Last Updated on Wednesday, 19 September 2012 21:22 Published on Wednesday, 19 September 2012 21:22
Ahead of the iPhone 5′s official release on Friday, hands-on reviews from major newspapers and tech sites have started to roll in. It probably shouldn’t surprise us by this point, but the reviews are almost universally positive.
Considering the iPhone 4S was similarly well received, and the iPhone 5 is basically a thinner, lighter, faster, and less-slippery iteration, this isn’t really a surprise. The iPhone 4S was the fastest (and best) selling phone ever — and indeed, the iPhone 5 notched up a record-breaking two million pre-orders within 24 hours, double the previous record holder (the iPhone 4S). While we technocrats might be unhappy with Apple’s severe lack of groundbreaking advances, it’s also easy to see why Apple sticks with its winning formula.
Let’s take a closer look at what the hands-on reviews are saying.
Almost every review begins by pointing out just how light the iPhone 5 is. At 112 grams, it’s 20% lighter than the iPhone 4S, and one of the lightest smartphones in the world. Otherwise, by virtue of its identical width, it feel a lot like the iPhone 4S. Many reviews also indicate that the iPhone 5 is easier to grasp and less slippery than its predecessor — which, as any owner of a cracked iPhone 4S can attest, is a very good thing.
Despite the larger 4-inch screen, it seems that each corner of the display can still be comfortably reached — unlike some of the larger Android smartphones, where it sometimes feels like you should’ve taken a beginner’s course in kung fu before attempting to manipulate it with one hand. The iPhone 5 is incredibly thin (7.6mm), which helps with the “reachability.”
There are two key changes inside the iPhone 5: A new A6 SoC, and a new all-in-one 28nm Qualcomm radio that supports a huge range of wireless networks, including LTE. We’ve already covered the new radio in some detail — and to be honest, most of today’s reviews don’t seem to pay much attention to wireless connectivity. In general, it sounds like the iPhone 5 makes calls and connects to LTE networks as well as any Android phone — no surprise there.
The A6, which we suspect is a custom-made chip designed by Apple, has been well received by reviewers. It’s obviously hard to separate the A6′s enhancements from any performance tweaks made to iOS, but at least synthetically the A6 performs admirably.
The iPhone 4S had a best-in-class display, and it seems the iPhone 5 keeps that tradition. Reviews say that the 16:9 Retina display is slightly brighter, and marginally better outside/in bright light. Apple also excitedly told us that the iPhone 5 is the first smartphone capable of displaying the full sRGB color gamut — and indeed, reviewers are saying that the iPhone 5′s color reproduction is very accurate and “neutral” (i.e. not overly contrasty).
While a few reviewers said they were unable to accurately test the iPhone 5′s battery in such a short period of time (they’ve only had a couple of days with the device), in general the iPhone 5′s battery life does seem to improve upon the iPhone 4S. The iPhone 4S had mediocre battery life, and the iPhone 5 improves upon that — while being 20% thinner and lighter. Engadget, with heavy LTE/GPS/WiFi usage, squeezed out no less than 14 hours and 18 minutes of battery life.
As far as Apple’s concerned, this is the one area that it can still dominate the competition. While Samsung’s latest superphone might contain more doodads, Apple’s highly-integrated software/hardware stack and masterful industrial design team are still the best when it comes to combining fancy doodads and decent battery life. Remember, the battery in the iPhone 4S and 5 (1,400mAh) is 30% smaller than the Galaxy S3 (2,100mAh), and yet they should have comparable battery life.
Despite Apple making quite a lot of noise about the iPhone 5′s camera, it is fundamentally very, very similar to the shooter found in the 4S — and the hands-on reviews reflect that. Even a year after its release, though, the 4S still has one of the best cameras on the market — though that will probably change when the Lumia 920 arrives later in the year.
While the rear-facing camera hasn’t changed much, reviewers are very happy with the new 1.2-megapixel forward-facing FaceTime camera, which has four times the resolution of the iPhone 4S’s forward-facing VGA camera.
Out of all the reviews, one of the only aspects of the iPhone 5 that received negative sentiment was iOS 6. While the newest version of iOS 6 has plenty of new features, and it zips along nicely with the new A6 SoC, some reviewers simply think that iOS feels a bit antiquated. Considering iOS has looked virtually the same since the first iPhone was launched in 2007, such sentiment isn’t all that surprising — especially if you’ve been following the rapid evolution of Android.
As far as consumers are concerned, though, there’s a lot to be said for familiarity. With the iPhone being by far the most successful smartphone in the world, familiarity is a very good way of ensuring repeat custom — and billions of dollars for Apple.
Non-American reviews have also highlighted the weakness of Apple’s own Maps app, which replaces Google Maps in iOS 6. In the US, the new Maps app should work as expected — but in other territories, you can expect seriously reduced functionality (no street new, no public transport, and so on).
Overall, the iPhone 5 seems to be scoring an average of 9 out of 10, with many reviewers giving it a full five stars.
How light is too light?
There was one other interesting thread that ran through many of the iPhone 5 reviews: Is the iPhone 5 too light?
Over the last few weeks, this topic has come up a few times — first with the Kindle Fire HD 8.9, which is significantly lighter than the iPad, and then the Lumia 920, which is actually quite heavy. I have had a few conversations with other writers and commenters about whether those few grams actually matter.
It’s obviously a very subjective question. At what point does something go from being “heavy” to “light”? There’s no denying that the iPad 3, at 650g, is too heavy for prolonged use — but is a 570-gram Kindle Fire HD 8.9 going to be any better? The Fire is 15% lighter — but does that mean I’ll be able to use it for 15% longer before my arms get tired?
It’s even trickier at the smartphone scale. The iPhone 5 weighs 112 grams and the Samsung Galaxy S3 is 133 grams: Do those 20 grams affect your long-term usage patterns? Probably not. Surely the shape and size of the phone are important, too — how the weight is distributed on your palm will play a huge role in how light the phone actually feels. Is weight important when it comes to flimsiness? Or is that a factor of weight and construction?
But even so, reviews suggest that the iPhone 5 is too light — that it feels too light in the hand, and even “too light in the pocket.” Maybe it’s just relative, though — after you’ve had a heavier phone in your pocket for years, it’s obviously going to be a bit weird getting used to something lighter. [extremetech]