How’s the iPhone 5 for travelers?

by Ned Levi on October 1, 2012

iPhone 5, photo courtesy of Apple Inc.

I’ve had an iPhone 5 for a short time now to test and review it with regard to its use by travelers. Here’s my initial assessment.

While the iPhone 5 sets a new mark as a high quality, highly useful smartphone, there’s nothing revolutionary about it, and personally, that’s alright with me, as in the iPhone 5, Apple has upgraded its smartphone where it needed improvement for travelers.

Here are some important details to know about the iPhone 5 before you purchase it.

• iPhone users have been demanding a larger screen. The iPhone 5′s screen is a half inch (1.27cm) longer than the iPhone 4GS’s, and it’s still a full blown “retina display,” with great resolution and color rendition. Touring apps’ videos and graphics look better than ever on the new screen. To accomplish that, the iPhone 5 is a quarter inch (0.64cm) longer. The iPhone 5′s screen size is still not as large as the Samsung Galaxy S III, but the iPhone 5 will fit totally inside a man’s shirt pocket, while the Galaxy S won’t.

In my opinion, Apple made a very smart decision not making the iPhone 5 wider than the iPhone 4S. As a result, the iPhone 5 is easy to hold in your hand without fatigue to make calls or otherwise use as a smartphone.

Apple boasts this is their lightest and slimmest iPhone yet, and it is, but no iPhone has been a slouch in those specifications.

• iPhone users had been envious of smartphone users with LTE data capability. LTE is the latest and fastest cellular data technology. The iPhone 5 has it. With LTE, all those data hungry apps, email, and web surfing can scream. iPhones sold in the US can use LTE on AT&T, Sprint, or Verizon, but not everywhere when traveling across the globe. In those cases, the iPhone 5 will use older, somewhat slower, data technology.

• In the US, while AT&T iPhone 5 users will be able to speak on their phone and simultaneously use apps utilizing 4G and LTE data, Sprint and Verizon users won’t have the same ability. According to CNET and the NY Times, the issue stems from the iPhone 5′s lack of a third antenna.

• When I first powered up the iPhone 4S last year and ran Chimani’s Yellowstone app, I was amazed at the iPhone’s speed using the Apple A5 processor. The iPhone 5 uses an A6 processor which Apple claims is twice as fast and has twice the graphics power compared to the Apple A5. I believe it. App loading and execution is amazingly speedy.

• For most smartphones which use LTE, battery life has been an issue, to date. The iPhone 5 doesn’t match the battery life of the Motorola Droid Razr Maxx, but virtually no smartphone does. The iPhone 5 has shown it’s more than up to the task in testing thus far. With mixed use, it appears to get the same battery life as the iPhone 4S which means you can get a whole day of moderately heavy use of voice, text, email, running some apps, surfing the web, etc., from a single charge. You will need to charge the phone nightly. That’s works well for me, for travel.

• Specifically for international travel, the iPhone 5 continues to provide support for both the US A-GPS and the Russian GLONASS GPS systems for top notch GPS capability.

• The iPhone 5 uses the smaller “Lightning” connector, compared to the 30 pin Apple connector. If you have travel gear such as a dock or portable speakers which use the old connector, you’ll need new accessories, or an adapter which Apple is selling separately for $29. It’s scheduled to be available later this month.

For accessories such as portable charging devices for travel, which connect with previous iPhone models via its old connector, equipment replacement, or purchase of the cable adapter might not be necessary, as they often connect via the USB plug end of the cable, which is unchanged.

• The iPhone 5 comes with iOS 6, the latest iOS operating system. Most travelers interested in the iPhone 5 are aware that Apple has dropped the Google Maps app in favor of its own Apple Maps app in iOS 6, which has been panned by everyone, for good reason. It’s not ready for prime time. While there is no Google Maps app available for the iPhone 5 at this time, you can use Google Maps on Safari, on the iPhone 5, which fully integrates with the iPhone 5′s GPS capability.

Apple also dropped the native YouTube app in iOS 6, but YouTube is already offering a replacement.

These are just the highlights which you will find in the iPhone 5. I find the iPhone 5 has everything I want in a smartphone. It’s fast, has excellent voice quality, a terrific screen, a tremendous app library to meet my travel needs, and excellent data connectivity. I wouldn’t hesitate to purchase it.

In the US, the iPhone costs from $199 to $399 according to its memory capacity, with a contract from your cellular supplier.

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  • Adam Bates

    Besides the poor Apple Maps – the longer battery life helps. I like to download the app suggested by ISA which helps you find a doctor who speaks English in a foreign country and having a bigger screen makes it easier to the doctor’s credentials. Do you know if the apple adapters will have 220 volt adapters? I have a group of clients going down to Cuba wanting some travel tips. I’ve posted a couple general tips but I would like to share your iPhone 5 review. Check out my blog at http://www.insurancefortrips.com and let me know if I have your permission. Safe travels!

  • Anonymous

    Hi Adam,

    The Apple adapter for the “lightning” connector is a low voltage adapter as it goes in between the old style connector and the new iPhone 5. The Apple wall adapters which come with the iPhone in the US have always been able to handle 220 volt electrical systems, but you need a plug adapter to plug them into typical 220 volt outlets.

    Cuba has a dual electrical standard according to people I know. Check with magellans.com for electrical information which might help your clients deal with the electrical standards of Cuba.

    Feel free to put a link in your blog to this article ( http://www.consumertraveler.com/columns/hows-the-iphone-5-for-travelers/ ), but don’t reprint it.

  • kmuch

    If you buy a new iPhone5 to replace an old iPhone, beware of the hidden AT&T “upgrade fee” (roughly $40) that will automatically be added to your next phone bill. AT&T collects this fee for doing absolutely nothing–disconnecting your old device and connecting the new one is automatic and costs the company zilch. Their explanation is that it entitles you to buy the phone at a discount–but you’re already committing to a 2-year contract that entitles you to do so. The “upgrade fee” is just a flagrant ripoff.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, AT&T does have that upgrade fee, but let’s be accurate and fair when raising this issue. AT&T isn’t alone with their upgrade fee. Each of the major carriers in the US at which you can get an iPhone charges a similar upgrade fee.

    AT&T’s upgrade fee is $36.
    Verizon’s upgrade fee is $30.
    Sprint’s upgrade fee is $36.

    Sprint also has a new phone activation fee of $36, but seems to often, but not always, waive this fee.

    So, if you’re going to upgrade your phone to an iPhone at any of these carriers, or upgrade to any phone there, for that matter, you’re going to pay an upgrade fee.

    T-Mobile which doesn’t offer the iPhone currently has an $18 upgrade fee. I suspect T-Mobile will raise its upgrade fee next year similarly to AT&T which raised it earlier this year to its current level.

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