Apple’s iPhone 5 reviewed

The iPhone 5 is a foregone conclusion. With 2 million pre-orders made over the first 24 hours, estimates of 8 million units being sold over its first weekend and Apple’s stock prices at a record high, the iPhone 5 is a success even before the first customer switches it on.

While it doesn’t look that different from the outside, the new ‘5’ has a bigger brain, a larger screen, faster data connectivity and longer battery life. So does the new iPhone, in reality, live up to the fanfare? We’ve been using the phone for a few days, and here are our findings.

Only 7.6mm thin and 20 percent lighter than the iPhone 4S

Same but different

While you’ve probably seen plenty of pictures of the new iPhone, in its two-tone black on slate and white on sliver dressings, the net result of Apple’s engineering expertise really sets in when you get your hands on the device.

Compared to the 4S, the 5 is surprisingly light and elegantly thin. And like the 4S, it has a high-quality feel, which can’t be said for its number one competition: the Samsung Galaxy S III is a high quality, feature rich phone, but is let down by an overly plastic feel.

The iPhone 5 suffers none of this – the anodized aluminium and glass surfaces are meticulously shaped, diamond polished and assembled with the precision of a luxury German watch maker. It feels special.

The smaller and thinner bottom iPhone 5 bottom.

The net result is a sturdy device with a svelte 7.6mm waistline (versus the 9mm of the iPhone 4S and 8.7mm of the Samsung Galaxy SIII 4G). It weighs 112 grams, or 20 percent less than the 4S, and while it is about 10 millimetres longer, the total volumetric size of the 5 is actually 12 percent less than the 4S – an impressive feat considering the extra features, performance and connectivity packed into it.

Apple says that it wanted to keep the phone’s width the same as the 4S to keep the device familiar with previous iPhones, and the width means you can hold the phone in one hand while texting with your thumb.

I’ve tried this on the iPhone 5 as well as wider smartphones from HTC, Samsung and Nokia. While you can generally still text with one hand on the other phones, it’s harder, especially when trying to access the Back button.

Bigger and better

The iPhone 5’s totally new 4-inch Retina display gives you another half an inch of length on previous iPhones, while retaining the same width.

Compared to the 4S, this equates to an 18 percent increase in viewing area with a screen resolution of 1136 x 640 pixels. While it’s not an industry standard resolution, like the 720p (1280 x 720 pixels) screens found on the Samsung Galaxy S III or HTC One X, the new screen has the same 16:9 aspect ratio.

This is a better shape for viewing video content, meaning that most widescreen TV shows will fit perfectly into the new shape, although movies will usually still have a thin black bar across their top and bottom unless you use the zoom option. This is because movies are wider and longer than 16:9 so they don’t fit perfectly on the iPhone – or most other phones’ displays – without a bit of jiggery pokery.

Apple has maintained the incredible Retina clarity of its new display, cramming an amazing 326 pixels per each inch of screen real estate. As such, text is incredibly sharp, and photos and video convey an impressive amount of detail.

Under a microscope, the screens on both the iPhone 5 (left) and Galaxy SIII (right) are very clear, though you can see a slight yellow-green tinge on the Samsung screen.

While other smartphone manufacturers are playing catchup with their own Retina-style displays, Apple has moved the boundary even further with a display technology first by integrating the touch electrodes required by the touchscreen layer into the screen itself.

This makes it possible to reduce the thickness of the display by 30 percent, which on its own is an impressive achievement, and the lack of an additional layer of touch electrodes sitting on top of the display improves the image clarity. While it’s not a dramatic difference, the screen does appear marginally clearer when compared side-by-side with the 4S, which already has an excellent screen.

When comparing to the Samsung Galaxy S III, Apple’s new screen is not quite as bright, although marginally clearer. The Samsung’s HD Super AMOLED screen also casts a slight greenish tinge, whereas the IPS-based Apple display appears more neutral, though warmer than the iPhone 4S

The new screen also has a larger colour gamut – sRGB – meaning it can display a comparable colour depth to that found on HDTVs and computer monitors. This helps show more detail in dark scenes as well as brighter, move vibrant colours.