iPhone 5 review
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The iPhone 5 is a marvellous piece of design, arguably the most beautiful object Apple has ever produced. It certainly stands comparison with the first iPod, the iMac and the original iPhone. Yes, it's thinner and lighter and more powerful than the iPhone 4S but to really understand it, you need to hold it in your hand.
For the first time since the original iPhone, Apple's handset has an aluminium back. The iPhone 5, made with the same anodized aluminium Apple uses in its laptops, comes in either 'black and slate' or 'white and silver'.
In design terms, only Nokia's new Lumias come close and while they are great designs, the flagship 920 is too big for my taste. Apple has made the iPhone 5 taller than the iPhone 4S but no wider, thankfully, in portrait orientation. That's helpful because as smartphones have gradually got bigger and wider, my hands have stubbornly remained the same size.
The new display measures four inches from corner to corner, compared with the 3.5-inches of previous iPhones. Since the phone is not wider, that gives the iPhone 5 a screen resolution of 1136-by-640 pixels, compared with 960-by-640. Held in landscape orientation, the iPhone 5 screen can now display a 16:9 film without black bars at the top and bottom.
The screen on the iPhone 4S was impressive but the new one looks better. It's brighter and the colours are richer. Initially, the extra screen size will means black bars around apps because existing iPhone apps will display at 960-by-640 until developers update them. Expect a rush of app updates starting this week.
Apple's own apps give an idea of what can be done with the added space, whether that's simply making more room for the content or better spacing of menus and controls.
Apple says the iPhone 5 will be up to twice as fast, thanks to its new A6 processor. Each iPhone version has been faster than the one before. The improvement is always especially striking because Apple melds its hardware and software so well that the existing generation never feels slow until you try the new one.
So it is with the iPhone 5, which leaves the 4S in the dust. Starting the phone, loading apps, or taking photos - everything is faster on the iPhone 5. Benchmarking with the Geekbench app has shown that the iPhone 5 is not just faster than the iPhone 4S but it also outperforms Samsung's Galaxy S3, according to some benchmarks.
Apple has refined the features of previous models for the iPhone 5. The A6 processor helps to improve camera performance. It still has eight megapixels but the iPhone 5 camera performs better in low light and captures photos more quickly. It's also possible to take a still photo while shooting video and to take 240-degree panorama photos simply by following an onscreen guide that helps you keep the phone level and move it at the right speed.
The iPhone 5 has a new arrangement of microphones too, which should result in better call quality. In my tests, calls did seem a little clearer than on my iPhone 4S.
With a new processor, a larger screen and an even smaller case in which to squeeze the battery, you'd be forgiven for expecting battery life to suffer in the iPhone 5 but Apple says performance has actually improved. That certainly seemed to be the case for me. Having run the iPhone 5 and the iPhone 4S together over the last few days, the newer model seems slightly ahead.
Probably the biggest challenge to iPhone 5 battery life will come when the handset is used on 4G. That's nothing something that I've been able to test since Britain's first 4G network, EE, is still some weeks away.
Packing all of this into a smaller package has meant moving some things around. The new Lightning socket takes up considerably less space than the socket for the familiar 30-pin dock connector, which has been a fixture of Apple's mobile devices since the third generation iPod was introduced in 2003. That means the iPhone 5 will not fit existing accessories, such as speaker docks or chargers. Anyone who wants to use old accessories will have to pay £25 for an adaptor.
Alongside the Lightning socket is the headphone socket, moved down to the bottom of the device - a change that will take some getting used to for iPhone owners when the plug in their new Apple EarPod headphones.
Apple's old earbuds were so widely considered to be poor that most long-time customers discarded them immediately on unboxing the latest device. That's unlikely to be the case with the EarPods, which are a significant improvement. They sit so comfortably in the ear that you can almost forget that you are wearing them. Sound quality is much better too.
Specificationists will say that with the iPhone 5 Apple is now behind its rivals in terms of features but in truth it's hard to think of a feature offered elsewhere that the average person - as opposed to the tech obsessive - really needs. NFC is not sufficiently widely used, wireless charging is nice but still requires a charger plugged into the wall and most people get along fine without removable storage.
The iPhone 5 is a great smartphone made even better. It's fast, lightweight and backed by the largest application store for any device. It's also probably the most beautiful smartphone anyone has ever made.