Text and photos by Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla
Apple’s iPhone 5 is the sixth generation smartphone from Cupertino since the first iPhone revolutionized the smartphone industry in 2007.
Since then, it has evolved from “an iPod, a Phone and an Internet communicator” to a powerful and easy to use pocket computer with a thriving app and developer ecosystem. To date, over 250 million have been sold.
The much awaited and incessantly leaked iPhone 5 seems to have covered all the “must-have” updates such as a larger screen, 4G-LTE data, a thinner and lighter enclosure as well as various performance improvements.
Spec-by-spec, the iPhone 5 may not be the smartphone with the biggest screen or the most processor cores, or even the largest number of megapixels in its camera. These are aspects that Apple’s rivals have already gone to town with while playing up their own oversized, quad-core, uber-specced, megalopixel smartphones.
To dwell on specs and bring back the megahertz-myth is to miss the point entirely. Apple didn’t just create a smartphone, it created the best smartphone for its user base and one that ties into the most developed app ecosystem in the world today.
With iOS 6, a truly exciting upgrade for those of us with older iPhones, the iPhone 5 is really the best device to take full advantage of all the new features.
Pricing and Availability
iPhone 5 comes in either white & silver or black & slate, and will be available in Canada for a suggested retail price of $699 (CAD) for the 16GB model and $799 (CAD) for the 32GB model and $899 (CAD) for the 64GB model. iPhone 5 will be available from the Apple Online Store (www.apple.ca), Apple’s retail stores, and select Apple Authorized Resellers.
Is this the right iPhone for you? That really depends.
If you have an iPhone 4S, you’re getting a heck of an upgrade in a few hours through iOS 6, which gives you the most advanced mobile OS in the market for free, regardless of carrier or country. Try that on a competing mobile platform.
If you are coming from an older smartphone or have been hobbling along with an iPhone 4 or iPhone 3GS, this is going to be a huge upgrade in almost every way.
In terms of design, the iPhone 5 borrows heavily from the look and feel of the iPhone 4 and also pays homage to the original iPhone which had an aluminum body.
Dimensions are a height of 4.87 inches; width of 2.31 inches; depth of 0.30 inch (124 x 59 x 7.6 mm) and weight: 3.95 ounces (112 grams). Apple says it is the thinnest smartphone in the market today.
The rear case is no longer made of glass but of a satin-finished aluminum. There are top and bottom glass plates for where the camera and various radio antennas are neatly hidden. The lens of the camera is finished off with a sapphire crystal, the same type of material found on designer timepieces.
The iPhone 4 has distinct bevels where the stainless steel frame meets the glass. These bevels, called chamfers, are still there but are thinner than a human nail, and they’re barely perceptible.
These bevels are polished and shiny while the surface of the external frame (which is also the main antenna) is finished in sleek matte.
This is a smartphone we are talking about, yet the extent of the craftsmanship and involved engineering seems more like the effort a watchmaker like Omega would put into their latest Speedmaster chronometer. it doesn't feel at all like a disposable device.
The obsession with designing something a smartphone that feels like jewelry started with the iPhone 4, but is taken to a whole new level with the iPhone 5.
Even those who dislike the design will have to agree that they haven’t seen or felt anything like this before.
Also, photos don’t really do the iPhone 5 any justice. This is a device that begs to be touched and held, it is the only way to admire the extensive industrial design that went into its creation. It is candy for your fingers.
The iPhone 5 really feels great in the hand. Even greater when you realize that you can access the entire screen with your thumb. 4-inches seems to be the threshold for-one handed usability on a smartphone and the iPhone 5 nails it.
It helps that Apple maintained the width of the iPhone 4S while making the screen taller. More than just another row of icons, the extra real estate allows apps to offer up more information or add space for navigation.
Older apps, or those that have not yet been reformatted to take advantage of the screen, will see letter-boxing in the top to bottom but this should change in the coming months.
The top part of the iPhone now only has the power button, the left side has the volume keys and the mute switch, all of which are noticeably smaller than the iPhone 4. On the right side you find the nanoSIM slot
It is at the bottom that one realizes the two biggest changes to the iPhone 5. The headphone jack has been relocated, much like the iPod Touch. And, now we see the tiny Lightning port, that has replaced the age-old dock connector.
Thinnest and lightest
The first time you pick up the iPhone 5, your senses will tell you that it is almost too light. As if you picked up a dummy phone, or one without a battery or an extended battery pack belonging to the Samsung Galaxy S III.
The iPhone 5 totally fits in with Apple’s recent thinnest and lightest obsession. The difference in weight between the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 5 is as pronounced as the weight of a 13-inch MacBook Pro versus a 13-inch MacBook Air.
That said, lighter weight isn’t always a better thing. A more featherweight iPhone will slip out of pockets more easily, slip through fingers faster and be swallowed up by couch cushions with greater ease, so extra care and vigilance is required.
Like the iPhone 4 before it, the iPhone 5's weight is also perfectly balanced. This adds to the illusion of lightness. There aren’t any weird protrusions to accommodate camera lenses or antennas of any sort. Good design is, after all, invisible.
The display isn’t just larger at 4-inches diagonal, it is also brighter, more saturated and easier on the eyes. It is so much brighter than the iPhone 4S display that even at the exact setting, the iPhone 5 seems 40 per cent brighter.
Apple shaved off a layer of the display by integrating the touch sensors into the panel. The 1136 x 640 resolution is resplendent and the 326 pixels per inch pixel density is lavish.
One thing about the iPhone 5 is that it warms up specially when running games or heavy LTE usage. Something we didn’t really experience very often with the iPhone 4 or 4S.
Next to plastic and polycarbonate clad competitors, the iPhone 5 just looks more dignified, better put together and far more precise in fit and finish.
It’s really the lone S-Class Benz in a parking lot full of Subarus and Sentras.
Tested against the iPhone 4S running iOS 5.1.1, the iPhone 5 running iOS 6 is palpably faster in processor intensive tasks.
Firing up some of the more demanding games like Batman Arkham City Lockdown and Infinity Blade have the iPhone 5 sprinting a second or two ahead of its predecessor.
Overall performance is also much improved, everything is snappier and once most of the apps are updated to scale to the new screen resolution, they will hopefully receive performance upgrades for the new hardware and OS.
Loading websites on Safari is also faster on WiFi by two to three seconds and multitasking seems to have picked up pace as well, possibly because the iPhone 5 now reportedly runs on 1 GB of RAM, double that of the 4S.
Call quality is improved with three microphones actively canceling out ambient noise. Designed around voice calls but also for Facetime video chats, the iPhone know which input to focus on depending on how you use the phone. It is great to know Apple is constantly refining how the phone handles various communication tasks.
-Photos taken by the iPhone 5's camera
It is when you fire up the iPhone 5's Camera app that the speed increase goes from good to explosive. The camera is now ready to shoot faster and does all the preemptive tasks like focusing and white balancing in a nanosecond.
As capable and as advanced as the iPhone 5's camera is, it can match many standalone point-and-shoot cameras in the market.
The iPhone 5 will also keep taking photos for as long as you keep tapping on the shutter button (or the volume up key) and it is faster than some of my recent Micro-Four Thirds cameras which I use on a daily basis. This feature is a great addition for action photography or just getting that spontaneous snapshot faster.
The iPhone 5 can now shoot full resolution 1080p HD video and take stills simultaneously. A great feature for when you need to capture video but want some outstanding photos as well.
Pop in an external lens like the ones made by Olloclip and the iPhone 5 is just right for snapshots, street photography and portraits.
The camera has learned some new tricks as well. It now has a built-in panorama mode, which works very well.
I am a panorama fiend. Years ago, I used to spend hours stitching multiple photos together using software like Photoshop. It is amazing that you can do this now within seconds and in camera and to such a high degree of accuracy.
Panorama functions in cameras and smartphones are nothing new. My favourite iOS smartphone app from Microsoft is Photosynth which has been awesome for years and the Galaxy Nexus did have a good stitch panorama feature that I also enjoyed using. This one is better than both of those.
The iPhone 5 panorama feature is fast and intuitive and will result in amazing photos for as long as you have a steady hand.
There are also more ways to share those photos now including Facebook, Twitter, iMessage, Mail and a few other options.
Twitter and Facebook integration are all over iOS 6, good options for devout users of those social networks.
4G-LTE (Long Term Evolution) connectivity is a big new feature for the iPhone 5 which propels it to the top echelon of today’s super smartphones.
Using the Bell Mobility network included in my review unit, connectivity was as good as WiFi speeds flirting with 20 Mbps although averaging out at around 13Mbps.
I was happy to be able to use the iPhone 5’s wireless hotspot feature to put up a number of blog posts from the doctor’s waiting room using my MacBook Pro.
4G-LTE does run the battery down significantly (and use up data caps faster) making me consider the option of scaling back to 3G unless I really need the LTE throughput. It is great to have it though, specially when you need fast and constant connections.
With all radios on except Bluetooth and with push-email enabled i managed to get through a day withour charging, around 7 hours of email, surfing, tweeting, Instagramming and a few calls.
Testing the 4G-LTE on the iPhone 5 vs. the 3G of my daily driver iPhone 4S showed a huge divide in speeds. This is most evident when downloading albums from iTunes to the two phones with the iPhone 5 faster by 60-80 per cent when downloading songs.
Maps and turn-by-turn navigation
LTE also seems to help with the new turn-by-turn navigation feature, now free with iOS 6 which I tested to be quite accurate in Toronto’s busy downtown core. Siri has a new job as navigator and she works surprisingly well. There wasn't any realtime traffic information but perhaps this feature is coming.
Navigation runs off the Maps app which replaces Google Maps as the stock app. I do miss Google Street View but the new Maps app works well and seems more intuitive to use from the get go. I am hoping to test navigation on the road tomorrow and will report back on how it works vs my standalone Magellan GPS.
The Flyover feature, which uses a vast landscape of 3D aerial maps to simulate flying over cities, is simply breathtaking. It isn’t as creepy-invasive as Street View but you can still get a very accurate representation of what buildings look like if you could float and fly around.
I’ve taken a few mini vacations right from my couch with the iPhone 5, navigating some of the cities featuring Flyover maps. Tons of fun.
Flyover does a spectacular job of rendering the 3D maps in real time while you pinch and zoom. It shows just how robust the A6 processor and its graphics capabilities are with thousands of polygons terraforming into a moving, 3D city right in your fingertips.
These 3D Map images are also quite recent. St, Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto, which is undergoing renovation, shows up with all the scaffolding and construction quite visible, it just how it looks if you went there today.
Lightning, ain't it frightening
The new Lightning port is the most polarizing feature of the iPhone 5. Everyone knew that Dock Connector had to go, but many expected USB 3.0 or Thunderbolt as a new I/O option.
But looking at how thin Apple is making its iPhones and iPods, it becomes clear that those high-speed transfer platforms don’t make sense or can’t fit in the small enclosure.
While the new 8-pin connector is called Lightning (to complement Thunderbolt), there’s no indication that it is in any way faster than the previous connector, just way smaller. I this innovation and I am sure Apple had good reasons not to use microUSB like everyone else.
Apple is also moving a lot of the synching and back-up functionality to wireless and Bluetooth, which many users will welcome.
What users can’t seem to welcome are the hoops they are going to have to jump through to get their old Dock Connector devices to work with the new Lightning port.
Some find that the plastic dongles are unwieldy and expensive at $35 each for each Lightning to 30-pin Adapter.
I have a number of Dock Connectors all over my home and office from various generations of iPods, iPhones and iPads and to think that most of those are now useless without an adaptor gives me pause, but such is the price of progress.
I remember the furor that followed when Apple ditched FireWire, the floppy drive and the optical drive. People got over it and moved on, but it took time.
Lightning to USB cables, which are what you need to charge and connect to Macs or PCs, are $21 a pop and might be a better overall option. Each iPhone user gets one in the box but would likely need two more for use in the office and for in-vehicle charging.
The iPhone 5 really drilled down most user’s wish-lists in terms of features and upgrades. I think it even surpassed a lot of expectations with some of the refinements to the camera, use of materials and the improved and larger screen.
I know a lot of people who have been waiting two years for this phone, the iPhone 4S wasn’t enough of an upgrade for them, so they are jumping in feet first for the iPhone 5.
Some of those people moved to other platforms because they wanted 4G-LTE or a bigger screen. Well, the inclusion of these features, and user's expiring carrier contracts, might just bring them back into the iPhone fold.
It is certainly a much faster, far more capable and eminently more powerful iPhone but one that will still be very familiar to users. There's also a very good chance all the apps users purchased these past years will be upgraded to take advantage of that bigger screen.
For the past six years, Apple has poured billions of dollars and thousands of man hours into refining a single product.
Chiseling away at the unnecessary bulk and peeling away layers while shrinking radios and processors, cameras and microphones while improving performance and retaining the best aspects of the product and it is nearly perfect..
No other company is that dedicated or obsessed in evolving and iterating a singular device while maintaining the familiar elements that just work so well. That is why the iPhone continues to succeed.
Ease of use, ecosystem and experience are three things that most users value above all, and these are just a few of the components that make the iPhone 5 so compelling.
This time around, the iPhone 5 sails through nicely with a very competitive feature set, a balanced mix of performance upgrades and superb design as well as a highly cultivated app ecosystem. The iPhone 5 has raised the standard of how smartphones are designed and built.
Rating: 5 out of 5