It may have taken an extra year, the passing of Steve Jobs, and an incremental iPhone upgrade called the iPhone 4S, but iPhone users and buyers have finally been given the iPhone 5 they’ve been waiting for. During Apple’s unveiling of the next coming of the “Jesusphone”, Apple CEO Tim Cook touted it as “the best iPhone yet”, which of course on the surface may seem more like a marketing ploy (because what CEO is going to tell you their newest product is just “meh”) than the truth. But perhaps some truth to this statement?
I’ve used the iPhone 5 as my primary smartphone for a week now, receiving mine on launch day last Friday. I spent the past year with an AT&T iPhone 4S, and admittedly was a bit underwhelmed by it. As someone who has owned every single iPhone model since the iPhone 3G (I’ve had the iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, and iPhone 4S), I’ve always been a staunch supporter of the iPhone. However, with the iPhone 4S, my confidence was beginning to waiver in the iOS platform, with me even considering at one point switching to as what I call “the dark side” and getting the Android-powered Samsung Galaxy S III. While I whole-heartedly believe the Galaxy S III is the best Android smartphone on the market today, and a great device in itself, I decided to wait and see what Apple would bring with the iPhone 5 before I made the decision to jump or stay put.
With the iPhone 5, my faith in Apple, the iPhone, and the iOS platform has been renewed, and I’m glad I didn’t make the jump to the Galaxy S III this time.
Quite simply, the iPhone 5 is the best smartphone I have ever used, and is also the fastest smartphone, if not mobile device, I have ever used. It is also one of the lightest phones I have ever used. After putting the iPhone 5 in one hand and the iPhone 4S in the other, I felt like the iPhone 4S was my first ever Motorola “brick phone” I had in the late 1990s. But despite it’s featherweight nature, it still feels solid in my hand. Unlike other smartphones in the featherweight group, there’s no plastic anywhere on the iPhone 5. Instead, Apple has chosen to a combination of glass and aluminum to give the iPhone 5 the feeling of being light as a feather, stiff as a board. Recent drop tests from other outlets have shown that the iPhone 5 can withstand a beating before breaking, but not buying AppleCare Plus or insurance through your carrier on this device would be foolish. Life happens, better to be prepared than out almost a grand to replace your iPhone at the full retail price.
Powered by Apple’s homegrown A6 processor, sporting a dual-core CPU (1.29 GHz per core according to the Geekbench tool) and triple-core GPU, this phone just flies. I haven’t had a single lag, slow down, or hiccup along the way. As someone who would be defined as a “power user”, I was expecting at least the occasional hiccup, lag, or crash here and there. Instead I’ve been treated to smooth, silky animations with incredible speeds, minimal load times, and stability I haven’t seen in any other newer flagship phone.
Using the Geekbench 2 tool available in the App Store, the iPhone 5 scored a 1626 overall in my test, which is the fastest score we’ve seen to date. For all the spec junkies out there, the 1.29 GHz dual-core CPU coupled with 1 GB of RAM may not be the highest around, it’s important to remember that software optimization is key to the performance of any computer. Since the A6 chipset and iOS are both created in-house by Apple, optimization between the software and hardware on this phone is the best in the business. It is this optimization that makes the iPhone 5 the fastest phone on the market.
** Lower numbers are better, except for V8 Benchmark Suite test
** Kraken results have been reduced by power of 10 for better graphic comparison
Of course, no matter how fast your browser is, it’s only has good as the “pipe” you have connected to it. The iPhone 5 ushered in the LTE era for the iPhone, and it truly does make a difference. Apple has gone with a new, low-power Qualcomm chip that has CDMA, GPRS, EV-DO, GSM, HSPA, HPSA+, DC-HSPA, and LTE all on the same die. This allows the iPhone to connect to almost, but not all, major 3G and 4G networks in the world. For the past 4 years, and four iPhones, I had been an AT&T customer. However, with AT&T’s lack of a large 4G LTE network, slow build out of that network, and a slew of other complaints, for the iPhone 5 I made the switch to Verizon Wireless. They were the only carrier in my area – and the only carrier in most other areas – to have an established 4G LTE network. LTE has made all the difference in the world. I finally have the speed and reliability I need for my connected devices, and no longer have to make excuses for a network and company that doesn’t have, what I feel, is the customer’s best interest at heart, ever. Furthermore, my call quality on the Verizon network has never been better on an iPhone. Throughout my four years and four iPhones with AT&T, I expected each year for the iPhone to be a great device, but a not-so-great phone. Finally, I feel like I have the best of both worlds. Thanks to Verizon’s reliable network, and Apple’s upgrades to the microphones on the iPhone 5, family and friends I speak to have never heard me better, and can have a longer than ten minute conversation with me and not have me drop the call.
Simply put, if money is no object, there is no real reason I can see why anyone would want to have the iPhone 5 with any other carrier than Verizon Wireless now. Even if you don’t have 4G LTE in your area yet, chances are you and your iPhone 5 are going to see it much sooner with Verizon than with any other carrier. There’s a reason why Verizon consistently wins industry awards for its network folks. The only downside to Verizon’s iPhone 5 offering is that you cannot talk and surf the web over 3G or 4G at the same time (you can if over a Wifi connection). However, even coming from AT&T where I’ve had this luxury, I can only recall using it a handful of times, and it’s not worth leaving behind the reliability and speed of LTE I get now all the time. I stream a lot of podcasts through Stitcher Radio, and I am a heavy Spotify user (I literally have zero songs on my iPhone locally); with Verizon’s LTE network I have literally had less than a second load time for songs and podcasts, with no periods of stoppage for “buffering”. My emails and web pages are sent and received damn near instantaneously. While I haven’t had the opportunity yet to test the iPhone 5 on AT&T’s LTE network, I would recommend any iPhone 5 shopper to go with the carrier in your area that has LTE already established, or who is going to deploy first. If you unfortunately live in an area where there is no LTE service, perhaps consider a regional carrier selling the iPhone 5 (i.e. nTelos in the Mid-Atlantic area where I am located) that will offer you the same 3G experience but at a much more wallet-friendly price.
The speed of Verizon’s LTE network will blow your socks off coming from a 3G iPhone or smartphone
Of course, we couldn’t talk about the new iPhone without talking about the bigger and better screen. Gone is the 3.5-inch screen size – a sort of trademark of an iPhone since its start – to a bigger (well, longer) 4-inch Retina Display. The difference is immediately noticeable to earlier iPhone users, but from afar it’s not distinguishable from the iPhone 4 or 4S. From Apple’s own admission, this very subtle difference in screen size was purposefully done to reduce friction for users upgrading to the new device, and keeps it in line with their philosophy that a phone should be able to be operated with a single hand. There is definitely a certain logic to this, as I tend to agree with the Apple philosophy. There are certainly larger screens out there on Android devices like the Galaxy S III or the phablet-sized Galaxy Note, but their large size, while beautiful, make it hard to work the phone with one hand (unless you share genes with a Wookiee).
Apple also touts that the Retina Display with the iPhone 5 has about forty percent color saturation. Apple has used a LED backlit LCD Retina Display, which offers great clarity, but like LCD HDTV’s can lack in the color department. Samsung’s Super AMOLED screens have been touted for having deeper blacks and more lifelike colors. Apple has indeed upgraded the color saturation some in the iPhone 5, however, to the untrained eye it will look just like the iPhone 4S. So just like shopping for HDTV’s, you have to consider your wants and needs if the screen means that much to you. LCD displays are great for lighted or bright areas or in the sunlight, but offer a bit less color saturation and not as deep blacks. Super AMOLED smartphone displays, like plasma HDTV’s, offer deeper blacks and better color saturation, but struggle in well-lit areas or sunlight and like to be used indoors in dimly lit areas.
The longer four-inch displays also lends an extra fifth row of icons on the iPhone 5, giving users more room to cram their app, bookmark, and folder icons into less home screens. The longer screen offers some more usability to apps, however, will require developers to update their apps to take advantage of the larger display. Popular apps such as Flipboard, Netflix, Amazon, and Facebook have already been updated to take advantage of this longer display. For applications that haven’t been updated, iPhone 5 users will find that the application will appear centered on the longer display with black letterboxes on the top/bottom or left/right. The only issue we’ve found when using these apps not optimized for the display is that it can throw off some experienced users with the UI. For example, tapping the top of the display on iOS will scroll the user back up to the top of the screen or page, however, with the non-optimized apps tapping in the same area will result in no response. Instead, users will have to carefully tap exactly at the top of the letterboxed area to get the same result. While certainly this isn’t a deal-breaker for most, it does have me looking more and more for applications that are optimized for the display when options are available.
The iPhone 5 also ushered in a new era with the decision to ditch the trademark 30-pin dock connector for an all-new, all digital, 8-pin “Lightning” connector. While I certainly agree that Apple should give the 30-pin to Lightning adapter, set to launch next month, for free, I also can see why Apple made the move. First, the Lightning connector feels more secure when connecting it to your iPhone 5. The Lightning connector doesn’t feel as fragile, and with a more solid build you won’t be spending money every other month purchasing a new cord. Secondly, syncing is faster via the Lightning connector. Using an all-digital design makes syncing much faster on the iPhone 5 in my tests. I was able to successfully restore over 10GB of apps, photos, and other data from my iPhone 4S to my new iPhone 5 in less than 10 minutes using the Lightning connector. While many users may prefer the Wifi syncing option, using the Lightning to USB cord is the quickest way to sync and go. My only complaint is that extra cords from Apple are $20 each, and in short supply. So users like me who like to have a cord at home, the office, and in my vehicle end up shelling out an additional $40 to $60. While there are some cheaper alternatives available on sites like Amazon and eBay, I wouldn’t trust them at this point considering it is such a new connector. Give it a few months if you can, otherwise plan on toting your Lightning cord with you everywhere.
One thing you won’t necessarily need to worry about bringing your Lightning cord everywhere for is the battery life. The iPhone 4S had battery life issues from day one. The iPhone 5′s redesign with a bigger battery and the use of lower power sucking chips has increased the battery life in my tests with the iPhone 5. While heavy users will certainly need to recharge at least once for a bit each day, the average user will have no issues with the battery lasting all day, even when on LTE. In my tests, I was able to go an entire weekend from Saturday morning at 10 AM to about 7 PM on Sunday with normal usage before my battery died. As stated before, it’s Apple’s ability to optimize the hardware and software on their devices that provides a speedy experience, but also allows for greater power optimization and longer battery life.
The camera didn’t get much of an upgrade with the iPhone 5; it is still an 8 MP sensor with 1080p video recording. Apple’s enhancements with the camera have occurred more on the software end with iOS 6. Better IR filtering, noise-reduction, and a built-in panorama mode are some of the newest features. The panorama mode works flawlessly and easily. Users simply tap the “Options” on-screen button in the camera and tap panorama to enter panorama mode. Then simply tap the shutter button when you’re ready to start and move your phone to the left or right (it is right by default, tap the arrow to turn it left) and the iPhone will capture the photos continuously and stitch them together. Tap the shutter when finished and you get an instant beautiful panorama shot like the one below:
Every iPhone 5 ships with iOS 6, Apple’s latest version of its mobile operating system. iOS 6 brings a slew of enhancements such as Facebook integration, better email support, an improved Siri, and Apple’s own Maps program. Since iOS 6′s public launch, Apple has been under a lot of scrutiny for the many obvious errors in its Maps program, and rightfully so. The errors that have been pointed out by many users and media outlets are egregious, sometimes downright boneheaded. These errors have prompted a formal apology from CEO Tim Cook, something we rarely ever see from Cupertino. However, I will go on record saying that in my area (Virginia Beach, Virginia), I haven’t had any issues so far with the new Maps application. The turn-by-turn navigation has worked as described for me and I really haven’t seen real deficiency to my experience. That’s not to say that there are issues with the application, I’m just stating that in my experience I haven’t seen any issues. Apple does indeed have a ways to go to match Google’s offerings, but it is important to note that there are alternatives out there if you experience problems. Google has built a very robust Google Maps offering on the iPhone via Mobile Safari, and free applications like Waze will be able to supplement until Apple gets their act together. I fully expect Apple to put forth a formidable effort to fix these issues as soon as possible, as the ever-looming Android threat along with Google’s no-rush policy to bring Google Maps to the iPhone as a standalone application will make Apple work that much harder in my opinion.
On the upside, iOS 6 offers new features to the platform that enhance the experience overall. Deeper Facebook integration brings iOS finally on par with Android, allowing iOS users to sync their contacts with Facebook, as well as the ability to now tweet to Twitter or post to Facebook from the drop-down notifications menu. Siri is much improved as well, now supporting the ability to open applications directly, restaurant reservations via Open Table, as well as sports scores, schedules and statistics. Simply tell Siri “open Spotify” (or any other application) and Siri will immediately open up the application for you. So if you’re someone who has more home screens than usual, gone are the days of scrolling through the screens looking for that one application you need. Sports integration is great for any sports fan. Siri can now give you schedules, scores, and even stats through natural language. Here’s a great example of a sports inquiry via Siri:
iOS 6 User: What was the score of the last Chicago Cubs game?
Siri:It’s 6 to 2, Chicago.
iOS 6 User: Who is the starting pitcher for the Cubs?
Siri: For this game, it’s Chris Rusin for the Cubs, and Josh Collmenter for the Diamondbacks.
iOS 6 User:How many strikeouts?
Siri: So far, Chris Rusin, Alfonso Soriano, and Luis Valbuena all have a strikeout for the Cubs, Chris Young, Mike Jacobs, Jason Kubel, Wil Nieves, Cody Ransom, Jake Elmore and Tyler Graham for the Diamondbacks.
iOS 6 doesn’t offer anything truly revolutionary, and in some ways still lacks behind Android offerings such as Google Now. However, it is the most solid iOS to date and will not disappoint. There are hundreds of minor tweaks and improvements all over the place, improving the award-winning user experience on iOS. Users looking for the open-source, do-what-you-want, free-for-all mobile operating system shouldn’t look here, as Apple still has very tight reigns on iOS.
Overall, the iPhone 5 is the best smartphone money can buy now. It’s superior build-quality, ditching the plastics found on many Android flagship smartphones for an aluminum and glass phone that makes most phones feel like giant paperweights, along with its typical Apple industrial design make this phone a real looker. The iPhone 5′s speed is unmatched by any other smartphone on the market, and couple this with LTE and you’ve got a device that literally screams speed. iOS 6 offers a solid, speedy user experience once you look past the one hiccup with the Maps application. The camera improvements are minimal, but still make this phone one of the best smartphone cameras on the market.
If you’re looking for your first smartphone, or an upgrade from your current smartphone, the iPhone 5 needs to be on the top of your list. At this time there isn’t a better phone out there, with only the Samsung Galaxy S III coming close (but in many ways still far behind) the overall experience of the iPhone 5. While there are definitely more Android devices coming this holiday season like the Galaxy Note 2, there’s a reason Apple sold 5 million iPhone 5′s over a single weekend – half of what Samsung sold in Galaxy S III’s in a quarter , it’s because while Apple may not be the first on the block now with new technology, they’ve figured out how to perfect it for the consumer.