Apple iPhone 5 review: Laws of attraction

GSMArena team, 28 September 2012.
Pages: 1234567891011

Tags: Apple, iOS, Touch UI

Controls and handling

The Apple iPhone 5 is operated much like its predecessor, with most of the controls and ports in the exact same spots.

Apple iPphone 5 Apple iPphone 5 Apple iPphone 5
Most of the iPhone 5 hardware controls are in the same places as on the iPhone 4S

Above the screen, the front-facing camera has been moved to just above the earpiece, rather than on its side, but that matters little to everyday use. What makes a bigger difference is the higher resolution (1.2MP over VGA on the iPhone 4S), which allows higher-quality video capture. The proximity sensor is in the same place, too. The only thing that actually matters is the microphone which is located inside the earpiece, and that's the more convenient location to talk to the phone when using Siri for example.

Apple iPphone 5
The front-facing camera has been moved, and there's also a microphone here now

Below the screen you get the same old button, which brings you back to the homescreen or, if you are already there, it gets you to the universal search screen instead. A double press launches the task manager, while a press and hold will start Siri. We have to say that this time the feel of the button is pretty different and we hope the new mechanism addresses the huge fail rate issue.

Apple iPphone 5
The iPhone 5's home button

On the left you get the usual three buttons: volume up, volume down and a Mute toggle. The latter is rather stiff, which makes is pretty hard to operate with one hand, even though it's located just where it should be. Then again, probably that was required to prevent accidental presses, which can potentially result in missed calls, messages and whatnot.

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On the right you find the familiar controls

The top of the iPhone 5 hosts nothing but the power/lock button.

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The power button is the only thing left on top

On the right you find the tray, which pops open to reveal the new nanoSIM slot. Another SIM standard is hardly great news for anyone, but we are hoping that this will be the last one for a while. The world didn't even manage to complete the switch to microSIM, so with the iPhone 5 now available we have three SIM standards in use at the same time.

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The tray for the new nanoSIM

The good news is that if your carrier of choice doesn't offer nanoSIMs, it's not impossible to cut your regular SIM or microSIM to fit the iPhone 5. The bad news is that it's a tricky job, mostly because you don't only have to trim a regular SIM but also thin it out.

There are adapters too, which make nanoSIMs compatible with either of the larger standards, so there's some sort of backwards compatibility. As we said - here's hoping that the manufacturers and carriers would finally settle on a single SIM standard and get this whole thing over with. Ideally, it would also be one that doesn't require you to carry a pin ejector on you at all times.

Back to our iPhone 5, it's way more crowded at the bottom, where the new Lightning connector is placed. It renders your old accessories useless, but you can save some of them and get an adapter - both Lightning to 30-pin and Lightning to microUSB are available. Not all accessories are supported though, so make sure you read the fine print.

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There's quite a lot going on at the bottom

The bad news is that the new Lightning cables have an authentication chip, which will probably prevent the creation of cheap 3rd party alternatives to the official Apple accessories. Still, the switch to the new standard was necessary - the old 30-pin connector was taking way too much space without providing any extra functionality.

If anything, the Lightning port is actually more functional as it allows you to plug cables either way.

Anyway, the reduced connectivity port allowed Apple to move the 3.5mm audio jack from the top to the bottom, while keeping the primary microphone and the loudspeaker in place. Some would find the new spot more convenient, but others won't agree so we guess this one is a matter of personal taste.

We conclude the tour at the back where we see the 8 megapixel camera lens, the LED flash and, in between, the third iPhone 5 microphone. The only other things to note here are the Apple logo and the usual inscriptions, containing the IMEI and other info mandated by the law.

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The 8 megapixel camera lens is the star backstage

With the iPhone 5 those are less prominent, but we would rather Apple moved those to one of the sides, or simply put them on a removable sticker (we've seen that before), but we are probably just nit-picking.

Underneath the back panel lies a non-user-accessible 1440 mAh Li-Ion battery which, Apple says, should last for up to 8 hours of calls or 225 h of stand-by. We ran our traditional battery test and the iPhone 5 achieved the amazing score of 51h, which means you'll only need to charge it once every 51 hours if you use it for an hour of talking, web browsing and video playback per day. Of course, your mileage will vary depending on the use but that's the standardized measure of use that makes our results comparable across phones and manufacturers.

Apple iPhone 5

If you want to learn more on our testing procedures follow this link.

Display: Retina extended

The Apple iPhone 5 comes with a brand new 4" IPS LCD with a resolution of 640 x 1136 pixels, which adds up to a pixel density of 326ppi. This makes Apple's latest smartphone the first mobile device from the company to feature a 16:9 aspect screen.

The change in aspect ratio means that the iPhone 5 display is actually just 21% bigger than the iPhone 4S LCD screen, instead of the 25% increase the difference in the diagonal suggests. However the iPhone 5 display is still 44% smaller than that of the Galaxy S III and nearly 31% smaller than that of the Nokia Lumia 920.

Apple iPphone 5
The updated Retina display has 21% larger surface and better image quality

So while Apple has responded to demands for a larger screen on their iPhone, they made sure they didn't cross any lines to just stay in the race with Google and Microsoft powered flagships. The reason for the cautious upgrade is the company's aim to make the iPhone 5 as easy to operate with one hand as its predecessor.

The truth is that all the back buttons in iOS are located in the top corner so you need to slightly readjust your grip to have the same kind of usability, but it's really a minor thing so we'd say Apple has done a good job with that goal in mind. However, we prefer a screen that's proportionally bigger in both directions - this would have made much sense in the web browser, games and even with text input, where it would have allowed for a bigger keyboard.

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The iPhone 5 is quite easy to operate with one hand

What's more, the display update consists of more than just some extra estate and the pixels needed to justify the Retina moniker. Apple has also worked hard to make the colors as accurate as possible and you can clearly tell the difference. Our tests also show a in sunlight legibility, due to the new glass that reduces reflectivity.

Display test 50% brightness 100% brightness
Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio
Apple iPhone 5 0.13 200 1490 0.48 640 1320
Apple iPhone 4S 0.14 205 1463 0.52 654 1261
Apple iPhone 4 0.14 189 1341 0.39 483 1242
Samsung I9300 Galaxy S III 0 174 0 330
Samsung Galaxy Note II 0 253 0 478
HTC One X 0.15 200 1375 0.39 550 1410

Contrast ratio

  • Nokia 808 PureView
    4.698
  • Apple iPhone 5
    3.997
  • Samsung I9300 Galaxy S III
    3.419
  • Samsung Omnia W
    3.301
  • Samsung Galaxy S
    3.155
  • Nokia N9
    3.069
  • Samsung Galaxy Note
    2.970
  • HTC One S
    2.901
  • Samsung Galaxy S II
    2.832
  • Huawei Ascend P1
    2.655
  • Nokia Lumia 900
    2.562
  • Apple iPhone 4S
    2.269
  • HTC One X
    2.158
  • Nokia N8
    2.144
  • Apple iPhone 4
    2.016
  • Sony Ericsson Xperia ray
    1.955
  • Sony Xperia T
    1.894
  • Sony Xperia U
    1.758
  • LG Optimus 4X HD
    1.691
  • HTC One V
    1.685
  • LG Optimus Vu
    1.680
  • LG Optimus 3D
    1.542
  • Nokia Asha 302
    1.537
  • Nokia Lumia 610
    1.432
  • Gigabyte GSmart G1355
    1.361
  • HTC Desire C
    1.300
  • LG Optimus L7
    1.269
  • Meizu MX
    1.221
  • Samsung Galaxy Pocket
    1.180
  • Sony Xperia tipo
    1.166
  • Samsung Galaxy mini 2
    1.114

Thanks to the reduced reflectivity, the iPhone 5 also has far deeper perceivable blacks in almost every environment. When you have black image on the screen of the 4S you easily see where the display ends and the bezel starts. The same thing is much harder to do on the iPhone 5.

And here's how the Apple iPhone 5 display matrix compares to that of its predecessor. You can clearly see that while the density is the same, pixels look notably "punchier" now.


Apple iPhone 5 Apple iPhone 4S


Apple iPhone 5 Apple iPhone 4S

Another area of improvement is that the actual screen is even closer to the glass surface than before. We'd say it's also a little bit more sensitive to the touch. Both these improvements probably stem from the new in-cell touch layer, which has literally been integrated inside the LCD unit rather than sitting as a layer on top of it.

There's no denying the fact the iPhone 5 screen is truly impressive. It's the best on any iPhone so far and probably has the best per-pixel quality in the LCD business (whether or not you prefer the more saturated AMOLEDs is a different story altogether).

However, on the current market it's just not as mind-blowing as the iPhone 4 screen was, when the last Apple screen update came. When put side by side with an HTC One X or an Optimus 4X HD, the iPhone 5 Retina display looks a tad less impressive, simply because of its size. And it's no longer the highest res unit available on a smartphone either.

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