Review: iPhone evolves into jewel-like '5'

Sep 22, 2012 by Peter Svensson

If you run your finger over one of the joints where plastic and metal meet on the rim of the iPhone 5, you feel just the slightest hint of the seam. The materials have been machined to blend into one another with astonishing, jewel-like precision.

This is the essence of : creating a product that looks and feels so good, you just know it has to be good.

The iPhone 5 lives up to its looks in the sense that it's the best iPhone yet. It's also the biggest overhaul to the line since the release of the 3G, four years ago. Compared to other high-end smartphones, however, it's more of a catch-up move.

The iPhone has a winning recipe already, and Apple's upgrades are careful and thoughtful. Beyond the beauty and thinness of it, there are no new hardware features you can't get with other phones.

For instance, the screen is bigger, but not big. It's the first time Apple is increasing the screen size of the , from a diagonal of 3.5 inches (8.9 centimeters) to one of 4 inches (10 centimeters). The width has stayed the same, so the entire increase has come from making the screen taller.

Other makers have increased their screen sizes in the last few years, after realizing that a big screen is something customers like —and something Apple had refused to provide. Samsung's flagship Galaxy S III has a 4.8-inch (12.2-centimeter) screen, for instance.

The taller screen means that third-party apps will be hemmed in by black bars until the developers get around to updating them for the new dimensions.

The other major upgrade in the iPhone 5 is that it now comes with the ability to connect to "LTE" networks in the U.S., Canada, and a few other countries. These are the latest, fastest , and they'll make a huge difference, at least for Sprint and customers, who have been stuck on the relatively slow, older networks of those carriers (though Sprint customers will be hard pressed to find any LTE towers—the company has just started building out the network.) For AT&T customers, the difference will be noticeable but not as big.

When it comes to LTE, Apple is trailing the pack. The company skipped the first generation of LTE-capable chips, which went into competing phones as far back as a year and a half ago, because they were too power-hungry. Now that the chips have improved and LTE is a near-standard feature in smartphones, Apple is coming on board.

Apple is pushing the envelope on screen technology by adopting a display that eliminates one glass layer. Ahead of Apple's announcement, company watchers were betting it would use the space freed up by the new technology to increase the battery size for the benefit of LTE users, keeping the size of the phone the same.

But Apple has actually made the phone considerably thinner, while keeping the stated battery life at an impressive eight hours of LTE usage (I did not have enough time with the phone to test this claim).

This, along with obsessive attention to fit and finish, makes for an exquisitely tight, light phone that seems perfect for the hand.

The phone is really too pretty to cover with a case—I'd get a good insurance plan for it instead. The glass on most of the back has been replaced with frosted aluminum, which will probably scratch and wear considerably, but it should be less fragile than the notoriously breakage-prone backs on the 4 and 4s.

One victim of the slimmed-down body is the old connection port. It was just too big to survive. Apple has replaced it with a much smaller port it calls "Lightning." This means the won't fit into your iPod dock. Old charging cables won't work, either. You'll have to buy an exquisitely overpriced $29 adapter from Apple or wait for knock-offs.

It would have been nice, and uncharacteristic, of Apple to go with the flow and use the micro-USB port every other phone uses these days. That way, you could charge iPhones with other chargers, and vice versa. The Lightning port is better than micro-USB because it provides a deeper, more secure fit and it's reversible, you don't have to worry about whether you're trying to fit in the cable upside-down. But as the number of gadgets in the home keeps rising, standardizing on one port would have been welcome help with managing the chargers.

There's something else that now has a deeper, more secure fit: the new earbuds. These "EarPods" are completely redesigned. Instead of broad, round speakers, they have small, oval outlets that beam sound into the ear canal. The sound quality is outstanding. They can be bought separately for $29, and this time, that price tag looks modest.

The hardware updates mean that I'm still comfortable recommending the iPhone as the best phone out there. They don't break much new ground, but they support the things that really set the iPhone apart: the slick, reliable operating system and the multitude of high-quality, third-party applications. There's a reason Apple can sell two-year-old phones (like the "4'') while other manufacturers retire theirs after a year or less. The phenomenon is about so much more than the phone.

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User comments : 12

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alfie_null
3.3 / 5 (3) Sep 22, 2012
Apple and its iThings are an interesting phenomenon. I know people who are otherwise fairly rational for whom there was no question about standing in line hours just to be in an ephemeral group of "first to have" owners of an iPhone. I'd at least wait a few months to give a chance to resolve the issues that will come up with the first production run.
omatwankr
3 / 5 (12) Sep 22, 2012
"If you run your finger over one of the joints where plastic and metal meet on the rim of the iPhone 5,"

Please just get a room, we don't need the visuals of you rim-jobing your iPhOnE, next you will be snorting coke out of it tight new little port.
ValeriaT
3.7 / 5 (3) Sep 22, 2012
product that looks and feels so good, you just must believe it has to be good
This could be perceived as somewhat psychopathic trait of Apple products (a perfectionists heritage of Steve Jobs) - so it will definitely find its customers. BTW Did you know, People magazine included Romney in its 50 Most beautiful people list for 2002?
ackack
3.5 / 5 (11) Sep 22, 2012
The preceding is a paid announcement...

Did no one else read this as an advertisement for the iPhone 5?
Meyer
3.7 / 5 (12) Sep 22, 2012
And now, a word from our sponsors...
TehDog
3.2 / 5 (6) Sep 22, 2012
The preceding is a paid announcement...

Did no one else read this as an advertisement for the iPhone 5?

Nope. I thought it was pretty fair and balanced considering he probably only had it for a couple of hours, he mentioned the non-standard ports, plus that Apple are usually behind the curve on new features. Me, I have 4 android devices, and would never consider buying an ipad or iphone, but I also accept that the idevices are great for those who use them, they are (usually) well designed and made, and have decent UI's.
Overpriced, with a walled garden market, but some folks are happy with that.
(I can't believe I just wrote that, I'm a notorious Apple hater...)
Noumenon
4.8 / 5 (43) Sep 22, 2012
The catagory is "electronics: consumer & gadgets".
Skepticus
Sep 22, 2012
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
chromosome2
5 / 5 (1) Sep 22, 2012
I've been scouring the internet for days trying to find out if the iPhone 5 screen is finally bringing Indium Gallium Zinc Oxide to market or not, and I come back to physorg to see "Oh god, it's so smooth and shiny" with absolutely nothing that didn't already know. Look, there's engagdet and gizmodo for that. Stick to science plzkthx

Edit: I see this is properly categorized-- can I view the site without this category?
ValeriaT
5 / 5 (1) Sep 22, 2012
Noumenon
4.7 / 5 (46) Sep 22, 2012
I heard they also own a patent for, putting things on top of other things.
Eikka
5 / 5 (2) Sep 23, 2012
Did no one else read this as an advertisement for the iPhone 5?


No. I just came here to see the commentary. I don't read advertisements.
randith
1 / 5 (1) Sep 24, 2012
but I also accept that the idevices are great for those who use them


That's just it, I am fine with products that I dislike being sold. After all, if millions of people like Apple products, who am I to say they shouldn't have them?

But now that Apple is bullying others in the market and making things *worse off* for everybody else, every Apple purchase becomes a moral issue. Pretending that it's not is like pretending that voting isn't a moral issue--your vote has direct effects on other people's lives. So does an Apple purchase.

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