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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.

Similarly, AT&T makes you pay more if you want to use the Personal Hotspot feature (and hasn't even enabled it for iPad users). In addition, the iPhones sold by Verizon and Sprint come with an unlocked nano-SIM card; if you're traveling internationally and can find a nano-SIM card--they're relatively new, so may be hard to come by for a while--you can stick one in the phone and it'll work on the in-country networks. AT&T's iPhone, on the other hand, is locked to AT&T and makes you use its (often quite expensive) international carrier partners.

I have been an AT&T customer for many years, mostly because my neighborhood has decent AT&T coverage but is a Verizon dead spot. If you're in a situation like mine, AT&T might be the best option. But while I have no illusions about phone companies being all sunlight and joy, if all other parts of the equation are equal, I would unequivocally recommend Verizon over AT&T for iPhone users. Verizon offers better LTE coverage, doesn't play chicken with new iOS features, and offers more flexibility for international travelers.

Camera improvements

Like the iPhone 4S before it, the iPhone 5 offers an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera. As we've learned the last few years, though, megapixels aren't the only--or even best--indicator of camera quality. Apple claims that the iPhone 5 camera offers faster photo capture, better low-light performance, and improved noise reduction over the previous model.

In my personal experiences, these claims were proved more or less to be true. Taking pictures is noticeably faster, even with notoriously poky HDR captures. iPhone 5 images appeared to be better in low light and were less noisy.

Our lab also compared the iPhone 5, iPhone 4S, third-generation iPad, and the Samsung Galaxy S III in a series of our standard still and video tests. The results show that the iPhone 5 is definitely a step ahead of the 4S (with one exception: the 4S appeared to do a better job in our low-light video test).

The iPhone 5 camera matched or beat the Galaxy S III's camera in every test, though the two were much more closely matched when it came to stills than in our video tests. In general, the iPhone 5 camera appeared to generate images with more pleasing colors, while the Galaxy S III's camera rendered colors a bit more accurately. In our normal-light video test, the Galaxy S III was sharper, but darker, while the iPhone 5 traded a bit of sharpness for a clearer, lighter picture.

The big upgrade in the iPhone 5's imaging system is actually its front-facing camera, which is now capable of 720p video. It's noticeably better for FaceTime video calls and self portraits. It seems like a minor thing, but I've come to rely on FaceTime to keep in touch with my family when I'm traveling, and the FaceTime image sent by the iPhone 5 is a noticeable improvement.


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