Non-Geek’s Guide to the iPhone 5

This one goes out to all my non-geek friends and family who just want to know if the iPhone 5 is worth upgrading for.

(NOTE: This is strictly a run-down of the improvements in the actual iPhone itself and does not take cost into consideration. If you are still under contract, you’re most likely going to want to wait until you are past your contract period before considering an upgrade since there is an additional cost of several hundred dollars if you buy an iPhone without a contract or before your current contract period is up.)

Below are the improvements included in the iPhone 5 that non-geeks are likely to care about, described in something vaguely resembling layman’s terms:

  • Bigger Display: You can watch a 16:9 (widescreen) video/movie on it without having any black bars or having any of the video cropped. This also gives you room for a fifth row of icons on the screen.
  • Sleeker Hardware: It’s 18% thinner and 20% lighter than the iPhone 4S.
  • More Durable Hardware: The back is once again made primarily of aluminum and not glass or plastic. It does have small ceramic glass inlays at the top and bottom, but ~80% of the back of the case is now aluminum, so now you just have to pray it lands on the back if you drop one without a case.
  • Faster Wireless Data Speeds: It supports all of the currently-deployed fast network technologies with Sprint, AT&T, and Verizon. (HSPA+, DC-HSDPA, LTE)
  • Faster Processsor: On average, the iPhone 5 will be 2X faster than the iPhone 4S.
  • Longer Battery Life: Despite being thinner and lighter and faster, the battery life is improved over that of the iPhone 4S.
  • Slightly Nicer Camera: The camera is still 8MP like the iPhone 4S camera, but there are some nice improvements to the processing that makes it even better in low light, less noise (the source of grainy images in less than ideal conditions). Photo capture is 40% faster than with the iPhone 4S. The lens cover is now made from sapphire, which is much more durable and sharper than the glass lens covers used on previous iPhones.
  • Panoramic Image Capture: It now has built-in panoramic image capture support that outputs a 28MP image for landscapes, etc.
  • Still Photo Capture in Video Mode: You can now take still photos while shooting video—no more missing out on still photo ops because you’re in video mode.
  • HD Front-Facing Camera: The camera used for FaceTime calls is now HD.
  • FaceTime via Cellular: You can now use FaceTime over a cellular connection instead of having to be on WiFi to use it.
  • Smaller Connector Size: The iPhone 5 uses a much smaller cable connection type than previous models, so you’ll need an adapter to connect it to docks, etc. that use the old wider connection type. (Apple will be selling these.)
  • Improved Call and Sound Quality: The call quality should be improved over previous models as the iPhone 5 now has three microphones (secondary and tertiary microphones are used for noise cancelation) and improved speakers in the earpiece and for music and speaker phone use.
  • Prices Stay the Same as Previous iPhone 4S Prices: $199 (8GB), $299 (32GB), $399 (64GB)
  • Best Way to Get One: Apple will be taking a limited number of pre-orders on their web site beginning some time on Sept. 14th. Pre-orders will ship on Sept. 21st, which is also the date that you’ll be able to line up to buy them in Apple Stores and at retail locations of your wireless carrier of choice.

Should you upgrade?

  • iPhone 4S Owners: It’s worth upgrading if you use your iPhone heavily for apps that take full advantage of the phone’s processor, as the iPhone 5 is twice as fast as the iPhone 4S when running most apps and games. If you use your phone primarily to check email, facebook, and play casual games that don’t require much horsepower then it’s probably not a must-have upgrade unless you have a pressing need for the faster data speeds and/or using FaceTime over cellular.
  • iPhone 4 and Older Owners: If you enjoy taking photos with your iPhone but would really like better image quality, then you will want to take a serious look at the iPhone 5, as significant improvements were made to the camera and resulting image quality with the iPhone 4S, and the iPhone 5 has improved in this area further still. If you don't care about image quality or performance, then you’ll probably be happy with an iPhone 4 for now, though iPhone 3GS, iPhone 3G and (if there are still any) iPhone (1st Gen) owners will definitely want to check out the iPhone 5, as significant improvements have been made to the speed of the phones, camera resolution and image quality, and call quality over the past few models.

I'll likely be revising and adding to this advice over the next few days, so check back for additional info if you’re still undecided after reading this. Or, you can dig into all the geeky goodness over at Apple’s site.