Apple iPhone 5 review: Apple iPhone 5

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CNET Editors' Rating

4 stars Excellent

Average User Rating

4 stars 199 user reviews
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good Same slick performance as with previous iPhones. 4G is a welcome addition. Longer display adds needed screen real estate. Earpods are very comfortable.

The Bad iOS is still mostly uncustomisable. Design isn't as nice to hold as it is to look at. No HDMI, micro USB or memory expansion, unless you pay for adapters. No NFC.

The Bottom Line The changes to iPhone 5 and iOS will be appreciated by current users of the iPhone, but Apple's rigid design principles may have many looking to the alternatives.

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Apple makes itself an easy target. For all its bluster, its secrecy, its aloofness, its promises of magic and revolution; it's easy to fall into the trap of loving or loathing the company, what it stands for and, most importantly, its products. But when you strip back all the hype and hyperbole, the iPhone 5 is still a smartphone like any other, and we've tried to review it as such.

Design

A lot has been said about this design already and yet, there are still a few surprises we noticed when we first unpacked the box. It is noticeably lighter than the 4S, which you can feel as soon as you pick it up. It's slimmer too, though, this change is hard to spot. And of course, it's longer; as though someone at Apple took last year's phone and ran a rolling pin over it in the Apple staff kitchenette.

iPhone 5 is longer, but not wider.
(Credit: CBS Interactive)

It's longer, but not wider. This decision was made, apparently, so that the iPhone could be used in a single hand. Apple succeeds at this, but misses an opportunity to add screen real estate to core elements of the phone. In particular, the onscreen keyboard in portrait mode is the same size as before, and for some, this is too small to be used comfortably. It is interesting that Apple has maintained this distinction between its phone and the other top-tier Android models, offering a real alternative to users who don't want a large screened device.

The new aluminium and glass chassis is striking -- definitely one of the better refinements of Apple's design. And, for the first time in several years, the black version of the iPhone looks better than the white, with a sleek metallic blue hue when the light strikes it at certain angles.

(Credit: CBS Interactive)

It's not a more comfortable design than the 4S, unfortunately, so that while it certainly looks nicer, it is still cold in the hand, with sharpish corners that sit at angles against your skin. Not that these edges are like knives in your hand, but most of the other top-tier releases this year have had a great, curved ergonomic design that the iPhone lacks.

If you've owned an iPhone in the past, you'll notice that the headphone socket has moved to the bottom of the phone, next to the new Lightning port. Though we have problems with the ramifications that changing the USB port will have for users, especially for people with older accessories, we do agree that the new Lightning connector feels more secure than the old 30-pin jacks, and we love that there is no right way to insert them.

Performance

Apple's new A6 processor delivers a user experience as seamless as every processor in every iPhone before it. We've come to expect silky smooth performance when using an iPhone, and this is no exception. Comparatively, there is a performance boost over the iPhone 4S in tasks like launching applications, but the difference is barely worth measuring.

Battery life is solid on the iPhone 5, especially stand-by power. You can leave the iPhone sitting with the screen turned off for days without the battery draining to zero. We attempted a continuous video playback battery test using the same 720p video file we use on all new Android phones, and the iPhone 5 scored about seven and a half hours. This result isn't as direct a comparison as we'd have liked, due to the looping app we have access to not scaling the video to the full screen size of the new phone. This meant that the video played with large black pillar boxes, giving the iPhone the advantage of not having to power the extra pixels. But, it is a very respectable result, nonetheless.

The major hardware milestone to consider in this release is the welcome addition of 4G data speeds. In Australia, you have 4G options with both Telstra and Optus, and after trying the iPhone 5 on both, we definitely recommend considering a 4G network for the iPhone. In speed tests, we saw a peak download of 61Mbps on the Optus network, and an average of about 20Mbps on both, and while it's pointless saying one is better than the other at this early stage, it is a major advantage for Optus and Telstra until Vodafone launches a similar network next year.

Adding to this, the iPhone's Safari browser remains one of the faster smartphone browsers available, and paired with 4G speeds, the results are impressively quick.

Camera

On paper, Apple may seem to have made only small changes to the iPhone camera, but in practice, this feels like a brand new shooter. The camera is lightning fast, taking pics just as soon as you hit the button, and the results are often superb. Colours are vivid and well produced, and the level of detail captured is impressive.

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Where to Buy

Apple iPhone 5

Part Number: 6260384

Typical Price: $999.00

See manufacturer website for availability.

Quick Specifications See All

  • Technology WCDMA (UMTS) / GSM
  • Service Provider AT&T