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Review: Apple's iPhone 5 running iOS 6

Other iPhone 5 hardware features: Camera

iPhone 5 improves upon what was an already a leading smartphone camera, resulting in what Apple calls "better low-light performance, and improved noise reduction." The Verge called it "absolutely stunning"

In most cases, low light pictures in tests against an iPhone 4S resulted in iPhone 5 capturing more detailed and pleasing shots overall, but often with more noise. That's because the new camera software captures lower resolution shots that effectively combine pixels when it decides there's not enough light to take a standard shot.

iPhone 5

iPhone 4S

A knowledgeable photographer would probably rather control such automatic processing themselves. On iOS, the built in Camera app only gives you one basic control: one button to push. For most users however, having the phone decide how to best use the light available is a welcomed advance that simply enables them to take better pictures more often than not. If you want to try new things, there's always specialty camera apps from third parties.

iPhone 5

iPhone 5 does seem to take much better pictures when it has enough light, and also seems to make much better use of its LED flash. In particular, it seems to be able to focus shots better when relying on the flash to illuminate the shot.

On the front, iPhone 5 gets a much better 720p, 1.2MP FaceTime HD camera, while the rear camera improves 1080p video recording and allows you to take photos while capturing video. There is also a new Panorama feature in iOS 6 that is enhanced on iPhone 5 in that the larger screen enables you to see more of what's being captured.

Other iPhone 5 hardware features: Audio, Video, AirPlay and battery

Apple ships iPhone 5 with its new EarPod speakers, an enhanced design of its standard earbuds that seem to fit with less ear fatigue. They also appear to produce a similar top volume level, but can be turned down in lower increments, allowing you to listen to very quite music in a silent environment. The overall sound is very good for a low cost earbud, and enhanced over the ones it previously shipped with. The headphones also ship in a simple container that can be used to prevent a knotted up mess.

iPhone 5

Now that the Lightning port is taking up much less room, Apple has moved the earphone jack to the bottom of the phone. The main speakers are still there, and external volume, such as when playing back music, is improved over iPhone 4S, which sounds tinny and noisier in comparison. Apple says it has improved call quality through advanced noise cancelation, but in limited testing it seems that iPhone 5 sounds pretty similar to previous iPhones.

Also new on iPhone 5 is support for an improved voice codec for better sounding calls, but this requires carrier support, and no U.S. carriers are currently signed on to deliver this. iPhone 5 also incorporates a third mic on the rear of the phone, and Apple says it and the front mic "work together to achieve beamforming — a technique that helps iPhone focus on sound from the desired location for clearer audio."

iPhone 5 plays back 1080p video stored as H.264 using High Profile level 4.1 up to 30 frames per second. It supports 1080p video output and display mirroring via either the VGA or HDMI dock connector adapter cables. Using wireless AirPlay, iPhone 4 supports 720p mirroring, or up to 1080p video playback when working with the third generation Apple TV.

Battery life for media playback and talk time appears essentially unchanged, although Apple says browsing over 3G/LTE data or WiFi each lasts an extra hour longer than iPhone 4S (up to 8 and 10 hours, respectively). Standby time is also enhanced, so it can now hang out for 225 hours when not in active use. The phone also supports Bluetooth 4.0, which promises to deliver low energy peripherals that can work from minimal batteries, expanding the potential for wirelessly connected devices.

On page 6 of 6: Software features in iOS 6