Introduction and design
The excitement of the rumour mill, the titillation of every leaked photo led to higher than ever levels of expectation over the iPhone 5 features, and while the announcement was greeted with some derision at the lack of perceived headline improvements, the record sales tell an entirely different story.
The iPhone 5 price was predictably high and continues to be so, so consumers will need to bear that in mind too when looking for their next smartphone – and remember that we’re only a couple of months at best away from seeing the new iPhone 5S.
So is the Apple iPhone 5 the greatest smartphone ever, and did it finally see Apple ascend to the top spot in our 20 best mobile phones chart? Or was it a case of too little, too late… and what about those darned Maps, eh?
We’ll begin in the traditional manner: how the thing actually feels in the hand. With the iPhone 5 there will be many types of prospective buyer: the upgrader from the 4 (or more-money-than-sense iPhone 4S upgraders), those tired of their Android handset and those taking their first steps in the smartphone market and want to get one of them iThingies their friend/child has.
Well, all of those picking up the iPhone 5 will have the same reaction: this thing is amazingly light. You’ve probably heard the numbers by now (20 per cent lighter than the predecessor, as well as beating most of the opposition too at 112g.)
It’s an odd sensation, but it actually detracts from the experience when you first pick it up. We’ve praised the weighty feel of the iPhone in the past, lending it a premium feel in the face of toy-like phones, and it’s almost disappointing that Apple decided to join that clan.
However, through extended use this problem quickly disappears. The overall effect of the phone is still a chassis designed for strength, and so it feels solid, if somehow a little hollow; pleasantly, though, it sits more anonymously in the pocket.
You’ll obviously see the change in height too – the iPhone 5 stands 123.8mm tall to allow for the larger 4-inch screen. In truth, those not familiar with the iPhone 4S probably wouldn’t notice the difference, which is why it’s a good move from Apple to include the larger screen if it’s not going put people off that hate larger phones.
The decision to stick at 4-inches is Apple’s admission that while it recognises people are all over the idea of having more screen real estate to play with it doesn’t want to move away from the thumb-friendly nature of the device.
Through a mixture of moving the centre of gravity slightly as well as repositioning the screen within the bezel, it’s still possible to scroll your thumb mostly around the whole display one-handed, which Apple is clearly keen to keep hold of.
However, we’re not convinced of that argument any more, and it’s the first iPhone where comfort to some extent really does depend on the size of your hands. For many people, it is possible to move a thumb around the entire display, albeit with a little more stretching than on previous models; anyone with smaller hands might find the top of the screen out of reach. For everyone, the Home button is harder to access when holding your phone comfortably.
The net result is a curious one: a device that’s more pleasant on the eyes and nicer to hold, but frequently more awkward to use than its predecessor. Newcomers might not notice that, but the compromise will be clear for upgraders from the iPhone 4S.
The general construction of the iPhone 5 is excellent, to say the least. We’ve tested both the ceramic white version and the anodised black, and the two tone effect on the back of the phone is stunning, both visually and under the finger.
It doesn’t beat the sheer beauty of the HTC One S, with its micro-arc oxidised back and rounded lines, but it’s well-set in second place.
The two sections of pigmented glass at the top and the bottom of the phone add a pleasant effect, and the sapphire glass is meant to be thoroughly durable, to complement the Gorilla Glass on the front.
Apple knows consumers get furious when they drop and iPhone, and is clearly seeking to stop the smashes before they happen with a tougher exterior – although it seems the anodised black version is pretty prone to scratching, with a number of users mentioning chipping on the darker hue.
Phil Schiller, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Marketing, reportedly replied to an email from a user pointing out that aluminium will scratch and chip in natural use – and we’re also hearing that white iPhone 5 models are being returned through flaking as well.
We kept our black iPhone 5 in a soft pocket in a bag for much of its life, yet saw the following chip with minimal key / coin contact in under a fortnight:
For a device of this premium quality, users will expect it to survive the pocket test, and especially do so for the first two weeks of life. It’s a big fail for Apple to expect users to accept that a product can be damaged so easily.
The same industrial band around the outside is in effect again as on the iPhone 4 and 4S, with small sections removed where the antenna joins.
Apple has gone for a more advanced form of antenna here, meaning the days of lost signal are gone, and generally increasing the power of your call connection and GPS lock on too.
There are other big design changes here too: the headphone jack has moved to the bottom of the phone, and the iconic 30-pin connector has been retired in favour of the new Lightning port, giving a headache to all those that have invested in chargers, docks and other accessories over their iPhone lives.
You can buy an adaptor, but it’s pricey at £25. And unless you want to keep it permanently attached to the bottom of the iPhone 5 you’ll need to buy a few, which is far from ideal.
However, let’s not harangue Apple too much for this: a smaller connector is not only easier to use (you can plug the smaller cable in either way round, and the connection feels more solid), but you’re rewarded with a thinner and more compact phone to boot.
There’s also a small chink of light on the top right hand side of the iPhone 5 – when the screen is illuminated, you can see it under the band if you really, really look for it. It’s been seen by a number of users, but is hard to actually replicate unless you mask the screen and hold it at the right angle.
It’s again a sign of slightly under-par machining from Apple, but in day to day use it’s almost completely invisible.
The decision to move the 3.5mm headphone jack to the bottom is an odd one, as while it allows you to slip the phone into the pocket head-first when listening to music, which is a more natural action, it’s a real pain in the posterior for some apps that will only work in landscape a certain way up.
Using it this way means your headphones experience will be one of having to jiggle the jack around two fingers.
It’s not the most comfortable way to hold a phone, and even when using the phone in portrait mode, the jack gets in the way somewhat. Plus it’s miles away from the volume keys, which makes it hard to change the audio level in the pocket if you don’t use the dedicated headphones.
There are other smaller design changes to the iPhone 5 too, such as the iSight front-facing camera moving to the middle and the home button being noticeably more robust to help reduce instances of a broken portal to your home screen.
But enough about what the phone looks like – the killer question is how the thing feels in the hand. And we’ll sum it up by saying: smooth. Some might find it a little slippery (we were always worried we would drop the darned thing), but unlike the glass-backed iPhone 4S, the iPhone 5’s unlikely to make a surprise trip off of a sofa and onto a wooden floor of its own accord.
So beyond the slightly odd form factor for those upgrading, and scratch issues for the black model, the design’s again extremely strong. For the most part, the iPhone remains a device suitable for use one-handed, although quibblers might grumble whether it’s quite as ultra-high spec as it should be – the lock button remains loose, so you can hear it clicking if you shake the phone.
That undoes some of the premium feel Apple’s going for, at least if you take to shaking a phone by your ear; more seriously, this device can have an up-front charge (off contract) of £529-£699, and so we’d argue it should be near perfection and free from noticeable (if admittedly small) blemishes.
And while it looks nice, from the front it doesn’t really add much to the design of the iPhone – it’s certainly not the same as the jaw-dropping design of the iPhone 4 compared to the 3GS… it’s another evolution in the iLine. It’s not bad, but for those that hoped the iPhone 5 would be another step change there’s a good chance they’ll be disappointed about the look… until they feel the lovely back on offer.
There was a real chance here for Apple: remove the bezel and give the front of the screen a look that’s similar to the OLED TVs from the likes of Samsung or LG… but instead we’re treated to the same lines as before.
You always get the feeling that Apple saves what it can for the next iteration of the iPhone, and while there’s nothing wrong with the current construction we can see the edge-to-edge screen becoming something amazing on the iPhone 6 or iPhone 5S.
The technology on offer from Apple with regards to the new 4-inch display is impressive – but only on a scale that matches that seen with the launch of the Retina Display in 2010.
There’s such a temptation with new technology to bash it for not always innovating and pushing things further, especially when Apple’s announcements are so full of hyperbole that it’s often hard to tell what’s actually exciting.
However when Steve Jobs took to the stage to announce the Retina Display, he said it was sharper than the human eye could discern – and he was right, as despite other far-reaching efforts to up the sharpness nothing has really made us squint at a display in awe than that first shown on the iPhone 4.
So we’re not going to berate Apple for sticking with the same 326ppi resolution, nor ‘only’ extending the iPhone 5 display to 1136 x 640 pixels – it’s the look that matters, and overall effect of the screen is very pleasing indeed.
There are black bars to the side of older iPhone apps that haven’t been optimised for the screen, and this is particularly noticeable on the white iPhone 5. Apps are being regularly updated, but there are noticeable usability issues with those that aren’t: older games in landscape can be irritating to control, and portrait apps have the virtual keyboard higher than you’d like it. Muscle memory gets a solid and regular kicking unless the apps you favour have developers who’ve been willing to put in extra leg work.
For those apps that have made the leap to widescreen (or ‘tallscreen’), the experience is superior. Reading apps provide more information at any given time, and video apps are better on a widescreen display. Surprisingly, even many games benefit from the change. Return to an iPhone 4S after using an iPhone 5 for any length of time and the older device feels stubby and cramped by comparison.
Apple has done away with layers of technology below the screen to bring the display as close to the glass as possible, something it says will bring increased brightness and sharpness to the user’s eye.
In practice, it’s quite different from the iPhone 4S in quality and brightness, although tilting the phone to extreme angles lacks the impressive look we’ve seen on phones like the HTC One X. However, just because you can’t see the colours as accurately at acute angles isn’t really something to criticise a phone for, unless you’re in the habit of letting your friends watch films from two seats away from you.
But enough of the comparisons: how does the screen look to the new user? Well, the answer is crisp, clear and bright with no discernible over-saturation when watching movies or browsing the web. We noticed no obvious discolouration – some people say the iPhone 4S had a slight greenish tint to it – so it’s clear this is the best Apple display yet.
It’s a lot better than the iPhone 4S in side by side comparisons, with the new phone definitely looking brighter, crisper and more true to life than its predecessor.
However, for all the reality on offer, it’s not got the snap and pop that still wows us on the Samsung Galaxy S3, with its Super AMOLED HD display with superb contrast ratios. If asked to choose which handset we’d like to watch movies on, browse the web or go navigating in the car with, we know we’d pick the Galaxy S3 every time.
Both displays have the same ‘painted on’ effect when looking at the home screen that makes you wonder if you’re looking at a dummy model with a sticker on, but those that say 4.8-inches of screen is too big haven’t played with the S3 very long – we predict at least half would be enamoured by the larger size within a day.
That’s not to say the iPhone 5 display is too small, as for many it’s the most they’d accept in screen evolution. It’s just that if 3.5-inches was the perfect one-handed size, 4-inches is a little too big (try getting your thumb up to the top-left corner to head back through apps) so if that’s the case, a little bit bigger wouldn’t make much difference and would give an improved experience to the apps so crucial to a smartphone user today.
When it comes to the interface on the new iPhone 5, well, there’s not a lot new about it at all. You can read our full iOS 6 review to get a good flavour of the new treats on offer with Apple’s latest platform evolution, but let’s talk about how they work within the phone itself.
And let’s not forget that the operating system will be upgraded in the very near future to iOS 7 – the new OS will bring a raft of changes to the iPhone 5 such a Control Centre which allows Android-like abilities to switch settings on and off when you’re in any app.
For the uninitiated, Apple’s iOS is designed to be all about simplicity, which is why you’re presented with a grid of apps that can be easily sorted into folders by long pressing on any one and dragging on top of another.
This method will also uninstall apps too, making it a much simpler system than anything you’d find on Android, where you have to jump through a few more hoops generally to create folders and get rid of unwanted software.
However, the downside to this trick is the fact it’s been there so long. If this is your first smartphone (or first iPhone) then you’ll be impressed by the simplicity – but then again, you may wish you had a bit more power under your fingertips.
For instance, where Android is so strong is in its customisation – meaning if you want to have one home screen full of widgets and another full of icons and a third with a massive widget for your music player, that’s as easy to do as just filling the whole thing with icons.
With iOS 6 you’ve only got weather and stock widgets in the notifications bar, which is accessed by pulling down from the top of the screen to give information on apps or message that have come through.
It’s similar to that seen on Android phones, but with Jelly Bean (Android 4.1) we’re offered the chance to see larger message previews and interact with important parts of apps without having to open them – impressive and a much more intuitive way of doing things.
However, let’s not get caught up with fancy tools: Apple’s iOS still has a gloss and sheen to it that other phones lack. It’s still the best for organising apps, still impressive in its stability and overall still really works – and don’t forget when iOS 7 lands, it’s going to get a lot more advanced again.
We are looking forward to the platform update, as intuition is the thing iOS 6 now lacks. Where Apple wowed the world with the simple nature of the original iPhone, the current set up isn’t really that far removed from that first iteration, at least visually.
Things like many app settings being placed within the Settings app, meaning you have to jump in and out of the apps to simply do things like alter the amount of days to sync in Mail, is ridiculous. Contextual menus have been absent from the iPhone ecosystem for far too long.
Another issue is the fact Apple isn’t able to work out how to do live icons effectively. While some show new information, such as the Calendar, the likes of Weather still say the same 23 degrees with a sunny outlook.
We know you can do better than this Apple, and when you look at the awesome Live Tiles on offer from Windows Phone, it beggars belief that the Cupertino firm seems to think users wouldn’t appreciate the chance to take a glance at the screen and know who that missed call was from, see what the temperature is outside or simply attach a contact as an icon for quick access.
It’s also extremely frustrating to not at least have the option to have the icons auto-arrange still. When you delete an app all the others don’t automatically line up to fill the space, which hurts the OCD nature in many of us.
We get that Apple knows some people want to keep icons in familiar places, but the auto-arrange option should be there.
But let’s talk hardware here: the A6 chip on offer in the iPhone 5 may only be dual core, but it’s certainly ridiculously snappy. It’s meant to be much faster than the A5 chip powering the iPhone 4S, and in practice it really is, with GeekBench telling us than the clock speed is 1.1 to 1.3GHz on each core.
It manages to nab a score of around 1450 on GeekBench, which is over twice as fast as the iPhone 4S – impressive given they’re both dual core phones.
And that’s the beauty of Apple’s iPhone strategy, and one that pays dividends for users: it doesn’t play the numbers game, as it will only end in criticism. Sure, a quad core CPU would have been a good marketing tool, but at the expense of battery life and design Apple knows that consumers will get an equally great experience with just the two cores.
We didn’t notice anything approaching lag during our time with the iPhone 5, with everything snapping back and forth with the kind of speeds we’d hope to see. Holding down the home key to access Siri was instant every time, and double tapping to bring up the list of apps running was equally fast.
This may all sound obvious, but some smartphones will introduce some delay into oft-used tasks, where the iPhone was happy to keep chugging along with no problems.
There was one issue we encountered during an iCloud backup to bring all the apps and settings from our previous phone, and that was during the repopulation some apps wouldn’t delete, and would sit there installing forever until the phone was forced into a restart.
This was irritating as it stopped other apps from downloading at the same time, meaning we had to keep turning the blasted thing on and off again just to actually get all the apps we wanted on it.
There are those that have criticised the ‘multi-tasking’ window in the iOS system, stating that it’s not true multi-tasking… which is true.
But try keeping all those apps running at once and using the phone for more than half a day, and you’ll realise that Apple’s strategy of putting some apps in stasis or shutting them down (but still showing them as recently used for easy access) is a good move on the whole.
We do wish more apps were able to run in the background (Skype would be a great start, as would many social networks) but on the whole we’re fans of battery life, and there’s every chance Apple will refine the process in the future.
After a couple of weeks’ use, we slipped easily back into the familiar iPhone routine with iOS 6 and the standard interface. It does feel irritating at times, especially when having to jump in and out of the settings menu, but the new visual touches permeating the device mean that you won’t feel thoroughly short changed by iOS.
Additionally, although Android users used to customisation might feel hemmed in by iOS, there’s no denying that Apple’s penchant for simplicity makes it an elegant choice for newcomers and for anyone who hasn’t got the time or patience for endless customisation and tweaking.
And of course there’s the debate of not getting to have a clean slate when you get a new phone, with iCloud / iTunes backup meaning you’ve got exactly the same experience as before on your device. It’s a poor argument though – stop being lazy and mess around with your phone like a good little technology addict.
Calling and contacts
There have been a few criticisms levelled at the iPhone over the years, and one of the main ones has been its slightly poor performance as an actual phone. Be it dropped signal, failing calls or general battery-sucking from the act of chatting wirelessly, Apple has had to deal with a lot.
However, after the iPhone 4 it appears to have got its act together, and the calling experience is an altogether improved experience again with the iPhone 5.
We’ll start in the usual place: how easy is it to keep an eye on all the people you talk to on a regular basis? Well, Apple has always been pretty poor in this area compared to the likes of Android and Windows Phone, thanks to the total lack of social networking integration on offer.
Before we get into that, we’ll mention the standard Contacts app view, and we call it standard because it’s not changed much at all over time.
The layout is neat, if uninspiring, but at least it’s easy to find the people you want thanks to the scrollable list of letters on the right-hand side, which is one of most fluid around.
However, with the addition of Facebook into the ecosystem, the options on offer have changed somewhat, allowing you to link your Facebook friends in with your contact list. It’s very much a sub-par experience though, with the only positive thing we can say about it being that at least it’s a step in the right direction.
For a start, it’s not always clear how you even get your Facebook contacts in the list, with users needing to install the app and then activating the contacts in the settings menu.
Once that’s done, you’ve got all your friends lumped into your Contacts list, with no filter on offer between those with phone numbers and those that are just people you’ve met on the street and decided to add as a friend.
You can switch it off in the groups, but then you can’t join contacts together, meaning you have to put up with reams of names until you’ve gone through the highly laborious process of editing each contact to link them together.
Compare this to the psychic ability to help you with this from Android and Windows Phone, and you can see why Apple falls so far short.
Each contact card doesn’t add much more than a list of details you can tag to help contact people – that’s all well and good, but things like message history or albums would be nice too.
However, given most other manufacturers are starting to eschew such functionality in favour of pointing you to the specific apps, we can’t say it’s a terrible system.
Adding contacts is easy enough – either open the app and tap the plus sign, or add a number directly from the dial pad. All easy, all very 2010, nothing to really complain about.
The call quality on offer is much better though, with the three microphone system Apple has put together (on on the bottom, one on the back and one invisible one near the top) making call quality for the person you’re phoning amazing.
We spoke to a few people on windy day next to a busy road and were easily able to hold a conversation, thanks to Apple’s sound processing algorithms. Users don’t want to know how it works, they want to know that it just does, and for a company that’s been criticised in this area before, it’s a strong refinement.
The call connection quality is excellent as well, with not one case of dropped calls being recorded during our trial (using a Vodafone SIM). In fairness, we rarely see this from any smartphone any more, let alone the premium models, but it’s good to see there’s no sign of history repeating itself for Apple.
And one other thing we feel duty-bound to mention, despite the fact it makes us look like little girls: the edge of the iPhone 5 is relatively sharp when pressed to the ear, so pushing it in harder to the head in noisy environments was quite unpleasant.
But while the calling experience is good (in audio terms), the actual method of finding the people to speak to isn’t the greatest.
For example, there’s no smart dialling to call up people via their name on the keypad, which is a really useful feature on Android phones for instance. (However, Siri – once ‘trained’ – is a suitable substitute for rapidly calling someone in an intuitive manner).
And this is another area where the Samsung Galaxy S3 really takes the medal, as once you’ve finished a call or found there’s no answer, the option to call again or send a message is quickly and easily offered up at the bottom of the call.
Essentially where it takes around 20 taps on an iPhone to call, get no answer and send a message, you can do the same thing on a Galaxy S3 in around a quarter of the time – and that’s without the clever ‘slide to call/text’ method employed by the Korean brand.
We can see Apple making big gains in this unloved area in the future, but given the strength of the competition at the moment it’s not something users should have to put up with right now.
FaceTime is predictably back on the iPhone 5, and it’s better than ever. Whether it was Apple’s insistence on the video calling functionality or the fact it’s now available over 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi, which are all more prevalent these days.
It’s a great option for those lucky few in the UK with 4G speeds, and others in the US and other territories where it’s more widespread… although make sure you’ve got a data plan that can handle carrying HD video over the airwaves. (If you’re on a restricted plan, FaceTime can be manually restricted to Wi-Fi only, via a slider in Settings).
Yes, that’s right – it’s HD now, thanks to the improved front-facing iSight camera. In a side by side test with the iPhone 4S, the quality was noticeably smoother and clearer on the iPhone 5, and the speaker is enhanced too, making it very easy to hold a conversation with your family when holed up in a hotel room in Seoul or New York.
That’s where FaceTime is making the biggest gains – talking to your loved ones. With the proliferation of latter-day iPhones, more people have access to the service, and there’s also the option to switch to the rear camera and have a look at the world behind.
It’s all very easy to do, doesn’t cost anything (over Wi-Fi at least; a number of carriers are charging for the privilege over their cellular networks) and, colour us surprised, seems to be actually used these days. And while, frustratingly, Apple never made good on its plans to open up FaceTime, the fact that it’s now available on iPads and Macs increases the likelihood you’ll use the feature with friends and family also immersed in Apple’s ecosystem.
While the iPhone may not have been much use in the calling arena, when it comes to messaging Apple has turned the wick up once again with the iPhone 5.
Not only does the larger screen give you more room to fire out missives, it also allows more ways of letting people know what you’re thinking.
The SMS is still the most popular way on the planet to keep in contact with people, and while it’s limited in functionality, it’s still a simple method to use.
Apple’s system is still the same as it always was here, with the messaging app giving you the option to send a simple text or chuck a picture across the airwaves to your friends. The interface is tidy, still works as expected and you’ve got the ability to see 2-3 more messages on the elongated screen.
Apple’s iMessage functionality is embedded too, which in theory means free communication between friends using the service, and is part of Apple’s efforts to entice teenagers.
For iPhone 5 users, it’s perhaps questionable whether some will want to save money on text messages (and see when people are typing a reply), given the high cost of the handset. However, much like FaceTime, the technology’s proliferation across iPad, Mac, iPod touch and iPhone devices makes iMessage potentially useful if you’ve many Apple-loving friends. The fact that it’s free to use even when your friends are on the other side of the world (providing they have internet access on their Apple device) is also a boon.
The bigger problem is iMessage’s lack of reliability. Messages will default to the iMessage system when possible, and they occasionally have a habit of being delivered out of order, and in different orders on different devices. The only way to avoid this is to opt out of iMessage entirely, and it’s an area Apple clearly needs to tighten.
Right from the outset Apple has had a strong focus on email, and that continues with the iPhone 5.
Where the contacts menu is poor, the emailing system is only bested by a few options (the HTC Sense method and the Windows Phone mail apps spring to mind).
But there’s something excellent about the simplicity Apple has employed for its system – there’s an integrated inbox for all your accounts, and this has been joined by the VIP option, giving you the chance to select the people you really care about and have them easier to see when they message you.
The inbox itself is a simple and efficient affair, with none of the fancy options available on other larger phones, such as heading into landscape mode to see a list of messages and previews. This option is available on the iPad, but Apple has rightly seen that the 4-inch screen is too small for such a trick.
Everything from being able to bulk delete emails with a swift touch to swiping to get rid of single messages oozes quality, and for those that use the iPhone for business, the simple folder structure and server searching are godsends.
This is an area that doesn’t need luxury, it needs presentable efficiency, and Apple has still got that in spades.
One cool addition we do like is the goo-like update icon that appears when you go to refresh emails – another example of Apple’s attention to UI detail throughout the phone, and something we found ourselves playing with every time we entered our inbox, just for the fun of it.
With the announcement of the tie-in with Facebook for iOS 6, we had high hopes for the integration of the service within the phone. And while there’s the option to download FB Messenger as a standalone app, you can’t see your friends’ messages from your iPhone inbox, or on their contact page.
In fact, when it comes to this social networking integration there’s very little full stop. You can post to Twitter or Facebook from the notification bar and use a system tweet/post dialog once accounts are defined in Settings, but that’s it.
We’re sure those services are happy to have a constant link to users through the Apple fan base, but it could be so much more with integrated inboxes and being able to link a Twitter account to the Contacts app as well.
We know you can more easily post pictures and videos to Facebook thanks to the new tie-in, but we hope to see more from this in the future.
With great size comes greater keyboard manipulation, but as Apple has only pushed the size of the screen up, rather than outwards, there’s no more room on the portrait offering, so if you thought the iPhone 4S and back was cramped, you’re not going to be that impressed with the iPhone 5.
It’s not a bad keyboard; in fact, it’s got a greater range of accuracy than many other phones of its size.
But if you’re moving here from something like an HTC Desire or Samsung Galaxy S2, be prepared for a transition period where you wonder in the touchscreen is slightly broken and you can’t tap out all the letters in your name easily.
The autocorrect is pretty good, but not in the same league as something like Swiftkey, which uses algorithms to predict your typing style and likely next word – we were still able to knock out messages up to 30% faster on the Galaxy S3 over the iPhone 5 thanks to the predictive option.
In landscape mode the iPhone 5 is better though, although the larger screen makes it slightly harder to reach the middle letters at times.
It’s not bad at all, and with a degree of practice those that love talking with both hands will appreciate the more spaced-out letters.
With the launch of Apple’s iOS 6.0.1, an issue which saw some users getting some horizontal banding popping up over the keyboard at times – this has since been removed. We heard of a few users that compain about this ruining Apple’s sheen, so it’s good to see it’s removed quickly.
Safari, the default internet browser on offer with the iPhone 5, has long been held up as one of the leaders in the mobile internet browsing game. It’s slick, fast and makes it simple to check out web pages on the go.
The competition has caught up in recent years, and some might say surpassed it, but for those that are jacked into the Apple ecosystem it’s an excellent option, and with the iPhone 5 it’s been improved again.
The first thing you’ll notice is the speed – it’s much faster that the iPhone 4S without doubt. In side by side tests TechRadar loaded at least 0.5s faster over every connection, with the full page displaying in a very impressive amount of loading time.
We compared it to the 1GB of RAM, quad-cored Samsung Galaxy S3 and while the larger phone was a touch quicker at bringing up the words, the iPhone 5 was the quickest to finish loading.
In short, both of these phones can pretty much display the bits of information as soon as your internet connection can pour them in, and that’s as much as we can ask from these handsets.
We’ve also checked out the iPhone 5 running at 4G speeds as well now – and it doesn’t really change page loading times, as the phone is already goshdarn nimble at throwing out the 3G signal.
It’s worth noting that just because you’ve got the iPhone 5 doesn’t mean you’ll be able to connect to the 4G networks, since they all run on slightly different frequencies… so check with your helpful shop assistant before purchase.
You can see our more detailed section on the 4G capabilities of the iPhone 5 later in the review too.
The Retina Display, with the extra space on offer from the larger screen, is an excellent way to browse the internet and now gives more information than ever before.
It’s not got the sheer expanse of the HTC One X, Samsung Galaxy S3 and Nokia Lumia 920, but it doesn’t feel cramped and text is sharp enough to be legible zoomed out, although you’ll need to have good eyesight.
The iPhone 5’s zoom system works in two ways: double tap to make the text fit the screen or manually pinch the display to choose the level of enlargement.
This is also improved, speed-wise, with the addition of Apple’s new A6 chip, and brings the flagship iPhone up to the mark set by the current quad-core brigade.
So as you can tell, generally navigating around the web with the iPhone is a very pleasant experience indeed, being slick, fast and legible most of the time.
And we’ll have to once again tip our hat to Apple when it comes to online video: the company refused to bow to Flash video when the world (us included) berated it for not going down the route. Now Flash on the mobile is virtually dead, and the HTML5 format championed by Apple is becoming widespread, and is creating a better online video watching experience.
And for those that are still all about the words on the net, there’s the Reader mode from the Safari browser in full effect, allowing you to scrap the ads and unwanted pictures in favour of just the words, which makes longer articles (like this one) more palatable on the go.
New to the iPhone 5 (through iOS 6) is the addition of the Read Later functionality – simply tag any page and you can get your hands on it offline once it’s been saved, and you can even see it in Reader mode too.
However, it takes a jolly long time to actually stream some pages down, which is surprising given they’re already loaded when you tag them for offline use.
Another new feature is iCloud Tabs, which allows you to see web pages you’ve browsed on your desktop or iPad through the Safari browser.
It’s similar to the functionality offered by Chrome from Google, and works equally as well, especially in terms of the URL bar guessing which website you want to view.
If we had a criticism (well, we have a couple) it’s the fact that the URL and search bars remain too small, making it hard to activate them when you want to search or enter a new web address.
And the lack of text-reflow – where you can set the size of the letters you’re reading, prevalent through many Android phones – is still not here. You can enter reading mode and change the size of the letters there, but that’s not the same thing at all.
We’re generally fans of the Safari browser, but it’s not the best out there, as the Android stock browser is far more feature rich now it’s moved to Ice Cream Sandwich.
Simple things like having a contextual menu and the ability to switch to Desktop view are really useful when you don’t want to mess around with mobile optimised sites, and we’d hoped Apple would have offered the same thing.
The iPhone 5 camera might not look materially different to that found on the iPhone 4S, and in truth it is very similar.
But then again, when you’re winning plaudits across the board for your smartphone photography, stepping things up in terms of specs isn’t really a priority for Apple.
You may have read a few bits and pieces about a ‘purple haze’ issue, but we noticed nothing in our tests. Apple did respond to the issue with a support document, which noted such effects can be common in small cameras.
Just because the specs are the same, doesn’t mean there aren’t new features. The two biggest differences are the fact the iPhone 5 can take photos 40% faster than its predecessor and the new dynamic low-light mode reduces the pixel count but improves darker images dramatically.
On top of that we’ve got new elements like a sapphire crystal lens to allow in more light and an improved filter to increase the natural colours.
What we don’t have is a whole load of effects and settings to play with, and this is both the strength and weakness of the iPhone 5. While some will see the lack of burst mode, lighting levels and sharpness alteration as a weakness, others will look at the options to add a grid or turn on HDR and see all they need from a camera phone.
And in truth, it’s the latter camp that makes the most sense, as the iPhone 5 will offer great quality snaps on auto mode time and again. The low light mode works very well, and while the pictures can look a little grainy the general effect is very impressive.
Some may question whether the cool features seen on the HTC One X and Samsung Galaxy S3 should have made it onto the iPhone – namely burst mode to capture shots in quick succession. They probably should have, given the speeds on offer from the camera, and given the processing power would have looked pretty good too. (Of course, external apps such as Camera+ can provide this functionality on the iPhone 5, should you wish to add it).
The flash is very bright too for a single LED, although it is rather cold in tone. There was also an issue with the camera flash not firing on occasion with the original iOS, although many users would have been unaware that it was a problem… instead thinking they’d made a mistake. Well, if you never noticed it, GOOD NEWS! It’s been fixed. Press flash, get flash. Good good.
And there’s also a new feature in the shape of Panorama mode – this is one of those times where Apple brings out a new feature and some fans laud it as the greatest invention yet when in truth it’s been on other phones for years and years.
And yet, Apple has somehow worked out the kinks in the system. For one, you take the panoramas in portrait mode which leads to a taller (if less expansive) end image, which is stitched together with such accuracy we’re not sure that the dark arts aren’t involved.
It’s a 28MP image that comes out at the end and the iPhone 5 stitches it all together as you go, which is incredibly effective and speedy, so you’re ready to snap as soon as the photography is done.
Add to that the fact the on-screen shutter button is larger, and you can see that the ease of use has increased on this already simple interface. And don’t forget you can use the volume down key to take photos… although in practice this did sometimes lead to camera jiggle with the force required to take the photo if the phone is held the wrong way up.
If you’re in a hurry you can activate the camera from the lock screen too, which is one of the fastest ways on any smartphone to go from locked to snap, as long as you know the motions needed to fire up the camera (a quick swipe up on the camera icon, if you’re wondering).
There are other features involved that help maintain photo quality too, as was seen on the iPhone 4S: long pressing the screen will lock the exposure, so while the iPhone 5 will usually change the exposure levels depending on the scene, if you want it to stay at a certain level this will achieve it.
It’s also excellent at face tracking too, so should you want to focus in on gurning friends then it’ll pick them all up with no issue.
The major change here is one that we’ve already seen from HTC and Samsung: namely, the ability to take pictures while recording. It’s a trick that’s been around for a long, long time on video cameras, but it’s nifty and works well on the iPhone 5.
Our only gripe is that it isn’t easy to tell when you’ve actually taken the photo, so you just have to click and hope at times.
The video camera, which can record 30fps footage at 1080p, now packs video stabilisation to make sure your home movies don’t look like you’re running the from the Blair Witch every time.
It’s pretty good, as you can see from our video comparison with the S3 – in short, it comes up with impressive videos time and again, and we can see many examples on the way of film makers or other producers showing how amazing they are by doing content on the iPhone 5.
Apple has based its whole iPhone ideal on the success of the iPod, deciding it wanted to make inroads into that area while combining it with the power of the phone at the same time all the way back in 2007.
To that end, music has always been at the heart of most iPhone design, and it’s still good these days. It’s actually changed remarkably little in terms of interface, and while that might be a criticism to some parts of the platform, in this case it’s actually rather good.
There’s also a strong emphasis on video too, which is again relatively unchanged… although we’d like to see that updated in all honestly to incorporate some more advanced features.
Audio-wise, the iPhone 5 is close to the best out there. Sound is rich and balanced, and the overall effect is clean, easy to listen to and isn’t muddied by any emphasis on certain areas of the hearing spectrum. You can access the player in a variety of ways, from the Music app on the home screen (traditionally in the on-screen dock at the bottom) to double tapping the home button and swiping right.
And if you’re on the lock screen, a double tap will also call up the music player, as well as showing album art on the screen.
Navigation through your tracks is pretty darn easy too – you’ve got very few buttons to mess around with on the player, with the little slider buttons coming with a very ‘Apple-esque’ reflection that moves as you tilt the phone.
We suggest you keep this trick hidden to those that mock iPhone owners as it will be like gold dust to them. We can just hear it now: ‘Look at the shiny reflecting thing when I tilt my phone!’ ‘Yeah, but it can’t make PHONE CALLS, can it? Or use Maps? Hur hur derp’ ‘You’ve always hated me, Andy, haven’t you?’
There’s the familiar Cover Flow option too should you decide to turn the phone sideways. It’s a joy to jump through tracks, and tapping on any album will show the track listing.
We do wish that you could long-press on tracks to add them to a playlist, or were able to swipe on the song cover art in the main player to change tracks – these are areas where iOS 6 is starting to show its age.
There are a number of extra services accessed through the Settings app (don’t get us started again) and these include shake to shuffle (turn it off straight away if you ever walk and listen to music) and the more useful EQ and Sound Check settings to improve the quality of your audio… and it really works too.
We also like the efforts made to protect you hearing, with the option to limit you volume level to EU standards and the fact the on screen volume control will start to turn red when it gets too loud… after that, you’re choosing to damage your ears.
Overall the iPhone 5 music player is a very, very good music player that doesn’t add any bells or whistles to a competent package.
Apple is also chucking in iTunes Match to give you access to your library on the go… well, we say chucking in, but you have to pay £21.99 for the year to do so. It will take your existing library, scan it, and improve the quality and make it available to stream wherever you are.
It’s not a new service, but it helps those limited to the 16GB version, and don’t want to fork out for the 32GB or 64GB versions.
While we’re on the subject, can someone explain why it costs £100 extra to get a larger capacity of flash drive on a iPhone 5?
Given a microSD card (which obviously can’t be inserted into the iPhone 5) is a fraction of that cost, how can Apple get away with charging that much more to be able to store more apps and movies on a phone?
We get that consumers don’t always need expandable storage, but to charge such a premium is a little harsh.
With greater size comes… wait, we’ve made that ‘joke’ already. There’s a larger screen on the iPhone 5, thus movies look better. That’s that covered.
We jest again. The larger screen is a great thing for watching movies compared to the iPhone 4S, as it allows you to see 16:9 videos the way they were supposed to be viewed.
It still puts black lines above and below the 21:9 movies, but this is common across most smartphones, and it’s at least better than the ludicrously thin options seen on the 4S and older.
MP4 files seem to be the order of the day here, so if you want to watch something else you’ll need to download an app like Cine X Player to achieve that – and it’s not easy to load them on. Sure, many films are already encoded in that format, but it doesn’t stop the closed nature being irritating.
Given most other smartphones are capable of at least playing an AVI file still, if not Xvid or DivX, it’s a shame Apple hasn’t followed suit.
However, if you have got something you can watch, the experience is good. Well, apart from the relatively poor positioning of the 3.5mm headphone jack that is.
Holding the phone in landscape mode as you must for a movie session can get tiring, because you’ll need to wrap your little finger around the wire to get a comfortable watching position… we wish it was moved inwards a few millimetres to help out.
The screen quality is very good though, and HD movies in particular look sharp and detailed.
There’s an argument here about the difference in colour saturation levels between the Super AMOLED options and the Retina Display, but it really comes down to preference, as one will be oversaturated to one person, where the other will look washed out to another.
One problem we did note was that the screen had to be held at a more rigid viewing angle than the Galaxy S3 else the brightness went slightly awry. Not massively so, but enough to irritate at times.
As we mentioned above, the video app could do with a little overhaul, as the large thumbnail list can be a bit cumbersome to use at times. The S3 manages to play back the movies in the thumbnails, making it very easy to see what you’re watching, which is really useful if you’re trying to work out which episode of a series you’re watching next.
Photo Stream, EarPods and gaming
Gallery and Photo Stream
Apple has always been about simplicity when it comes to viewing your photos, and the iPhone 5 is no exception.
It’s a simple trip into the photos section to view your snaps (and videos, confusingly) where you can pinch to zoom or create albums of your favourite cat with ease.
There’s also the option to see geotagged photos on a map, which can really help take away the post holiday blues when you can see all the fun you had in hot climates…as long as you didn’t go holidaying in Luton.
Photo Stream is also on offer, meaning any photo taken with a device logged into the same Apple account will populate here instantly. It’s a neat touch, but something many might not understand unless they get others to show them how to set it up properly.
Gaming on the iPhone 5 is more of a priority than ever, thanks to an enhanced graphics chip compared to both the iPhone 4S and the new iPad (well, it would need to be an upgrade from the predecessor to handle the increase in pixels at least).
In practice it’s easy to see why the iPhone 5 is a real competitor to the handheld console market, as gameplay on even the most intensive titles is fluid and responsive.
You’ve got access to the accelerometer and gyroscope as before, and while these aren’t new features it was on the iPhone 4 that we got our first taste of being able to whirl around a room and shoot bad guys, so it offers a pleasant trip down memory lane.
There’s a wealth of gaming content that’s mostly inexpensively available on the App Store, so we recommend you check it out no matter if you’re a seasoned gamer looking for the latest version of NOVA or someone that likes to play New Star Soccer on the train.
We’ve tested a few more games now that take advantage of the larger screen size, and it’s definitely a better experience, especially when using the accelerometer-based controls.
Going forward we can see a really great level of use from the developers with that extra real estate… just think how much further you’ll be able to fling those birds now.
Apple’s new EarPods made (some) headlines when launched with the new iPhone 5 – Apple is claiming they’re designed ‘from the sound up’.
In reality they’re nothing more than a justified upgrade from the pitiful white options that have been hanging around with the iPod and iPhone for years now.
You can read all about our in-depth findings with these buds in our Apple EarPods review, but they may stop some people upgrading to a better set of ear buds at least.
The new headphones are rounded and while won’t be noise isolating (clearly Apple’s employees don’t take a lot of trains, else this would have been the first feature designed in) they are more connected to the ear canal.
The sound is a little muddy and bass heavy, but again is a big improvement on the previous models.
The fit feels like it’s going to fall out of your ears at any time, and if you’ve got more ‘expansive’ ears, they certainly will.
We tried out some RHA MA450’s with the iPhone 5 and instantly the sound quality was much improved, and they only cost a fraction more than the £25 you’d have to pay for the Apple offerings should you break them.
Battery and 4G
Apple took the curious step of not really increasing the battery life on the iPhone 5 despite the faster chipset with LTE connectivity… but it seems that the decision to wait a little while before bringing the 4G technology to the phone has allowed it to optimise the power pack.
Apple’s own battery specs indicate the device should have 225 hours of standby time, up to eight hours of internet use on 3G (and 10 on Wi-Fi), up to 10 hours of video playback and 40 hours of audio playback.
In running audio in a loop with the device on airplane mode, such an audio playback figure can be reached, and Apple’s internet figures are close to what we found during testing.
In more general mixed usage, though, you’d be very optimistic to think your iPhone 5 will last longer than a single day on one charge, and that range will be dramatically reduced if you use battery-sucking processor-intensive apps or games, or power-sapping turn-by-turn navigation and 3G/LTE. Apple’s device doesn’t compare poorly with most other smartphones on this scale, but it’s certainly no leading light, either.
We also found that issues remain within iOS that can lead to an overnight power drain if the device isn’t plugged in. Historically, this has often been down to location services being overly active, and during testing we had a couple of ‘dead iPhone in the morning’ instances. Turning off unused location services seemed to help, but this isn’t particularly discoverable for the typical user, and nor are background tasks sapping battery life something you’d usually associate with Apple.
4G is the new trick on offer from the iPhone 5 – and is now available in the UK thanks to a deal with EE.
If you’ve bought one on Orange or T-Mobile, you’re able to migrate to the new 4G service on the new EE network.
This will offer speeds of around 20Mbps on the go, which will outstrip even the more powerful Wi-Fi in many homes – but it’s very, very pricey and the data levels on offer are poor, to say the least.You’ll be paying £180 for a £36 a month deal, with only 500MB of data for company. Don’t buy this deal if you want to actually get value for money.
And if that doesn’t float your boat, you’ve got some really fast network speeds on offer: DC-HSPA means you’ll be able to access 4G-lite speeds on the go providing your network is capable of this… however, most are rolling out the functionality over the coming months in the build up to greater 4G coverage, so you won’t be too heavily handicapped by the lack of LTE if you’re on one of the unlucky networks.
We spent some time checking out the new iPhone 5 on the EE 4G network – and yes, it’s a lot faster. Apps downloaded minutes faster (when it came to the larger files), streams began over three seconds quicker and generally it was a much, much snappier experience on the internet.
Sure, it fully requires your data plans to be acceptable, but if you’ve got a decent connection you’ll have broadband style speeds on the go with no question, as long as you’re in a major city. This means you’ll nab up to 50Mbps when out and about, with some impressively low latency of 50-55ms.
Of course, Apple could release network specific phones for the 2.6GHz spectrum that O2 and Vodafone will use for 4G, but we won’t hold our breath, so if you want 4G on an iPhone 5, you’re stuck with EE.
Many people have taken umbrage at the way they’re supposed to get media on and off their iPhone, and with probably just cause, as the experience is far from ideal.
iTunes is much improved over the past few years, but that doesn’t stop most people having to wait a few seconds just to place some music on their phone.
The annoying thing is the amount of syncing that happens when you plug your iPhone into the PC or Mac, so we recommend you turn off automatic syncing when you plug in the phone else you’ll be waiting a few extra minutes just to plop a film on there.
That said, the speed with which items transfer over is impressive given it’s only USB 2.0 on offer, with songs and movies zipping across far more quickly than an Android phone using Windows Explorer to drag and drop.
But given the fact that you’re so locked down in media choices as well as not being able to just quickly chuck files onto the iPhone 5 without having to go through the syncing palaver, it’s not a great system still.
At least you can back up the phone wirelessly, meaning if it’s plugged in and connected to Wi-Fi (and your computer is on) you’ll be able to keep all your important messages, contacts and app data safe each night.
The iPhone 5 is one of the best stocked phones around when it comes to connections, thanks to plonking all manner of options in there. We’ve already talked through the likes of 4G and the slower 3G connection speeds on offer, but there’s plenty more to be impressed with too.
For instance, Bluetooth 4.0 is included, which might sound like a faster version of the wireless tech you’ve entertained for decades but is actually a decent upgrade, allowing you to connect to low power devices with ease. This means things like heart monitors or pressure sensors in your shoes can be used, without needing to charge them every seven seconds.
We’re already seeing a number of new technologies designed to make use of BT 4.0, and Apple is likely to be a big pusher of the technology as apps are developed around the ecosystem too.
In terms of mapping, it may not be all rosy on that front (we’ll get to that in a minute) but at least the connection speeds are strong, with both GLONASS and aGPS supported on the phone. For the uninitiated, GLONASS is a Russian system that rivals GPS, offering connection to reams of other satellites, and is necessary if you want to ship your smartphone into the country without a tax.
It doesn’t matter to the consumer though, as they get easy access to satellites that mean a stronger connection and one that finds you in less than three seconds in most cases, which makes it a very useful tracking method.
Wi-Fi is also well represented on the iPhone 5, with 802.11a/b/g/n all supported, as well as both 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies.
You don’t need to worry about what all this means other than to know that nearly all router technologies are covered, and the dual-band frequencies mean your other household devices are less likely to interfere with the Wi-Fi connection.
The Wi-Fi signal strength is one of the most impressive we’ve seen on a smartphone – using the zone in the office that has just an inkling of connectivity is a great place to test any phone, and while the iPhone 5 used to drop out of connectivity, with the iOS 6.0.1 and 6.0.2 updates it’s now even more able to grab onto signal than ever before. We consider ourselves impressed by this change.
Apple’s cunningly-named online cloud storage system is becoming more mature these days, and as such is turning into a worthy addition to the Apple ecosystem. Once signed up to an iCloud address, you can view your email on the server, see calendars saved through the service or store all your contacts on the iCloud for safekeeping.
There’s also the incredibly handy way of finding your iOS device by tracking it on a map and causing it to emit a loud squeak so you can find it, or have the thing erased wirelessly should a connection be present.
And for a fee you can also buy Pages from the App Store, which allows you to collaborate on documents over the cloud with any iOS device plugged in, all shared and saved instantly.
In truth, the whole set up is a less powerful but more easy to use and attractive system compared to Google’s offering. You can do all the above on an Android phone and more, but it’s in the ease of use that Apple wins.
Passbook and Reminders
Another new feature is Passbook, which allows you to store loyalty cards and boarding passes and sporting tickets and more in one handy app.
Anyone that’s been running for the Gatwick Express and needed to find the sodding code in an email is going to see this as a godsend. Sadly, the reality is that very few companies are so far making use of Passbook.
In the UK, the App Store boasts just a handful of apps (including a couple of airlines, iHotel, Starbucks) with Passbook-compatible deals, boarding or booking confirmation. This might change in the future, but Passbook’s also, based on current evidence, just as likely to become another Ping.
For all those that are lamenting the lack of NFC on the iPhone 5, we hear you. We were really hoping Apple would embrace the technology in the same way as Google and Microsoft have done in order to really push the possibilities of contactless payments and services.
However, there’s a fairly good case for the iPhone 5 not to have NFC on board, as it’s still a nascent technology and, while Apple is noted as having an interest in the area, clearly doesn’t deem it ready to the mainstream at the moment.
It’s a shame as we’d love to see Airplay connections through tapping a speaker dock or paying for a Subway sandwich by tapping an iPhone on and getting loyalty points… but keep a close eye on the iPhone 5S, as we think that’s when Apple will launch it.
We wanted to talk about Reminders as well, as while it’s an excellent idea – being able to remind you to do things when entering a certain zone or leaving the office – it doesn’t always work in practice.
We set up a series of reminders to be triggered on the way to work, and very few activated within a few hundred metres of where we wanted, which isn’t really good enough.
Over the air updates
At launch, there were some issues with over the air updates, which were fixed in iOS 6.0.2. Subsequent updates have been released, and generally download and install quickly. (Apple now favours delta updates for its OS, meaning it no longer has to download the entire OS prior to install.)
For the most part, subsequent updates for iOS have also been bug fixes, reportedly to improve performance relating to battery life, connectivity and Siri. In general use, we’ve seen no obvious changes for the better but, crucially, no reduction in quality either.
Siri and Maps
Siri makes his/her way back onto the iPhone 5, and comes imbued with ever-greater powers too.
It’s also massively improved in terms of speech recognition, even picking out our mumbly tones in order to set reminders, find out what the football scores are or let us know what movies are showing nearby.
There was a lot that the iPhone 4S version of Siri couldn’t do in the UK, and that’s all been rectified here.
You still can’t book a restaurant through the power of your voice, but you can at least learn which ones are near you. Siri did think KFC was a fish and chip shop though….LOL WRONG OMFG whatever.
For the full run down on what Siri can now do, head on over to the Apple site – but the football scores, movies, app launching (and any app) are all excellent features that make using the phone in a car a real treat.
We’d say that Siri is a well thought out upgrade that means we’ll now use it for around four things once in a while rather than just setting a timer to remind us when to stir the pasta.
Ah, now… here we go. We’re sure a number of you have headed straight to this section in order to find out what Apple has been up to with iOS Maps.
Well, in a nutshell, Apple and Google decided that Google Maps wasn’t going to be the main way of getting around on the iPhone, so Apple bought its own little company and teamed with TomTom to allow turn by turn directions, 3D flyover modes and the ability to see more attractions near you at any time.
At least, that was the theory.
In practice, the internet sport of spotting mistakes on the new Maps app has grown in an amazingly quick time, simply because there are so many glitches in the software.
You’ll have probably heard about the publicised ones (spelling Doncaster wrong, refusing to show Torquay, deciding when a user types in ‘Luton’ they want the small village in Devon rather than the big city) but there are more serious issues we have to deal with.
For instance, there’s no public transport on offer here, meaning you’ll have to download a separate app to get on board a train at the right time or work out whether taking the bus is faster from where you are.
That’s something Google Maps on Android does very well indeed, and means we want to berate Apple already for not having perfected its app before launch.
But we found a real time fault when using the iPhone 5 to navigate around town. We asked for directions to Paddington Station, and were told to go to Australia while standing in the middle of London.
It’s not hard to type in ‘London Paddington’ instead, but what it did was remove trust in the app to take us to the right places when asked.
This is a major failing for such a service, and Apple has asked for ‘patience’ as it perfects the art of mapping, with crowd-sourcing helping to iron out these glitches. It’s not as big a deal as some news outlets are making out, but if you’re a company that lives and dies by consumer hype, then you need to aim for near-perfection before launch if you want to avoid this kind of thing.
We tested this extensively over the last two weeks, and while it was still mostly correct, there were too many errors for us to enjoy it. For instance, when looking for a restaurant we needed to meet people at, in a side by side test with the Samsung Galaxy S3, the two phones said it was at opposite ends of a very long street.
Thankfully we trusted Google Maps, and were rewarded with a shorter journey as iOS Maps was many many metres out.
Apple is slowly fixing things, and we’ve no doubt Apple Maps in the future will continue to improve as issues are dealt with on the server side of things. Still, it wasn’t a great way to launch what Apple claimed was a new pivotal app. Additionally, the graphic style Apple’s used might be fine for the US, but there’s no distinction between different road types in the UK, making Apple Maps inferior to Google Maps for at-a-glance navigation.
But let’s not be all about the problems – the navigational side of things is actually very good, at least when using turn-by-turn in a car (assuming the locations are correctly set).
Siri’s voice is clear, there are always a number of routes suggested, and it will even run on the lock screen with the phone lighting up when you’re coming close to your next turn.
The app is bright, colourful and has loads of shops and restaurants listed throughout the world – it’s just a shame many of those shops are now shut down or in the wrong place, so Apple needs to update its database pronto if it’s to make Maps into the awesome app it could be.
The fact Apple has told users to try alternative means to map themselves around is proof enough there’s an issue here – basically, Apple has done a big wrong on the world by launching a product before it’s ready, especially when there was a more accurate on before.
Now that Google Maps has launched as a standalone app things are back to normal for iOS users, but it still a damning indictment on Apple’s efforts in the mapping space, consigning the Apple Maps app to the same folder as Stocks, Compass and myriad other things you’ll never use your iPhone for.
Apple should have ensured Maps was far more robust before releasing it. Until it’s significantly improved, we strongly recommend using Google Maps for planning routes and on-foot navigation, and breaking out Apple Maps for turn-by-turn in the car, where it’s a slightly superior system.
Hands on gallery
Is the iPhone 5 a good phone? Of course it is… a smart evolution of a decent handset is always going to be a quality device.
But is it enough to warrant the fervour of the claims of record sales and ‘the best thing to happen to iPhone since iPhone’?
To some people it may seem like it’s just the iPhone 4S with a longer screen and some fancier earbuds… but to others it’s more like the tweaks they’ve been waiting for to finally warrant upgrading or moving to the iSide.
So with the 4-inch screen, faster processor and all new design, is this the iPhone you’ve been searching for?
It’s quite hard to dislike an iPhone, no matter whether you love or disdain Apple’s ethos. It’s just so simple, with a quality screen and a real effort made into the design.
And it’s fair to say, rather obviously, that this is the best iPhone ever made. That doesn’t mean it’s the best phone we’ve seen, but it’s a jolly good effort.
The screen improvement is a real step forward, and the overall speed of the device has been increased to a blistering speed that matches the best the opposition has to offer.
We love the two tone back, and the pigmented glass effect, although the chassis is a little sharp at the edges.
The web browser is as fast as anything we’ve seen too, as well as the audio performance – and the larger screen makes video viewing better. There’s also the very good camera on offer, with speedy pics and great quality of snaps… in short, there’s not a lot we can fault on the specs, as we’re fine not having a quad core chip just for the sake of it.
The iPhone 5 isn’t without its faults though – it’s a handset that suffers from an ageing OS that doesn’t look overly different from when it was launched five and a half years ago.
There are so many tweaks Apple could make to its OS to turn it into more of a powerhouse – icons that update with information, or extending the widgets in the notification bar beyond weather and stocks.
If only developers could add that functionality to apps so you could see updates in the notifications bar (seeing as it won’t add anything to the home screen) – but Apple is taking things very slowly on this front, and we’re really looking forward to seeing what iOS 7 brings.
We’re not saying ‘make it like Android’ as there’s a reason people buy iPhones – but there is a middle ground that Apple could inch towards.
The closed garden nature of iOS is also irritating, as it means you can’t share items other than photos to Dropbox without connecting up to iTunes or send files to your mates via Bluetooth without installing special apps on both phones.
And then there’s the lack of NFC, although we do see Apple’s reasons for omitting the technology. It’s not quite there yet in terms of market penetration for payments, but the world’s largest network of accessories could definitely have made use of it for making ever cooler docks and cases.
Maps was poor on launch and is only improving relatively slowly. No doubt it will get better, but right now it’s just not good enough when walking or for finding businesses, although it’s fine for driving. Still, iOS does have plenty of alternatives you can use, including Google Maps.
Finally, there’s the everlasting issue of the iPhone price. We simply cannot see how a 16GB model can cost £529 but to double the memory will cost an extra £70 with no other changes to the design.
And then your look at the contract price – it’s far and away the most expensive in the shop, and most of the time you don’t even get unlimited data.
There are plenty of other models on the market that are stronger than the iPhone 5, such as the Samsung Galaxy S4, HTC One or the Nokia Lumia 925, and these still match the price of Apple’s flagship.
Is the iPhone 5 the best smartphone ever? If you’re an iPhone lover and won’t ever leave, without question. It’s got a larger screen, a superb new design and generally all the moves required to make it into a worthy evolution.
But as ever we can’t get over the price of the iPhone 5, with very little reason to prove that spending all that extra cash brings a tangible benefit.
That larger screen is a little too large to operate properly with one thumb, so we think there was room to make the screen even bigger. If you’ve played with a 4.5-inch or above phone, you’ll get used to the greater space very quickly, so we don’t think the iPhone 5 has the optimum screen.
Ultimately, this is an iPhone that underwhelms in terms of specs, but packages it all together in a way that works. The most annoyance has come in the way that Apple hasn’t re-invented anything on the interface or hardware front.
But that’s Apple’s job, not ours. This is a company built on enchantment and magic and excitement over raw spec lists – something like a Liquidmetal body or separate screen on the back would have wowed over ‘it’s a bit thinner’.
In terms of our rating, we were torn between 4 and 4.5 stars, as the mixture of poor Maps, sky high price and aged OS is quite a long way from five stars. But there’s still something about the way Apple puts together a smartphone that just works in a way that most of the competition can’t match. It’s a little bit creaky compared to the iPhone 4 heyday, but the iPhone 5 is still a brilliant phone in many ways.
If we could, we’d give the phone 4.25 stars, and we’re sticking at this level for now – after months of use we still love the phone as we have other iPhones, which helped offset the poorer case design and continuing Maps nonsense – but there’s still a sense that it could be better.
The iPhone 5 is the phone that’s the minimum users would want in terms of an upgrade, and finding the balance there is something Apple is more adept at than ever. It’s a very, very good phone, but there are plenty of other equivalent devices out there that will suck much less cash from your bank account each month that we think you should check out too.
By Gareth Beavis, TechRadar