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Preview: iPhone 5

  • All the leaks were accurate
  • Thinner, lighter, taller
  • The Good, The Bad, The Ugly
Written by Adam Wajnberg
13/09/2012

Ok, so it’s here. Finally. The worst kept secret in Apple’s history, the much leaked iPhone 5 was announced early this morning in a relatively subdued Apple event in San Francisco. More talk was given to this being the best iPhone yet, rather than the best phone yet. Which is wise; Apple’s ‘Reality Distortion Field’ is fading in light of Samsung, HTC, Motorola, LG and Nokia all demonstrating they still have what it takes to make a good piece of kit – even if most of the innovations sprung from Apple (boo. hiss).

Click here to check out the best deals on iPhone 4S- Marked down on Optus and Vodafone!

Moving on – let's have a look at the good, the bad and the ugly of Apple’s biggest new release.

The Good

                                      iphone 5 display

Display – 4 inches diagonal, 16:9 aspect ratio, but not quite what can be classified as ‘HD’. The resolution is an odd 640x1136 pixels, meaning almost everything will either be letterboxed or have to be converted. It’s easy to say ‘Who cares? Who watches full length movies on their phone?’. That’s a sentiment I’d normally agree with, but with Apple TV and AirPlay, it’s easy to load movies on the phone and stream them to your TV – so all that converting and limited resolution would be a pain.

Still, in a world of ever more advanced display technology, Apple have retained their cred with this release. The new Sharp displays have the sensors integrated, into the display, contributing to the thinner profile. The new display also boasts much better colour saturation than the 4S, which might be an answer to the heavily saturated displays favoured by Samsung. And of course, the ‘retina’ standard has been maintained, with 326 dots-per-inch, same as the iPhone 4S.

                            iphone 5 4g

LTE – Apple have avoided using the term 4G, probably related to their legal battles over their 4G iPad. Australia might have had something to do with this – the 4G iPad doesn’t work on any existing 4G network here, which lead to a $2 million fine for Apple for false advertising. Frankly, the whole thing is completely ridiculous – nothing in the world actually meets 4G standards as set by 3GPP, the international mobile standards board. It’s all marketing.

So Apple has opted for the broader ‘Long Term Evolution’ moniker. Fair enough. It will also support all the recent 3G standards, including the Vodafone 850 MHz upgrade (what is sometimes referred to as 3.9G, just to demonstrate how silly this all is). Point is – it will work on Optus and Telstra’s 1800MHz 4G networks. More surprisingly, the radio chipset also contains CDMA, a standard still used in the US and Asia, making it a world phone. That’s actually pretty damn impressive.

For bargain hunters who want 4G, look to Virgin, which is the first Optus network wholesaler (actually, Virgin is owned by Optus) on their 4G network.

Speed – The new Apple A6 chip is supposedly twice as fast and more energy efficient than the A5 found in the iPad and iPhone 4S. This is just gravy – the iPhone was already the speediest, most responsive and smoothest phone around. But in a nice sidebar, Australian app developer Rob Murray participated in the keynote to show off what the A6 chip can do with Real Racing, a game he’s developed for Electronic Arts. Flying the flag for local developers!

                  iphone 5 design

Design – Well, no brainer here. Apple is plugging the iPhone 5 as their most beautiful product ever, just like they did the last thing they released. But hearing Jony Ive rhapsodize about new manufacturing processes, machine tooling and “al-oo-min-eum” is always nice. It definitely looks schmick, and is 18% thinner than the iPhone 4S. At 29mm, it’s thinner than all but…I dunno. Some Android phone, maybe one by Motorola. Do we really care anymore? They’re all thin.

It’s also lighter than the iPhone 4S, while retaining its glass and aluminium profile. The back is slightly textured, like the front of the old iPod classic by the look of it. And despite the release of colorful new iPods, Apple is sticking with black/white on its most visible product. Nokia seems to be the only manufacturer capable of wriggling out of the ‘Shiny Black Rectangle’ humdrum, with their bright red, yellow and blue offerings.

Battery- Despite the thinner chassis and addition of battery-pillaging LTE, Apple insists the battery will perform about the same as the one in the 4S, with 8 hours talk time on 3G, 8 hrs browsing on 3G or LTE, 10hrs video and 40 hrs music, with a 225 hr standby. All pretty good, but this is more about keeping apace, rather than making huge leaps forward.

                                        iphone 5 camera

Camera – Same 8MP, but with a new sapphire crystal lens, plenty of image stabilization and other software tweaks. Better low-light mode, which is a needed upgrade – terrible flash and bad low-light noise are the main thing stopping phone cameras from replacing point-and-shoot altogether. The new camera will also feature a nifty panorama mode, which is already pretty old hat on Windows Phone and Android, but nice all the same.

Audio – Now this is interesting. Apple has taken steps to make the actual phone better, a much overlooked focus for smartphones. Three microphones, placed around the phone, will dynamically adjust to provide noise cancellation, better Facetime audio and better voice recognition for Siri. Wideband audio technology will improve speakerphone and media playback, as well as boosted speakers. Good stuff.

The Bad

                            iphone 5 lightning dock connector

Lightning  – this was leaked, so no big surprise. The 30 pin connector has been Apple’s skeleton key for ten years, allowing cables for iPod, iPhone and ipad to all be interconnectable, and allowing for a wide range of accessories that work from one generation to the next. The new 8-pin connector is probably a good thing, in that it allows for the thinner and lighter design, and incorporates USB 3.0 and yada yada yada. The point is, this will render several cables, devices and adaptors useless.

As for the Lightning name – it’s a compliment to the ‘Thunderbolt’ port on newer Macs. Thunderbolt and Lightning. Very very annoying. Indeed. One good thing – the connector can be put in either way, so you don’t have to fumble in the dark trying to jam the charging cable into your iPhone before falling to sleep.

NoFC – A Near Field Communications (NFC) chip seemed like a lock. I predicted that Apple was going to be the one firm to take this technology to the next level, but maybe not. The main purpose of NFC is to allow easy payments by swiping your device across a scanner – no wallet needed. With Apple introducing Passbook in iOS 6, it seemed like it would be integrated. You could buy groceries with your iTunes account.

Nope. Passbook will continue to use alien-crop-circle-technology (QR Codes) for Passbook, and has left NFC out. Bluetooth is not very different to NFC, especially the 4.0 standard included with the iPhone 4S and iPhone 5. Maybe they’re trying to avoid duplication. Maybe they need something in the pocket for iPhone 6. Maybe they decided it wasn’t worth jeopardizing precious space for a chip that no-one really uses yet.

Storage – As described before, the iPhone is a bonafide mini wireless media player if you have an Apple TV box. So sticking with the same 16/32/64GB of onboard storage, though generous compared to the competition, undercuts another possible function of the iPhone. And with that big processor attracting more and more huge games (Infinity Blade and Avengers: Initiative are both over 1GB in size), why limit the hard drive space? Phil Schiller even used this argument to justify why they could go with a smaller adaptor- because so much is being done wirelessly. Give me a mobile media server that also takes calls!
For those who want to compare apples to androids: many top end droids have expandable memory. A bank of swappable 32GB microSD cards in a bad solution, but a solution nonetheless.

The Ugly

                              iphone 5 earpods

Earpods –
an update to the iconic-but-chintzy iPhone earbuds is long overdue, but it’s hard to see how these earpods will overcome the bad fit of the old ones – they look kinda uncomfortable. But if they work better and break less often, that’s half the battle.

                                     iphone 5 adaptor

30 Pin adaptor – Apple makes stuff that looks good. If they don’t want you to use it, they’ll make it look ugly and charge you for it. The 20 Pin to 8 Pin adaptor seems specifically designed to encourage you to abandon your old accessories, dammit. And with a $35 price tag here in Australia…this is why some people dislike Apple.

Also:

iPad – 84 million sold, 68% market share. But 91% of tablet web traffic, demonstrating a distinct gap in usability between iPad and non-Apple tablet users. ‘I don’t know what these other tablets are doing!’ quipped Tim Cook.

iOS – 400 million devices sold, including iPhone, iPod, iPad.

iPod – New iPod Touch, with the same 4 inch screen, and a smaller iPod Nano with a really ugly, stripped down iOS. Meh. Meh! But the new iPod touch does come in colorful colored colors.

Money – Apple still makes lots of money.

So that’s it! Big day for Cupertino, big day for electronics, big MONTH for technology. Stay tuned for releases from Microsoft later this month, and a full review of the new iPhone when it arrives on September 21st. Plans are expected to be previewed this week, so check back to CompareMobilePlans for updates from Optus, Telstra and Vodafone.

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