Designing and developing a new iPhone every year has to be one of the most difficult things Apple does. Essentially, it has to take the world’s most popular smartphone, not to mention its biggest money-maker, and make it different enough so people will buy it, but not so different that it messes up the obviously-winning formula.

That’s a tall order. And it was probably even tougher this year due to seemingly higher expectations and stiff competition from Samsung, and others.

So was Apple able to pull it off?

For full disclosure, I should probably say that as I’m writing this, I’m checking Twitter on my iPad and frequently refreshing att.com on my Mac in hopes that my iPhone 5 pre-order status has updated. To say that I’m biased would be an understatement — though I wouldn’t necessarily call myself an Apple fanboy. I just enjoy things that work well.

Ok, now that that’s out of the way, let’s take a look at Apple’s new handset.

The hardware

Whether you’re a fanboy or not, you have to admit that Apple makes some of the best hardware in the smartphone space. Or in any space for that matter. There’s a reason why the PC market is seeing an influx of aluminum laptops with black keyboards, and why HP’s new Spectre computers look oddly familiar. Apple knows hardware.

And it proves this once again with the iPhone 5. It’s extremely thin, and light, and it’s made out of top-notch materials like glass and aluminum (no cheap plastic casing here). If you’ve watched the promotional video, you know what kind of attention to detail went into designing  the handset, and what kind of precision goes into producing it.

I also like the new display, though I’ll admit, I was hoping for something a little bigger. My girlfriend has a Motorola RAZR, and the extra screen real estate is nice when you’re doing stuff like browsing the web. But, I imagine Apple didn’t want to risk making the phone too big to fit in pockets, or to operate with one hand. So 4-inches it is.

As for the new iPhone’s other upgrades, the A6 announcement was a nice surprise. A lot of folks were expecting another variation of the A5, but Apple introduced a whole new processor. And judging from the early reports, it’s quite speedy. LTE wasn’t really a shocker, and neither were the camera upgrades. The FaceTime camera was long overdue for an update, and I wasn’t expecting anything more than an 8MP iSight. I don’t think that 10 and 12MP sensors are available at the size and price Apple needs right now. The 4S camera is really good, but I’m hoping the 5 takes better low-light shots.

The only thing I was somewhat disappointed in, in regards to the iPhone 5’s hardware, was battery life. While it’s decent, considering the addition of the larger screen and LTE, I was hoping Apple had made some sort of breakthrough in battery tech that offered much more than what it does. We’ll have to see how it performs out in the real world, but as it stands, the new iPhone has less than half the standby time as the Galaxy S III.

As for the new dock connector, Lightning, I think Apple got it mostly right. It looks modern, seems like it’s going to be durable, and I love the fact that it’s reversible. It’s a bit weird that it’s not USB 3.0 compatible. But otherwise, kudos. I’m willing to bet that the people who are upset that Apple changed the plug are the same ones who got mad when they quit making VHS tapes. It’s called progress. The 30-pin connector has been around for more than a decade, which is insane considering how fast technology evolves.

The software

If there’s one aspect of the iPhone 5 I’m not particularly impressed with, it’s the software. iOS 6 seems a bit dated compared to the latest updates from Windows Phone and Android. And, whether these things are on your wish list or not, there’s still no third-party widgets, or toggles for system settings, like Bluetooth, outside of the Settings app.

In fact, iOS 6 doesn’t contain much at all in the way of significant new features. There’s the new Maps app, which looks pretty, and finally offers voiced turn-by-directions. But it’s nothing to write home about. Neither is the Facebook integration, nor the Siri enhancements, though both are nice-to-haves. To be honest, I’m probably more excited about finally being able to set an iTunes track as my alarm clock than anything.

That being said, I can’t wait to see where Passbook goes. I look forward to the day when I don’t have to carry around a physical wallet, or at least anything but my driver’s license. And I think that Passbook, if Apple plays it right, could get us to that point. I also like the new Panorama picture mode a lot. Apple implemented it in a really smart way, with no user-image-stitching required, so I’m actually pretty anxious to try it out.

The verdict

Again, I’d say Apple really nailed the hardware part of the iPhone 5. It’s sharp-looking and powerful, and it’s noticeably thinner and lighter than its predecessor. I get that some people feel that it shares too many design elements with the iPhone 4 and 4S, but the truth is there was no reason for Apple to rebuild the handset from the ground up. That’s something you do if a product’s not doing well, which is obviously not the case here. Asking Apple to redesign it now is like asking someone to double-down on an Ace and a King in Blackjack instead of taking the 21. Why risk losing if you’ve already won?

The software, on the other hand, isn’t near as impressive. Amongst the live tiles and widgets of other mobile platforms, iOS 6 feels old and boring. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll take the App Store and stability (fluidity?) of iOS over Android any day. But I must admit, after playing with iOS 6 a bit this summer, I was left wanting more. I’m assuming that since iOS 5 was such a big release, Apple used iOS 6 to sort of tighten things up. So I’m hoping that there are going to be some new features in iOS 7 that really wow me.

In the end, what Apple needed to accomplish with the iPhone 5 was create a handset that was different enough from last year’s model so that people would want to buy it, but not so different that they’d mess it up. And I think they more than pulled it off.

  • Laga Mahesa

    I’m in complete agreement. Hardware is as expected, more so in terms of improved build quality. I never expected quad core, 12 megapixels, yada yada yada – that’s a spec race more suited to other platforms.

    My expectations were met with the camera improvements, more memory and better processor. Like you I’m quite disappointed with iOS 6, but I wasn’t expecting anything in that department.

    To be honest, if my dad wasn’t giving up on his Lumia and if I wasn’t planning to get a Dash Devium, I would probably wait for the 5s next year aside from low light photos, my 4s is more than good enough.

  • seyss

    Hmm I’m impressed we have the very same opinion.. Hardware good but iOS6 fail. Major feat missing: breakthrough battery..

    Who else has the money to do a “Project Manhattan” for a new battery?

  • GambitGamer

    From what I’ve seen, iOS 6 looks like iOS 5.2 depending on which device you have. If you already had an iPhone 4S then this is going to be a sad update. If you have say, an iPad(3rd Gen) then you will be happy to get siri. I want something big like that for all of my iOS devices

    • Likke upgrading from the iPhone 4 😛

      • GambitGamer

        True

    • Nicolas Loots

      And us, iPod Touch users. What do we get from iOS 6? Almost nothing! Even less than the iPhone 4S

  • shinx2ran

    I’ll wait for iphone 6 with the whole new camera design and specs. what I need is great pocket camera built into phone

    • Dave_Lui

      Look for Nokia’s Lumia 920 PureView Technology (as they claim ) as you may not be wanting to wait for a year or a two for something that’s already available.

  • Pavelbure

    This is the first iPhone that does not give me that “Christmas morning” feeling. The 4s is a great phone. Sure some specs were bumped a bit, but ios 6 is really starting to make the iPhone os feel dated.

    Jailbreaking relives that a little bit.

    • Johnathan Jennings

      Yup, I have a feling jailbreaking the new iPhone will be amazing. If apple included dashboard X, NcSettings, and a new way to unlock the phone (like recognizeMe, or a fingerprint scanner on the home button) it would have Been a totally new iPhone. People woulda flipped over this thing, and it would be enough to make people stop saying ios is so boring. Come on apple!

    • “This is the first iPhone that does not give me that ‘Christmas morning’ feeling.” I couldn’t agree more. This is probably the least excited I’ve been over the past couple of years about getting the new iPhone. I’m not sure exactly why since there are improvements and everyone’s talking about it like always, but it’s just not feeling the same. We’ll see how I feel when it comes in the mail Friday though ;]

  • This generation is a nice fix, but it’s still a pain to find your applications, and generally just navigate the OS. It’s 3x easier I.E. to choose keyboard languages in WP than in iOS. You just check the boxes, and you’re done.

  • is the A6 processor as fast as the processor found in the s3??

    • Probably even faster.

      • miguel

        Noo. The A6 processor is a dual core.. the s3 processor on international versions i a quad core.

        In carrier models the s3 has 2 gigs of ram. The iphone just 1

      • anasiatka

        A6 is not dual core…. It is quad core. I do wish we had more memory but other than when jail breaking the iPhone 4s doesn’t need the extra ram.

      • The GPU is Quad-Core, not the CPU.

      • anasiatka

        Wow. I watched the whole keynote thinking it was quad core. I apologize and feel like an idiot. I assumed it was the CPU which was quad since it was not A5 – I see now that the reason it is newer is because it is the same as A5x but faster, smaller and more efficient. Hmmm, I was really looking forwards to it having quad CPU – not sure why because it doesn’t always need more cores to be faster. I stand ashamed and corrected.

      • He didn’t ask for the Specs.
        Processors in iPhones are always “faster”, because everything in the Device works very close together.

    • In short we still have no idea how many cores the a6 has, we also have no idea which is faster because we don’t have any iPhone 5’s to test.

  • Customer looking for a breakthrough in design, not because the iPhone 5 looks bad. Major problem here > the leaking of design… I , or maybe we, thought Apple will wipe all the fake mockup and rumors away with different design, but it looks exactly the same..rmb that Chinese pop star even posted picture on Weibo ,this made us want more, at least some different in shape / connector / whatsoever..

  • iOS6 is a failure, but we can always get all the good stuff from the JB community

  • I’m really happy with the hardware and all that’s under the hood. A refreshed OS would have been welcome and would have given the missing WOW factor, but that won’t stop the iPhone 5 being another runaway success.

  • The phone looks really nice ios6 work! If it’s not broken don’t fix it this is a iPhone not a spaceship

  • i think by now everyone now can predict that the iphone 5S is gonna be a quad core and a revamped camera with some other soft wears because we had seen the iphone 4 to be a single core same as 3gs but with the 4s we got dual core and now the 5 is same dual core with some tweaks thats my interpretation ideas?

    • anasiatka

      Umm… The iPhone 5 has a quad core already. It’s the A6 and this device is the first amongst Apple’s iOS devices to get the updated chip. So I’d say 5s will have the increased battery life due to reenginerred A6x, 14MP rear camera, front 1080p camera, different size storage capacity – 32GB, 64GB, 128GB – and it will retain the same dimensions as the 5. They’ll probably also implement a new accessory featured for the new model.

      • J M

        There is no reason for the increased storage capacity. More and more data will be in a cloud somewhere, eliminating the need for such storage amounts.

      • anasiatka

        That’s true to a certain extent: your photo roll is still locally stored. I’m thinking of those higher quality pictures taking up more space. Also, unlimited data is not as common so people may not want to rely on the cloud while out in about.

      • J M

        Wifi access will continue to expand, streaming things like music take crazy tiny amount of data (I stream pandora every day on data, and have yet to go over my 3gb). As far as camera goes, I’ve got ~700 pictures in my camera roll, and it is only 2gb. I should clear it out, because no-one needs 700 pictures on hand all the time.

        I still stick by the assertion, storage capacities more than 64gb will not come into play. There is simply not a great enough need for it.

      • anasiatka

        I agree with you that we don’t have the need for it right now. I still am kinda anticipating it though. Lol.

      • no iphone 5 doesnt have quad core its only a custome made dual core.

      • anasiatka

        That was my mistake, I thought I understood it as being different than the A5x so I thought it was. I apologize and stand corrected.

      • welcome

  • Lumia 920 is looking pretty sweet lately.

  • As a former iphone user (owned the iphone 3G to the 4S) i switched to the SGS3 and i have no plan on coming back. Apple creates some awesome hardware, but my goodness its software experience has been the same since ios 4. The UI had remained the same, no major “break through” innovation. Apple played catchup with ios 6. The overall user experience is determined by the software and not the hardware as many have seen with past gen iphones. With Android, i havent had the need to root. With every iOS device ive had ive had to jailbreak it. Im sorry but hardware doesn’t determine innovation if the software doesn’t improve.

    • That’s what Steve Jobs always said. Users like software that is wrapped in amazing top-quality packaging.

    • Jurassic

      “Im sorry but hardware doesn’t determine innovation if the software doesn’t improve.”

      The software hasn’t improved???

      What planet are you living on? Are you under the impression that iOS 6 and all of the new Apple apps and services are no different than the software that was in the original iPhone in 2007???

      Your comment is beyond exaggeration. It is a complete and utter falsehood.

      • max

        Jurassic! I think you should direct that question to yourself…What planet are you living on? What is innovative in iOS 6 compared to the competition?

    • max

      well said!

  • Battery is going to be hard to tweak without making the phone larger and heavier. I wonder how long before Apple starts building variants. For example the MacBook Air 11 has a 5 hour battery and the 13 inch has a 7 hour battery.

  • n0m0n

    Left me wanting.
    Like a wider screen so that 1 can type a “m” without hitting the backspace.
    Upgrade the iOS PLEASE!!!
    In my opinion the word that comes to mind is…….BORING!

  • i tested my galaxy s3 with full battery, these are the results:(all these have been taken with independent full battery)
    3G 5h
    4G 4h
    movie 5:20h
    stand by 5 n 2h days
    music with medium volume 8h
    game 3h
    the results are real you can test it with your self, this result compared with iphone 5 saying the batteries are bad, its even a lot better.
    samsung has lied about the battery status, i bet they also lied about thte inside!

    • S3 Fail.

    • iFuture

      Really ? I was thinking that the s3 does have such a great battery-life compared to the iphone. And not that its worst.

    • Liu Zhenyu

      *sigh* Samsung more and more desperate and immature, first the copying than the ridiculous ads, than the fandroids saying iphone 5 didnt change, (Did the galaxy note 2 change from the gs3?), than now the fake specs…

      • well note 2 is whole different story in software side bro 🙂 and the interactions with s pen that no other OEM has been able to give inside their phone u must call them innovative… i dont think iphone 5 is a bad phone iOS is excellent butreally getting a old feeling as more exciting hw packed and vibant UI pcked phones are coming whom are really a looker.. like motorola droid razr m

  • iphone is american for high nobel people but s3 are for people who cant get an iphone for stupid koreans

  • ios 6 is alot better the all os, it has passbook, 3dmaps, panaroma, kids safe button, and better in developement of apps for developers, its good guys

    • It’s great but it should have been better

  • Perfect Phone

  • Tom

    Lol how he says “worlds most popular phone” I hate how apple fanboys swear the iPhone is the best

    • Melvco

      The word popular means “regarded with favor, approval or affection by people in general,” not “best.” And if you think there is another handset that is more popular than the iPhone in the world right now, I have a bridge to sell you.

      • Tom

        So what your saying is more people have iPhones then any other phone? Please explain your theory.

      • Well. As a single device I believe the iPhone does have the most sold. It may not have the most market share, however it has a fair chunk considering its really only one phone against so many android ones.

      • Tom

        Now I do agree that for the iPhone to be a single phone it does sell well. But spec wise there’s allot of phones that blow it away

      • Oh yeah there’s no denying that, however the argument always stands that more isn’t always better (e.g. 4 cores vs. 2 cores) However I have to admit I’m really intrigued by where win8 and wp8 is going, especially the lumia 920, it’s unfortunate that it has no ship date at all.. I think they both have beautiful designs.

      • Tom

        You are absolutely correct! Nokia and windows are making a biiig step forward. But what I don’t understand is why people still look down on Nokia and say their a nobody? Do they not see these amazing looking phones with out of the water specs?

      • I have no idea, hopefully wp8 gains some
        More traction but until there’s a physical device out… Anyways, specs aren’t everything to me but I love how fresh the design of the Nokia phone is, especially the color schemes. Shame it isn’t available in matte colors (they’re all shiny) 🙁

      • Jurassic

        It’s not a theory. It’s fact. More people buy and own an iPhone than any other competing smartphone… A LOT MORE!

        Google the sales stats and find out for yourself.

      • Tom

        Well I googled and I didn’t see where iPhone was the most owned and soled unit.

    • Jurassic

      In terms of sales, the iPhone sells far more units than any other competing phone in the world. So yes, this makes it the “worlds most popular phone”.

      It’s not someone else’s fault if you hate reality. 😉

      • Tom

        No. Actually Samsung does. If Apple did get the most sales then they’d own the market share. But they don’t. Samsung does. And your opinion doesn’t matter because saying the iPhone is the most popular phone in the world would have to mean everybody in the world wants or has an iphone. Cause in my state(Alabama) you’d be like what’s an iPhone? Everyone you see has something other then an iPhone. Don’t get me wrong there’s allot of people with iPhones, but there’s also more people without iPhones. So your argument is invalid.

    • Hate somewhere else.

  • Nice article , on the hardware front apple are nailing it no doubt but for sure ios needs a face lift.

  • Apple has always done a great job on the Hardware. However, in my opinion, I would like to see Apple to revamp iOS. After many Software revisions, we have yet to see some UI changes. iOS 4 only brought folders and Wallpapers and iOS 5 brought Notification center, but that’s still not enough. I expect a much refreshed UI from the ground up. And hopefully iOS 7, we should expect a new UI for our iDevices. Don’t get me wrong, the only reason why I prefer iOS is because the speed and stability is a lot better than Android. Software optimization is key when It comes to performance. But because iOS has a out-dated UI, I would say Android and Windows Phone 8 have better looking UI than iOS.

    And no, I am not a Android fanboy nor Apple fanboy. I’ve used both OSes and both each have their flaws.

  • Alex Simson

    the only way I could be happier is if they went with a curved design on the back, but I am very excited for the black on black and ofcourse a more responsive phone

  • I think Apple builds a whole new iPhone (especially talking design) every 2 years (3g-3gs / 4-4s / 5-5s / 6-6s …).
    And on the software side, they make a huge update the year they announce the “s” version (3gs, 4s, 5s, 6s …).

    It compensates the disappointment of people not to see a whole new iPhone, and gives the “s” version an improvement over the original version (voice control for the 3gs, siri for the 4s, ? for the 5s… ).

    Moreover, I think they already have a board where are listed the next features of each iPhone/iOS that they will announce for the coming years. They won’t put all the features at the same time, even if they could technically do it, they have to put them on the back burner to stay number one at sales every year.

    Please excuse my english, i’m French.

    • You have better English than most English people…

  • I think I’ll give the guys in Cupertino one more year.
    Surprise us in 2013.

  • Jurassic

    “The only thing I was somewhat disappointed in, in regards to the iPhone 5′s hardware, was battery life.”

    Cody, I’m not disappointed at all with the iPhone 5 battery life. It is equal to or slightly better than the iPhone 4S.

    This is especially commendable, since the iPhone 5 has a much larger display, a much more powerful processor, a 4G LTE transceiver, and twice the RAM of the iPhone 4S.

    Each of those things greatly add to battery usage, yet the iPhone 5 does not have less battery life than the 4S… and at the same time, Apple made the iPhone 5 about 20% thinner and lighter than the iPhone 4S!

    That is a superb feat of engineering.

  • Gorflin

    I was disappointed that the screen was not wider, when your my age (60) you need a little help with a bigger screen. They could have made the phone thicker and increased the battery size, it’s nice to have a thin phone but most people put a case on anyway which increases the thickness.
    Also the glass end pieces on the back, when you drop a phone it invariably hits the floor on a corner just where the glass is. If you break the glass which one of the many sizes of thickness glass would you need to get a flush finish (see manufacture of iPhone 5 video)

    Apple Fanboy (Old Git)

    • Daniel Spinner

      Turn the phone landscape?

      • Gorflin

        Already am doing, 60 years old, glasses and can’t tell the difference between my iPad (1) and retina on iPad (new)

  • nishan_alam

    I believe you just described my exact feelings on the new iPhone.

    Looking at the hardware and they way it is crafted, I am simply amazed. So hot but yet so elegant at the same time!! However, the disappointment is obviously iOS 6. That is probably the reason why I didn’t get that WOW-feeling when Apple announced the handset. Despite the lack of features, I would choose the iPhone 5 and iOS 6 every day of the week – don’t get me wrong but there is obviously something missing. Solution? Jailbreaking, the waiting has started.

    SBSettings, Dashboard X, biteSMS and many other features from the jailbreaking community would have average users drooling over the announcement IF they would have been implemented in iOS 6. So, simply, hoping for a revamped user interface with iOS 7 but oh, not a revamp of the crafting (that beautiful looking piece of art!!)

    Despite the disappointment with iOS 6, the iPhone 5 is the best smartphone out there. It is like the Rolex of the smartphone world, beautifully crafted and elegantly presented – no cheap parts. That’s what attracts users, because who would like to buy a cheap Casio-watch with a plastic build-quality (Samsung Galaxy SIII) when you can buy the most exclusive and the most well-built watch (iPhone 5) for the (almost) same price?

  • Sad apple is getting bad! ALL of the new features added to iPhone 5 where already in almost every android phone

  • What I don’t like is that if we get an iPhone 5S which we probably will, the design will be the same AGAIN!!!

    • Wow, u must be really smart to have figured that one out all by yourself.

    • no the iphone 5S will be shorter but same screen size which i think they should have done in the first place. i just don’t get why it’s longer, does not look right. they need to shorten the bazel and make the home button narrower.

  • Gadfly

    Why do people always grumble when something works the best? Apple under Steve Jobs designed the standard – brilliant hardware made from the best available materials in the most functional manner and with the slickest contemporary styles. The software desined as an integral part of the hardware ensured a user experience like no other – intuitively.
    I remember that the iPhone 4s was mocked and the iPad laughed at by so many ‘experts’ they are all left with egg on their faces! Then the competition android samsung google Microsoft blackberry? Do me a favour they all were carrying on with little innovation and big egos and when apple well and truly shafted them all they just copied it in a shameless attempt to catch up.
    I realise all you jaibreakers are contributing to the best interests of innovation and Apple’s closed system frustrates but that was built into the system to protect against the fragmentation that android and Microsoft have suffered. Curiously I think Bill Gates set out to capture all the markets and make as much money as possible by licensing windows then latterly chooses to give his fortune away while Steve Jobs appears to have set out to make the absolute best products which created the most money and yet did not appear quite so philanthropic.
    In the end we will all get some great products that truly change lives and it’s good to prod but Apple is still miles ahead of the competition as an all in one system long may it continue until something truly revolutionary comes along – then we will all move over – in the mean time thanks Mr Jobs!

  • Are you similarly disappointed with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean?

    Android 4.1 Jelly Bean is largely simply catching up to the initial release of the iPhone OS from five years ago with significant effort on creating a “buttery-smooth” user interface. Many of the features in newer versions of Android are related to defect resolution and optimization, so while Apple iOS 6 may not have every feature the features available are usually reliable and stable upon release.

    Apple iOS 6 on the other hand added some truly significant features that expand upon existing features or added completely new functionality to the core operating system:

    Do Not Disturb
    Guided Access (the most under-appreciated, underrated feature in iOS)
    Maps (voice activated, voice-guided turn-by-turn directions in as many as 55 countries)
    Passbook (context-aware consolidated digital wallet)
    Privacy Settings (Bluetooth Sharing, Calendars, Contacts, Location Services, Photos and Reminders)
    Safari (iCloud Tabs, Offline Reading List)
    Shared Photo Streams
    Siri (improved QoS, more features, more languages)
    VIP Mail

    These aren’t third party apps, these are highly integrated core features of the operating system that provide a seamless, intuitive user interface that is unrivaled.

    Do you really want an operating system that changes with every revision because the developer is still trying to “get it right” six releases down the road? Defect resolution isn’t progress, it is providing what you should have had in the initial release.

  • mnm0071980

    In truth, when you look at everything the iPhone can do when it is jailbroken, the phone is by far the greatest piece of technology ever created. With the increased ram, CPU, and add-on of LTE and the size, this phone will be so damn good with the JB that it would be hard to consider any other phone at all. It isn’t a iPhone if it isn’t jailbroken. Until than, it’s still one of the best on the market, but it’s not the best in my opinion. As Cody mentioned, iOS 6 is kind of dated, and I feel the same way. iOS 5 was playing catch-up; 6 just didn’t give off the wow that we expect. As always though, the phone will sell like hotcakes.

  • first reaction: looks like my asshole
    second reaction: enlarged iphone 4/4s but with metal back and 2 glass stripes and facetime in the middle
    reaction number 3: my galaxy s3 looks better and has better specs so will wait for iphone 5s