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iPhone 5 Review Roundup

The early reviews of the iPhone 5 from technology outlets whose reviewers received pre-release models appeared on the Web shortly before the device was released. For an iPhone that some called “boring” before anyone had laid hands on it, reviewers seem rather pleased with it.

Most notably, reviewers found the iPhone 5’s taller screen immediately useful, and didn’t feel that the extra height got in the way of using the iPhone one-handed. Some critiqued the “small” screen size by the standard of large Android mobile phones, something we don’t see as a problem.

Others noted the omission of NFC (Near Field Communication) support, found in many new Android phones, but which has little real-world utility as yet. (Harry McCracken noted, “Judging from the week I spent using an NFC-equipped phone to pay for stuff, there’s no particular reason to get excited about NFC’s tap-to-pay capability just yet.”)

A legitimate criticism leveled at the CDMA activation of the iPhone 5 several times (including before reviews appeared) is the inability to talk and use mobile data at the same time, even though other LTE-capable phones on the market can do so. Apple chose a radio design that allows only a single cellular connection at once.

Reviewers also pointed out that the new eight-pin Lightning connector renders obsolete lots of existing dock devices, and requires a $29 adapter to use with equipment into which an adapter could fit. (Some audio docks don’t have the angle or space, for instance. Apple also sells a $39 adapter that is a short cable instead of just the connector.) New Lightning USB cables cost $19, are available only from Apple, and won’t ship for several weeks.

iOS 6, the version that comes with the phone, came in for a few knocks about the Maps app, awkwardness, and signs of age that will be true for any device running the upgrade.

Here’s a summary of initial reviews; some outfits like Macworld didn’t receive a review unit this time around, and will post their reviews this week:

  • Jim Dalrymple of The Loop: “The iPhone is everything Apple said it would be and with iOS 6 built-in, it’s clear to me that Apple has another winner on its hands. I can’t think of any good reason why anyone wouldn’t upgrade or purchase the iPhone 5.”

  • John Gruber at Daring Fireball: “The iPhone 5 is really nice.” Also: “The iPhone 5 is all new technically, but it’s the exact same thing as an idea. Apple is simply improving upon that idea year after year in infinitely finer detail, like a fractal. It’s nice.”

  • Harry McCracken at Time Magazine: “…[T]he iPhone 5 is the most artful, pleasing expression of its priorities yet.”

  • MG Siegler of TechCrunch: “I won’t beat around the bush: it’s fantastic. Of course, you’re probably expecting me to say that. But that doesn’t mean I’m wrong. The fact of the matter is, you can either listen to me or lose out. You’re going to want this phone.” (TechCrunch may seem like a strange choice for a review unit, but Siegler has written quite incisively about Apple’s market position.)

  • Tim Stevens at Engadget on the display: “How does it look? Fantastic, frankly. The iPhone 4S already has one of the best displays on the market with regard to things like pixel density, brightness and contrast, and the iPhone 5 brings that up another notch.” And: “This is without a doubt the best iPhone yet. This is a hallmark of design. This is the one you’ve been waiting for.”

  • Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal: “I found the new iPhone screen much easier to hold and manipulate than its larger rivals and preferred it.” And: “…[U]nlike on some early LTE models, the blazing cellular technology doesn’t decimate the battery life on this phone.” Finally: “Apple has taken an already great product and made it better, overall.”

  • David Pogue of the New York Times: “The camera is among the best ever put into a phone. Its low-light shots blow away the same efforts from an iPhone 4S. Its shot-to-shot times have been improved by 40 percent. And you can take stills even while recording video (1080p hi-def, of course).” But Pogue had conflicted feelings on the connector: “…[T]hat old connector, after 10 years, desperately needed an update. Still, Apple has just given away one of its greatest competitive advantages.”

  • Ed Baig at USA Today: “The iPhone 5 is a winner that should keep Apple at the front of the smartphone pack. But choosing iPhone 5 vs. a top-of-the-line Android alternative isn’t a cut-and-dried decision, especially if you’re partial to a jumbo display.” But: “People have always had lofty expectations for the iPhone 5, especially as the competition stiffens. In delivering a fast, attractive, LTE-capable and larger-screen handset, Apple has met those expectations with a gem.”

  • Scott Stein of CNET: “If you’re looking for a show-off gadget, something with gee-whiz bells and whistles, then go somewhere else… except for the fact that people will inevitably want to see the iPhone 5 and grab it out of your hand. But, if you’re looking for an excellent, well-conceived phone… well, here it is.”

  • A somewhat dissenting view from T3 in the UK: “…[W]e reckon the smart money won’t all be going on a new iPhone this year, even if the mass market can’t get enough of it. It’s good, very good. But it’s no longer the best around.”

  • Rich Jaroslovsky of Bloomberg News: “With the iPhone 5, the most obvious something-special is how fast it is and how long it runs at those speeds.”

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