We saw the leaked images. And then we saw more leaked images, and specifications. And then some more! When the iPhone 5 actually released, it was like the worst kept secret. The critics found that a point to pounce on. But that doesn’t take away from the simple fact – the iPhone 5 is an excellent evolution of what was already a very good product, the iPhone 4S.
Build & Design
For all the hype about the bigger display and the taller form factor, the iPhone 5 feels brilliant in the hand. The basic design remains pretty much like the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 4S, with the slightly elongated form factor. We really mean it when we say that photographs don’t do it justice, and you need to hold it in all its real glory to understand all the excitement about it. The shape is exactly the same, just slimmer, with the four rounded edges and the metal strip running around the sides as a frame.
There are those exact same “cuts” at the top and the bottom of the sides, right and left. As we show in the video, the front and the back now sit more flush with the sides, unlike the iPhone 4S where the front and the back sat considerably above the metal band strip. Looking at these phones from the side on gives you a clearer picture of what we are talking about. If you swiped across the screen of an iPhone 4S, the finger went over what was a sort of a cliff at the end. In this case, there is a less of that cliff.
The volume rocker has been given the same treatment as the previous generation, and we like the continuity. The finish on the back panel is quite different from the 4S. The glass-ish look is now replaced with a brushed look. The flipside is, that it’ll get scratched rather easily.
On the iPhone 5’s side spine is the nano-SIM card slot, and the opening mechanism remains the same as earlier – insert pin to pop out slot.
Immediately, the weight difference does make you sit up and notice that the iPhone 5 is considerably lighter than the 4S. The 4S tipped the scales at 140 grams, while the iPhone 5 does that at 112 grams.
Before we forget, the iPhone 5 is thinner as well! Yes, the earlier point about the front and the back being more in line with the metal frame is why the iPhone 5 is slimmer. The headphone jack has been moved to the bottom, along with the much smaller Lightning port.
While the iPhone 4’s design is pretty much carried forward, the craftsmanship and the build quality are exquisite. It is all about the incremental changes and upgrades that add to the premium feel and look of the entire package.
Features & Specifications
The biggest issue I have with the iPhone 5 is the switch to the nano-SIM. As if the micro-SIM was anyways too big, this switch doesn’t make any logical sense. Compounding to the problem are our hapless mobile operators who either have no idea what a nano-SIM is, or do not help. For example, the Airtel customer care on the phone has no idea about this SIM. Walk into an Airtel Store, and they tell you straightaway that they’ll cut a nano-SIM for us, but will be only available on a post-paid connection. They also refused to chop the SIM of an existing Airtel prepaid connection as well.
Finally, to test the iPhone 5, I had to resort to ordering a nano-SIM cutter on ebay.in and chopped down one of the existing test SIM cards we had. Just to clarify, we used a Vodafone SIM card when the dust settled. This is quite a pain to implement. But, as pointed out by one consumer, what happens if my SIM card suddenly malfunctions when I am travelling to some city within India, where you may not necessarily get a nano-SIM? And we have to agree with that logic, considering these SIMs are not easily available even in the metro cities! Apple should consider the global scenario before deploying any new ideas. They may be able to ensure the operators in the U.S. offer the necessary services, but what about the rest of the world? Surely this is something to ponder for the wizards in Cupertino. And the mobile service operators in India surely need to do some introspection, with shame writ large on their faces.
The hardware on the iPhone 5 is one of the bright points, which ensure that the nano-SIM related gloom feels worth it at the end! The processor is an Apple A6 dual-core clocking at 1.2GHz and is paired with 1GB of RAM. The storage capacity options are 16GB, 32GB and 64GB. We tested the 16GB one, in white colour.
Apple increased the display size on the iPhone 5 to 4-inches with a resolution of 1136 x 640 pixels. Compared to the iPhone 4S, this is a rather considerable upgrade. The 4S had a 3.5-inch display with a 640 x 960 pixel display. The display quality does look considerably better on the iPhone 5, in a side-by-side comparison with the 4S. The colour looks more vivid, the blacks look deeper and the overall picture looks more lifelike. The iPhone 4S’s display was the best at its time, but the latest iteration of the iPhone display is quite far ahead of the predecessor. With the 16:9 aspect ratio, this phone is better for multimedia consumption. There will be no black bars at the top and the bottom of the widescreen format videos. The crispness of the display and the sharpness of the text is pretty much the same as the 4S. Also, the iPhone 5’s display is certainly reflecting ambient light, and offers slightly better viewing angles. Also, the 4S’s display seems less bright than the iPhone 5, at the exact same brightness levels.
People had often claimed that Apple will not increase the display size of the iPhone, and that 3.5-inches were optimum. However, the increased display size on the iPhone is actually making the experience more comfortable, at least when you are consuming data. On a web page, there is more information in one screen, and you scroll through the pages quicker. Unfortunately, since the iOS has not been tweaked to use the extra screen space for any additional features, which is pretty much about the apps getting more real estate. Hopefully, this will change with the next iOS update.
Speaking of which, there is some disappointment that the interface on the iPhone 5 is exactly the same as the previous two generations of the iPhone, if not more. But then again, the iOS is designed for simplicity, and that is how it has always been. You have multiple screens with the app icons. Folders can be created by long press and dragging an app icon on the top of another. There is a similar method to deleting apps as well - clicking the little X sign on the vibrating icon. iOS does not allow customization at all, unlike Android which is a haven for anyone who wants to tweak. The notification bar is also a shadow of what Android offers! However, all this simplicity means there is no learning curve for someone who may be switching to the iOS ecosystem for the first time. This is something we have praised Windows 8 Phone for, and the same has always been true for the iPhone.
Android fanboys have been fairly proud of the Google Sync feature, letting them immediately download contacts on to a new phone the moment they sign in. But the same is pretty much true for the iCloud, and the moment I signed in, the contacts were populated via 3G within 1 minute. And we are talking about 1000 contacts. The simplicity theme carries on with their contact list as well. It is pretty drab, but very functional. The search bar at the top takes priority.
The introduction of the Lightning port has caused quite a bit of teeth gnashing and swearing among a lot of stakeholders. For starters, quite a few of your accessories and related products will become useless. Things like iPod docks that you purchased when the 30-pin connector existed may become irrelevant, unless it also has the wireless streaming feature. Surely, Apple will make adapters to interface between the Lightning port and the older accessories, but that will just not be the same. What we cannot understand is that the redesign doesn’t bring any new capabilities. It is essentially still USB 2.0 and hence data transfer speeds will not be any faster. As with the even smaller SIM card we mentioned earlier, the idea is about downsizing the size of all possible components. But then again, the downsides may far outweigh the benefits, at least in the short term.
Apple has faced a lot of flak for the Maps mess with iOS 6. The Google Maps app was done away with, and Apple’s own Maps application is pretty much incompetent. We have criticized it enough, and won’t do any more of that here. If you are looking for your phone to double up as a GPS device at time, you may just need to bookmark Google Maps on the browser, or use Nokia Here for iOS (read our review).
A faster iPhone is something that was pretty much expected! With every update, Apple ensures that the newer iPhone gets a hardware update that betters the speed benchmarks set by the previous generation. With the iPhone 5, the processor is now a next gen dual-core clocking at 1.2GHz. Looking at the Android bunch, that may seem like less, but the performance is blazing fast. The speed increase between the iPhone 5 and the iPhone 4S is very noticeable. And that includes gaming performance, thanks to the faster PowerVR SGX543MP3 triple core chip. Games load faster, and while even the iPhone 4S never stuttered or lagged while gaming, the iPhone 5 just makes that experience smoother.
The iPhone 5 does not heat up as much as the iPhone 4S, and that translates into a more comfortable user experience. If you happen to use the iPhone 4S for gaming, the back would heat up considerably. Same if you have been using it for GPS navigation, for example. We did the same with the iPhone 5, and kept waiting for the uncomfortable heat, but that backdraft never came!
The 8MP iSight camera on the iPhone 5 is considerably better than the iPhone 4S, particularly when shooting in low light and also with the contrast handling. Colours seem a lot more vivid in the resulting shots on the iPhone 5, and the focus area is also a lot more detailed and sharper. But the iPhone 4S’s camera has slightly better crispness around the edges of the frame; something the 5 was surprisingly lagging. Overall, the pictures have excellent detailing. The Panorama mode works very well in the sense that the panorama shot starts and ends where you need it to, and not with the camera dictating how wide it should be. With certain camera phones, the Sony Xperia S being one example, if you take an “incomplete” panorama shot, it either flags that down totally, or leaves a black box at the end of the shot. In the iPhone 5, what you have shot makes up the panorama shot.
The iPhone 5’s battery life is incredibly good, and that surprised us quite a bit. With more power and a bigger display, the 1440mAh battery is holding up very well. It is considerably better than the 1432mAh battery on the 4S, while the rating is not much different. With 3G connected all the time, and the usage scenario in the medium usage bracket, the phone lasted 1 day on a single charge with ease. And this included a lot of You Tube videos, considerable camera use, web browsing and voice calls. Once the initial excitement is over, and your usage load stabilizes, the battery life will get you through more than a day and a half, comfortably.
The Apple iPhone 5 is the best iPhone in the market, but that really isn’t a surprise, is it? But then again, for a phone that costs Rs. 45,500, it better justify the expense. The iPhone 5 is an incremental update over the 4S, but the best phone incrementally improved is equal to a huge improvement. Yes, the nano-SIM is a pain to get, and the Maps are pretty much ruined. But what you get is exquisite build quality, blazing fast performance, very good battery life, one of the best cameras in a phone and a display that just makes using the iPhone a lot more fun.
For anyone who has the money (and prefers the iOS ecosystem), should surely buy it, no matter what we say! For anyone else, you can also consider the iPhone 4S and even the iPhone 4. The iPhone 4 is a very good deal at the Rs. 26,000 tag it is selling for in the market at the moment. A few grand more, and you get the iPhone 4S, which is a brilliant phone whichever way you look at it. The iPhone 5 is expensive, but that evidently hasn’t stopped a lot of people from buying it!