After a long and fretful preorder wait, UPS finally smiled on me- my shiny new iPhone 5 arrived at my doorstep. The technical aspects of Apple’s latest cornerstone mobile device have been dissected ad nauseum; every possible objective facet of the iPhone 5 has been well covered and discussed. While iOS 6 has taken its (perhaps not so deserved) lumps, for the most part the iPhone 5 has been judged another winner for Apple. The only point of dissension so far involves its new aluminum back; some claim that the metal (especially the black anodized version) is far too easy to scuff or scratch. More on that later.
Instead of yet another breakdown that I have neither the time nor expertise to provide I’d like to offer a very subjective, impressionistic review of daily life so far with the iPhone 5. For starters, one thing hasn’t changed- Apple still has better packaging than just about any retail organization I’ve bought from. It would never have occurred to me that packaging could be aesthetically pleasing, but everything I’ve purchased from them reflects their overall corporate image- sleek, modern, eye-catching, and produced with minimal waste. An admission- I am one of those strange people that keeps the boxes my gadgets come in (although no cord will ever easily reoccupy its original space once unspooled, no matter how much you try).
My first impression of the 5 was mild surprise. The form is the same one we’ve grown accustomed to, but the extra length combined with the thinner profile mark it as a different animal at a casual glance. I’ve read of complaints of the iPhone 5 being easy to scuff (and some even stating that the phone arrived scuffed) but after two days of use with no case I had no marks on my iPhone’s chassis. That being said, I’ve since placed it in a case- no matter how solid a phone may be, I can’t see the wisdom of carrying something so expensive about without some measure of protection. I’m saddened by the loss of my BookBook and other card cases, but I expect accessory makers to adapt quickly.
My first impression when holding it was that the phone is light- almost too light. While it feels sturdy in your hand, the 5 lacks the heft that my old 4 sported. After about an hour of use I didn’t miss the lost mass; it was more comfortable and easier to hold for longer periods than its predecessor and sat better in the breast pocket of my hospital scrubs.
The black version I opted for looks fantastic. I have friends that love their Android handsets, but I don’t think anyone can successfully argue that any of them have the iPhone’s charisma. The changes to the form have all been welcome as well. When I first heard that the headphone jack was being moved to the bottom I dreaded having to reprogram myself to flip the iPhone bottom up to plug in my earbuds. The new placement is much more ergonomic, however: no more fussing with the earbud cord falling over the screen.
The new Lightning cable has been welcome for the most part. I had seen numerous photos of the new cable long before my iPhone arrived, but was still struck by how diminutive it is. The connector isn’t much bigger than the cable itself, and is dwarfed by the USB end. It fits (very) snugly into the iPhone. Not having to insure that the connector was properly aligned is a huge plus, but I worry that the smaller connector will make any accessory that used to rely on the structural support of the connector unreliable. The tiny footprint of the Lightning connector won’t be able to stabilize the iPhone in a loose cradle or dock like the original 32 pin connector did, so accessory makers will have to reengineer their devices accordingly. Another plus is the transfer speed; even though it uses the same USB port that my old sync cables did, it’s markedly faster transferring files. Fingers crossed for a Thunderbolt-compatible version in the future; being able to sync several gigabytes in seconds would be fantastic. I’m not looking forward to getting an adaptor for or replacing my current accessories to accommodate the Lightning port; my Mini Cooper (and cars made by their parent company BMW) won’t be able to interface with the 5 like it could with the 4 even with an adaptor.
I had installed iOS 6 on my old iPhone as soon as it was available, so I was already comfortable with the nuances of the updated OS. That being said, the 5 is much more nimble, flying through tasks and apps. The only new task that I’ve been routinely doing that my iPhone 4 wasn’t capable of has been voice launching of apps via Siri; especially useful when you can’t or shouldn’t be looking at your phone. Siri as a whole has been a fascinating bauble: cool to play with, but not something I really need. Too often speaking to your device just isn’t the most optimal method of interaction for it to be a central part of the user experience.
Overall use has been an evolutionary improvement. The more powerful processor and increased system RAM offers a bump in performance that’s not readily obvious, but after using it for a couple days going back to a 4 is a bit of a exercise in patience. The one area it has shone has been the phone ‘app’. The extra microphone provides better noise handling and the earpiece audio is better than my prior phone as well.
I’ve had several friends and coworkers ask if they should upgrade. My response is a firm “maybe”. If you have a 4s and/or are under contract, no- unless you have money to burn. If you have a 4 or earlier, absolutely; the 5 is a leap in performance and the new form offers some significant improvements. Having access to LTE is fantastic; the speeds are almost equivalent to my cable modem at home. The better camera is welcome, as are the aforementioned improvements. The iPhone 5 hasn’t remade the category like it’s great grandfather did for smartphones, but it’s another step up for what I feel is the best handheld device you can have.