Apple’s iPhone 5: A Thinner, Lighter, Taller 4G Phone

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Apple announced the iPhone 5 on Wednesday, with a thinner and lighter design than previous models despite a larger 4-inch display and 4G LTE connectivity.

The iPhone 5’s pixel density hasn’t changed from 326 pixels per inch, so Apple’s still using its “Retina Display” marketing lingo for the new 1136-by-640 resolution display. The width of the display hasn’t changed either, but the taller screen allows for an extra row of icons on the home screen and for apps to show more information on the screen.

(PHOTOS: Scenes from Apple’s iPhone 5 Announcement)

Apps will have to be optimized for the new display, and those that don’t will simply show a black border along the top and bottom edges of the screen. Still, Apple has already worked with the makers of a few apps, such as CNN and OpenTable, and if previous iOS products are any indication, developers shouldn’t take too long to adjust to the new display resolution.

Apple has also jumped on the 4G bandwagon with the iPhone 5, adding LTE support for much faster data speeds. In the United States, AT&T, Sprint and Verizon Wireless will all be offering 4G LTE iPhones, and AT&T’s version will fall back to faster HSPA+ networks in areas where 4G LTE isn’t available. (For more on wireless network nitty-gritty, and where 4G LTE will actually be available, see my post from last week.)

Although 4G LTE tends to add bulk to smartphones, the iPhone 5 is 18 percent thinner than the iPhone 4S, and 20 percent lighter, though it is taller to make room for that larger display. It also has a slightly different design that replaces the rear glass panel with aluminum.

For a processor, the iPhone 5 has an A6 chip, which Apple says has twice the computing power and graphics power as the A5 chip in the iPhone 4S. (Apple’s latest iPad has an A5X processor, which doubled the graphics performance, but not the CPU.)

The pixel count on the iPhone 5’s camera is the same as its predecessor, at 8 megapixels. However, Apple says it’s improved the signal processing to reduce noise, speed up capture times and improve low-light performance. The iPhone 5 also has a panorama mode that captures a 28-megapixel widescreen image as the user pans around. The iPhone 5’s front-facing camera did get a bump to 720p.

Battery life looks a bit better than that of the iPhone 4S, with the same 8 hours of 3G talk time but 8 hours of 3G or 4G browsing, 10 hours of Wi-Fi browsing and 225 hours of standby time. Video and music time is the same at 10 hours and 40 hours, respectively.

As expected, Apple also shrunk the dock connector in the iPhone 5. Instead of the old 30-pin connector, there’s a digital “Lightning” dock connector. No, it can’t plug into existing accessories on its own, but Apple says it will offer an adapter. (No word on whether it’ll be included, or how much it’ll cost on its own.) UPDATE: It’s $29 for the adapter, or $39 for a cable adapter. Youch.

Of course, hardware isn’t everything, so Apple spent a chunk of its press conference revisiting what’s new in iOS 6, the latest version of Apple’s iPhone software. My colleague Matt Peckham has more details on that. (For older phones, iOS 6 will be available on September 19.)

Pricing and colors haven’t changed from last year. The iPhone 5 will be available in black or white, and in 16 GB, 32 GB and 64 GB models, respectively priced at $199, $299 and $399 with two-year contracts. Pre-orders start on September 14, and the iPhone 5 ships on September 21. The iPhone 4S will drop to $99, while the iPhone 4 will be available for free — both with two-year contracts as well.

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