The clean glass and massive logo are unmistakable, clean white against brushed steel, thin white cables and smiling staff. A crowd is gathered around a single table, impatiently waiting for their chance to touch the new Iphone. I sit patiently, watching, waiting, until the initial crowd subsides, someone moves away, I seize my chance and walk over to the device only for some impatient hipster to appear out of nowhere and seize the precious hardware as if it was the only thing he ever wanted. Fine, unlike many here, I am patient, I’m NOT here to admire Apples latest hardware, I’m here to review it.
I have never liked apple, always choosing a pc over a mac, or an android over an iPhone, but I will not let personal bias get in the way of this one. At first sight, in comparison to the previous Iphone (the 4s), you would be forgiven for wondering if the change is worth the price jump (80 more of your hard-earned pounds for the 16gb base model, totalling a pretty wallet-thinning £529). The glass back of the 4s is gone, replaced by stainless steel with a matte black finish. The silver band that lined the exterior edges of the 4s has received a similar new look and apart from the change in size and several very small, technical changes (position of the front facing camera, the new docking connector) it remains the monolithic clean, shiny device, the template look that we have come to know of apple, and to be honest, the look has worn off on me. You can only create so many similar looking devices before trying something brash and different to refresh your customers interest, but apple knows what it wants to make, and makes it undeniably well. The device feels sturdy but light in your hands, 12 grams lighter than its predecessor, which isn’t a huge change, but certainly a step in the right direction. The front of the device almost exactly mirrors the 4s, a single circular “home” button . The idea of a single home button is very popular and almost unanimous in the sea of touch-screen phones, it’s a nice idea, plain and simple to use. I thumb the button and the usual “unlock” screen appears, with a new addition, a camera slider that puts the device straight into camera mode (saving a precious half a second, if you really need it). I unlock and look at the “new” app page, which, surprise surprise, is almost a mirrored version of the old one. The reason I quote “new” is because this new app drawer is one of the only fresh features that might actually be useful. It allows for a 5th row of icons to be added to the homescreen, allowing 22 icons per screen compared to the previous model’s 18. In comparison to a fully customisable homescreen you see on the android mobile operating system, with widgets to display data and interact with an app without opening it, it is bland and lacking in interactivity, push the button, go to the app, simple. I am still sat here with the phone in my hands, having just unlocked it, and I am already wondering what to do with it. The list of new features is so appallingly short that I simply don’t know what to try. Ah, the new higher resolution camera perhaps? No, it’s the same camera, lifted directly from the 4s. Maybe Siri, the Iphone’s virtual voice guided assistant, can help me out, I bring her up by holding the home button and ask “What are the new iPhone 5 features?”, it spends 3 odd seconds thinking about it, then replies “I can take you to the apple website”, and gives a link to apples homepage, not even the Iphone 5 page, extremely unimpressive. I decide to really put it through the works: “Siri, if my car has 10 gallons of fuel and does 15 miles to the gallon, how far can it go?”…It takes a good 6 seconds for Siri to think about this one, “Sorry, I can’t help you.” I spend the next minute trying to simplify the question for Siri, and not even once could it suggest even a remotely useful answer, many times just not understanding at all. Lets try some basic hardware commands: “Siri, turn off Wi-Fi”, “Sorry, I can’t do that.” I’m starting to frown at this point, it might be harsh to ask it a basic mathematic question, but asking a basic hardware state change is like asking a fish to swim, easy. A small change: “siri, turn off Bluetooth”, the same answer, she is testing my patience.
Getting down to the dirty hardware details, the nerdy stuff, the new iPhone has a new processor, the A6, which if you aren’t a nerd, is like a bigger engine in a car, you expect it to be faster, and it is, but only marginally, and certainly not £80 faster. The new screen is 4inches in size, the apple-created “retina display”, with a 1136×640 resolution, inferior to its Korean competitor, the Samsung Galaxy s3, which boasts a 1280×720 “super Amoled” screen, regardless, the iPhone 5’s screen is beautiful under the thin layer of glass, very sharp and clear, not too dark, which might affect battery life. Speaking of battery life, lets see the numbers; a built-in rechargeable lithium-ion battery promises to deliver 225 hours on standby (as in, when it is sitting in your pocket waiting for a call), 8 hours talk time on a 3g network, relatively similar figures to the Galaxy s3, impressive, but still nothing against the phones of yesteryear, like the nokia n70 in my pocket which never seems to run out of juice. Apple was very proud of its new connector, the first iPhone not to use the previous 30-pin connector, switching to an 8-pin variant. The new one boasts slightly higher charge speeds and data transfer rate in a smaller package. This got me thinking about a law recently passed that insists all modern day smartphones have to use the Universal Micro usb connector, and how apple has managed to avoid complying with the change. The reason for this new legislation was so that companies couldn’t charge high prices for their chargers, and there is no doubt that apple is bankrolling its individual chargers with a hefty £25 price tag, compared to the micro-usb charger, the cheapest of which I could find online was £2, and if you did some shopping in a dodgy phone accessories market stall, you could probably grab one for half that. Apple provided no real excuse for this new charger. I tap on the shoulder of the nearest apple store worker, A petite blonde girl with a smile from ear to ear, uniform complete with blue t-shirt, apple shop ID badge and an ipad cradled in her arms. She is quick and eager to respond “how can I help you?”. I ask (with careful phrasing) why apple still does not abide with European law and use the micro-usb connector. Her smile disappeared faster than if I had insulted Steve Jobs himself. She replies in a slightly less joyous tone: “ there is an adapter available so you can connect micro USB to the new 8pin charger”. The price of this new accessory? 8 more pounds to add to the final shopping list, although that would still be cheaper alongside a micro USB cable than if you bought the new iPhone charger.
I had been here for a good few hours now, grateful for the stools provided for customers, although I feel I may have out-stayed my welcome with that last question. I grab a few photos of the device in action and make a quick exit. I walk past 50-odd people all standing in line to collect their pre-orders, and can’t help but pity them, they won’t be getting their monies worth, in my opinion.
– James Allen