The iPhone 4S disappointed many onlookers by not straying from the design established a year earlier by the iPhone 4, but fear not phone fans -- this year the fruit-flavoured tech giant has tweaked the look of its popular smart phone and introduced some intriguing new features.
It's a strong showing on paper, but as Android rivals become increasingly powerful and popular, is Apple's new mobile good enough to warrant a purchase? Our review aims to answer that question.
We tested a handset from Vodafone, which is offering the iPhone 5 for £149 when you pay £33 per month.
The 16GB iPhone 5 costs £529, the 32GB version is £599 and the 64GB one is priced £699 direct from Apple. These are all SIM-free prices, with all networks selling the phone on various contracts -- see our Mobile Deals section for more details.
Should I buy the iPhone 5?
The iPhone 5 is everything we wanted after the iPhone 4S, with a larger display, a faster processor and 4G capability. The redesigned look is snazzy, slim and incredibly light, but this smart phone is more about refining existing features than introducing jaw-dropping ones.
A new, less helpful Maps app stops the iPhone 5 from achieving the four and a half stars that its predecessor mustered, but this is still a high-quality mobile that would make an excellent upgrade for people who own a two-year-old iPhone 4.
The extremely high price should give prospective buyers pause, however -- are you really ready to drop over £500 on a phone? Consider also that if you're fond of apps and downloads (and really, who isn't?), then the 16GB model may offer too little storage, and the 32GB option costs nearly £600 SIM-free.
Those weighing up their options should consider the Samsung Galaxy S3 -- arguably the best Android phone currently available. It has a much larger 4.8-inch display and every bell and whistle you can imagine on a smart phone, thanks to the flexible, powerful Android operating system. It also has a microSD card slot, allowing you to easily expand the on-board storage.
Apple's platform still has an edge when it comes to simplicity of use and app selection, but if you're a keen tinkerer looking for something more adventurous, Samsung's option may be more up your alley.
If you're umm-ing and ah-ing over buying the iPhone 5, waiting a month or two could be a good idea. By then, the first Windows Phone 8 devices will be on sale, offering a third option in the shape of Microsoft's tile-based operating system.
Last year's iPhone 4S looked identical to 2010's iPhone 4, leaving many gadget fans feeling glum. This time Apple has given the iPhone a fresh lick of paint, even if it's hardly a major style overhaul.
The back of the phone is made from aluminium, with a recognisable stripe across the device's rear that continues around the sides. I found this to be extremely similar to the MacBook Pro's metal casing, and so far it's held up to the rigours of everyday life, without picking up any scratches.
Although larger on the front, Apple has made the iPhone 5 lighter than its predecessor -- it weighs just 112g, compared with the iPhone 4S' 140g and feels extremely light to hold. By comparison, the iPhone 4S starts to feel as dense as lead.
The slim build is down to changes in materials and losing larger components like the 30-pin connector. The change from micro to nano-SIM is yet another space saver, though the switch does mean shoppers looking to upgrade will need to hound their network for a new SIM card.
The iPhone 5 is thinner than the 4S, at an impressive 7.6mm thick. That might not sound like much, but compared to the iPhone 4S, there's a visible difference in thickness.
It has a tall baton-like design, which coupled with the thinner frame, makes this feel like an iPhone 4S that's had a run-in with a rolling pin. It's not significantly wider than the 4S but it's certainly longer. The steel bands around the phone's circumference carry over from its predecessor, but the new stretched-out look means more room for the display, which now measures 4 inches on the diagonal.
The edges of the phone feel very different too -- less metallic, less cold, almost plasticky.
This marks the first time Apple has increased the size of the iPhone's screen from the previously standard 3.5 inches. While the difference is subtle, you'll quickly start to appreciate the extra real estate. As with the introduction of the retina display, you'll notice this new feature most when you look at an older iPhone, with the iPhone 4S and 4 starting to feel cramped by comparison.
The bigger panel means there's room for an extra row of icons on the iPhone 5's home screen and -- because it has a 16:9 aspect ratio -- you get fewer annoying black bars when you're watching movies on your mobile. Films shot in 21:9 will still play with black bars above and below the action, though as before, you can zoom in by double-tapping the screen.
The slight size bump when watching video is all well and good, but where you'll really appreciate the longer screen is with the Mail and Notes apps, or when browsing the web. Being able to see just a few more emails, or a bit more text lurking at the bottom of the display, makes a difference.
It's not life changing stuff, but in the Mail app, for example, with one line of preview text you can see six and a half messages on screen, compared with five and a third on the iPhone 4S. Small, handy improvements are the name of the game with the iPhone 5's design.
As well as ramping up the display size, Apple has bumped the iPhone's display resolution. The horizontal pixel count remains the same -- a healthy 640 pixels, but vertically you now get 1,136 of the blighters. Its pixel density is the same, at the retina display standard of 326 pixels per inch. That trumps the Samsung Galaxy S3, although that is much larger, at a mighty 4.8 inches.
Current apps, however, won't use all of the 4-inch screen, at least not until they're updated to take advantage of the extra space. Until then, they run in the centre of the display, with black bars at the top and bottom. While apps run fine this way, you'll definitely notice the difference.
You probably won't have to wait long for major apps to be updated, but if you buy the iPhone 5 soon after its launch, expect your brow to furrow frequently when you fire up apps.
The taller screen means it's no longer quite as comfortable to reach your thumbs from the home button all the way to the top of the screen, though this is a minor point and there's every chance you'll never notice the extra digit stretching. Because the phone is no wider, it's still very comfortable to use the on-screen keyboard with one hand.
4G in the UK
The iPhone 5 will work with the first 4G network to hit the UK, Everything Everywhere's EE network. However, because it only latches onto the 1,800MHz spectrum band, the iPhone 5 will only work with EE's network, and not with O2 and Vodafone's upcoming 4G services, unless they sell their own version of the iPhone 5.
The new phone will probably work with Three's network, once it's up and running, and Virgin Media is in talks with EE to get 4G using that same spectrum. It's complicated and there's a lot we don't know.
4G brings faster mobile browsing, with speeds that (theoretically, at least) far exceed those of 3G. There are several other phones confirmed to support this new tech coming to the UK, including the Samsung Galaxy S3 LTE and Nokia Lumia 920.
Because 4G is so new to the UK, and because operators have been slow to get their networks running, most iPhone 5 owners won't experience the LTE speeds the phone is capable of.
That said, it's likely to be a year before all three major UK operators have 4G up and running (by which time we'll be contemplating the iPhone 6), so you may never miss 4G on this iPhone. If you're enthusiastic about trying the nascent 4G service in the UK, you'll need to switch to one of EE's 4G plans.
Apple has introduced a new processor, the A6 chip, which improves upon that of the already speedy iPhone 4S.
Running Geekbench 2, the iPhone 5 averaged a score of 1,461 over three tests -- a huge improvement over the 4S' score of 629. We ran the Android Geekbench 2 score three times on a rooted Galaxy S3, producing an average score of 1,116. That's not as high as the iPhone 5's score, but in my experience it's best to take these benchmark results with a pinch of salt, as they're not always perfect indicators of a phone's power.
These results prove the iPhone 5 is considerably more powerful than its predecessor on paper. In practice, there's not much difference between the iPhone 5 and the 4S which, as mentioned above, is still a very fast smart phone.
You'll notice the extra power in some cases though, particularly when it comes to processor-straining apps. I exported two 2-minute videos at the highest possible resolution using iMovie on the iPhone 4S and the iPhone 5, to check which was faster.
The iPhone 4S got the movie into the phone's camera roll in 5 minutes 18 seconds, while the iPhone 5 blazed past, exporting its clip in 2 minutes 32 seconds. Again, that's twice as fast.
That's useful for those who take advantage of Apple's excellent on-the-go editing app or other bits of high-power software. But again, for the most part, there's not much discernible difference in power between the iPhone 5 and the iPhone 4S, or indeed between this new smart phone and other mobiles like the Samsung Galaxy S3.
It seems that processor tech has outpaced app developers, and as with other high-end smart phones, I suspect you'll be hard pressed to find games or apps that push the A6 chip to its limit.
The iPhone 5 gets warm (though never too hot) during intense tasks. The heat doesn't appear to affect performance at all, but it's something to note.
Call quality is improved, thanks to three microphones built into the bottom, front and back of the phone. The iPhone 5 supports HD Voice too, meaning if you're using it on a supported carrier you'll be treated to superior call quality. In the UK, Orange, T-Mobile, Three and EE use this technology and we'll update this story if we hear of O2 or Vodafone introducing HD Voice. Finally, the iPhone 5 offers dual-band Wi-Fi, connecting to both 5GHz and 2.4GHz frequencies.
iOS 6 Maps
The iPhone 5 is powered by iOS 6, the latest version of Apple's mobile OS. Alongside improvements for existing apps and services, iOS 6 brings a number of brand new features, not all of which are welcome changes.
The most significant change is to the Maps app. Apple has ditched Google, instead opting to create its own mapping service, which unfortunately is a step backwards that will likely frustrate those using iOS 6 -- especially in the UK.
As our thorough Maps app comparison revealed, the level of map detail on Apple's option is inferior, with far fewer shops and businesses present on the maps.
Satellite images on Apple's offering are also inferior, with less clarity in the view-from-space mode, even in central London. Outside of the capital, there are embarrassing mistakes like Solihull being covered in cloud, Luton located in the wrong place entirely and Leamington Spa renamed 'Royal Spa'.
Red-faced errors aside, there are several significant feature downgrades here. First, you lose Street View, the brilliant Google service that lets you explore locations from the ground, a feature that frequently proves essential if you're visiting somewhere new and want to check what the outside of the shop or house looks like.
Secondly, you lose Google's excellent public transport search, which uses train and bus data to provide directions around the nation to those without cars. Apple Maps has a public transport icon, but when you press it you just get a list of transport apps in the App Store that you could download, which you can later choose to jump into when you're plotting routes. Frustratingly, the app makes you input the route you're looking for before showing you this next-to-useless list.
The fact there's even an icon for public transport suggests to me that Apple will be introducing the feature at some point, but for now it's a serious omission. Even when Apple pulls its finger out, how useful iOS 6's public transport information proves to be will depend on whose data it buys, so there are no guarantees.
A new feature is 3D maps, which shows you a swanky 3D view of buildings from above, that you can navigate by twisting the screen with two fingers. This looks fantastic, but you'll find only major cities have been given this treatment, with the majority of the UK looking as flat as a big green ironing board.
There are some useful tools here. Apple's app uses Yelp's business data, which I found handy for finding restaurant reviews, for instance. That said, if you find a business you're interested in while using Maps, a supplementary Google search may be a good idea before visiting, as I've heard of some closed-down businesses appearing.
A navigation mode for drivers turns your iPhone into a sat-nav, meanwhile, which I tested with a taxi jaunt around London. It worked well, only once reporting that it had lost signal, with directions and turnings clearly marked. I wouldn't want to vouch for the reliability or battery capabilities of this feature over lengthy car trips through signal black-spots, however.
Google will reportedly be making its since-ditched Maps app available for iOS, so in the future you may have a way of getting to all those old features. Until then, you can access Google's own maps via the web browser -- I'd recommend visiting Google Maps from your iPhone and following Google's on-screen instructions for adding a shortcut to your home screen.
Facebook, Siri and FaceTime over 3G
With iOS 5, Apple baked Twitter into the very centre of its operating system. This time around it's doing the same thing with Facebook. You can post photos to Mark Zuckerberg's social networking site from the Photos app, and Facebook events and friends' birthdays are automatically added to the Calendar app. When you sign into iOS with Facebook, you'll have the option to add your Facebook pals to your Contacts.
As with the Maps app, Apple has buddied up with Yelp to provide UK business listings for Siri. In my experience, this significantly improves the usefulness of Apple's robot butler, as now you can bark questions like 'where's my nearest pub' or 'find me somewhere nice to eat in Kensington'. You can read restaurant reviews too, which will likely prove handy.
Siri now has sports information, though you probably won't find this terribly useful. I asked 'Who is top of League One?', only to have Siri tell me that Chelsea headed the Premier League. I couldn't find any rugby information either. On the plus side, Siri can now open apps -- even ones not made by Apple.
Siri has improved, but the problems that were present a year ago are still rattling around. While Siri is good at certain specific tasks, its propensity to misunderstand or mishear what you're saying means you're unlikely to rely on it, or make it your first port of call for information.
FaceTime, Apple's own-brand video-calling service, now works over 3G. That means you can take and receive FaceTime calls from people when you're out and about, instead of waiting until you're within range of a Wi-Fi signal, though beware of data charges.
When I tested this feature, calling an iPhone 5 on O2's network via one connected to Vodafone, it worked quite well, though the picture looks quite blocky and isn't particularly detailed.
I had the person I was calling walk around a bit, and several times the connection dropped. When this happens, the screen goes black and you'll see text that reads, "Poor Connection. The video will resume automatically when the connection improves." Expect the usefulness of the 3G FaceTime feature to depend on whether your network operator is playing ball, then.
iOS and Android
iOS is still a winner when it comes to ease of use. Apps are arranged in a grid on a series of home screens, and you dip in and out of different apps by tapping their icons on the home screen, or using the multi-tasking bar, summoned by double-tapping the home button.
It's a simple operating system to get your head around, even if some areas (I'm looking at you, Settings app) still feel a bit confusing. iOS is also strongest when it comes to apps (though the gap appears to be shrinking), thanks to app developers favouring Apple's platform. As such, major publishers, businesses or broadcasters tend to prioritise iOS over rival operating systems -- something to bear in mind if you're an app enthusiast.
iOS gets the basics right, with simple but crucial tasks like email and messaging all working well. With iOS 6, Mail gets a VIP list so it's easy to access emails from your most important contacts, while Apple's iMessage system sends messages to other iOS users for free.
However, iOS is not for everyone. Rival operating system Android has several advantages. For one, its home screens are always bubbling with life, thanks to dynamic widgets that update automatically, so you can see your emails, tweets or Facebook updates (for example) without having to open a specific app.
Android is highly customisable, unlike iOS. So if you've a mind to, you can alter your smart phone in all sorts of interesting ways, including rooting the device to install custom operating systems. Those of a technical persuasion will find these possibilities intriguing.
In summary, if you consider yourself a casual tech fan then the straightforward nature of iOS will appeal to you. If you're feeling more technically ambitious, there's every chance you'll find Apple's platform restrictive and limited, in which case Android will be right up your alley.
iOS also plays host to a slew of excellent gaming apps and the potential of the iPhone 5 as a gaming system is not to be underrated. From graphical powerhouse titles like Infinity Blade 2 to inventive blasts of fun like Tiny Wings, Rayman Jungle Run or Jetpack Joyride, and not forgetting multi-player fun with apps like Words With Friends or Hero Academy, the iPhone plays host to tonnes of great games, most of which cost less than a quid and can be downloaded in moments.
The iPhone 5 has an 8-megapixel camera -- the same basic resolution as the iPhone 4S, though Apple has made tweaks to the technology within. This phone performs better than the iPhone 4S in low light, has better video stabilisation and produces more vibrant colours, though the change is subtle.
Check through the following comparison shots, which show iPhone 5 and iPhone 4S photos of the same subjects in the same conditions. While I think the iPhone 5 photos are slightly brighter and more colourful, you'd be hard pressed to split them.
The iPhone 5 makes this bicycle look a little more colourful, but there's not much difference in the quality of the shot.
There's practically no difference in colours or details in these two indoor shots, though our cuddly Android looks a little blown in the iPhone 5's photo.
Both the iPhone 4S and the iPhone 5 are great for close-up shots, creating some arty-looking depth of field when you get close enough to your subject.
The iPhone 5 has captured the better photo here, with the chilli looking far more colourful than in the iPhone 4S' shot. In some cases, you might find the iPhone 5's pictures a little too lurid, but for the most part I thought both cameras took excellent shots.
Apple thinks the iPhone 5 does a better job in low light, but I found performance on both phones to be similar.
Turning on the flash, once more you'll find iPhone 4S and iPhone 5 images looking similar. Flash on the iPhone 5 works quite well, but don't expect this smart phone to rival a digital compact camera when it comes to taking photos in the dark.
Check out the video tests below, where you can see there are also few differences in quality.
The iPhone 5 can take pictures at speed, and we were able to fire off multiple shots using quick tapping.
You can now take photos while shooting video, though unfortunately this feature doesn't use the camera itself per se, but instead takes a screen capture of the video. This means the aspect ratio is different and quality isn't as sharp.
Panorama mode is a new feature that knits together a 360-degree image, conducted by holding the iPhone 5 in portrait mode and turning it slowly. Panorama apps are not new, but I found that Apple's take is -- as you'd hope -- easier to use and more refined.
The app itself talks you through the process and the pictures look good, though as you can see in this Panorama, there are artefacts that ruin the effect in places.
Finally, the front-facing camera has been upgraded to 720p resolution, meaning both still photos and video look a little better. That's good news for YouTube self-broadcasters.
Overall, the tweaks to this camera are so slight you may never notice, with many of our comparison shots looking almost identical. That's not to say this isn't a great camera, and thanks to built-in editing tools and the ability to share to social networks, the iPhone 5 is a worthy alternative to a digital compact camera.
Apple estimates you'll get 8 hours of 3G talk time from the iPhone 5 and 8 hours for both 3G and 4G web browsing. If you're watching a movie, expect 10 hours of juice and 40 hours if you're just playing music.
With a more powerful processor, bigger screen and lighter frame, we were naturally concerned about battery life, though our tests suggest that the iPhone 5 will last roughly a day, using a mix of features. Don't expect more than a day's battery life though -- like almost all smart phones the iPhone 5 will require charging nightly.
We made an effort to burn through the iPhone 5's battery as quickly as possible using a mix of battery draining apps and the graphically punishing Infinity Blade 2. In this test, which we monitored using a camcorder kindly lent by our exhaust-addled pals at XCAR, the iPhone 5 lasted 3 hours and 30 minutes.
This was a seriously heavy-usage test, so expect better battery life if you're using the phone normally, but the figure is indicative as a minimum benchmark. If all you're doing is playing graphically intense games, this is how long you can expect the iPhone 5 to last.
When we performed a similar test last year the iPhone 4S managed just over 3 hours, and to compare this figure to a games machine, we found you could similarly expect 3-4 hours of solid gaming from the PlayStation Vita.
As with previous iPhones, the iPhone 5's battery is sealed inside its body, preventing you from accessing or replacing it yourself. This means carrying a spare battery isn't possible. If something goes awry with the phone's power brick, you'll need to send it off to be fixed. One good thing about the Samsung Galaxy S3 is that it has a removable battery.
Lightning dock connector
Apple has a new way to plug your iPhone in. At the bottom of this freshly unveiled mobile you'll spot a smaller connector port, which Apple dubs the 'Lightning' port. As well as being teeny-tiny, the charging connector for this socket will work whichever way up you plug it in, eliminating that annoying fumble as you try and cram a plug into its socket the wrong way up.
The downside, of course, is that any current chargers or speaker docks you own won't work any more, meaning you'll need to pay more for an adaptor -- £25 extra -- that will convert your chunky old connectors into the svelte new model. Despite the name, this new port isn't actually any faster than the current option.
Also bundled in the box are Apple's new EarPod headphones. These have a quirky, globular shape and I found them reasonably comfortable to stick inside my ears. Sound quality is clear with a satisfying bass punch, but because these aren't in-ear headphones, they do let extra sound in.
That means they're not ideal for use on noisy trains, for instance. The leaky sound works both ways too, making these buds rather anti-social at higher volumes.
The iPhone 5 is an excellent smart phone, even if this upgrade is more about hardware refinement than introducing exotic new features. If you want an enormous bells-and-whistles phone that's exploding with features, then other mobiles (the Samsung Galaxy S3 springs to mind) offer that.
Needless to say, I wanted to see something I hadn't thought of before -- something that would suddenly seem indispensable. The iPhone 5 has no such novelty, but note that while tech enthusiasts understandably want to see promising new features, most phone shoppers will likely prefer this kind of polished revision.
The only serious problem with this phone is its Maps app, which is a real disappointment. It pains me to see such a good-looking, easy-to-use phone let down so severely in one area. If Apple can improve its maps software quickly, we may be tempted to improve that score.
Editor's note, 27 September 2012: Review updated following more extensive UK testing.