iPhone 5 review

The iPhone 5 re-energized Apple's smartphone, but it's now long in the tooth

iPhone 5 review
The definitive iPhone 5 review

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Is the iPhone 5 a good phone? Of course it is… But is it enough to warrant the fervour of the claims of record sales and 'the best thing to happen to iPhone since iPhone'?

To some people it may seem like it's just the iPhone 4S with a longer screen and some fancier earbuds… but to others it's more like the tweaks they've been waiting for to finally warrant upgrading or moving to the iSide.

Now though, in 2016, the iPhone 5 is more of a last resort for budding iPhone owners. If you want a small iPhone get the SE, those looking for a big screen check out the 6S Plus and 6 Plus and for the mainstream iPhone experience you've got the 6 and 6S.

The 5 is now the phone to get on the cheap if your current iPhone breaks, or you simply can't afford the newer models but just have to conform to Apple's ways.

iPhone 5 review

We liked

It's quite hard to dislike an iPhone, no matter whether you love or disdain Apple's ethos. It's just so simple, with a quality screen and a real effort made into the design.

And it's fair to say, rather obviously, that this is the best iPhone ever made. That doesn't mean it's the best phone we've seen, but it's a jolly good effort.

The screen improvement is a real step forward, and the overall speed of the device has been increased to a blistering speed that matches the best the opposition has to offer.

We love the two tone back, and the pigmented glass effect, although the chassis is a little sharp at the edges.

The web browser is as fast as anything we've seen too, as well as the audio performance – and the larger screen makes video viewing better. There's also the very good camera on offer, with speedy pics and great quality of snaps… in short, there's not a lot we can fault on the specs, as we're fine not having a quad core chip just for the sake of it.

We disliked

The iPhone 5 isn't without its faults though – it's a handset that suffers from an ageing OS that doesn't look overly different from when it was launched five and a half years ago.

There are so many tweaks Apple could make to its OS to turn it into more of a powerhouse – icons that update with information, or extending the widgets in the notification bar beyond weather and stocks.

If only developers could add that functionality to apps so you could see updates in the notifications bar (seeing as it won't add anything to the home screen) – but Apple is taking things very slowly on this front, and we're really looking forward to seeing what iOS 7 brings.

We're not saying 'make it like Android' as there's a reason people buy iPhones - but there is a middle ground that Apple could inch towards.

The closed garden nature of iOS is also irritating, as it means you can't share items other than photos to Dropbox without connecting up to iTunes or send files to your mates via Bluetooth without installing special apps on both phones.

And then there's the lack of NFC, although we do see Apple's reasons for omitting the technology. It's not quite there yet in terms of market penetration for payments, but the world's largest network of accessories could definitely have made use of it for making ever cooler docks and cases.

Maps was poor on launch and is only improving relatively slowly. No doubt it will get better, but right now it's just not good enough when walking or for finding businesses, although it's fine for driving. Still, iOS does have plenty of alternatives you can use, including Google Maps.


Is the iPhone 5 the best smartphone ever? If you're an iPhone lover and won't ever leave, without question. It's got a larger screen, a superb new design and generally all the moves required to make it into a worthy evolution.

But as ever we can't get over the price of the iPhone 5, with very little reason to prove that spending all that extra cash brings a tangible benefit.

That larger screen is a little too large to operate properly with one thumb, so we think there was room to make the screen even bigger. If you've played with a 4.5-inch or above phone, you'll get used to the greater space very quickly, so we don't think the iPhone 5 has the optimum screen.

Ultimately, this is an iPhone that underwhelms in terms of specs, but packages it all together in a way that works. The most annoyance has come in the way that Apple hasn't re-invented anything on the interface or hardware front.

But that's Apple's job, not ours. This is a company built on enchantment and magic and excitement over raw spec lists - something like a Liquidmetal body or separate screen on the back would have wowed over 'it's a bit thinner'.

In terms of our rating, we were torn between 4 and 4.5 stars, as the mixture of poor Maps, sky high price and aged OS is quite a long way from five stars. But there's still something about the way Apple puts together a smartphone that just works in a way that most of the competition can't match. It's a little bit creaky compared to the iPhone 4 heyday, but the iPhone 5 is still a brilliant phone in many ways.

If we could, we'd give the phone 4.25 stars, and we're sticking at this level for now - after months of use we still love the phone as we have other iPhones, which helped offset the poorer case design and continuing Maps nonsense - but there's still a sense that it could be better.

The iPhone 5 is the phone that's the minimum users would want in terms of an upgrade, and finding the balance there is something Apple is more adept at than ever. It's a very, very good phone, but there are plenty of other equivalent devices out there that will suck much less cash from your bank account each month that we think you should check out too.

Gareth Beavis
Formerly Global Editor in Chief

Gareth has been part of the consumer technology world in a career spanning three decades. He started life as a staff writer on the fledgling TechRadar, and has grown with the site (primarily as phones, tablets and wearables editor) until becoming Global Editor in Chief in 2018. Gareth has written over 4,000 articles for TechRadar, has contributed expert insight to a number of other publications, chaired panels on zeitgeist technologies, presented at the Gadget Show Live as well as representing the brand on TV and radio for multiple channels including Sky, BBC, ITV and Al-Jazeera. Passionate about fitness, he can bore anyone rigid about stress management, sleep tracking, heart rate variance as well as bemoaning something about the latest iPhone, Galaxy or OLED TV.