Apple, iPhone, Reviews

iPhone 5 hands-on: The sixth generation iPhone touches down

The Apple iPhone 5 is finally here, with the latest arrival boasting a 16:9, 4 inch screen, new smaller port, thinner, lighter design and 4G LTE.

Last year’s iPhone 4S always felt like an incremental upgrade rather than a true step change, and although it sold wonderfully for Apple and brought some interesting additions, few would argue against the suggestion that it opened the door for competitors.

As a result, this year’s launch was perhaps most important for Apple since the very first iPhone arrived back in 2007.


iPhone 5

For anyone following the rumours over the past year, the iPhone 5 will not bring any major surprises, with many of the new features expected – including the new dimensions and the improved A6 chip.

The camera is smaller, hardier and enhanced by the more powerful chip, and the front facing camera is bumped up to a 720p version. WiFi is improved and the inclusion of 4G is a must have in the current phone world.


iPhone 5

But it is the size, design and shape that will win the most admiring glances. The all glass and aluminium chassis can claim to be the thinnest smartphone at 7.6 mm ‘thin’.

The 4 inch screen keeps the retina resolution despite the added length, which Apple has brought in to make the phone more movie-friendly.


iPhone 5

The added real-estate is welcome, especially given the growth of its rivals, and apps will apparently be easy to move onto the new screen size for developers.

In the hand the iPhone 5 certainly feels comfortable. You can see why Apple decided to keep the width the same as it fits the hand nicely – just as its predecessors have.

The most relevant comparison for many is with its predecessor the iPhone 4S and, for those on the now common two year contracts, the iPhone 4.

The new phone certainly feels different – and although there will be the odd naysayer, the overwhelming majority will feel that the iPhone 5′s design is a good step on from the now ageing chassis of both the 4S and 4.


iPhone 5 review

The move away from glass is a welcome one, and the aluminium manages to bring a premium feel in a notable lighter device.

A new chip definitely brings a snappier feel. Many with an iPhone 4 will be all too used to the lagginess when tyring to do anything even slightly complex with the devices, and the iPhone 5 manages to take things on as far as you would expect in more than two years.

What perhaps is more suprising is just how much snappier this feels than the iPhone 4S. The A6 chip clearly has significant amount more grunt under its smaller hood – but what is surprising is that you can immediately tell when you use the device alongside its predecessor.

Practically speaking this probably isn’t enough to make you want to leave a 4S unless you are a hardcore fan, but it will convince many iPhone 4 users to stick with the Apple ecosystem for another generation – and you get the impression that this is goal number one for the company.


iPhone 5 review

The added length could have made the phone unwieldy, but the loss of thickness ensures that it maintains its balance and premium feel.

Those people who have got used to the iPhone 4 and 4S will certainly notice the difference that the design brings. It served to make the device more modern feeling, and the materials used keep that premium feel that Apple has put so much stock in.


iPhone 5

Thinner, lighter and more screen were always on the cards, and the fans’ desires are understandable.

The aluminium backplate feels lovely – just textured enough to feel very different from its predecessors and, to our taste, preferable to the glass.


iPhone 5

The screen is bright and colourful, although it’s difficult to truly appreciate the small upgrade that Apple has made in the bright lights of the show room.


iPhone 5 review

The camera is also more difficult to test properly, but it certainly seemed faster to take a photo, something that can be a frustration on older iPhones.


iPhone 5 review

From a software perspective, iOS 6 brings with it a wealth of new features that will certainly make a major difference to not only the way the iPhone 5 feels, but also its predecessors the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S when they get the updated software.

Maps, for instance, is significantly altered after Apple ended its longstanding agreement to use Google Maps and pushed forward with its own offering, in conjunction with sat nav giant TomTom.


iPhone 5 review

The new maps certainly look the part, with some beautiful 3D renders and snazzy looking new vector graphics, although we would like to really take some time to tell you just how well the new offering performs in the wild.

The showcased flyover mode was great for the riverside of London, but at you would expect fell flat pretty quickly as you left the tourist districts and got to residential areas.

Early indications elsewhere are good, however, as the ‘Apple designed’ tag is pushed to the fore. The tilt and rotate view functionality looks gorgeous and the turn-by-turn navigation is likely to attract plaudits with a simple and intuitive interface.

Siri has been given a major, and frankly much-needed, overhaul with the voice ‘companion’ functionality extended into new languages and new territories in an attempt to turn the iPhone 4S’ overhyped and under-featured personal assistant up to a useful level.

It coped better with the noise of the press room than its predecessor – presumably due to the new microphone set up in the new device, and could answer the two or three stock questions we asked it.


iPhone 5 review

Given the obsession with Facebook, the need for better integration was a key addition for Apple in its latest OS, and the iPhone 5 and its older brothers will benefit from a major overhaul of the way in which the social network links up with your handset.

The Facebook (and Twitter) functionality feels much more central to the experience this time around, and having the ability to post form the notifications screen feels like an obvious inclusion that works well.

Early verdict

Given the level of hype around the iPhone 5 it’s almost inevitable that phone itself ends up feeling a little underwhelming when it is launched, but Apple is a past master at ticking the boxes, and giving its growing legion of fans enough to justify an upgrade.

Is it going to sell like hot-cakes? Of course. Will it send shockwaves shuddering through the tech world and turn competitors back to their drawing boards? No.

Not having NFC is a real misstep, as it would have made the Passbook application in iOS 6 much better (and in keeping with its Android and Windows Phone rivals) and it certainly would have been nice to see something remarkable in addition to some nice, but not startling, upgrades.

But, in truth, Apple will be well aware that it doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel to succeed and, in this case, it has yet again provided a fine phone that will keep it battling at the top of the charts for another year.


  • Dave

    Review? This is based on holding it in hand for a few minutes.

  • Neill

    Would be useful to view it in the African context.

    How suited is it for SA? How good are the new maps? On par with Google or Nokia?Does Siri work in Africa yet?Any African ticket-issuers ready to support Passbook?Motorola have a 7.1″ “thin” phone. How is this the “thinnest mobile phone”?

  • BlackBeard

    Hmm. Interesting. The word “review” does not imply formality. The inclusion of “hands-on” in the title, should further dilute any expectation of reading an in-depth assessment. Synonyms for “review” as a verb include revise, examine and inspect. Yes Dave, it is a review based on holding in hand for a few minutes.

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