Apple has finally announced the long-awaited iPhone 5. Our iPhone 5 review is based upon our hands-on testing on the iPhone 5 that we were able to use at the press event, Apple’s iPhone 5 launch event, and in-depth analysis of known specifications and features. We will update it when we get a review model to assess.
Apple is accepting pre-orders for the device from Friday 14 September, and it will be available in stores on 21 September 2012. So this review can help you decide whether to rush out an order, upgrade from an earlier model of iPhone, or make this your first iPhone.
Our hands on with the iPhone 5
Not only does the new iPhone 5 feel considerably lighter than the iPhone 4S, it is surprising just how light and comfortable to hold it is. Apple claims it's 20 percent lighter than the iPhone 4S, and we would certainly agree. Perhaps it's years of experience with the iPhone 4 and then the iPhone 4S which had lead us to anticipate something much more weighty, but we were pleasantly surprised. We always felt that the iPhone 4/4S felt like it had a big heavy weight in the middle. With the iPhone 5 what weight there is feels evenly distributed, but we can't emphasise enough how little weight there is.
The new iPhone 5 is incredibly thin as well. Compared to the iPhone 4S, we'd say you could loose the black/white edging round the aluminium bevel that serves as the antenna, and what you'd be left with would be comparable to the new design, give or take a couple of millimetres. Potentially by being thinner your thumb has less far to reach around the iPhone 5, so the slimmer form factor contributes to the comfort of holding the device.
The design feels less edgy too – the sides of the iPhone 4/4S always struck us as sharp and very angular. This time round the edges feel a smoother, part of the "complex and ambitious" manufacturing process described by Apple designer Jony Ive in this Apple video about the new iPhone 5. Apple not only polishes and textures the surfaces, it uses crystaline diamonds to cut the edges.
When we first heard the rumours that the iPhone 5 would have a larger screen and therefore be bigger than its predecessors we were worried. Would smaller fingers and thumbs be able to reach areas of the screen comfortably? Watching Apple's presentation we were somewhat relieved to hear that Apple had thought of that. During his presentation Phil Schiller explained that one of the most important things to consider was that it should fit beautifully in your hand and that it should be easy for users to reach things with their thumb. This is why Apple says that while the phone is slightly longer, it is no wider. Holding the iPhone 5 is the real test of this, and we were again pleasantly surprised. Once in the hand we almost forgot the phone was any bigger, it felt completely natural. We didn't feel that we had to stretch our thumb any more than usual to reach things.
We had wondered whether the bigger screen would mean that the home button would be squashed onto a smaller area. The area below the screen isn't noticibly smaller, and the Home button seemed just the same as always.
The sides of the new iPhone
We had wondered whether there would be obvious differences to the antennae bezel, but looking at the stainless-steel band around the edge of the phone there wasn't anything noticeably different. There are still four points in the four corners where the antenna meet – those are the same joins that caused all the bother around antenna-gate when people found that by forming a seal over the gap, the iPhone 4 antenna wouldn't work as well. This time the joins seem less like gaps than on our iPhone 4S. We don't anticipate this being a problem for Apple with the iPhone 5.
At first glance you might think the right side is similar to the iPhone 4S, but it's not. The sim card slot is smaller – Apple has switched to a nano-SIM for the new iPhone. 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 left side looks similar to the iPhone 4S, although the mute switch is very slightly slimmer. The volume control 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.
The base of the iPhone 5 is where you see the biggest change. Other than the obvious change – the new Lightening port that is about a third of the size of the old dock port, the headphone jack is now at the base of the phone. Along with bigger speakers of differing lengths. At the base of the iPhone 5 were two screws either side of the Lightening port, these appear to be the same to the ones on the iPhone 4S.
With the headphone port moved to the bottom, the top of the iPhone 5 features only the on/off switch.
The screen and the back of the iPhone 5
We were particularly interested to get a look at the screen as we had heard that Apple had ditched Samsung as its screen supplier, with this first batch of iPhones using Sharp and LG screens. During the keynote presentation Apple made a big deal of the new screen, claiming that images are sharper, that the screen offers 44 percent more colour saturation for full sRGB colour, and that it will experience less glare in sunlight. We did our best to test the glare – we were 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.
As the various rumours and leaks had suggested, the back of the iPhone 5 is made from smooth anodized aluminium, the same material Apple uses for its MacBook laptops. This strikes us as a safer option than a completey glass back, as has been the case with the past two generations of iPhone. But Apple hasn't completely banished glass from the back of the iPhone: along the top and bottom of the back are inlays made from glass.
Also on the back is a redesigned layout for the camera, with more distance between the lens and flash, to accommodate a mic.
The iPhone 5 camera
Apple's boasting better low light performance and improved noise reduction with the new iSight camera in the iPhone. Just to make it even better, Apple's given it a sapphire crystal lens cover, which Apple says helps protect your lens and make your images clearer and sharper. Given the lowlight of the venue we took a few snaps to test the claims and they certainly appeared to be clearer images than the same shots taken with our iPhone 4S – looking closely we could see more detail in the gloomy background of the shot taken with the iPhone 5.
Apple couldn't confirm if the pictures or video were taken at a 16:9 aspect ratio, the most common ratio for widescreen TVs. Photos taken with the iPhone 5 fill the screen and look great, we imagine that if we looked at photos taken with an iPhone 4S on the iPhone 5 we'd see black bars on either side of the shot, in the same way that Apple says apps that haven't yet been designed to take advantage of the wider screen will have black boarders.
Ever since the first iPhone we've wondered why Apple hadn't offered a widescreen, given that movies and modern TV shows are filmed in that format. Finally our prayers have been answered and widescreen movies can take full advantage of the screen.
We like the idea of being able to take panorama shots with the iPhone 5. Unfortunately when we tried there was some sort of interference appearing in the shot. The Apple representative with us claimed that it was the first time he had seen it and proceeded to demonstrate Panoramas. When taking a Panorama shot the user is guided to keep the camera straight, there is a box that appears in the middle of the phone containing an arrow and a line. You aim to keep the arrow on the line, its a simple and intuitive way to train users to keep the phone straight. The process wasn't intuiitive enough for me, even before encountering the problem with interference, I began by holding the iPhone in landscape, before being told to take the panorama in portrait, as the Apple rep explained: "That way we get a wider shot from top to bottom". The finished product was good, although there was obvious warping, but we get the impression that it's supposed to be fun, rather than accurate.
Rather than being placed in the top left, the front-facing FaceTime camera is now placed in the middle. It's unlikely that this will make a big difference to where your face appears on your friend's screen. We're curious about the location of the proximity sensor, it appears above the the iPhone 4S speaker, but on the front of the black iPhone 5 we had trouble tracking it down.
Navigating the iPhone 5, the keyboard, and the new Dock connector
Apple told us that the extra long screen means you can see more of the webpage. 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.
Scrolling up and down on a webpage 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.
Regrding the keyboard (as seen on a new iPod touch above). In horizontal mode the keys are a bit wider. In portrait mode the lay out is the same. We still found it difficult to type.
The new Dock connector is still a fixed connection like the old iPhone dock connector, the main difference is it doesn't matter which way round it is when you plug it in. There had been some speculation that it would be similar in design to a micro USB plug, it is not.
We had a look at the new Maps app to see how well it coped in London, and tried to speak to Siri.
Unfortunately Siri couldn't hear us above the crowd. We don't know if this is because Apple now lacks the noise-reduction audio processing technology that had been licensed to it by Audience, Inc. This technology is key to Siri's operation. We'll certainly be testing this more at a later date.
As for Maps. There were 3D maps available for the few areas in the UK that we looked up, but the flyover maps were only available for the very centre of the cities we tried. For example, Macworld's offices on Euston Road were not covered by the Flyover maps, just standard 3D, but as we saw from the keynote, Big Ben is available in Flyover mode 3D.
How fast is the iPhone 5?
It was hard to test the performance of the iPhone 5 in the press centre where there were many devices vying for WiFi and 3G. That said, the phone was quick and responsive.
Will the iPhone 5 be available with 4G in the UK?
Apple has confirmed that the iPhone 5 will be available with Everything Everywhere (which is an umbrella brand for Orange and T-Mobile). Their 4G service will be available in London, Cardiff, Bristol and Birmingham in a few weeks time. EE says that 16 UK towns will have 4G by the end of the year.
More feature specific information is available on the next page.