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Few companies polarise opinion more so than Apple. To some, they're the pinnacle of what a personal computer can be, intuitive and beautiful, matching brains with beauty. To others, they're overpriced, overengineered and sorely underpowered. "Why spend that much on an Apple product when this product by HTC does even more for half the price!" they cry, littering internet forums with their diatribes.
Regardless, as Apple becomes the world's most valuable company, few could argue with the success of it's products.
After what has felt like an eternity, the iPhone 5 is finally here. You'd have been hard pressed to avoid hearing about it; even people who have absolutely no interest in technology or mobile phones have said to me "It doesn't have NFC you know. I mean, I don't know what that is, but I know the new iPhone doesn't have it." It's already shipped millions of units, and in the lead-up to Christmas you can expect millions more to fly off the shelves as it becomes, once again, the must-have item in everyone's pocket.
But is it any good?
Well, that's difficult to answer. If you have an iPhone 3G or 3GS, your head will explode when you try the iPhone 5 - it's a gargantuan technological leap forwards in every way. If you have an iPhone 4 or 4S, you may find it more difficult to justify the upgrade.
As you'd expect, the build quality is second to none. Apple's famed industrial design team (headed by England's very own Sir Jony Ive no less) have produced something which oozes a premium feel from each of it's beautifully chamfered edges. There's no creaks or rattles, every button press feels razor sharp with a pleasing tactility. The new aluminium rear is a welcome addition for those who have had the misfortune of dropping their iPhone 4, not only is it a more robust material than Gorilla Glass, it looks darn cool too. I purchased the black version, and the matte slate backplate with black Apple logo looks fantastic. The two colour options are both attractive, but personally I'd recommend the black - when the screen is off, it blends almost seamlessly into the black body of the phone - with the white version it doesn't.
Speaking of the screen, it's phenomenal. By now, everyone is familiar with Apple's Retina Display, and seeing it in a 4-inch guise is a subtle but welcome addition. Colour saturation is near-perfect, and icons and text are clear as ever.
One thing you'll notice when picking up the new iPhone is how light it feels. It really is
remarkable. Not only has it gained an extra half-inch of screen, it's shed weight and become slimmer. As with all of Apple's new products, holding the new next to the old makes you wonder how you ever tolerated the iPhone 4 for so long. That tiny screen, the unbearable thickness, the lead weight. The horror, the horror.
Inside you get Apple's new software, iOS6. It's no radical departure from previous versions (although there's enough to say about it to warrant it's own review), something which might disappoint some customers. With Android on the rampage (thanks mostly to it's wide-range of compatible handsets) users may be forgiven for wondering if Apple has done enough to retain it's stronghold in the smartphone market. If you use iOS5, you'll find iOS6 much the same. There are a few new features, for example Do Not Disturb which turns off all alerts during certain times of day or night, or Reply With Message, which lets you dismiss an incoming call with one of three text message replies. I can almost hear Android users shouting 'We've been doing this for years!' and they do have a point. But then Apple have always been slightly behind the curve with features like this, preferring to work on overall user experience than throwing every garnish into their products.
In the new music player in iOS6, the volume slider is a small metallic disc which you can slide up and down a rail to increase and decrease volume. However look closely
at this disc and you'll notice, when you tilt and move the phone, the lighting effect changes, mimicking a physical brushed-steel knob. Necessary? No. But it shows Apple's (almost unbelievable) attention to detail.
Should I buy this phone?
If you are using an iPhone 3G or 3GS, you will love the iPhone 5. It's superior in every way; faster, bigger, thinner, lighter, better camera, better screen, better speakers.
If you have an iPhone 4, I'd say it's worth an upgrade, too. Siri, though gimicky, really works on the iPhone 5, and produces very accurate results for almost every command.
If you have a 4S I'd say the decision is more difficult. If you're due an upgrade, the iPhone 5 makes sense. If you're midway through your contract and are wondering if it's worth cancelling early to get the iPhone 5, I'd suggest it isn't. The 4S has most of the features of the 5, albeit with a different form factor, so you would be upgrading for a slightly larger screen and nothing else. Sure the 5 may run quicker on paper, but in my tests the 0.02 second difference was imperceptible.
Of course, it doesn't matter what I say. The iPhone will be wildly successful, it will sell a record-breaking number of units, and even people who don't use a mobile phone will find themselves yearning for one. It may not be the enormous leap in software-terms, and Apple will always have it's detractors who claim iOS is a walled garden, but in physical terms no other smartphone comes close.
Go to a shop and pick up a Samsung Galaxy S3 or (heaven forbid) a Blackberry. They feel how we expect a phone to feel in our hand. Plastic, slightly creaky, but robust enough to survive a drop or knock. The iPhone feels indescribably better. It feels futuristic, solid, like it was hewn from one slab of aluminium (this is partly true for the rear and the surrounding bezel.)
It is, quite simply, the best-looking piece of technology you can buy today.