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Tech Lab

iPhone 5 is almost totally irresistible

How intense is the frenzy over the latest iPhone? Just consider the people who flocked to the popup store Gazelle set up at Faneuil Hall on Friday. They weren’t lined up to buy the iPhone 5, but rather waiting to trade in their old phones, so they could go stand in line again for Apple’s newest.

I’d never trade in my perfectly good iPhone 4S — and pay a hefty contract termination fee — just for an iPhone 5. But if I were due for a re-up, I’d find this phone darn near irresistible. It’s larger and yet lighter than its excellent predecessor. And at last Apple has built a phone that works on 4G LTE wireless data networks, so you can download music and video extremely fast — maybe too fast for your own good.

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The iPhone 5 seems almost identical to the 4S until you pick it up. The new phone weighs just under 4 ounces, making it 20 percent lighter than the 4S, and significantly thinner. At the same time, it’s about three-quarters of an inch longer, to accommodate a stretched LCD screen.

I found that the extra real estate did not make any difference when viewing videos, but it gives you more room for onscreen icons and for viewing Web pages. Also, when it is turned sideways you get a bigger virtual keyboard for typing e-mails and texts, which should cut down on typos.

The headphone jack has moved to the bottom edge of the phone, and the earbuds have undergone a major overhaul. Apple said it decided on the ideal shape after studying thousands of human ears. Well, it did not study mine, so the earbuds kept falling out. But if your ears are the right shape, you’ll love them; the sound quality is outstanding.

Apple wanted a new data interface to replace the familiar but bulky 30-pin iPhone plug. It should have chosen a micro-USB port, like those on virtually all Android phones. Instead, we get the Lightning connector.

Best feature: The plug is reversible, so there’s no fiddling to find the right end; just shove it in.

Worst feature: It’s new. That means you can’t plug the phone into millions of devices with old-school docks. Apple is generously helping out with an adapter. But with its price tag of $29.99, we know who the company is really helping.

I am a lot happier with the iPhone 5’s other major enhancement, 4G LTE. For all the talk about Apple as a technology pioneer, Android phones have been rocking LTE for nearly two years. Apple has finally caught up, and decisively.

The phone I tested was on the AT&T Inc. wireless network. According to the free Ookla SpeedTest app, it downloaded data at up to 29 megabits per second, with an upload speed of 20 megabits. That’s the kind of performance you’d expect from a good home broadband connection.

Better yet is the iPhone 5’s battery life. The company claims you can browse the Internet via LTE for eight hours before the battery dies. I could not confirm that before deadline. But I ran one of my favorite tests — streaming a full-length movie from Netflix over the LTE link. When I tried this on Nokia Corp.’s Lumia 900 4G phone earlier this year, the battery charge indicator was below 50 percent by movie’s end.

I fired up a French movie called “Army of Crime.” No particular reason; I just like subtitles. Image quality was excellent, with no smearing or blurring. I frequently paused the movie to perform other tasks, such as visiting Web pages, shooting still photos, and sending e-mails. After four hours of this, the credits rolled, and the battery indicator was at 68 percent, still more than two-thirds full. Not at all bad.

But it wasn’t my phone, so I’m not paying the bill for all that data. AT&T and Verizon Wireless, two of the three US carriers that sell the iPhone 5, do not offer unlimited data plans. AT&T, for instance, charges $40 a month for one gigabyte of data or $70 for four gigs. Verizon charges about the same. Get too aggressive with the video streaming, and you could find yourself paying overage fees.

Only Sprint Nextel Corp. offers a plan with unlimited LTE access, priced as low as $79.99.

There’s just one little catch: Sprint offers LTE in just 19 US markets; Boston isn’t one of them, at least not officially. But a Sprint spokesman told me that they’re building LTE sites in Greater Boston as fast as they can, and that the service is already available in some areas. So buying your iPhone 5 from Sprint sounds like the smart play, if you’re willing to wait.

Of course, judging by Friday’s crowds at Apple stores worldwide, iPhone fans are not a patient bunch.

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at bray@globe.com.
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