iPhone 5 Review: Incremental Changes, Not Worth the Upgrade

I got myself an iPhone 5 on November 3, 2012, one day after it was launched in India. Since it requires a Nano SIM, I got one from Airtel for Rs. 100. After a couple of weeks of using it, my opinion is that it’s a good phone for those buying their first iPhone, but not worth upgrading to if you already have an iPhone 4 or 4S. The improvements are just incremental and nothing revolutionary.

Apple iPhone 5

I am not going into the specifications of the iPhone 5. You can read about it here. I will cover only what’s new and noteworthy.

Notable improvements

1. Thinner and lighter – Thanks to its lighter aluminium casing and new thinner touch screen with integrated touch sensors, the iPhone 5 is a good 2 mm thinner and 30 grams lighter than the iPhone 4S. In your hand, it feels almost weightless. In your pockets, it feels like it’s not even there!

2. New Ear Pods – These are truly revolutionary. You get the same kind of fulsome sound quality that you do when you press earphones deeper into your ear, but with the added benefit of not blocking outside sounds completely when there’s no audio playing. So simple in hindsight, yet no one ever thought of it before!

3. Bigger 4″ screen – Apple has increased the length of the screen while retaining the same width, with the result that the iPhone 5’s screen has a 16:9 aspect ratio as compared to the 4:3 aspect ratio that earlier 3.5″ screen versions had. This means that most existing apps are letterboxed on the iPhone 5 (i.e. run with a black band above and below the app panel) pending an update of the app. You can see it in the next image below.

4. New Lightning connector – The old 30-pin connector has been replaced with a new 8-pin Lightning connector that’s roughly the same size as a micro USB connector. However, it can do more functions than a micro USB thanks to the extra pins (micro USB has only 5 pins), which is probably why Apple chose to go with it instead.

5. Superfast Wi-Fi and 3G – Although I could not try out 4G as the iPhone 5 doesn’t support Indian 4G frequencies, the 3G data speeds are pretty good (by our standards). Even Wi-Fi works faster than in my friend’s iPhone 4S.

Airtel 3G download speed

What’s disappointing

1. Lack of “killer” features – The world isn’t what it was when the iPhone 4S was launched last year. A lot has changed since then. Samsung’s Galaxy range of smartphones and tablets has been a roaring success, and Nokia seems to be getting it right with its Lumia range of phones.

Specifically, the Samsung Galaxy S-III and Nokia Lumia 920 both support Near Field Communication (NFC) and wireless charging. Both also sport larger screens than the iPhone 5. Additionally, the Lumia 920 packs in Nokia’s proven PureView camera technology and Nokia Maps, while the Android 4.1-based Galaxy S-III comes with an enhanced camera interface and Google Maps. By contrast, the iPhone 5 offers nothing dramatic that can compel old iPhone users to upgrade or others to switch.

2. Same basic design as the iPhone 4/4S – From a distance, you can’t really tell the difference between the 4/4S and the iPhone 5. They look pretty similar. From closer up, the iPhone 4/4S actually looks better than the iPhone 5, at least in the black variant, thanks to its silver grey edges and silver graphics on the back panel. By contrast, the iPhone 5 looks like a uniform black monolith, like the ones in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

3. Average camera – The supposedly “new and improved” iSight camera is the biggest disappointment in the iPhone 5. It is not significantly better than the iPhone 4S camera. Although it adds HDR support and claims to have better low-light performance, that doesn’t translate into markedly better pictures. Even the clarity of photos is not up to the mark, thanks to a poor auto-focus algorithm that doesn’t automatically choose the right point of interest. Additionally, even a slight movement of the target results in a blur in some portions of the photo, which is visible on zooming in.

But most surprisingly, there is no widescreen photo shoot mode like in the Nokia N8, although the iPhone 5 has a 16:9 screen. Nor can you play around with parameters like aperture, white balance, ISO, etc. Personally, I like having more control over the camera functions, like in the Nokia N8 or PureView cameras.

On the other hand, the Panorama feature is indeed very good, far better than what the competition offers. It does an excellent job of stitching together a panoramic image with great tolerance for human error, and in true iOS style offers a simplified interface to go with it.

The iPhone 5 camera is basically good for those who want a point and shoot camera that gives decent results. It won’t do for those who want manual control over the camera functions.

4. Screen is still not scratch proof – My earlier phone, the Nokia N8, had a genuinely scratch-proof screen thanks to its Gorilla Glass touch screen. It remains scratch-free even after 18 months of use. However, the iPhone 5 has sustained a few scratches within the first few weeks itself. This is disappointing.

5. No FM radio – Surprising and strange that Apple continues to not provide FM radio in its iPhones, something that even entry level phones offer. Even newer iPods have FM radio support, so its absence from iPhones is rather inexplicable.

6. Battery drains fast when 3G enabled – A lot has been spoken about the improved battery life of the iPhone 5. For me, however, the battery drains quite fast when 3G is turned on (because apps keep downloading data even when minimized). An hour of usage can reduce the battery level by 20%. This even with screen brightness levels kept very low.

What’s disappointing in iOS 6

1. Disappointing map application – The new Apple Maps that come with iOS 6 are quite disappointing overall. Although the map app by itself is quite remarkable and refreshing in its design approach, and more intuitive and user-friendly than competing mapping services from Google and Nokia, what lets it down is the quality and depth of content of the maps themselves. The maps are sparsely populated, with only major landmarks and roads covered in India. Points of information (POI) are pretty much absent. Navigation between places is often not possible due to the limited nature of the address database. Another big disappointment is the absence of offline navigation.

On the positive side, the design of the app makes it very easy to use and configure. You can also easily switch between 2D and 3D modes, and Standard, Satellite and Hybrid views. The 3D mapping feature is simply stunning, and is the USP of the app. While it looks similar to Google’s 3D maps in the Standard mode, it leaps ahead in the Hybrid mode by significantly more detailed 3D renders compared to Google Maps (see image below).

Apple 3D maps

2. No toggle buttons for Wi-Fi/Bluetooth/Cellular Data – You still have to navigate to Settings to enable or disable Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or Cellular Data (2.5G/3G/4G) functions, even in iOS 6. This is extremely frustrating and I really wish Apple would build this functionality into the Notification Bar itself or provide widgets for it, as others have done.

3. No Bluetooth file transfer – Another surprising decision by Apple is to not support Bluetooth file transfer. I don’t see the rationale for this at all, especially when the hardware supports it!

4. No support for widgets – Pretty much every mobile OS today, be it Android, Windows Phone or Nokia’s Symbian Belle, supports dynamic widgets. But for some strange reason, Apple has preferred to retain the same basic nature of iOS as it was when it first launched. Which means no support for widgets, simple or resizable.

All in all, I’d say the iPhone 5 is not worth upgrading if you already have an iPhone 4 or 4S. Also, the lack of a killer feature means Apple has not much other than the brand value of the iPhone to bank on. If Apple wants to continue attracting customers, it will have to do much more than just offering incremental improvements.



  1. vickyvicky04-12-2013

    I like this phone very much and hope it would satisfy all our requirements. But the cost is too too high but not worthy.

  2. ericaerica02-20-2013

    at one point i still prefer the 4s than the 5… Other than the difference in the size i didnt find anything that made me crave for the i5…Anyway good post

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