- Stunning design and build
- Taller, more colourful display
- 4G connectivity and superfast processor
- Scratchprone chassis
- New Maps app is a step backwards
- Lacks NFC
Review Price £529.00
iPhone 5 review - Introduction & Design
IntroductionUpdated: Now with thoughts on how well the phone's design ages, iOS 6.1 and GoogleMaps.
The iPhone 5, like all iPhones before it, is an evolution rather than a revolution but it’s at least on the surface the biggest evolution we’ve seen for years with a new design, a larger screen size and superfast 4G connectivity. But, with a high price and the usual Apple-restrictions, is it enough of a leap to outpace the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S3, LG Optimus 4X HD or the Nokia Lumia 920? With several months of use now under our belt, it's high time to find out, for a second time.
iPhone 5 - Design
As ever, we'll kick off with the phone's design and external features. When the phone first arrived, we proclaimed it "the most beautiful and best built phone on the market", and for the most part that still holds up. It remains the case that no other device comes close to matching the fit and finish Apple has achieved on the iPhone 5.
It all kicks off with the etched aluminium back. Gone are the glass back and steel sides of old to be replaced with a single piece of aluminium that’s hewn to form the back and sides. This is etched on the back and sides to create a matt look. As well as looking great it also makes the phone easier to grip and keeps it from slipping quite so easily – the iPhone 4/4S had a remarkable ability to slide off even the flattest looking surface.
Contrasting nicely with the matt back and sides are the shiny diamond cut bevelled edges, glass front and glass inserts on the back. These angled edges make the iPhone 5 a bit more comfortable to hold compared to the very square ones on the iPhone 4S, which is definitely a welcome tweak.
However, not all is well. Very early on there were complaints that the black version chipped quite easily, showing the shiny metal beneath, and this has proved to be such a common issue that we'd stongly advise opting for the white version instead. That said, our white version is also looking surprisingly battered after only four months use. The whole back and sides are peppered with small dings and scratches that are surprisingly noticeable.
The main problem areas are the shiny bevelled edges and the Apple logo on the back, where any scratch is immediately noticeable against the pure shiny surface. And while we haven't kept the phone in a case it has always been confined to an otherwise empty pocket. As has a two year old iPhone 4 that remains looking near flawless - see below.
Frankly, compared to the glass and steel build of the iPhone 4 and 4S, the iPhone 5 is a signiifacnt step backwards in terms of durability. Sure, the glass back is slippery but it's demonstrably tougher too, and perhaps it could've been etched or something to make it less slippery. Hammering home the point are the black or white little glass inserts on the back of the iPhone 5 which, months on, are spotless. Obviously, if you're particularly careful and use a case the iPhone 5 will stay pristine for longer but it's nonetheless a concern.
All that said, the iPhone 4/4s are somewhat of the exception that proves the rule with most shiny plastic and anodised aluminium competitors suffering just as much from scratches. In fact it only goes to justify our recent complaints about the Nokia Lumia 920 having mostly shiny rather than matt plastic finishes while the HTC One S is another famoursly flawed anodised example.
Pick the iPhone 5 up and it's noticeably thinner and lighter than the iPhone 4S, despite packing in a larger 4-inch screen. Specifically the iPhone 5 is 20 percent lighter (112g compared to 140g) and 18 percent thinner (123.8 x 58.6 x 7.6mm compared to 115.2 x 58.6 x 9.3mm). This makes a surprising difference when you actually handle and compare the two devices, with the iPhone 5 almost feeling a bit too light at first, compared to the reassuring solidity of the 4S. This impression soon fades, though, as you realise it is still a very well built phone.
With the iPhone 5 screen size having increased the big concern would be that the whole phone becomes cumbersome to use but Apple has avoided this by only increasing the height of the screen, upping it by about 12mm. This small increase makes minimal difference to the usability of the phone, with you still able to reach the full expanse of the screen easily enough.
Contrary to many a rumour, below the screen there is a home button that along with near identical volume, mute and power buttons will make existing iPhone users feel right at home. A few other features have been tweaked though.
Apple has moved from a now fairly standard microSIM to an even smaller nanoSIM, so if you’re buying the phone without a contract/SIM you’ll need to contact your network to get a new SIM or get the scissors out. You should be able to chop down most newer SIMs as the layout of the contacts is the same.
Other changes include the headphone jack which has now moved from the top edge down to the bottom. Having it here does make some theoretical sense as when held in the hand the headphone cable hangs straight down out the way and when you go to put the phone into your pocket you don't have to change your grip to do so - give it a go and you'll see what we mean. However with long term use we've generally found it to be a bit annoying, getting in the way of your hand when using the phone. It's not a major concern but neither is it really a step forward.
Alongside the headphone jack are newly designed microphone and speaker grills and of course the new Lightning dock connection. The former are now covered by small drilled holes, rather than one large opening, while the latter is a replacement for the wide, 30-pin dock connector of old.
The new connector will carry audio, HD video, data and of course charge the phone, with adapters available to convert the signal to just about any other type of connection you could name. Lightning is also reversible so you don’t need to worry about which way round you’re plugging it in, and it's a sturdier plug too
Concerns about having to buy new adapters to fit existing docks and chargers remain, as does the fact that Apple didn't simply opt for microUSB like every other phone, but there is no doubting it is a better connection than the old one, which is something we suppose.
An adapter is available that converts the new connector to the old one but one is not included in the box. You get just the new USB cable, UK plug and the SIM removal tool. The adapter will set you back an insultingly hefty £25.
To comply with EU regulations that stipulate microUSB must be used as the standard connection for all new phones, Apple does offer a Lightning to microUSB adapter too, but it again costs a rather grimace-inducing £15.
Getting back to the phone itself, the final pieces of the puzzle are the cameras. The rear one retains the same core specs as the iPhone 4S but it’s 30 percent thinner, to allow the phone’s overall thickness to come down. As for the front facing one, it now sits above the earpiece rather than off to the side, and it can shoot 720p video, up from 480p.
All told then, as a piece of industrial design, the iPhone 5 looks like a triumph, though with long term use it has been shown to have a number of drawbacks such as the scratching and headphone position. But overall there's still a lot to like and still no other phone matches it for that initial wow factor. But what of that new screen...
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