Amazingly thin and light design; Vibrant display; Fast 4G LTE speeds; HD Voice support; Sharp and fast camera; Facebook integration and easy photo sharing
Limited 4G LTE coverage; Screen may be too small for some; Maps app still needs work
T-Mobile's iPhone 5 may be late to the game, but it offers fast LTE speeds, HD Voice calling and value-priced, contract-free plans.
It's finally here. To the delight of many subscribers, T-Mobile has debuted the iPhone 5 on its network. At a relatively affordable $149 up front, this device boasts a bigger 4-inch screen than its predecessor in a ridiculously thin and light design, as well as an improved camera. What makes the T-Mobile version particularly compelling is the carrier's new no-contract plans and HD Voice support. Although 4G LTE coverage is limited for now, T-Mobile's iPhone 5 is a very strong value.
Editor's Note: Portions of this review were taken from our Verizon Wireless review of the Apple iPhone 5.
The 5-inch Samsung Galaxy S4 and 4.7-inch HTC One weigh 4.6 and 5.04 ounces, respectively, so you're trading a larger screen for a heavier device. The HTC One's glass-and-aluminum body nearly rivals the iPhone 5 in terms of build quality, but the S4's polycarbonate shell feels cheaper. However, only the S4 lets you replace the battery among these three phones.
The iPhone 5 is just as narrow as the 4S, so you can easily type with one hand. We had to stretch our finger a bit to reach the power button, but that's a minor quibble.
Another slight annoyance: The headphone jack is on the bottom, which means you're better off putting the phone upside down in your pocket. The good news is that the included EarPods make it easy to adjust the volume and pause and skip tracks with their built-in controls. The iPhone 5 uses a Lightning port, which now accommodates a wide range of accessories. Older add-ons require a $30 adapter.
By now, most developers have optimized their apps for the iPhone 5's larger canvas. The new CNN app, for instance, has a new landscape view that lets you swipe through stories horizontally, and OpenTable has a slicker interface that lets you swipe quickly through dining options at the bottom of the screen.
The screen isn't just bigger; it's more beautiful. Boasting 44 percent greater color saturation, the new screen results in more vibrant-looking photos, games and more. Plus, because Apple integrated the touch technology into the display itself, icons literally look painted on.
By comparison, the S4 offers a full-HD Super AMOLED display that offered some of the most bold and colorful images we've seen on any smartphone. Just don't expect good outdoor visibility. The HTC One's full-HD Super LCD 3 display showed every wrinkle and pocket and explosive colors, and is brighter than the S4, but blacks could be blacker.
The iPhone 5 registered 525 lux on our light meter, which runs circles around the S4 (446 lux) and edges out the One (463 lux).
Despite the iPhone 5's thinner design, its dual speakers on the bottom pump out plenty of sound. We played Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" outside and were impressed that the sound didn't get washed out with all the outdoor city noise. Sound was a bit tinny when we pushed the volume to the max, so those looking to really rock out are better off using an external Bluetooth speaker.
iOS 6 and Interface
There's a ton of other useful stuff in iOS 6, including Passbook, which lets you keep everything from plane tickets to coupons in one app. We especially like Shared Photo Streams for sharing multiple photos with friends and family in a few clicks. Friends and family can then like or comment on your pic, just like on Facebook.
Overall, iOS is robust and as easy to use as ever, but iPhone users looking for something more dynamic will have to wait until the fall for iOS 7. That update will offer a more modern aesthetic, a new Control Center for quickly accessing Settings and a WebOS-like multitasking feature. And, unlike on nearly all Android phones, you'll be able to download this update on day one.
On Passmark, which evaluates everything from CPU and disk performance to memory and 2D and 3D graphics, the iPhone 5 scored a higher 3,874, compared with 3,414 for the Galaxy S4. To be fair, though, Passmark hasn't been optimized for the iPhone 5′s larger screen, so it ran in a smaller window. In other words, the test likely wasn't as taxing as it could have been.
Over the course of our testing, we observed that the iPhone 5's backside became warm when using GPS and playing games for more than 10 minutes.
However, T-Mobile's 4G LTE network is just in the beginning phases of its rollout. Currently, the carrier covers only Houston, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Phoenix, San Jose, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. In comparison, Verizon's LTE network covers nearly 500 markets, AT&T's 4G network covers 237 markets and Sprint's 4G is in 88 cities.
We traveled to Baltimore to test out T-Mobile's LTE on the iPhone 5. Using the Speedtest.net app, the iPhone 5 averaged an extremely fast 18.3 Mbps down on T-Mobile's 4G LTE network. Upload speeds were just as impressive, at 8.3 Mbps. The device also loaded websites quickly.
The iPhone 5 loaded the mobile version of NYTimes.com in only 1.3 seconds, the mobile version of ESPN in 2.3 seconds and mobile CNN.com in 1.6 seconds. Laptopmag.com loaded in just 1.9 seconds. The Verizon version of the iPhone 5 was slower, loading the desktop version of NYTimes.com in 5.5 seconds, the mobile version of ESPN in 3 seconds, the mobile version of CNN.com in 5.5 seconds and Laptopmag.com in 5.2 seconds.
Back in our New York office, where we could only access T-Mobile's HSPA+42 service, the iPhone 5 still averaged a respectable 6.9 Mbps down and 1.8 Mbps up.
MORE: 25 Best iPhone 5 Apps
Although it has the same 8-MP resolution as the 4S, Apple says the iPhone 5's camera now captures photos 40 percent faster and offers better low-light performance. Like on the latest Android phones, you can also capture still images while recording video.
When we compared all the top smartphones to see which one had the best camera, Apple's iPhone 5 snapped crisper, cleaner and more accurate photos than all of its competitors. Although its flash can be overpowering, the iPhone's camera performed the most consistently across the board, offering the most natural colors.
Nevertheless, other smartphone makers are creating more innovative camera features. The HTC One features an Ultrapixel camera, which leverages a larger sensor than other handsets and an f/2.0 aperture lens to capture 300 percent more light. And the Galaxy S4 comes packed with unique features, like Best Face Mode, which lets you choose each person's best smile and combine them into one image. Eraser Mode lets you replace moving objects in the background.
The iPhone 5's 1080p camcorder also impressed us. A clip we shot of New York City traffic was smooth and detailed, without a hint of tearing or pixelation. The front HD FaceTime camera also did a better job of capturing our face indoors, with richer and warmer colors.
The iPhone 5 has a slightly higher-capacity battery of 1440 mAh (up from 1430 mAh on the iPhone 4S). In the LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous surfing over 4G at 40 percent brightness, the iPhone 5 lasted 6 hours and 10 minutes. That's slightly longer than the Samsung Galaxy S4 in power-saving mode (6:05 on Sprint, 5:54 on AT&T) and 4 minutes longer than the 6:06 smartphone category average. The HTC One lasted 6:20 with its power-saving mode on, so all three handsets are in the same ballpark.
Call Quality and HD Voice
However, if you're talking to a Verizon iPhone 5 owner from your T-Mobile iPhone 5, you won't experience HD Voice, even though your device supports the technology. HD Voice only works if you're calling another compatible device on T-Mobile's network. Other options include the Galaxy SIII and S4, the HTC One S, the BlackBerry Z10 and the Nokia Astound.
Plans and Pricing
T-Mobile charges $60 per month for a 2.5GB data plan that also includes unlimited talk and text. If you add in the cost of the device, you'd wind up paying $2,070 over two years. The Unlimited Nationwide 4G plan costs $70 monthly, or $2,309 after two years when you include the device.
If you were to purchase the iPhone 5 from Verizon for $199 and opted for a 2GB plan, you'd pay $100 per month over two years (for the line access fee and shared data plan). That comes out to $2,600, or $530 more than you'd pay on T-Mobile for its 2.5GB plan. The total for a 1GB Mobile Share AT&T plan would be $2,479 (or $409 more than T-Mobile), while the 4GB plan would run you $2,839.
Those new to Sprint get to pay just $99 for the iPhone 5, and unlimited voice and data costs $109.99 monthly. That means the total after two years for this plan on Sprint would be $2,738, compared with $2,309 for T-Mobile. If you can live with 450 voice minutes, though, you can pay just $79.99 per month for unlimited data for a total of $2,018.76. That's cheaper than T-Mobile's 2.5GB plan with unlimited voice.
T-Mobile also offers the Galaxy S4 ($149 up front) and the HTC One ($99), both with 4G LTE. The Samsung Galaxy S4 has more innovative features and a bigger -- but dimmer -- screen. And the HTC One combines a larger display with an Apple-like design for a lower price than for the S4 or iPhone 5.
Some may want to wait until the fall to see what the next iPhone has in store, but if you're in the market for a smartphone now, you can't go wrong with the iPhone 5 for T-Mobile. You get an amazingly thin and light design, strong performance and access to superior apps, all for a wallet-friendly monthly price.
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|Phone Display Size||4|
|Form Factor||Candybar Touchscreen|
|Operating System||iOS 6|
|CPU||Apple A6 CPU|
|Processor Family||Apple A6|
|Memory Expansion Type|
|Display (main)||4 Inches, 1136 x 640|
|Bluetooth Type||Bluetooth 4.0|
|Front Camera Resolution||1.2MP|
|Camera Resolution||8 MP|
|Talk / Standby Time|
|Size||2.31 x 4.87 x 0.3 inches|
|SAR Rating (Head)|
|SAR Rating (Body)|