Camera, Earpods, Battery Life
iPhone 5 Camera Performance -
As mentioned, we think the iPhone 5's camera is capable of a lot, but Apple has hamstrung the options. That said, the automatic mode on the iPhone 5 is snappy and usually accurate, though we did see it struggle to expose the shot properly on occasion while indoors and facing a blaring amount of sunlight in the background. Overall, the camera is worthy of praise, and it'll suit most everyone looking for high quality shots from their phone. In fact, the camera is so solid we just kept wishing that Apple would unlock more advanced controls so we could have even more impact on how exactly the shots turn out. Here are a few samples -- judge for yourself. (Click each for a high-res version.)
The iPhone 5's New Earpods -
Before we dig into performance characteristics of the iPhone 5, Apple's new EarPods are worth a mention. Apple supposedly took three years to engineer these, but in the end, they're still $29 earbuds.
Yes, they stay in your ears a bit better, and the inline remote is quite useful, but they still lack the flexibility of multiple eartips that your basic set of $49 in-ear buds provide. These are an improvement over the prior, flatter earbuds, but if you're serious about sound, you're much better off dropping $50 on a set of Sony earbuds, or $100 on a set from Shure, Klipsch, etc.
As for tonal quality, they're effectively exactly like the prior earbuds, but with a semblance of bass. Mids are a bit thicker than they should be, highs can be shrill on lower bitrate recordings and the bass accuracy can't compare to even $50 in-ear alternatives. But at this point, we're nitpicking. You shouldn't reasonably expect any "factory included" earbuds to be exceptional, perhaps outside of the Beats buds that shipped with a few HTC handsets. These sound fine as a backup set, or as a headset used primary for listening to conference calls, but in general, versus higher-end alternatives, music just sounds a little too hollow to recommend these outright.
iPhone 5 Battery Life -In our standard web browsing rundown test, which regularly reloads a Web link while cellular data is active, Wi-Fi is on and Mail / Twitter / Facebook are set to update every 15 minutes, we saw the battery peter out on the iPhone 5 after 10 hours and 57 minutes. That's excellent. The iPhone 5 is thinner than the iPhone 4S, and includes a battery-sucking LTE radio, yet it lasts even longer. In average use, which wouldn't have the LCD on constantly, you could absolutely expect this phone to last between 14 and 16 hours. For an LTE smartphone, this is impressive.
But here's the thing. While it's fine to heap praise on Apple for squeezing more life out of an even thinner phone, it still feels to us that this is the wrong approach. Did anyone really feel that the iPhone 4S was fat and chubby? Imagine an iPhone 5 that retained the same thickness as the iPhone 4S, yet offered a few more hours of battery life than the existing model does today. With a bit more room and a higher capacity battery, Apple could have become the first major smartphone maker to produce an LTE handset that could last up to 18 - 24 hours with Web usage. Yes, that battery would've been more expensive, but we really wish companies would start thinking of things from this perspective, instead of racing to offer the thinnest possible phone.