iPhone 5 Review – Faulty but still Flying

The long awaited iPhone 5 has arrived at Gizmobird offices set against a social media backcloth of technical angst and fan-boy defences. The purple flare that appears on images, the yellow colour cast on the screen, the easy to scratch back panel, the map fiasco… its Antennagate all over again. There are also cosmetic design issues that Steve Jobs’ would have had teams of staff horse-whipped for causing and the iPhone 5 launch would have been delayed till all was rectified. Issues such as the iPhone 5 screen glass which protrudes above the edge chamfer of the handset and the camera lens which is no longer neatly equidistant from the corner radius of the chassis.

Reviewer Rating

9.1 out of 10
Overall: 9.1 out of 10
Breakdown of overall phone rating
  • 1. Style
    9
  • 2. Build
    9
  • 3. Display
    10
  • 4. Processor
    10
  • 5. Imaging
    10
  • 6. GUI
    8
  • 7. Social
    8
  • 8. Games
    10
  • 9. Music
    9
  • 10. Business
    8

User Rating

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars6 Stars7 Stars8 Stars9 Stars10 Stars
(11 votes) select eggs to vote.

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Prime Millet

  • Stunningly fast at everything
  • No really, it is amazingly fast
  • Great imaging equipment and software
  • Pulls phone and GPS signals like a magnet

Droppings

  • iOS getting a bit long in the App
  • Limited memory, no media card slot
  • No NFC, headphone socket on bottom
  • New Lightening connector

On the other hand, it has got a bigger screen and an awesomely potent A6 processor, the promise of which saw 5m units sold in the first few days, and waiting lists stretching back weeks. It’s thinner and lighter than the iPhone 4s and offers 4G services that we in the UK don’t have any access to yet. Oh that’s not useful then. OK, there is also the panoramic iSight camera and iOS 6, claimed to be the world’s most advanced mobile operating system. It’s also one of the largest and most bloated iOS’s ever, ensuring that if you load iOS 6 onto any previous generation iPhone it slows it down to a snail’s pace until you finally give in and buy a new iPhone 5. On the plus side Siri has been updated with some UK businesses should you ever need to ask your phone for the nearest Meat Feast with anchovies.

But does the iPhone 5 and iOS 6 combo do enough to put Apple back on top of the smart phone must have list? Well, possibly, but not by much. Read on to find out why.

Anti-ci-pation

Such was my anticipation for the iPhone 5, I suspect even if it came with a free Kiera Knightly, I still might have been a little disappointed. Recent phones like Samsung’s Galaxy S3 and the HTC One family were so good, it set the bar Apple had to jump very high. There is also a raft of very promising new Nokias around the corner that are going to fly with the latest Windows OS. So the iPhone 5 had to be good, had to be an awesome upgrade over the 4S, and had to come with new and highly desirable features. Hmmm, it sort of didn’t.

Well it is certainly a lot lighter than the old 4S, some 20% in fact. It gets rid of the very practical Gorilla Glass back panel for a painted aluminium unibody – much the same as every other top-spec smartphone on the market. The body is shallower and taller to accommodate the new screen, making it feel a bit lanky. The new 4″ screen is bolder and brighter and gains another rows worth of icons on the home page. It is now almost precisely 16:9 ratio, making ideal for watching movies. It boasts an 1136 x 640 resolution, although the pixel density is exactly the same as the 4S. Side by side with a Galaxy S3, the screen still looks rather bijou.

Although what constitutes small per se is a matter of opinion. For every Galaxy S3 fan willing to hold their phone in one hand and use a finger on the other hand to navigate, there is an iPhone fan happily operating the phone doing the one hand, one thumb shuffle. And probably sipping a latte with the other hand. As a long-term iPhone user, I’d kill for an iPhone with a screen the size of the S3 as it makes browsing so much more practical. Hey-ho. The trouble is Apple would need to widen the body and get rid of some of the front-facing non-screen real estate as the iPhone 5 is already a tall phone. If the power button was much higher you would need a ladder to get to it.

The design is neat, tidy and attractive but not exactly a huge departure from the cosmetic execution of the 4 and 4S. There is also much talk on the forums of the back panel, as nicely finished as it is, scratching far too easily which makes having a phone cover (and hence losing the slim advantage) near essential. And then there are just odd things on the design. As noted the camera lens is for the first time off-set from the radius of the chassis and if you look at the iPhone 5 side-on you will see the gorgeous chamfer, that Apple’s website highlights so much, is rather spoilt by the screen glass protruding above it.

And while I am on squawk about my initial deflation and disappointment on the iPhone 5, there is that new Lightening connector. I have something like a dozen Apple connector cables, chargers, sync leads and docks and two radio docks and a music system with 30-pin Apple dock connectors. If I were to migrate from 4S to 5 they would all become redundant. And before everyone shouts ‘adapter’, I have tried, and it’s generally not practical. They make the phone stick a good inch out of any dock connector and with the added height of the 5 it put dangerous levels of torque on the dock’s male connector. Sigh…

Then there is the on board memory, or rather lack of it. No one else seems to be quite so hung up about this so feel free to gloss over the next paragraph if you have no desire to transport your music in high bitrate, take lots of video, or watch movies on your smart phone. The iPhone 5 offers a stoic adherence to 16GB, 32GB or 64GB models, exactly the same as the 4S, and has no expansion slot. I can only presume this has been specified so Apple can sell more customers its Cloud and Match services. However as I have pointed out so many times I am going to lay an egg on this issue, Cloud services are useless if you are on the road a lot or based in rural England with narrowband – or in my case, both. Moreover, against the falling price of silicon chip memory the price differential between models is ridiculous too – about four times as much per Gigabyte as the most expensive, highest spec, SD card.

Then there is the lack of NFC and the frankly bizarre moving of the headphone socket to the bottom of the phone. I mean, you now have to pocket the device upside down when listening to music and flip it over when you pull it out to use it. That is so wrong. So overall pretty disappointed here at Gizmobird Towers – and that’s before we have even powered the iPhone 5 up.

The Comeback Kid

Well, actually that screen is rather good then. Having had friends bemoan a yellow cast the iPhone 5’s screen and purporting that it looks lacklustre compared to the Amoled competition, I would say it’s actually one of the most natural looking screens I have seen. It’s bright, crisp and detailed and whereas the Amoled shout deeply saturated colours at you the 5 is well, more natural looking. Moreover that extra line of icons is rather handy for putting your hot apps on the home screen too.

But what you really, really notice about the iPhone 5 from the first few seconds of use is how blisteringly fast it is. Everything moves seamlessly with no lags or delays, apps power open in the blink of an eye and surfing is faster than my top-spec Macbook Air using the same broadband and WiFi connection – go figure! The extra screen height pays real dividends on web browsing where you can flip the phone on its side and actually read a web page left-to-right in full without having to zoom and scroll for the first time on an iPhone.

Of course, if you are familiar with the ‘upgrade’ to iOS 6 you will also know that, actually, there is not a lot radically different in the new GUI. If you have used any of the top spec Android smart phones you will be left feeling the Apple OS is getting a little long in the icons. There is very little in the way of customisation available short of dropping Apps into folders, the notifications are exactly the same as on previous models and the whole modus operandi is well, unchanged.

So is that a good thing or a bad thing? For the Apple-loyal it does make upgrading to an iPhone 5 a seamless and hassle free experience. It’s just like giving your 4S a bit more screen and a turbo boost in the processing department. But when the Samsung’s and HTCs and even Nokias of this market are trying to out-do each other with ever more intelligent, ever more feature rich UIs I can’t help thinking the iPhone is starting to look like the old guard. But is that an issue? There is a huge customer base of smart phone users out there who do not actually have the time nor inclination to learn their way around a new and innovative UI where just finding your mum’s phone number takes Olympic standard finger dexterity and ten pages of interactive customizable menus. The older I get, the more I find myself in that category….

Trump!

Which brings me onto one of the most happily surprising features of the new iPhone, its ability to make a phone call. Yes, radical I know but the iPhone 5 is a great phone. Apple has done some real work on the antenna arrangement and it has dramatically improved signal pull and call quality over and above the 4S. In the home office there was a notable increase in bars from the usual 1 to mostly 3 bars, and on my commute the phone sailed through all three key dead spots without fully dropping the call, although it did get a bit flaky at one point. Call me old fashioned but that is almost enough to get me to upgrade to the 5 right now.

Likewise the GPS ability is much improved with the device pin-pointing my location and displaying a map within a second of the request. With the iPhone 4S I have usually got to the next county before it has a stab at pinpointing ones location. The latter is particularly true of built-up locations and on more than one occasion the 4S has lead me on a merry yet pointless romp around London. Not so with the iPhone 5. It clamps onto your location with ease and the interminable delays of waiting for maps to load are all but eliminated.

The outcry when Google Maps was ousted from the OS in favour of Apples own cartographically challenged Map App was probably audible from the moon. Key towns were relocated or renamed, including famously Doncaster becoming Duncaster and the whole thing was full of minor errors. Now I don’t use maps a great deal anyway but, you know what, that was all a bit of a storm in a teacup IMHO. The Apple Map App is actually much faster than Google Maps and with the new GPS set-up, the iPhone 5 makes it far more accurate too. And let’s not forget we all spent the first five years of using Google Maps bitching at the inaccuracies that they have slowly ironed out.

Apple even put their hands up and admitted things needed de-bugging a bit, and I have no doubt hundreds of Apple-folk are working on that very thing 24/7. I think what really annoyed even the iPhone loyal was the removal of Google Maps in the iOS 6 update without so much of a mention before you upload the new software. So, actually and in reality, despite all the internet rhetoric and anti-Apple flaming on this issue, iPhone 5’s better location hardware makes it one of the best Sat Nav phones on the market.

The problems actually come when you flick to pure satellite view. In towns and major conurbations the satellite view’s maximum zoom is way behind Google Maps. While maximum zoom in Google may see only half a dozen back-yards fill the screen, with Apple Maps you get half the road and much less detail even at maximum zoom. Move out to rural England as you may as well not bother with satellite view at all. Rural landscapes are much worse. While Google Maps clearly shows detail down to seeing the pine-coloured table in the conservatory, Apple Maps turns the village into a vista of blurry greens and browns. Oh dear, now that is a step backwards. Interestingly, Apple’s App Store has tags to find alternatives to Apple Maps. Google Maps isn’t one of the available alternatives of course.

It’s all in the image

The iPhone 5 camera is not exactly a hardware revolution over the old 4S, in fact even calling it an evolution might be pushing it a bit. It’s still an 8MP unit, now covered with a sapphire glass lens cover. And hasn’t that caused a stir. The purple flare issue seemed like a huge deal and some of the internet images posted look really bad; massive purple haze or halos around bright objects. Needless to say it was pretty much the first thing we tried on our sample. Bright areas, side lighting and eventually straight into the sun.

iphone 5

The results were extraordinarily…… good. Whatever the purple flare issue was on those net photos was absolutely not present at all on our iPhone 5, even on the shots straight into the sun. There is a theory that it was a rogue early batch of sapphire glass but whatever it was – it isn’t now. Purplegate – case closed.

More to the point, that story detracted somewhat from what is an excellent piece of imaging equipment. While the 8MP lens is nothing to write home about, the imaging software has come on in leaps and bounds. The whole taking a photo process is much, much quicker the 4S, you have direct from lock screen shooting ability and the down volume button doubles as the shutter release. There is negligible lag in the App start up and even less in the time to focus and capture an image. The iPhone 5 is now quicker than most compact digital still cameras in going from standby to having taken an image.

And while the software is not quite as madly feature-rich as those Apps found on some Android phones it does pack a superb vertical camera panorama mode (albeit creating near 30MB images), face tracking, HDR and better low light abilities than previous generations. There are not many effects per se, but having used them on the Samsung Galaxy S3 their entertainment value is about 10 minutes anyway. You do have exposure control and the ability to take readings from and focus on parts of the images selected on the touch screen. The results are pretty darn good too. The natural screen colour gives the images a very realistic and natural tone when viewed on the phone and images ported over to the PC look crisp and well detailed. In darker scenes there is some image noise visible but relatively very clean with great shadow detail. Cool.

Switch to the 1080p video mode running at a stellar 30fps and you can also capture stills whilst recording video. On board image stabiliser is pretty good at countering shaking hands if not massive movements. The video capture was crisp and solid no matter what the lighting conditions and turned in a solid performance time and time again. I have never had much use for video capture on a phone, but with these sorts of results I might be tempted to get a bit more experimental. The results look great on the iPhone screen and on the PC monitor.

Media, Media

Playing music on the iPhone 5 will be intimately familiar to all iPhone and iPod touch users as the interface is all but unchanged. Yeah there are some different colour backdrops and er, no that’s it.

Sound is superb as usual particularly if you have a penchant for music recorded in high bitrate MP3 or even Apple Lossless. OK, even I might admit lossless is overkill qualitative for a mobile device but if you happen to be docking your iPhone into a hi-fi system it’s worth the capacity issue. Of course, there would not be capacity issues if Apple made a larger capacity version of the iPhone 5, didn’t charge quite so much premium for the 32GB and 64GB versions or included a media card slot. Grrrr.

Video is presented with TV-like smoothness and again the screen colours tend to be easier on the eye (and the brain) than the OTT colour saturation of some of the AMOLED screens. Ok put on an animated movie the iPhone 5 doesn’t have the ‘pop’ of the Galaxy S3 but for live action footage it’s very good and almost precisely 16:9 screen ratio too. I am not a fan of watching TV or movies on a phone, as there are hundreds of better devices to do that on, but it does work for the odd covert office peek at some content. Younger friends and other reviewers assure me the iPhone 5 is apparently the best yet with games too. The new A6 processor does indeed offer blisteringly fast gaming speed – like wot Apple says on its website. I’ll take their word for it.

One thing that has certainly had a bit of a refresh is Siri. It has, finally, been updated with some UK business addresses so now when you are sitting in Hyde Park and ask it where you nearest Pizza is Siri no longer suggest just outside of New York. It might also be my imagination but the voice recognition seems better too, far more accurate with less random words being translated. It’s still more fun asking Siri ridiculous questions in an attempt to find one of the many thousand witty replies than it is useful. Well for ten minutes before the Phrase “I don’t understand <whatever you said> shall I search the web for it” becomes really boring.

Which brings us finally to battery life. Or rather the lack of it. A near like for like use comparison with a year old iPhone 4S has the iPhone 5 failing about 10% earlier in the day. Features like hot spot networking and maps really cane the power and because the surfing experience is so much quicker there is a propensity to do a bit more of it. And that is before there is anything remotely resembling an effective 4G network in the UK. I suspect when we are surfing via 4G, shooting video and images all over the place, surfing like crazy whilst navigating from A-B with an iPhone 5, then the battery life will crash and burn before lunch. Still, on the upside, all those features work so very well with the iPhone 5 I am going to buy one anyway – and more than a dozen new docks and Lightening cables.

Posted in Apple, Reviews | 2 Comments

2 Responses to iPhone 5 Review – Faulty but still Flying

  1. Pingback: iPad Mini Review and Features | GizmoBird

  2. Koh Smoger says:

    Apple may be taking a large step backwards, and drawing back from the original iPhone’s intentions. This device looks kind of fake. The attention to detail is not as important as the phone itself.

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