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
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  • mykebrian - Thursday, October 18, 2012 - link

    is motorola razr i same price with iphone 5? Reply
  • Death666Angel - Thursday, October 18, 2012 - link

    "By controlling its own SoC destiny it could achieve a level of vertical integration that no OEM has enjoyed in recent history."
    I would argue that Samsung enjoys a similar level of vertical integration. They trade the OS-stuff for some fabs. Not sure which can be more profitable. But other than that, they are very much like Apple in terms of vertical smartphone integration I think. :)
    Reply
  • iwod - Thursday, October 18, 2012 - link

    Any Reason Why Front Camera not using High Profile When Recording Video? It could have saved yet another bit of space with MUCH better quality then baseline.

    And do Apple offically support play back of H.264 High Profile Video Clip yet?
    Reply
  • Spunjji - Friday, October 19, 2012 - link

    I very much appreciated the details on the SoC design. Your attempts to refine your battery life analysis were also appreciated, as these do seem to better reflect real-world usage. In general this article was well-researched, well-written and very informative.

    Unfortunately, the section on the anodization process does end up reading like one big apology. The matter is explained in detail but it's done with an air of resignation, as if this were the only option available to Apple. The fact is that they could have retained some additional girth (whilst still losing some) and had a device with good handling, good aesthetics and superior durability. No comparison to competing devices is made whatsoever, so we have no idea based on your article alone if this really is unavoidable or just poor choice of materials.

    The same goes for the part about the camera flare. Is a short comparison with a few relevant models too much to ask? The problem is that (like the previous criticism) I already know how this comes out and it doesn't look very good for Apple.

    So there are hundreds of hours spent testing comparative performance and battery life where Apple win, yet no time at all dedicated to comparative analysis where they do not look so good. That starts to look upsettingly like bias. I hope that isn't the case but based on other areas (notebook reviews in particular) it starts to feel like a theme.

    Anandtech, as a site I love your tech journalism, but the personal preferences of the writers need to stay at home (or firmly in editorials).
    Reply
  • Slaanesh - Friday, October 19, 2012 - link

    Couldn't agree more. Reply
  • Krysto - Friday, October 19, 2012 - link

    I have to agree. Through out the article, you almost got the impression of worship from the writers, and they've only focused on what Apple did right and how much better that was than their competitors.

    And what's with all the going back to history of Apple's devices? Was that really necessary for a phone review? Should we expect this for all new iPhones...or for all new Galaxy S devices? I think that part alone shows bias.

    And was 50 page review (or whatever it is) really necessary and to wait a month and a half after the product launch? The reason I'm asking is because I know they will never repeat this for any other non-Apple product. But I also think it's kind of pointless, and reviews need to appear max 1 week after the product launches. Maybe two. More than that is really pointless, and it's already obvious in the review that half of it is about how awesome Apple were in the past and still are, and only the other half goes down to the analysis.
    Reply
  • dyc4ha - Saturday, October 20, 2012 - link

    +1 Reply
  • Klugfan - Friday, October 19, 2012 - link

    Does everyone remember Edward Tufte's complaints about the iPhone 4 design?

    If I wasn't concerned about impact on the antenna performance, I'd be tempted to take some fine grit sandpaper to my black iPhone 5, and round off the edges a little. Believe it.

    If your biggest concern about phones _really_ is resale value, well the iPhone 5 will do fine, with or without scuffs. If your biggest concern about brain phones is what they look like to other people who see you using them, well, first you're an idiot, and second the iPhone 5 really will do fine there, with or without scuffs.

    Does my phone make me look smug? Whatever shall I do.
    Reply
  • Hxx - Friday, October 19, 2012 - link

    got this phone close to release day and I'm throughly impressed with it. Coming from a droid incredible 2 who crapped out on me 10 months after purchase (the memory slot broke and lost all my pics, videos etc - not fun) I gotta say this is my first interaction with an iOS powered device and so far i love it. I think most Apple products are overpriced (hence the reason why i never got one) but this phone is a beauty for $199 given that i paid almost just as much 1 year ago for my droid phone. A huge thank you to Anandtech for providing such detailed review. Although i may never need as much detail about a phone :-), its nice to know i can always rely on you guys if I ever have any technical questions.
    Good job Guys!
    Reply
  • ol1bit - Friday, October 19, 2012 - link

    As always, Anandtech gets into the details I didn't even know I wanted to read about!

    I'm not an apple product owner, and never plan to be, but it really appears to be a great phone.

    Keep up the good work!
    Reply

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