four apps on the bottom of all app-listing screens. This works well, packing in more data, without making the screen feel cramped.

Significantly, the iPhone 5 eschews the 3:2 ratio format of all its predecessor iPhones, with a 16:9 ratio display. In our hands on testing we found this was great for watching widescreen movies - the black bars have no disappeared.

Indeed our hands on tests show that the Video app works really well with the new 16:9 format of the display. 16:9 is the international standard for HDTV, and the new screen makes viewing video and television a much better experience.

Apple has now ditched Samsung as its screen supplier, with the iPhone 5's screen made by Sharp and LG. We did our best to test the glare, albeit in a room with lots of fluorescent lighting, and it certainly seemed to be the case that the reflection of the lighting was more apparent on the screen of our iPhone 4S. We also found that we could see the screen of the iPhone 5 more clearly from a wider viewing angle.

Be warned, however, that it will require existing apps to be redesigned for the new screen, so older third-party apps look less good on the iPhone 5, for now. It shouldn't take long for developers to update their wares, and in the meantime the apps will work but with black bars to fill in the spaces.

Viewing photographs is also not so successful, our hands on tests suggest. Most photos are snapped in 4:3 ratio, so viewing them on the iPhone 5 means more black borders. Indeed, the iPhone 5's Camera app takes photographs in 4:3 mode, although there is also now a panorama mode with which you can pan left or right to take a huge panoramic shot. We didn't have chance to test this feature... but we will!

We looked at Apple's iPhone 5 web page on the iPhone 5 and iPhone 4S and there was a difference of about six lines of text, in favour of the iPhone 5. Scrolling up and down on a web page is just the same, the only difference is that the scroll bar is longer on the iPhone 5. There is also a full screen view with an overlay to make navigation between web pages easier.

Despite the bigger, better display, the iPhone 5 handset is thinner and lighter than its predecessor, measuring 123.8x58.6x7.6mm and weighing just 112g. This is noticeably lighter than the iPhone 4S, which is quite an achievement for a phone with improved specifications.

The bigger screen means the iPhone 5’s keyboard is now wider in horizontal mode, with slightly wider key. In our hands-on tests we found that this makes it slightly easier to use (in landscape format, at least).

The iPhone 5, then, is slightly longer but no wider. Holding the iPhone 5 we were pleasantly surprised - it feels completely natural. We didn't feel that we had to stretch our thumb any more than usual to reach things. 

Across the top of the iPhone 5 can be found the lock/unlock button as before. It is a similar size and has the same feel as before, as do the volume buttons, and the volume/rotation switch which is still situated on the left side. You can welcome back the familiar physical home button on the front at the bottom, now set into a slightly smaller place. Despite the different shape our hands-on tests suggest that long-term iPhone users will not need to familiarise themselves with this device.

The left side looks similar to the iPhone 4S, then, although the mute switch is very slightly slimmer. The up and down buttons are identically placed. We'd heard a rumour that the vibrate response you get when you switch the iPhone mute button was different, but it felt exactly the same to us.

It's at the base of the iPhone 5 that you see the biggest change. The new Lightening port is roughly a third of the size of the old dock port, and the headphone jack is now at the base of the phone, along with bigger speakers. The top of the iPhone 5 now features only the on/off switch.

Looking at the stainless-steel band around the edge of the phone there isn't anything noticeably different from the iPhone 4S. There are four points in the four corners where the antenna meet. This time the joins seem less like gaps than on our iPhone 4S. The sim card slot is smaller, because Apple has switched to a nano-SIM for the new iPhone.

The Apple iPhone 5 takes a new kind of SIM card, the nano-SIM. This is even smaller than the micro-SIM used by the iPhone 4, 4S and iPad, so if you have one of these devices you won’t be able to simply swap SIM cards.

The new nano-SIM shrinks the card, removing just a few millimetres of extraneous plastic from previous micro-SIMs. This new nano-SIM card measures just 12.3 x 8.8mm, and its thickness has also been reduced fractionally, from 0.76mm of the 1FF, 2FF and 3FF cards, to 0.67mm. See also: Apple iPhone 5 nano-SIM: what you need to know.

Talking about her experience using the iPhone 5, Macworld UK editor and PC Advisor contributor Karen Haslam said: "it is surprising just how light and comfortable to hold it is... we were pleasantly surprised."

She said the iPhone 5 is noticeably lighter than the iPhone 4S, and well-balanced when held in the hand. The new iPhone 5 is 'incredibly thin' and 'less edgy' too, says Haslam.

"The sides of the iPhone 4/4S always struck us as sharp and very angular. This time round the edges feel a smoother, this is down to the “complex and ambitious” manufacturing process described by Apple designer Jony Ive in this Apple's video about the new iPhone 5. Apple not only polishes and textures the surfaces, it uses "crystaline diamonds" to cut the edges." 

iPhone 5: Build quality

The iPhone 5 is a premium quality smartphone, and it has the build quality to match. Indeed, our hands on testing suggests that Apple has upped the ante here, somewhat.

Like previous iPhones, the front of the iPhone 5 is a solid sheet of glass. Now, however, white iPhone 5 has an anodized aluminium backplate, rather than a glass backside. The black iPhone 5 now has what Apple refers to as a slate black back.

At first blush both new materials feel more solid and less prone to damage than did the iPhone 4S. The white iPhone 5's back feels similar to the anodised aluminium of Apple’s MacBooks and iMac range. It feels solid, but premium.

So the changes to the iPhone 5's build have added sturdiness without bulk.

iPhone 5: Hardware

iPhone 5The iPhone 5 is powered by an A6 processor. Apple is being typically reticent about the clock speed and RAM, but we reckon it has 1GB RAM - Apple says the iPhone 5 is 'twice as fast' as its predecessor, and expect a quad-core chip and quad-core graphics. This puts it on a par with other high-end smartphones. We haven't yet had a chance to run our GeekBench 2 or SunSpider JavaScript tests, but will do so and update this iPhone 5 review over the next few weeks. We found the iPhone 5 coped well in general use, offering the expected snappy performance for general tasks.

Built-in storage is limited to 16GB, 32GB or 64GB. Typically, there are no expansion storage slots available, although you do get access to iCloud, of course. And in terms of connectivity, the iPhone 5 offers Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS, and is the first major UK smartphone to take advantage of 4G connectivity.

The full list of connectivity options for the iPhone 5 is (takes deep breath): UMTS/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz); GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz); LTE (Bands 4 and 17); CDMA EV-DO Rev. A and Rev. B (800, 1900, 2100 MHz); UMTS/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz); GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz); LTE (Bands 1, 3, 5, 13, 25); GSM model A1429: UMTS/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz); GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz); and Bluetooth 4.0.

The iPhone 5 will be available from Everything Everywhere with 4G. 4G stands for the fourth generation mobile network. In short, it is faster mobile broadband internet for devices like smartphones.

The 4G network has been switched on for testing and isn't available for the general public to use yet. EE hasn't given a specific date for its availability telling us that it will be fully launching in 'a few weeks', and in 16 cities before Christmas.

Another new piece of tech that hasn’t had much exposure is Wideband audio. This is supported by 20 Carriers, including Orange in the UK and fills up more of the frequency for better sounding calls.

The iPhone 5's earpiece now has noise-cancellation technology  Also new to the iPhone 5 is a third microphone: there are now mics front, back, and bottom. Together these changes should help improve the quality of voice calls over traditional cellular connectivity and FaceTime. (It might help our poor old Siri, too.)  We'll be testing this out in our full review.

NEXT PAGE: the iPhone 5's cameras, software and added extras >>

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