Design

Section by Vivek Gowri

The iPhone 4, when it launched, represented a clean break for Apple's industrial design. It replaced the soft organic curvature of the iPhone 3G/3GS with a detailed sandwich of metal and glass, something that arguably brought the feel of a premium device to a new level. Obviously, Apple had their fair share of issues with the design initially, and nothing could match the sinking feeling of dropping one and shattering the glass on the front and back simultaneously, but it was a small price to pay for the jewel-like feel of the device. Combined with the (at the time) incredible pixel density of the then-new Retina Display, the iPhone 4 was a revolution in hardware design. The chassis has aged remarkably well over the last two-plus years, so naturally it's a hard act to follow.

The 5 keeps a similar design language to the 4, keeping roughly the same shape as before but with a taller and thinner form factor. At first glance, the 5 actually looks almost the same as the 4, with an unbroken glass front face, prominent corner radiuses, the familiar home button, a rectangular cross-section, and metallic sides with plastic antenna bands. However, those metallic sides are part of an anodized aluminum frame that makes up a majority of the body, and that's where the industrial design diverges from the 4 and 4S.

In contrast to the predominantly glass body of the previous generation iPhone, the 5 is almost entirely aluminum other than the glass front face and two small glass windows at the top and bottom of the back. It's a return to the original iPhone/3G/3GS-style of construction, with the front glass clipping into a unibody chassis. It's a significant departure from the 4 and 4S, where the stainless steel band in the center was the main housing that the front and rear panels clipped into. That was pretty radical way of doing things, so it's not all that surprising to see Apple revert to a more conventional and less complex method for the 5.

The aesthetic is actually pretty awesome, especially in the black version. The combination of black glass and off-black aluminum (Apple is calling it slate) gives the 5 an almost murdered out look that's three parts elegant and one part evil. The white and silver model has a classy look that's much friendlier in appearance than the black one. The color schemes and overall design aesthetic remind me of the Dell Adamo, one of my favorite notebook designs of all time. The similarities may be purely coincidental, but it's interesting to note nonetheless and should give you an idea of how premium the industrial design is.

All three previous iPhone body styles had very similar dimensions, so the biggest question with the 5 was how much the larger display would do to change that. Unlike many Android manufacturers, Apple still believes in things like small pockets, small hands, and one-handed smartphone usage. With the 5 being vertically stretched but no wider than the previous iPhones, the biggest impact on in-hand feel is actually the thinner body. If you're used to a larger Android or Windows device, the change seems radical, but even compared to the 22% thicker iPhone 4S, it feels a good deal smaller.

It's not just the minimized z-height though, the 25% weight loss is definitely also a factor. Even a few weeks later, I still find it striking how much less substantial it feels than the 4 and 4S. The densely-packed glass body just had a reassuring weight to it that the 5 simply lacks. But as you get used to the new form factor, you realize how far Apple is pushing the boundaries of ultrathin design. When the 4th generation iPod touch came out, I told Brian that I wanted an iPhone with that form factor - well, the 5 is essentially there (0.3mm thicker and 11 grams heavier, but close enough). It's pretty impressive to think about. If you thought the 4S was one of the best phone designs on the market in terms of aesthetics and build quality, the iPhone 5 just pushes that advantage further.

Introduction Build Quality Issues, Scuffgate
POST A COMMENT

276 Comments

View All Comments

  • youwonder - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 - link

    I find it kind of ...odd that the S3 has a much larger battery than the one X and the same SoC yet posts significantly worse LTE browsing numbers, and is the only phone using LTE to get worse results with it than using 3G(granted that is the international vers, doesn't look like they had time to do testing on the AT&T or verizon variant running 3G). Does the samoled screen really draw THAT much more power than an LCD? also there's this which makes me wonder more:

    http://blogs.which.co.uk/technology/smartphones/be...

    Of course, I don't respect these guys as much as anandtech when it comes to accurate results, and they did things much differently (broadcasting their own 3g signal and putting all phones on max brightness), but still the odd results here make me wonder if a small mistake wasn't made.
    Reply
  • Zink - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 - link

    Max brightness gives the gs3 an advantage because its screen is so dim. The other phones are using LED lighting as well but they go much brighter and have to shine through the LCD panel. Reply
  • youwonder - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 - link

    Good point, I guess it's mostly just me wondering why the GS3 LTE variant posts such horrible numbers even compared to it's 3G version when anand specs a good amount of time explaining why the opposite is true. Reply
  • phillyry - Sunday, October 21, 2012 - link

    Don't know why but it does tank on LTE. Reply
  • rarson - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 - link

    I'm getting so sick and tired of seeing the word "literally" injected into all sorts of sentences that it doesn't belong in. This word only needs to be used when describing something literal. It's not a synonym for "really" (not yet, anyway). Reply
  • andykins - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 - link

    Alright, language purist. :P Reply
  • joos2000 - Thursday, October 18, 2012 - link

    http://theoatmeal.com/comics/literally Reply
  • phillyry - Sunday, October 21, 2012 - link

    Great link. That's too funny - literally! Reply
  • dfonseca - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 - link

    On the last page, section "Final Words" / "iPhone 5 Device Conclusions", it's written:

    > At a high level, the iPhone 5’s cameras appeared to be some of the least unchanged elements of the new device however in practice the improvements are significant.

    "Least unchanged" means "most changed." It should probably say "most unchanged," or "least changed."

    Nice review, kudos to all authors.
    Reply
  • mattlach - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 - link

    I had the original iPhone, followed by the iPhone 3G and then the iPhone 4, and just switched to a Samsung Galaxy S3 in July.

    When the original iPhone came out, while it was the first to do what it did - and that's why I bought it at its steep no-contract introductory price - it wasn't exactly revolutionary, everything in the market was moving in this direction, but it was pretty well executed and nothing else did it at the time.

    I upgraded to the 3G on launch, as I thought the edge speeds were dreadful, but was disappointed, as the phone wasn't fast enough to take advantage of 3G, and AT&T's 3G was pretty mediocre anyway. It didn't get important features its competitors had, like copy and paste until very late in the game, and I started to think that I should have gotten an Android phone instead.

    By the time I got the iPhone 4, I was tired of my slow 3G experience and just wanted an upgrade to something faster. The iPhone 4 was a good upgrade, but I really only got it because I didn't like AT&T's Android offerings at the time. I had been thinking about going to Verizon and getting an Android for some time. The 3G should have been my last iPhone, it was a mistake to buy the 4.

    Having realized my mistake, I waited 2 long years with the 4 until I could finally get out of my AT&T contract and go to Verizon and get a GS3, and it felt great.

    The additional freedom of what I run on my phone, not being controlled by Apple and their agenda as to what makes it into the App store, and the fact that I finally no longer had to have iTunes installed on my computer were fantastic.

    My computer has been iTunes free for 3 months now, and it feels great!

    I was concerned for a while that once the iPhone 5 was released, they would come out with something that would make me regret my choice of the GS3, but it turns out they didn't.

    I'll likely never buy anything Apple again. It feels like a huge relief to say that.
    Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now