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Alluring iPhone 5 a real charmer

How iPhone 5 (left) compares iPhone 4S: It’s an ounce lighter few millimeters thinner. |  Nati Harnik~AP

How the iPhone 5 (left) compares to the iPhone 4S: It’s an ounce lighter and a few millimeters thinner. | Nati Harnik~AP

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The iPhone 5 is Apple’s fifth update to the iPhone. We all know the drill by now. Apple has added considerably more power to an already great device, while keeping the price the same and renewing the iPhone’s credentials as the most physically alluring phone on the market.

Performance seems to be about double that of the iPhone 4S, based on benchmarks and actual real-world operations. Those benchmarks aren’t that much higher than the results I get from top-class Android phones. But while Android mostly uses its CPU to win benchmark tests, iOS actually gives you desktop-grade apps that fully exploit the iPhone 5’s powerhouse processor.

The iPhone finally joins the rest of the smartphone world in getting true 4G LTE wireless broadband. When used as a wireless access point, the iPhone 5 can deliver faster Internet to your laptop than your home service.

Physically, it’s a charmer. It’s only about an ounce lighter than the 4S and a few millimeters thinner, but each marks a 20 percent slim-down and it’s immediately apparent. It feels great in your hand, and the new display looks terrific. The contrast is super-sharp and the colors are agile and accurate; a movie on the iPhone 5 looks way better than it does on another phone with “true” HD.

The screen is beautiful. That’s beyond debate. The size is going to be a mite controversial, I reckon. Apple increased the size of the iPhone’s display by lengthening it instead of enlarging both dimensions. So unlike many of the “phablets” available from other makers, the iPhone is still a manageable, narrow phone that fits into most pockets, and it’s easier to operate one-handed.

But there are equally valid advantages to making a wider phone. Most of the wins of a big phone are in screen width. The keyboard is larger and easier to operate, and books and Web pages and messages are easier read thanks to the wider margins.

And for all of the ads promising the ease of one-handed operation, I found myself regularly shifting the iPhone 5 in my hand to reach the top margins of the screen. It’s certainly easier to operate one-handed than the Samsung Galaxy S III, but still, its not as easy to use as an iPhone 4S.

For this and only this reason, I recommend that an existing iPhone 4 or 3GS user try out an iPhone 5 at an Apple Store instead of ordering one blind.

And if you don’t want a bigger phone, that’s fine, too. The price drop on the iPhone 4S is just as big a piece of news as the iPhone 5. At $99, it’s hands-down the greatest value in smartphones today.

The iPhone 5 is being released into a new environment. This the first time I haven’t said, “This is the right upgrade for every iPhone owner” and issued a blanket recommendation. It’s also the first year I’ve seen Android phones that could be as compelling to a certain kind of user as the iPhone. If you use your phone a little like a tablet, well, devices like the Google Nexus or the Samsung Galaxy S III are like little tablets. And with Android 4.1, Google has finally gotten its act together.

There’s one element of the iPhone that no Android maker can duplicate, though: the iPhone’s “umami.” There is a savoriness about that device that is uniquely Apple’s. And like actual flavor, it’s something that can never be described — only experienced.

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