Apple iPhone 5 review

Aside from some 4G limitations, the iPhone 5 remains a great phone, and a better one than the 5C that replaced it

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
529
inc VAT

Specifications

iOS 6, 4.0in 1,136x640 display

Its been well over three years now since the iPhone's release, which in mobile phone terms is a lifetime (and-a-half). Amazingly Apple has only released one truly new design since this handset appeared, the iPhone 6. It was a big step up though, finally bringing the iPhone up-to-speed with its larger-screened Android competitors. By comparisons the old iPhone 5 feels positively tiny, with its 4in display, although it does at least use a fairly standard 16:9 aspect ratio for watching videos and the like. Some may like the smaller, hand-friendly design of course but it just feels to small for comfort for us.

You can pick up a refurbished iPhone 5 today for around £125. If you're dead-set on Apple's iOS and need a cheap handset then this isn't a bad deal. You can get a lot more phone though by buying a modern, budget Android phone, though you will have to get used to the operating system of course - try the Moto G 3rd Gen. The iPhone 5 is far from the fastest phone by modern standards but it holds up pretty well and is fine light day-to-day use, if you spend a lot of time on your phone though then you're best off spending more on a more recent model.

ORIGINAL REVIEW

You can sum up the iPhone 5 in three words, taller, slimmer and lighter. Apple has managed to shave 1.4mm of the thickness of its previous phone. When you compare them side-by-side, what Apple has done is immediately obvious. While the iPhone 4S' screen and back bulged out from the side, the iPhone 5 has a flush back, while the screen is barely raised at all.

Apple iPhone 5 volume buttons

There's no denying that the iPhone 5 is impressively thin

It's easy to tell the difference is size from photos, but weight's an altogether harder thing to describe. In pure stats, the iPhone 4S weighed 140g, while the iPhone 5 is 28g lighter at just 112g. Trust us, this is a big difference and it's immediately noticeable when you pick the iPhone 5 up: you get the feeling that it simply should weigh more, it's that light.

While the iPhone 4S and iPhone 5 are clearly related, there are some cosmetic changes to the new model, which give it a different look and help keep the weight down. Gone is the all-glass rear, replaced instead with an aluminium panel that covers most of back of the phone, bar two glass panels at the top and bottom. We've been told that during manufacturing the rear of the phone is photographed with the aluminium panel in place, so that the best-fitting glass panels can be found. Our review model was certainly well put together, with a flush fitting rear.

Apple iPhone 5 rear

A new aluminium back panel gives the iPhone 5 a different look and feel

SCREEN

One of the biggest reasons for the change in size of the iPhone 5 is because it has a larger 4in screen with a 16:9 aspect ratio, rather than the 3:2 aspect ratio used on the iPhone 4S. What this means in practice is that both screens are the same width, but the iPhone 5's is slightly taller, with a resolution of 1,136x640 (the iPhone 4S had a resolution of 960x640), maintaining the same high 326ppi. That's still a Retina display, which Apple defines as a screen where you can't see the individual pixels.

Apple iPhone 5

A 16:9 screen means the iPhone 5 is taller than its predecessor

Extra resolution is useful, as you can now fit five rows of icons on the homescreen, up from four on the iPhone 4S. It also makes sense when you use a lot of the applications: you can view more calendar appointments and emails in a list, for example.

Apple iPhone 5 email comparison

More resolution means that each app can display more information

Typing with the phone in portrait mode is also easier, as there's more space above the keyboard for text, making it easier to see what you're writing and correct any mistakes is necessary.

Apple iPhone 5 keyboard

The higher resolution means you can see more when you type

It's not just a bigger screen, though, as the iPhone 5's display embeds the touch components with the actual pixels, removing a layer from the old screen. As well as being thinner, the new screen is brighter with higher colour saturation. Compared side-by-side with an iPhone 4S, we really noticed the difference with the iPhone 5 looking a lot more vibrant, with more pleasing colours. The screen is evenly lit and viewing angles are excellent, with the display easy to see from any angle. A 16:9 display also makes more sense if you're watching a lot of TV programmes or films on your phone, as the screen better suits the aspect ratios typically used, leading to a reduction or complete removal of black bars.

While Apple used to be a way ahead of the competition in resolution, we're seeing more Android phones with full 720p displays. The trade-off is that these Android devices typically have a larger screen with a slightly lower PPI. As we see it, a larger screen will give you more resolution, but you'll lose some of the pocketability of the iPhone 5, so it's a matter of choosing what is most important to you.

PROCESSOR

Along with its new phone comes a new processor, the Apple A6. Apple promises that it's twice as fast for the CPU and provides double the graphics performance. Impressively, it's also 22 per cent smaller. It's hard to fully test a phone's processor, but this dual-core model certainly proved itself in the tests we performed.

The Sunspider Java test completed in 944.1ms on the iPhone 5 and took more than twice as long on the iPhone 4S, completing in 1,917.3ms. Web browsing in general is very quick, with the BBC News home page rendering in less than four seconds.

We noticed that the iPhone 5 was every-so-slightly snappier than the iPhone 4S, opening applications, such as Photos, which was filled with images, that little bit faster. As you'd expect from Apple, iOS is beautifully smooth throughout, effortlessly rendering all of the little animations. Google has come on a long way with Project Butter in Android 4.1, which made its debut on the Google Nexus 7, but Apple maintains its crown for smoothness.

OPERATING SYSTEM

The iPhone 5 ships with iOS 6, which is available for older iPhones and iPads as a free upgrade. This in itself is a massive benefit of going with an Apple handset, as you'll get the next OS upgrade the day it's released: Android still lags painfully behind, with some manufacturers taking months to release a new update.

For the most part iOS 6 is a tweak to what's gone before, making the iPhone work better in the cloud and with other Apple devices. Improvements are mostly small but handy, such as Safari now having iCloud Tabs, where you can see browser tabs open on your other Apple devices. We like the way that you can share Photo Streams with people on iOS 6 devices or, for everyone else, via a public website.

We have to comment on new Maps app, which is built by Apple rather than Google. In terms of interface, it's the same as before, but the underlying data and search just isn't as good at the moment. There are plenty of omissions (there's no Tottenham Court Road station), it often struggles to find what you're searching for and does strange things, such as jumping to the US rather than looking up a UK street address.

As it currently stands using postcodes is currently the only sure-fire way of finding the address that you want. Apple is working on its problem at the moment, but it's a little sad that Maps has currently taken a step backwards.

iPhone 5 Maps route

Turn-by-turn directions are nice to have, if you can find where you want to go

In its favour, Maps introduces turn-by-turn directions. You're given a clear choice of three routes, with traffic problems highlighted, making it quick and easy to choose your own journey. Prompts are spoken clearly by the Siri voice, and we like the way that the next turn indicator counts down the distance, so you know exactly when to make the manoeuvre.

Apple iPhone 5 3D

3D Cities is a neat way to explore, although it's limited to a few cities at the moment

We also like the 3D Cities view, which gives you a 3D model of the place you're looking at to virtually fly over. The centre of London is covered, but that's about it for now in the UK, although Apple is expanding its content.

GOOGLE MAPS While Apple Maps continues to be a disappointment, the good news is that Google Maps is now available for download on all iPhones from the 3GS, iPod Touch from the 3rd generation and all iPads.

Having Google Maps back is brilliant and the new app brings in all of the features that you know and love from the original iPhone Maps app, and even adds in turn-by-turn voice directions for navigation.

As this app is the sole work of Google, the interface has changed from the original Maps app, although this isn't a bad thing, as it's still incredibly easy to use. A search bar dominates the top of the map. The brilliance of Google Maps is that you can search by practically anything to find a location, from a city or address, to the name of a shop or type of business. It's incredibly accurate, very fast and makes finding a location an absolute doddle. It's by far the best map app and shows just how wrong Apple got it when it decided to make its own Maps app.

Apple iPhone 5 Google Maps

Google Maps makes it easy to find a location

Navigating round the map is really easy, using your finger to scroll and pinch-to-zoom to highlight more detail in the map. You can also slide up and down the screen with two fingers to change the 3D perspective and rotate two images to change the orientation of the map. Luckily there's also a button to quickly re-orientate the map so that North is up.

Once you've found a location, you can just tap the red peg to pop-up an information bar at the bottom. Slide this up and you get more information on the location, including (if available) a call button, reviews and a link to the website. If the location's also on Street View, you can tap the button to view it for real. Street View is still completely brilliant and being able to see first-hand can be incredibly useful.

The information bar also gives you a car icon to access navigation. Walking and public transport options are included, but it’s the driving navigations that are new to iPhone, with complete turn-by-turn instructions with voice prompts.

Navigation quality is pretty good with clear prompts and a choice of routes before you start your journey. It may not compete with the best standalone TomTom system for clarity and quality of directions, but for lighter use it is excellent and, of course, completely free.

Map options are now accessed by hitting the small tab at the bottom of the screen, which lets you choose to view Traffic, Public transport information, toggle Satellite imagery and view the current location in Google Earth. The only feature not built in is Google Latitude, which lets you find your friends, but this is available as a separate app if you want it.

Apple iPhone 5 Google Maps Options

Options are now in a side bar, accessed by hitting the small tab at the bottom of the screen

Google Maps hugely makes up for issues with Apple Maps and easily makes the iPhone 5 our current favourite smartphone. Our one slight issue is that you can't override Apple Maps as the default mapping application. This means, for example, clicking on a contact's address opens it up in Apple Maps rather than Google Maps. However, this is a minor irritation, but Google Maps on iOS6 at least means you can find your way round with confidence again.

SIRI Siri has had a few improvements to make it faster to respond, while you can also post Facebook or Twitter updates using it. Again, Siri swings between scarily accurate and annoyingly wrong, but it's often a quick way to use a feature: we think it's brilliant for setting reminders.

Passbook is a brand-new app, which is a digital wallet for tickets, store cards and coupon codes. Currently, it's a bit limited in the UK, but we expect more partners to come online in the coming months. When it has full UK support, it could be really useful: Passbook is location-aware, so it can, for example, pop up your airline boarding pass as you reach the airport, saving you having to hunt through your bag for the old paper version.

APP STORE

While Android is getting a lot closer in terms of the quality and range of apps available, Apple's App Store is still the best. It's got a wider range of high quality apps, and it's still the first platform that companies generally launch on. However, the gap is closing fast.

LIGHTNING DOCK CONNECTOR

Gone is the old Universal Dock connector, which had been in place since the first iPod. Instead, there's the new Lightning connector. Anyone with loads of existing peripherals will probably be gnashing their teeth. Apple will sell a Dock-to-Lightning adaptor for the princely sum of £25, but we haven't been able to try it out as there's currently no stock until . If you want to charge at home and at work, you'll need to buy extra Lightning cables, with Apple selling each one for £15.

Apple iPhone 5 Lightning

The new Lightning connector is more robust and easier to use, although a little annoying if you have old peripherals and docks

It's also a little annoying that the headphone port has been moved to the bottom of the phone. If you buy a Lightning charging dock at some point in the future (there aren't any at the moment) you can't charge and listen to your headphones.

A NEW SIM CARD

iPhone 5 SIM card comparison

The Nano SIM (top) is considerably smaller than the tiny Micro SIM (bottom)

While the iPhone 4 introduced the Micro SIM, the iPhone introduces an even smaller version: the Nano SIM. If you're buying an unlocked phone, you'll need to get your operator to switch your old SIM for the new one. Your operator should do this free of charge and you should be able to make the switch in-store, but phone to check.

Apple iPhone 5 SIM slot

As with previous iPhones, the SIM slots into a bay on the side of the handset

EARPODS

Talking of headphones, Apple has revamped its in-ear set, introducing the EarPods. These are definitely good news for any commuter, as no longer will you be bombarded with irritating, tinny, leaky noise coming from people that haven't upgraded their bundled headphones.

With the EarPods, the slightly strange design sends the audio into your ear, rather than letting it leak. We have to say that it's a big improvement in sound quality, too. With the EarPods, there's more range, better balance and even a sense of bass. In fact, we'd go so far as to say that they're relatively pleasant to listen too.

iPhone 5 EarPod

The EarPods are a massive improvement, but you'll still want to buy a decent set of headphones for the best sound quality

Not that we're getting too carried away. The sound is still slightly muddy, lacking fine detail and the full range from other sets. As such, we'd say that you should still invest in a decent set of headphones, but the EarPods are a decent backup pair.

As with the old buds, the EarPods have a built in microphone and responsive in-line remote with volume control and a multi-function button (tap once to answerhang-up a call or pauseplay a track, and double-tap to skip tracks). Call quality is pretty good over them, with the microphone clearly picking up our voice.

WIRELESS AND 4G

Apple has completely upgrade the wireless technology inside the iPhone 5. First up is 802.11n dual band, which means it will connect to 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi networks. The advantage of 5GHz is that there's less congestion, so you'll get better throughputs. You'll need a dual-band router, though.

This is also the first iPhone with 4G built-in and the phone works with the Everything Everywhere 4G network. We had the opportunity to test the 4G capabilities using an EE SIM with our review iPhone. Regardless of what you think about EE's pricing and download limits (our EE 4G review goes into more detail on this[/a], there's no denying its impressive speeds.

Testing in our office using the Speedtest.net app, we saw download speeds of around 24Mbit/s and upload speeds of around 18Mbit/s. Speeds will vary depending on signal strength and network congestion, but this is still a long way ahead of what 3G can offer and puts 4G on the iPhone 5 in the same category as home broadband speeds.

Apple iPhone 5 4G Speed

4G is certainly impressively fast on the iPhone 5

It made a big difference for web browsing, too, with the BBC News homepage downloading and rendering in just 2 seconds. That's the real benefit of 4G: no waiting for your favourite sites and services to load.

In some regards, the iPhone 5 can use 4G better than on Android. For example, on the Samsung Galaxy S3 LTE we found that the BBC iPlayer app used a low-quality version of the video on 4G, even though there was plenty of bandwidth. On the iPhone 5, we got the same stream over 4G and Wi-Fi, meaning the same high quality with a sharp and clearly-defined image, which is exactly what you want from a fast connection.

Apple iPhone 5 Wi-Fi BBC iPlayer

On Wi-Fi you get the high-quality, sharp BBC iPlayer stream

Apple iPhone 5 4G BBC iPlayer

On 4G you get the same high-quality stream from iPlayer as when you're on a Wi-Fi network

There's no denying, then, that the iPhone 5 is a great 4G phone if you want to take advantage of the faster networking technology.

CAMERA

A thinner case has meant that Apple has had to redesign the lens and sensor for the iPhone 5, although it still has the same 8-megapixel resolution as the iPhone 4S. There's little difference in practice between the two models, as you can see from our detail shots below.

As with the iPhone 4S, the iPhone 5 has one of the best smartphone cameras. Shots are bright, vibrant and very detailed. For most purposes, you can happily use your phone rather than a compact camera.

Apple iPhone 5 detail shot
Apple iPhone 5 iPhone 4S detail shot

The iPhone 5 (top) has the same excellent image quality as on the iPhone 4S (bottom)

New to the iPhone 5 is a panorama mode. All you have to do is hold the phone steady and pan up to 270-degrees to create one massive image. It's very easy to use – just keep the arrow on the horizontal line – but you'll need to keep your hand steady to avoid any artefacts or odd blobs in the final image. When you use it properly, the final results can be stunning.

iPhone 5 panorama

Hold the phone steady and you can take some amazing panoramas easily

Video is shot at 1080p at 30fps, and the quality is generally excellent. Footage is detailed with punchy colours and it's easy to see why there's no need for Flip video cameras or the like any more. We've got footage of the iPhone 4S and iPhone 5 below, so you can compare the two.

The iPhone 5 shoots similar high-quality 1080p video to the iPhone 4S

BATTERY

Battery life is quoted by Apple as the same as on the 4S, which is impressive considering the iPhone 5 has the larger screen. In our video playback test, the iPhone 5 lasted 12h 4m, which is pretty much the same as the iPhone 4S in the same test.

CONCLUSION

If anything's missing from the iPhone 5, it's NFC. This technology has been in several Android handsets, but Apple so far hasn't bothered with it. We don't see this as a massive problem at the moment, as there isn't the infrastructure to use it, but it's still a slightly surprising omission.

Apple iPhone 5

Thin and powerful the iPhone 5 is a great handset

Overall, the iPhone 5 is a great bit of work. It's brilliantly made, and very fast with the an incredibly responsive mobile operating system. While previous iterations have been way ahead of the competition, the iPhone 5 just doesn't maintain the gap. In particular, Maps is a big step backwards, while iOS 6 feels more like a tweak than a genuine step forwards.

The biggest threat to the iPhone 5 is that the competition has gotten a lot better and it's cheaper: the Samsung Galaxy S3 and the HTX One X have similar features and both are free on a contract.

Don't get us wrong, the iPhone 5 is still a brilliant handset and iOS is still incredibly easy and smooth to use, it's just that the poor Maps app and comparatively high price mean that this model just misses out on an award.

Details

Price £529
Rating *****
Award N/A

Hardware

Main display size 4.0in
Native resolution 1,136x640
CCD effective megapixels 8-megapixel
Flash LED
GPS yes
Internal memory 16384MB
Memory card support none
Memory card included N/A
Operating frequencies HSDPA 800/900/1900/2100, LTE (Bands 1/3/5)
Wireless data 4G
Size 123.8x58.6x7.6mm
Weight 112g

Features

Operating system iOS 6
Microsoft Office compatibility N/A
FM Radio no
Accessories headphones, data cable, charger
Talk time 8 hours
Standby time 225 days

Buying Information

SIM-free price £529
Price on contract £36 per month contract
SIM-free supplier www.apple.com/uk/
Contract/prepay supplier www.three.co.uk
Details www.apple.com/uk/

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