First iPhone 5 Reviews Are in: Last Year's Upgrade Is Finally Here

Before stores start selling Apple's new iPhone 5 this Friday, the reviewers have put out their (very lengthy) takes on the phone, which they mostly agree is the update they had hoped for a year ago, when they expected a brand new phone, but got the incrementally upgraded iPhone 4S instead.

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Before stores start selling Apple's new iPhone 5 this Friday, the reviewers have put out their (very lengthy) takes on the phone, which they mostly agree is the update they had hoped for a year ago, when they expected a brand new phone, but got the incrementally upgraded iPhone 4S instead. This new smartphone has the different look that last year's upgrade didn't deliver, with a larger screen, 4G LTE, and better display. It's everything they had dreamed up -- over 12 months ago. The wait, however, hasn't disillusioned our gadget bloggers, with all of them recommending the 5 and all its sleeker glory.

The All New Design

That bigger 4-inch display makes a difference that is hard to explain, but noticeable, writes The Loop's Jim Darymple.

The thing with the larger screen is that you get this feeling of having space on the display that you didn’t have before. Clearly, that’s true because the screen is larger, but I mean even more space than the screen allows. Perhaps it’s a perceptual thing. If you told me that I would be able to see another few rows of emails or more of a Web page, I don’t know that I would see the importance, but when you look at the iPhone 5, it’s more than that. You have to see it to get an idea of what can be done.

Once you get used to it, you can't imagine going back to the smaller 3.5 inch screenwrites CNET's Scott Stein.

The screen size lengthening is subtle, but, like the Retina Display, you're going to have a hard time going back once you've used it. 

It isn't hard to hold in one hand, either argues Engadget's Tim Stevens.

Each corner is comfortably reachable by thumbs of nearly all sizes.

But, it's not that easy on your thumbs either, counters Daring Fireball's John Gruber.

But navigating the full screen while holding the iPhone in one hand is worse, for exactly the one reason why, even one year ago, I did not expect Apple ever to increase the size of the iPhone display: my thumb no longer easily reaches from corner to corner.

And for now, many apps don't accommodate the new look, notes Darymple.

If there is one problem I had with the iPhone, it would be with the apps that weren’t designed for the larger screen. We’re used to going to the bottom of the screen for the menu, but because the older apps are centered on the screen, the menus aren’t there. I tap a few times before I realize I have to move my thumb up a little bit.

More noticeable than the screen size, however, is the weight -- or lack thereof, adds Stevens.

Pick up the iPhone 5 and you're immediately struck by the reduction in weight. At 112 grams it's 20 percent lighter than the 4S, a figure that doesn't seem like it would make much of an impact. It does -- so much so that it's the lightness, not the bigger display or the thinness, that nearly everybody praises when first getting a chance to hold the iPhone 5 in their own hands

It might even be too light, says Stein.

What I really noticed is how light it is. I still feel weirded out by it.

Faster Everything

The 4G LTE makes WiFi seem slow, notes Stein.

Owners of other 4G LTE phones won't be shocked, but iPhone owners making the switch will start noticing that staying on LTE versus Wi-Fi might actually produce faster results...of course, at the expense of expensive data rates. I hopped off my work Wi-Fi and used AT&T LTE in midtown Manhattan to make a FaceTime call to my wife because the former was slowing down. LTE, in my tests, ran anywhere from 10 to 20MBps, which is up to twice as fast as my wireless router's connection at home.

The processor is faster, too, adds The New York Times's David Pogue.

Its new processor runs twice as fast, says Apple. Few people complained about the old phone’s speed, but this one certainly zips.

It's as fast as having a desktop in our pockets, notes Gruber.

So, as of this week, we have computing performance in our pants pockets that nine years ago required a professional desktop workstation.

Really, it's "incredibly fast," says Darymple.

The speed is incredibly fast, especially when compared to what the iPhone 4S could do.


It will last about a day with normal usage, surmises Stein.

The phone's lasted roughly the whole day each day, unplugging around 8 a.m. and engaging in a mix of calling, Web surfing, video playback, downloading, game playing, FaceTime calling over Wi-Fi and LTE, and even a little 4G LTE hot spot use via my MacBook Air. I unplugged the phone at about 7:30 a.m. one day, and it lasted until around 11 p.m. Another day, I unplugged at 7:30 a.m. and the phone lasted until nearly midnight. 

AllThingsD's Walt Mossberg got between 9 and 12 hours.

The iPhone 5′s battery lasted between 9 and 12 hours every day, in mixed use. For most people, the phone would last the day without recharging.

Darymple got through a day, too.

I use my iPhone 5 to make phone calls, iMessage, text, Web browsing, email, Twitter and generally keep up-to-date with what’s going on around the world. I unplugged my phone from the charger at 10:00 am, used it all day doing the things described above and then waited for it to run out of battery.

It wasn’t until about 7:00 am the next morning that it finally died. 

iOS 6

It integrates perfectly with the phone, especially the new maps app says Darymple.

For me, the operating system isn’t just about what’s on my device, but also how that OS lets me access and interact with my information and content when I’m not on my iPhone. That is where iOS excels.

I really should mention Maps, Apple’s new turn-by-turn direction app on the iPhone. I love it. 

Actually, maps is quite disappointing, counters Mossberg.

The biggest drawback I found is the new Maps app. Apple has replaced Google Maps with a new maps app of its own. This app has one huge advantage over the iPhone version of Google Maps—it now offers free, voice-prompted, turn-by-turn navigation. Google had made this available on its Android phones, but not the iPhone. Apple’s navigation worked very well, with clear directions displayed as large green highway signs.

But the app is in other ways a step backward from the familiar Google app. For instance, while Apple’s maps feature a 3-D “Flyover” view of some central cities, they lack Google’s very useful ground-level photographic street views. And they also lack public-transit routing. Apple will instead link you to third-party transit apps. Also, while I found Apple’s maps accurate, they tend to default to a more zoomed-in view than Google’s, making them look emptier until you zoom out. 

Overall, the operating system feels dated, Stevens agrees.

If anything, it's the operating system here that's beginning to feel a bit dated and beginning to show its age. 

Worth the upgrade?

There is zero reason not to, says Darymple.

I can’t think of any good reason why anyone wouldn’t upgrade or purchase the iPhone 5.

If you want the most well conceived phone ever, then yes, agrees Stein.

If you're looking for a show-off gadget, something with gee-whiz bells and whistles, then go somewhere else...except for the fact that people will inevitably want to see the iPhone 5 and grab it out of your hand. But, if you're looking for an excellent, well-conceived phone...well, here it is.

It's not worth breaking a contract, though, says Pogue.

If you have an iPhone 4S, getting an iPhone 5 would mean breaking your two-year carrier contract and paying a painful penalty; maybe not worth it for the 5’s collection of nips and tucks. But if you’ve had the discipline to sit out a couple of iPhone generations — wow, are you in for a treat.

"If you can afford it," suggests Gruber.

Should you upgrade? My answer is simple. If you can afford it, yes.

There’s a reason why, just as with all five of its predecessors, it just says “iPhone” on the back. The iPhone 5 is all new technically, but it’s the exact same thing as an idea. Apple is simply improving upon that idea year after year in infinitely finer detail, like a fractal. It’s nice.

It's an "excellent choice" adds Mossberg.

Apple has taken an already great product and made it better, overall. Consumers who prefer huge screens or certain marginal features have plenty of other choices, but the iPhone 5 is an excellent choice.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.