There’s no doubt the smartphone race is a tight one at the top, and sales of the iPhone 5 prove that this brand hasn’t lost its luster. Apple took top prize in the reviews, design and camera categories, and it placed among the top three for user interface, battery life, display and audio. Only a relative lack of special features held Apple from the top spot, tying the brand with HTC for second place in our overall showdown. However, iOS 7 and the next iPhone could catapult Apple past both HTC and Samsung.
Like its notebooks, Apple doesn’t debut new phones very often, but when it does, it gets all the details right. That is why the two iPhone 5s we reviewed this year received 4-star ratings and two Editors’ Choice awards. These two taken together make this a first-place finish. While the display is on the small side when compared to its competitors, this exquisitely designed handset is light, stylish and durable and its screen is bright and crisp. Moreover, the App Store remains tops, both in terms of selection and quality. You can’t get much better than that.
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User Interface (12/15)
Apple's iOS continues to be simple to navigate, making iPhones extremely user-friendly. The iOS 6 also includes Twitter and Facebook integration, allowing users to post social updates directly from Notifications Center. In-depth Siri integration means you can make calls, send texts, schedule meetings and perform a multitude of other tasks using only your voice. However, customization options are limited when compared to Android. We look forward to the new multitasking feature and Control Center in the more modern-looking iOS 7. Plus, unlike most Android phones, you'll be able to get the software update on Day 1.
Battery Life (11/15)
Apple’s iPhone 5 averaged a strong 6 hours and 40 minutes of endurance across the T-Mobile and Verizon versions we tested, with the Verizon model lasting a very good 7:13 minutes. Like many of its competitors, Apple seals in its batteries so, if you want more juice, you’ll need to pack a charger.
Special Features (11/15)
Apple stands out from the crowd with Siri, a voice-driven personal assistant that can do anything from schedule reminders and look up sports scores to help you book restaurant reservations. We also appreciate Shared Photo Streams, which makes it easy to share images with your friends. Facebook is now nicely integrated into iPhones, but Android phones offer more sharing options (Google Plus, LinkedIn). And iCloud keeps all your data in sync across your iPhone, iPad and Mac.
For the iPhone 5, Apple boosted its smartphone’s display size from 3.5 to 4 inches. And while that’s far from the largest screen around, its color quality and 525 lux brightness rating put this brand toward the top. Although the 1136 x 640-pixel Retina display has long since been surpassed in the pixel density department by 1080p phones, images and videos still look better on the iPhone 5 than most other smartphones. It’s Apple’s ability to do more with less that makes the iPhone 5’s screen so impressive.
While other smartphone makers were piling on the features, the iPhone 5 was concentrating on overall image quality, and won our first Smartphone Camera Shootout in that category. It performed the most consistently across-the-board, snapping cleaner and more accurate photos than competing brands. The iPhone 5 also beat the S4 in a head-to-head contest. Apple didn’t step up the iPhone’s 8-megapixel sensor between the iPhone 4S and 5, but did add a useful panoramic shooting feature with iOS 6 that lets users stitch images together. Still, the iPhone lacks such helpful functions as Burst Mode and Best Faces.
With Apple, it’s the little things that make a big difference and it's the sum of those parts that keeps the company on top, with a perfect score for design. The aluminum-and-glass iPhone 5 features the first Retina display with integrated touch technology, diamond-cut beveled edges and an iSight camera made of sapphire crystal. The end result is one of the thinnest (0.3 inches) and lightest (3.9 ounces) on the market that feels anything but cheap.
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Apple’s iPhone speakers along the bottom pump out plenty of sound, which puts it in the top third of brands for audio. However, with volume all the way up, Adele’s vocals on “Someone Like You” often overpowered the piano. Apple improved call quality on the iPhone 5, even on FaceTime calls, by including three microphones and noise-suppression technology. Also, the iPhone 5 is the first Apple phone to support T-Mobile’s HD Voice for clear calls with minimal background noise, but this technology only works from one HD Voice phone to another.
As per usual, Apple launched one new handset this year, but the company made sure that both its current-gen iPhone 5 and last-gen iPhone 4S are available on all four major U.S. carriers and smaller ones, including as Virgin Mobile and Cricket.
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