How it looks
- This is the best looking phone Apple's ever made—the black model, at least.. In a sense, yes, it's an elongated iPhone 4S. But it's distinct enough to still plant a wow response in you and all the peers you want to impress.
- The matte aluminum rear panel is a terrific addition, looking far better in person than it ever did it any leak or keynote presentation. It feels wonderful, and should help stop the notoriously shatter-prone phone from being so... shattery.
- It's another small, cosmetic touch, but the matte siding and accompanying dark buttons are a nice switch-up from the brighter metal bracket around the 4 and 4S.
- The wider, more prominent speaker holes at the phone's bottom aren't exactly graceful.
- The matte back doesn't smudge much at all when fondled, but the screen does as much as ever.
How it feels
- Light. Impressively light. The 5's featherweight status might be the most initially impressive thing about it, even beyond new looks—it's just shy of feeling like it's not real. Dangerously close to that, even. Any lighter and this thing would handle like a toy.
- Light. So light.
- The 4-inch screen doesn't feel like any sort of ergonomic burden. At all. Reaching to the top of the screen to swipe with your thumb is totally fine.
- The iPhone 5 is—and this is probably the most important thing you can say about its design—a one-handed phone. That's a great thing. If going dual-thumb is your bag, that's totally fine too, but everything is entirely speedy and capable with the phone in your palm.
- Vibration feels the exact same.
How it works
- AT&T LTE speeds in New York are fantastic—I was able to download dozens of apps simultaneously without the phone batting an eye.
- Apps, both Apple native and 3rd party, load appreciably faster, but the new processor isn't yielding anything killer so far. It's certainly not instant. But the difference is there.
- Apps that haven't been optimized for the new, larger, higher-res display feel cheap. When an app you've been using for possibly a year (or more!) suddenly doesn't fill up the whole screen, it's a bit jarring. Even with no functional difference, it's frustrating to see black bars on a fancy smartphone screen you've just paid extra money for. This is probably the most aggravating thing about the phone's design so far. Most popular apps will be fixed eventually, but old favorites that aren't developed anymore will be stuck in letterboxed purgatory.
- Camera shutter is definitely faster, but again, the camera app doesn't open instantly. That would have been nice. Still, you can hammer off shots pretty much as fast as you can press the button, with virtually no delay.
- No appreciable difference in built-in speaker quality or volume.
- iMessages fly out almost instantly. Thanks, LTE!
- The screen doesn't look any better than usual in terms of color, contrast, and the like. Just taller.
Accessory headaches aside, the new cable is nice. And it truly is tiny. The connector slides in with just the right amount of effort, and the fact that there's no "upside-down" is just good design. Other than that, it's the same old syncing deal as the last cable. It does, however, lack the satisfying click of the old 30 pin connector.
But why, why, why couldn't this have been Thunderbolt or USB 3?
Apple Maps (Dun Dun DUNNNNN)
Yes, it's not as good as Google Maps. That said, we used it (and its turn-by-turn directions) to get from a backwater AT&T store to NYC without any problems whatsoever. And thanks to LTE, the whole route loaded in a snap.
Update, Headphone jack on the bottom Part of this is personal preference. But I've found the new headphone jack position is a little annoying. If you pocket the thing cord-up, you can't easily slip it up and, say, adjust the volume. The headphone cord might also interfere with your finger movements a little, unless you choke up higher on the phone.
Update, App launch speed: Some apps actually do launch instantaneously. It'll vary from app to app, of course.
Update, Panorama mode: It's fast and pretty much flawless. Navigating the pics is fun on the wider screen.
Update:, where are the widescreen video apps? I'd love to tell you how good videos look on the widescreen iPhone, but neither Vimeo nor YouTube are optimized yet. C'mon, guys. This letterboxing is a drag.
Update, 3D maps: Apple Maps' largely useless 3D terrain feature is much, much smoother on the iPhone 5. Loading the actually imagery is still sluggish, however.
Update, EarPods: Yeah, like we said, these are junk. Don't use them. They fit slightly better than the last iteration, but are just as worthless.
Update, screen quality: We put the iPhone 5 side by side with an HTC One X—perhaps the best smartphone screen we've ever laid eyeballs on—and it was virtually indistinguishable. The iPhone's display is sharper, of course, owing to its smaller size.
Update, call quality: iPhone 5 call quality is improved over the iPhone 4S on GSM and CDMA networks. Just like last year, the CDMA tends to have softer, fuller sounding call audio, while the GSM network is less clearer, but also a bit harsher on the ears. The AT&T iPhone 5 generally sounded better than the Verizon one to people on the other end of the line, and both were markedly improved over the 4S. The one strange thing we encountered during testing is that the Sprint iPhone 4S we tested these phones against still had better noise cancelling. All three more or less performed fine, but understanding what people were saying was easiest on the 4S.