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Review: Apple's iPhone 5 running iOS 6

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iPhone 5 adds a larger screen to a much lighter, thinner case, boasts dramatically faster 4G LTE mobile service, improves its cameras and is much faster in both graphics and core performance.

Last year, AppleInsider described Apple's iPhone 4S as a "refreshed iPhone 4" with three major features: a much faster processor, a new Siri voice assistant, and iOS 5 (which was not unique to the iPhone 4S). This year, iPhone 5 has leaped ahead in a wide variety of important respects, but its iOS 6 software is again available, for free, to upgrade the functionality of the iPhone 3GS, 4, 4S and newer models of the iPod touch and iPad.

If you're tempted to hang on to your existing smartphone, consider the benefits of upgrading to iPhone 5 (below in black, shown next to iPhone 4S). Because this year, Apple didn't just give the iPhone a minor refresh upgrade with a primary cool new feature. It's a dramatically better phone in nearly every respect.

What's new in iPhone 5 hardware

So much is new in iPhone 5 that It may be easier to list the things that haven't changed. It's still 2.31 inches wide, and it's still the same price in the same three 16/32/64MB capacities. The physical buttons are the same, and it still has the same talk time and audio/video payback battery life ratings. Almost everything else has been updated, in many cases significantly.

iPhone 5

It's more than twice as fast, particularly in graphics. It has a larger 4-inch tall screen with a 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio. It's much lighter and thinner. It supports LTE in the limited areas that have launched it internationally, as well as the more widespread DC-HSPA that's similarly speedy for areas that lack LTE. It has better cameras, better WiFi and better battery life when browsing data, despite introducing LTE and dual band WiFi and using the faster A6 application processor.

iPhone 5 feature comparison
Late 2010 iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S feature comparison

Apple's iPhone 5 updates virtually everything. However, it does so with a steady hand, cautious against changing the formula that has turned Apple from a freshman phone vendor in 2007 to the established global leader that everyone else in the mobile business is aiming to catch, just five years later.

Addressing the weak spots

Every generation of new iPhone (and its iOS) has appeared to be aimed at erasing the top three (and only the top three) complaints of the previous model, changes which have also happened to be the top three advantages held by competing products.

The second-generation iPhone 3G added 3G mobile service, GPS and lowered the price dramatically to match other smartphones, while iOS 2.0 added third party apps, enterprise features and push messaging, making the iPhone competitive with Palm OS, Symbian, BlackBerry and Windows Mobile.

The third-generation iPhone 3GS added more speed, RAM and a better camera capable of video, while iOS 3.0 added a sophisticated text selection method for copy/paste, MMS and tethering, Find My Phone and expanded Bluetooth support, again matching the top unique features that other mobile platforms and their devices held over the iPhone.

The fourth-generation iPhone 4 provided a much improved Retina Display, a faster processor, and a much better set of cameras with flash, while iOS 4.0 added Multtasking, FaceTime and Spotlight search, again bringing Apple's smartphone into parity with the formerly unique features of webOS and Android competitors.

Last year, Apple decided that the three weakest spots of iPhone 4 were its overall speed, camera and Voice Command. Apple subsequently released iPhone 4S with the same multicore A5 processor as iPad 2, a significantly better camera, and an entirely new voice interface in Siri, complete with dictation.

In software, Apple identified iOS 4's weakest spots as being its MobileMe cloud services, its forced attachment to iTunes and its modal notifications system, and fixed all three as the primary new features in iOS 5.

The primary deficiencies in iPhone 4S, compared to its nearest competitors, would have to be speed, display size and support for 4G LTE networks. In software, the weakest links in iOS 5 seemed to be social connectivity, maps/navigation, and electronic purchasing features. Here's what Apple has done to address these in iPhone 5 and its iOS 6.

On page 2 of 6: 5 is for 5exy

5 is for 5exy

The first change was to modernize and enhance the now two year old iPhone 4 design, giving it an expanded display without ruining its signature look, pocketable portability and one handed usability. Along with a larger screen, the new case design of iPhone 5 (below in black, under the shorter iPhone 4S) shaves of substantial heft in its thickness and weight while also packing advanced mobile capabilities and a much faster processor.

iPhone 5

When Apple released iPhone 4 in 2010, Steve Jobs mused, "you gotta see this in person. It is one of the most beautiful designs you've ever seen. This is beyond a doubt, the most precise thing and one of the most beautiful we've ever made. Glass on the front and rear, and steel running around. And the precision that this is made, it's beyond any consumer product we've ever seen. It's closest kin is like a beautiful old Leica camera. It's unheard of in consumer products today. Just gorgeous. And it's really thin."

iPhone 4 raised the bar for sharp looking smartphones, particularly given that the model it replaced was plastic and simple. iPhone 4 was precision and new, and established itself as the thinnest smartphone on the market (below, next to the now thinner iPhone 5). Over the last two years however, rivals have introduced even thinner phones, and at the same time, have worked to find other differentiating features.

iPhone 5

In particular, this has focused on 4G LTE data service. However, the first generation of chipsets to support LTE took up lots of space and ate up lots of battery. This shifted smartphones from their former direction of getting smaller (like the 2009 Palm Pixi) to, necessarily, increasingly larger designs that packed bigger and bigger displays in front of their bigger chipsets and bigger batteries.

While Apple had optioned a veritable lock on the global supply of affordable, high quality 9 inch panels for iPad, display makers had an abundance of screens too large for phones and small for iPads. So they started making larger phones and smaller tablets to see if they'd sell. These large screen phones and extra large "phablet" hybrid devices get a lot of attention in the press, but according to Google's own metrics, they aren't actually that popular.

Only 6.5 percent of active Android users have "large" screens (4 inches or larger). The majority have what Google classifies as "normal" sized screens, in "high" or "extra high" pixel density. That indicates, as AppleInsider first observed in last year's review, "The market for big screen phones is not really that significant, and that the devices people pick from the various Android offerings are very close to the limited selection of models Apple chooses to sell."

So rather than following the herd by releasing a big screen phone, Apple took on the task of making the iPhone 4 design more useful and more desirable, resulting in a taller (but not wider) screen and a new case design that could accommodate the chips and battery needed to accelerate and extend the iPhone brand without delivering a bulky, two handed compromise.

iPhone 5

5 is for 5trange

The result, for daily users of an iPhone 4/4S, is initially a weird one. The new iPhone 5 feels oddly light (it feels like an empty case compared to the iPhone 4S) and its tall screen seems downright weird. There's more room for things like menus (which in Music playback below, don't have to disappear anymore) and other screen content, and the user interface itself is stretched in some places.

The familiar Home screen is now a full row of icons taller, while in Safari, swiping between tabs shows you an extended preview of each loaded page. It takes a couple days for this unfamiliar new screen size to feel comfortable, but it's immediately useful. You can see more. It's not just a stretched version of the iPhone's old display; it's an extended edition of the Retina Display, with 176 additional lines of pixels.

The iPhone 5's taller Retina Display doesn't just show more invisible-to-the-eye pixels. It also uses a new design that incorporates the touchscreen into the display itself, resulting in a thinner package with fewer layers. The advantage is that the screen has better colors and clarity. It's readily apparent when holding it next to an iPhone 4S, which already had a beautiful screen. Colors on the iPhone 5 look brighter and more saturated, while those on iPhone 4S look a bit grey in contrast.

Once the odd novelty of the taller screen begins to wear off, you won't ever wish for a shorter screen that shows you less. Unlike typical big screen phones, you're not really sacrificing portability and usability just to get a bigger display. Apple has achieved a functional balance between offering more pixels and not making the device feel larger.

iPhone 5

The new iPhone 5 design feels pretty strange until you acclimate to its new taller outline and lighter heft, but once you do another strangle shift occurs: the iPhone 4/4S will begin looking old and bulky, like an iPod from ten years ago that seemed really cool at the time but now looks like it belongs in the Museum of Modern Art. The difference is that the iPhone 4 design isn't really a decade older; Apple's newest design just makes it seem that way.

5 is for 5maller

A big reason for iPhone 5 feeling like a decade-long generational leap over iPhone 4 is that the new design feels much lighter, thinner and crafted with a new level of precision. Its diamond polished edges that give it a subtle jeweled look that makes it feel like an expensive luxury gadget rather than the metal banded "old Leica" design of the previous two years of iPhones.

A new unibody design helps iPhone 5 achieve its new thinness, but credit is also due to Apple getting rid of the 30-pin Dock Connector that iPods and iOS devices have had since 2003. In its place, the company has introduced a new Lightning connector that is smaller, more physically robust and can be plugged in either direction.

iPhone 5

While having fewer pins, the new jack serves multiple purposes ranging from the charging/syncing of standard USB 2.0 to providing HDMI and VGA video output. The new connector is also designed for the future, with enough pins to conceptually support USB 3.0. Recall that the old 30-pin connector learned new tricks throughout its 9 years on the market, including the ability to output HDMI and VGA signals that the first iPods and Docks couldn't support.

Lightning isn't competition with Apple's new Thunderbolt, and isn't likely to find its way to Macs or other products like the Thunderbolt Display. Lightning isn't a replacement for USB, it's an enhancement to USB that give it a multi use jack capable of things USB can't do on its own (including video output).

Unlike Mini DisplayPort, it's also not a new alternative to HDMI or VGA. It's not really a new protocol or type of interface at all, but rather a new physical connection that can adapt as desired, replacing the need to cover iOS devices with a variety of ports. In that sense, it's exactly what the old 30-pin Dock Connector was, just shrunk down, streamlined and made easier to attach.

iPhone 5

Why now? The new Lightning port allows for much thinner designs, and Apple has already replaced many of the iPod/iPhone's connectivity needs with software. You don't really need a docked connection to sync; to buy or update your apps or music or videos or iBooks; or to deliver audio or video or pictures to your HDTV set. With WiFi sync and iCloud and AirPlay, the main reason for plugging in Lightning is to charge the battery.

The downside of having a new connector is that you'll need new cables. Apple supplies one in the box. You won't need new charging adapters, because it still uses (an includes) a regular USB power plug. If you have existing docks like an integrated clock radio or boom box device that sport a 30-pin iPod connector, you might need to get a new Apple-supplied 30pin-Lightning adapter for that. The general trend in the industry is toward wireless streaming, however, so you might want to jettison that old Dock along with the iPod or iPhone you'd been using it with.

The golden age of the 30-pin dock connector has waned, and thankfully, Apple plans to replace it on third party devices primarily with AirPlay rather than trying to make the world buy a bunch of new docks (and appliances with new dock connectors) in the Lightning flavor. The company has even said it has no plans to introduce a new Lightning dock.

iPhone 5

If you're thinking about getting upset by this new change, consider the mobile device world outside of Apple, where even the brands that have gotten rid of their proprietary connectors to standardize on small-sized USB connectors firstly don't have a standardized placement of the port enabling universal physical docking, secondly have either mini or micro versions of USB and, thirdly, need to separately provide a micro-HDMI port for video output (if supported). That means more cables covering less functionality, and the nature of your cables is likely to change every time a new phone comes out.

If you can't afford to buy some new $20 Lightning cables, you probably shouldn't be blowing $700 on a new smartphone. Wait around a year and buy somebody's old iPhone 5 at a pawn shop when iPhone 6 comes out.

On page 3 of 6: 5 is for 5peed

5 is for 5peed

Last year Apple introduced the iPhone 4S with its A5 processor a full nine months or so after the rest of the industry had launched their own dual core designs. The difference was that Apple put its top chip in the phone it was selling to the mass market. As a result, Apple sold so many millions of iPhone 4S that it more than made up for the added expense of putting an expensive, custom chip in its mainstream phone.

This year, Apple has again produced an industry leading chip, bounding ahead of everything else on the market but doing so with its mainstream global offering. According to a report by TechInsights, the iPhone 5 A6 is estimated to cost Apple a third more than the iPhone 4S A5 and twice as much as the iPhone 4 A4. These parts-cost estimates don't detail the hundreds of millions Apple has invested in developing new A-series chips.

A year ago AppleInsider noted, "you can expect the initial crop of smartphones to debut quad core chips, 2GHz speeds and Cortex-A15 chips not to come from Apple, but you'd be crazy to think Apple would be that far behind with a model more people would actually buy."

Sure enough, while Samsung and Intel have retained bragging rights for most cores and most GHz, iPhone 5 has a lead out of the starting gate in both graphics and general computational power.

Apple's new A6

Apple's A6 incorporates a custom dual core ARM design that maintains the efficiency of the Cortex-A8 with elements of the server-optimized Cortex-A15, paired with triple core PowerVR SGX543MP3 graphics processing units and 1GB of LPDDR2 system RAM.

A6 internal design

In benchmarks, the iPhone 5 scores well more than twice as fast ("100 percent faster") as iPhone 4S in integer (123 percent faster) and floating point (187 percent faster) performance, and nearly three times (171-232 percent) faster in memory performance. This is a much bigger jump than the iPhone 4S compared to iPhone 4, and the iPhone 4 over iPhone 3GS.

Faster Web pages, better looking games

Rightware's BrowserMark test indicates that iPhone 5 similarly renders HTML and JavaScript 121 percent faster than iPhone 4S, while the iPhone 4S was just 67 percent faster than iPhone 4.

In video games and other graphically intensive apps, GLBenchmark 2.1 scores paint a picture of faster, smoother graphics. The onscreen scores don't show much improvement because last year's iPhone 4S was already maximizing 60fps full screen video. When you look at raw graphics rendering capabilities, the iPhone 5's new triple core graphics are blazing fast, on par with the four core A5X graphics in the new iPad, but tasked with far fewer pixels to manage.

To take full advantage of the improved graphics horsepower of iPhone 5, developers will have to tweak their games the same way they did to fully exploit the new iPad earlier this year. Being destined to become the most popular iPhone yet means that developers are likely to actually do this.

On page 4 of 6: Network speed via 4G DC-HSPA, LTE

Network speed via 4G DC-HSPA, LTE

Apple's incredible progress in putting faster and faster chips in its iOS devices has been blunted somewhat by the fact that mobile devices are often hamstrung by their network connection. If you're accessing the web or saving data to the cloud or streaming music, the weakest link isn't likely your application processor but rather your mobile data connection.

The iPhone started out being one of the last premium smartphones still stuck in the pre-3G world of AT&T's GSM/EDGE. Over time, it gained support for 3G and then increasingly faster versions of 3GPP 3G standards, from 7.2 Mbps HSDPA (downloads) on iPhone 3GS to 5.8 Mbps HSUPA (uploads) on iPhone 4 and 14.4 Mbps HSDPA on iPhone 4S.

When iPhone 4 came to Verizon, it could only support that carrier's very slow version of 3G, which maxes out well below 3 Mbps. Verizon worked hard to advertise its 3G coverage edge over AT&T, but didn't like talking about how slow its CDMA 3G actually was, nor the fact that, unlike AT&T's UMTS/HSPA 3G, it would (and could) never get any faster.

In our earlier testing, AT&T's 3G/4G non-LTE speeds in build up areas averaged around 5Mbps, while Verizon's 3G hovered around a very slow 1.3Mbps. In rural testing, AT&T dropped to around 1.5Mbps, while Verizon collapsed to a very slow 0.3Mbps.

Verizon's CDMA 3G is really slow, which makes it particularly noteworthy that its most popular smartphone over the last year of incessantly advertising 4G has been the 3G-only iPhone 4S. Verizon is, conversely, the slowest carrier the iPhone 4S works on. All that is about to change: Verizon will suddenly become one of the fastest networks supporting iPhone 5, and Verizon will finally have its top selling phone compatible its 4G LTE network.

Verizon's tune on network speed (vs AT&T) changed dramatically when the company embarked upon a migration from CDMA to LTE. Saddled with the world's slowest 3G technology, Verizon had the most to gain from building out a new LTE network for data (Verizon voice calls are still handled over CDMA). AT&T and other international carriers had the option to upgrade their existing GSM-style networks with HSPA+ enhancements, but Verizon couldn't make such incremental improvements.

In concert with building out LTE, Verizon has launched a campaign to denigrate anything that isn't LTE. Anytime you hear a reviewer speaking of LTE being "the only one true 4G" or speaking contemptuously of AT&T or T-Mobile branding their fastest 3GPP networks as "4G," you can rest assured that they're just repeating marketing lines Verizon has fed the media. Someday, LTE will offer a big advantage over HSPA+ but not during the lifetime of iPhone 5.

The truth is that the LTE being built out by Verizon is not really any faster than the fastest 3G networks. Technically, the standards bodies that defined 4G originally did so in a way that excluded both today's LTE deployments and technologies like HSPA+. They then redefined 4G to cover any technologies that offers a major boost over common 3G networks. So by any true and functional definition, LTE is no more "4G" than HSPA+ is. Verizon doesn't like this inconvenient fact however.

When AppleInsider tested the new iPad earlier this year, Verizon's LTE network was about tied with AT&T's LTE, with both consistently reaching 40Mbps downloads more than 60 percent of the time. That's extremely fast, and clearly a huge leap over 2008-era 3G with speeds typically below 3Mbps.

Over the last year, Verizon has either saturated its LTE network or simply turned down its data throughput, because now it seems to deliver about 8Mbps most of the time, with occasional peaks of up to 14Mbps. That's still really fast (likely as fast if not faster than your home cable Internet), but it's a quarter the speeds LTE was showing at the beginning of the year.

It also destroys the vaunted opinion that LTE currently delivers some huge, differentiated leap over HSPA+, particularly now that Apple has added support for "dual carrier" DC-HSPA to the iPhone, which a variety of international carriers use to deliver speeds of up to 42Mbps. Still, in the minds of LTE-purists, only a network that is routinely 5 times slower than HSPA+ can be called 4G.

So if you're worried and disappointed that iPhone 5 won't support the future LTE networks in your part of the world, take a deep breath and consider that LTE isn't currently any faster than the fastest HSPA+ networks, and that iPhone 5 delivers a speed boost across the board, not just when using LTE, thanks to its new Qualcomm baseband chip.

Whether you're getting LTE or other variants of 4G service, iPhone 5's new support for fast mobile networks changes its usability dramatically, because typical 3G speeds of around 3Mbps or less put a pretty big crimp on email attachments, cloud storage and media streaming. With data rates around 10Mbps or more, a smartphone becomes an entirely new type of device.

Note that iPhone 5 doesn't support simultaneous voice calls over CDMA while using LTE to browse data. If you want to call and access the web at once, you'll need a GSM carrier or WiFi. This has always been the case on CDMA iPhone providers like Sprint and Verizon, so it's not a new wrinkle.

The other shoe to drop, however, is that mobile operators are not offering a lot more data in their packages, just faster data rates. So rather than slowly eating through 2GB in a month at a 3G trickle, you can now easily blow through your 2G allotment in a day. Verizon knows this, and it therefore hopes you'll take a $450 subsidy in exchange for your unlimited plan. You should consider paying full price for your iPhone 5 to keep your unlimited data plan.

Sure, you'll be paying an extra $450 across two years of contract extension. But that works out to an extra $19 per month. Even if you've never used more than 2GB of data (and given Verizon's "slowest 3G network on earth," you likely haven't), that will likely change once you have LTE. If you take the subsidy, you'll be trading unlimited LTE for 2GB LTE, and paying more than $18 per month for another couple gigabytes of data.

With data speeds that are at least 4 times faster and easily up to ten times faster, it's not crazy to think that your data use will similarly go up by a factor of two or four. That means you're going to be paying at least $20 more on your data plan. Might as well waive the subsidy and keep the ability to use as much LTE data as you can for the same price (if not less).

Again, if you're paying $700 for a smartphone, you shouldn't suddenly try to pinch pennies on your mobile plan, because the functionality of iPhone 5 is pretty tightly related to the data plan at your disposal. The three versions of iPhone 5 supporting various regional LTE service providers were detailed previously.

Wi-Fi speeds up to 150Mbps

If you spend most of your time in Wi-Fi coverage at home or at work, you might be insulated from data overage fees, making it more sensible to give up your last opportunity to ever have an unlimited 4G data plan in exchange for a phone subsidy.

If that's the case, you'll appreciate that the new iPhone 5 is even faster on Wi-Fi, with advertised support for transmit rates up to 150Mbps and support for both 2.4 and 5GHz 802.11n networks. The latter can be set up on AirPort base stations to take advantage of the less saturated 5GHz bands.

In testing, iPhone 5 had no problem seeing and connecting to 5GHz networks (just like iPad; previous iPhone models simply don't see them). However, the top speeds achieved on our 802.11n network were limited to around 20-25Mbps. That's fast, but nowhere near 150Mbps. MacBooks have no problem connecting to the same network at 300Mbps or faster.

Wi-Fi speeds may be currently hitting a wall that Apple can fix in software. We'll be doing additional in-depth testing of iPhone 5's Wi-Fi and 4G connectivity in the near future.

On page 5 of 6: Other iPhone 5 hardware features

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

Software features in iOS 6: Siri

The tight integration between iPhone hardware and iOS blurs the line between each. The camera, for example, has both hardware improvements as well as new software features, many of which are shared with earlier models. There are three competitive areas that Apple seemed to target in delivering iOS 6: new social connectivity with Siri. Photo Stream sharing and integration with Twitter and Facebook; the company's all new maps and navigation; and electronic purchasing in Passbook.

Siri has expanded its specialized knowledge base to provide useful answers to questions about sports, movies and restaurant reservations. Siri is an interesting example of extending the user interface with an assistance layer; that layer handles tasks such as creating an email, then hands the completed item to the referring app. This works well for calendar events, contacts, messages and notes, and is useful for pulling up new kinds of information such as game details, player stat cards, and movie listings.

However, Siri needs some refinement in some areas, particularly in the new movies, where you can look up what's playing and where, but once you find a theater it's not easy to see what else is playing at that location. Click on the theater in Siri's movies mini-app mode and you get a map and directions, which then leads you toward Yelp, where you get theater reviews but not what's playing.

Ask any question, and Siri's answer only hands around for a certain period of time, after which you have to ask it again to return to the answer. Siri hasn't seen the kind of advancement and third party extensions we hoped to see after a year, but at least it's making recognizable progress. It's also handy that you can now open apps with Siri, which seemed like an odd omission at launch.

Software features in iOS 6: Maps

Apple wrote the original mobile client app for Google Maps, but for iOS 6 it built out a huge project to replace Google's data, while also building a mobile turn by turn GPS navigation system for driving and walking, a 3D model Flyover mode similar to Google Earth, but with greater detail, and scalable 2D vector-based maps. It partnered with Yelp to provide local search, and began its own crowd-sourced system for real time traffic data.

Apple apparently didn't count on its critics and competitors jumping on the new Maps as being miserable, worthless, all around terrible and likely to get you lost. Nobody at Apple had any reason to think this would make global headlines, because the new Maps is a huge advancement in several respects over the old product powered by Google. It's not without flaw, but the majority of these flaws are Flyover rendering issues or missing or flawed place names, not problems that make the new maps unusable.

Portland

There's plenty of room for Apple to improve upon its global maps product, but the common media's convulsions about Maps has inched toward absurd. As with the Antennagate hysteria than greeted iPhone 4 or the war on Siri at the launch of iPhone 4S, those reporting in great detail how a series of place name flaws were discovered around the globe all seem to have forgotten about all of the blogs and tumblers that catalogued the comical flaws in Google Maps.

Most egregiously however, Google itself has jumped in with an attempt to propagate the notion that iOS 6 Maps will get you "iLost," something that doesn't really seem appropriate given that it was just a few years ago that CNET editor James Kim from San Francisco died while stranded in winter conditions, with his apparent reliance on Google Maps a contributing factor. Nobody was foolish enough to blame Google for Kim's tragic death, and Google should be smart enough to avoid similar associations, given that no GPS system's directions should be relied upon with one's life.

The fomented outrage about Maps, stoked by a small number of reports, is particularly nutty given that one can access Google Maps from the web. There are some growing pains for Maps, including the fact that there aren't yet third party apps to plug into for transit directions. There also aren't complete maps in all areas, nor many 3D models anywhere outside of the top U.S. metro areas. It is odd that Apple didn't add a bug button to report Maps errors, as it did in launching Safari 1.0.

But if you're judging iOS 6 Maps against iOS 5 Maps, it's hardly a comparison. Anything you liked better in the previous version (apart from the Street View that few people even seemed to know existed) can be accessed via Google's web app. The new parts Apple introduced, including 3D buildings, vector maps, turn by turn navigation, improved local search and traffic reports, will all continue to get better.

Software features in iOS 6: Passbook

Another notable software feature associated with the launch of iPhone 5 is Passbook. It deserves comment because of what iPhone 5 doesn't have: an NFC (near field communications) chip capable of authorizing tap to buy transactions. NFC isn't much of a feature. It replaces magnetic swipe cards or barcode coupons with a radio link that is similar to but not quite Bluetooth.

NFC is fraught with problems, the largest of which is that there's no unified standard. It's also a solution to issues that don't really exist. People don't want to tap rather than swipe their credit cards. As Square has shown, it's possible to arrange payments without even needing a card or number.

What Apple did with Passbook is address, in software, a variety of issues related with making secure purchases on an account, handling tickets and boarding passes, and delivering new features for coupons that lets apps combine several technologies to reach customers. Passbook is geolocation aware and can use push alerts to update items, providing interesting ways for third parties to handle passes, coupons, store credit and other secure electronic documents.

It's a sophisticated but simple approach to solving what NFC addresses with such problematic complexity that it's never really gained any traction. It's also available to all iOS 6 devices, which means tens of millions of users can begin using Passbook now, rather than slowly rolling out only on new phones outfitted with a special chip.

iPhone 5 in Review

The newest iPhone reimagines the world's most popular smartphone in a much improved package with faster speed, particularly in the area of mobile network compatibility. Apple spared little expense in producing the model, giving it a variety of both important and rather whimsical improvements that overall cost more than previous models. No need to worry about the company's bottom line however, as it will likely sell substantially more units of the device than it did with iPhone 4S.

Apple satisfied the primary complaints one could make about the iPhone when comparing it against high end competitors. The company also addressed issues that nobody had identified as areas needing to be fixed. And outside of technological improvements that will result in a new model next year, it's hard to point out any significant flaws in iPhone 5.

This is why comments are being focused on the new Lightning connector and the fact that users might want to buy an adaptor or extra cables, and the new Maps app: there's simply nothing to really dislike about the phone itself.

iOS 6: Rating 5 out of 5

A free download for exiting iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4/4S users: an awesome deal.

5 Stars

iPhone 4: Rating 2 out of 5

Cheap lower end alternative to iPhone 5, with limited 8GB storage and no Siri, no 3D Maps, no Panoramas, no 4G.

5 Stars

iPhone 4S: Rating 2 out of 5

Slightly cheaper than iPhone 5, but missing 4G LTE data, a much improved new case and larger screen and a variety of other substantial improvements. Hardly worth settling on to save $4 per month over a two year contract.

5 Stars

iPhone 5: Rating 4 out of 5

Best iPhone by far, and currently the world's fastest smartphone with a classy design, 4G support, a big bump in speed, and a taller new display.

5 Stars

Pros:

  • Solid construction and feel, very light with less fragile back
  • Great battery life even when using LTE 4G
  • A6 processor delivers lots of speed and better graphics
  • Improved front facing camera
  • Price competitive with similar smartphones

Cons:

  • New Lightning connector means you might need an adapter
  • Some features require carrier support (voice codec, FaceTime over cellular)

Trade in

Those upgrading to the iPhone 5 can also check out AppleInsider's breakdown of trade-in offers for previous-generation iPhones. A number of online providers offer cash in return for a used iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, or iPhone 4S, making the cost of the new iPhone 5 easier to afford.

 

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