REVIEW: There's a nerdy joke that goes, "How do you know if someone has an iPhone? Don't worry, they'll tell you."
It's kind of true. iPhone users don't tell you they have a smartphone, they tell you they have an iPhone. Apple has fostered such hype around its products over the years that the word 'iPhone' has, for mainstream consumers, essentially become synonymous with 'smartphone' in the same way that your grandma used to refer to every game console as a 'Game Boy'.
There's no denying that the iPhone 5 is slick, fashionable, and well-designed. It's thinner and lighter than the iPhone 4S, and a little bit taller, too, to accommodate a larger 4-inch screen. The back of the device is made of anodised aluminium - the same kind used in Apple's Macbook laptops - with glass at the top and bottom. The front is made almost entirely of glass, the same way the 4 and 4S were, which means it's probably prone to shattering when dropped. From the front of the device, however, you could almost mistake it for the 4 or 4S, if it weren't just that little bit taller the the older generation of devices.
Some customers have complained that their iPhones had scuff marks straight out of the box - there were none on our review unit. The aluminium on the back and the antenna around the sides of the device also didn't scuff easily, as far as we could tell. The build of the phone seems sturdy, so we're not worried about buttons breaking over time, or serious damage from anything other than dropping.
One frustrating part ot the build is the fact that it only includes a nano SIM slot, so if you decide to switch phones, you currently have the choice of getting another iPhone, or doing a total SIM swap. I understand why it only takes a nano SIM - it helps them fit better components into the phone - but it's still a bit of extra hassle.
The consensus seems to be that bigger is better when it comes to smartphone screens - or that consumers should at least get a choice. Android manufacturers have long been ahead of the game in this arena. Take Apple's rival, Samsung: it has produced smartphone screens in just about every conceivable size, right up to the massive 5.3-inch display on the Galaxy Note.
It's no surprise that Apple has opted to increase the screen size to 4 inches from the previous 3.5, although how they've chosen to do that is interesting. Rather than change the width and height of the phone, it's just lengthened the device and kept the width the same. Whether consumers like that or not is going to be up to their own preferences, but personally I found it a little strange. However, it does allow for an extra row of icons on your home screen, it that excites you - I filled mine up with various social networking apps.
The screen itself is lovely to look at - Apple's Retina display for iPhone really is second-to-none. There's no pixelation, text is smooth regardless of how much you pinch-zoom, and colours are bright and accurate.
The iPhone hasn't been the most powerful smartphone on the market for a long time now, but that doesn't mean it's not fast. Apple has opted not to follow the high-end smartphone trend of including a quad-core processor, probably because of the expense and the fact that it's difficult to do without dramatically shortening battery life. Instead, the company has included a 1.2GHz dual-core processor, called the Apple A6, and triple-core graphics.
That doesn't mean the iPhone's not fast - despite its processor, which is in theory slower than that of the Galaxy S III or the HTC One X, it's snappy and responsive. The only app that performed slowly on the iPhone 5 was the much-maligned Apple Maps, but I'll get to that shortly.
The iPhone 5 is the best iPhone yet for running games - even with a complex graphics benchmark running, the frame rate never dropped below 36 frames per second, and ran on average at about 45.
iOS 6 SAYS 'GOODBYE GOOGLE'
With the release of iOS 6, Apple's most up-to-date mobile operating system, Apple has said sayonara to two of Google's most popular apps with the iPhone 5 - both YouTube and Google Maps have been given the boot and are no longer installed on the phone by default. No surprises there, since Google and Apple aren't exactly bunk buddies.
The lack of a pre-installed YouTube app isn't a big problem. The previous app was created by Apple, but Google has now released its own version of the free app on Apple's app store, which is actually an improvement on the last one.
And iOS users running iOS 6 has better hope Google does the same for Google Maps - Apple's replacement Maps app is pretty atrocious. This has been well-documented, and Apple chief executive Tim Cook has even apologised for the mess, but you have to see it for yourself to believe how bad it is. Despite detecting my location, searching for landmarks nearby me frequently resulted in Apple Maps marking an entirely different location on the map. There's also no allowance for typos - if you type 'Auxkland' instead of 'Auckland', you get "No results found". If it were Google Maps, you'd get "Did you mean 'Auckland'?"
Fortunately, the problem here is easily resolved by just visiting maps.google.co.nz in your phone's browser. And Apple Maps actually looks like a pretty cool idea, particularly in the top-down 3D view, which allows you to look down on your town from above. Still, Apple should not have rolled out its proprietary Maps application as it currently is.
The iPhone 5's camera still has an 8MP sensor, just like the iPhone 4S, but it has improved low-light performance and the lens cover is more resistant to scratches.
The real changes here are the new features - the ability to take panoramas. Of course, there's an app for panoramas already, but it's built in now! And rest assured, it works.
This is going to sound mighty strange, but the new feature of the iPhone 5 that impressed me the most was the earbud headphones that came in the box. I struggle with earbuds - they inevitably hurt after more than five mintues of use - but the buds are shaped more like a wine glass than a circle, which means they fit more comfortably in my ears than regular earbuds do. They also direct the sound straight into your ear canal, which means you don't have to have the volume turned up high to hear music clearly and loudly. The earbuds are expensive to replace, however, at $49 a pop.
The new digital power connector, however, is not as fantastic. Sure, you can turn it either way and it'll still plug in, saving you precious seconds out of your day, but the fact that it's not compatible with your old Apple products is a bit of a problem. It used to be that if your iPhone went flat you could simply wander around the office for five minutes and look sad and a colleagues would pony up their iPad charger. Not anymore. Instead, you'll really have to keep your charger on you at all times.
That said, the battery life on the iPhone 5 is fairly good, Even with relatively heavy Wi-Fi and GPS use, we got a couple of days of charge out of it. It has a slightly smaller-than-average battery for a smartphone, at 1440mAh, but still manages to hold power well enough.
The iPhone 5 is the most flawed iPhone in several generations. It seems Apple is in a period of transition as they try to separate the iPhone further from the rest of the smartphone pack. Unfortunately, doing so is causing inconvenience for consumers. It's also not the radical redesign that many Apple fans were hoping for.
That said, in terms of hardware the iPhone 5 is still the best iPhone released yet. It's faster, the screen is bigger and brighter, and virtually all the components have had an upgrade. If you want an iPhone, you want an iPhone 5. If you already have an iPhone 4S, there's no need to upgrade unless you're very desperate for a little extra screen space. And if you don't like previous iPhones, well, you're probably not going to like this one, either.
AT A GLANCE
1.2GHz dual-core A6 processor
Upsized 4-inch screen
The dreaded iOS 6 and Apple Maps
Not worth an upgrade for 4S users
RRP incl GST: $1,049 (16GB), $1,199 (32GB), $1,349 (64GB)