You won’t find much innovation on the iPhone 5, but Apple has improved the iPhone just enough to make sure it’s still the best smartphone.
The iPhone 5 is thinner, lighter and quicker than its predecessors and competitors, and it now features a 4-inch screen. Individually, none of those features is jaw-dropping, but put them together and the iPhone 5 is very impressive.
Powered by the new Apple A6 processor and now with the ability to connect to 4G LTE, the iPhone runs faster than ever. When you Google a query, it can almost be unsettling how quickly the phone will show you results. Boot up 3-D maps and the iPhone 5 will quickly start generating buildings. It’s fast.
The 4-inch screen is also a great addition. Any iPhone user who’s held one of the latest 4.5-inch-plus Android-running phones can easily tell the iPhone’s 3.5-inch screen was no longer cutting it. But fortunately, Apple didn’t just copy the competition and make a chunkier phone. Instead, the new screen gives you more real estate vertically but keeps the phone’s width, leaving it comfortable to hold in your hand.
The new screen has a 1,136-by-640 pixel resolution and keeps the 326-pixel-per-inch density found on the iPhone 4 and 4S, meaning screen quality has stayed the same.
In the long run, this is especially great for videos and games, but in the short term we have to deal with a lot of apps, Netflix and YouTube included, that have yet to update and take advantage of the additional screen space.
Other improvements come on the iPhone 5’s two cameras. The rear camera now takes quicker pics and shoots better in low light, but the most impressive upgrade comes with the front camera, which now shoots in 720p HD. I shot a short video of myself while walking, and the result far exceeded my expectations. Photos shot with the front camera are also much improved, so you’ll likely be using it for more than just video calls.
Another welcome addition to the camera app is panorama mode. Other phones and apps have had similar features for a while, but that doesn’t take away from how well the iPhone 5 can now shoot wide, extended shots -- don’t be surprised if Facebook gets overloaded with panorama shots in the next few months.
As for the exterior, the iPhone 5 is as stylish as ever. The back plate now features coated aluminum similar to what you’ll find on Mac computers. The finish looks great, but unfortunately, it’s much more susceptible to scuffs than the iPhone 4S or 4 back plates were.
A nice trade-off, though, seems to come with the front plate. Videos around the Web seem to show the iPhone 5’s screen is difficult to crack and much more durable than that of its its predecessors or its top rival, the Samsung Galaxy S III.
But not everything is improved.
As you’ve likely heard, Apple has ditched Google for its Maps app. That, in turn, has resulted in less accurate maps and information than was previously available. Worse, though, is the fact that Maps will no longer give you public transportation information unless you pay for a third-party app.
Despite those flaws, the Maps app has gained a few new tricks that are useful. You now get turn-by-turn navigation by Siri that is very helpful. That’s the new feature I’ve most used since getting the iPhone 5, and although Siri at one point made me make a U-turn instead of a simple left turn, the new navigation is quite nifty. Apple has also thrown in live road hazards, which will show you crashes, closed roads and road hazards that could slow you down while you drive.
There’s now also a new feature called Flyover, which will show you 3-D maps, but the feature still needs to be expanded to more parts of the world. Flyover is not nearly as useful as Google StreetView, but it can still be helpful and it’s super cool.
The other major notable change to the iPhone is on the Lightning, its new, smaller connector. The Lightning is about one-fourth the size of its predecessor and can be attached whether it is face down or up, meaning you’ll never again have that experience in which you try plugging the cable in but it’s upside down.
For now, it’s easy to be frustrated that your old cables won’t work with the iPhone 5 and that accessories need adapters. I have a cable for my office, another for my car and one for my home, and am quite annoyed by this, but in the long run, the smaller connector is more compact and will win people over.
Finally, the other major change comes with the iPhone 5’s new earphones, the EarPods. This is the first time Apple has changed its headphones in a while, and the company has done so in order to deliver a more comfortable fit and better quality.
The EarPods place a greater emphasis on bass, which I found great for hip-hop and which many young people will welcome, but I did not find them comfortable. In fact, I find them so uncomfortable that even though I like their sound better than my other earphones, I probably won’t use the EarPods. However, comfort will likely vary from ear to ear.
In all, most Apple fans -- as well as initiates -- will like the improvements on the iPhone 5.
Keep in mind, though, the iPhone is no longer the clear-cut choice it once was. If you’re looking for specific features, you can very likely find other phones that outperform the iPhone. But if what you want is still the best overall smartphone, than the iPhone 5 is the way to go.