iPhone 5 buyer's guide: What you need to know before heading to the Apple store

Apple held its annual fall event September 12, 2012, and, as predicted, the iPhone 5 was the star of the show. Though we won't know how well all of the new features work together as a cohesive product until after the unit ships, there are some things you should be aware of before purchasing one.

iphone290a.jpgSource: Apple
iPhone 5

What's new with the iPhone 5? How different does the iPhone 5 look? What colors does the iPhone 5 come in? How has the connection to electrical outlets and computers changed? How fast is the iPhone 5? How long does the battery last? What's different about the headphones? How much does the iPhone 5 cost?

What's new with the iPhone 5?

Despite retaining the same iconic iPhone style, everything else has been improved. Think of the iPhone as you know it, and then think thinner, lighter, faster. Add in a taller screen, and you'll get the idea of the iPhone 5's physical enhancements.

How different does the iPhone 5 look?

  • Think taller, not wider. The larger screen is now 4" compared to the 3.5" of the previous models, but the width remains the same as the 4S, and the iPhone 4 before that. Instead, this new model is taller than previous versions (123.8mm vs 115.2mm). Gone is the 3:2 screen familiar to existing customers. The new iPhone features a 1136x640, 326 PPI display, which pushes the aspect ratio to 16:9. Watching most movies will now fill the iPhone's screen, filling all available space with content, and applications that haven't been written to take advantage of the new screen center themselves between unobtrusive black bars at native resolution.
  • It's thinner and lighter. Interestingly, adding the larger screen did not bulk up the iPhone. “It is really easy to make a new product that is bigger; everyone does that. That's not a challenge. The challenge is to make a product that is better and smaller," Apple's VP of Marketing Phil Schiller said during the keynote. This year's model loses 18% of the 4S' girth and now measures in at a petite 7.6mm. Weighs less, too: 3.95 ounces compared to 4.9 ounces of the 4S.
  • The caveat to the new design is that the new iPhone will not fit in cases and some third-party accessory designed for previous models.

What colors does the iPhone 5 come in?

You can get any color you want as long as it's white or black. The phone loses most of the glass from the back panel, replacing it instead with aluminum.

How has the connection to electrical outlets and computers changed?

The new iPhone ditches the thirty-pin Dock connector for a new plug Apple calls Lightning. This new connector has some benefits over the old one, including a smaller size, a reversible 8-pin plug that connects on the first attempt, and, according to Apple PR, a more durable design. There is a Lightning to 30-pin adapter that will be sold separately for $29 if you require compatibility with an existing product; $40 if you need an adapter with a cord. These prices, I feel, are outrageous; but, if you need one, they're available. Note: while the option to plug the new phone into your old stuff may be available, there's no guarantee that this adapter will actually work with your audio and video equipment.

How fast is the iPhone 5?

The iPhone is powered by an Apple designed A6 processor – which the company claims is up to 2x faster than the 4S. The camera system, while still 8MP, offers a few improvements of its own. Faster pictures, an instant panorama mode, improved stability when shooting 1080p video, the ability to take photos while video is being recorded, and FaceTime calls at 720p resolution round up some of the better highlights. While I doubt anyone will buy an iPhone specifically for the camera, the updated features will be a nice addition.

Verizon and Sprit have indicated that they will allow FaceTime calls over cellular for any of their data plans; AT&T PR, however, has stated that only Family Shared Plans will be allowed to use this feature, once again nickel-and-diming their loyal customers.

For the first time, the iPhone now offers support for LTE networks, in addition to previously supported standards. LTE is the latest in cellular technology, and, in the States, Apple has partnered with Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint to deliver the tech. I would check coverage maps to see if your area is supported; despite the increasing reach of LTE, there are only a few major areas where the tech can actually be used.

Be mindful of your data plan if you're in an LTE area: just because you can download that movie using your cellular connection doesn't mean you should.

Another thing: there are different models of iPhone, depending on your carrier. The dilemma? Not all phones will work everywhere; Ars Technica has some details worth looking into.

How long does the battery last?

Despite the LTE chipset and thinner design, Apple states that the battery life should last up to 8 hours of continuous use for most tasks such as watching video and making phone calls; up to forty hours for listening to music. We'll know more when the device ships and we can put it through real-world use.

What's different about the headphones?

Speaking of music, the iPhone 5 now sports redesigned headphones Apple is calling EarPods. The new headphones have a shape that should stay in ears better than previous models, and the new shape directs audio into ear canals for better sound. Early reports confirm improved sound compared to headphones that shipped with previous models.

How much does the iPhone 5 cost?

The iPhone is available for preorder September 14th, starting at 12:01am PST. It will be available in 8 countries, as well as the US, a week later. Apple is sticking to the price points of previous models: $199, $299, $399, for the 16GB, 32GB, 64GB, respectively. (The iPhone 4S slips to $99 for the 16GB model, and the iPhone 4 can be had for free, on contract.) Be mindful of miscellaneous costs, however. AT&T and Sprint charge a $36 upgrade fee if you're an existing customer; Verizon charges $30.

All in all, the iPhone 5 is another evolutionary update to a historically solid product. The larger screen, in concert with LTE speeds, a faster architecture, and a thinner, lighter form factor will be more than enough to guarantee brisk sales.

We'll have more details in our official iPhone 5 review coming soon...

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