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With the iPhone 5 now in stores, and all the hype swirling around the latest version of Apple's iconic smartphone, the most obvious question remains: Is it really worth it?
Available through AT&T, Sprint and Verizon (from $199 on two-year term), the iPhone 5 doesn't mess with what made its predecessors so sought after. It's still a stunning, all-touch device with an intuitive interface, countless applications ("apps") to download and smooth synchronization with all of your computer's media via iTunes. Along with a redesign, Apple has added a number of new and powerful features to justify the purchase.
It's not a perfect 10, but there are compelling reasons to consider upgrading to the iPhone 5:
1. Screen dream. For the first time in iPhone's history, Apple has stretched its 3.5-inch screen to 4.0 inches — but it's taller rather than wider, so it'll still fit comfortably in one hand. This added real estate adds a fifth row of apps, and when held sideways in landscape view, you'll now see a full five-day calendar, a wider keyboard to make typing on the touchscreen easier and wide-screen video presentation like your HDTV or local movie theater. At just 7.8 mm thick, the iPhone 5 is also the thinnest smartphone in the world, says Apple, and sports a reinforced aluminum body that makes it durable and lightweight.
2. Speed demon. Just like Apple's latest iPad, the iPhone 5 supports Long Term Evolution (LTE) cellular networks, so you can download, browse and stream media at speeds comparable to — or even greater than — your home's broadband Internet connection. It's extremely fast.
3. Thanks for the memories. The iPhone 5 builds upon the success of the 8-megapixel iSight rear-facing camera by adding better optics, a fun panorama mode (for ultra-wide landscape photos), top-of-the-line 1080p HD video capture with image stabilization (bye-bye blur), improved face detection (automatically adjusting focus and lighting on faces) and the ability to take photos while recording. A front-facing FaceTime camera with 720p HD quality lets you video chat or record a video blog with increased clarity.
4. Power play. Over the years iPhone has evolved into a versatile video gaming platform and the iPhone 5 is no different. Whether you enjoy casual games like Words With Friends or deeper adventures like Infinity Blade II, Apple's new A6 chip delivers twice the processing power and graphics performance compared with last year's iPhone 4S. The new A6 chipset also helps speed up everyday tasks such as launching apps, loading Web pages, opening ebooks and video playback. Apple has also redesigned the included "EarPods," claiming the new headphones offer better sound, a more comfortable fit and increased durability.
5. Super software. The iPhone 5 ships with iOS 6, Apple's latest mobile operating system and its more than 200 new features. Top-level highlights include Apple's own Maps app with turn-by-turn navigation (with voice) and flyover 3D cityscapes; a new Passbook app to collect and manage all your digital movie tickets, boarding passes, gift cards and coupons; and more Siri support, including the ability to ask your digital personal assistant for sports scores, restaurant reservations, movie reviews and trailers, and more. Those who own an older iPhone 3GS or iPad 2 (or newer) can also download iOS 6 for free (Settings, General, Software Update) or via iTunes on your personal computer.
On the other hand …
The iPhone 5 is Apple's best yet, but it's not flawless. Be aware of the following:
- For the first time in iPhone's history, Apple has changed its connector at the bottom of the phone from the wide-mouthed 30-pin connector to a smaller eight-pin one. This means older accessories you own, like speaker dock or car chargers, won't be compatible unless you buy a $29 adaptor. Too bad this adaptor isn't included with the iPhone 5.
- While better than last year's iPhone 4S, the iPhone 5's battery is still less than stellar compared to other smartphones. Disabling "push mail" and dimming the screen helps somewhat, but don't expect true all-day performance. Also be aware that the back of the phone gets warm to the touch, too, similar to the new (third-generation) iPad, which might concern some.
* While visually appealing, the new Maps app isn't always correct when getting turn-by-turn GPS directions from point A to point B. Compared with the previously installed Google Maps, Apple's new service needs to be updated to address these inaccuracies, plus it lacks transit routes and Google's StreetView, which shows you photos of the geographical area in question. As such, consider Apple's Maps app a work in progress.
The iPhone 5 might have all the media attention, but it's not the only game in town.
Many Android phones are gaining in popularity, such as the best-selling Samsung Galaxy S III (from $199.99 on two-year term with multiple carriers). Generally speaking, however, Android devices have a steeper learning curve than Apple's smartphones, they don't synchronize fully with iTunes and the apps aren't as good (or always compatible between all Android devices).
Windows Phone 8 is also an up-and-coming platform from Microsoft that will deliver a similar look and feel to Windows 8 on computers, coming Oct. 26. Nokia, HTC, Huawei (pronounced "wah-way") and Samsung all have Windows Phone 8 devices coming this fall, with the flagship phone likely to be Nokia's Lumia 920; no price, carrier or launch date announced just yet.
Apple's iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S are also excellent choices if you're in the market for a new smartphone, and they're a lot cheaper — the iPhone 4 is free with a two-year plan, while the iPhone 4S is $99. The iPhone 4S also has Siri, the voice-activated personal assistant to help you get more done in less time. These slightly older iPhones are also eligible for the free iOS 6 software update, which adds a lot of the functionality found in the iPhone 5.
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