In a glitzy launch event at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Centre on September 12, Apple detailed the iPhone 5’s key features, much of which had already been seen in pictures and videos leaked on the web ahead of the event.
The most obvious upgrade is to the handset’s design and screen dimensions. Gone is the 3.5 inch (diagonal) screen used in every iPhone to date, in favour of a new 4 inch screen. The new dimensions allow for five rows of apps compared to its predecessors’ four rows.
That new screen has a resolution of 1,136x640 pixels, which means it’s still a Retina Display – Apple’s moniker for its highest resolution displays. It also means the aspect ratio of the device has changed to 16:9. It’s expected app developers will now optimise for the new dimensions.
Gone is the rear glass casing of the iPhone 4 and 4S in favour of a new brushed aluminium backplate, and the handset is 18% thinner than its predecessor.
Under the hood is the brand new A6 processor, which Apple says is twice as fast as the A5 found in the iPhone 4 and 4S. This means it’ll be capable of more impressive graphics, sound and multi-tasking. The battery has also been improved, promising 225 hours’ standby time.
The rear camera has been given a radical overhaul and is now in line with many other smartphones on the market at 8 megapixels. New software also allows pictures to be stitched together to created panoramic shots. The front-facing camera has also been given a higher resolution sensor.
One change which is sure to irk some people is the new smaller dock connector used to charge the phone or connect it to your computer or accessories. The new 80% smaller port means that your current iPhone accessories won’t work with the iPhone 5, at least not without an adapter.
Finally, the new iOS6 software brings a completely overhauled maps app, Siri improvements and more.
The 4G question
Until the iPhone 5’s unveiling there was a big question mark over support for 4G, the next generation of mobile web connectivity.
We now know that the new handset does support 4G, and a range of 4G frequencies at that, which means faster downloading of apps, music, videos and web pages – up to five times faster than 3G, in fact.
Everything Everywhere (EE), the parent company of Orange and T-Mobile, currently has the monopoly on 4G in the UK under its new EE brand. The other mobile networks, perhaps with the exception of Three, won’t be able to launch 4G services until 2013.
Three recently bought a portion of Everything Everywhere’s spectrum so that it could technically support 4G, but has made no announcements yet.
So unless you’re on EE, or on Orange or T-Mobile and willing to upgrade, you won’t be able to take advantage of 4G using the iPhone 5 just yet. The same thing happened with the UK launch of the new iPad, which is technically capable of 4G but had no network support at launch.
You can read more about 4G here.
Release dates and tariffs
Apple announced that the phone would be available to buy from September 21, and can be pre-ordered from September 14 with a SIM-free price tag of £529. In the States, the phone will be available on two-year contracts starting at the same price the 4S did, $199.
As is typical with iPhone launches, you may not be able to get hold of one on launch day without pre-ordering or queuing through the night outside an Apple Store, but they should be available soon after, either directly from Apple or from a mobile network.
You’ll be able to compare iPhone 5 tariffs on our mobiles channel as they are announced by the major networks, but if you can afford to buy the handset outright there may be a cheaper option.
If you can afford to pay for the iPhone 5 outright without signing up for a contract, it may be cheaper in the long run to go for a SIM-only deal.
As I explain in my article ‘Should you go for a SIM-only deal?’ the savings can be significant and you’ll also be free from a contract and able to upgrade whenever you like – even when Apple inevitably brings out the iPhone 6 next year.
If the £529 price tag on the iPhone 5 is a bit much, you can always recycle your current handset for cash to put towards it. For example, at the time of writing our mobile phone recycling partner is paying £193 for a working 16GB iPhone 4S.
How does it compare?
At times you could be forgiven for thinking Apple was the only smartphone pedlar in town, but there are a few other manufacturers giving them a run for their money.
Samsung’s Galaxy S3 has an even bigger HD screen at 4.8 inches, a voice activated personal assistant to rival the iPhone’s Siri called S-Voice and an 8-megapixel camera. At around £499 SIM-free however, it’s not much cheaper than the iPhone 5, unless Samsung cuts the price to compete.
The LTE version of the Android-powered Galaxy S3 also supports 4G connectivity, if that’s a deal-breaker for you. EE has also announced a list of other handsets (including Nokia’s brand new 820 and 920) its customers can use to take advantage of 4G, which you can find here.
HTC’s ONE X also has a bigger screen than the iPhone 5 at 4.7 inches. The One X, which came out in April, also features an 8 megapixel camera and can be picked up for around £420.
Is it worth upgrading?
This really is a brand new iPhone with upgrades across the board – unlike the move from iPhone 4 to 4S.
Upgrades to the screen, chassis, processor, cameras and battery - and the inclusion of 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology are big selling points for Apple, and have been well received by fans, critics and the media.
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Please note: Any rates or deals mentioned in this article were available at the time of writing. Click on a highlighted product and apply direct.