TECH TALK

Apple gives its signature device a solid upgrade


Published: Sunday, September 30, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, September 29, 2012 at 6:34 p.m.

As the "Apple 5-palooza" tour ratchets down and the pompous circumstance begins to wane, it seems like the appropriate time for an in-depth look at the greatest iPhone since, well, the last one.

Humbly, I admit I was one of the ding-dongs who actually ordered it at 3:01 a.m. and subsequently tracked the package with stalker-like impulses, only to gnash teeth into the box to retrieve my prize. So yes, I have an iProblem, but I am not too drunk on the Kool-Aid to write the one-week review.

Just for perspective, it helps to think of the iPhone as Coca-Cola. We are just never going to see a "New Coke" model that veers off the recipe. This is difficult for a marketplace always searching for something new and flashy. For this reason, we have great alternatives with Android and Windows, but the Real Thing has a higher calling to keep it the Real Thing.

Conjuring up that context helped even as I shredded that box like a 9-year-old on Christmas. I expected an "original recipe" iPhone 4s2 but got as close to extra crispy as I feel Apple is willing to go. This is indeed a new device from ground up.

What is the first thought? It's light. Radically light. They say only 20 percent lighter, but it feels more like 50 percent. It's also much thinner. Of course, how much of a big deal is that after we slap it into big ugly cases?

Curiously enough, this version, without the glass backside, performs very well in drop tests, reportedly better than its polycarbonate nemesis Samsung Galaxy SIII. Perhaps we will see more iPhones going "commando" this time.

The new offering is also bigger at 4 inches. Finally. Actually, it's just taller, but brilliantly so. It still comfortably fits in the hand as always. If you've ever picked up one of the behemoth Android "phablet" hybrids, you know how uncomfortable they can be.

Aesthetics have always been an iGiven. Apple is borderline manic when it comes to gorgeous devices. It's what is inside the can that has caused many to choose Android during the blind taste tests lately.

The contents of the Real Thing have gotten rather flat. The biggest upgrade is the boost to faster 4G speeds, which was arguably a year too late. I am pretty sure God was using the old 3G network back when he downloaded the Ten Commandments to Moses.

Another upgrade is the new A6 processor. Nobody knows exactly what makes it tick since Apple designed much of it in its double-secret lair, but what we do know is that it's rather nuclear.

Early benchmarks are showing i5 to be the most powerful smartphone on the planet. This is much needed considering the rest of the device world will be equipped with screaming quad-core processors by the time iPhone 6 is born.

Even with all the extra horsepower under the hood, i5 is surprisingly still good on gas. The battery seems to last just as long, if not a bit longer, during a day's use as the previous model.

This brings us to the camera, hallowed ground for me, considering my profession as a photo editor. I went as far as calling the last iPhone the death nail in the point-and-shoot market. Apple added incremental, yet significant upgrades. One of the coolest features is the new panorama mode that allows you to pan the device while the phone stitches it all together.

Another threshold it is seeking to cross is the low-light realm. This is tough for any camera, but i5 cleverly added two stops of exposure, which is pretty sweet for any cave-dwelling shooter.

Most of the other upgrades come via software in the form of iOS 6, which has been pushed to all iDevices. By now many of us have heard about "mapsgate" — and it truly is a mess. The feud with Google must be pretty intense for them to forgo the truly polished Google Maps.

Passbook looks vaguely interesting but nowhere near the replacement of the wallet many were expecting. The big star of the show, however, is Siri, who went from toddler to tiara in this edition. She is much smarter with a lot less sass. She also is good for instant sports updates and movie times among other things.

All in all, this is a very good iPhone. Somewhere between evolutionary and revolutionary.

If you're due for an upgrade, you will be the life of the party. I would not suggest pawning off the engagement ring for a full-price upgrade, even though Craigslist is probably streaming with "ice" these days.

Truth is, we expect a lot from the Real Thing, and this can delivers an ice-cold, refreshing upgrade, even if it tastes the same as it seemingly always has.

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