Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Apple iPhone 5 review: Is This Apple's best phone yet???


The iPhone 5. As in five million units sold over the course of a … weekend. Can't say no to that. This is the latest installment in the smartphone series that changed the mobile phone industry and we can understand people couldn't wait. Now, what is it they couldn't wait for?
The Apple iPhone 5 brings the long anticipated larger screen and more capable internals that we already know are ready to trade blows with the most powerful chipsets out there.

Apple iPhone 5 official photos
There's also the new slender, slimmer body that no photos really do justice to. If all of Apple's claims are true then the iPhone 5 is a real engineering masterpiece - double the performance in a more compact package without sacrificing anything in terms of battery life.
They could've done worse. A lot worse. But this is Apple telling you to prepare to be wowed. So you have every right to play hard-to-please.

Key features

  • Quad-band GSM and quad-band 3G support with 14.4 Mbps HSDPA and 5.76 Mbps HSUPA
  • LTE support where carriers support it and CDMA support when sold by CDMA carriers
  • 4" 16M-color LED-backlit IPS TFT capacitive touchscreen of 640 x 1136px resolution
  • Scratch-resistant screen glass, fingerprint-resistant coating
  • 1.2GHz dual-core custom-designed CPU, PowerVR SGX543MP3 GPU, 1GB of RAM, Apple A6 SoC
  • iOS 6 and iCloud integration
  • 8 MP autofocus camera with LED flash and touch focus
  • 1080p video recording at 30fps
  • 1.2MP secondary front-facing camera
  • Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n, Wi-Fi hotspot
  • GPS with A-GPS connectivity; digital compass
  • 16/32/64GB storage options
  • Accelerometer, proximity sensor and a three-axis gyro sensor
  • Active noise cancellation with a dedicated secondary microphone
  • Standard 3.5 mm audio jack, stereo Bluetooth v4.0
  • Excellent audio output quality (though worse than 4S)
  • Apple Maps with free voice-guided navigation in 56 countries
  • Voice recognition, Siri virtual assistant
  • Supports HD Voice (needs carrier support too)
  • FaceTime video calls over Wi-Fi and cellular
  • Impressively slim and light
  • Great battery life


Main disadvantages

  • Aluminum body looks cool but is easy to scratch
  • Proprietary connector, incompatible with previous-gen accessories (needs adapter)
  • The new display is not proportionally bigger, but only taller
  • Unadapted apps run letterboxed due to the unusual resolution
  • nano-SIM support only
  • Apple Maps app not up to scratch
  • No USB Mass Storage mode
  • No FM radio
  • No stereo speakers
  • No microSD card slot
  • No NFC connectivity (though that may be nitpicking)
  • Stuck with iTunes for loading content
  • Mono audio recording in videos
Should the iPhone 5 be worried about not doing quite enough in terms of new design and features? That question sounds ridiculous considering the sales numbers. But there's a long-term perspective that goes beyond a record-breaking opening weekend.
Apple iPhone 5 Apple iPhone 5 Apple iPhone 5 Apple iPhone 5
The Apple iPhone 5 live photos
People who thought the iPhone 4S was a half-hearted effort, are rightfully expecting the iPhone 5 to be the real upgrade of the brilliant iPhone 4. In the end, though, there's more to a smartphone's real worth than dry specs. Apple has, on multiple occasions, been able to produce devices that are better than the sum of their parts and few will be surprised at the iPhone 5 pulling off a similar trick.
Apple iPhone 5 Apple iPhone 5 Apple iPhone 5
We also took the Black and Slate version for a spin
There's no time to waste, so follow us to the next page for the unboxing and hardware inspection of Apple's latest. We'll also take a close look at that sweet new display and see whether the claims about it being the most advanced in business hold water.

Display: Retina extended

The Apple iPhone 5 comes with a brand new 4" IPS LCD with a resolution of 640 x 1136 pixels, which adds up to a pixel density of 326ppi. This makes Apple's latest smartphone the first mobile device from the company to feature a 16:9 aspect screen.
The change in aspect ratio means that the iPhone 5 display is actually just 21% bigger than the iPhone 4S LCD screen, instead of the 25% increase the difference in the diagonal suggests. However the iPhone 5 display is still 44% smaller than that of the Galaxy S III and nearly 31% smaller than that of the Nokia Lumia 920.
Apple iPphone 5
The updated Retina display has 21% larger surface and better image quality
So while Apple has responded to demands for a larger screen on their iPhone, they made sure they didn't cross any lines to just stay in the race with Google and Microsoft powered flagships. The reason for the cautious upgrade is the company's aim to make the iPhone 5 as easy to operate with one hand as its predecessor.
The truth is that all the back buttons in iOS are located in the top corner so you need to slightly readjust your grip to have the same kind of usability, but it's really a minor thing so we'd say Apple has done a good job with that goal in mind. However, we prefer a screen that's proportionally bigger in both directions - this would have made much sense in the web browser, games and even with text input, where it would have allowed for a bigger keyboard.
Apple iPphone 5 Apple iPphone 5
The iPhone 5 is quite easy to operate with one hand
What's more, the display update consists of more than just some extra estate and the pixels needed to justify the Retina moniker. Apple has also worked hard to make the colors as accurate as possible and you can clearly tell the difference. Our tests also show a in sunlight legibility, due to the new glass that reduces reflectivity.
Display test 50% brightness 100% brightness
Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio
Apple iPhone 5 0.13 200 1490 0.48 640 1320
Apple iPhone 4S 0.14 205 1463 0.52 654 1261
Apple iPhone 4 0.14 189 1341 0.39 483 1242
Samsung I9300 Galaxy S III 0 174 0 330
Samsung Galaxy Note II 0 253 0 478
HTC One X 0.15 200 1375 0.39 550 1410

Thanks to the reduced reflectivity, the iPhone 5 also has far deeper perceivable blacks in almost every environment. When you have black image on the screen of the 4S you easily see where the display ends and the bezel starts. The same thing is much harder to do on the iPhone 5.
And here's how the Apple iPhone 5 display matrix compares to that of its predecessor. You can clearly see that while the density is the same, pixels look notably "punchier" now.

Apple iPhone 5 • Apple iPhone 4S

Apple iPhone 5 • Apple iPhone 4S
Another area of improvement is that the actual screen is even closer to the glass surface than before. We'd say it's also a little bit more sensitive to the touch. Both these improvements probably stem from the new in-cell touch layer, which has literally been integrated inside the LCD unit rather than sitting as a layer on top of it.
There's no denying the fact the iPhone 5 screen is truly impressive. It's the best on any iPhone so far and probably has the best per-pixel quality in the LCD business (whether or not you prefer the more saturated AMOLEDs is a different story altogether).
However, on the current market it's just not as mind-blowing as the iPhone 4 screen was, when the last Apple screen update came. When put side by side with an HTC One X or an Optimus 4X HD, the iPhone 5 Retina display looks a tad less impressive, simply because of its size. And it's no longer the highest res unit available on a smartphone either.

Superb camera experience with Panorama

The camera on the iPhone 5 uses the same 8 megapixel sensor as the one on the iPhone 4S, producing stills of 3264x2448 pixels resolution. However, this time the camera module is 18% smaller and there's a cool new Panorama feature which is a part of iOS6.
The camera interface has seen only cosmetic changes, over the previous iOS build. The shutter button is silver and circular on the iPhone 5, instead of the compared to the ellipse on the 4S.
The new feature that got the most attention is the Panorama mode, which is available for the iPhone 5, iPod Touch (5th generation) and the iPhone 4S. It won't available on the New iPad's 5MP iSight camera just like the HDR mode before it.
Panorama mode is accessed through the Options tab in the camera app. It works only in portrait mode and from left to right, but is easy and intuitive enough. You just move your iPhone 5 in the direction the arrow points and the software will automatically tell you to slow down or speed up.
Apple Iphone 5 Apple Iphone 5 Apple Iphone 5
The new Camera design • Panorama
Other than that, nothing has really changed. You can enable a grid in the viewfinder to help you with framing or you can turn on the high dynamic range mode. It shoots a couple of shots simultaneously with different exposures and outputs a single photo with increased dynamic range. You can opt to preserve the original photos too.
The camera on the iPhone 5 continues Apple's dedication in bringing quality imaging to its customers. It produces very good images with lots of fine detail and great color reproduction.

iPhone 5 camera samples
Noise levels are decent on the iPhone 5, though we've seen smartphones do way better.

iPhone 5 camera samples
The iPhone 5 Panorama mode is really good and offers a simple process with a seamless stitching and seamless processing, which is done in just seconds.
The stitching process is very fast and when done properly you won't notice where the individual photos have been patched up. Images come out with a maximum resolution of 28 megapixels and are saved in regular JPEG format.

iPhone 5 Panoramas (click for larger image)
In terms of macro photography the iPhone 5 can get up as close 5-6 cm from the desired target and get a very detailed image.

iPhone 5 macro samples

iPhone 5 vs iPhone 4S mini shootout

To give you a better idea of the iPhone 5 camera capabilities, we decided to do a quick shootout against its predecessor, which is still one of the most capable 8MP cameraphones around.
One of the first things we noticed when we compared photos from the two phones is that the new iPhone 5 camera has a slightly wider angle of view than the one in the 4S - 4.13mm vs. 4.28mm (or about 34mm vs. 35mm in 35mm terms). It's a minor difference, though, and one that shouldn't affect your shooting habits.
The first pair of photos is of a building with a fine texture on its walls, which usually makes spotting the difference in resolved detail pretty easy. When it comes to the two iPhones, however, it is not.
The roughness of the wall is slightly more apparent in the iPhone 5 photo and the yellow and orange colors are slightly more accurate, but you really need to be looking at 100% to spot the difference

iPhone 4S vs iPhone 5
Then we picked a photo of a building in the sun and focused on the part of it that's in the shade. Here the iPhone 5 demonstrates better contrast and a slightly lower amount of noise, plus slightly better sharpness.

iPhone 4S vs iPhone 5
The next image is of a petrol station's banner in the sun. Here the images are almost too close to call, but the iPhone 5 shows slightly better color rendering and a bit less noise in the shadow area.

iPhone 4S vs iPhone 5
Finally, a photo that is mostly blue sky and blue windows (blue parts of images typically have more noise in the photos than the other two primary colors). Once again, we see better contrast and lower noise in the iPhone 5 photo over the 4S one, though the differences are pretty minor.

iPhone 4S vs iPhone 5
Apple bragged about the improved low-light performance of the iPhone 5 camera compared to the 4S. Here are our samples, taken with a tripod, at the same time, from the same spot. We can safely say that the difference is close to none. Both phones produced stellar images with good overall detail but were a bit on the noisy side.

iPhone 4S vs iPhone 5 low-light stills
As we mentioned, the iPhone 5 camera module is smaller than the one in the 4S in order to fit into the thinner phone, so just not losing image quality would have been quite an acceptable result this year. Apple even managed to squeeze out slightly better photos out of the iPhone 5, which is commendable.
Still, if you have an iPhone 4S, you have nothing to be jealous of - you will barely see any improvement in image quality if you upgrade

Image quality comparison

We've added the latest and greatest iPhone to our photo quality comparison tool and have put it against the likes of the iPhone 4S and the Samsung Galaxy S III. The tool's page will give you additional information on what to look out for.
Photo Compare Tool Photo Compare Tool Photo Compare Tool
Apple iPhone 5 in our Photo Compare Tool

Great 1080p video recording, useless simultaneous image capture

The camcorder user interface is almost identical to the still camera one. The shutter button here however overlays the viewfinder's feed, which stretches from edge to edge as the video is the same aspect as the screen.
Apple Iphone 5 Apple Iphone 5
The Camcorder app One of the main new video recording features of the iPhone 5 is simultaneous video and image capture. What this means is that while recording video you can also take photos with the camera. The feature didn't make its way to the iPhone 4S, which is very odd to us.
The thing, in this case the Apple's iPhone 5 doesn't capture 8 MP photos, but 2 MP ones instead. This makes the whole feature utterly useless because what you get is basically one of the frames of your video. Given that Android flagships have had full-res stills while recording videos for half a year now, we are rather surprised that Apple didn't get this right.
In terms of actual video capture the iPhone 5 does a great job, as expected. The videos run smoothly, there's a great amount of detail and focusing is fast and accurate.
Videos have a bitrate of around 17Mbps, the framerate hovers around the 29 fps mark, while audio bitrate is 63Kbps. What we find really frustrating is that Apple still doesn't utilize the full potential of the iPhone's microphones and the videos recorded with the iPhone 5 come with mono sound, which is particularly bad considering it has three mics on board.
Here's a direct download link to a 1080p video sample taken straight off the iPhone 5.

Video quality comparison

Check out the iPhone 5 in our video comparison tool against the iPhone 4S and Samsung's Galaxy S III.
Video Compare Tool Video Compare Tool Video Compare Tool
Apple iPhone 5 in our Video Compare Tool

Final words

There are many sides to the Apple iPhone 5's story. You can, for example, look at the progress it makes and compare it to the last major Apple release, the iPhone 4. That one was truly revolutionary - or, as the saying went back then, resolutionary. It had the most impressive screen on the market, a camera that few could beat, an incredibly attractive design, and processing power that equaled the most impressive droids at the time.
In comparison, the iPhone 5 brings a modest screen update, which is nowhere near as impressive as a four-fold increase in resolution brought by the iPhone 4. The performance of the camera is basically identical to the one on the 4S, and while the phone looks nothing short of stunning, the finish threatens to deteriorate quite quickly if not looked after. Not to mention that it just lacks the wow factor of the iPhone 4.
All we're left with is a surprisingly solid chipset - and we mean a surprise that most quad-cores will hardly call pleasant. But at the end of the day, Apple has failed to live up to its own upgrade standard set with the iPhone 4. What we mean is the iPhone 4S could get away with many things but not the iPhone 5 - not a second year in a row.
Yes, another side to the story is the upgrader's dilemma. So you have an iPhone already and you love it, but you are looking for ways to take that iOS experience a step further. Is the iPhone 5 the device you were hoping to get?
If you own the iPhone 4, then probably yes. At this point your home-button is probably starting to give up on you (those are known not to age well), you are looking to get some extra speed and a little extra screen estate, without writing off the investments you made in apps and the iPhone 5 delivers that easily. True, the screen could have grown a little more and the anodized aluminum case could have been more durable, but the latest iPhone is still a worthy upgrade. And a real no-brainer if you own one of the older generations of the Apple smartphones.
Apple iPhone 4
Apple iPhone 4
Things are far less straightforward if you have the iPhone 4S, though. Sure, the iPhone 5 is faster and slimmer, but is that enough to warrant the pricey upgrade? Given that the 3.5" screen is so easy to manage with one hand, you probably won't really feel much difference from the slimmer waistline. The camera is the same and the pixel density has no room for improvement, so all you'll be getting is more speed (to what's by no means a slow device) and some extra height to the screen.
Apple iPhone 4S
Apple iPhone 4S
Turn another page and you see the iPhone 5 right in the middle of a heated smartphone battle. The Android open-source army is as strong as ever, while Windows Phone 8 has finally emerged as a real alternative for those, who don't mind a closed ecosystem such as Apple's.
The new Apple has a couple of strong arguments in its favor. Firstly, the A6 chipset is one of the snappiest around and is ready to face anything you throw at it. It may not win every fight, but it will never suffer humiliating defeats either. Secondly, the iPhone 5 is arguably the best looking of all the smartphones around. That weapon would have been even more potent, had it not been for the aluminum finish quality issues.
However, the iPhone 5 was let down by what has been the lineup's greatest strength thus far. We are talking the iOS 6 operating system, which seems to be falling behind the curve. After the fiasco with the new Apple Maps some are even saying that iOS 6 is a step backwards from iOS 5. Now, we wouldn't go that far as the new OS release teaches the iPhone family plenty of new tricks, but we can't overlook the fact either that while Android finally caught up in terms of fluidity and smoothness, iOS is yet to match the functionality of its competitors.
That's why the Galaxy S III and the HTC One X will sleep well, knowing very few (if any) of their owners will be tempted to jump ship. The LG Optimus G will also be glad to know that it's entering a game with a very open end, rather than being brought to the slaughter.
Samsung I9300 Galaxy S III HTC One X LG Optimus G E973
Samsung I9300 Galaxy S III • HTC One X • LG Optimus G E973
The Nokia Lumias and the HTC Windows Phones will also probably find reasons to cheer in the fact that they are finally ready to trade blows with the iPhone, instead of taking the punching bag role of their predecessors. Even though the Microsoft platform still has a long way to go to match the two industry heavyweights, it now has more trumps in its hand than just the bargain price.
Nokia Lumia 920 HTC Windows Phone 8X
Nokia Lumia 920 • HTC Windows Phone 8X
The great news for Apple is that the closed ecosystem is yet again working in their favor. We wouldn't want to underplay the loyalty of Apple fans but a commitment like that is hard to back out of for purely financial reasons too. iPhone users can be anything from pleased, faithful and devoted, to addicted, but a tiny bit of that involves protecting their investment in apps, services and interconnected Apple devices.
Furthermore, if you are only now looking to join the Apple family, you don't need to look any further than the latest. The price difference is negligible between an iPhone 5 and a brand new 4S.
In conclusion, the Apple iPhone 5 is a very solid effort, a purchase which few are likely to regret. However, it fails to be one of the revolutionary products its maker is known for.
We are not sure if it's due to complacency or the innovation well has simply dried up, but Apple has let competition catch up and even take the lead second year in a row. Had the iPhone 5 come out last year, when everyone was expecting it, it would have been a trend-setter, but now it seems to be relegated to a follower and the worst part is the pricing department didn't even get the memo. Off contract, it's probably the most expensive smartphone in Europe.
Then again, the momentum gained will certainly help mask some of the iPhone 5 weaknesses and the unprecedentedly loyal user base will make the smartphone a success, in the profit game. And that's the only game big companies play, anyway. So, those maps will eventually get fixed and Apple will pat themselves on the back for a job well done. A nine-to-five job though, not the inspired and visionary piece of work we all know this company can deliver.


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