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KELLNER: Appleā€™s small wonder is worth the upgrade

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Apple Inc.'s newest small wonder is, well, just that: It's small (albeit larger than expectations), it's light and it performs marvelously. If you don't have one, you might seriously want to consider buying soon.

No, I'm not talking about the iPad Mini, announced Tuesday, and yet to arrive on the scene. Instead, I'm talking about the slightly more than a month old iPhone 5, which ranges in price from $199 to $399, depending on the amount of memory purchased. These prices assume a two-year commitment to a cellular serviced contact with an authorized wireless carrier such as AT&T, Sprint or Verizon Wireless.

On Sept. 24, three days after launch, Apple announced that it had sold 5 million of the new devices. Having used one over the course of a month, I can see why. In my opinion, if there is a better smartphone, it has yet to be invented.

The iPhone 5 performs its basic role as a wireless phone with aplomb: Call quality is excellent, and the dialing interface of the new operating software, iOS 6, is a nice upgrade to what was available previously. Apple says the new phone has a better microphone that improves the quality of voice calls; all I know is that those calls seem clearer and better.

A great feature of the phone is the refinement of the built-in, front-facing camera intended for still photography and video. For stills, it's an 8-megapixel camera, creating images more than sufficient for print publication and good enough -- as I experienced on Facebook last week when showing off some fall foliage in Maryland -- to generate hundreds of likes and thousands of views.

As with the iPhone 4s, at least, the iPhone 5 can use the "panorama" feature of iOS 6 to capture sweeping photo images, say a mountain range or a group of people, without having to stitch separate images together. According to Apple, the camera features "a sapphire crystal lens cover that is thinner and more durable than standard glass." I didn't try any "crash tests," but it does seem the camera is up to a little rough handling. Regardless, it takes excellent photos.

Visually, the iPhone 5 pleases on many levels. First is its overall appearance: Apple says the phone sports a new "anodized aluminum body," which is "18 percent thinner and 20 percent lighter" than its predecessor. The front glass -- covering a larger, brighter 4-inch (diagonal) Retina display screen -- is stunning, and the matte finish on part of the back is nice, too. (As mentioned about a month ago, I still would advise using a screen/back-of-phone protector or a case to keep the device safe and looking sharp.)

An A6 central-processing unit chip offering as much as twice the power of previous iPhones powers the device, according to Apple. All I can say is that computing tasks are fast, Web pages generally zip into view, and I've had no major system failures. The application of a certain area daily newspaper that is not The Washington Times will evaporate occasionally, but I suppose an update is coming.

The Lightning connector on the phone's bottom edge shrinks the traditional 30-pin iPhone connector, and will require new cables and/or adapters when working with older accessories. On the plus side, recharging seems faster with the new connector, so something was done right.

I don't know of too many people who are truly happy with the performance of Apple's Maps application, the replacement for Google's mapping app. I've said before, and will repeat, that Apple must be feverishly working on fixing the issue. For those who truly need a good mapping/directional application, MotionX fills the bill for only 99 cents via Apple's App Store.

Yes, I've seen the Samsung Gallery S3 commercials claiming that the iPhone is behind the Android-flavored curve. But then I see the applications that aren't available for the Android platform (and even some apps that are), as well as reports of other Android-related security issues. Until Android OS-maker Google addresses those, there is no contest: The iPhone 5 offers functionality and security. If songwriter Sammy Cahn were still alive and writing here, he probably would add, "You can't have one without the other."

If you can't have a phone without apps, the iPhone 5 will not disappoint. Frankly, I can't think of any other smartphone available today about which I could make that statement with the same confidence.

Email mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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