iPhone 5 review: Taking the next step in smartphone evolution

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Finally, in a switch that will change the way you remove your iPhone from your pocket, Apple has moved the headphone jack on the iPhone from the top, where it's resided for five years, to the bottom. Now when I pull my iPhone out of my pocket while listening to music or podcasts, I need to rotate the top toward me, rather than away from me. It took me about four times to train myself to do this, so it's not a big deal. This new position has the distinct advantage of keeping your headphone cord from dangling down over the screen.

Faster all around

The iPhone 5 is faster. Yes, its upgraded dual-core A6 processor makes it the fastest iOS device ever and quite possibly the fastest phone in existence. But on a mobile device, there's another place where speed matters: cellular data. And the iPhone 5 can now connect to LTE (Long-Term Evolution) cellular networks, which offer vastly faster speeds than the old GSM (AT&T) and CDMA (Verizon, Sprint) networks.

Let's start with the processor. In almost every test we performed, the iPhone 5 ran laps around all previous iPhones and iPads. Its Geekbench test score was more than twice as high as the closest competitors, the iPad 2 and the third-generation iPad. It loaded a webpage in three-quarters of the time of the iPhone 4S and third-generation iPad. And it completed the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark in 64 percent of the time it took the iPad 2 and third-generation iPad. Graphics performance was just as impressive, including 2x improvement in frame rates over the iPhone 4S. And the WebVizBench HTML 5 test found the iPhone 5 three times as fast as the 4S.

Speed demons: iOS devices compared

 GeekBenchPage LoadSunspiderGLBenchmarkWebVizBench
iPhone 5 1623 8.2 0.92 147.3 3.6
iPhone 4S 630 10.7 1.77 72.7 1.2
iPhone 4 390 12.1 2.97 11 0.7
iPad (3rd gen) 759 10.4 1.43 125 2.1
iPad 2 760 11.1 1.44 86.7 1.8

Best results in bold. Larger numbers are better for GeekBench, GLBenchmark (Egypt Offscreen), and WebVizBench. Smaller numbers are better for Page Load and Sunspider.—Lab testing by James Galbraith

In person? It's pretty much the same story. The iPhone 5's speed boost is most noticeable on more processor-intensive apps such as games, but apps open almost immediately and there's no waiting when switching between interface elements. Suffice it to say it's fast.

Apple claims the iPhone 5's battery life is roughly comparable to that of the iPhone 4S, and in my use I found that was roughly the case. Our lab tests of the phone playing a movie in Airplane Mode suggest that its battery life under those conditions is slightly less than the previous model. In a workday of using LTE during my public-transit commute and Wi-Fi at the office, the battery seemed to drain much the same as the battery on my iPhone 4S.

If you were hoping that Apple's latest phone would dramatically improve the battery life of the iPhone, this won't be good news. Clearly Apple has a target amount of battery life for its devices that it thinks is reasonable, and beyond that it will seemingly always opt for smaller, thinner devices over packing in a humongous battery. (Apple doesn't seem interested in releasing an iPhone Maxx, if you get my drift.) If your life demands a battery that can go a day and a half of hard usage without a charge, you'll either need to invest in a battery pack or buy a different brand of phone.

Then there's the LTE networking. I got my first taste of LTE networking earlier this year, when I bought a Verizon Wi-Fi access point, and then later I got to test an LTE-enabled third-generation iPad. In both cases, I was often able to get a faster connection via LTE than on my office Wi-Fi network. In the best situations, LTE speeds make you feel you're on a Wi-Fi network even when you're not.

At a Glance
  • Pros

    • Slim, light case
    • Taller, roomier display
    • Improved performance
    • Higher-resolution front-facing camera


    • Lightning connector incompatible with older peripherals
    • Features limited by some carriers
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