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9/13/2012
10:51 AM
Jeff Bertolucci
Jeff Bertolucci
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iPhone 5: 10 Best Features

Apple's iPhone 5 big reveal left some smartphone watchers wanting more. Take a look at the key feature changes and judge for yourself.




The iPhone 5 is no jaw-dropper. It doesn't magnetically levitate beside your ear during phone calls, project HD movies on IMAX screens, or make you look years younger during FaceTime video chats. It is, however, a solid if unspectacular upgrade from the iPhone 4S. In short, it should be a hit with longtime Apple fans and new users alike.

If you sensed an air of disappointment after the iPhone 5 announcement, you were not alone. Twitter was rife with snarky commenters channeling Peggy Lee: Is that all there is?

Why the ennui? Perhaps part of the problem was the lack of a "One More Thing"--that legendary bit of Steve Jobs showmanship that saved Apple's latest killer feature or gizmo for the last moment. Nope, didn't happen this time. When the latest iPods are introduced AFTER the iPhone, you know something's amiss.

Another culprit: That damn rumor mill. For months we've been hearing morsels of gossip about the iPhone 5. Well, it turns out the rumormongers were uncannily accurate this time. Four-inch display? Check. Metal back? Yep. No NFC? Ditto. So when Tim Cook and friends finally did their big reveal, we'd seen (nearly) all of it before.

But who cares what a gaggle of jaded insiders think? Apple almost certainly has a hit on its hands with the iPhone 5, which is more elegant and powerful than its predecessor. And while one bestselling handset may not singlehandedly pull the economy out of its extended malaise, it can't hurt either.

Forrester analyst Charles Golvin summed up the situation nicely in his post-announcement blog post:

"Given that the iPhone 5 is unlikely to solve the European debt crisis or bring peace to the Middle East, it won't be surprising if we hear a resounding "meh" from Apple's critics, with them dinging the company for a paucity of innovation. Indeed, competitors like HTC and Nokia have already offered some of the features that Apple highlighted, such as those for imaging. But Apple still outpaces the competition when it comes to the entire package--the new iPhone unites significant improvements in industrial design, imaging, audio, and connectivity, along with the wealth of new capabilities that iOS6 enables."

Yes, the iPhone 5 doesn't break a lot of new ground, but its whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Dig into our slideshow to see the top 10 features of the iPhone 5.


Those blurry images of mysterious iPhone 5 prototypes were mostly spot on. Apple's 6th-generation handset is indeed slimmer and taller than its predecessor. Sheathed in an aluminum and glass exterior, the new iPhone is 7.6 millimeters thick, out-slimming the Huawei Ascend P1 by 0.09 millimeters--not that you'd notice. The iPhone 5 weighs 112 grams (3.95 ounces) and is 18% thinner and 20% lighter than the iPhone 4S. One way Apple trimmed the fat was by embedding touch electrodes between the Retina display pixels, resulting in a 30% thinner display. The iPhone 5 also uses a nano-SIM card, which Apple says is 44% smaller than a micro-SIM. However, the new iPhone is nearly 9 millimeters longer than its predecessor.

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Sure, we had a pretty good idea the iPhone 5 would have a 4-inch display, but the rest of the specs weren't as clear. The new screen is longer but not wider than the iPhone 4S's 3.5-inch screen. The new iPhone's Retina display bumps up the resolution to 1136-by-640 pixels, while retaining the 326-ppi (pixels per inch) ratio of its 960-by-640 predecessor. Apple says it's boosted the iPhone 5's color saturation by 44%, making images and text more vivid. There's now a fifth row of icons on the Home screen. And the new 16:9 aspect ratio means you can watch HD video with the dreaded letterboxing.

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The iPhone 5 has 4G LTE connectivity, a must-have feature for a high-end smartphone these days. It uses a single LTE chip (rather than two) for voice and data, an engineering decision that helped reduce the phone's bulk. It also supports more global cellular networks, including HSPA, HSPA+, and DC-HSDPA. Wi-Fi got a spec bump too. The iPhone 5 supports dual-band (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz) 802.11n wireless with a theoretical maximum speed of 150 Mbps.

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The iPhone 5 is the first device to use Apple's new A6 CPU, a dual-core processor that's up to twice as fast as the company's older A5 chip. In addition to delivering expected benefits--such as faster app-launching and higher framer rates for smoother gaming--the power-stingy A6 promises a full day of battery life, including up to 8 hours of LTE browsing, 8 hours of talk time, and 10 hours of video playback, Apple claims.

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The iPhone 5's two cameras have gotten nice spec bumps. The front-facing shooter takes 1.2-megapixel photos, a notable improvement over the VGA-quality pics from the iPhone 4S's front cam. The rear-facing 8-megapixel iSight camera adds a new panorama feature that lets you shoot up to 240 degrees with one motion; the Camera app, A6 chip, and gyroscope team up to stitch together a high-res panoramic pic up to 28 megapixels in size.

The Camera app has other enhancements too, including better performance in low-light settings, improved noise reduction, and 40% faster photo capture, Apple says. And don't forget the hard and rugged sapphire crystal lens cover, which helps prevent the lens surface from scratching.

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The iPhone 4S's backside camera shoots 1080p HD video, but the iPhone 5's rear shooter does it better. New video stabilization helps capture smooth footage even when your hand is shaky. There's face detection for up to 10 faces, and you can take photos while you're recording video. The front-facing FaceTime HD camera now records 720p HD video--a boon for Botox makers, perhaps--and supports FaceTime video calls over a cellular connection when there's no Wi-Fi nearby.

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Apple's new iOS 6 isn't limited to the iPhone 5, of course, but the mobile operating system's new features will certainly entice people to buy the company's new handset. What's new? Well, Siri is smarter. She now fields sports queries, including questions about scores and standings. You also can use Siri to launch apps, get movie recommendations and make dinner reservations -- "Find an Indian restaurant for two around 9 p.m." -- and post Facebook updates.

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There's a good chance that other iOS 6 apps may steal Siri's thunder as the iPhone 5's big draw. Two strong candidates are Maps and Passport. The new Maps app has vector-based map elements, which keep graphics and text sharp when you zoom in. Maps provides real-time traffic information and suggests alternative routes to avoid congestion. Its biggest upgrade? Spoken, turn-by-turn directions--a long-overdue feature than Android users have enjoyed for some time.

Passport collects all of your essential documents in one place: airline boarding passes, coupons, gift cards, movie tickets, and so on. The App Store will have Passport-enabled apps, and participating merchants will offer compatible gift cards and other items, Apple says. One cool feature for travelers: Passes and tickets automatically appear on the iPhone 5's lock screen when you need them--like when you arrive at the airport and need your boarding pass.

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For Apple to build a phone as slim as the iPhone 5, it needed a trimmer dock connector, which meant the venerable 30-pin dock on earlier iPhones (and iPod and iPads) had to go. The new Lightning connector has an all-digital, 8-signal design, and is 80% smaller than its 30-pin predecessor. Apple says it's more durable too. One nice touch: Lightning is reversible, so there's no wrong way to plug it in.

Of course, Lightning is bad news if you're planning to upgrade to the iPhone 5--and bring along your collection of iPhone accessories that use the 30-pin connector. The solution: Apple will sell a Lightning to 30-pin adapter, reportedly for around $30.

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The iPhone 5, as well as the new iPod touch and iPod nano, will ship with redesigned earbuds called EarPods. Three years in the making, Earpods have controls on the wire that are bigger and easier to use, Apple says. The new earbuds are designed to sit snugly inside your ear--and hopefully stay there.

The iPhone 5 has other audio enhancements as well, including three microphones: front, back, and bottom. They provide noise cancellation and improved voice recognition. And a new technology called wideband audio fills up more of the frequency spectrum to make your voice sound natural during calls. However, only 20 wireless carriers currently support wideband audio, so the feature may not be available in your area just yet.

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