For most techies, the iPhone 5 was less magical than we hoped it would be. This was partially due to a lot of iPhone rumors and leaks ruining the surprise before Apple could even launch it properly. However it was mostly because of the familiarity of the not-so-new design, as externally, the new iPhone looked almost exactly like a taller and thinner iPhone 4 or 4S. I for one was expecting the same impact the iPhone 4 had when it came out to replace the iPhone 3GS. Despite all that, many casual users and iPhone enthusiasts will still recognize it for what it is: One of the best damn phones out there. And despite my initial disappointment over the iPhone 5, I’m inclined to agree.
Apple has never been shy about talking up the Retina display ever since it came out on the iPhone 4. The 3.5 inch screen had a resolution of 640 x 960, giving it the most ridiculously high figure of 326 pixels per inch. The size of the screen also made it ideal for one-handed browsing, as the thumb could reach the entire screen without having to reposition the phone in your hand. However, being only 3.5 inch, many found it to be rather small for proper web browsing, reading, or watching videos. And the iPhone 4S didn’t help the cause when it came out with the exact same screen at a time when competitors were already coming out with screens in excess of 4 inches.
Of course, we all know by now that Apple has decided to change that, bumping up the iPhone 5 screen size up to 4 inches with a resolution of 640 x 1136 and simply making it taller. As a result, it still maintains that high 326ppi, but optimizes the screen for better content consumption. There’s now room for an extra row of apps on the homescreen, and if there are any black bars while watching widescreen videos, they’ll be a lot smaller than they used to be. Maintaining the horizontal resolution also means that older apps that aren’t optimized right away to take advantage of the larger screen will still appear exactly as they should without any visual distortion. You’ll just get those black bars at the top and bottom of the iPhone 5 screen (or if you’re in landscape mode, on either side). But is that all there really is to the screen? Apple just made it taller?
Well, no. Not only has Apple managed to maintain the incredible sharpness that the iPhone screen has been known for since the iPhone 4 came out, but they’ve also managed to make the entire screen assembly thinner and lighter than before. The entire phone only weighs 112 grams, which is lighter than the iPhone 4S, and a lot of that has to do with the screen itself. The iPhone 5 screen takes advantage of Sharp’s IGZO technology, giving the screen much higher translucency and reducing the need for LED backlighting. The individual pixels also do double duty as touch receptors, eliminating the need for an extra layer for a digitizer. As a result of the reduced thickness, the pixels sit much closer to the surface of the screen. So what does this all mean? Better color saturation and increased battery life on a screen that makes more room for the iPhone 5’s internals. In fact, the screen was the key for the iPhone 5 to achieve that thinness and lightness, despite being larger than the iPhone 4S.
So how does the iPhone 5 screen stack up against the competition? The Samsung Galaxy S3 and HTC One X sport 4.8 and 4.7 inch screens, respectively, and LG has just come out with the Optimus G, which is another quad core monster with a 4.7 inch screen. Larger screens allow for even more visual content consumption, meaning less time scrolling and more time doing some actual reading whenever you’re browsing the internet or reading an eBook. Movies are also much more easily appreciated on larger screen real estate.
However, Steve Jobs famously said that the 3.5 inch screen on the iPhone 4 hit the sweet spot in terms of usability, and it’s true that while other phones were coming out with larger screens, the iPhone 4 and 4S had always been much easier to use one-handed. The iPhone 5 screen maintains that usability because of Apple’s decision to just make it taller, and not wider than it already was on previous iPhones. So while some users will bitch about the relatively smaller screen compared to the competition, the iPhone 5 will still be much easier to take around with you and use because of the convenient size.