iPhone 5 review: A better smartphone in every way
SINGAPORE, Sept 21 — It’s been just a week since its unveiling, but Apple’s new iPhone 5 has accompanied me on quite an adventure: a transcontinental flight, a weekend beach getaway and a short reservist stint.
I managed to pass through airport security and entered an army camp which allowed the use of smartphones without anyone noticing that it was the new iPhone — an indication of how subtle the changes to its design are, at first glance.
So, just more of the same, Apple? Don’t give up on it just yet. You only notice the difference in quality and heft over its predecessors when you hold the iPhone 5 in your hand. Despite being only 20 per cent lighter and 18 per cent thinner than its predecessor, the new smartphone actually feels far more svelte, lightweight, less dense — my old iPhone 4S felt like it weighed as much as a brick after I got used to its younger sibling.
And while it’s not exactly a radical redesign, don’t let that detract from how much more sleek and attractive the device is. The build quality of the metal and glass enclosure is top-notch and feels far less fragile than the glass-covered 4S.
A new connector, dubbed Lightning, replaces the 30-pin connector we have grown accustomed to since the dawn of the iPod. Lightning is less clunky, and is reversible — it doesn’t matter which side is facing up when you plug it in. You’ll need to buy an adapter if you plan on using any accessories designed for the 30-pin connector, and note that even with the adapter, not all accessories will work seamlessly.
There’s also the question of why Apple would decide to go with yet another proprietary port rather than an established standard like micro USB.
On the matter of incompatibility, the iPhone 5 uses the newer and much smaller nano SIM card format. Not even the micro SIM card you use on the iPhone 4S will be able to fit.
BIGGER SCREEN, NOW FOR APPS TO MATCH
The new 4-inch display was bright enough for me to spend an ample amount of time by the beach reading an e-book on the iPhone without straining my eyes. It provided a better experience during movie playback and capture with its 16:9 aspect ratio because you won’t be subjected to any letter-boxing (you know — the black strips sandwiching the movie).
The iPhone 5’s display might still be dwarfed by Samsung or Nokia’s latest flagship phones but it offers relatively comfortable one-handed operation. Having said that, with the taller screen, I found myself stretching my thumbs to activate menus or buttons at the top and bottom of the screen — it’s something developers should take note of when they place the most-used buttons for their apps.
I had a chance to try out new versions of Apple’s iPhoto, iMovie, Garageband and iWork (its productivity suite) that have been optimised to take advantage of the new display but these apps offered no noticeably new functions, and were updated to merely take advantage of the slightly increased display area.
Most apps, even some first-party ones like Apple’s iBooks, have not been updated, and will appear with black borders flanking their sides.
By the way, good news for those who still need to report for National Service: The smartphone still falls under Mindef’s 4.3-inch screen requirement for camps that allow the use of smartphones.
A SNAPPIER CAMERA
The camera still sports the same image resolution as its predecessor but Apple has improved its image processing techniques so your pictures will have less noise and you’ll be able to take better pictures in low-light conditions. Its capture speed is much zippier too, and it will be able to keep up if you tap the capture button repeatedly.
Photos I took with the iPhone 5 while on holiday produced more natural colours, and the camera performed admirably at night where the room was illuminated only by candlelight. High-definition videos captured with the phone looked clear and vivid on its display. A welcome new feature: You can now take photos while you’re capturing a video.
The camera’s new Panorama mode alone will sell the iPhone 5 by the truckloads. It is a feature that seems almost magical. You simply pan the phone and it stitches the images in real-time. Even if there are similar apps currently available that can help you generate panoramic photos, the ease-of-use of this feature is currently unmatched. I know what you’re thinking: Facebook cover photo.
4G — FAST WHEN IT’S CONNECTED ...
Long Term Evolution (LTE) connectivity — when it was available during the test period — was mighty impressive as well. I sometimes clocked download speeds of up to 37Mbps on SingTel’s LTE network, downloading and uploading high-definition videos with ease. That is faster than some residential broadband speeds available to consumers.
But 4G coverage is still spotty though while the local telcos are busy rolling it out island-wide. The phone might fall back to 3G when you dataroam overseas because other telcos employ different frequency bands for their LTE network that might not be compatible with the iPhone 5 sold in Singapore — there are three variants available worldwide that differ only in the cellular networks they support.
SPEEDIER CHIP, BEEFIER BATTERY
Apps launch and complete tasks faster with the iPhone 5’s new A6 dual-core processor, which is supposed to be twice as fast as the iPhone 4S’ chip. Running technical benchmarks on the Geekbench app proved the iPhone 5 was as fast as it touted to be, with a total score of about 1,600 compared to 600 on the 4S.
Battery life on the iPhone was outstanding, considering the fact that it packs twice the horsepower and comes in a thinner enclosure. It lasted slightly more than 24 hours under average use, lasting throughout an 18-hour flight from San Francisco to Singapore. Under heavy usage of data connectivity via 3G and LTE, it lasted an average of about eight to 12 hours — still quite a respectable amount of juice.
DOES THE iOS IMPRESS?
The iPhone 5 will come preloaded with iOS 6, the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system. It comes with a wallop of new features but what will get the most attention are the flyover views in the updated Maps application. This gives you 3D renditions of landmarks around the world, and you can hover around them using touchscreen gestures.
The Maps application also features turn-by-turn navigation and Apple’s own vector-based maps, instead of Google Maps, which download much faster.
Siri also includes a new feature for sports fans. For those of you pitting your wits on the Today Fantasy League (todayonline.com/fantasyleague), try asking Siri how any team or player in the Premier League performed and it will display the latest stats and results for you. This works for most popular sports too, though the more exotic names of some sports personalities (Robin van Persie, for example) might be incomprehensible to Siri.
SO — SHOULD YOU GET IT?
The iPhone 5 is a compelling update even if you currently own its most recent predecessor. Fast 4G connectivity and the increased processing speed alone make the upgrade worthwhile. It also performs admirably against Android-based smartphones that sport quad-core processors. The refined form factor might not appear to be a big difference, but given how much time we spend with our smartphones in our hands, it will ultimately make a big difference.
Naysayers might go on about the lack of near field communication (NFC) technology in the new iPhone, but I’m not sure that’s immediately a practical concern — not once was I asked to make a payment using NFC while I was travelling or shopping overseas or in Singapore.
The iPhone is merely a vessel for the experience that Apple curates for its users. And what a finely-crafted experience it is. It is also perhaps why Apple only needs to release a single smartphone a year while it keeps fine-tuning the experience via software and online services. Despite lacking technical features that its smartphone competitors may crow about, the iPhone provides an integrated media and software ecosystem that is still unmatched by any other smartphone platform. — Today