iPhone 5 pre-order opens Friday. So how does the new Apple phone handle?

We survey a few hands-on tests of the forthcoming Apple iPhone 5. 

The Apple iPhone 5.

iPhone 5 pre-orders start at midnight Friday (3 a.m. Eastern), Apple has confirmed. That means you've got only a few hours to decide if the long-awaited successor to the iPhone 4S is really for you. Want some help? We've compiled a short collection of early impressions from trusted critics, all of whom have gotten their mitts on the iPhone 5 for at least a few minutes after yesterday's press conference. 

We'll start with Christina Bonnington at Wired. Bonnington likes the finish on the iPhone 5, which is a "handsome" brushed aluminum, an improvement over the glass backing on the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S. She also admires the size of the handset, which is taller than previous iterations, if not wider. 

"One of the problems I find with some larger phones, like the Nokia Lumia 900, is that their size and smooth veneer can make them tough to hold onto," Bonnington writes. "Not so with the 5. Since it’s the same width as the current iPhone, you don’t need to awkwardly stretch your hand wider to grasp it, which is a definite plus — unless you find the iPhone too small for your palm."

That taller chassis, of course, makes room for a much taller screen. And Sascha Segan, for one, is appreciative. 

"The most immediate advantage of the bigger screen is just that you see more of stuff," he writes. "Holding an iPhone 5 next to a 4S, I was able to glimpse more calendar appointments, more of a map, more of a Web page. All the apps that come with the iPhone 5 are designed to use the bigger screen. Older third-party apps need to be reprogrammed; until then, they'll be letterboxed with black bars at the top and bottom of the screen." 

Over to Michael Liedtke at the Canadian Press. Liedtke notes that Apple has equipped the iPhone 5 with a "superior" sound system – not just a better external speaker, but overhead ear buds called "EarPods." (Terrible title, in our opinion. Sounds like an alien insect species.) 

The EarPods, Liedtke writes, "are a vast improvement on the ear buds that Apple has been giving away with its devices for more than a decade. The new headphones actually stay in your ears and make it seem as if the sound is playing inside your head. The EarPods come free with the iPhone 5, and they sounded as good as $100 headphones sold by a variety of other companies." 

We'll give the last word to Mike Spoonauer at Laptop mag. Spoonauer really likes the powerful A6 processor – and he likes the new camera system, which retains the original 8-megapixel count of the iPhone 4S, even more. 

"The camera fired even faster than on the iPhone 4S," he writes. "Speaking of the 8-MP camera, low-light performance does seem to be improved, and we really like the new panorama feature. Just touch options in the camera view, select this option, and your iPhone 5 will guide you through the process, keeping you lined up and even warning you to slow down if you go too fast. The resulting pics impressed, which equal 28 megapixels." 

Planning on picking up the iPhone 5? Drop us a line in the comments section. And to receive regular updates on how technology intersects daily life, follow us on Twitter @venturenaut.

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