Whether you braved the cold bite of the morning winds, or stayed at home to await the mail-man, some of you will have received your Apple-branded bundle of joy today. That’s right! Today is iPhone 5 release day.
In this review, we’re going to dispense with all the boring nonsense of 4G, enhanced voice quality, lightning connectors, and better low-light performance of the camera, and instead concentrate on what it can do for our gaming needs.
In the hand
My first impression of the iPhone 5, when liberating it from its cardboard cocoon, was how sleek it feels. The screen doesn’t protrude from it’s metal casing like the 4S did, giving it the feel of a solid single block. Its darker metallic finish, complete with the metal back, echoes the look of a stealth bomber (unless you have the white one, but I like to pretend they simply do not exist). And like any military like instrument of war, it has to be light, and the iPhone 5 is much lighter in the hand than it’s predecessors. It’s this weapon-like, precision feel, that makes – and perhaps for the first time – each millimeter of the iPhone 5 look and feel every penny of its hefty price tag.
As a gaming system then, it feels like no other handheld – even the beautiful PS VITA feels cheap in comparison. I tried out a few virtual stick and action button combo games on the iPhone 5, to try out the traditional gamers grip, and I’d say that the extra length – when held in landscape orientation – is more comfortable than before/ This is due in part to the increased distance between you hands. Your thumbs also have less distance to reach thanks to the space between the edge of the device and edge of the display being shorter.
Finally it’s also more comfortable to play with for longer play sessions. This is because the metal back stops your fingers getting as sweaty as they did with the all glass 4S. It also feels less hot.
The biggest deal of the new iPhone is without doubt the new screen. The retina display came of age two years ago now, and while it still impresses to this day, and holds up well against the likes of Samsung Galaxy S3, it falls a little short in the size department.
I was on the fence about larger screens. Particularly those of other smartphones, where the devices feel too large in hand and pocket to be useful in my opinion. I was happy then to hear that despite the iPhone 5’s screen being larger, that it would be no wider than that of the 4 and 4S.
Much of Apple’s marketing speak at the keynote is generally hyperbole. However, the point about being able to grasp a phone in one hand and navigate the the screen with your thumb without re-positioning your hand, is a valid argument. It’s this reason why I don’t like the Galaxy S3, where you need a two handed grasp to use it properly.
With the iPhone 5’s screen being taller, it allows not only for extra screen real-estate – such as an extra row of icons, and more tweets or Facebook updates on screen at once – but it also makes the screen officially widescreen. This now means that video – such as those downloaded on iTunes, or HD video on YouTube – now fits the screen without the black bars. The same can be said then of games. After playing some existing titles in both the old and new wide screen sizes, it’s no surprise that the new screen is better for gaming. One of the main benefits is the simple fact that the large screen allows for less of it to be covered by your thumbs and fingers (specifically with virtual d-pads etc), it’s one of the reasons I use my iPad 3 for the majority of my iOS gaming. However, the iPhone 5 may now become my gaming device of choice once again.
Games not currently optimised for iPhone 5, display in a letterbox style. This isn’t a huge deal, for much like a films that have a wider aspect ration than your HDTV, you eventually don’t notice. However, one slight niggle is that I did notice a few games don’t display in retina mode. The new Rayman game was one such game. On the 4S it looks beautiful, while on the iPhone 5 it looked a bit of a pixelated mess. It seems that developers will need to ensure their games are either updated to support iPhone 5’s new 4 inch screen, or at least trick it into thinking it’s at least a retina 4/4S game and not 3GS quality.
Wild Blood on 4S (left), and on iPhone 5 (right)
While we can’t put the iPhone 5 to the test in terms of raw power due to no titles yet taking the full advantage of the phones new internals (such as Real Racing 3), a few developers have optimised their existing lineup. Gameloft has given Wild Blood and Asphalt 7 the widescreen treatment, giving the games an even stronger console quality feel. While Fish Labs’ Galaxy on Fire and Namco’s Air Supremacy exhibit super smooth frame rates while dealing out multiple enemies and detailed environments. In fact booting up GOF2’s new Supernova mode (or playing the Supernova add-on missions) offers up some truly astounding lighting effects and colours, that look far more rich and engaging on the improved sRGB iPhone 5 screen, than it has before.
Galaxy on Fire 2: Supernova
As I said, until we get the chance to put some ‘new’ iPhone 5 optimised games through their paces, we won’t know for certain exactly what the iPhone 5 is capable of in terms of power. However, from general use it is clear that the device is far snappier than the 4S (which was damn quick already). Apps launch super fast – particular the memory intensive games like Infinity Blade 2 – and frame-rates seem improved to boot.
The iPhone 5 features triple graphics (as opposed to quad graphics), so while it may not out perform the iPad 3 in terms of raw graphic power, the fact that it is powering a smaller resolution, and being coupled with a faster processor, it should give us some truly breathtaking games experiences in the near future.
One of the surprises of the Keynote last week was the announcement, and the bundling, of the new Apple Headphones. Once again it seemed that the design-speak behind them was all a load of nonsense. However, when comparing them with the old headphones – with some hardcore Dub Step – it is clear that they offer up a much improved audible experience, with richer base and less tinny vocals. Even the external speaker is improved.
Now, this is my personal phone, so if you think I’m going to drop this thing to test how durable it is, then you’ve got another thing coming. Luckily there are plenty of numpties out there willing to do just that for kicks (or Youtube hits). Of every one I have seen, the iPhone 5 has surpassed their expectations, surviving the dreaded smashed screen as various heights, that the S3 could not.
That’s not to say that it’s invincible though. Despite being all glass, the 4S was pretty scratch proof, both front and back. However, the new back of the iPhone 5 is a metal design, which looks to be easily scratched or dented (with some users already reporting of worn edges).
Overall, though I feel much more confident with everyday use of the iPhone 5 over the 4S. The extra weight the 5 has shredded makes it less likely to fall from your grip – as well as the more textured feel of the back helping with this fact.
So, so far so great. Apple have once again managed to give us a device that both surprises and delights, while also offering a comfy feeling of a little Deja vu for good measure.
People looking for a general gaming device with some added functionality, while no doubt plum for the new iPod Touch. But, for those like me that want to be at the cutting-edge of mobile gaming, then you’ll be hard pushed to find a better device to meet that need than the iPhone 5 (with a large part of its past and future success being down to great content on the AppStore).
It’s a little pointless giving it a score, as unlike games that have creative qualities that go beyond the technical, the iPhone can, and will be improved over time. But, as it stands, and by what I have seen and used of competitor devices, the iPhone 5 can’t be beat when it comes to sheer quality and user experience, despite there higher than the norm cost.