Published September 19, 2012
It doesn't go on sale until Friday but it already has a new nickname and more than 2 million committed users.
The iPhone 5, comically dubbed The Longphone, is the revamped Apple smartphone users have longed for since the iPhone 4 started to show its age. It promises faster downloads and response times, a significantly lighter, rugged body, plus camera, software and speaker upgrades.
But the iPhone 5 may not please everyone with its screen that is no wider, battery that is no larger, and demands for a new SIM card and fresh cables.
I've tested the new iPhone for seven days, loading it with more than 300 apps, testing each new feature, filling its memory with photos, and trying very hard not to drop it.
Below is an account of life with an iPhone 5 to help make your smartphone choice easier.
You'd think Apple's first 4-inch screen would make the biggest first impression. Nope.
Pick up an iPhone 5 and you're likely to first notice its unlikely lightness. This handset is just under 4 ounces; so light you'll have to adjust your grip to keep hold of it.
It also looks like it's been made by a jeweller: the slender sides have been finely sanded to a shiny edge and the anodized aluminum back cover is reassuringly solid. No more glass sandwich to protect.
WHY THE LONG SCREEN?
It's the most obvious iPhone 5 upgrade: a screen that is 18 percent bigger than before.
Websites now stretch further, revealing three Google results rather than two. Three appointments appear in the monthly calendar view (not one), and a new row of apps fits on each screen. I immediately reorganized my home screen accordingly, following an Idol app audition process.
The long screen is surprisingly practical. Apart from allowing thumb-typing, widescreen movie and TV downloads can now be viewed without a letterbox border, making them more comfortable to watch. Impressively, Apple hasn't stretched resolution to fit the screen. It retains the 326-ppi Retina Display by adding more pixels. The screen is as sharp as ever, even when eyeball-close.
Apple has also boosted screen contrast, which is particularly obvious in photos. Side-by-side with an iPhone 4S, colors look bolder and less washed out. Blacks looks darker and reds richer. This contrast boost comes with a downside, however: Whites also look more yellow. It's only noticeable when compared to another phone's screen, but there is a very slight tint to the iPhone 5 display.
DUDE, WHERE'S MY CHARGER?
Having stared at the screen for hours, restored more than 100 apps and downloaded several photo albums, the iPhone 5's battery says no. I reach for my old cord and think again: the new iPhone has a new connection.
This becomes more frustrating with each charge. Where did I leave that one white cord, different to all the other white cords?
Yet more problems arise when mobile. No one else has an eight-pin Lightning adaptor for me to borrow. I become a battery scrooge to keep to the phone alive. The smaller connection paved the way for a more slender phone and Apple says the pain of adapting will subside. This transitional period is bound to be awkward and frustrating, though.
HOW MUCH FASTER?
Like all new iPhones, this model feels faster than the last.
Reach for the camera app and you can shoot two photos before the iPhone 4S snaps one. Apps also open faster, games load quicker and menus respond with greater speed. Apple claims it's up to twice as fast.
Surprisingly, benchmarking tests support this claim. The Geekbench app placed this iPhone 5 handset just below the Samsung Galaxy S III's benchmark even though that phone has a quad-core processor to this phone's dual-core model. Touche.
4G THAT WORKS
It takes a moment for me to recognize it. It's not the 4G symbol I expected. This iPhone calls its faster Internet connection by its more accurate name: LTE.
With just three out of five 4G bars showing, this phone tears through megabytes. It downloads 12 megabits per second, on average, and can upload 6 mbps: fast enough to download email attachments without consideration and upload Instagram photos before you reconsider.
And remember that "Grip of Death''? It doesn't affect this phone. I tried it.
DO MEGAPIXELS MATTER?
The iPhone 5's front-facing camera is undoubtedly better -- self-portraits and FaceTime video chats are clearer -- but the rear camera's upgrade is more subtle. It's still an 8-megapixel camera but one that features digital tweaks.
Digital noise reduction and low-light modes have been added to make indoor photos crisper, users can capture photos while shooting video, and a panorama option lets you capture 270-degree vistas.
This last offering is perhaps the most notable and it's well executed. Capturing Brisbane's Story Bridge at night was initially challenging -- you must strive to keep a virtual arrow on a line while slowly spinning -- but the results impressed. Cropped and color-boosted afterwards, they became worthy desktop backgrounds.
Does anyone need a resolution greater than 8 megapixels? Sony and Nokia think so. Apple's new camera isn't groundbreaking, but it delivers valuable improvements.
Want bigger apps for that bigger screen? You'll have to wait.
Each app-maker must update their creation to use the iPhone 5's longer display. View the web in Google Chrome and it looks smaller than in Apple's own Safari, for example. This is bound to be a very short-term problem. Expect a weekend rush.
Want to slip your SIM into an iPhone 5? You'll have to swap it for a Nano-SIM. SIM surgery won't work this time -- you can't cut a Micro SIM down to size -- and you'll have to find an adaptor if you want to switch to another phone. Apple is asking users to commit.
Don't expect a lot of extra battery life from this phone, either. The iPhone 5 battery is no larger, though it will last a touch longer than an iPhone 4S between charges while delivering more screen and a faster Internet service.
The iPhone 5 is a compelling package and certainly enough to keep Apple's many fans hooked. By introducing a 4G Internet connection, bigger screen, faster processor and modest camera upgrades, users will find plenty of reasons to upgrade.
Committed Google Android users, however, are less likely to be swayed. Big screens, fast processors and 4G connections are not new to them.
Apple's newest iPhone is revolutionary, of course ... it's just a modest, modern revolution.
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