Another year, another iPhone. Though at first glance the iPhone 5 looks just like an iPhone 4S that has been stretched like toffee, there’s a lot more to it. We’ll come back to the new software on the iPhone next time – it’s the new hardware you want to hear about first, right?
Let’s start with the screen. It has the same pixel density as the iPhone 4S, that’s 326 pixels per inch or enough, Apple says, to mean you can’t see individual dots in normal use. But if you thought the Retina Display, as it’s called, introduced two and a bit years ago, couldn’t be improved, check this out. A new manufacturing process has eliminated layers to make it feel like it’s more in-your-face. The colour saturation is eye-popping: every time you look at it, you notice that it’s brighter and more vivid than before.
This is now a widescreen display, which takes some getting used to. Most phones have a wider or a shorter screen – the proportions are different here. The pay-off is an extra row of app icons and more real estate in the apps themselves. For many Apple programs like Mail and the word-processing app Pages, this looks great.
But third-party apps, for now, look as they always did, designed for a 3.5in display but now starring on a 4in version. There are black bars at either end. The first time I saw this, I found it deeply intrusive and disconcerting. Within five minutes I had failed to notice it any more.
None the less, it’ll be better when the app developers rejig their offerings to make the most of the extra space.
The iPhone 5 has a new processor, the A6, which promises to be twice as fast as the last model. It certainly nips along at great speed with nary a lag, whatever you’re doing.
Of course, the test of the CPU will come when using the phone in a 4G-compatible location. The new iPhone comes with 4G LTE capabilities. This means it has the latest, fastest data connectivity. But the UK’s first 4G LTE network is EE, parent company of T-Mobile and Orange. The EE 4G network is switched on but still in testing stage.
By Christmas, 16 UK cities will have this fast system in place, so there should be a substantial increase in data speeds, making movie streaming, web browsing and file downloads much faster than before. This is a key differentiator between the iPhone 5 and other phones in the UK.
There will be other 4G handsets – the Nokia Lumia 920 is due before the end of the year and is outstanding – but Apple’s is the first in the UK, even if the increased speeds are only available to EE customers.
Expect fast data to drain the juice more quickly, though this battery seems very efficient, with longer between-charge life than before.
If you’re buying the iPhone on O2 or Vodafone, the 3G data traffic will still be faster than on earlier Apple phones, though not a match for 4G. And if you’re a Three customer, you get a bonus later. Three will have 4G on the iPhone’s frequency, but it won’t go live until next autumn. Think of it as a speed boost halfway through your contract.
What all iPhone users will get on day one is the world’s slimmest smartphone (though don’t expect that record to stand for too long). It feels great in the hand – super light and thin enough to be a catwalk model. And the new aluminium back, smooth but matte and colour-matched the front of the phone, feels especially good to the touch. In the hand, this is leagues ahead of the iPhone 4S.
The iPhone 5 camera, like last year, is an 8-megapixel snapper, but the redesigned phone has led to a smaller package. The wide aperture (f/2.0) is good, the backside illuminated sensor means more light gets through and the lens complex certainly delivers impressive shots.
And the new Panorama feature is enjoyable, creating wide landscape shots with a slow, sweeping movement: an onscreen arrow shows you if you’re going too fast (and it’ll be on the older iPhone 4S by the magic of a software update, too).
So what’s not so good? There’s a new, smaller docking connector which will be a nuisance for a lot of people. Sure, many speakers use Apple’s wireless AirPlay system instead of a dock – like Jawbone’s excellent Jambox and Pure’s versatile Sensia 200D radio. But there are millions of speakers in current use which have the old docking system.
The new connector is definitely better, and this change was always going to be a painful moment. You’ll need to buy an adaptor for £25. This price may drop, especially if third-party manufacturers can get in on the act, but for many this will be an annoyance.
There’s no NFC in the iPhone 5 – the contactless data transfer system that the London Underground Oyster card system uses, for instance. Lots of smartphones have this. Apple clearly decided that the technology is not ready, or anyway not desirable. And its absence will certainly slow NFC’s uptake elsewhere.
Oh yes, and there’s another new sim card. Just got used to that little micro-sim which Apple introduced and everyone else has now installed in its high-end blowers? Well, there’s another drop in size to the nano-sim included here. It’s only an issue if you switch sim cards between handsets. As some people do.
Overall, these are small complaints. This is a beautiful, powerful phone – Apple’s clean-cut, chic design language has reached new heights. More importantly it’s a phone that, once it’s in your hand, is very hard to resist.
The new features
Screen is 4in, with 16:9 proportions for better video playback and is much more vivid and colourful.
The new feature here is a much whizzier Maps app which includes photo-realistic 3D cityscapes for some areas.
The new, compact connector is easier to use, but many speaker docks will need an adaptor.
Camera includes a neat Panorama function: sweep phone sideways and software stitches images together.
Has prospect of super-fast internet using 4G network. But it'll only be available to customers of EE (or as you know it, Orange and T-Mobile).
French store staff threaten to spoil party
Staff at Apple's two stores in Paris are threatening to take strike action on Friday's highly anticipated launch day for the iPhone 5.
Talks are reported to have broken down over the workers' demands for wage increases as well as better working conditions including a drinking fountain, lunch vouchers and holiday vouchers.
Staff are also requesting a "13th month" of pay, a practice common in France where an additional month's basic salary is granted at the end of the year.