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Review: Apple iPhone 5 for AT&T

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Sep 23, 2012, 7:29 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   @phonescooper

The Apple iPhone 5 is without a doubt the best hardware to reach the market this year in terms of design, engineering, and manufacture. It is an incredible smartphone that pleases from nearly every angle. Even still, it's not perfect.

The Apple iPhone has become so ingrained in the consciousness of American popular culture that you probably already know if the iPhone 5 is for you or not. Ever since its 2007 debut, the iPhone has been a constant fixture on TV, in the movies, at the office, or in the stadium. Apple has sold more than 200 million of them. They are everywhere, and most people are familiar with the iPhone. But Apple is a polarizing company, and people tend to love Apple products or loathe them. That begs the question, how do you feel about the iPhone 5? Let us help you figure it out.


The iPhone 5 is a stunning achievement in design and engineering. From a distance, it may look like a common oblong slab, but upon close examination it is clear how much thought and work Apple put into designing it. No other phone manufacturer has crafted so fine a piece of hardware.

To be quite frank, I didn't think I was going to like the iPhone 5. The leaked photos that have littered the web over the last few months were unappealing to me. I didn't like the elongated look, nor the two-tone colors on the back. Now that I have one in my hand, the design choices made by Apple make a lot more sense to me.

The first thing I noticed when picking the iPhone 5 up is the weight. There's nothing to it. It's as if you're playing with a toy, not a $649 (that's the full retail price) piece of electronics. Apple says the iPhone 5 is 18% thinner and 20% lighter than the iPhone 4S, and you can tell right away when you use it. The lack of weight is incredible, and the slim profile is impressive. It's so thin and light that it simply disappears when you put it in a pocket. You can forget about it completely.


Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

As with the iPhone 4/4S, the materials of the iPhone 5 are top-of-the-line. The fit and finish of the manufacturing is absurdly good. There isn't a single phone available for sale today that offers the same high-class feel of the iPhone 5. The front is glass, the back and sides are aluminum, and the back has two glass panels (one at the top and one at the bottom). The aluminum has a matte finish that contrasts with the shiny glass panels. Apple switched from the glass back of the 4/4S to aluminum in part to make the iPhone 5 thinner and lighter, but also to make it less breakable. With so much metal built into the design, it should be more durable than the iPhone 4/4S were.

Where the iPhone 4/4S had sharp edges, the iPhone 5's back corners have been softened by angled cuts of the aluminum frame. The glass-and-aluminum sandwich look of the iPhone 4/4S is gone. The seam between the glass panel on the front of the iPhone 5 and its aluminum frame is practically invisible. These design choices make the iPhone dramatically more comfortable to hold and use. Toss in the thin profile and trimmed weight, and it's a wonder Apple had any room on the inside to stuff the (impressive) guts that power the iPhone 5.

One thing that I have come to dislike about the iPhone 4/4S design is the way the small 3.5-inch display looks on the front of the phone. The bezel is too thick, and it calls attention to just how small the screen is. That effect is gone on the iPhone 5. Thanks to the larger 4-inch screen and reduced bezel, the balance looks better all around. The iPhone 5 still has the single, physical home button below the display. This is the one aspect of the iPhone 5's hardware that feels just a wee bit on the cheap side to me. The travel and feedback of the home button are excellent, but it makes a loud "clack" when pressed that just doesn't sound as good as it should.

The volume buttons are on the left edge, exactly where they were on the iPhone 4/4S. The volume buttons are little circles that are separated by about a centimeter. The "up" volume button doubles as a camera shutter button. The travel and feedback of these buttons is perfect, and their shape makes them easy to find without looking. The little flip switch to turn the ringer on and off is there, too, and works perfectly. The lock button is all by itself on the top of the iPhone 5. It also has excellent travel and feedback.

The headphone jack has been moved to the bottom of the iPhone. I have mixed feelings about this choice. I prefer the headphone jack to be on top, but I can understand the reasons behind the relocation. Apple altered the antenna design, and needed the space at the top of the phone for certain components. Apple also decided that putting the port on the bottom makes more sense for people who like to stick their phone in their pocket with the top pointed down.

Of course, one of the biggest changes on the iPhone 5 is that Apple has done away with the decade-old 30-pin connector in favor of the new Lightning connector. Apple has once again ignored industry standards and chosen its own design over that used by the rest of the wireless industry. Simply put, it's annoying. There's no good reason for Apple to choose this new proprietary port over micro-USB other than to rake in more money.

All that griping aside, the Lightning connector is much easier to use than the 30-pin connector was. The 30-pin had to be inserted a particular way, but the Lightning connector is reversible; you can stick the plug in any way you want and it won't hurt the iPhone. The cable itself has a slightly smaller profile, and is easier to wrap up and store because there's no longer a big, bulbous 30-pin connector at the end.

As with all iPhones, the iPhone 5's battery is inaccessible. You can't swap it out or pull it.

Last, the iPhone 5 uses a new nano SIM card. It's a brand new design, smaller even than the micro SIM card used in the iPhone 4/4S. You can not switch the nano SIM into another phone without the use of a third-party adapter (sold separately). Obviously, Apple doesn't expect that many iPhone users will ever pull their SIM card out. In order to eject the SIM card you need to use a small paperclip or similar tool.

There's no denying that the iPhone 5 is an outstanding piece of hardware. I haven't reviewed a single phone this year that comes even close in terms of quality and craftsmanship.



Forum Options

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Subject Author Date
"Everything about the iPhone 5 is leagues ahead of the competition" MarryTheNight Sep 23, 2012, 11:56 PM
Why compare Apple to Apples? Why not Apples to Galaxy S 3s? Blazeitup Sep 29, 2012, 3:54 PM
wow how much did apple pay you? ajac09 Sep 23, 2012, 7:58 PM
America the land of your choice. GeekBro Sep 26, 2012, 12:44 AM
I think it's fascinating that the initial response from most outlets was lukewarm, Captain Ahash Sep 24, 2012, 10:27 AM
hardware?? dadayk12 Sep 23, 2012, 7:56 PM
Review was overboard on the ubiquitous design Rusty Shackleford Sep 25, 2012, 12:49 AM
In terms of design?????????? Mark_S Sep 23, 2012, 9:59 PM
In reality DAntiVirus Sep 24, 2012, 12:04 PM
Everyone Magnagarde Sep 24, 2012, 2:37 PM
and remember, when posting something in PS against apple ... alpaca_camel Sep 24, 2012, 6:55 AM
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