The first iPhone 5 reviews hit the web

While most folks, including us, will have to wait until Friday to get their hands on the iPhone 5, a select group of journalists have been using the handset in secret for several days.

These writers were given early access to the new iPhone so they could post full-length reviews of the smartphone before it launches this week. And a lot of these posts just went live…

Apple’s embargo lifted this evening at 6pm PST, essentially giving everyone with an early review of the iPhone 5, the green light to post them. And here’s what they are saying:

Writing for The Wall Street Journal, Walt Mossberg says that the new iPhone is “significantly” faster, thinner and lighter than its predecessors:

“Perhaps the single biggest functional improvement in this iPhone—something you can’t get by upgrading the software on an older model—is speed. Apple has finally connected the iPhone to the fastest cellular data network, called LTE, and data downloads and uploads just fly, even when you aren’t on Wi-Fi. Also, the processor now has twice the previous speed.”

And Tim Stevens, of Engadget, said that their test found that the battery life of the new iPhone was on par with Motorola’s long-lasting RAZR Maxx:

“On our standard battery rundown test, in which we loop a video with LTE and WiFi enabled and social accounts pinging at regular intervals, the iPhone 5 managed a hugely impressive 11 hours and 15 minutes. That’s just 10 minutes shy of the Motorola Droid RAZR Maxx.”

David Pogue of The New York Times describes the handset as “beautiful,” and says that the camera takes far better low-light shots than the 4S was capable of:

“The camera is among the best ever put into a phone. Its lowlight shots blow away the same efforts from an iPhone 4S. Its shot-to-shot times have been improved by 40 percent. And you can take stills even while recording video (1080p hi-def, of course).”

And USA Today’s Edward Baig believes the handset easily lives up to the high expectations:

“People have always had lofty expectations for the iPhone 5, especially as the competition stiffens. In delivering a fast, attractive, LTE-capable and larger-screen handset, Apple has met those expectations with a gem.”

When it comes to the screen, The Loop’s Jim Dalrymple claims that you have to see the iPhone 5’s larger display to understand what it means for user experience:

“If you told me that I would be able to see another few rows of emails or more of a Web page, I don’t know that I would see the importance, but when you look at the iPhone 5, it’s more than that. You have to see it to get an idea of what can be done.”

And CNet’s Scott Stein agrees:

“Secondly, the screen size lengthening is subtle, but, like the Retina Display, you’re going to have a hard time going back once you’ve used it. The extra space adds a lot to document viewing areas above the keyboard, landscape-oriented video playback (larger size and less letterboxing), and home-page organizing (an extra row of icons/folders).”

Here’s TechCrunch’s MG Siegler on how the iPhone 5 update compares to previous ones:

“In fact, I’ll go a step farther: I really do believe this is the best iPhone upgrade that Apple has done yet (besting the iPhone-to-iPhone 3G jump and the iPhone 3GS-to-iPhone 4 jump). As such, it’s the best version of the iPhone yet. By far…

…If you have an Android phone and have been waiting for a big iPhone update to explore or re-explore the device, now is the time.”

And Time’s Harry McCracken on the same topic:

“The bottom line, in case it isn’t clear already: The iPhone 5 is one terrific smartphone. Ignore the naysayers — even without any awesome technological breakthroughs, it’s a sizable improvement on the iPhone 4S. For many upgrades, LTE alone will be worth the price of admission.”

Rich Jaroslovsky, writing for Bloomberg says:

“One of Apple’s underappreciated abilities is its sense of timing. It often isn’t first with new technologies, waiting until it can bring something special and Apple-like to the table.With the iPhone 5, the most obvious something-special is how fast it is and how long it runs at those speeds.”

And Pocket Lint’s Stuart Miles finds its equally impressive:

“What Apple has created with the iPhone 5 is an extremely polished smartphone that oozes appeal. It’s incredibly well built, easy to use, features a beautiful screen, and comes packed with enough speed and power to service all your requirements. The hardware is just stunning. It really is impressive how much is crammed into such a tiny box.”

Vincent Nguyen, of SlashGear, says that Apple’s new smartphone hits all the right notes:

“Does the iPhone 5 feel better in the hand than the iPhone 4S? Is it faster, and smoother running; does it have a more capable camera; can it access data more rapidly while on the move? Does the combination of iPhone hardware and iOS software feel the most holistic and balanced of any Apple smartphone to-date? The answer to all those questions is yes. Apple has addressed the bigger-screen debate with a solution that doesn’t undermine key usability promises, delivered LTE without destroying battery life, and wrapped it up in a design that’s both comfortably familiar and crisply revitalized.”

Patrick Gross of TechRadar:

“What is perhaps more suprising is just how much snappier this feels than the iPhone 4S. The A6 chip clearly has significantly more grunt under its smaller hood – but what is surprising is that you can immediately tell when you use the device alongside its predecessor.”

The Telegraph’s Shane Richmond:

“the iPhone 5 is a great smartphone made even better. It’s fast, lightweight and backed by the largest application store for any device. It’s also probably the most beautiful smartphone anyone has ever made.”

And finally, Daring Fireball’s John Gruber:

“It feels great, looks great, has the best display I’ve seen at any size, runs noticeably faster, networks noticeably faster, is way thinner and lighter than any of its predecessors, takes better photos, and, in my six days of testing, gets totally decent iPhone-4S-level battery life.

But you don’t even have to turn it on to see how nice it is. Just hold it.”

There are several things we can take away from these early iPhone 5 reviews. The screen is much better, thanks to its new size and display technology. The phone itself runs noticeably faster — even compared to last year’s 4S. And the new aluminum-backed casing was a great choice by Apple, as it now looks and feels the part of a world-class handset.

Also, several of the reviews pointed to better iSight photos, specifically in low-light conditions, as well as improved battery life. And they all mentioned how fast LTE was, on both Verizon and AT&T, with some of the writers pointing out it was hard to tell when they were and weren’t on Wi-Fi networks.

Of course, it’s no surprise that these early reviews are glowing. Apple essentially hand-picked these people to be the first to tell the world about its new handset. The real test will come when other writers get their hands on the device and offer up their no holds barred opinions. But still, as it stands now, it certainly looks like Apple has another hit on its hands.