Positives: gentle evolution keeps iPhone just ahead of the competition.
Negatives: inferior maps and dock connector disappoint.
The latest iPhone went on sale last week. This fifth-generation model is longer, thinner, faster and promises better battery life than its predecessors. But, in an increasingly competitive market, is that enough?
The camera gets it off to a good start. Although based on the same optics as the previous model, a new digital sensor affords the iPhone 5 much better low-light performance. Resolution is unchanged at eight megapixels, but colours are more accurate, details are sharper and dark scenes appear brighter.
A new panorama option allows the camera to capture ultra-wide-angle, high-resolution photos by sweeping the phone slowly from left to right. This worked brilliantly with static landscape scenes, producing huge images with bags of detail.
But introduce motion into a panorama and all bets are off: rather than showing movement as a blur, the system reinterprets the scene with odd, Picasso-esque consequences. In one family portrait my mother literally spawned two heads.
One effect of the half-inch longer screen is that older apps are displayed in a letterbox format with black bars at the top and bottom. This is barely noticeable until you start typing – in testing, the subtle vertical shift in the on-screen keyboard between old and new apps was enough to make me mis-key with frustrating regularity.
The new Apple-designed maps app is also disappointing. Replacing the Google offering of every previous iPhone, these maps are slick, beautiful – and inaccurate. Browse around the streets of San Francisco and you're treated to seamless switches from a crisp satellite view to a beautiful, interactive 3D cityscape. Turn-by-turn directions with voice navigation are included, making third-party sat-nav systems redundant for American owners.
Jump over to Scotland and you land with a bump. The satellite images are of far lower quality than their Google equivalents. Entire towns are beneath cloud cover and many side streets and B-roads aren't mapped at all.
On the hardware side, a notable compromise is the Lightning port which replaces the ubiquitous 30-pin dock connector. Owners of iPhone-ready speaker docks or in-car systems will have to wait until bulky, expensive adaptors go on sale in October – and even then Apple gives no guarantees about compatibility with older kit.
Build quality and camera performance still keep the iPhone ahead of the competition, although it's probably now a question of when, not if, an Android handset will take the No1 spot.