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iPhone 5: Impressive but not revolutionary

By Larry Magid

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Although Apple bills its new iPhone 5 as “the biggest thing to happen since the iPhone,” it’s really a welcome but incremental improvement to an already great product.

Still, based on what I’ve seen, I’d buy one if only I didn’t have another year on my cell phone contract for my iPhone 4s.

The original iPhone was revolutionary. It redefined the smart phone and inspired the competition to emulate Apple’s innovative design.  Samsung did a good enough job emulating the iPhone to cause a jury to award Apple over a $1 billion dollars after finding that’s Samsung violated Apples patents.

Things to like

The new iPhone has attributes many of us can aspire to. It’s taller, thinner, lighter, faster, brighter and (thanks to a larger battery) has more energy.  To be specific, it now has a 4-inch screen (the screen on the iPhone 4s is 3.5 inches) and is 18% thinner at 7.6 mm.  Apple says that it’s 20% lighter at 112 grams. It also has a new design and even the SIM card (which authenticates you to the cellular network) is 44% smaller than the already tiny one in the iPhone 4s.  It now has an aluminum body behind its glass screen.

The new 4-inch screen has 1136 by 640 resolution and, thanks to the extra size, it can display five rows of app icons instead of the current four.


The new phone is also faster in terms of its processing speed and its access to cellular carrier’s higher-speed 4G LTE data networks. Apple claims dramatic improvement in download speeds though, as with any cellular system, your mileage may vary depending on network congestion, your distance from cell site and even atmospheric conditions.

There is also a faster processor, the A6 chip that Apple says is “up to twice as fast” as the previous A5 chip. What this means is faster loading and running of apps and – in some cases – faster web page loading, though there are lots of other potential bottlenecks when it comes to web access including data speed and server issues.

Apple took advantage of the extra room to beef up the battery and the company claims 8 hours of browsing via a cellular connection, 8 hours of talk time or up to 10 hours of video playback. Neither I nor any other reviewers have had a chance to test the battery life in real-world conditions.  The larger screen, faster processor and LTE data modem all add to the iPhone’s energy needs.

New connector disconnects older accessories

One “feature” that some people might not like is a new connector that Apple calls “Lightening,” which is a lot smaller than the old 30-pin connector used not only on iPhones but on iPads and iPods as well.  Apple claims that the new connector is more durable and has what Apple calls “an adaptive interface,” whatever that means.

The downside is that the old cables and accessories won’t work right out of the box. Apple will offer a 30 pin adapter for $29, which is a lot more than I expected. The adapter that lets you use old MacBook Magsafe power supplies on newer MacBooks costs only $10. But even with the adapter, some accessories and music players might not work which could be a big problem for consumers since some of these devices cost hundreds of dollars.

Improved camera

The camera has been improved. Apple says that it’s 40% faster and able to better handle low-light conditions. They also added a feature called Panorama, which enables you to capture very wide-angle photos. The rear facing camera can record 1080p high definition video and the front facing camera, that you use for video calls, can now record 720 p.  And Apple’s FaceTime video service now works with cellular as well as WiFi connections .

The ears have it

And Apple is finally replacing those ubiquitous white earbuds with what they’re calling Apple Ear Pods which they say are “rest comfortably inside — and stay inside — a variety of ear types.”

The new iPhone will also get a new operating system, but so will older iPhones. It Apple will soon release iOS 6 which will add new features to its new and older phones including a new navigation app, improvements for the SIRI voice assistant and other new and enhanced apps.

Catching up

Although there are lots of new features for Apple, many of the improvements of the iPhone 5 will look like old news to Android users.  Android has had LTE phones for a couple of years.  The size and thinnest of the iPhone 5 is nothing compared to many Android phones, some of which are thinner with much larger screens.

First impressions

This is one of the very few Apple announcements I didn’t attend in person but colleagues I trust who had a chance to handle the phone  had great things to say about it.  The Verge’s Joshua Topolsky said that its “incredibly light against smartphones in general,” yet ” is still a sturdy and solid-feeling device, despite the weight loss.”  USA Today’s Ed Baig called it “awfully inviting from my vantage point.”


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