The iPhone 5--the sixth smartphone from Apple--represents the biggest step forward for the company, but also its biggest step sideways. It is a worthy successor and upgrade from the iPhone 4S, but also falls short of the competition in some respects.
If you weren't one of the initial 5 million people to scoop one up in the last week, should you consider buying one now? Let's talk.
The iPhone 5 is a different animal from the iPhone 4S, its immediate predecessor. When looking at the hardware, it is better than the iPhone 4S is almost every respect.
-- Hardware. Apple trades the glass and stainless steel sandwich design of the iPhone 4S for an aluminum body and glass front. The iPhone 5 is lighter, thinner, and easier to hold and use all day long. The attention to detail of the iPhone 5's manufacture--scuffed paint aside--is incredible. It's a well-designed and well-built device that's less breakable than its predecessor.
-- LTE 4G. The LTE 4G radio, whether it be for AT&T, Sprint, or Verizon Wireless, puts the iPhone in the same class with its chief competitors in mobile broadband. It's a significant step up in speed, especially for Sprint and Verizon customers, who've been limited to their carriers' slower 3G networks. We're talking a 10-fold increase in wireless data speeds. Yes, it's that dramatic.
[ What's inside? Apple iPhone 5 Teardown: Visual Tour. ]
-- A6 processor. Apple hasn't provided too many details about its newest mobile processor. Labs that have torn the iPhone 5 apart discovered that it has a triple-core CPU clocked at about 1.3 GHz each and a dual-core GPU paired with 1 GB of RAM. Techie jargon aside, it truly delivers a huge boost in speed. Absolutely nothing dents the iPhone 5's speed. It is a noticeable improvement over the already-speedy iPhone 4S.
-- Call quality. The iPhone 5 uses new noise-canceling technology and other audio voodoo to improve the quality of phone calls. Whatever Apple did under the hood to the phone, it worked. The iPhone 5 is one of the best devices I've used this year. Not only is the quality good, calls are much easier to hear thanks to the significantly louder speaker.
What's Merely Evolved
There's plenty about the iPhone that is different from the iPhone 4S--and competing devices--but some of these features could have been improved even more.
-- Screen. The iPhone 5 stretches the old 3.5-inch Retina Display of the iPhone 4S and gives it a larger diagonal measurement of 4.0 inches. Pixels improve from 960 x 640 to 1136 x 640. It's still a Retina Display, and is certainly larger, but it's not a competitive size. Screens that measure 4.3 inches offer the best mix of usability and visible real estate combined with device size. Personally, I prefer screens that measure between 4.6 and 4.8 inches. The iPhone 5's screen lets you see more emails, more of your Twitter feed, more of that text messaging conversation, but that's about it. Additionally, the pixel count is just odd. Apple should have gone all the way and given the iPhone 5 a 1280 x 720p HD display, which is what many other manufacturers are choosing to do. I understand the implications this would have for developers, but c'mon; Android supports various screen sizes and aspect ratios ranging from 2.8 inches all the way up to 10.1 inches. You can't tell me Apple iOS developers aren't up to the challenge.
-- Battery. The iPhone 5 has a bigger battery than the iPhone 4S to offset the LTE 4G radio, larger screen, and faster processor. Despite the power-draining abilities of the 4G, screen, and A6 chip, the iPhone 5's battery still manages to get through an entire day, though just barely. I find that the iPhone 5's battery is sinking below the 40% mark by about dinner time. It's frustrating to think how much better battery life could have been if Apple made the iPhone 5 even 1mm thicker.
-- Camera. The camera rates the same 8 megapixels as the iPhone 4S's camera, but it makes improvements in low-light performance. Images are better, but only slightly. The iPhone 4S's camera was one of the best to appear in a smartphone. The iPhone 5's camera produces better results, especially in low light, but the improvements aren't always noticeable. The best things about the camera is that it is significantly faster than before, and offers a cool Panorama feature for capturing wide vistas.