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iPhone 5: Everything you need to know

Apple iPhone 5

Confirming all the rumors detailing its appearance, internals, and bundled earbuds, the iPhone 5 launch was very predictable. But lack of shock-factor aside, the new handset still has a lot to offer. Apple’s newest iPhone has been slimmed down, suped up, and redesigned. If you want to know more about the iPhone 5 then you’ve come to the right place.

Check out our complete iPhone 5 review. If you want to know how it compares to the iPhone 4s, check out our iPhone 5 vs. iPhone 4s spec showdown.

Advanced Retina Display

iPhone 5 displayWith the iPhone 5, Apple changed the size of the iPhone screen for the first time ever. The new screen is elongated, with a widesceen aspect ratio to 16:9. The new 4-inch, Retina display is described by Apple as “panoramic” and boasts 44 percent more color saturation than the iPhone 4S, making it full sRGB (aka: it’s gorgeous).

Apple also introduced new touch technology to the display of its latest smartphone. Rather than having two layers, the pixels in the screen and the touch sensors have been integrated into a thinner, single layer. The pixels actually sense the user’s touch all on their own, without the need for separate components. What does this mean for you? Much better viewing angles, a clearer image, a lighter device, and a thinner profile.

Updated Design

iPhone 5 designThe design of the new iPhone was no surprise as Apple has obviously lost control of its secrets in a post-Jobs era. The iPhone 5 looks exactly as it was portrayed in many leaked images. Lead designer Jony Ive said Apple has “never built a product with this extraordinary level of fit and finish.” Made with a glass display and an aluminum unibody, the iPhone 5 comes in the standard color options: black or white. Thanks to its new touch-integrated display, the iPhone 5 is the thinnest LTE smartphone in the world at just 0.29 inches. It’s also 20 percent lighter than the 4S at 112 grams or 3.95 ounces.

A6 Processor

A new iPhone means a faster CPU. This one’s called the A6 — following the established numbering system — and Apple claims it is two times faster than it’s predecessor, able to load web pages 2.1 times speedier.

iOS 6

One advantage of buying the latest Apple product is having a device designed specifically for the latest and greatest software version. iOS 6 brings a lot of new features to the table, and builds on many of those introduced in iOS 5. For instance, Siri will now play nice with Yelp, Opentable, and Fandango. It’s also able to launch apps (finally). Facebook is now integrated into the OS alongside Twitter, and Safari has an offline reading list. Apple’s thrown in its own version of Google Maps with Yelp support and turn-by-turn navigation. Passbook is a new feature as well, essentially a wallet app that can store your boarding pass, Starbucks card, and more. Read our full breakdown of iOS 6 for extra details.

Connectivity

“Ultrafast Wireless” is the moniker Apple’s chosen for its latest wireless chip. The single chip supports standards necessary to operate on all carriers, according to Apple. It can handle HSPA+ (20Mbps), DC-HSDPA (42Mbps), and LTE (max 100Mbps). The iPhone’s Wi-Fi has been beefed up as well, sporting 802.11N (dual-channel, 2.4GHz and 5GHz) and a max speed of 150Mbps. The iPhone can, like most modern routers, switch between connections for the best results.

Sadly, Verizon said recently that the iPhone 5 will not support simultaneous voice and data connections, even on LTE. This is in direct contrast to the rest of its LTE phones, which can all handle voice and data. The feature won’t be supported by Sprint either. AT&T, however, has confirmed with The Verge that its customers can simultaneously access voice and data over HSPA+ or LTE.

Improved Audio

iPhone 5 audio componentsWanting to make its iPhone refresh as thorough as possible, Apple made sure its audio components underwent a makeover as well. The iPhone 5 features three microphones: one on the bottom, back, and front. As a result, the sound quality of recordings and voice calls will be improved. In a truly impressive move, Apple has managed to include noise cancelling without the need for external hardware. In real world use, this means background noise should be muted as much as possible during voice calls. And with what Apple calls, “wideband audio,” the iPhone 5 will use more bandwidth to transmit higher-quality audio over your network. This feature will depend on carrier support, however.

The internal speakers are now 20 percent smaller and yet have grown from three to five magnet transducers for a richer sound. 

Last but certainly not least, the EarPods are Apple’s latest bundled earphones for its new mobile devices. Designed to be much more comfortable and better-sounding than the current unwieldy earphones, the EarPods are also more ergonomic and meant to fit comfortably in the ear. We look forward to trying these out.

Camera Features

iPhone 5 panorama modeApple spent a lot of time talking up the iPhone’s camera improvements in its live event, putting the strongest emphasis on its new panorama mode, though it blissfully ignored the fact that most high-end smartphones already have this feature. It works much the same here, you simply pan the phone across an area and the software will stitch the images together for you. The iPhone 5 will even correct blur from your shaky hands and remove any moving objects.

The back camera keeps the five-element optics and 8-megapixel sensor (3264 x 2448) found in the 4S. It also has backside illumination, an f/2.4 aperture (slower than the F/2.0 aperture on the HTC One X and Evo 4G LTE), and a hybrid infrared filter. A few video features have been tossed in as well: still photo capture while recording, improved image stabilization, and face detection.

The iPhone 5 also ships with a dynamic low light mode. The new image processing chip picks out the areas of a photo in need of noise reduction and leaves the rest alone. Because of this, Apple claims photography in low light is much improved. In addition, photos can be taken 40 percent faster than the 4S, which already has a super fast shutter. Even the lens has been revamped, this time made with a sapphire crystal (the next hardest material to diamond).

FaceTime is now in 720p HD and, as long as carriers play nice, video conversations will be available over a user’s cellular network. Like the rear-facing camera, the front-facing one has face detection built-in. According to The Verge, Verizon has recently stated users may run FaceTime over the network with no extra charge, regardless of which data plan they have. Sprint has also said it won’t be charging for the service, while AT&T will only allow it if you sign up for a new Mobile Share data plan

Lightning Connector

iPhone 5 Lightning ConnectorHere’s where Apple’s going to frustrate a lot of Apple users who have undoubtedly amassed a large collection of 30-pin connectors. Luckily (or unluckily, depending how you look at it), the new, smaller 8-pin connector can still be used with older cords by purchasing a $30 adapter. A neat feature of the Lightning connector is its reversible orientation, it will plug into your device no matter which side is up.

Battery Life

The battery life of the iPhone 5 is nowhere near the impressive numbers shown earlier this month in Motorola’s newest RAZR line, but for the average user, it will do. Apple states the official numbers as 225 hours on standby, 8 hours of 3G talk, 8 hours of browsing with LTE, 10 hours on Wi-Fi, and 30 hours of video.

Availability and Pricing

On September 21, the new iPhone will be available in the United States, Canada, UK, Germany, France, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Japan. Availability will extend to the remaining countries on September 28. Pre-orders began at midnight on Sept. 14. If you’re trying to get an iPhone 5 at launch, keep informed with our “How to Find an iPhone 5” article, which we’re updating with availability information as we get it.

The iPhone 5 will come in three different storage sizes and price points: 16GB for $200, 32GB for $300, and 64GB for $400. These prices include a two-year contract, however. At full price, the phone starts at $650 for the 16GB model. And since the iPhone 4S is old hat now, it will be offered for $100 on a two-year contract with the iPhone 4 costing zilch, nada, nothing after signing on the dotted line.

After the dust has settled, the iPhone 5 still stands tall as a premium gadget offering superior performance, outstanding build quality, and snappy wireless speeds. But is that enough? Will you be waiting in line for the sixth generation of Apple’s infamous smartphone-to-rule-them-all or are you sitting this one out?