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Hands on: iPhone 5 screen


Gadgets on the go

Adam Turner is an award-winning Australian freelance technology journalist with a passion for gadgets and the "digital lounge room".

View more entries from Gadgets on the go

Apple's iPhone 5.

Apple's iPhone 5.

Is half an inch worth the hassle?

It's that time of year again when the Apple marketing machine tries to convince millions of people that their once shiny new iPhone is now ready for the scrap heap. The iPhone 5 is an impressive upgrade in many ways, but it's not as breathtaking as the leap from the iPhone 3G/S to the 4. Plenty of people will hand over their money regardless, but some iPhone 4/S owners could be a little underwhelmed by the iPhone 5.

There's a lot to like about the iPhone 5, but after spending time with review units from Vodafone and Optus I wouldn't necessarily say bigger is better when it comes to the 4-inch screen. This isn't a full iPhone 5 review, as there are plenty of them around, this is just a closer look at one interesting aspect of the iPhone 5. The fact that the phone is thinner and lighter is more likely to grab your immediate attention. But a taller screen doesn't actually bring that much to the party when it's no wider.

The beauty of the 4.7 and 4.8-inch displays on the Android superphones is not just that they let you see more, but that they're wider so everything can be that bit bigger. You don't get that advantage with the iPhone 5, unless you're in the habit of turning your iPhone on the side -- which you're unlikely to do when checking your email or browsing the web.

When you hold the iPhone 5 upright in portrait mode everything looks exactly the same as the iPhone 4/S, the only benefit is that you can see an extra centimetre or so at the bottom. So you won't need to scroll as much, but otherwise you won't really get the usability benefits that you'd hope for from a larger display. Don't expect to be as impressed as you were when the iPhone 4 made the impressive leap to the sharper retina display. 

It's not just me, all the current iPhone owners who've handled my iPhone 5 review unit were underwhelmed by the larger screen. They were expecting the extra screen real estate to slap you in the face, like a Samsung Galaxy S III, but it doesn't. In day to day use you'd barely notice the iPhone 5's taller screen. You're more likely to notice the expense of buying new accessories to cope with the new screen size (not to mention the new connector).

The iPhone 5's extra screen real estate pays off when you turn the phone on its side to watch a movie. The widescreen movie format fits almost perfectly with the iPhone 5's wider display, with only the slightest of letterboxing at the top and bottom which you'd barely notice. On an old iPhone 4/4S you're faced with significant letterboxing when watching a movie, unless you want to zoom in and lose the edges of the picture.

Watching movies on the iPhone 5 also shows off the fact that Apple has improved the screen quality. Whites are whiter and brighter, improving the contrast, while colours are more vivid. Dark scenes in movies such as Men in Black III look considerably better. The iPhone 4 already had one of the best screens of any handheld gadget when it came to image quality, putting the overblown AMOLED screens on early Android devices to shame. Yet the iPhone 5 manages to improve on it again. If anything I'd say the iPhone 5's whites are a tad too warm for my liking compared to the iPhone 4, but not enough to complain about.

It will be interesting to see what app developers do to take advantage of that extra screen real estate, such as Firemonkeys' upcoming Real Racing 3. For now iOS5 apps are slightly letterboxed on the iPhone 5 but it's not enough to be annoying, especially on a black iPhone where the letterboxing just fades into the bezel. 

Unfortunately the iPhone 5 seems to have inherited the iPhone 4S' issues with the angle of the anti-glare polarisation. When I look at the iPhone 5 wearing my polarised sunglasses the colours are off unless I turn it on an angle. The 4S is the same, whereas the iPhone 4 looks fine in portrait mode unless you turn it slightly. It's rather annoying but not a deal-breaker.

Personally I don't think iPhone owners were crying out for a bigger screen. If the iPhone 5 had stuck with 3.5 inches, the fanboys would still be telling us it's the perfect size for a smartphone. But Apple obviously felt the pressure from the Android superphones and needed to respond.

I think Apple should have either left the screen as it was or made it both taller and wider to deliver real usability benefits. On the other hand, I can appreciate that retaining the same width helps limit fragmentation of the iOS platform. But this half-hearted approach to the larger screen is likely to leave many iPhone owners underwhelmed, yet still requiring a new set of accessories. If Apple offered an iPhone 5 model which retained the iPhone 4's 3.5-inch screen size and old connector, but offered all the other benefits, I'd jump at that model over a 4-inch iPhone 5.

Of course there's far more to the iPhone 5 than a larger screen and I'll take a closer look at some the phone's other new features, such as the improved camera, later in the week.

60 comments so far

  • What an odd article...

    "You're more likely to notice the expense of buying new accessories to cope with the new screen size" - there aren't any accessories that have anything to do with the screen size.

    "I'd say the iPhone 5's whites are a tad too warm for my liking compared to the iPhone 4, but not enough to complain about". Um, you just did...

    The reasons that Apple left the width the same as the previous model are well documented. Have you not read them?

    And did you really expect Apple to retain the old connector for ever? Please get real...

    Date and time
    September 24, 2012, 9:19AM
    • Isn't a case an accessory?

      Date and time
      September 24, 2012, 10:04AM
    • there is absolutely no reason Apple has its own connector other than milking a few more dollars from its customer base....could have gone with a micro USB without tapping customers $35 for the new connector

      this on top of removing Google Maps (and replacing with their quarter baked solution) and Youtube shows the arrogance they now have for customers

      have had every version of iPhone but won't be upgrading to 5, bring on the Lumia

      Date and time
      September 24, 2012, 10:18AM
    • As much as I hate Apple...its not just them changing parts that work just fine.

      I bought a portable HDD the other day and it has another different design for its lead. I now have 3 WD HDDs and they all have different leads...

      COME ON!

      Date and time
      September 24, 2012, 12:26PM
    • I like the new connector i think it will become the norm, who wants to sit there and workout which way is the right way to stick the connector in. Micro usb is just as much of a pain as the old apple connector. People are getting rid of there computers so whats the point of having a micro usb connector. I really hope that the iphone does not get any bigger as it wont be handy any more.

      Date and time
      September 24, 2012, 1:40PM
    • @Stig
      Please understand that a new case would be required for any hardware upgrade. The iPhone 5 being thinner than its predecessors would have called for a case upgrade also just as the 3g/3gs to 4/4s jump.

      Date and time
      September 24, 2012, 3:20PM
    • No @A2B, Apple could not have used micro USB. It does not carry sufficient current to recharge an iPad which is being fully utilised eg. for gaming.

      If Apple are going to change their connector, they will want to have only one connector across their whole mobile range, so it has to be one that can sufficiently cater for everything from an iPod shuffle to an iPad.

      Date and time
      September 24, 2012, 6:02PM
    • Please don't tell me you actually believe the reasons why Apple left the width of the screen the same, it was just an excuse IMO. They had to defend their actions. I'm pretty sure that an extra 80 pixels (to get the width to 720 HD) would not have made the phone so wide you couldn't use it with one hand still, it equates to approximately 0.625 cm extra width. Since the keyboard only takes up the bottom half and the send button is there in messages too, sending a text with one hand wouldn't be difficult if they increased the width. And people can always use Siri to send a text or email.

      Date and time
      September 25, 2012, 1:53AM
    • I don't expect Apple to retain the current earphone adapter for ever either.

      For real
      Date and time
      September 25, 2012, 7:31AM
    • @A2B: here is why they went with their own connector

      Date and time
      September 25, 2012, 11:02AM

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