The smartphone has a new aluminum back that does away with the hazardous glass back (no more breakage!), and it has a diamond-cut edge that gives it a fashionable trim. Apple's reputation for industrial design remains intact.
The phone is really light. The most noticeable feature is how much thinner and lighter it feels in the hand. It's also slightly longer, while retaining the same width. That's to accommodate its larger 4-inch screen, up from 3.5 inches. The jump in size isn't big because Apple wanted users to still comfortably handle the phone with one hand while navigating it with their thumb. Screens on Android phones that have grown to 4.7 inches and larger require two hands to operate (unless you're the center for the Utah Jazz).
The new iPhone 5 is powerful. It may not be recognizably faster than the already-zippy iPhone 4S, but it certainly can handle any graphics-intensive application you can throw at it. It is much smoother and more responsive than any Android phone I've ever tested, including the sterling Samsung Galaxy S III, a testament to the fact that Apple produces both the iPhone's hardware and software so that they work together for seamless, efficient integration.
The call quality also sounds better, which is a nice touch considering that handset manufacturers (including Apple) seem more interested in improving the "smart" part of a smartphone than the "phone" part.
The 8-megapixel camera also went through some improvements, namely that it performs better in low light, making the finest mobile-phone camera even better. Pictures appear brighter and less pixelated than they do on earlier iPhones and all other Android phones. The video capture also remains the best of any mobile phone. One quibble is that it would have been nice if Apple had bumped up the resolution of the phone to, say, 10 megapixels or 12 megapixels. The front camera got an upgrade to HD, and as a result FaceTime video conferencing looks more detailed and smoother. There's also a new panoramic photo feature that works well.
I didn't get a chance to test the new 4G LTE connection because AT&T (who is my carrier) has not yet launched its LTE network in Utah. Verizon's network is up and running, so that's a big disadvantage for AT&T.
Although the 5 is the best iPhone Apple has ever produced, it's not necessarily the best mobile phone on the market. That's decidedly a horse race with the Samsung Galaxy S III, which has a bright, vivid 4.8-inch screen that rivals the iPhone's. That alone makes the Galaxy S III worth considering over Apple's device. Many Android phones also have more features they were the first to introduce 4G LTE, and many have near-field communications chips for electronic point-of-purchase payments for retail goods.
The choice really comes down to whether you prefer Apple's format or Android's.
Now to the forementioned bugs, which can cause hair-pulling frustration, especially for the novice.
For the first few days with my new iPhone 5, Wi-Fi reception was spotty or didn't work at all, while other devices worked fine on the same networks. I checked Apple and iPhone forums and found that many others had the same problem, thinking it might be a hardware issue. For me, I completely restored the phone (erased the entire contents of the phone and reinstalled the operating system), which resolved the issue.
Other problems are related to the phone's operating system, iOS 6, because it's a major upgrade. Users have complained loudly about the new Apple Maps application, which replaces the Google Maps, and they're right. Not only are there visual glitches, but worst of all the maps lack most points of interest and many businesses, making them nearly useless for finding places to go to. That said, the phone's new built-in turn-by-burn navigation, in which a voice tells you where to turn, works well. It never lagged, and it calculated reroutes quickly.
Siri, the voice-recognition assistant, got a slight upgrade in which it can pull up movie information for nearby theaters. But that worked only part of the time, and sometimes there were listings only for two or three movies, even though dozens were playing in my neighborhood. One nice change, however, is that Siri can launch applications with just the sound of your voice, a long-overdue feature.
Another issue is that because of the major upgrade to iOS, some of my older apps failed to work. And because the screen is longer with a different aspect ratio, older apps that did work displayed black bars on the sides to fill in the extra space. That's particularly annoying for video apps such as Netflix or ABC Player, where movies and shows don't play full screen. But these are normal problems related to a major upgrade of the operating system, and it's just going to require time for developers to update their apps to fix the compatibility problems.
Growing pains aside, the iPhone 5 is a small, but noticeble upgrade. It certainly isn't a revolutionary change from previous phones, and there's nothing truly innovative here. Apple is content on making small annual changes that cumulatively make for one great albeit buggy phone, and that's certainly what they've created.
Google+: +Vincent Horiuchi
Lowdown on the iPhone
Pros • It's fast, slim, beautiful and has a nice 4-inch display. It's also much lighter than the older versions, managing to pack more power and technology into a thinner case. It finally has 4G LTE for faster connectivity, and little tweaks have made it better, including louder speakers, slight enhancements to Siri and improvements to the camera system. New turn-by-turn navigation works well.
Cons • It's buggy, mostly related to the new iOS 6 operating system. Some models have problems with Wi-FI connections. The new maps application is horrible. Some apps don't work at all under new OS or they run with annoying black bars on the sides because of different screen aspect ratio.
Bottom line • If you have the iPhone 4 or models previous to that, it's time upgrade to the 5. Switching becomes more problematic if you have the iPhone 4S. But don't discount Android phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S III, which has a bigger screen than the iPhone 5 and feels good in the hand.