iPhone 5 Reaches New Highs for Performance, Design

Review: Apple's iPhone 5 has been called the best iPhone yet. It's true that Apple has reached new highs in performance and features. But calling it the best ever doesn't mean that there isn't room for improvement.

When Apple's iPhone 5 launched worldwide on Sept. 21, consumers around the globe couldn't help but get excited. After all, Apple said that its latest smartphone was the best it had ever offered. Apple's host of fans seem all too happy to accept that claim at face value as they prepared to queue up to be among the first to buy the smartphone.

Consumers, though, needed to get their hands on the device to find out for themselves. After all, Apple has said with each new iPhone launch that its latest handset is the best ever. And each time, some agree and others disagree.

But this time around, it's hard to argue with Apple's gloating. The iPhone 5 really is the best smartphone Apple has ever launched. In fact, from its upgraded components to the larger screen, Apple's iPhone 5 might just be the best smartphone on the market right now.

Samsung Galaxy S III fans might not want to hear that. And the iPhone 5 certainly isn't without its faults. But taken as a whole, it's extremely hard—if not impossible —to find a smartphone that can deliver something that approaches the iPhone 5 experience.

As with every other Apple product, the iPhone 5 is about design. And like most of those other products, it delivers.


The first thing users will notice upon breaking the iPhone 5 out of the box is that it's longer than previous iPhone models. Apple decided that it was finally time to deliver an iPhone with a 4-inch screen, and in order to accommodate that, it had to make the device taller. However, in an attempt to keep users typing with one hand and easily reaching all parts of the screen, Apple didn't make the iPhone 5 any wider than its predecessor. This result is a screen that might actually be in the sweet spot between size and fit.

Speaking of that screen, iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S users will feel right at home. The iPhone 5 comes with the same Retina display found in those models and doesn't enhance the number of pixels per inch. However, Apple was able to remove a screen layer, which surprisingly, makes the screen's colors pop just a bit better. It's a noticeable improvement over previous Retina display versions.

In terms of mobility, it's hard not to like what the iPhone 5 delivers. The device is noticeably thinner than the iPhone 4S and it's much lighter, thanks to the addition of an aluminum back plate. The iPhone 5 will still fit easily into a pocket, making concerns over its taller frame a bit unnecessary.

That said, the iPhone 5's design isn't perfect. Once again, Apple has decided to forgo ergonomic design for style, making the device difficult to get a good grasp on. And although its thinness is welcome, those who have larger hands might find it a bit harder to hold without heavily smudging the screen.

The iPhone 5's aluminum back plate also appears easy to scratch and scuff and numerous owners have started complaining of that. However, so far I have yet to cause scratches to my device.

Finally, critics who have wished for a totally revamped design won't find it with the iPhone 5. The device is basically taller and thinner, and comes with a new-look spine, depending on which version—black or white—customers choose. Apple obviously believes that it found something appealing with the iPhone design, and it isn't willing to give it up any time soon.

Based on my experience with the device, I can't help but agree. The iPhone 5 might not come with all of the design ideas I'd like to see in a handset, but it comes with many of them. From its larger screen to its sexy lines, it's hard to find any other device that can win out in a beauty contest.

Apple is still the design king.


Apple promised much better performance in the iPhone 5, and the company delivered. The device comes with the A6 processor, which according to online benchmarks, delivers dual-core processing and enhanced graphics.

Upon booting up the iPhone 5, users will quickly find that the A6 does a great job of handling tasks. From opening applications to editing multimedia to surfing the Web, everything just feels zippier. The iPhone 5's performance can be likened to powering up the latest PC model with the fastest processor and graphics. Everything just works and works really well.

If you own an iPhone 4S, the iPhone 5's camera won't impress you. The improvements, while apparent, aren't nearly as groundbreaking as Apple would have customers believe. That said, the camera still offers up high-quality images. There are certainly other products on store shelves, like the Nokia PureView, that deliver better pictures. But they're not built into an overall outstanding smartphone. That factor can't be overlooked when discussing the iPhone 5's camera.

Perhaps the best improvement to the iPhone 5's performance is its support for 4G Long-Term Evolution (LTE) service. In all previous versions of the device, Apple decided against 4G LTE, saying that it would cause too many design compromises. Finally, the company has relented. And users couldn't be happier.

In my testing of the iPhone 5's LTE on AT&T's network, the device performed exceedingly well. I was able to open large Websites quickly, and in some cases, the LTE service bested my own WiFi. Not bad for a connection that competes against the iPhone 5's newly supported wireless-N networking.

Still, the biggest issue with the iPhone 5's mobile service isn't even the device's fault. Apple's iPhone 5 is limited, like all other devices, by arbitrary carrier limits on data usage. AT&T and Verizon Wireless customers might love to surf the Web over LTE, but depending on the costly data limits they're subject to, they might find themselves searching for WiFi more than they'd like. It's unfortunately the state of the mobile world we live in.

All in all, the iPhone 5's performance is impressive. The handset is fast when it needs to be, stable in times of heavy usage and a fine choice for amateur photographers looking to snap some photos at a party.

There are other devices out there, including the LG Spectrum, which can offer up quad-core processing or claim to have more RAM than Apple's handset, but they still fall short. Apple, through its own processor, has found a way to make everything work precisely as it should. And once again, owners benefit because of it.

The Marriage of Hardware and Software

Apple has often been criticized for controlling all aspects of the iPhone experience. Users can't break out the battery, developers can't modify the operating system however they would like, and consumers are expected to play within Apple's constraints, no matter what.

In the iPhone 5, the forced marriage between iOS 6 and the hardware is actually a bit disappointing.

The operating system reacts intuitively to the user's inputs. Without much thinking, veteran iOS users should be able to handle all their tasks. It's simple and it's powerful. What more could users ask for?

But on the software front, users could ask for a bit more. Apple's iOS is starting to feel a little old. There's no mobile-payment solution, like Google Wallet, and Apple's decision to ditch YouTube and Google Maps is a near-crime.

Now, users need to download a YouTube app just to watch videos, rather than tap the formerly built-in program. What's worse, Apple's new Maps application is an embarrassment for the company.

In my time with Maps, I found it to be sub-par on nearly every level. Places around my home were not nearly as detailed as those found in Google Maps. As countless critics have pointed out, the application has wrong information about cities. Certain places have been erroneously duplicated, and even some towns are placed in the wrong geographic locations.

Maps comes nowhere near matching Google Maps, and the fact that we're forced to use it is a crying shame.

Apple added a new application called Passbook to iOS 6, offering users a location-based locker for all kinds of things, including movie tickets, coupons and more. However, the feature only works with a handful of applications at the moment, and it's not clear what sort of vision Apple has for the software.

Along with the iPhone 5's bigger display comes a variety of software troubles for users to contend with. For now, most applications don't have adjustments for the taller screen, meaning users are forced to look at apps with annoying black bars above and below the program. It's also unclear how developers who need to accommodate two different screen sizes will take advantage of the additional real estate.

Beyond that, Apple's iOS update appears to be a catch-up release. The software finally supports Panoramic picture-taking and its addition of phone call options, such as replying with a message rather than answering, is something users have been anticipating for years. Even Siri improvements, which are welcome, seem too little, too late.

However, iOS 6 is still a nice operating system. Everything works as expected, and it's far more intuitive than its Android competitors. It would be nice, though, if Apple spent less time touting the more than 200 improvements—most of which are not readily apparent—and more time delivering major updates. It's time.

The Final Word

When it's all said and done, Apple's iPhone 5 is an outstanding achievement. The device's design is second to none; its performance is stellar; and despite some disappointing software experiences, it still offers the best mobile experience out there.

As expected, Apple has priced the iPhone 5 at the starting price of $199 with a two-year contract. It's nice to see Apple keeping its pricing constant and making its flagship device affordable for consumers.

What isn't so nice, though, is that Apple has decided against delivering more storage, so users will be tapped out at 64GB. In a world where video and music now reign supreme, having more storage would have been nice. Thankfully, iCloud's online storage can mitigate some of those problems.

Despite some complaints here and there, it's hard not to fall in love with the iPhone 5. The device is just plain cool. With the bigger screen, the solid software and the 4G LTE, it's hard not to fall in love with the iPhone 5.

For years, Apple has been delivering some of the best smartphones we've ever seen. This time around, Apple has offered up the very best smartphone ever released.

Don Reisinger

Don Reisinger

Don Reisinger is a longtime freelance contributor to several technology and business publications. Over his career, Don has written about everything from geek-friendly gadgetry to issues of privacy...