This article was published on September 19, 2012

iPhone 5 review roundup: Deceptively thin, delightfully fast

iPhone 5 review roundup: Deceptively thin, delightfully fast
Josh Ong
Story by

Josh Ong

Josh Ong is the US Editor at The Next Web. He previously worked as TNW's China Editor and LA Reporter. Follow him on Twitter or email him a Josh Ong is the US Editor at The Next Web. He previously worked as TNW's China Editor and LA Reporter. Follow him on Twitter or email him at [email protected].

The first reviews of Apple’s new iPhone 5 have hit the wire and they’re generally quite positive about the new handset. Overall, reviewers like the longer screen and thinner design and are impressed by the wicked-fast speeds on LTE.

The most controversial features are the new Lightning connector and the Maps app, which no longer features Google Maps. The consensus is largely that the Lightning connector adversely affects customers that will have to buy adapters for their existing accessories and the Maps app is a nice effort with turn-by-turn navigation, but it lacks some of Google Maps’ accuracy.

WSJ: “The best smartphone on the market”

The Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg rated the device as “the best smartphone on the market” in spite of a few negatives that he detected. He preferred the iPhone 5 screen to larger devices like the Samsung Galaxy S III because he found it “far more comfortable to use, especially one-handed.”

Mossberg appreciated the lightness of the new iPhone and noted that Apple managed to shave weight off the device without making it feel insubstantial.

“Although Apple claims it’s the world’s thinnest smartphone—18% thinner than the prior model—the iPhone 5 retains Apple’s trademark, solid-feeling, metal construction, with an aluminum back this time, instead of a glass back. Like many Apple products, it’s gorgeous,” he wrote.

The biggest drawback of the phone was the new Maps app, according to Mossberg. He liked the new turn-by-turn navigation, but dropping Google was a “step backward” because the software now lacks street views and public-transit routing. Another issue was the new Lightning connector, which he said is “rankling people.”

Testing LTE in Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C. produced download speeds of 25 Mbps on average, with a peak of 42 Mbps, and nearly 13 Mbps for uploads. Those speeds are about 10 times faster the usual connection he has on Verizon’s 3G service with an iPhone 4S.

Mossberg’s bottom line is that Apple “has taken an already great product and made it better, overall.” It might not be the best option for people who prefer large screens, but the iPhone 5 is an “excellent choice.”

NYT: Strong on design and components, but not compatibility

Writing for The New York Times, David Pogue called the new iPhone “beautiful”, especially the new black and slate model. The bigger screen was a “nice but not life-changing change”.

Pogue was impressed by improvements to all of the iPhone’s important components. The iPhone 5 was zippy for him and had improved color reproduction. He also noted that the device’s camera is “among the best ever put into a phone.”

The lack of universal compatibility, however, was a weakness to the iPhone in Pogue’s mind. The new charging connector is a “jab in the eye” to existing customers because it doesn’t work with existing accessories.

Pogue doesn’t see the new iPhone as changing the discussion about whether to buy it over Windows Phone and Android. For him, Windows Phones have “brilliant design” but fewer apps and accessories, while Android phones have huge screens, memory-card slots and NFC chips, but are “buggier, more chaotic and more fragmented.” iPhone models don’t come with a lot of choice or customization, “but they’re more polished and consistently designed, with a heavily regulated but better stocked app catalog.”

Bloomberg: “A terrific new smartphone”

While the iPhone 5 didn’t have any “gee-whiz breakthrough” features for Bloomberg’s Rich Jaroslovsky, it did strike him as a “terrific new smartphone.” He remarked that the new design is “compact and feather-weight” while still maintaining a “sense of solidity” that felt great in the hand.

Jaroslovsky also liked the new EarPod headphones, noting that they don’t immediately fall out of his ears and don’t cause him any pain.

Testing the turn-by-turn navigation, Jaroslovsky had a few problems with the new feature. The application would sometimes think he was traveling in the opposite direction or misplace him by a couple blocks. Apple noted that the inaccuracy was “unusual” and replaced his unit, which seemed to have an improvement.

“The iPhone 5 is by no means perfect, and we’re lucky there are a lot of really good smartphones on the market. But only one great one,” he concluded.

The Loop: Small changes, big improvements

Jim Dalrymple of The Loop wrote that his takeaway from the iPhone 5 design is that Apple has incorporated “small design changes that make for big user experience improvements.” He called the new 4-inch screen “gorgeous” because it offers a perception of more space.

The taller display was just right for Dalrymple, as it wasn’t too unwieldy and could still be navigated using one hand. He had a minor complaint that the centering of apps that aren’t yet optimized for the larger screen means he sometimes misses when trying to reach the bottom of the display.

Dalrymple said his favorite feature of iOS 6 is the new iCloud integration. “Everything I have is in iCloud and I couldn’t be happier,” he said.

He also didn’t have any trouble with the new Maps. It worked “equally well” for him in Cupertino and at home.

The iPhone 5 is a clear winner in his view, and he couldn’t think of “any good reason why anyone wouldn’t upgrade or purchase” it.

Daring Fireball: “Really nice”

Over at Daring Fireball, John Gruber starts his review by noting that the iPhone 5 is “really nice”:

“It feels great, looks great, has the best display I’ve seen at any size, runs noticeably faster, networks noticeably faster, is way thinner and lighter than any of its predecessors, takes better photos, and, in my six days of testing, gets totally decent iPhone-4S-level battery life.”

Gruber especially praised the feel of the iPhone in his hand, going so far as to call the handset the “flagship of Apple’s entire product line.”

He went on to describe the iPhone 5 as the “single nicest object” in his possession, despite the fact that some of the things he owns actually cost more than it.

The new dimensions of the screen did throw Gruber off at first, and, while he views it as a “total win” for two-handed use of the iPhone 5, he sees it as worse for one-handed use. He was enthusiastic about the quality of the display, though, noting its “amazing” color quality.

As for whether to upgrade, he offered a simple answer: “If you can afford it, yes.”

There’s a reason why, just as with all five of its predecessors, it just says “iPhone” on the back. The iPhone 5 is all new technically, but it’s the exact same thing as an idea. Apple is simply improving upon that idea year after year in infinitely finer detail, like a fractal. It’s nice.

TechCrunch: Chiseled to near perfection

TechCrunch’s MG Siegler said that, when picking up the new iPhone, it “just doesn’t seem real”, as if it has been hollowed out. He called the handset “fantastic” and dismissed as “fools” those who have described the iPhone 5 as disappointing or boring.

“They either haven’t actually used the device, or only played with it for a few minutes in the hands-on area after last week’s event. (Or worse, they’re projecting their own boredom in their jobs due to Apple’s dominance of the tech scene these past few years.),” he wrote.

Siegler went out on a limb to claim the iPhone 5 is “the best iPhone upgrade that Apple has done yet,” and consequently the best version of the device by far.

He was positive about Apple’s changes to the screen, especially since it should avoid fragmentation and is optional for developers. Though he did have to adjust the way he held the new phone, Siegler said he expects to get used to it eventually.

LTE speeds have made the iPhone 5 “fast as hell”, so much so that it’s now faster than his home WiFi. On Verizon’s network, he got regular speeds of 20 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up, compared to 2Mbps down and .75 Mbps up on his iPhone 4S.

The reviewer described the new Panorama mode as “amazing”, adding that he expects it to get used pretty regularly.

Siegler wasn’t as concerned about the Lightning connector as others. He simply wrote it off the necessary adapters for backward compatibility as “the price of progress”.

He was also impressed by the new Maps app, though he admitted that it wasn’t as good as Google Maps. He did miss the transit directions, though, which are currently absent but are supposed to be on their way via third-parties.

The biggest quibble that Siegler had with the new iPhone is that he has a slight preference for the look of the iPhone 4/4S back, rather than the two-tone black and slate of the iPhone 5, but he did find the new all-black look “to be much more appealing.”

“Those worried about the talk of “disappointment” surrounding the iPhone 5, I suggest you simply go to an Apple Store starting on Friday and try it for yourself. My guess is you’ll immediately recognize just how ridiculous all that bluster actually is. The iPhone 5 is the culmination of Apple doing what Apple does best. This is the smartphone nearly perfected,” Siegler concluded.

Engadget: “Thinner. Lighter. Faster. Simpler.”

For Engadget’s Tim Stevens, the iPhone 5 is an improvement over the iPhone 4S in “nearly every respect.”

“Clearly, the company is confident that it’s knocked it out of the park again, and we have to agree,” he wrote, though he qualified that it wasn’t quite a “grand slam.”

Stevens remarked that the iPhone’s lightness, rather than the bigger screen or thinner profile, is the first trait that people are drawn to when they pick it up.

The Lightning connector was “infinitely easier to connect” and could be attached without looking, but the reviewer expressed concern that the connector is currenty only based on USB 2.0. A series of syncing tests did, however, show that the iPhone 5 was almost 20 percent faster than the iPhone 4S when linking up with iTunes.

As for the display, Stevens said it looks “fantastic”, adding that it corrects the slight greenish tint of the iPhone 4S screen.

The new Panorama mode was “almost always very impressive” and the new FaceTime HD camera on the front of the iPhone did show noticeable improvement.

To sum up, Stevens commented that the iPhone 5 “absolutely shines” and stands as a “hallmark of design”.

Guardian: “The most integrated phone out there”

Charles Arthur of the Guardian believes anyone with a pre-September 2010 iPhone or a desire for 4G will “be delighted to snap [the iPhone 5] up.” He called the device the “most integrated phone out there”, despite the fact that Apple’s ecosystem is a “walled garden.”

USA Today: Lust-worthy

Edward Baig of USA Today says the iPhone 5 is eliciting feelings of “lust”, as opposed to the initial disappointment from last year’s iPhone 4S. He views the device as likely to keep Apple “at the front of the smartphone pack,” though he did admit that some consumers will still favor high-end Android phones like Samsung’s Galaxy S III.

After testing the device for a week, Baig said that he wants one for his own.

“People have always had lofty expectations for the iPhone 5, especially as the competition stiffens. In delivering a fast, attractive, LTE-capable and larger-screen handset, Apple has met those expectations with a gem,” he concluded.

Image credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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