Apple iPhone 5 Review: Sandy Berger Digs In

Written by Sandy Berger

Apple’s iPhone 5 represents a full hardware redesign. The phone itself is 18 percent thinner and 20 percent lighter than the previous version.

At just 7.6 millimeters, it is the thinnest phone that I’ve seen. Apple has again come through with a well-designed, sturdy phone. The aluminum housing and ceramic glass front is precisely fitted. The slightly beveled edges and matte back make it look and feel like a meticulously-crafted device.

Image creditApple Inc.

 The iPhone 5’s screen size is the biggest change over previous generations, increasing from 3.5 inches to 4 inches. If you have used a previous iPhone, this is noticeable. You get an extra row of icons and more room for email, videos, browsing, and for the keyboard when in horizontal mode. Yet unlike larger phones, the iPhone 5 fits comfortably in the palm of your hand.

Because of the change in screen size, apps have to be rewritten for the extra rows of icons. I found that most of the major apps I use are already updated to take advantage of the new screen size. As shown below, those that are not yet fully compatible have black bars letterboxed vertically across the top and bottom. This doesn’t interfere with their functionality. Good thing.

Other less noticeable changes have also been made to the screen. It is the first Apple Retina display with integrated touch technology. That means there is only one layer for the touch screen, the pixels display the image while also acting as the touch-sensing electrodes.  While you may not see a difference, you will still marvel at the clarity of the display.

Apple has given this new iPhone an A6 chip making it noticeable faster and bringing it in line with other manufacturers who have already included dual chips in their phones. The phone comes with 1GB RAM, which in my testing proved adequate, but this is less than some phones like the Samsung Galaxy S3 which has 2GB.

With the introduction of this version, the iPhone is now 4G LTE -compatible making it especially good for web surfing. Although 4G use usually drains more battery power, Apple says that it maintains eight hours of talk time on 3G, 225 hours standby, and Internet use for up to eight hours on 3G and up to eight hours on LTE. Apple also has improved the Wi-Fi connectivity with the iPhone 5 with better connections to the network and up to 10 hours battery power on Wi-Fi.

Apple has finally said “good riddance” to the hard round ear buds that many of you have filling up junk drawers. The ear buds included with the iPhone 5 are rigid, but are shaped to fit into the ear more easily. Apple sound engineers have done their work. The sound quality is impressive, rendering especially deeper, richer bass tones. I found the buds to be comfortable, an amazing feat for my small ear canals.

Image credit: Apple Inc.

Apple’s other hardware upgrade — a new connector has evoked some controversy. The connector, which Apple calls “Lightning” is actually quite an improvement. It is much smaller than the old Apple connector – just 0.31 inch wide instead of 0.83. Since I have had several old Apple connectors that split from use, I really appreciate the fact that the new jack is quite a bit sturdier than the old one. The Lightning connector can be inserted into the device in either direction, ending the frustration that everyone encountered when trying to plug in an Apple device. On top of that, inserting a Lightning jack into a device gives you a satisfying click that it is seated properly, yet is easily removed.

Obviously, the new connector was necessary to help shrink the size of the phone.  The new connector is not backwardly compatible. That means that any existing accessories, docks or chargers cannot be used without an adapter, which Apple offers as an additional purchase of $29 or $39 with an eight-inch cable. It is the cost that I find controversial. Apple is hurting its own fans with this high pricing. Those who have three or four old devices will have to shell out quite a bit for adapters.

The iPhone 5 uses a very tiny nano SIM card. While in most cases this won’t matter to the average user, in my case it did. I had the iPhone 5 in hand for several days before Verizon could find me a SIM card, since they are in short supply.

This phone takes better pictures than any other phone I’ve reviewed. It has a hybrid IR filter, sapphire crystal lens, and f/2.4 aperture.  Low light photos are impressive and image stabilization is excellent.  Shot-to-shot times have been improved. Video recording is seamless in HD (1080p) up to 30 frames per second. The FaceTime HD camera shoots 1.2MP photos and HD video (720p) at up to 30 frames per second. The photo below was taken through an airplane window and shows the clarity of the photos.

You may have heard that the iPhone 5’s camera occasionally produces a purple haze when the light source is at a specific angle. In ten days of snapping pictures, I only found it in one picture, shown below. The halo is from the ceiling light being at the edge of my photo. I, personally, feel quality of the camera outweighs this fault, as long as you are aware of it. It may be a deal-breaker for some users, but I think most will not be overly bothered by it.

Image credit: screenshots and photos by Sandy Berger

iPhones are noted for good performance and the iPhone 5 continues that tradition. Connectivity is very good. Call and speaker quality are both excellent. Opening apps and web surfing is speedy.

The iPhone 5 uses Apple’s iOS6 operating system, which has been incrementally improved. For a full review of iOS6, check out Peter Baer Galvin’s Apple iOS 6 Review. Here is my brief summary of changes.

Siri is still far from the picture-perfect representation shown in television commercials, but she has improved and you can now use her to launch tasks and play a certain track of music. Facebook integration is easier than ever. Although the iPhone doesn’t support NFR, it does have Passbook, which works well for loyalty cards, boarding passes, movie tickets and the like. Facetime calls can now be placed over the cellular network.

Multitasking, however, remains archaic in comparison to Andoid’s implementation.  On an Android phone I can double-click the home button, swipe up and down to see the open apps, and slide my finger to close them. On the iPhone you have to double-click the home button, swipe across the screen, and try to get the app to close by pressing on the X. It’s much too frustrating.

This is without a doubt, the best iPhone ever. Yet the competition is getting better and better. While Apple has amazed us in the past, there is now a lot of competition out there. This version was more than adequate but Apple engineers will have to work even harder to make future versions stand out in the crowded smartphone marketplace.