The Big iPhone 5 Review - Should You Buy One?

  • Author: Niall
  • Niall Harbison,

Apple is already calling it the biggest phone launch ever and the early signs are that, despite a mixed set of reviews when announced, the iPhone is now being incredibly well received by pundits and consumers alike. I've been playing with mine for the last 48 hours and I wanted to try to help answer the question that most people have been asking me: "Is it worth buying the phone?" with this in-depth review. Let's jump straight in.

Video Review

The Phone Itself

This is the nicest thing I own. Simple as that. I'm a sucker for good design and the only other thing that comes close is a $700 leather bag I splashed out on and that was lovingly hand-crafted. When you pick it up, you just can't believe how it feels in your hand. You can feel quality when you touch it and this feels like a $10,000 Swiss watch.

The finish is like nothing I've ever seen on a phone and the only thing that even remotely compares to it is the feeling I had when I first got my hands on a Macbook Air. I can understand why all the tech journalists have changed their mind on the device because you can't possibly understand or like this phone until you hold it in your hand. It is engineering perfection and after only eight hours of using it, I picked up my iPhone 4S and it felt like an ugly brick.

It actually makes other iPhones feel so bad that you feel like you've been living a lie by using them. Don't let the similar shape and design fool you because this is a new phone that has been built from the ground up and it's a delight to hold.

Screen Size

The big difference about the phone is the longer screen and it completely changes the experience. This is a dream for content producers, apps and services who want to get more ads and content onto the real estate of the screen. What really stands out is just how well this phone fits into your hand. That sounds like a banal thing to say, but when you pick up the phone, it feels as if your entire hand has been moulded to fit the shape of the phone and not the other way around. This feels like the pair of jeans that fits perfectly every time or nailing the parallel parking in one go. It just feels right.

 

Photos

The camera is noticeably better and that is before you even take the panoramic feature into consideration. I've always been bad at taking photos, but every single image I've taken with this camera makes me look like a pro photographer. You can see the difference in the photos between the 5 and the 4S below with colors being richer and the photo being much sharper.

iPhone 4S

iPhone 5

New Charger And Battery Life

Apple has changed the charger for this phone and it is a big improvement because it takes up a lot less space, but it is going to cost you €29.99 to get an adaptor which for many people will be a pain in the ass. When you start using the new charger, you will be surprised at just how small it is and how clunky this makes the old system feel. It all fits in perfectly with the new slick design. However, the battery life is poor.

Maybe it's because I have been using it so much, but I wasn't getting anywhere near a full day's usage out of the phone on a full charge. The battery is very similar if not a little less powerful than the 4S, which is to be expected given what the phone does, but it is still a flaw and you'll always need to be near a charger.

Panoramic Camera

I've never liked any of the panoramic apps that already exist on smartphones enough to use them more than once, but the second you start using this Apple version that is baked into the camera, you will absolutely love it. To say it is incredible would be an understatement.

Anybody can take a panoramic photo and this is going to be the feature that gets people talking about the phone. I have started snapping tons of panoramic pictures and although they don't look great in a blog post like this, when you view them on a large screen or print them out in real life, they are simply stunning.

Passbook

This isn't going to be a hit within the first month because partners are still signing up and figuring out how to use it, but by Christmas time, this app will change how we all use smartphones. Train tickets, match tickets, Starbucks coupons and airline passes are just some of the early uses for this, but you can expect all sorts of companies to leverage this and turn your phone into a virtual wallet.

Siri

Lets be honest and say that for the past year, Siri has been a load of rubbish. It mostly never works and the vast majority of us have more or less given up on it at this stage. As part of this review though, I have been testing it and the answers are getting really good. I just couldn't believe some of the insightful replies it was giving me. Watch the short video to see just how accurate it is getting and why this could become a huge threat to Google's core search product.

EarPods

So Apple made a big song and dance about the new EarPods and how long they took to design (three years) and it's using them as one of its main marketing tools for this new phone. While they definitely fit into your ear much better than any other headphones I have ever used - to the point where you don't even realize they are there - I didn't really notice a huge improvement in sound.

Maybe it is because I have a massive pair of Dr. Dre Beats that I wear to work 90% of the time, but for me, the new EarPods wouldn't be a make or break for this phone. They are an improvement and the volume control and snug design helps, but sound quality doesn't change all that much.

Facebook Integration

Apple and Facebook have never had the best of relationships and it was only in Steve Jobs' dying days that the relationship started to thaw and the two companies could start working together. This is the first iPhone where we see Facebook fully baked into the operating system and the potential for both companies is phenomenal.

The biggest integration plays to Facebook's strength with the ability for users to share photos directly from your photo stream rather than having to fire up the Facebook app. This is only going to drastically add to the billions of photos that get shared on Facebook already further increasing their market dominance.

Another big difference is the size of the screen. With the considerably longer screen, the Facebook news feed feels completely different and crucially has a lot of room for ads and sponsored posts. This new phone is going to make Facebook's job of trying to monetize mobile considerably easier.

iOS6

Along with the new phone come a new operating system that is mainly built to suit this phone. Let's get the bad stuff out of the way first and focus on the new maps product. While it can look spectacular and the future could be very exciting, it is just not good enough. It should not have shipped. It wouldn't have shipped under Steve Jobs. What it does show is just how keen Apple is to remove Google from their entire ecosystem. First Youtube, then maps and next search?

In the short-term, users are going to suffer because Google Maps is a much better product, but this has happened before with no flash on early iPhones and even horrendous calls on early phones. It's not good, but if it can get over the phone not even being able to make calls in the early days, it will get over this.

Other stuff like Siri being linked in with Facebook, Twitter and Yelp are starting to make that a very interesting competitor to Google and crucially it is getting much better ad the video above shows.

The app store has also been given a drastic overhaul and it is starting to feel a lot easier to find apps. A lot of this is Apple integrating Chomp - which it bought last year - and it feels like discovery is starting to get a little easier.

Should You Buy One?

Yes. It's the best phone that has ever been made and once again, Apple has changed the game. Unless you touch and feel one of these phones though, it can be hard to understand what all the fuss is about. It is sheer engineering and design perfection. It just feels right. I can't find enough words to explain just how perfect this phone is. I'm not even getting the most out of it because I can't get LTE, but it is faster, lighter, taller, better designed, sexier and at the same time, smaller than previous iPhone models.

The downside is that Apple is starting to get caught in a battle with Google that means you have an inferior maps product, but that is minor when you take everything else into consideration. The only other time I've felt as excited about an Apple product was when I first held an iPhone or when I played with a Macbook Air for the first time. This is right up there and you simply need to buy one if you want the best. The biggest compliment that you can give this phone is that it makes Apple's previous iPhones look distinctly average and old-school.