After providing a handful of publications with early units of the new iPhone 5, which finally hits stores this Friday, Apple lifted the embargo for the first reviews of its sixth-generation smartphone on Tuesday night. For the most part, reviews of the iPhone 5 have been overwhelmingly positive.

If the record number of pre-orders was any indication, the iPhone 5 seems to capitalize on the success of the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S, but improve the experience in almost every single way, from the look, feel and design of the outside hardware to the speed and efficiency of its software features – all iPhone 5 models will come pre-loaded with iOS 6, which launched today.

Here’s what critics are saying about the iPhone 5.

From MG Siegler of TechCrunch:

“You pick it up and it almost feels fake. That’s not to say it feels cheap; because it doesn’t — quite the opposite, actually. It just doesn’t seem real. Certainly not to someone who has been holding the iPhone 4/4S for the past two years. It feels like someone took one of those devices and hollowed it out. … If, like me, you carry your iPhone in the front pocket of your pants, both the trimness and the weight of the iPhone 5 are most welcome additions (subtractions?).”

From David Pogue of The New York Times:

“Should you get the new iPhone, when the best Windows Phone and Android phones offer similarly impressive speed, beauty and features? The iPhone 5 does nothing to change the pros and cons in that discussion. Windows Phones offer brilliant design, but lag badly in apps and accessories. Android phones shine in choice: you can get a huge screen, for example, a memory-card slot or N.F.C. chips (near-field communication — you can exchange files with other N.F.C. phones, or buy things in certain stores, with a tap). But Android is, on the whole, buggier, more chaotic and more fragmented — you can’t always upgrade your phone’s software when there’s a new version.

“iPhones don’t offer as much choice or customization. But they’re more polished and consistently designed, with a heavily regulated but better stocked app catalog. They offer Siri voice control and the best music/movie/TV store, and the phone’s size and weight have boiled away to almost nothing.

“If you have an iPhone 4S, getting an iPhone 5 would mean breaking your two-year carrier contract and paying a painful penalty; maybe not worth it for the 5’s collection of nips and tucks. But if you’ve had the discipline to sit out a couple of iPhone generations — wow, are you in for a treat.”

From Tim Stevens of Engadget:

“Visually, much has stayed the same, but the biggest change is impossible to see. Pick up the iPhone 5 and you're immediately struck by the reduction in weight. At 112 grams it's 20 percent lighter than the 4S, a figure that doesn't seem like it would make much of an impact. It does -- so much so that it's the lightness, not the bigger display or the thinness, that nearly everybody praises when first getting a chance to hold the iPhone 5 in their own hands.”

From Jim Dalrymple of The Loop:

“It’s important to remember that while the changes on the outside may be small to the naked eye, the changes on the inside are huge. Every major component of the iPhone has been changed in one way or another.

“The thing with the larger screen is that you get this feeling of having space on the display that you didn’t have before. Clearly, that’s true because the screen is larger, but I mean even more space than the screen allows. Perhaps it’s a perceptual thing. If you told me that I would be able to see another few rows of emails or more of a Web page, I don’t know that I would see the importance, but when you look at the iPhone 5, it’s more than that. You have to see it to get an idea of what can be done.”

From Scott Stein of CNET:

“Video playback, of course, has a lot more punch because the new 16:9 aspect ratio reduces or removes letterboxing across the board in landscape mode. An HD episode of "Planet Earth" filled the entire screen, while the available viewing space shrank down even more on the iPhone 4S because of letterboxing. YouTube videos looked great. Some movies, of course, like Pixar's "Wall-E," still have letterboxing because they're shot in the superwide CinemaScope aspect ratio (21:9), but they look a lot larger than before -- and you can still zoom in with a tap on the screen. I think that, much like the Retina Display, you'll miss the iPhone 5's new screen more when you try to go back to an older phone. The new display feels like a natural, so much so that to the casual eye, the iPhone 5 doesn't look entirely different with the screen turned off. The iPhone 4 and 4S screens feel small and hemmed-in by comparison.”

From Shane Redmond of The Telegraph (UK):

“The iPhone 5 is a marvellous piece of design, arguably the most beautiful object Apple has ever produced. It certainly stands comparison with the first iPod, the iMac and the original iPhone. Yes, it's thinner and lighter and more powerful than the iPhone 4S but to really understand it, you need to hold it in your hand.

“Apple has refined the features of previous models for the iPhone 5. The A6 processor helps to improve camera performance. It still has eight megapixels but the iPhone 5 camera performs better in low light and captures photos more quickly. It's also possible to take a still photo while shooting video and to take 240-degree panorama photos simply by following an onscreen guide that helps you keep the phone level and move it at the right speed. The iPhone 5 has a new arrangement of microphones too, which should result in better call quality. In my tests, calls did seem a little clearer than on my iPhone 4S. With a new processor, a larger screen and an even smaller case in which to squeeze the battery, you'd be forgiven for expecting battery life to suffer in the iPhone 5 but Apple says performance has actually improved. That certainly seemed to be the case for me. Having run the iPhone 5 and the iPhone 4S together over the last few days, the newer model seems slightly ahead.”

From Walt Mossberg of The Wall Street Journal:

“I found the new iPhone screen much easier to hold and manipulate than its larger [Android] rivals and preferred it. In my view, Apple’s approach makes the phone far more comfortable to use, especially one-handed. It’s easier to carry in a pocket or purse and more natural-looking when held up to your face for a call.

“Perhaps the single biggest functional improvement in this iPhone—something you can’t get by upgrading the software on an older model—is speed. Apple has finally connected the iPhone to the fastest cellular data network, called LTE, and data downloads and uploads just fly, even when you aren’t on Wi-Fi. Also, the processor now has twice the previous speed. … Using an iPhone 5 on the Verizon LTE network in Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C., I averaged almost 26 megabits per second for downloads and almost 13 megabits per second for uploads. Download speeds peaked at 42 megabits per second. These speeds are more than 10 times the typical speeds I got on an iPhone 4S running Verizon’s slower 3G network and are faster than most Americans’ home Internet services. While LTE affects only data, voice calls I made on the iPhone 5 were clear, better than in the past. I had no dropped calls.”

From Edward Baig of USA TODAY:

“The iPhone 5 is a winner that should keep Apple at the front of the smartphone pack. But choosing iPhone 5 vs. a top-of-the line Android alternative isn't a cut-and-dried decision, especially if you're partial to a jumbo display, such as the one on the big, bold and beautiful Samsung Galaxy S III, an Android rival for which I've had high praise.

“The move to 4 inches feels right for the iPhone, though it looks like a dwarf side-by-side with the 4.8-inch display on the Samsung Galaxy S III, arguably the best of the Android breed. I was able to display more than four extra paragraphs reading the same newspaper article on the Samsung as opposed to the iPhone 5. On the other hand, the iPhone screen appears sharper and brighter, and the phone is easier to carry.”

From Stuart Miles of Pocket Lint:

“It's the same iPhone, but it's completely different. That's the main takeaway point for the iPhone 5's design. It's something you can't really appreciate until you get up close and personal with the new phone, but when you do, wow, you'll really notice that difference.

“It's comfortable in the hand, incredibly well built and oozes quality. There is no whiff of cheap plastic or "fun" coloured polycarbonate, no awkward button placement, and no feeling that this isn't a premium smartphone. All the parts just fit together beautifully.”

From Rich Jaroslovsky of Bloomberg:

“The iPhone 5, which in the U.S. starts at $199 for a model with 16 gigabytes of storage on a two-year contract, unquestionably retains the title of handsomest phone you can buy. The fit and finish really are more like a fine wristwatch, as Apple boasts, than a gadget you might shove into pocket or purse.

“The result is a phone that’s compact and feather-weight, yet, thanks to the materials used in its aluminum-and-glass body, conveys a sense of solidity and feels great in the hand. It also comes with newly redesigned headphones called EarPods that are the first ever from Apple that don’t either immediately fall out of my ears, hurt or both.”

From Harry McCracken of Time Magazine:

“The bottom line, in case it isn’t clear already: The iPhone 5 is one terrific smartphone. Ignore the naysayers — even without any awesome technological breakthroughs, it’s a sizable improvement on the iPhone 4S. For many upgraders, LTE alone will be worth the price of admission.

How does it stack up against the Galaxy S III, the current champ among Android phones? It’s really not that complicated a question. The Galaxy does more stuff; the iPhone 5 does somewhat fewer things, but tends to do them better. (And when the iPhone doesn’t do something right out of the box, there’s often an App Store app that will.)

In other words, it boils down to a basic decision: features or polish? Only you can decide what’s important to you. It’s obvious which one Apple cares most about — and the iPhone 5 is the most artful, pleasing expression of its priorities yet.”

Unlike its predecessors, the new iPhone 5 has a bigger 4-inch screen this time with a 16:9 aspect ratio and a 1136 x 640 Retina Display with a screen density of 336 ppi. The iPhone 5 also comes with new smaller dock connectorLTE support, an improved camera infrastructure, as well as the new custom-build A6 chip, which runs twice as fast as the A5 chip that runs the iPad 2, iPhone 4S and Apple TV.

Apple will sell the iPhone 5 in two colors - black and white - and at a number of different storage capacities. The cheapest iPhone 5 will sell for $199 for 16GB, then $299 for 32 GB, and $399 for 64GB. These models include LTE, according to Apple.