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Apple iPhone 5 Smartphone Review

Apple's new iPhone 5 - the biggest thing to happen to iPhone since iPhone, but is it all that it's cracked up to be?
Published Tue, Oct 2 2012 10:26 AM CDT   |   Updated Fri, Sep 18 2020 10:50 PM CDT
Rating: 75%Manufacturer: Apple

Introduction and Specifications, Pricing and Availability

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VIEW GALLERY - 58 IMAGES

Apple's iPhone 5 needs no introduction. The iPhone 5 is pretty much the largest tech device released this year, seeping right into the mainstream, even being featured on local TV stations where they bring in 'tech experts' to talk about it. This is when you know you've made the big time.

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Apple have pushed the iPhone into areas that no other company have been able to do, from tweeners, to business meetings, and even retired folk. This is a testament to not only Apple's marketing prowess, but its easy-to-use mobile operating system, iOS. Back in 2007 when the original iPhone launched, the fanfare was at a minimum. I remember being personally excited, because at the time, the market was dull.

I still remember the day the original iPhone was released. I live in Australia and the first iPhone wasn't even released here, yet I did everything in my power to get one. A week or so after the US release, I had one in my hands - oh boy. It was the most glorious phone or tech-related object I had ever used. It looked amazing, the UI was incredible, and it was just... perfect. The effect the iPhone had on you was hypnotic - something that hasn't been matched (in my opinion) since - not even from Apple.

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Apple tripped over themselves releasing new features onto the phone, then the 3G came out and "changed everything, again". The same continued with the 3GS, and then the iPhone 4. It was only at the release of the iPhone 4 that Apple had some formidable competition in Samsung, and after the iPhone 4 we had the 4S, where Apple met even stronger competition.

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Samsung are pretty much the only one able to compete, not just in hardware, but in its position between consumers. Most people know what a "Galaxy" is, but won't necessarily know what a "One X" is from HTC. This gives Samsung incredible power against the iPhone, something that the South Korean company has worked very, very hard for.

The original iPhone was truly a breath of fresh air in a stale phone market. Since the original, we've seen five generations of iPhone's - the original iPhone, iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, the iPhone 4S and now, the iPhone 5. The iPhone 5 is the first time the Cupertino-based company has worked from the ground up on the iPhone whereas previous iPhones have received small updates to its processor, screen quality, connectivity, physical design, but never a full redesign.

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Apple's iPhone over the years has started to meet more and more competition, in the form of pretty much just Samsung, but there are other players fighting for your money. Google, HTC, ASUS, Microsoft, Nokia and others. Since the iPhone launched, Apple has slowly eaten into most of its competitor's share of the smartphone market, pretty much pushing everyone either against the wall, or over it. They've made other companies completely re-think how they make their smartphone look, act, and feel.

This is what any great tech company should do, and Apple should be applauded for making the other smartphone makers notice that people not only want to own a smartphone, they want a fashion symbol - enter, the iPhone 5.

Specifications, Pricing and Availability

The iPhone 5 comes in three sizes: 16GB, 32GB and 64GB, but offers no expandable storage. This is one area where it truly loses out to other manufacturers' devices that choose to include expandable storage by the way of microSD cards.

Pricing on the iPhone starts from $199 on a two-year contract for the 16GB model. Outright costs will set you back at least $699 or more, depending on what country you're based in.

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The iPhone 5 really drives home its specs - with Apple CEO Tim Cook personally talking about the iPhone 5 being twice as fast as its predecessor, the iPhone 4S. The iPhone 4S was no performance slouch, but as with any technology, there can always be improvements made. Apple really went back to the drawing board in order to make the iPhone 5 thinner, faster, and lighter.

The problem with the iPhone 5 is that specs aren't just listed on Apple's website. We know that there's an A6 processor inside, which is a dual-core processor clocked at around 1GHz (with some users in the UK reporting their iPhone 5 is running at 1.3GHz). 1GB of RAM is built in, and a faster GPU is included. It's not underspecced, but it's not overspecced.

The problem is, when the original iPhone came out, the mainstream customer would not care of the specs inside of the phone - think back to 2005 - 2007, which one of your friends would brag that their smartphone had a "dual-core processor" or a "Retina display". The iPhone kind of made specs mainstream as other companies had to push specs to beat them, thus, we now have a market of more aware consumers.

This is something I've noticed amongst friends, online, in magazines, newspapers, on TV, or just in public. People know about specs - and it makes me feel like less of a nerd or tech junkie.

The iPhone 5's screen size is the biggest change over the iPhone 4S, increasing from 3.5 inches to 4 inches. This was a big move from Apple, who once proclaimed that they could never change from 3.5 inches on the iPhone as it would create problems with the UI. But with increased competition from their competitors pushing screen sizes on smartphones right up to 5.5 inches, with the average on Android-based smartphones at over 4 inches, it was a move Apple needed to make.

Inside the iPhone 5 we find a custom-designed A6 processor from Apple, which is only a dual-core chip running at 1GHz. Pfft, right? Wrong. The iPhone 5's processor is a damn powerhouse considering it's only a dual-core clocked at 1GHz. Apple's custom-designed A6 processor is definitely something the company can be proud of, and it's a wonder why they didn't brag it up before the iPhone 5's launch. The competition are all tripping over themselves pushing quad-core processors into their devices, with the iPhone 5's main competitor, Samsung, with their Galaxy S III sporting a quad-core processor.

This is where fragmentation of the Android market loses out to Apple. You can buy a Galaxy S III that comes with a quad-core processor, but depending on your location and market, you might end up with a dual-core version. Many smartphone makers are now doing this and Apple are simply winning at this section of the game. When you buy an iPhone 5, it's an iPhone 5. If your friend or mom, or cat has an iPhone 5, it's just... an iPhone 5. There is no quad-core version, or non-Retina display model - they're mostly the same. The only changes are usually with the cellular side of things - CDMA or GSM models, but the internal hardware stays the same apart from internal storage. Bliss.

Availability-wise, you might find it hard for the next couple of weeks to land your hands on the latest and greatest from Apple, as stock is pretty much drying up all over the world. Putting the iPhone 5 on a contract might be the best bet, as carriers should have stock.

Packaging, Initial Impressions and Setup

Because we have a new device this time, I was able to snap some pictures of the box, and unopened goodies inside. As you can see from the picture below, the iPhone 5 box looks nice, with a picture of the iPhone 5 sitting on its side.

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The side of the box just displays "iPhone 5".

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And finally, the bottom of the box lists off some specifications and the usual details of the device.

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Opening the box, we find the usual manual, the little metal pin to open the SIM card slot with, the charger (depending on country this will be different), the new Lightning cable, and the new Ear Buds.

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A closer look at the new Lightning connector.

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A comparison of a microUSB and Lightning cable - the Lightning cable is magnificently thin.

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Once the phone is out of the box, turning it on will prompt you with the setup screen. You'll have to set your phone up from here, which I found to be quite a few more steps than I expected. You'll be walked through things like iCloud, so if you're coming from an older iPhone with iCloud, you'll feel right at home.

I will stop here to state something: I couldn't even get to this point without inserting a SIM card. I think this is completely ridiculous, coming from an Android phone - which I can turn on, enter in my Google account details (or not) and use the device right away as a Wi-Fi-only device. With the iPhone 5, you require a SIM to activate the device itself.

I didn't expect this, and had to find a local retailer that sold a pre-paid Nano SIM. Luckily, I found one, or else this review wouldn't be coming from me at all. This was the first of many times during my time with the iPhone 5 where I was less than impressed. Onto the unpackaging!

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You get to opt into Siri, which is a nice choice.

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Diagnostics and Usage can be automatically sent, or not.

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We're complete and ready to go, how exciting!

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Here's the first shot of the iPhone 5 in action.

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The iPhone 5 feels just like any other iPhone running iOS when you first look at it. The home screen is different as there's a fifth row of icons, but at the end of the day - you will not tell a difference.

Look and Feel

The look and feel of the iPhone 5 is the biggest change between the previous iPhone 4S and the new model - the bigger, 4-inch screen, the thinner, lighter feel, it really does make it "the best iPhone yet" - but that's all. It doesn't look, or feel like the best smartphone ever - just the best iPhone ever.

If you're a fan of the iPhone 4/4S - you'll feel right at home looking at the iPhone 5. The iPhone 5 doesn't look too different to the iPhone 4/4S apart from the bigger screen, which can now house an extra row of icons (I know, I know - you've probably just burst through your ceiling in excitement, but I'm sorry, we're not responsible for the damage done to your house due to the excitement of hearing that the iPhone 5 can support an extra row of icons - there, I've done it again, I apologize!).

The side of the iPhone sports the SIM slot. You need a new Nano SIM card.

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Looking at the bottom of the iPhone 5 we find Apple's new Lightning connector - which replaces the old dock connector - this is huge news. Yes, it's "all digital" now, but what about all of the consumers' various docks, accessories, chargers and everything else iPhone? Well, they're not pretty much useless - without a converter, that Apple will happily sell to you after you've just shelled out on a new two-year plan with your telco, or paid $600+ outright. There are also the speakers, mic and new headphone jack position.

The new dock connector is smaller, which is good, but better yet - the cable can be plugged in either way, which is great. You'll no longer be fooling around in the dark after a night out trying to plug your iPhone up to charge.

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This is definitely a benefit over the competition's microUSB connectors, which may be more universal, but can only go in one way. Apple's Lightning connector does have some benefits, after all. But with hundreds of millions of iOS-based device owners out there, is throwing away the old dock connector a bad move? What about all of those AV receivers with iPhone/iPod touch docks? This iPhone 5 won't sit on top, where it's meant to be anymore - it will sit next to the receiver, Lightning cable convertor in tow.

The new 4-inch screen is definitely gorgeous, so is the weight and size of the new iPhone 5, but I will split this bit into two opinions:

Coming from an iPhone 4S - Wow. The screen is 4 inches now, and you can fit an entire row of extra icons, which is great if you don't store your apps in folders such as "Games", "Social", "Media", etc. Not that most people would realize, but the iPhone 5 has a higher resolution screen, sitting pretty with 1136x640 - not quite HD resolution, but we're getting there. Its predecessor, the iPhone 4S, had a screen resolution of 960x640 on its 3.5-inch display - so the iPhone 5 is 176 pixels higher than its predecessor.

The screen quality itself is still "Retina", and hasn't changed - just the size (from 3.5- to 4-inch) and resolution. We're still looking at the same 326ppi (pixels per inch).

The weight of the iPhone 5 versus the 4S is instantly noticeable - it's a huge, huge difference. The iPhone 5 weighs 112g, while the iPhone 4S weighs in at 140g, meaning that Apple have cut away 28g of weight from the older iPhone 4S. This is felt instantly, right out of the box and is something that Apple have needed to do to keep the iPhone 5 on level playing field with the thinner Android-based devices out there.

The iPhone 5 keeps the same width as the iPhone 4S, so it shouldn't feel too different in your hands, apart from being taller. The iPhone 5's extra height is great for watching movies or playing games, as it's a proper 16:9 ratio, when rotated to widescreen.

The taller screen is just high enough that you aren't doing huge thumb exercises every time you want to tap an icon at the top of the screen, so the extra screen size is welcomed, and not pushed away. The problem is that with the bigger screen, app compatibility problems occur. If an application doesn't support the iPhone 5's 4-inch screen, you'll experience black bars at the top, and bottom of the app - not cool, Apple, not cool at all.

When an Android smartphone has a 4-inch, or 5.5-inch screen - the apps auto adjust and you just enjoy your phone. This is a huge, huge fault on Apple's part - and this is obviously one of the big reasons the late Steve Jobs had for not wanting to move to a bigger screen - fragmentation among apps. Black bars should be a thing of the past, but it feels like I'm having flashbacks to 4:3 being pushed onto me on a 16:9 screen.

It's not a showstopper, or a decision breaker - but it's something to consider. 99% of apps are going to have black bars until developers release an iPhone 5-compatible version of their app. Right now, there's only a handful, a very small handful.

Apple has baked in iOS 6 into the iPhone 5, but again, it doesn't really bring anything new to the table. Coming from an iPhone 4S there are only a few noteworthy benefits such as being able to FaceTime over Cellular networks, versus Wi-Fi-only on the 4S. Maps have ditched Google, in favor of Apple's own app, which has been lauded by many.

Overall, the iPhone 5 looks, feels and is a better phone than the iPhone 4S - how much better will depend on your personal use of the device. I definitely think it's "the best iPhone yet". Now let's talk about the iPhone 5 coming from the perspective of the Galaxy S III.

Coming from a Samsung Galaxy S III - From the perspective of a Galaxy S III user, the iPhone 5 really brings nothing new to the table. Yes, it has a bigger screen. Yes, it's thinner. Yes, it has more icon space on the screen. Yes, it has 4G LTE connectivity. But - so what? The Galaxy S III has been here for months now, and Apple are really just playing catch up now.

The iPhone 5 feels slightly lighter than the Galaxy S III, which is definitely a benefit to Apple. But I feel that the screen being taller is really no benefit at all, as it hasn't increased in width - so it can look, and feel weird coming from the bigger 4.8-inch screen on the S III.

The Galaxy S III screen definitely feels more like 'home' versus the 4 incher on the iPhone 5. The iPhone 5 feels like its sucked its gut in to not look fat and sport love handles, and has pushed it up toward its chest and head making it appear taller - or maybe I'm just not used to seeing a fifth row of icons (I did say I wouldn't surprise you again, so I'm sorry for that). The S III's screen just feels gorgeous for its bigger size.

The iPhone 5's Retina display does excel in pixels per inch, and when displaying text it does come out on top of Samsung's choice of using a PenTile-based display. Apple really are champions of the screen quality right now - but only in some areas. Screen quality now comes down to resolution, ppi (sharpness), color, size, and more.

Overall, if you're comparing the Galaxy S III to the iPhone 5, and coming from the perspective of an S III owner - you won't be that impressed. If Apple had chosen to really wow everything with iOS 6, pushing out something that felt different - we'd be having an entirely different conversation. The fact is, Galaxy S III owners can sleep well at night - they have nothing to fear.

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After a few days of using the iPhone 5, I found the height to definitely be easier on my hands and face (when pressed up against it on a call) compared to the iPhone 4S. But, putting a Galaxy S III next to it, the iPhone 5 suddenly feels anemic. I think Apple should've gone to a wider screen, but they have their reasons to stay at this width - and that's okay. Personally, I don't like it that much; I've been spoilt by other devices.

Features

Apple's iPhone 5 sports 4G LTE connectivity which is one of the biggest pluses it has going for it. The screen size we mentioned before, up to 4-inch from 3.5-inch on all previous iPhones, but 4G is a huge, huge deal.

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4G LTE brings us increased speeds to the Internet, meaning you can download e-mails, surf the web faster, and load up videos quicker than ever before. 4G LTE will always depend on where you're based as 4G LTE isn't blasted across entire countries just yet. The increased speed does come at a cost - battery life.

4G LTE on the new iPhone is a huge selling point, and with my testing here in South Australia, it is hands down impressive. I was able to achieve a truly mind-blowing downstream speed of 75Mbps and an equally impressive upstream speed of 41.16Mbps. This is nothing short of amazing, and truly shows why 4G LTE is something that you want in your new smartphone. But, do you really need 75Mbps on a phone for e-mail, Facebook and web surfing? That's up to you - for me, I love it.

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4G LTE use will zap through the battery, killing the iPhone 5 within 12 hours of use - not full, always-using-it use, but if you were downloading some apps here, grabbing a game and streaming videos for a few hours - you'll find yourself under 30-40% without an issue. This is something to consider when picking up the new iPhone 5.

The camera hasn't changed too much - but it does now have some new super powers. The iPhone 5's camera sports a hybrid IR filter, five-element sapphire crystal lens, and f/2.4 aperture. The stand out feature here is that the iPhone 5 camera now includes a dynamic low-light mode, which can snap photos in low lights much better than its predecessor. On top of this, the iPhone 5 can snap photos up to 40% faster than the iPhone 4S.

iPhone users have always been known to take lots of photos, especially with how social consumers are now - and this is always going to be a selling point. Apple didn't put in a better camera as they know higher megapixels won't automatically improve quality, but adding in a low-light mode will definitely impress people. You'll no longer be struggling to get that great-looking shot in a not-so-great lit area - well, so we thought. I have covered the issues with the iPhone 5's camera in the next page.

Multi-tasking on the iPhone 5 is just, slow, cumbersome, and well, if I could swear here, there'd be a four letter word starting with s, ending in t. Double click the home button, swipe between apps - why? This is so, basic. So, 2009. On my Galaxy S II, I can double click the home button, and swipe up and down on my apps to see what I've got open, and slide to close them. On the iPhone, and iOS, I have to hold down my finger on the app and wait for the little 'X' - this is a waste of time, and feels really long for a short process.

We covered the software side of things with our iOS 6 review - so not much is different with iOS 6 on the iPhone 5. iOS 6 doesn't really feel all that different to iOS 5, so if you were expecting the iPhone 5 with iOS 6 to be a huge leap in terms of functionality - you'll be disappointed.

One thing we couldn't cover on our iOS 6 review was the iPhone 5's look of the phone functionality - it has been updated, and looks really swish on the new iPhone 5 running iOS 6.

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Performance

Performance is something Apple have in the bag with the iPhone 5. Pure performance when you need it, switching between apps and opening apps up is a breeze, opening them virtually instantaneously.

Phone call quality is great on the iPhone 5, as you would expect from a flagship phone from the most valuable tech company on Earth. Speaker phone quality is actually impressive, too, something I didn't expect to be that good.

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The on-screen keyboard, after using SwiftKey 3 for so long on Android, is pathetic. I found myself having to really tap the screen with the absolute tip of my finger - and even then, it wouldn't register my input some of the time. The inability to throw on a third-party keyboard really kills iOS for me, as typing is one of the cornerstones of using a smartphone.

Why can't I put a third-party keyboard on it? Let me put SwiftKey on my iPhone, Apple. It's stupid that they think they have the best thing out - and won't let someone else try something better. Use our stuff - or nothing at all, this attitude needs to stop.

The stock web browser, Safari, after using Chrome for so long is really basic. There's a separate Google bar next to the address bar which takes up too much screen space for an already cramped screen. I find Chrome much easier, and better to use, even on the iPhone 5. Here's some shots of our website in both portrait, and landscape.

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Battery life was good, but not great - I expected better from Apple. I think this comes down to the bigger screen, and LTE. LTE is a battery life killer, and Apple would know this. I expect firmware updates to roll out over the coming months to address this, but I really expect more from Apple. I expected them to really push the bar up so high on the iPhone 5, especially because it's being built from the ground up, so that the competition has to work overtime to even begin to catch up - but, we didn't get that unfortunately.

I tested the iPhone 5 for just a couple of days, and I only charged it three times. Testing LTE really killed the battery life, but normal use seemed to be okay if I was connected to a Wi-Fi network.

The camera on the iPhone 5 is nothing short of incredible, picking up the smallest details. I took some amazing shots with the iPhone 5. I've included a few here, and I've taken a bunch more which will be at the gallery at the end of the review. Here are some of the stand outs.

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The iPhone 5's camera has a new Panoramic mode which is actually impressive - and I took some great panoramic shots with it, here's some photos.

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If you've heard, the iPhone 5's camera gives off a purple haze in photos with a light source in the photo on a specific angle - this came up during our testing and while it's not something that you wouldn't buy the phone for the fault, it is something worth noting. Apple Support have also said that this is normal, meaning it might not be fixed as they don't consider it a fault with the device.

You can see the purple haze in the pictures below:

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I did find a big issues with the iPhone 5's camera is its flash. I was at a friends' house over the weekend and we were playing a board game and decided to take a picture of the game we were playing. This is a shot, with the flash ON:

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Shocking. I have no idea how Apple could have this happen on the iPhone 5, so for as impressed I was with its very capable camera - this is a huge downside for the iPhone 5's camera.

Video quality is great on the iPhone 5, capturing video at 1920x1080. The quality is great, and there's some great motion quality when moving it around, too. I went to the park with my daughter and took some video of her going down the slippery slide - which she loved. I noticed that the video on my PC seems zoomed in, but didn't feel like that when shooting it. Still, it is great quality.

Final Thoughts

After a couple of days with the iPhone 5, I come away feeling mixed emotions. On one hand, it is a great phone - it's fast, the screen is gorgeous, it has an amazing camera and LTE is truly mind-blowing on the iPhone 5.

But, and there's a few I'll address here - it's not the phone to end all phones. I expected the iPhone 5 with all of its rumors, and teases, and a year from the iPhone 4S to really excel, but it does not. With increased competition explained in this review, I expected Apple to burst out of the gate with something they could truly call "revolutionary" and "magical", but those words should not be used near the iPhone 5.

Sure, it's the best iPhone yet - but the iPhone is no longer the only great phone on the market - those days are over for Apple. I feel that from now on in, we're going to see Apple really struggle impressing not just reviewers like myself, but consumers and the general market. They really had the market with the original iPhone, and the first couple of successors in the iPhone 3G and 3GS, the iPhone 4 cemented the company as the smartphone leader.

But, between the iPhone 4 release and now, we have some utterly strong competition in Samsung and its Galaxy range, and we have Nokia, HTC and LG releasing some amazing phones over the coming months. Android has come into its own, and Ice Cream Sandwich really offers so much more than what iOS can seem to even dream of right now.

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iOS 6 on the iPhone 5 feels great, for an iPhone lover. You really have to be stuck in Apple's world to enjoy the constant fences they put up for customers on its mobile OS. Coming from using ICS for nearly a year now, iOS feels so restrictive. Having to go back to the home screen, then Settings, Wi-Fi, and then enable and select a Wi-Fi network is just not simple - iOS should be simple. On Android a simple flick down of the notification bar, and tap Wi-Fi, done. That is simple, folks.

Apple really does have an amazing phone in the iPhone 5, but it just doesn't cut it. Not anymore. I've read so many glowing reviews from other sites, and I can't help but think they're biased. I know that's a biased thing of me to say, but the iPhone 5, after using an iPhone 4 or 4S can't be claimed as the best smartphone on the market. Sure, it's the best iPhone, but it's not hard to trump the iPhone 4S when you make the new iPhone 5 thinner, faster, and lighter. I know I'm going to come off as sounding pro-Google here, and I get enough of it from my friends all the time.

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As I stated in my introduction, I was positively obsessed with the original iPhone when it came out, I had it on release and loved it. I then owned the iPhone 3G for two years until I became bored with the "same ol', same ol'" that was quickly becoming iOS. This has transitioned into iOS 5, and now iOS 6 with the new iPhone 5. There's nothing that the iPhone 5 does that truly stands out and makes me say "BUY ONE NOW". There's no killer feature, no killer app, no killer anything with the iPhone 5. But, I really wanted to let the iPhone 5 impress me - I really did.

I came away thinking it is a great device, but it's too late. We won't see another iPhone this side of 12 months, and in that time we should see another huge release from Samsung, maybe more, we should see another Nexus-branded device, a next-generation OS from Google (Key Lime Pie), HTC and LG's numerous phones, as well as Windows Phone 8 right around the corner.

Apple are no longer the leaders of the smartphone industry. Sure, they dominate the stock market and sell the most devices, but we're already seeing the crumbling of its empire in my opinion. Cook has come out and apologized over the mess of Maps, Apple didn't get close to analysts' expectations of iPhone 5 sales in the first week, and people are finding it hard to even tell the difference between the iPhone 4, 4S and the iPhone 5.

What I would like to see in the new iPhone - new offerings. Maybe an iPhone with a bigger screen, with the same timed release of a new 4-inch iPhone. We could see an iPhone 5S, slightly better specs than the iPhone 5, and an iPhone 6 sporting a 4.5-inch (or so) screen, with some better options included.

I'd like to see iOS completely revamped, iOS' UI is old and really feels dated. It needs to be updated, big time. iOS is the biggest problem with the iPhone 5, and it needs to be addressed before Android starts making huge gains on the market. In short, Apple has a lot of work they need to do - they aren't in a market where they're a dominant player anymore.

Should you get an iPhone 5? That's simple - do you have a lot invested in iTunes and enjoy the iPhone 4/4S and the iPad? Yes - get one. If you want to be impressed even more, and enjoy a much more open, much more personal experience - go Android, and specifically, the Galaxy S III would be my recommendation.

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Anthony is a long time PC enthusiast with a passion of hate for games built around consoles. FPS gaming since the pre-Quake days, where you were insulted if you used a mouse to aim, he has been addicted to gaming and hardware ever since. Working in IT retail for 10 years gave him great experience with custom-built PCs. His addiction to GPU tech is unwavering.

We openly invite the companies who provide us with review samples / who are mentioned or discussed to express their opinion. If any company representative wishes to respond, we will publish the response here. Please contact us if you wish to respond.

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