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Apple iPhone 5 review: Apple iPhone 5

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The Good Larger screen with increased resolution; Extremely quick; Winning redesign makes for a thinner, lighter phone.

The Bad iOS 6 Maps app is a step backwards; 4G won't work on all UK networks; New connector means you'll need to buy an adaptor for current chargers and docks; Very expensive.

The Bottom Line The iPhone 5 offers a thoroughly pleasant redesign with a taller display and a thinner, lighter frame. Fast and packing a great camera, the hardware is hard to fault, while iOS feels slick and offers loads of apps, even if Apple's new Maps software feels like a step backwards. Despite some failings, this is still one of the best smart phones money can buy.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

8.3 Overall

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The iPhone 4S disappointed many onlookers by not straying from the design established a year earlier by the iPhone 4, but fear not phone fans -- this year the fruit-flavoured tech giant has tweaked the look of its popular smart phone and introduced some intriguing new features.

It's a strong showing on paper, but as Android rivals become increasingly powerful and popular, is Apple's new mobile good enough to warrant a purchase? Our review aims to answer that question.

We tested a handset from Vodafone, which is offering the iPhone 5 for £149 when you pay £33 per month.

The 16GB iPhone 5 costs £529, the 32GB version is £599 and the 64GB one is priced £699 direct from Apple. These are all SIM-free prices, with all networks selling the phone on various contracts -- see our Mobile Deals section for more details.

Should I buy the iPhone 5?

The iPhone 5 is everything we wanted after the iPhone 4S, with a larger display, a faster processor and 4G capability. The redesigned look is snazzy, slim and incredibly light, but this smart phone is more about refining existing features than introducing jaw-dropping ones.

A new, less helpful Maps app stops the iPhone 5 from achieving the four and a half stars that its predecessor mustered, but this is still a high-quality mobile that would make an excellent upgrade for people who own a two-year-old iPhone 4.

The extremely high price should give prospective buyers pause, however -- are you really ready to drop over £500 on a phone? Consider also that if you're fond of apps and downloads (and really, who isn't?), then the 16GB model may offer too little storage, and the 32GB option costs nearly £600 SIM-free.

Those weighing up their options should consider the Samsung Galaxy S3 -- arguably the best Android phone currently available. It has a much larger 4.8-inch display and every bell and whistle you can imagine on a smart phone, thanks to the flexible, powerful Android operating system. It also has a microSD card slot, allowing you to easily expand the on-board storage.

Apple's platform still has an edge when it comes to simplicity of use and app selection, but if you're a keen tinkerer looking for something more adventurous, Samsung's option may be more up your alley.

If you're umm-ing and ah-ing over buying the iPhone 5, waiting a month or two could be a good idea. By then, the first Windows Phone 8 devices will be on sale, offering a third option in the shape of Microsoft's tile-based operating system.

Design

Last year's iPhone 4S looked identical to 2010's iPhone 4, leaving many gadget fans feeling glum. This time Apple has given the iPhone a fresh lick of paint, even if it's hardly a major style overhaul.

The back of the phone is made from aluminium, with a recognisable stripe across the device's rear that continues around the sides. I found this to be extremely similar to the MacBook Pro's metal casing, and so far it's held up to the rigours of everyday life, without picking up any scratches.

iPhone 5 vs iPhone 4S back
The rear of the larger iPhone 5 is made from aluminium rather than the Gorilla Glass of the iPhone 4S.

Although larger on the front, Apple has made the iPhone 5 lighter than its predecessor -- it weighs just 112g, compared with the iPhone 4S' 140g and feels extremely light to hold. By comparison, the iPhone 4S starts to feel as dense as lead.

The slim build is down to changes in materials and losing larger components like the 30-pin connector. The change from micro to nano-SIM is yet another space saver, though the switch does mean shoppers looking to upgrade will need to hound their network for a new SIM card.

The iPhone 5 is thinner than the 4S, at an impressive 7.6mm thick. That might not sound like much, but compared to the iPhone 4S, there's a visible difference in thickness.

It has a tall baton-like design, which coupled with the thinner frame, makes this feel like an iPhone 4S that's had a run-in with a rolling pin. It's not significantly wider than the 4S but it's certainly longer. The steel bands around the phone's circumference carry over from its predecessor, but the new stretched-out look means more room for the display, which now measures 4 inches on the diagonal.

iPhone 5 vs iPhone 4S SIM slots
The iPhone 5 replaces the 4S' micro-SIM slot with a nano-SIM.

The edges of the phone feel very different too -- less metallic, less cold, almost plasticky.

Display

This marks the first time Apple has increased the size of the iPhone's screen from the previously standard 3.5 inches. While the difference is subtle, you'll quickly start to appreciate the extra real estate. As with the introduction of the retina display, you'll notice this new feature most when you look at an older iPhone, with the iPhone 4S and 4 starting to feel cramped by comparison.

The bigger panel means there's room for an extra row of icons on the iPhone 5's home screen and -- because it has a 16:9 aspect ratio -- you get fewer annoying black bars when you're watching movies on your mobile. Films shot in 21:9 will still play with black bars above and below the action, though as before, you can zoom in by double-tapping the screen.

The slight size bump when watching video is all well and good, but where you'll really appreciate the longer screen is with the Mail and Notes apps, or when browsing the web. Being able to see just a few more emails, or a bit more text lurking at the bottom of the display, makes a difference.

It's not life changing stuff, but in the Mail app, for example, with one line of preview text you can see six and a half messages on screen, compared with five and a third on the iPhone 4S. Small, handy improvements are the name of the game with the iPhone 5's design.

As well as ramping up the display size, Apple has bumped the iPhone's display resolution. The horizontal pixel count remains the same -- a healthy 640 pixels, but vertically you now get 1,136 of the blighters. Its pixel density is the same, at the retina display standard of 326 pixels per inch. That trumps the Samsung Galaxy S3, although that is much larger, at a mighty 4.8 inches.

iPhone 5 vs iPhone 4S
The iPhone 5 is taller than the 4S, adding another row of apps.

Current apps, however, won't use all of the 4-inch screen, at least not until they're updated to take advantage of the extra space. Until then, they run in the centre of the display, with black bars at the top and bottom. While apps run fine this way, you'll definitely notice the difference.

You probably won't have to wait long for major apps to be updated, but if you buy the iPhone 5 soon after its launch, expect your brow to furrow frequently when you fire up apps.

The taller screen means it's no longer quite as comfortable to reach your thumbs from the home button all the way to the top of the screen, though this is a minor point and there's every chance you'll never notice the extra digit stretching. Because the phone is no wider, it's still very comfortable to use the on-screen keyboard with one hand.

4G in the UK

The iPhone 5 will work with the first 4G network to hit the UK, Everything Everywhere's EE network. However, because it only latches onto the 1,800MHz spectrum band, the iPhone 5 will only work with EE's network, and not with O2 and Vodafone's upcoming 4G services, unless they sell their own version of the iPhone 5.

The new phone will probably work with Three's network, once it's up and running, and Virgin Media is in talks with EE to get 4G using that same spectrum. It's complicated and there's a lot we don't know.

4G brings faster mobile browsing, with speeds that (theoretically, at least) far exceed those of 3G. There are several other phones confirmed to support this new tech coming to the UK, including the Samsung Galaxy S3 LTE and Nokia Lumia 920.

Because 4G is so new to the UK, and because operators have been slow to get their networks running, most iPhone 5 owners won't experience the LTE speeds the phone is capable of.

That said, it's likely to be a year before all three major UK operators have 4G up and running (by which time we'll be contemplating the iPhone 6), so you may never miss 4G on this iPhone. If you're enthusiastic about trying the nascent 4G service in the UK, you'll need to switch to one of EE's 4G plans.

Performance

Apple has introduced a new processor, the A6 chip, which improves upon that of the already speedy iPhone 4S.

Apps load very quickly and run with no lag or stutter, while swiping through menus or home screens is as smooth as a baby rabbit made of silk. In the SunSpider JavaScript test, the iPhone 5 scored 1,073ms, compared to the iPhone 4S' 2,238ms (lower is better in this test), making it twice as fast.

Running Geekbench 2, the iPhone 5 averaged a score of 1,461 over three tests -- a huge improvement over the 4S' score of 629. We ran the Android Geekbench 2 score three times on a rooted Galaxy S3, producing an average score of 1,116. That's not as high as the iPhone 5's score, but in my experience it's best to take these benchmark results with a pinch of salt, as they're not always perfect indicators of a phone's power.

These results prove the iPhone 5 is considerably more powerful than its predecessor on paper. In practice, there's not much difference between the iPhone 5 and the 4S which, as mentioned above, is still a very fast smart phone.

You'll notice the extra power in some cases though, particularly when it comes to processor-straining apps. I exported two 2-minute videos at the highest possible resolution using iMovie on the iPhone 4S and the iPhone 5, to check which was faster.

The iPhone 4S got the movie into the phone's camera roll in 5 minutes 18 seconds, while the iPhone 5 blazed past, exporting its clip in 2 minutes 32 seconds. Again, that's twice as fast.

iPhone 4S vis iPhone 5 iMovie export test
The iPhone 5 shows its strength when exporting video in iMovie.

That's useful for those who take advantage of Apple's excellent on-the-go editing app or other bits of high-power software. But again, for the most part, there's not much discernible difference in power between the iPhone 5 and the iPhone 4S, or indeed between this new smart phone and other mobiles like the Samsung Galaxy S3.

It seems that processor tech has outpaced app developers, and as with other high-end smart phones, I suspect you'll be hard pressed to find games or apps that push the A6 chip to its limit.

The iPhone 5 gets warm (though never too hot) during intense tasks. The heat doesn't appear to affect performance at all, but it's something to note.

Call quality is improved, thanks to three microphones built into the bottom, front and back of the phone. The iPhone 5 supports HD Voice too, meaning if you're using it on a supported carrier you'll be treated to superior call quality. In the UK, Orange, T-Mobile, Three and EE use this technology and we'll update this story if we hear of O2 or Vodafone introducing HD Voice. Finally, the iPhone 5 offers dual-band Wi-Fi, connecting to both 5GHz and 2.4GHz frequencies.

iOS 6 Maps

The iPhone 5 is powered by iOS 6, the latest version of Apple's mobile OS. Alongside improvements for existing apps and services, iOS 6 brings a number of brand new features, not all of which are welcome changes.

The most significant change is to the Maps app. Apple has ditched Google, instead opting to create its own mapping service, which unfortunately is a step backwards that will likely frustrate those using iOS 6 -- especially in the UK.

As our thorough Maps app comparison revealed, the level of map detail on Apple's option is inferior, with far fewer shops and businesses present on the maps.

iOS 6 3D Maps comparison
Apple's maps look sparse compared with the previous, Google-powered version (left).

Satellite images on Apple's offering are also inferior, with less clarity in the view-from-space mode, even in central London. Outside of the capital, there are embarrassing mistakes like Solihull being covered in cloud, Luton located in the wrong place entirely and Leamington Spa renamed 'Royal Spa'.

Red-faced errors aside, there are several significant feature downgrades here. First, you lose Street View, the brilliant Google service that lets you explore locations from the ground, a feature that frequently proves essential if you're visiting somewhere new and want to check what the outside of the shop or house looks like.

Secondly, you lose Google's excellent public transport search, which uses train and bus data to provide directions around the nation to those without cars. Apple Maps has a public transport icon, but when you press it you just get a list of transport apps in the App Store that you could download, which you can later choose to jump into when you're plotting routes. Frustratingly, the app makes you input the route you're looking for before showing you this next-to-useless list.

iOS 6 Maps public transport
The public transport offering in iOS 6 Maps is weak compared with the Google-powered iOS 5 Maps (left).

The fact there's even an icon for public transport suggests to me that Apple will be introducing the feature at some point, but for now it's a serious omission. Even when Apple pulls its finger out, how useful iOS 6's public transport information proves to be will depend on whose data it buys, so there are no guarantees.

A new feature is 3D maps, which shows you a swanky 3D view of buildings from above, that you can navigate by twisting the screen with two fingers. This looks fantastic, but you'll find only major cities have been given this treatment, with the majority of the UK looking as flat as a big green ironing board.

iOS 6 3D Maps
Central parts of the UK have been given the 3D treatment, but as this screenshot shows, you can't stray far from cities without everything turning flat.

There are some useful tools here. Apple's app uses Yelp's business data, which I found handy for finding restaurant reviews, for instance. That said, if you find a business you're interested in while using Maps, a supplementary Google search may be a good idea before visiting, as I've heard of some closed-down businesses appearing.

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