Hands on: iOS 5 delivers 'a wealth of changes'

New notifications, over-the-air updates, iCloud and scores of tweaks highlight what's new

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The Camera app got a few tweaks as well. First, access to the camera from the Lock Screen is faster: Press the Home Button twice and a camera icon appears next to Swipe to Unlock. Tap the icon and you're brought right into the app. In this mode, access to the Camera Roll, where previous pictures are stored, is restricted, but you can begin taking photos right away.

Camera app grid
The updated Camera app allows you to turn on a grid to help you line up shots.

Using the Camera app, you'll see an obvious addition: the Options button, which allows you to turn on HDR photos and grid lines. Less obvious is that you can use the volume up button on the side of the iPhone as a shutter button, that you can pinch the screen to zoom in on a subject, that you can focus by tapping on the screen, and that you can initiate an auto-exposure and auto-focus lock by touching and holding a part of the picture.

The Camera Roll now has a more logical icon layout. With the Share button, you can share a photo or video via email, text message, tweet or print; assign it to a contact or a wallpaper; delete it or add it to a slideshow; and even push out over AirPlay -- a feature that was clumsily included in iOS 4.3 but is fixed here.

Apple has also added basic controls for editing photos. Tap Edit in the upper-right corner of the screen and you can crop or rotate an image; use Apple's enhancement tool, which is automatic, for better or worse (yes, you can shake the phone to undo any changes); and reduce red eye. Those basic editing functions should offer most of what the average iPhone user needs from a photo editor on the fly.

Reminders

New to iOS 5 is the Reminders app, a straightforward time- and location-based notification system. From this app, you can create lists, add items to those lists, assign due dates, and check off completed items. Sounds simple? It is. The main attraction is the ability to set reminders based on when you leave or arrive at a specific location.

It's a nice feature, and it works fairly well, although it's sometimes a bit delayed. The current implementation is a bit limited. You can't just pick an arbitrary address from, say, the Maps app; any address you pick has to be in your Contacts. Just add the local supermarket to your contacts list and you can remind yourself about groceries to purchase when you get there. It's a simple workaround, and the core functionality works well enough.

Reminders are also automatically synced to other iOS devices, and on the iPad, the date view shows the calendar and reminders side by side, which is an effective usage of the iPad's larger screen.

Reminders app
The new Reminders app allows you to set location-based alerts.

Autocompletion

Apple's iOS 5 features Autocompletion, which can be modified under Settings > General > Keyboard, under the Shortcuts section. This preset is included as an example: If you type omw and hit the spacebar, "On my way!" automatically propagates. I think this is a great idea and a big time-saver. I set my email to be autocompleted if I enter a series of @-signs -- two for my work email account, three for my home account, etc.

Setting up autocompletions is great for responding to common email messages. It's no longer a hassle typing out: "Dear Android fan, I understand your enthusiasm for your choice of platform; that is why choice exists! Enjoy your phone, as I'm sure there are many lovely features and reasons you bought it. P.S. Uncalled for attack on my lineage was not appreciated. Cheers! Michael deAgonia." Thanks to autocorrect, now all I have to type is "Ugh."

Smaller changes

The new operating systems also features a variety of less obvious, but still important, tweaks and additions, including these:

• You can now manage Apple's wireless network hardware from the iPhone and iPad. Select Settings > WiFi > choose wireless network, scroll to the bottom and tap "manage network." This will bring you to the App Store to download an AirPort Utility, which you can use to modify your Airport hardware. It continues the whole "cutting the cord" theme Apple is pushing.

• There are new vibration patterns in iOS 5, including "heartbeat" (the one I use), "SOS" and "symphony." You can even customize your own vibration pattern. To activate custom vibrations, go to Settings > Accessibility and turn on Custom Vibrations. To actually edit these custom vibrations, you have to go to Settings > Sounds and scroll to the bottom section called Vibration Patterns.

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