Round-up of iPhone 5 reviews: It's all good

Ahead of the iPhone 5’s official release on Friday, hands-on reviews from major newspapers and tech sites have started to roll in. We’ll have our own evaluation ready for you very shortly, but we thought it would be an interesting exercise to round up the sentiments pouring out thus far. And it probably won’t surprise you by this point to hear that the reviews are almost universally positive.

Considering the iPhone 4S was similarly well received and the iPhone 5 is basically a thinner, lighter, faster, and less-slippery iteration, this isn’t really a surprise. The iPhone 4S was the fastest (and best) selling phone ever – and indeed, the iPhone 5 notched up a record-breaking two million pre-orders within 24 hours, double the previous record holder (the iPhone 4S). While we technocrats might be unhappy with Apple’s severe lack of ground-breaking advances, it’s also easy to see why Apple sticks with its winning formula.

Let’s take a closer look at what the hands-on reviews are saying.

Chassis

Almost every review begins by pointing out just how light the iPhone 5 is. At 112 grams, it’s 20 per cent lighter than the iPhone 4S, and one of the lightest smartphones in the world. Otherwise, by virtue of its identical width, it feels a lot like the iPhone 4S. Many reviews also indicate that the iPhone 5 is easier to grasp and less slippery than its predecessor – which, as any owner of a cracked iPhone 4S can attest, is a very good thing.

Despite the larger 4in screen, it seems that each corner of the display can still be comfortably reached – unlike some of the larger Android smartphones, where it sometimes feels like you should’ve taken a beginner’s course in kung fu before attempting to manipulate it with one hand. The iPhone 5 is incredibly thin (7.6mm), which helps with the “reachability.”

Internals

There are two key changes inside the iPhone 5: A new A6 SoC, and a new all-in-one 28nm Qualcomm radio that supports a huge range of wireless networks, including LTE. As regards the new radio, to be quite honest, most of today’s reviews don’t seem to pay much attention to wireless connectivity. In general, it sounds like the iPhone 5 makes calls and connects to LTE networks as well as any Android phone – no surprise there.

The A6, which we suspect is a custom-made chip designed by Apple, has been well received by reviewers. It’s obviously hard to separate the A6′s enhancements from any performance tweaks made to iOS, but at least synthetically the A6 performs admirably.

The iPhone 4S had a best-in-class display, and it seems the iPhone 5 keeps that tradition. Reviews say that the 16:9 Retina display is slightly brighter, and marginally better outside/in bright light. Apple also excitedly told us that the iPhone 5 is the first smartphone capable of displaying the full sRGB colour gamut – and indeed, reviewers are saying that the iPhone 5′s colour reproduction is very accurate and “neutral” (i.e. not overly “contrasty”).

Battery life

While a few reviewers said they were unable to accurately test the iPhone 5′s battery in such a short period of time (they’ve only had a couple of days with the device), in general the iPhone 5′s battery life does seem to improve upon the iPhone 4S. The iPhone 4S had mediocre battery life, and the iPhone 5 boosts that – while being 20 per cent thinner and lighter. Engadget, with heavy LTE/GPS/WiFi usage, squeezed out no less than 14 hours and 18 minutes of battery life.

As far as Apple’s concerned, this is the one area that it can still dominate the competition. While Samsung’s latest superphone might contain more doodads, Apple’s highly-integrated software/hardware stack and masterful industrial design team are still the best when it comes to combining fancy doodads and decent battery life. Remember, the battery in the iPhone 4S and 5 (1,400mAh) is 30 per cent smaller than the Galaxy S III (2,100mAh), and yet they should have comparable battery life.

Camera

Despite Apple making quite a lot of noise about the iPhone 5′s camera, it is fundamentally very, very similar to the shooter found in the 4S – and the hands-on reviews reflect that. Even a year after its release, though, the 4S still has one of the best cameras on the market – though that will probably change when the Lumia 920 arrives later in the year.

While the rear-facing camera hasn’t changed much, reviewers are very happy with the new 1.2-megapixel forward-facing FaceTime camera, which has four times the resolution of the forward-facing VGA camera on the iPhone 4S.

Software

Out of all the reviews, one of the only aspects of the iPhone 5 that has received negative sentiment is iOS 6. While the newest version of iOS 6 has plenty of new features, and it zips along nicely with the new A6 SoC, some reviewers simply think that iOS feels a bit antiquated. Considering iOS has looked virtually the same since the first iPhone was launched in 2007, such sentiment isn’t all that surprising – especially if you’ve been following the rapid evolution of Android.

As far as consumers are concerned, though, there’s a lot to be said for familiarity. With the iPhone being by far the most successful smartphone in the world, familiarity is a very good way of ensuring repeat custom – and billions of dollars for Apple.

Overall, the iPhone 5 seems to be scoring an average of 9 out of 10, with many reviewers giving it a full five stars.

How light is too light?

There was one other interesting thread that ran through many of the iPhone 5 reviews: Is the iPhone 5 too light?

For that matter, in general, how much of an issue are these slight differences in weight between the high-end, slim phones? The iPhone 5 weighs 112 grams and the Samsung Galaxy S III is 133 grams. Do those 20 grams affect your long-term usage patterns? Probably not. Surely the shape and size of the phone are important, too – how the weight is distributed on your palm will play a huge role in how light the phone actually feels. Is weight important when it comes to flimsiness? Or is that a factor of both weight and construction?

But even so, reviews suggest that the iPhone 5 is too light – that it feels too light in the hand, and even “too light in the pocket.” Maybe it’s just relative, though – after you’ve had a heavier phone in your pocket for years, it’s obviously going to be a bit weird getting used to something lighter.

If you want to read up more on the iPhone 5, take a look at our “iPhone 5: A reactionary compromise” article here. We’ve also got a number of head-to-head spec comparisons for you to peruse, including the iPhone 5 vs. the Nokia Lumia 920 here, and the Galaxy S III here, then there’s also the Galaxy Note 2, and finally the HTC One X.