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Criteria Comments Rating
  • Reception and call quality The outgoing noise cancellation, that is, the noise cancellation coming from the earpiece, is absolutely fantastic. Callers are way more audible than before. great!
  • Display The in-cell display technology Apple switched to with the iPhone 5 makes their displays that much better. Glare is reduced, and color saturation is way up. great!
  • Battery life Battery life, so far, has been a little worse than I expected. I charged it to 100% at noon, and by 10 PM I was at 20%. Could just be how much I was using it. good
  • Camera The camera is fantastic, but in this generation of the phone Apple decided to leave it alone for the most part. I would still really love controllable ISO, etc. good
  • Ease of use Ease of use, for me, has more to do with the OS. It's classic Apple, though, super streamlined and simplified. There's just not a lot to appease advanced users. good
  • Design and form factor Love the new design. It might not be the redesign many were looking for, but this is one of the most svelte products I've ever owned. great!
  • Portability (size / weight) It doesn't get much better than this. It's deceptively thin and light. The first time I picked it up it was just... indescribably light. Really nice feeling. great!
  • Media support Would love to be able to break out of the Apple bubble and use some different file types, especially for movies. I want my MKVs! good
  • Durability Having the black model, you'd be hard pressed to find me not using a case with this thing. The black coating seems super easy to chip and scuff. so-so
  • Ecosystem (apps, accessories, etc.) Again, in terms of ecosystem, Apple is still a ways ahead of its competitors. Everything from movies, music, books, apps, all tie in seamlessly with the iPhone. great!
Detailed review
When the pictures of the teardrop iPhone surfaced in the Spring of 2011, almost everyone (including me) got their hopes up for some fantastic iPhone redesign that would blow our socks off. While that redesign did not happen, Apple still managed to produce a phone that completely shows up the last generation iPhone and all of its competitors.

The design is fantastic. As I wrote in my criteria comment for "Portability," it is deceptively light. The all black device looks unbelievably svelte, and makes apps not updated for the new screen height look good even when letterboxed.

It is the fastest smartphone available (www.anandtech.com­/show­/6324­/the­-iphone­-5­-performan...), and it really shows in day-to-day use. From web browsing, to checking and responding to email, to taking a picture and sharing it to Twitter, everything happens without any stutter or slowdown.

The screen has a noticeably lower amount of glare because iPhone 5 has one fewer layer in the display. Color saturation has been greatly improved, and the phone is now brighter at each level of brightness than it was able to be before, all while maintaining its high-res 326PPI retina status.

The camera takes far better shots in low light, but otherwise remains the same great camera that we saw in the 4S.

And LTE. Ohhhh, LTE. I know Android users have had this for a long time, but this is one of the greatest things ever. I'm sure speeds will diminish as millions of people unlock their iPhones, but cruising around Orlando yesterday I was getting 25Mbps down and 15Mbps up. Those are some wickedly fast speeds and a huge improvement over HSPA+.

In summary, the phone is one of the greatest pieces of hardware I've ever owned, and despite some fears about durability, there's not much more I could ask for from its build and design quality. It's simply marvelous.

The only improvements I think need to be made to Apple's phone system, is to their mobile OS. In my iOS 6 review (gdgt.com­/apple­/ios­/6­/reviews­/svc/), I noted some of the more serious shortcomings with this update.

For me, the jump from iOS 5 to 6 is the least severe of any of the other jumps, and lacks a headline feature that makes iOS 6 huge. It could have been Maps, but most seem to be bemoaning Apple's move away from Google. It could have been Passbook, but until we see real world implementation, it's just a coupon and rewards card holder. I'm sure it will be great for people who fly tens of thousand of miles a year, but for the mainstream consumer I feel like it's just another organizer. Yes, iOS 6 brought some welcome quality of life improvements like VIP mailboxes, do not disturb, and Facebook integration, but there's nothing huge that leaves me in awe.

This brings me to the point where I extrapolate this phenomenon to consumer technology in general. For the last 4 years or so, from the first iPhone up through the iPhone 4 (maybe not including the 3GS), Apple was completely focused on innovation. Each year they increased their lead over the competition by a huge margin. While I really think the iPhone 5 has a lot of hardware innovations that set it apart from the rest of the pack, I'm truly afraid iOS 6 is no longer "the world's best mobile operating system" as touted by countless Apple executives. iOS has a lot of things going for it, and it always has, but Android is creeping up, and there are a lot of things in Android that I would love to see make their way over to iOS. Being able to set default apps, some sort of live updates on the homescreen (widgets, or animated app icons), and improvements to notifications. These are all areas where Apple is falling behind, and I bet the designers and developers in Cupertino know it.

Those first four years of iPhone, iPad, and iOS development were huge for Apple, and put them light years ahead of the next best thing. Although I don't think they've been resting on their laurels (they are making huge advancements in other areas like display technology, for instance), I think they are becoming a little conservative in identifying the areas they need to improve. As Jony Ive said in the iPhone 5 introduction video - they have a great product, and they don't want to screw it up. While that philosophy makes sense in the long run, I think the iOS platform (iPhone and iPad included) has a robust enough consumer base that big changes will be absorbed without issue in the short run, and will only serve to improve the overall experience in the long term.

Comments (5) subscribe to this review's comments

jonstone

At&t or Verizon....???
cjtylr

I am an AT&T customer.
jayholler

Great review. I was slightly sad to see the black paint fleck off in a couple of spots after owning the device for about 3-4 hours. The phone was either in my hand or the pocket of corduroy pants for that time. I take great care of my expensive electronic devices and still don't really understand what friction was caused to make the paint disappear, but disappear it did. I suppose it is possible that the paint was already missing in these spots and I only noticed after several hours. In any event it doesn't affect the functionality of the phone, but it was disappointing.
cjtylr

I can lament Jay. On mine there's a nick in the chamfer above the 3.5mm headphone jack and a very small scratch above the bottom left antenna. They were both there when I unboxed it. I went out and bought a case ASAP.
jayholler

Hmm, you know, I bet that the situation was the same for mine. The first time I noticed was as I sat down on the BART train to actually use the device after spending a while setting it up at home. It was in direct sunlight for the first time then. Like I said there was nothing I did that could have possibly caused the paint to chip.