Apple iPhone 5 – The thinnest, lightest, fastest iPhone ever

The iPhone 5 is the newest version of Apple’s wildly popular smart phone. It brings a bigger screen, slimmer build and 4G tech to the table, but will that be enough to keep the likes of Samsung at bay?

New design

Last year’s iPhone 4S looked identical to 2010’s iPhone 4, leaving many gadget fans feeling glum. I’m pleased to report that this time Apple has given the iPhone a fresh lick of paint, even if it’s hardly a major style overhaul.

The rear of the larger iPhone 5 is made from aluminium rather than the Gorilla Glass of the iPhone 4S.

The back of the phone is made from aluminium, with a recognisable stripe across the device’s rear. Although larger on the front, Apple has made the iPhone 5 lighter than its predecessor — it weighs just 112g, compared with the iPhone 4S’ 140g weight. It’s thinner too, at an impressive 7.6mm.

That might not sound like much, but it makes a real difference when you pick it up. The first thing that hits you is it’s much lighter than the 4S.

It has a tall, baton-like design, so while it’s not significantly wider than the 4S, it’s certainly longer. The steel bands around the phone’s circumference carry over from its predecessor, but the new stretched-out look means more room for the display, which now measures 4 inches on the diagonal.

The edges of the phone feel very different too — less metallic, almost plasticky. It has a different feel to it, less cold.

The iPhone 5 replaces the 4S’ micro-SIM slot with a nano-SIM slot, for no apparent reason.

A minor design point — but more important for usability — is the change from micro-SIM to nano-SIM. As you can see in the image above, it’s a slightly smaller slot for your SIM, to the point where you wonder why they bothered. It means you’ll need a new SIM card, which is a pain, but not the end of the world.

Bigger screen

This marks the first time that Apple has increased the size of the iPhone’s screen from the previously standard 3.5 inches. The bigger panel means there’s room for an extra row of icons on the iPhone 5’s home screen and — because it has a 16:9 aspect ratio — you should get fewer annoying black bars when you’re watching movies on your mobile.

Happily, as well as ramping up the display size, Apple has bumped the iPhone’s display resolution. The horizontal pixel count remains the same — a healthy 640 pixels, but vertically you now get 1,136 of the blighters.

That means TV looks good, because there’s no black bars, but apps are centred, which doesn’t look great. You’ll accept it for a couple of months, but then you’ll get fed up. Fingers crossed major companies move quickly to update their apps to take advantage of the extra pixels. You do get more emails on the screen, which is helpful.

The screen is effectively the same as the ‘retina’ display on the iPhone 4S, with the same 326ppi pixel density, just a little longer. Although a few years old now, it’s still one of the most impressive screens out there, so I’m keen to get some eyes-on time with this new panel, to see what difference the extra size makes.

The iPhone 5 is taller than the 4S, adding another row of apps.

Lightning dock connector

Apple has a new way to plug your iPhone in. At the bottom of this freshly unveiled mobile you’ll spot a smaller connector port, which Apple immodestly dubs the ‘Lightning’ port. As well as being teeny tiny, the charging connector for this socket will work whichever way up you plug it in, eliminating that annoying fumble as you try and cram a plug into its socket the wrong way up.

The downside, of course, is that any current chargers or speaker docks you own won’t work any more. Expect to pay extra for an adaptor that will convert your chunky old connectors into the svelte new model.

Camera, processor and storage

The iPhone 5 has an 8-megapixel camera — the same basic resolution as the iPhone 4S. Apple claims to have made revisions to the technology lurking within, however, including better low-light performance and 40 per cent faster photo capture. Once more, we’ll be putting those claims to the test very shortly.

A new (for iPhone) panorama mode will let you take enormous landscape photos. Apple’s demo included a snap of California’s Golden Gate bridge that clocks in at a whopping 28 megapixels in size. These photos will fill up your phone’s hard drive in no time, but will suit those long, thin Facebook cover photos.

A panorama mode is hardly a revolutionary addition and it’s harder to use than it looks.

When we tried it, we found it harder to use than it should be. Instead of the usual camera mode that shows you the image you’ve taken and then lines that up in the viewfinder for the next shot, it’s more like a continuous video. It shows you a line you need to keep pointing along, but it’s very sensitive and we kept messing it up. It also points the opposite way to how you would expect.

Meanwhile, camcorder mode boasts improved video stabilisation, face detection and the ability to take photos while you’re shooting video — a feature other smart phones have already introduced.

Apple has introduced a new processor in the form of the A6 chip. Although we don’t know exactly how fast this little gizmo will be yet.

The iPhone 5 will have stiff competition in the performance stakes, as Samsung’s quad-core Galaxy S3 has played an absolute blinder in every test thrown its way.

As for storage, the iPhone 5 will come in 16, 32 or 64GB flavours, as before. 16GB may be plenty for you if you’re not a fan of hoarding music and movies, and it’ll save you a lot of cash too, as the higher capacity versions are much more expensive.

Call quality is promised to improve, thanks to three microphones built into the bottom, front and back of the phone. If you’re averse to using headphones or speakers, Apple has also promised to improve the quality of the speakers with its latest mobile.

Software

The iPhone 5 is powered by iOS 6, the latest version of Apple’s mobile OS that will debut with the company’s new blower. Alongside improvements for existing apps and services, iOS 6 brings a number of brand-new features.

The most significant change is to the Maps app. Apple has ditched Google, instead opting to create its own mapping service. The revamped app will play host to a 3D view of buildings, which Apple thinks will make it easier to find your way around. Flyover mode, meanwhile, sets the app scenically panning around a certain locale.

The Maps app on iOS 6 has these cool vector-drawn 3D images.

More than 100 million businesses will be listed in the new Maps app, and turn-by-turn navigation is another new feature, transforming your iPhone into a sat-nav that works with Siri.

Google’s current Maps app is excellent, so I’ll be very interested to see whether Apple can best it, or whether the drastic change will leave iPhone owners wandering aimlessly around town, trying to figure out where they are.

With iOS 5, Apple baked Twitter into the very centre of its operating system. This time around it’s doing the same thing with Facebook. Expect to be able to post photos to Mark Zuckerberg’s social-networking site from the Photos app, and see your buddies’ birthdays automatically added to the iPhone’s Calendar. Nifty.

FaceTime, Apple’s own-brand video-calling service, will now work over 3G. That means you can take and receive FaceTime calls from people when you’re out and about, instead of waiting until you’re within range of a Wi-Fi signal.

Battery life

Tim Cook and co estimate you’ll get 8 hours of 3G talk time from the iPhone 5, and 8 hours for both 3G and 4G web browsing. If you’re watching a movie expect 10 hours, and 40 hours if you’re just playing music. Apple claims you’ll get 225 hours of battery life from the iPhone 5 if you’re just leaving it on standby. That’s not particularly likely though.

Take all those numbers with a pinch of salt until we’ve given the iPhone 5 a proper battery test.

Outlook

The iPhone 5 offers modest but important improvements over the iPhone 4S. A bigger screen, new processor and 4G capability are all necessary to keep the iPhone up to speed with fast-moving competition from the likes of Samsung. On first impressions though, it doesn’t seem to go beyond them.

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