iPhone 5 Review: Part 2

This is my Next First: 32GB Black & Slate

Part 1 of the Review


Entangled and confused was I mere weeks ago, when my saddened pockets yelped at the mercy of a terrifying thought; my large hands reaching, but failing to grasp what I was aiming for, among the lottery of objects that clanged around as I roamed the streets of downtown. However, as the sun settled towards the bleak, muddled cluster of clouds that quickly approached, I would need to heed the advice that my pair of jeans had longed for me to follow. Comparing the present penitence in my soul to the maps that I would soon replace, I decided to follow my destiny, and proceeded to open the black box that presented itself to me. With my Samsung Infuse and old iPod Touch both tucked within a chamber of solitude, an immediate feeling of courage overcame me. It had been more than two years since my “phone without the phone” had been removed from its case, and just over a year since I had felt the power of half a dozen widgets magically dilute the battery of my Infuse. I hesitated, followed the contour of the glistening (and patented) shape with my finger, and spoke what seemed to be the first words of relief of mine in a long time; "Hello, iPhone 5."

Audio: Pods and Ears

Score: 8.5 out of 10

I am by no means an audio expert, but overall the iPhone 5 compares very well to previous iDevices, with sound quality that seemed great to me in general use. However, there are many aspects to the audio on the iPhone 5 that are updated from previous versions, and I will explore them more thoroughly in this section. Also, while Apple claimed of the new microphone, enhanced wide-band audio, and EarPods with the new iPhone, I was not able to test the supposed “HD” quality enhancements. This was due to the fact that I could not find out whether it was working with my carrier (Rogers), and so have just posted my general experience with the reputed new abilities.

First of all, the sound coming from the speaker was loud and relatively clear for a phone. When compared to the iPad, the volume was slightly lower, and the quality was not as clear, which was to be expected. The bass was almost non-existent, with the highs and mids audible and distinguishable from each other. Still, for a 4-inch device many times smaller than the iPad, the iPhone 5‘s speaker was more than sufficient for listening, even in a relatively noisy room. In a quiet area, I was able to clearly hear voices from among a blaring background of gun-fire, when watching an action movie through the Netflix application. Finally, although quality also seemed similar to the iPhone 4S, it also felt that the new grills actually aided with increasing the volume and range, at least in my experience. Over speakerphone, I could clearly hear the voice(s) of the other person(s) on the call, when using either the Phone app or Skype. When propped up against my head, I also felt that the volume was adequate, and better-sounding than my previous Samsung Infuse.

When plugging in headphones, a small static-noise could be heard, which I found to be similar to the iPad and previous mobile devices I have owned. Primarily, I tested the iPhone with a pair of Shure SE115’s, Monster Jamz in-ear buds, and of course, the bundled EarPods. I had ‘burned-in’ well over 30 hours with each pair, and for the testing, listened to a wide variety of music including rap, hip-hop, rock, and classical. Generally, I was very pleased with the audio quality and dynamics of each pair when used in conjunction with the iPhone 5, and for the average listener, I do not think that there will be any problems, whether using $10 or $200 headphones. Also, since each of the ‘buds were included with a built-in headset/mic, I was able to test out the microphone quality as well. Using the phone app and Skype, I made many phone and video calls over a period of over a week. I found the volume to be good, and the quality overall to be consistent for all three of the headphones I used. It was definitely better than using the external audio on the iPhone itself, but that was expected to begin with.

Testing the external microphone was a slightly different story though, which mostly came down to the fact that I had used it primarily for Siri and Voice dictation. It was a great way to test the beam-forming capabilities, and in my testing against the iPad (which lacks those abilities), I was able to make a fair, albeit limited comparison. In a quiet room, while both were able to transpose my voice very adequately, there were more instances of error with the iPad. While the iPhone still made a few mistakes, especially with difficult vocabulary, overall it clearly bested its larger brethren. However, the real difference came when in the presence of relatively noisy, or disturbing backgrounds. It was then that the iPhone 5 proved itself worthy, as when dictating various tasks to Siri among a crowd, its ability to isolate and understand my words was remarkable. Even with babbling friends all-around, it could clearly reciprocate with over an 80% accuracy when finding directions, making reminders, and using Wolfram Alpha. Also, when the iPad was used, it had a very hard time identifying what was being said, which overall reinforced the iPhone’s reputation of including enhanced microphones.

Also, after using the new Apple EarPods for over two weeks, I can without a doubt say that they are much better than the old earbuds. I would encourage users of all devices to give them a try, because without actually experiencing them, I don’t believe that I could justify my position properly. When comparing them to both of my previously-mentioned ‘buds, I found that overall they were a great value. Testing the headphones out with all types of music, I found there to be an increase in clarity and balance between the EarPods and the old ‘buds, with the bass being the most notable improvement. The highs sounded good, and harshness was almost non-existent in the mid-high end of the spectrum. Also, at both high and low volumes, there was little if any distortion, although I would still recommend keeping the maximum volume well below the given (I rarely blast the sound past half-way, for the sake of my long-term ear health). Going back to the bass, the increase was actually surprising, and will be a nice change for those who have been using the previous pack-ins. The enthralling ‘thumping’ sense creates a reasonably well-balanced sound, but as always, it will be as subjective as the screen real-estate is to many consumers. Furthermore, they fit into my ears better than either my old Apple ‘buds’ or any of my in-ear headphones, although the fit will be different for every pair of ears. At first, the shape of the EarPods makes for a initially weird experience, but for those who they do fit perfectly, I can’t imagine any complaints about the unique design. Lastly, although they are ‘technically’ in-ear buds, the EarPods do NOT provide isolation, but not without what I think is an ‘Apple-esque’ intention; as a pair of stock headphones that fulfill their design philosophy, I believe that a separate pair of molds/cushions would not be conducive to the simplicity that Apple is known to strive for. Ultimately, I also think that for what they were aiming for (a design fitting as many ears as possible), the EarPods do indeed accomplish their primary task of being a great stock set.

In conclusion, the sound quality of the iPhone 5, along with the EarPods, is great for the average user. In my testing, I found the EarPods to sound decent when compared against much higher end headphones, which is something I honestly didn’t fully expect. And although there are many subjective aspects to the audio, I also believe that when compared to previous products, nothing has been lost, just gained.

Cameras: Face-sight has never been better

Score: 9 out of 10

As with the audio, I am by no means a professional photographer, but I will try to sum up how the iPhone 5 fares for a general consumer. The iPhone 5 has revamped many of its innards, and although the cameras might not seem much-improved, there are many tweaks that do really help with taking better pictures. For the rear-facing iSight Camera, its megapixel count remains the same, and it includes a five-element lens, similar optics to the iPhone 4S, and 1080p HD video. However, there is also an apparent increase in quality when taking low-light pictures, as well as a new Sapphire Crystal lens cover, and native panoramic capabilities (thanks to iOS 6). Surprisingly, it is actually the front-facing shooter that has increased substantially, with my testing proving to well substantiate the HD claims when compared to the old camera.

Overall, the 8MP iSight Camera on the iPhone 5 did not disappoint when taking photos in a wide variety of scenarios and lighting conditions. Over a period of about 2-3 weeks, I took quite a few dozen photographs using both the Panorama Mode and HDR capabilities, and compared them to the iPhone 4S and my old Infuse, which flaunted another 8MP snapper. To sum up quickly in a manner that matters to the user, in general I believe that for the average consumer, the iPhone 5 fares very well when compared to other smartphones and even point-and-shoots. The 1080p video is also very nice, and the face-detection and stabilization work well.

In broad daylight, shots taken were detailed and vivid, with colors that looked true to life. Compared to the 4S and Infuse, the difference wasn’t noticeable, but there were qualities such as saturation and sharpness where I could muster evidence of slight changes. However, the shutter speed was actually one of the most astonishing aspects of the new camera; during observation, while an iPhone 4S took 2-3 shots, the new ‘5’ was able to snap at least twice as many photos in the same time period. The contrast became even more stark when comparing it to my old Samsung Infuse running Gingerbread (a.k.a. Android 2.3), which could only take 1-2 pictures in the same amount of time. Even when taking into account that the Infuse is itself about half-a-year older than the 4S, the overall leap in speed was remarkable, and shows the progression that smartphones as a whole have experienced. Similarly to the photo-experience, HD video recording was also almost identical between the 4S and 5, as the stabilization worked equally well on both. Movies were also very useable for showing-off, and looked great as finished products when editing in the iMovie application. The new Sapphire Lens Cover is also a welcome feature, and generally I have found the lens to be more scratch-resistant than before; with keys and coins in my pocket, the iPhone 5’s lens cover was not affected at all.

At nighttime, the photo-taking experience takes a more dramatic turn. The iPhone 5 takes better photos than both of my previous phones at night, and there is a mixture of hardware and software involved from what I’ve looked at. The sensor itself is a backside illuminated sensor, and when taking dark photos, it seems to have the ability to sacrifice noise and quality, for visibility and brightness. The overall effect results in a more granular shot, that it nonetheless viewable. As the 4S could not even take photographs in similar lighting, it is a great improvement for normal usage, and makes the ‘5’ a viable option for greater low-light situations. The LED flash is always there as a secondary option, but as on most small devices, it creates visible but terrible looking photos (However, it does also serve the very useful purpose of being able to serve as a flashlight!).

New to the iOS 6, panorama mode is now native to both the iPhone 4S and 5. When taking a few, wide-spanning shots with the camera, I found there to be a difference between the new ability and those of 3rd party apps. Primarily, while 3rd party applications from the app store usually take moments to complete a wide-scale shot, the panorama shot on the iPhone 5 was taken with unnerving swiftness. As soon as the camera button was pressed, I was able to suddenly view the picture, while on my Infuse I had to wait for at least 5-10 seconds. Overall, even though the feature has been available for quite a while, the speed was an aspect I had not been used to before. Also, the quality was very good overall, and it worked as expected.

As for the front-facing FaceTime HD camera, it now takes 1.2MP photos and includes a backside illuminated sensor, and the ability to shoot 720p HD video. During testing against the new iPad’s VGA sensor, the iPhone 5 showed quite a bit more detail, and exhibited greater clarity in both daylight and low-light. The video also looked good, and was a very-nice fit with the introduction of FaceTime over cellular. Overall, it was a great addition to the camera-system, and I found that it made video chats to be more enjoyable altogether.

In conclusion, although the cameras might not seem like a great improvement at first, the additions are nevertheless welcome. They make the iPhone 5 a great tool for both consumers, and even those geared towards a more balanced combination of mobility, and quality. Average users will appreciate the new capabilities, and prosumers will see the ‘5’ as an even better tool for fulfilling their commemorative, and professional needs.