The iPhone 5: My First Impressions

Apple unveiled the new iPhone 5 today in San Francisco. As it turns out, most of the individual rumors about it were true — but even so, they didn’t describe the whole package.

The new phone is the same width as the old one, but taller and thinner, as though someone ran over the old iPhone with a steamroller. When held horizontally, the four-inch screen has 16:9 proportions, a perfect fit for HDTV shows and a better fit for movies. The added screen length gives the Home screen room for a fifth row of icons.

The band around the edges is still silver on the white iPhone — but on the black model, it’s black with a gleaming, reflective bezel. It looks awesome.
The back is aluminum now. The strips at the top and bottom of the back are made of glass, the better to allow the wireless signal through — but as a side benefit, you can now tell which way is front as you fish the thing out of your pocket.

The processor, with a new design, is twice as fast, according to Apple. And the iPhone has 4G LTE, meaning superfast Internet in select cities.
Not many rumor mills predicted the improvement in the camera. It’s an eight-megapixel model with an f/2.4 aperture, meaning that it lets in a lot of light. The panorama mode is the best you’ve ever seen: as you swing the camera in an arc in front of you, a preview screen shows you the resulting panorama growing in real time. I took only two panorama shots in my limited time with the iPhone 5, but they came out crazy good.

The camera takes 40 percent less time between shots, it can recognize up to 10 faces (for focus and exposure purposes) and it can take still photos even while you’re filming video.
The new phone also offers better battery life (eight hours of talk time or Web browsing), according to Apple (I haven’t tested it yet). It also has noise cancellation both for outgoing and incoming sound. The phone is also ready for wideband audio — your callers won’t have that tinny phone sound, but richer, more FM-radioish sound — but that requires the carrier to upgrade its network. The catch: no American carriers have announced plans to do that.

At first glance, there’s really only one cause for pause: Apple has replaced the 30-pin charging/syncing connector that’s been on every iPhone, iPad and iPod since 2003. According to Apple, it’s simply too big for its new, super-thin, super-packed gadgets.
So with the iPhone and the new iPod models also announced today, Apple is replacing that inch-wide connector with a new, far smaller one it’s calling Lightning.

I’ll grudgingly admit that the Lightning connector is a great design: it clicks nicely into place, but it can be yanked out quickly. It goes in either way — there’s no “right side up,” as there was with the old connector. And it’s tiny, which is Apple’s point.

Still, think of all those charging cables, docks, chargers, car adapters, hotel-room alarm clocks, speakers and accessories—hundreds of millions of gadgets that will no longer fit the iPhone.
Apple will sell two adapters, a simple plug adapter for $30 or one with a six-inch cable for $40, to accommodate accessories that can’t handle the plug adapter.

That’s way, way too expensive. These adapters should not be a profit center for Apple; they should be a gesture of kindness to those of us who’ve bought accessories based on the old connector. There’s going to be a lot of grumpiness in iPhoneland, starting with me.

Overall, though, Apple seems to have put its focus on the important things you want in an app phone: size, shape, materials, sound quality, camera quality and speed (both operational and Internet data), and that’s good. I’ll have a full review once I’ve had some time to test the thing.

The new iPhone goes on sale on Sept. 21 for $200 with a two-year contract from Verizon, Sprint or AT&T. (That’s the 16-gigabyte model. You can get 32 gigs for $300 or 64 gigs for $400.)
If you’re content with last year’s technology — or 2010’s — you can also get the iPhone 4 free with a two-year contract, or the iPhone 4S (16 gigs) for $100 with contract.

The holiday shopping season has begun.