Lots Of What iPhone 5 Does, Others Do Better

Taken individually, the tech specs of the iPhone 5 are matched or surpassed by competitors' phones. But no one knows the value of the total package like Apple.

Apple's forest so cleverly makes us forget the trees.

The iPhone 5 has been improved significantly over the previous generation—from its screen to its shell to its dock connector. But most of the tech specs featured by Tim Cook and crew at Apple's event on Wednesday can be found in other devices by Apple's competitors. Not one, single device, mind you—that's a unique feat Apple pulls off with most of its launches. But take a look at the hallmark iPhone 5 features compared to its competition:

Screen Tech

The iPhone 5 has a 4-inch, 1130- by 640-pixel screen that incorporates touch sensor circuitry directly into the core LCD display system. The old iPhone 4S had a 3.5-inch display with 940- by 640-pixels. Both have 326 pixels per inch "retina" resolution.

Meanwhile the Galaxy S3, perhaps the iPhone 5's most direct competitor, has an AMOLED screen measuring 4.8 inches, with 720 by 1280 pixels at 305 ppi resolution. AMOLED is better to look at in direct sunlight, too—then again, Apple's thinner profile is arguably better to hold.


Apple ditched the pointless augmentation of megapixels and stuck with an 8-megapixel rear camera on the new iPhone. But it added sapphire glass to protect the unit, and beefed up the hardware and software to deliver better image stabilization, more face detection options, and the neat ability to snap photos while shooting video. Low light performance has been boosted too.

In comparison, the new Nokia Lumia 920 is relying on its PureView camera system as one of its most saleable features. It too has 8 megapixels, but we're told they're bigger for better low-light power, and it has floating optics for better video stabilization. If Apple's camera packs the same spec, it isn't saying so.

All told, from what we know now about the iPhone 5, it matches the PureView at best. Samsung's S3 camera seems on par with iPhone 5's, too, but it adds smile detection.

Wi-Fi, 4G

Apple's new phone sports 5Ghz dual-band Wi-Fi for the first time, via switchable antennas, which makes it swifter—it's still a 802.11 b/g/n system, though. It also has a 4G LTE system that's compatible with many 4G phone networks around the world and Apple notes it'll compete with many home broadband speeds, with 100-megabits-per-second speeds.

Nokia's new Lumia 920 launched with a speedy 5GHz 802.11 n "MIMO" Wi-Fi system, relying on multiple switching antennas. It's 4G radio supports 10-megabit rates for download. The Galaxy S3 lacks 4G , but does have a 5Ghz Wi-Fi. For any normal user, it's a draw. (Update: The S3 packs 4G in some versions, but not all, nor for all markets. It's still a draw.)

Chassis and Dock

Apple's new iPhone is skinnier than before, and since it has one less glass face and a less-protruding front glass element, it's probably less likely to suffer damage in a fall. It's lighter too, at 112 grams, helping its drop resistance. The mostly metal rear shell should make the phone pretty robust and resistant to damage. Apple's new dock connector is designed, among other things, to be really easy to insert because its connector is mirrored.

The Lumia 920 is nearly two-thirds heavier at 185 grams, and its back face is made of polycarbonate. The S3 for comparison is 133 grams in weight, and has a plastic back. Both the S3 and the Lumia have a microUSB port for charging and data sync (though the Lumia has a wireless charge option)—and while it's small, it's much more fiddly to insert this cable than it seems like it will be on the iPhone.

So Is The iPhone Underwhelming?

In terms of individual specs, the iPhone 5 is neck and neck with its peer devices. And critics will say the iPhone 5 lacks a single "hallmark" feature. If you're looking for a camera, the Lumia's pretty tough to beat. If you're looking for the highest resolution the Galaxy S3 is tough to beat and even HTC's got the iPhone beat. But Apple upgraded every single system on the iPhone, including the OS and audio recording (with three microphones) and the design of its bundled headphones.

In other words, it's focused on the forest, not a few trees.

[Image: Flickr user Frank Wuestefeld]

Chat about this news with Kit Eaton on Twitter and Fast Company too.

Add New Comment


  • Randall Arendse

    The awesome iOS is the best feature of the iphone.I have had other smartphones and eventually they slow down or start freezing.Apple products have this way of just keeping on going.Apple products have sustainability

  • Ash

    I am more impressed with the Nokia Lumia 920 (except for the Windows UX) than the iPhone 5. I was so hoping to upgrade to the iPhone 5 from my 3GS, guess I'll have to wait olonger for the next iPhone :(

  • JustMe

    The world is full of lemmings.

    Apple is good at talking a bird to fly into its hand. Even though its product is technically poorer than the competitions, it make up in 'talk'. 

  • Adrianc

    Samsung took a leap forward with  the S3 .If iPhone 5 did not leapfrog the competition then it's only playing catch up . Mark this down as the day Apple started to lose their grip on the smartphone market . The question now is whether they have another disruptive play that will make the smartphone battle irrelevent

  • 10101001

    The people who are saying that the other phones are better are blind.  Sure the Nokia has a better camera, but does it have the other specs like the iPhone? No, it does not.  Other phones might be better in one way, but they iPhone has all of it.  The others don't.  Until the rest of you realize this, be blind by only one value of a phone.  If you're a photographer, go right ahead and buy a phone with a better camera, but in truth, no one can honestly compare an iPhone to any other phone because the iPhone has many specs that are equal or better than other phones.  

  • Kunalnanda69

    Wait, so you are saying that the other handsets dont include all the features in the iPhone.

    Nokia Lumia 920 - Better camera, bigger screen, higher pixel density, wireless charging, 4G LTE, NFC.

    Samsung GS3 - Similar camera, bigger screen, 4G LTE, slightly lower pixel density, micro SD, removable battery, NFC.

    The point is that YOU cannot compare the iPhone 5 to any other phone because you don't even want to try. If you did, then you wouldn't be posting comments that make you sound dumb.

  • Scott B.

    Please feel free to stop drinking only i-flavored Kool-Aid. Other flavors can be enjoyable too.

  • Guest83

    Its interesting how most of us view smartphones today. We are buying into the crazy competition of hardware and software specs. Every iteration of phone that comes in is created through months of hard work by thousands of engineers. Even the small SoC (be it A6, Exynos, Hummingbird or Tegra) takes years to design/fab/test and bring to the market. When readers say that the new iPhone does not innovate, I ask you go look into each feature and read how it was developed. And I am not defending Apple...because every other smartphone is a marvel of engineering. The consumer today has absolutely no appreciation of the amount of work/dedication/innovation that goes into developing these crazy fast phones that no one could have imagined 5 years ago.

    Also, there are only so many things you can do in a smartphone. Expecting revolutionary updates every year is simply unrealistic. Apple has seen unprecedented success and with its recent lawsuits against Samsung, it has become a clear target for criticism. Also the big 'open' vs. 'closed' argument is more of a personal choice because there are people (many) who do not want/need an open ecosystem. You may call them dumb, but they are just plain consumers who are not interested in tweaking their phones. The competition is innovating at lightening pace and they bring out multiple phones in a year to compete against the iPhone...hence most of these updates look evolutionary. And they will be evolutionary, because the Android OS evolved from its first iteration to look the way it does today because of the iPhone. The iPhone evolved and added features such as  multi-tasking from Android. That is how it works.

    The bottom-line is, no new phone brings in revolutionary updates any more. They might bring in a few features before the other one does and most of these features are developed/dependent on other technology providers (e.g. 4G LTE incorporation is dependent on wireless transceiver chips being available within a given power budget, the availability of a 4G network etc.). The guys who invented/created 4G standards and made chips to enable implementation in a given form factor (Qualcomm/Broadcomm) are the real innovators, not the company A or B that decides to incorporate it in their phones at a given time. 

  • vinnyr

    So basically you're saying that the galaxy SIII is at least as good or better on each category, but you still rate the iPhone as better????!!!

  • Alex

    Kit, didn't you know the spec war was dead a long time ago? It's all about the ecosystem, the integration with all your other devices, the user experience, and even more so, about the customer service.

  • Vmiller

    No one will win this argument. Frankly no matter what anyone says, I'm going to buy the phone I want because of the value I see in it. Stop the phone bashing. Makes everyone look stupid.

  • Masaood Yunus

    The audio recording with three point microphone is actually old technology. Remember HTC Touch Pro 2 ?   :-)

    The title of the post is misleading and do not match the content. The title should read

    "Much What iPhone 5 Does, Many Others Did before"

    This iteration of iPhone is more evolutionary than innovative. They just made iPhone 4/S better and want us to believe that the 'long' form factor is better than others in the market. Slick marketing, but hopefully someone is paying attention !

  • hobbr

    Based on my social media feeds, some are paying attention but not all... Sigh.

    I'm hoping to at least see Apple lose market share.
    There have been several immediately around me who decided to go with the GS3 over the iPhone 5 as soon as the announcement was made.

  • Rsmith4321

    Wow. Yes amoled is well known to look better in the sunlight, even though its not as thin. Or is it exactly the opposite.of what you said. You might want to do a quick Google search.

  • RhinebeckDude

    If you are on the outside looking in, iPhone can look expensive and with limited choices (ala everything Apple).   Once you are on the inside however, the non-functional elements such as seamless App integration, better performance of Apps made for iPhone, and mostly cutting edge technologies.  There is something to be said for the benefits of vertical integration from a single vendor.  Oh, I have 7 iphones across my family, it ain't cheap but they work exceptionally well.

  • chris joseph

    In terms of quality, durability, and resale value, spending your money on anything but an Apple product seems a waste. Every other manufacturer can beat them on certain specs, but their packages as a whole suffer from mediocrity, and those who defend them come off as either seeming cheap or beholden to altruistic aspirations of digital "freedom" where Android is the lesser of two evils.

  • LS

    And perhaps this is why Apple chose to sue Samsung (and won *only* in the US)  - because they are hitting their innovation limits and would rather fight in the courts than in the marketplace.

  • david

    if you are an Apple user, nothing beats the seamless integration of apple device.  this alone makes the iPhone the only best choice.  the whole is more than the sum of it's parts bro.

  • David

    except the seamless integration of all Google application... dude i had both and i have a better integration with android then i ever had with iOS.

    This iphone is only good to people who only look at iphones...