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Apple iPhone 5 vs iPhone 4S long-term durabilty test

Apple has received its fair share of criticism for its latest iPhone 5 flagship, ranging from lack of innovation to poor software support, and even inferior hardware quality when compared to the iPhone 4S.

But how do things stack up really? Join us as we take a look at how the iPhone 5 looks after several months of everyday use, as well as how it stacks up to its glass-clad predecessor.

Both of our test subjects are devices which have been in use since the release of each respective model. In the case of the iPhone 5, that amounts to about 7 and a half months of everyday use – with the iPhone 4S, a device launched in October of 2011, more than double that at a year and 7 months. Neither of the phones has been used with a protective cover (we believe that putting one of those on a gorgeous-looking devices like these defies the whole purpose) and they have both been handled in a similar manner.

This is to say they have never been thrown around, but they haven’t been sitting on a velvet cushion the whole time either. When not in use, both the iPhone 5 and the iPhone 4S have been carried around in pockets far from keys and other sharp objects and have been laying on desks and tablets without getting dragged over them too often.

The iPhone 4S was – and still is – one of the most elegantly designed smartphones around, thanks in large part to its glass-clad front and rear panels – a design strategy emulated most recently by the likes of the LG Optimus G, Nexus 4 and Sony Xperia Z.

The glass on the iPhone 4S has held up admirably

On the wings of such success, it came as a bit of a surprise when it was revealed that the iPhone 5 would come with an anodized aluminum body rather than a glass-framed one. It’s a well-known fact that aluminum is a soft metal that gets dented and scuffed easily, particularly along thin chamfered edges like on the iPhone 5.

As such, it was no real shocker when the iPhone 5 stumbled out the gate, with many customers complaining about problems with the anodized aluminum surface straight out of the box. While our model came out flawless when we opened the box, the edges became a huge problem not only in regards to chipping, but some nasty dents as well.

The anodized aluminum of the iPhone 5 scratches and dents easily

Things don’t get much better when it comes to the quality of the finish, either. Our black and slate model got some nasty smudges along the sides and back of the device, which are likely due to handling used AA batteries and then touching the iPhone 5. While this may not be a very regular use case, it certainly never affect any of the other devices we handled, and the fact that it smudges so easily is indicative of the sub-par finish used on the device, compared to its predecessor.

The quality of the finish on the iPhone 5 is not the greatest either

As you can see, the previous generation of iPhone is far superior when in comes to wear and tear on the device than the iPhone 5. Even though Apple was able to make a thinner, lighter and arguably more stylish device with its most recent flagship, it seems it has come at a cost to the quality of its construction – a pedigree that it has lived up to admirably until now.

Keep in mind that the findings of our test may not apply to the white iPhone 5 to the same extent. While the other iPhone 5 version does have the same kind of finish, it’s much better at concealing stuff like chipped finish and discoloration. Also, this not being a highly scientific test, we can’t guarantee absolute equal footing for the two contenders. Still, given that the iPhone 4S has been around for more than twice as long as the iPhone 5 and the similar usage patterns, we believe the findings of the test to be quite accurate.


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