Over the past several weeks and months, I can't tell you how often I've gotten the question, "When is the new iPhone coming out?'" We now know the answer to the question: Apple delivers the brand new iPhone 5 on Sept 21. The obvious follow-up question: "Is it worth it?"
My true answer must wait until I've had a chance to put the iPhone 5 through its paces. But the new iPhone, unveiled Wednesday, looks awfully inviting from my vantage point. Like many people, I've had an iPhone 4 that has frankly grown stale. But I also postponed the purchase of a new smartphone -- waiting to see what Apple would do.
The iPhone 5 has the same Retina display as on its predecessor. But Apple finally upped the screen size to 4 inches, from the 3.5-inch display that was on all the earlier models. That permits a fifth row of app icons on the home screen. It's still a smaller screen than the display on many rival Android devices. But the extra real estate is welcome just the same, and the device -- which I got to pick up at the demonstration area set up after Apple's press event here -- felt comfortable.
Choosing a screen size is always a balancing act against the overall physical dimensions and design. The iPhone 5 is just a little taller than the iPhone 4S, but it is still, Apple says, the thinnest and lightest iPhone ever made. It is 18% thinner, in fact, than its immediate predecessor. And the iPhone 5 is one-fifth lighter than the 4S. It is made entirely of glass and aluminum.
As had been rumored and as I had hoped, the iPhone 5 can tap into speedy wireless 4G LTE networks. Apple will be working in the U.S. with AT&T, Sprint and Verizon Wireless, as well as several other carriers in Canada and overseas.
Apple says users will get up to eight hours of talk time off its battery, and 10 hours of video playback, with improved battery life for most of the ways you use the phone.
The iPhone 5 comes in black and silver or white and slate aluminum and will be available for preorder on Friday. Prices range from $199 for 16 GB to $299 for 32 GB and $399 for 64 GB. (With a contract, the iPhone 4 will be free; the iPhone 4S will cost $99.) The new iPhone runs off a new zippy A6 chip, Apple says, meaning you can launch photos, music and various apps much quicker. I'm eager to compare this with earlier models. More highlights:
iOS 6. At the core of the iPhone 5, of course, is the previously announced iOS 6 software upgrade, and there's a lot here. (IOS 6 comes to older devices on Sept 19.) Apple is late to the party with turn-by-turn audio directions, an iOS 6 feature that has been on Android phones for a while. Third-party developers have helped fill the void on the iPhone up to now. But better late than never, and the built-in Maps and directions in iOS 6 are very sweet. A fly-over feature in Maps lets you zoom in to get virtual photo-realistic tours of an area. Apple demonstrated the feature during the event by zooming in on London's Big Ben.
IOS 6 includes enhancements to Notification Center and Safari. Through iCloud Tabs, you can access Web pages that were open on your computer back home. Among the new Mail features is the ability to make certain senders your VIPs, so you can easily access their mail amid the junk.
Apple has also made improvements to Siri, letting you ask the phone's chatty virtual assistant for sports scores and movie recommendations and to launch apps.
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