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Apple iPhone 5 review: Apple iPhone 5

A photo using the new panorama feature.
(Credit: Seamus Byrne/CNET)

(Credit: Joe Hanlon/CNET)

(Credit: Joe Hanlon/CNET)

iOS

When it boils down to it, Apple vs. Android wars aside, the real reason to choose an iPhone over an Android phone, or not, is iOS. Apple's operating platform is fantastic for many dozens of small reasons, but it is its uniformity that makes it feel so accomplished. After reviewing nearly four-dozen Android phones and tablets this year, it is impossible to deny how nice it is to use a system where every app, regardless of its origin, has the same visual elements and the same polish.

A wider iPhone may have made this keyboard easier to use.
(Credit: CBS Interactive)

All that said, there is plenty about iOS that we don't love, most of which boils down to the fact that when we don't like something, however small, we can't change it. We mentioned the keyboard earlier; speaking of it being too small. This is a great example of a part of the iOS experience that we would love to have the freedom to customise. The Swype app that you find on a number of new Android phones is fantastic, and it isn't a win for Google or Android necessarily, but for the freedom that users have to make choices about what they like and how they like to use these tools. If you don't like the homescreen the way Samsung designs it -- you can replace it. If you want extra functionality in the SMS app or you'd prefer your web browser to offer specific functionality, you can find alternatives in the Google Play store. With iOS, you are too often hemmed into the Apple experience, which is not always the best.

Also, we still struggle with the fact that you can't access the iPhone's storage as a mounted drive over USB, and that file transfers mostly take place using iTunes as an intermediary. We now use our phones as mini computers, and really expect to have full and easy access to the data stored on them. In light of this, Apple's approach to file management is draconian.

Beyond the basics, there is the widely reported issues with Apple's new Maps app. Designed to replace Google Maps in iOS, the best way to describe Apple Maps is as a work in progress. Everyone we've spoken to about it has been able to bring up a new error that they or friends have spotted, and we can only guess that it will take a long time before all of these issues are ironed out.

But then, we can't remember the last time a mapping app was such a big deal. It's been a long time since we included Google Maps in our list of pros and cons when writing about Android phones. The same is true here. Yes, Apple Maps is far from perfect, but it is a small part of a broader user experience, and shouldn't be a reason to buy or not buy an iPhone 5, in our opinion. If you need a solid maps and navigation package, go with Android. Otherwise, read on.

EarPods

You're probably not relying on the quality of Apple's headphones to help you decide to buy an iPhone, but the intriguing redesign is worth a side-note. The new design is unlike any headphones we've seen before, and "EarPods" are a perfect descriptor. Compared with other in-ear headphones, the EarPods are remarkably comfortable to wear. They don't suction into your ear the way most others with rubber tips do, and they are light enough to really forget about after long sessions of use.

(Credit: CBS Interactive)

They don't sound amazing in the way their unique designs suggests they might. Playing music through the iPhone, we heard a solid mixed sound, but not one that has the clarity of better in-ear models. The fact that Earpods don't suction into your ear does mean that the sound is a little weaker, overall, and you won't enjoy the highlights of sound in any of the frequencies. Still, for a bundled pair of headphones, they are pretty good.

Overall

If you're a fan of Apple's iPhone and iOS, we think you'll be pleased with the enhancements made to the iPhone design. The new aluminium and glass combination is lovely, the longer screen is a slight improvement and the new hardware delivers a seamless user experience, as always. As a smartphone, the iPhone offers most of what you're looking for.

Apple's rigid design ethos isn't without compromises though, and savvy users are recommended to consider the alternatives. Apple's design focuses on looks rather than ergonomics, iOS is mostly uncustomisable, and connectivity expansions, like HDMI and SD cards, are available only through expensive Apple-designed adapters. Apple probably believes that these are compromises that most users will live without, and in most cases, this might be true. We just wish we could have more of a say in how we use this phone, and we think experienced tech consumers will feel the same.

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