Update: Check out our full review of the iPhone 5.
The iPhone 5 fulfills its promise as a notable improvement over its fine predecessor, the iPhone 4S, and belongs in the first rank of smart phones. That’s in spite of a mapping app that’s disappointing, at least so far.
That’s our take on Apple’s new phone after using it for a day in our labs and in the field. Our tests continue, but here’s what we can report to date, mostly in relation to the previous iPhone 4S, which we upgraded to the new iOS6 software that’s also used on the iPhone 5.)
It looks and feels different. As the first of Apple’s phones to enlarge the squarish, 3.5-inch screen of previous generations, the iPhone 5's screen is longer that that on past iPhones, and the extra depth of its (16:9) screen allows you, for example, to see an additional row of app icons. But the screen is comparable in width, making the overall visual impact modest, in our lead smart-phone reporter Mike Gikas's experience.
Similarly, the impact of the new phone's thinner profile isn't terribly noticeable compared with the iPhone 4S. What is dramatic is the new phone’s weight; it’s 3.95 ounces, almost an ounce less than the iPhone 4S's 4.9 ounces, and feels every bit lighter.
The display is equally fine. The iPhone 5 retains the Retina display technology employed on the 4S, and the screen looked every bit as crisp and bright to Mike Gikas.
It also appeared to live up to Apple’s claims of improved glare resistance, Mike says. On the 4S and earlier iPhones, the capacitive screen was protected by a sheet of glass. On the iPhone 5, the screen and glass are combined into one unit, which Apple said helped it keep it slim and to reduce glare.
The iPhone 5's display did appear to have an advantage in glare when in bright sunlight, though it was not a marked one; Mike needed to look closely to see it. The iPhone 5's screen also felt a tad more responsive as he pecked at both phones during his trials.
It’s much faster to load content, as expected. The addition of 4G LTE capability to this iPhone 5, along with its upgraded processor, paid off in spades during Mike’s informal tests today on Verizon versions of the iPhone 4S and 5.
With the signal gauges indicating strong signal strengths for 3G and 4G, Web pages often downloaded several, long seconds faster on the iPhone 5.
Apple Maps falls short of expectations. Trading the Google Maps app of past iPhones, which doesn’t offer turn-by-turn navigation, for Apple Maps, which does, was a potential plus to iPhone 5—one available to other iPhones, too, once they’re upgraded to iOS 6, Apple’s new mobile operating system.
Unfortunately, as Consumer Reports' Cars deputy editor Jeff Bartlett has reported, that potential remains unfulfilled. While our Cars experts who regularly review portable navigation devices and apps praised Apple Maps’ simple interface, they report that it lacks some functionality and suffers from gaps in the maps data itself.