People waited in line for days all over the world to get their hands on the iPhone 5. Is it truly the next worthy chapter in the successful book of iPhone, or is it just marketing hype dressed up in a two-tone case?
What Is It?
The iPhone 5 is the thinnest, longest iPhone yet, weighing in at 112 grams and measuring 4-inches diagonally. It boasts a dual-core 1.2Ghz A6 processor, 1GB of RAM and an improved 8-megapixel camera.
It comes loaded with a new 4-inch, 1136x640 screen pumping out 326ppi, an Australia-compatible 4G antenna, Bluetooth 4.0 and a new dock connector named Lightning.
It'll set you back, as near as makes no difference, $50 per month on contract, or you can pick it up for $799 outright.
Not an entirely unfamiliar specs list, then. What's it like as a smartphone?
It's what most people keep going on and on about, and truth be told, it's one of the best things about the new iPhone: the weight. I mentioned in my first hands-on that the iPhone 5 feels like your regular smartphone would with the battery removed. It's only 28 grams lighter than the last iPhone, but you immediately notice and enjoy the smaller footprint.
The 4-inch display still has the Retina-grade beauty we've all come to expect from Apple, and it's great to see the same carried over into the new device despite the longer screen. The longer device means that apps need to compensate for the additional screen real estate. We'll get to it in detail but Apple's redesigned Music app, Phone app and Safari look excellent with a little more around the edges.
As far as hardware performance goes, the iPhone is staggeringly good. It's the best performing iOS device ever, and manages a Geekbench 2 score of 1448, despite only having a dual core, 1.2Ghz A6 processor and 1GB of RAM. Compare that to the 1.4Ghz, quad-core-powered Exynos processor in the Samsung Galaxy S III, and you'll find there's only a moderate difference. The S III tips the benchmarking scale at 1754.
The camera is still the same 8-megapixel shooter that it was before, but Apple have radically improved its low light performance to the point that it now can compete with the Samsung Galaxy S III's scene modes. The camera isn't customisable like the Galaxy S III — it pumps out a good image without having to fiddle with settings. Depending on the type of photographer you are, that might be a good thing. As far as full-light shooting goes, the top three photos in this review were all shot with the iPhone 5. You be the judge.
Here's the low light performance:
Click to zoom in...
The iPhone 5 is also sporting a 4G antenna which actually works in Australia this time around. Apple's not looking for a repeat performance of the new iPad, I guess. 4G carriers currently available include Telstra, Optus, Virgin and soon, iiNet, too. The last three all run on the same network supplied by Optus, however.
The only major carrier without 4G at launch is Vodafone, and boy, do I feel sorry for Vodafone all over again. Speed tests we did around the Sydney area reveal the extent of the third place carrier's problem.
The problem Vodafone faces is one of comparison: why would anyone buy an iPhone 5 on Vodafone, when for less money, they could get a 4G-enabled device and faster speeds? If Vodafone truly wants to be competitive on the iPhone 5-front it needs to take an axe to its prices until 4G comes online next year. On the other side of that coin, it's unlikely you'll ever walk into a Vodafone store and not be able to pick up an iPhone 5.
Finally, the new EarPod headphones produce fantastic sound for bundled headphones. They fit in your head really well and they're comfortable to wear for a long period of time. You may find yourself readjusting them every now and then, and they aren't fitness headphones, but compared to the old bundled headphones, these are a cut above.
For all the good on the iPhone 5, there's a lot of bad.
First of all, the black bars. The black bars refers to the problem that apps have when they aren't configured for the iPhone 5's screen. The app centres on the screen in the old 3.5-inch size and the iPhone puts two black bars on the top and bottom of the app to compensate for the empty space. Make no mistake, this looks atrocious. To get app developers in gear, Apple hasn't included a resize option for apps like it does on the iPad, so if your dev no longer supports the app you love, you're stuck with black bars on that app forever.
On launch day not a single app that wasn't made by Apple was able to compensate for the size difference. Not Facebook, not Twitter, not Shazam, not Yelp, not Instagram. Nobody. I've had app updates all weekend, but there are still major apps that have no support for the longer iPhone. I'm looking at you, Instagram. Not even Apple's album art in the Music app is compatible with the longer screen when the device is locked. The black bars are just about the ugliest thing I've ever seen on an iPhone.
That was, however, before I started using Apple Maps.
As we know, Apple is looking to ditch its Google dependence, and in a foolhardy move, Cupertino ditched Google Maps in favour of its own solution.
I would rather live without one of my ten fingers than Apple Maps, and it's the reason I'm switching platforms at the end of my contract to something that recognises that train stations are legitimate points of interest that need highlighting. Something doesn't encourage me to turn illegally or drive through houses. Something that works. I don't care that it's a 1.0 product, it shouldn't have even got out the door. For shame.
I mentioned earlier that 4G capabilities are fantastic. That's because they are, but if you plan on doing it more than a few times a day, you'd better have a charger ready. The 4G absolutely tears through battery like a six-year old through Christmas wrapping paper. The handset dipped below 10 per cent twice in one day with moderate use (finding somewhere to eat, uploading a few photos to Instagram, using iTunes Match once).
It's also worth mentioning that Siri is just as useless, and the addition of two more microphones doesn't mean she understands you any better. This was the best thing I got out of Siri, and I'll never use it again after this.
Should You Buy It?
In a word? No. Not because it's a rubbish phone or because it deserves to be a doorstop on your back gate or anything awful like that, but because right now, getting an iPhone 5 is just a bad deal.
Apple clearly hasn't done the work to make the device perfect before it left Cupertino, and it really shows in the final product. The back case is prone to nicks and blemishes out of the box, Apple Maps is horrendous to even consider living with and the battery is atrocious. It's like all the perfectionists at Apple were locked out of the test lab for a week. Where's the polish we're used to?
It really is, then, the best and the worst iPhone yet. It's the best speed, the best performance and the best screen we've seen on Apple's flagship smartphone, but simultaneously, it's the least polished, most annoying device with the worst software I've seen since OS X Lion.
Just because the iPhone 5 is an early-adopter's worst nightmare doesn't mean you shouldn't buy an iPhone. Certainly not. Right now, you can get a killer deal on the last great iPhone: the 4S.
The only downside to the 4S these days is that it will likely be unsupported hardware by the time your contract runs out, plus the fact that it runs iOS 6 out of the box, but get thee to a search engine and that problem can be solved in no-time flat. It's still thin, it's still fast and you won't need to run for a charger twice a day. On top of that, you'll have a world of accessories open to you thanks to the 30-pin connector.
So the iPhone 5 isn't the phone we were all promised. Does it surprise you? It was the most leaked device in Apple's history — something I'd bet was by design — simply because the company had to prepare the masses for the disappointment to come.