The most buzzed mobile phone out on the market, the king of the crop and the one that all other phones are measured by – the Apple iPhone 5. All controversial but true statements nonetheless. The iPhone 5 has been subject to accolades and criticism that come with being the market leader or “best”. Those who love it, do so with a passion I have never seen expressed for any other single product on that scale. Those who hate it, do so probably because of it’s price point or just have a serious allergy to “following the pack”. Of the two groups, the latter seem to not be able to give a reason why they hold their views. Almost 10 months after it went on sale in Australia, I am finally ready to retrospectively RE-view (review) this phone.
After waiting for my mobile carrier Vodafone to launch the 4G/LTE network since I got my device, I could finally tackle this review. My logic for delaying the review was, if I am not using all features a product has to offer then I am not experiencing the product to it’s fullest potential. So here’s what matters from what all the iPhone 5 has to offer, after all the hype has disappeared and all the tech specs mean very little and in some cases are out classed by newer devices.
The thin, super light weight, aluminum shiny form factor catches your eye with all its beauty which is undeniable but that won’t necessarily win you over. Despite looking posh, what led me to a “shut up and take my money” moment was how light this thing is. Everything about this phone lost some weight, and I suspected Apple had simply distributed the weight evenly by making the phone taller. That was until all 112 grams, of what feels like nothingness, was sitting in my hand in the form of an iPhone 5. I will never forget the tradesman I left in the Apple store weighing his iPhone 3GS and the iPhone 5 in either hand, shaking his head in disbelief. I still can’t get over the fact that from day 1 of ownership to this day I still can’t tell if I have my iPhone 5 in my trouser pockets, not jeans, without feeling them with my hands. It could be pick pocketed and I wouldn’t realise it was missing until I needed to use it next.
Losing this phone and not noticing isn’t the only problem this new form factor introduces. Because it is so compact, the iPhone 5 heats up pretty quickly. I have the black one and leaving it in direct sunlight for under 5 mins easily turned it into a hot expensive stone, that eventually cools down. Some users claimed this was also the case when using 3G in some cases but that was never apparent to me.
Another more obvious issue with the hardware was how the black iPhone is prone to scratches. Calling it a scratch magnet would be an understatement as the chamfered edges on the black version lose all paint to become an exposed silver. This is a less aesthetic look but not an issue on the white iPhone 5 as it has silver chamfered edges to begin with. The direct sunlight issue remains untested for the white iPhone which I didn’t get a hold off, but I suspect would be reduced rather than absent. If you don’t get the white one, a case is highly recommended but my scratch scarred iPhone will attest to the fact that I think that would neutralise or conceal all the great things about the thin form factor.
When the iPhone 5 was new and it’s software iOS was much lighter, the battery was outstanding. Long lasting to a minimum of a day on a full charge with heavy use, the more power hungry retina screen seems not to phase it much as reported with the iPhone 4S.
Fast forward to 10 months on, when I am now less fussy about picking up a third party, low cost car charger to juice up my iPhone. The iPhone has begun to be narcoleptic at 13%, sometimes even 15%, returning that “uh oh – it could die any minute now” feeling I was now experiencing with my old iPhone 4. I do have to be honest and fess up that it is hard to deduce whether the battery is becoming weaker or if it is a combination of increased usage and background apps firing networks requests even though I am not using the device. As if that wasn’t enough, using my iPhone 5 as a GPS proved even more strenuous on the battery.
Whether you choose to pin the blame on that Whatsapp group buzzing your phone at 2am or Facebook notifications of that person who just took their daily selfie; or iOS gaining weight, it matters little that the battery is now an issue for 2 reasons. Firstly, you will most likely become more efficient at carrying around a charging cable or two. Secondly, you will realise the battery is still tonnes better than all competitor phones with their low cost approach, with the exception of the enormous Samsung Galaxy Note series.
Lights, Camera, Action
Every time I have handed my iPhone to someone who has said “let’s see,” the camera has been the secret weapon to drop their jaws if they haven’t already at this point. Initially I thought the Retina screen was strutting its stuff and adding its magic. Facebook, Instagram and any other photo social platform will prove this as a neutral battle ground where megapixels mean nothing and WOW pictures say everything.
Both the front facing and rear cameras are tops, but you will almost always have the LED flash light turned off as it has never made a picture look good for me. Selfies actually become capturable using the much improved front camera, in as high detail as the rear camera. Let’s be honest, what else do you use the front facing camera for? Facetime does look a bit better with the front camera, in low light situations as well.
There’s more, more of an image to capture that is through the panorama feature. These are stunning and great where there is good lighting. I liked the execution of how you take the shot, unlike some DSLR camera’s that do panoramas out of the box, you are not rushed through the shot. There is also a line through the middle of the shot with an arrow to guide you in keeping your shot more in line. A useful tip is, Facebook displays a panoramic shot taken only up to about the halfway point of the possible full panoramic width. In simple English, stop halfway when taking a panoramic shot.
Connectivity (4G/LTE, 3G & Wifi)
Due to not having LTE for quite a while, I noted the iPhone 5 has faster wifi speeds. This is without changing speeds or the plans for my home wifi. Whether it is because of the faster processor and a better antenna, the result is much welcomed.
LTE is much quicker, but not as much as I anticipated but that might be a function of waiting too long to use it. Speeds resemble that of Wifi when using LTE which is great when you are out and about. Benchmark test where I go in the real world showed LTE to 10 times faster in downloads that my homes ADSL1 connection, that’s impressive (see images). This does reflect when web browsing, however some apps seemed to still be the same speeds to me when accessing their remote servers. I suspect this could be due to upload speeds not changing much and still as low as 3G. Nonetheless, I cannot wait for wider LTE coverage from my carrier.
This is where Apple really beats the pack and if they manage to suck you in, there pretty much no turning back. If you have owned another apple product you will love how your apple account syncs all your purchases between devices, especially the apple tv which also offer nice features like Airplay. It just works, and might add Google Android version of the Apple TV was discontinued which further increases the gap between the iPhone and other mobile phones.
Another feature in the ecosystem other than integration that you will enjoy is wireless software updates over wifi. Since Apple announced that you no longer need to connect your phone to a computer to activate it or sync music or update the iOS software on the phone, I have never had issues with how this was executed. This means, if you don’t want to own another computer and just use the iPhone as a standalone phone you can now do so and I am happy to report with no hustle.
I have chosen to make iOS 6 out of scope for this review and Apple has announced that iOS 7 is on the way. I found it fitting to give it a proper, dedicated review to send it off as it rightfully deserves as we all fell in love with it’s look and feel that slowly evolved over the years. In all honesty, it is the other half that makes the iPhone what it is.
THE SMALL STUFF
The A6 processor of the iPhone 5 is meant to be the latest and greatest offering double the processing speeds compared of it’s predecessor in the iPhone 4S. After a while you stop noticing how lightning quick the phone is, and that is partially because you get used to it and partly because your iOS and apps get bigger with each update. I can safely say the processor handles iOS 6 well and you can expect it to no doubt fair well with iOS 7 but anything beyond that might become unbearable.
What’s interesting to note is that while other newer competitor phones were reported to come out with quad core processors and the iPhone 5 A6 chips is a dual core, they still benchmarked and performed pretty much the same. I call this the “V6 engine in Toyota is not the same as a V6 engine in a Mercedes Benz” analogy. Apple did a great job of making sure the processor holds it own weight of OS by being efficient rather than just being brutally powerful with little benefit.
Then comes new 30 pin lightning connector that everyone cried for months over as to why Apple changed it. Now that the world has moved on to more pressing issues to complain about, I think this new connector is tonnes faster a recharging and even data transfer. It is all digital and seems to address the much slower charging issue when connected to a PC that used to occur with the old cable.
The new nano sim, you will only most probably see when you insert it for the first time. Clearly this was a space saving move by Apple to suite the form factor in their endeavour to make the phone thinner and lighter. The only thing that might annoy you is how extra careful you have to be when changing sim cards as it is so small you could easily lose it. You better get used to it though because they seem to be here to stay as the iPad mini launched later is also but to accept nano sim’s as well.
Although the 1 year mark nears for the iPhone 5, I am fast noticing a trend that is re-occurring from the iPhone 4. All the other competitor mobile phones, that were launch round about the same time as the iPhone 5 are no longer worthwhile talking about and in some cases have been superseded with newer models. Competing models usually try to give you the same features at a lower cost, which is great at purchase but fast becomes an issues as the cheaper materials age. Memory issues arise, they start to hang and Android OS numbers can leave you behind as new versions are released faster than you can keep up making your more outdated. This is not the case with iPhone 5, I would be proud the hand this device down to my siblings like I did with my iPhone 4 with feeling like I am turning them into a dumping ground.
To add to the customer satisfaction you get from the Apple, is the rest assurance of third party support. You will be guaranteed of innovative accessories that will pimp your iPhone and I am not just talking about cases. Even motor vehicle companies offer better support for the iPhone hands-free and USB music features. While other competitor devices are slowly being adopted into vehicle support, there are still nowhere near and their fast rate of software change make the hopes of leveling that playing field bleak as manufacturers can’t keep up. This holds true for newer competitor devices coming out much later that I have tested.
To sum it up in two words that Apple product users have grown to love them for, and hope all competitors will learn at some point, the iPhone 5 will give you high “customer satisfaction” even with scratch proneness considered. For those of you that might have dropped, lost, broken, walking into beach water with your phone in your pocket or got their phone stolen and need a replacement device, the iPhone 5 might still be an option for you. The iPhone has great synergy, the sum of its part are greater than the whole which is why therefore a competitor device that trumps it in one or two areas simply isn’t good enough still.