Apple iPhone 5 first look

Another winning smart phone from Apple, based on our initial review

Last updated: October 2012

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.

The camera is a modest step up. The camera on the iPhone 5 performed better than that of the iPhone 4S, in a number of tests today by our camera experts.

Images, both still shots and video, shot in full light looked crisper and sharper. In addition, the larger display made shooting video a little easier on the new iPhone, especially since its display is in 16x9 aspect ratio—which avoids having to view black bars above and below the screen image.

The claimed improvements of the iPhone 5 in handling low-light shots were not apparent in our tests. In overall quality, both still and video images shot in low light on the iPhone 5 were of comparable quality to those shot on the iPhone 4S, though they did appear a little "cooler," with a bluish hue. The shutter delay for both iPhones seemed all but instantaneous.

We also tried out the new panorama feature to the camera, which allows you to take a 240-degree, wide-angle still image. It worked well, and comparably to similar features now found on Android phones. One quibble: The feature only works in portrait model, and there’s no alert when you shoot in landscape—which can mean some trial and error when you shoot your first panoramic shot.

Bottom line. By boosting screen size, thinning its profile, and adding 4G LTE access, among other features, his newest iPhone shows every sign of being the most compelling yet. And even its biggest drawback, its beta-like Maps app, is likely to improve over time.

The new phone is a worthy upgrade for owners of older iPhones who want a bigger screen and faster data access. Otherwise, iPhone owners might note that a number of the phone’s improvements, including the panoramic camera mode and the ability for the Siri voice assistant to control apps, are available by upgrading your iPhone 4S to the new iOS 6 software.

We will continue to test the iPhone 5, and to report back on the results through next week.

Our iPhone 5 coverage:

Our tests confirm that the Apple iPhone 5 smart phone has an excellent camera—despite the "purple haze" from lens flare, a common problem with many camera lenses. More

Sure, there are lots of images of melted bridges circulating online. And there are alternatives to Apple Maps. the navigation app that comes baked into Apple's new iPhone 5 and iOS 6 devices. But how well does it really fare in our navigation tests against Google Maps? More

Our tests show why the new Apple iPhone 5 from these service providers won't let you talk and surf the Web at the same time. More

Maps. the new navigation app for Apple iOS 6 devices such as the new iPhone 5, has been full of promise—and subject to much criticism online. Our GPS navigation team has put the application through a quick evaluation. More

A Consumer Reports shopper encountered an unexpected hurdle when shopping for an Apple iPhone 5: The local Sprint store told him that in order to buy the phone, he had to buy an accessories bundle along with it. More

Apple's fifth-generation phone promises to change the pros and cons of iPhone and Android smart phones—still the two major choices. Of course, just how fully it does so will become clearer once we start testing the phone. More

Apple needed to go big this time, and it did. The iPhone 5 represents the most radical revision yet to the biggest-selling smart phone: It has enough improvements and enhancements that even satisfied owners of the last-generation iPhone 4S will want to consider upgrading. More

We thought we'd ask our Facebook fans what they would most want to see on a new iPhone. Here are the results of our poll—in order of popularity, most popular first. More

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