iPhone 5 Hands-On Impressions and Video

At Apple’s press event today, not only did we get a surprise concert from the Foo Fighters, but we also had a chance to go hands-on with Apple’s upcoming iOS devices. The iPhone 5 is slightly lighter and thinner than its predecessor, but the real showstopper is the longer, 4″ screen.

Apple has a tendency to make its own product lines obsolete, and after using the iPhone 5 for just a few minutes, our current iPhone 4S now feels just a bit stunted. It’s like how it’s tough on the eyes to use a non-Retina screen after you’ve become accustomed to the top-of-the-line devices.

The larger screen adds another row of apps to the home screen, but it also adds more visual information in your mail, calendar, and Safari apps. The lengthier device also fits naturally and comfortably in your hand, and it feels well-weighted, and not awkward.

Apple was only demonstrating apps on the new devices that used the full display, so no “little black bars” were in sight. Every pre-loaded app will fill the screen, and Opentable and CNN apps were already optimized on the devices. But until developers can catch up, expect to see almost all of your current apps letterboxed on the new devices.

Besides the new display, we had a lot of fun with another new feature: Taking panoramas with the camera. When you select the panorama option, you’ll get to play a fun “minigame” where you can move the camera to the right, keeping an onscreen arrow on the line. When you’re done, the camera app will stitch together the scene into a long panorama. However, we tried this in a room full of moving people, so the results were uneven and led to some strange images. We expect landscapes to work better.

No games were available for today’s demo, but the A6 processor is promised to be twice as fast as the iPhone 4S’s A5 chip. We would have loved to play Real Racing 3 like Firemonkeys director Rob Murray did onstage, but we’ll have to be content with watching the trailer and our interview again.

We did get to play with the epic 3D graphics of Apple’s new maps app. In addition to turn-by-turn directions, narrated by Siri, you can jump to slick “flyover” views of major cities like Sydney, London, and San Francisco. You can zoom in and rotate with multitouch, which looks stellar. These may not help you get from point A to point B, but they do let you see the world in a unique way.

Finally, we got our hands on the new iPod Touch 5th generation, which shares the iPhone 5’s longer screen. It’s also incredibly lightweight– it felt lighter in our hands than the pen we were using to take notes. It’s not as fast as the iPhone 5– it has the 4S’s A5 chip– but it has an incredible form factor that makes it wonderfully portable. It even has a hidden metallic wristband catch that disappears into the device.

The iPhone 5 may not be as innovative as we’d hoped, but the larger screen represents a new standard for iOS devices, and there’s no turning back. We expect to see longer, larger apps from here on out, with older models feeling as ancient as non-Retina displays or earlier versions of iOS. The new screen is a good reason to upgrade, but it’s subtle, and it’s probably not something you’ll notice or miss until you hold one in your hands.

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