Apple Iphone 5 Review
First Impressions: Having acquired the phone second hand, from a friend, it’s not going to be as exactly as would be new. However I don’t think that strictly matters. The box is as we all know from Apple, they know how to make a nice box. Inside the phone is there, a little black slab of glass. Underneath are the charger and charging / data cable. Though really Apple, black phone, the most high margin phone out there and you couldn’t stretch to making a black cable and black charger???? Really?!?!?!? Guess how long it’ll take me to order a black cable on eBay? I hate while cables. Anyway, the phone itself is a nice object, a small object to be sure but a very dense, metal and glass one. While one could say this makes it feel “premium” mostly I think I want to say it feels heavy. Of course it’s so small its total mass isn’t massive but as I look and hold it, my impression is, heavy.
Anyway…… since I still use Itunes for the Ipods I have kicking around I have a copy of it not just installed but full of music and ready to go. Hooking it up and its fairly simple to set up. Not of course that I plan to fill it with music, it is after all only a 16GB model and lossless files would eat all of that in a heartbeat. For using with a phone my traditional music source is my goggle music account. I’m not sure how well it may or may not play nice with the Iphone.
Hardware: Apple has a reputation for making “premium” products and I cannot say that in any way it does not feel like it’s a nicely made product. It feels utterly ridged in the hand. The screen of it too, while the numbers, both the size and the resolution, are …….. not what one would think of as being from a high end device. Granted the device by now is old but even at the time, a 4 inch screen is just plain small. Not that small is a bad thing, I personally find that 4.7 is my ideal screen size so I’m no lover of humungo phones. The resolution, meh, its 640 x 1136. The PPI is 326 so it’s reasonable. That however doesn’t really capture that in the flesh the screen is very good looking. It’s an LCD so more natural colour wise. It is pleasant. I still prefer the poppy colours of an AMOLED screen, it’s a phone screen, I’m not watching a film that demands accurate colour representation. There simply is nothing I’m going to do with a 4 inch screen that demands tonal purity.
Inside we have a dual core 1.3GHz cpu and 1GB of RAM. On paper it’s no speed demon. Still in use iOS being set up to prioritise on screen action it always feels buttery smooth. That you can’t run anything in the background certainly helps in that regard. Though visually iOS just feels old. I know it’s limited in what you can do to it but WP 8.1 is just as locked down and it feels slick, modern, this feels so quant. Camera wise the front is a basic 1.2MP and the one on the back is an 8MP. Again on paper that sounds a bit meh but it’s vastly better than the junk that’s on the back of a Nexus 4. It’s still better than the one on the Nexus 5 too. Fact is Nexus cameras are always crap and Apple ones are normally pretty good.
The last hardware bit of note in the button on the front. Yes it actually has a real button on the front, not a capacitive one but a real actual button. It feels so quant and old fashioned. Speaking of which, while I know the lightning connector is nice, you can use it either way round but no Qi charging??? It launched at the same time as the N4 which was what, a quarter of its price but this has no Qi? I disprove greatly.
Audio Software: Quite why the music app is called music and not Itunes, I know not. Why Itunes store and App store are different I don’t know either. I’d be lying if said I was impressed with the default state of affairs but people seem to be fine with it. For me, I mostly went to the Google Play Music app as it’s conveniently got my music on it. When comparing things it’s almost essential to use music you know. However every streaming service has an app I’m sure, Tidal certainly did and I know Spotify does too. You can even get apps that allegedly can play FLAC files too. I however really cannot be arsed trying it. Frankly if you are using an Iphone and you want on board music you are going to be using Itunes. Since it, like Apple in general, are arsey about refusing to use the format that everyone else on earth uses (FLAC) for seemingly no other reason than just to be arsey. So if you’re locked into the horror that is Itunes and you have FLAC files you want to play, convert them to ALAC and have done with. Then the phone will play them just fine in the stock app.
Streaming wise though things are looking up. You name it, it’s available and seeing as Apple charge eye watering amounts for increased on-board storage, streaming really looks like the sensible option.
Audio Hardware: I did have look to see if anyone had definitively declared what DAC was inside the thing. I couldn’t. From previous incarnations it’s been some Cirrus Logic cheapo parts, but it does seem a bit on the warmer side that is usual for Cirrus Logic. I found nothing screaming apple had moved back to Wolfson so I’m working on the assumption it’s a Cirrus Logic chip. Still it’s not horrid.
Lows: Meh. The biggest problem with the lows here is that the amp itself is so weedy. Sure it’s also a fairly warm and soft sound, I have no problem with that at all but the bass even on fairly bassy things was just so bland. Sticking in the IE8’s and it began to come more alive and vibrant but they are easy to drive, bass cannon roller coasters. The bass is sizable but it should be ripping my face off, tearing from one side to another in a violent, rip roaring bass fest. It’s just not. It is good but that I’ve had to pair one of the most capable and dynamic IEM’s to get the bass to come alive disappoints me. It’s just so meh and bland and flabby and meh. Maybe this is why so Iphone users are inclined to bass cannons like the Beat’s things? The DAP is so mediocre that they need ear/headphones that are so aggressively bassy to get things to stir?
Depth isn’t particularly good. It’s probably a question of amp power but its rolls off so swiftly. At least its graceful about it, doesn’t try to struggle on and just flab all over the place.
Mids: The midrange on the whole is an improvement. They have a nice amount of liquidity and still have a moderate amount of air and space to them. The overall warmed tone of the Iphone is one that tends to suit vocals very well. Guitars and such, not so, much. They want more clean and a greater sense of clarity but hey for vocals I’m good. Even on hard to drive things like the RE-0 mids are very nice. Smoothly controlled and never ever heading towards that sibilant zone. They if anything are inclined to a lower midrange and gently, smoothly running upwards. Detail levels, are pretty good too but they really aren’t pulling out all they could be. I’m not really a massive detail junkie so for vocals I’d give them props for going for a more pleasant overall picture than trying to be to revealing and then falling flat on its face.
Highs: Well, they aren’t horrible. Like the bass there is a fair amount or roll off but that’s not the problem. It’s a blend of not being very refined, softened and then scratchy. The upside of the amp being a bit weedy is that on brighter IEM’s like the RE-0 that it hasn’t the power to drive them well enough to show up where the treble is lacking. On the easy to drive IE8 that’s not true. It’s a good things it’s fairly rolled off as otherwise details that should be more abrasively apparent are encompassed in a vague wash of treble shimmer. The fact is its not great and if the device was much cheaper or even just less marketed as an Ipod that can make call’s then I’d be much more willing to cut it some slack. The fact that you must sync it with a programme called Itunes how can you not get the impression it’s supposed to be an audio player as much as it is a phone? It’s just not.
Soundstage/Instrument Separation: So so. It’s a middling layout that errs towards the close in intimate. Space, breathy abundant air and openness this has not. Not that its unpleasant, in soft jazz and the like it’s very pleasantly cosy.
Battery Life: The dramatic upside to Ios not allowing things to run in the background is that the battery life is excellent. The battery is sealed so you can’t swap in a spare and to make things worse, Apple won’t use micro USB so there is reduced chance of there being a cable randomly about that will do. It’s just as well then that the battery, sans lots of screen on time should comfortable last you through a day.
Build Quality: Exemplary. Apple have a reputation for making beautifully constructed things, it is deserved. I really cannot fault its construction in any way.
UI: Meh. It feels so primitive and stunted. Like the rest of the OS is missing or its just simply not finished yet. Yet the trade-off of that is that it’s so simple even a 2 year old could manage it. It’s super simple, you really can’t do anything to break it or accidently kill something you shouldn’t. You simply don’t have the ability to do so. Hyper simplistic which depending on who you are is either a great boon or a show stopper.
In The Hand: It is a very heavy little slab. Of course its total weight isn’t vast given it’s so tiny but it’s very dense and unyielding. Its edges too are very stark, it’s a little unkind to the hand, it doesn’t feels like it belongs in your hand. Still once you slap it in a little case that hardness is softened and it feels much more comfortable.
Format Support: Save yourself the headache, just use MP3, AAC or ALAC. I don’t believe its worth fighting against using Itunes so just use formants it natively supports.
Volume: It could in most cases go loud enough. I’m sure it knows in in Europe so I presume its volume lowered compared to the US but I don’t really know how to check. Much of the time I had it in the “red” volume zone but it will depend on what you are using with them. Its fine and probably sufficient for most but it just hasn’t the headroom I’d like to see.
Accessories: Erm a white USB plug and a white cable. Really Apple, REALLY?!?!?!? Black phone and you can’t stretch to a black cable and plug???? However… the one major plus point of Iphones are that there is 400 billion compatible accessories. Cases in particular have a fantastic selection and accordingly I have picked one that appeals to me greatly. Apples marketing genius means that accessory makers literally que up to make compatible stuff.
Speaker: While god forbid you use it for music, for speaker phone and such its adequate. I’d again say that volume is a bit of an issue but then as it’s so small I suspect it wouldn’t get much use for video play back anyway.
Camera: The numbers say it’s an 8MP camera. Numbers though aren’t everything and it was fairly widely recognised that the Iphone cameras tend to be much better than their megapixel count would suggest. I’m not Camera guy but to me it looks rather good. Compare to the also 8MP Nexus 4 and the Iphone is the clear winner.
The Good: Well depending on who you are the biggest plus point is probably its simplicity. It’s so locked down a potted plant could use it and not have any particular problems. Some people love it for that simplicity, they either can’t or don’t want to deal with any complexity or options. They want all the thinking done for them and that’s a perfectly valid position to take, even if it’s completely not me. I really just can’t abide the software on the phone, iOS just is so frustrating and so over simplified you can’t alter the most trivial of things, it makes me want to scream. Still there are millions out there who love that, so for some it being locked down is a big plus.
Otherwise the pluses of the device are that it is a lovely bit of hardware. The construction of it is exemplary and the screen is absolutely first class quality. Sure it’s a bit small but with phones now going all over 5 inches small isn’t a bad thing it’s a choice. If you want something that can fit in your small hands and use then that potentially is a huge plus. Fundamentally the hardware of this device on the whole is all a great big plus. Its audio is a bit meh but otherwise its all of a high quality.
The Bad: Cost. The phone cost stupid money brand new and if you want more on-board storage then be prepared to pay insane amounts for it. The lack of an SD card slot I don’t like, nor that it’s a sealed battery. Nor that it doesn’t use micro USB to charge, really Apple stop being dicks about these things. Actually for me the negatives of the device come down largely to the cost which I do not feel is consummate to the hardware you get. It also really annoys me that for a phone so music orientated and is so expensive that Apple would then penny pinch over the DAC and amp. Given the sky high cost there is no reason why this couldn’t have the best audio components in it. Frankly it’s insulting that some cheap ass Lumia should sound so much better than this, you know because when you think Microsoft we all immediately think music right??? Don’t we???? What with the global mega hit that was the Zune Microsoft and music are just absolutely synonymous right????
Additionally the restricted nature of the OS means that I can’t change the keyboard. Well you can change the keyboard but seemingly for “security” anytime it wants my password input, it jumps back to the stock Apple keyboard. Its infuriating as I don’t normally use a Qwerty layout, infuriating isn’t the word. To date I have not found a way to stop this if any one else has, please let me know.
Value: Well I don’t think its good value at all. The price of the thing at launch in its 16GB form was £530. The price of the Ipod touch with is basically the same thing in its 16GB form is presently £160. I mean is a modem, couple of antennas an earpiece and a mic really worth and additional £370???? I’m thinking it’s not, so personally I’d be inviting Apple to place the thing where the sun seldom shines. However it’s often said that the value of a product is what the market will bare. Otherwise put its worth whatever Apple can convince people to pay for it, so I guess to many it is good value as they keep buying them. Mind you by that reasoning heroin must be good value too.
Conclusion: I normally say oooh I have mixed feelings about xyz. Yeah, I really don’t here. Don’t get me wrong, on the whole the hardware is nice but there is no way it should cost what it does and it pisses me off that the one area that Apple have absolutely cheaped out on the hardware is on the audio. So on the whole, Apple you can go suck it.
Now that that is out of the way, the Iphone 5 isn’t all bad. It’s a nice object on the whole and OS aside much of the things I don’t like are not specific failings but choices. They aren’t choices I’d select but they are still valid. The only one I really can’t let them get away with is the meh audio quality. There is just no excuse for it. The Iphone is minimally different from the Ipod touch and has its roots in the audio world. Granted the Ipod was never the best sounding DAP ever although the early ones where actually quite good. Apple cared about how the sounded (even if they bundled crap buds) there was recognition that the Wolfson chips in them were good quality, premium chips. Then one day Apple decided their customers didn’t care or just wouldn’t notice and swapped to using bargain basement el cheapo chips.
Sadly the result of that action was a rise in their profit margins and the people buying the devices either didn’t notice or did not care. So here we have a high end, premium device, with first class components throughout except when it comes to audio. I realise they have largely gotten away with it as their customers clearly don’t care but, hey, I do and while I’d be absolutely willing to forgive them if they were bargain priced like some others. Cheap makes me far more willing to be kind but when you are so expensive you ask to be held to a higher standard and I’m sorry but the Iphone 5 just does not cut it.