iPhone 5 review
The iPhone 5 is more than just Apple's latest high-end smartphone. In a world of huge slabs of phone the iPhone's thin profile makes it different to the Galaxy S4, Sony Xperia Z, HTC One, BlackBerry Z10, Nokia Lumia 925 and the rest of the high-end phone lineup. For more comparisons see Group test: what's the best smartphone?; iPhone 5 vs iPhone 4S comparison review and Samsung Galaxy S3 vs Apple iPhone 5 comparison review.
In our iPhone 5 review we test the iPhone 5 performance, look at iPhone 5 build and design, and check out the iPhone 5 cameras. We also check out new iPhone 5 features and the iPhone 5's software.
iPhone 5 review: Performance
Confirmed by our lab tests, everything about the iPhone 5's performance has been augmented from its predecessor the iPhone 4S, in this contrarily smaller mobile phone handset.
It's not just a bit faster – it's 100 percent or more quicker in processor speed. Similarly in the graphics room, gamesters or anyone that needs grease-lightning visuals will be beaming from ear to ear at the step-change in sheer speed.
iPhone 5 review: A6 Processor
We can't honestly say that on any day we picked up an iPhone 4 or even 4S and thought ‘this is a great phone – but I just wish it could be a little bit faster'. Yet the new-found double-speed action does end up bringing you a device that's really just more moreish to use.
Apple is playing coy in the numbers game for the new A6 chip, although technicians who have dissected the phone are pointing to a much bigger breakthrough than may be obvious.
The A6 appears to be Apple's own in-house chip design, still using the ARM architecture but not as prèt-a-porter as most smartphone makers typically specify. It's still a dual-core processor, like that in the 4S, but memory is double the iPhone 4S' at 1GB.
Crucially, the architecture may be more like the as-yet unreleased ARM Cortex-A15 reference design rather than Cortex-A9 that has been staking out the ground for leading smartphone designs. The graphics engine now appears to be a tri-core processor too.
Clocked at 1.3GHz, the A6 chip may appear old-hat against the 1.4GHz quad-cores required for Android phones to feel slick. But in synthetic benchmarks, it was the fastest mobile chip you could purchase, when the iPhone 5 launched. It remains in the highest echelon alongside the Samsung Galaxy phones, the HTC One and the Sony Xperia Z.
iPhone 5 review: Benchmark Results
Apple says the new A6 processor is up to twice as fast as the A5 in the iPhone 4S. Our benchmarks of processor and memory performance with Geekbench 2 suggested that Apple was being economical with the truth – by understating the staggering increase in speed.
The iPhone 5 scored 1650 points in Geekbench 2, compared to the 4S' score of 632. That's over 2.6 times faster.
When it came to gaming performance, the iPhone 5 ran the Egypt HD test within the GLBenchmark 2.5 test at 38fps, which is exactly twice the framerate of the 4S' which scored 19fps.
In general use, the iPhone 5 feels incredibly snappy, opening apps and loading websites quicker than ever before. We haven't tried EE's new LTE service yet, but even web browsing over 3G feels appreciably faster.
We took a series of network speed tests over a short time period from the same location, using the same Three nano-SIM card. The iPhone 4S averaged 7.92 Mbps download, and 2.34 Mbps upload from our office location in London. Peak speed recorded in any single run was 8.78 Mbps.
The iPhone 5 is helped along by not just a faster processor but a more modern RF chipset for cellular data. It averaged 13.3 Mbps download and 2.52 Mbps upload. Peak speed hit a giddy 16.91 Mbps.
We have been seeing in excess of two days' battery life, suggesting that all the extra power is not having a major effect on runtime.
iPhone 5 review: Features
The stand-out outward attribute of the iPhone 5 is its larger screen. Not a huge expanse of space in both directions as Google's hardware friends have uniformly decided is the way to sway tech-loving buyers – notably the Samsung Galaxy S3 with its extravagant 4.8in display. The iPhone 5 raises its screen estate by simply extending the screen's height by 14mm, keeping the width identical.
The new 640 x 1136-pixel display is still IPS, only even richer in colour saturation while still looking more natural than the slightly cloying OLED alternatives. And importantly the Apple iPhone 5's screen still has the pixel-hiding Retina resolution of 326ppi.
Operating the iPhone 5 with its longer screen is a doddle. Unlike the semi-tablet sized phones with 4.5in or larger screens, you really can reach the whole screen to operate it easily still with just one hand. Pick up an iPhone 5 though, and you'll notice a new featherweight quality. Down at 115g against the 4S' 141g, it feels wafer-like, almost too light in fact. Beautifully balanced, its mass is evenly distributed to offset any bias toward top or bottom.
The build quality has been described as jewel-like with reason. Swiss watch is another inescapable analogy, echoed from Apple's sound bite at the iPhone 5's launch.
The move to aluminium construction may be a step in the right direction though; and not just by helping to lose headline grams from the all-up weight. It provides a more handleable object for the fingertips. Hardened glass front and back didn't just lend the iPhone 4 chic obsidian bling – it could make the handset a slippery slab. The iPhone 5 is now built around an anodised aluminium backplate that allows a tad more purchase in the hand. Durability may suffer a little though. In the case of the black model especially, daily use is likely to create small nicks in the anodised coating, so to keep the iPhone 5 pristine a case is as useful as ever.
In white, the iPhone 5 looks less juvenile than the 4S blanc; diamond-polished bevelled edges and a satin aluminium back make it much more unisex now. In black, it's pure stealth bomber, mixing brushed metal slate-anodised back with mirror polished front bevels and gleaming black glass front.
This tech user is not so convinced by the drive for thin though. Given the still all-too short runtime of today's handsets – and that includes the iPhone, despite it out-lasting every average fizzling Android – we would rather keep with something like 9.5mm and 141g if it meant using the space and weight budget wisely, with a battery to comfortably last three rather than two days.
A phone as light as the iPhone 5 also seems to leave no sensation of its presence in the pocket. It's a a matter of taste whether you like this idea or prefer to have some subtle clue that the phone is still there... or not. The iPhone 5 carries the flag for the newly born iOS 6 operating system, and this gently tweaked system creates continuity from the user experience of previous iPhones. Alongside the metal-banded frame, the now-familar interface is a key point of reference for the mainstream audience, copied the world over with varying degrees of accuracy and resulting litigation.
iPhone 5 review: Video
We continue our iPhone 5 review with a look at the iPhone 5's cameras.
iPhone 5 review: Cameras fore and aft
On the hardware side, the rear-facing camera is much the same as that in the iPhone 4S, able to shoot full-HD video at 30fps, with software image stabilisation. The change here is a new lens cover, now crafted from sapphire crystal for improved optical clarity and hopefully scratch resistance. The front-facing camera is now up to 1280 x 720-pixel resolution, which enables Apple's video chat service FaceTime in HD mode.
Attention to the human-device interface is found in various new audio systems, starting with an intriguing triple-mic assembly. This promises better fidelity through some kind of beamforming, a variation from earlier two-mic noise cancelling. As well as a new audio co-processor tucked inside, we're told there's support for Wideband audio, using more advanced data comms technology. It should expand the frequency range of the spoken voice to make conversation more life-like. Orange seems to be the only UK operator currently offering Wideband audio, and caller and callee both need compatible handsets.
The Wideband audio tech is not an Apple first, but given the handset's impeding uquity it should really encourage more networks to look into enabling the service.
For comparitive tests of the iPhone 5, iPhone 4S and Samsung Galaxy S3's cameras, see our story: iPhone 5 vs Galaxy S3 vs iPhone 4S video and photo comparison.
We also have for examples of panoramic images shot using the new panorama mode on the iPhone 5.
iPhone 5 review: Lightning
Updating the standard 30-pin dock connector that's been so widely tapped into for nine years was always going to upset some people. Thankfully its replacement looks to be future-proofed to survive as long in this quick-changing tech world.
The supplied Lightning cable is USB 2.0 rather than USB 3.0, although since iCloud syncing came online there's less need to transfer files over cable now. It's possible that future iterations of the cable may introduce USB 3.0, to let the connection live up to its lightning name.
The Lightning plug itself is reversible, able to be inserted either way, and has pin contacts that can adapt to the needs of the device. In other words, it should adapt to the changing needs of users and their devices in the next few years to come.
iPhone 5 review: New SIM
As expected, the iPhone 5 is taking an even smaller SIM card than the already diminuitive micro-SIM.
The nano-SIM will be a minor inconvenient speed bump to quick'n'easy switching until you've traded in your current SIM. Cutting down a micro-SIM may just be possible but is not advised.
Apple has replaced the Google-supplied mapping data for the Maps app with its own new system. It now uses vector-based graphics and text, which all scale smoothly.
But popular features such as Street View are no longer available. More worrying is the misplacing of landscape features, or the complete absence of crucial details – like railway stations.
Satellite imagery is also of poorer quality than before, with some of the images we've seen of UK scenery looking quite dour.
iOS 6 review: Maps
We've written an entire iOS 6 review, which has all the details - but here are a few thoughts on iOS Maps.
The Flyover feature is an attractive way to see buildings in 3D relief, but this is only available in select larger cities. And not on the iPhone 4, for instance.
Flying around the Thames embankment is great eye candy though, using two fingers to circle around the London Eye, for example.
Apple has stated that its new Maps feature is a work in progress but that doesn’t help users who’ve upgraded and were expecting the same functionality they’ve become used to from the built-in mapping feature.
Until Apple fixes this crucial part of its mobile operating system, a stopgap can be found by making a Home screen shortcut for Google or Bing’s online maps.
That won't help in apps like Find My Friends, though, which are stuck with Apple's deficient mapping function. This app has now been updated for iOS 6, and can use geofencing to alert you when a friend arrives at or departs from a chosen location.
The iPhone 5 really is much more than a tall iPhone 4S with a new plug. The people may demand a revolution every upgrade season. But Apple may just have supplied what the people need, not what they say they want. And that's a powerful evolution on the theme of iPhone which is currently putting the competiton back on the starting blocks.