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iPhone 5 takes next step in smartphone evolution

Jason Snell | Sept. 26, 2012
It's been a little more than five years since Apple released the original iPhone. During that time the world has changed.

And yet for all of this reduction in weight and thickness, the iPhone still feels solid, not cheap; it's all metal and glass. Apple likens it to a fine watch, though to me it feels more like a Braun razor crossed with the Monolith from "2001." (My God, it's full of apps!)

Darth Vader's phone

In overall design philosophy, the iPhone 5 is a clear descendant of the iPhone 4, rather than a clean break. It's still got a flat front and back, a metal ring around its sides that also serves as the device's antenna, and those signature rounded edges. The most notable change is the replacement of the all-glass back of the iPhone 4 and 4S. On the iPhone 5, the bulk of the back is made from the same aluminum material as its sides; there are still small glass panels top and bottom.

The metal ring itself is now beveled (okay, chamfered), which makes the phone feel more comfortable in your hand. It also gives the front face of the white-and-silver model a silver halo that reminds me of the original iPhone.

In the past, iPhone color choices have been pretty limited. The iPhone 3G came with either a black or a white back, but that was it. The iPhone 4 came in black and (eventually) white, front and back, but the metal ring was the same regardless of color choice. The white iPhone 5 does closely resemble the iPhone 4/4S, with its white glass and silver metal.

But the black iPhone 5 model is completely different. It's like the Spinal Tap iPhone. (How much more black could it be? None more black.) The front and back have black glass, yes, but the metal band and metal strip on the back are both what Apple calls "slate"--a metallic matte black. The switches are black. The Apple logo on the back is black. Even the box it comes in is black, with "iPhone 5" printed in shiny black lettering. If the white-and-silver iPhone 5 is Gandalf's iPhone, the black-and-slate model is Darth Vader's.

When I had only spent time with the white iPhone 5, I felt less excited about the iPhone 5's design. It was thinner and lighter, yes, but it didn't look much different from the white iPhone 4S I've used for the past year. The black model completely changed my opinion. It's gorgeous. Not everyone will want to embrace the Dark Side, but the black metal and black glass really tie the design of the phone together in a way that the white-and-silver tone doesn't.

Movies and apps trade letterboxes

Before the iPhone 5, all iPhone models had a 3.5-inch display with a 3:2 aspect ratio. The iPhone 5 breaks that mold, slightly: its display is just as wide as previous models (640 pixels on a Retina display), but is now 176 pixels taller. The result is a 16:9 aspect ratio--the same shape as an HDTV.

 

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