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.

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  • grkhetan - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 - link

    Multiple display reviews conclude that the iPhone 5 has the best display in a smartphone (And much better than a Samsung Galaxy S 3)

    http://www.displaymate.com/Smartphone_ShootOut_2.h...

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/6334/iphone-5-screen...
    Reply
  • rarson - Thursday, October 18, 2012 - link

    Your second link doesn't compare it to anything but the iPhone 4. Your first link ONLY compares it to the S3. Neither link supports your statement ("best display in a smartphone"). Reply
  • doobydoo - Friday, October 19, 2012 - link

    A quote from his second link:

    'To put this in perspective, in the past few years I've reviewed probably 30-40 different displays, from PC monitors to TVs to projectors. Not a single one, out of the box, can put up the Gretag Macbeth dE numbers that the iPhone can, and perhaps one projector (which listed for $20,000) can approach the grayscale and color accuracy out of the box.'
    Reply
  • steven75 - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 - link

    Those pesky facts are annoying! Reply
  • Obsoleet - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    No, it's not. There's many reasons the GS3 is the better choice based on the software and hardware, mainly that the MaxxHD only matches a 5 month old phone in hardware specs and tosses on a bigger battery as the only clear win (but you get stuck with a Motorola phone vs most people's preferred choice Samsung).
    But the killer reason is that the charger is on the left hand side.

    For many of us lefties, that is a deal breaker. As a right handed user, you don't realize this. I want the ports on the top or bottom, and I just ordered a GS3 because of this being a tipping point.

    The original Maxx had the ports on the top! Motorola is clueless.
    Never again.
    Reply
  • Ckaka1993 - Thursday, December 06, 2012 - link

    Ppi does make a difference. Go see the videos of droid dna(has 440) ppi and you can make out the difference. iPhone 5 doesnt have true 720p but that doesn't matter cause it's quite close to 720p. Anyways iphone5 is behind so many smartphones at present. Nokia lumia 920 is a treat to watch with its 332 ppi pure motion hd+ display and high refresh rate, u can make out the difference. But nexus 4 is the smartphone which gives u the best worth for money at ony 350usd it is freaking awesome Reply
  • makken - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    The Physical Comparison table lists the iPhone 5's resolution at 1136 x 960, instead of 1136 x 640. Threw me off for a second there =P Reply
  • Brian Klug - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    Oops, fixing. There's always something in the table that needs fixing it seems :P

    -Brian
    Reply
  • DukeN - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    And always favorably on the Apple side.

    Maybe you took a picture of the pixel count with the iPhone's camera...
    Reply
  • Alucard291 - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    I know I love how their own benchmarks show how the battery life is worse in just about everything than the 4s and yet and yet "its better" >.> Reply

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