The iPhone has Grown Up – A First Impression Review of the iPhone 5

You know that feeling you get when you see a young relative or friend for the first time after not seeing them for awhile?  They look familiar, but you can’t believe how much taller they’ve grown since you last saw them.  This is the feeling you get when you first set your eyes on the new iPhone 5.  Everything looks and and functions in a familiar way, but that gorgeous, longer screen tells you that our little iPhone has grown up.   While the changes aren’t drastic, the whole device feels further refined and perfected.   Since the release of the first iPhone, competitors have closed the gap between their top smartphones and the iPhone.  However, from my initial time with the new device, the iPhone has matured enough to keep this device at the top of the smart phone heap.

Form Factor – Sleek and Lightweight

The designers at Apple have a knack for making all other smartphones feel and look like cheap plastic toys.  Before the iPhone 5, I had briefly experimented with using the Droid Razr Maxx as my everyday device.  Making the switch from that large, plastic material phone to the smooth, streamlined metal feel of the iPhone 5  is a night and day difference in design quality.  Apple still tops everyone else by a wide margin in design beauty and feel.  I know that not everyone is a fan of the two tone back panel of the iPhone 5.  I happen to like this new look.   The sleek lines formed by the two tones bring to mind a race car or airplane.

The iPhone 5: Making all other phones looks like cheap plastic toys.

The light weight and thinness of the phone is impressive.  It is truly an engineering feat that Apple managed to make the screen bigger, improve the battery life, add 4G data capabilities, and improve the performance of the phone all while making the entire package quite a bit thinner and lighter.  Even though I had read some early reviews about the surprising lightness of the iPhone 5 before getting a chance to take it out of the box myself, I still was surprised at its lack of weight upon picking it up the first time. When holding the phone to view the screen, carrying it in your pocket, or making a phone call, the phone does feel noticeably lighter than the iPhone 4s.

The thin and light iPhone 5.

The one concern about the form factor of the iPhone 5 that I have is the susceptibility of the back panel and edges of the phone to scratches.  While my phone so far has remained scratch free, a quick Google search will turn up quite a few photos and forum posts of people complaining about scratches that are already present on the back panel or sides of their new phones.  Especially on the black model, it seems the black color on the back panel and sides of the phone can be scratched off to show the silver metallic color underneath.  While it is too early to tell if this will be a big issue, it is something to keep your eye on and investing in a case to cover the back and sides is probably a good idea.  As a precaution I have left the plastic film on the back of my phone while I wait for my first case to arrive in the mail.  If the iPhone 5 truly is susceptible to scratches as some are claiming, this is a shame because of how good the iPhone 5 looks and feels without a case.

The back of the iPhone 5 with the protective film still attached.

The Screen

The biggest change to the iPhone is the taller screen.   The clarity, color, and brightness of the iPhone screen is still the best that can be found in a smartphone.  While the changes in screen quality from the iPhone 4s are subtle, the extra screen space is a welcome change.  Having an extra row of apps on each screen is nice, and the extra screen space is great for game controls, web content, and typing on the screen in landscape orientation.

The extra row of apps on each screen is a great new feature.

I must admit that I was hoping that Apple would not only increase the screen height but also the width as well.  While the screen is taller or wider depending on how you hold it, the size of the text, app icons, and objects on the screen are still the same size as they were on the iPhone 4s.  Instead of everything being larger, more is shown on the screen at once.  One of the benefits of using a tall and wide smartphone screen, such as what is found on the Droid Razr Maxx, is the larger size of everything on the screen – especially text.  If you were hoping the iPhone 5 would take away the squinting you would need to do at the small text found in many apps, you will be disappointed.

An example of the small text you will still find in some apps on the iPhone 5.

I can understand why Apple chose to keep the width of the screen unchanged.  After holding a wide Android phone for a few months, I do like how much easier it is to grip the thinner iPhone 5 and manipulate the entire screen with just one hand.  Apple is right that it is a huge benefit to be able to do everything on your phone with one hand so that your other hand is always free.  I just wish this didn’t have to come with the tradeoff of needing to squint at smaller text on the screen.

Performance 

While I did enjoy the customizability of Android during my brief time with my Razr Maxx, coming back to the iPhone has reminded me why iOS is still my favorite smartphone operating system.  Android has improved quite a bit in the past couple of years, but iOS is still in a league of its own when it comes to everything working smoothly and consistently.   With the Razr Maxx, I would occasionally choose to not use my phone because a certain app was too slow to load, was unreliable because of crashes, or didn’t work exactly the way it was supposed to.  I know iOS occasionally has its problems as well, but they are much less frequent, and I can’t even remember the last time I have experienced a hiccup or stutter in animation or scrolling when using an iPhone.  The iOS experience is as smooth as it gets.

The iPhone 5 takes the iOS experience to the next level.  Everything loads almost instantly.  I don’t think you would find to many people who would complain that the iPhone 4s was too slow.  However, after getting used to the extra speed boost you get with the iPhone 5, it would tough to go back to the older model.   This speed increase is perhaps most noticeable when surfing the web on LTE.  The fast download speeds combined with the faster processor of the iPhone 5 make surfing the web an almost instantaneous and very pleasurable experience.

LTE – What a Difference!

A few months ago, I debated whether or not I would be switching to the iPhone 5 as my main phone when it came out.  I remember hearing the rumors that one of the new features of the iPhone would likely be 4G capabilities.  Living in an area without 4G coverage, I didn’t know if the upgrade would make much sense for me.

When my market got 4G coverage about a month and a half ago, this cemented in my mind the idea that I would make the upgrade.  Wow, what a difference LTE makes!  At my home I can regularly get LTE speeds greater than 30 mb/s.  These speeds, I’m almost ashamed to admit, are 10 times faster than my home wi-fi.  It’s strange to think that, as it is with my situation, an iPhone owner’s fastest internet connection at home will likely be their smartphone.   These fast LTE speeds make a huge difference when downloading apps or surfing the internet.  Most smaller apps download within seconds, and there is almost no wait for the next page to load when pressing on an internet link.   I typically have shied away from using the web browser on most of my smartphones because the experience has been so much slower than using my laptop or tablet.  In the couple of days that I have owned the iPhone 5, I already see this habit changing because of how much of a joy the speed improvement of web surfing has been to experience.

The speed test results of my Wi-Fi connection (top) and my LTE connection (bottom).

Camera

I don’t have a digital camera, so I do rely on my smartphone to be my only camera for taking everyday photos.  I have trouble noticing much of a difference between the photos I took with my iPhone 4s outdoors and the photos taken with the iPhone 5.  Both phones take very beautiful and clear photos.  However, the iPhone 5 does seem to take slightly clearer and sharper shots indoors or in low light situations.  I do feel the iPhone 5 is among the best smartphone cameras out there, and I am very confident to be using it as my everyday camera.

An outdoor photo taken with the iPhone 5 camera.

With the Droid Razr Maxx I was constantly  frustrated, especially in low light situations, at the ability of the camera to take photos without blurring.  I have a one year old daughter who I am constantly taking pictures of.  She moves quickly and rarely will sit still for a photo.  Many of the photos taken with my Razr Maxx indoors ended up blurry because of her movement.  I am thankful to say that the iPhone 5 does not suffer the same problem.  The iPhone seems to have a much faster shutter and does a much better job of creating a sharper image even in low light situations with a lot of movement.  (Though, as far as the camera making kids look happier as Phill Shiller jokingly claimed at the iPhone Keynote event, it has the opposite effect on her.  Once she sees the iPhone she wants to play with it and will turn very unhappy quickly if she is not allowed to hold it.)

An example of a low light, indoor photo that the iPhone 5 handled beautifully.

Finally, a smartphone camera that can take low light, high motion pictures of my daughter clearly.

Battery Life

Having owned the iPhone 5 for only a day at this point, I haven’t had the chance to do any battery drain tests or push the phone’s battery to the max as of yet.  However, in my use over the past couple of days, I have gotten about 4-5 hours of use out of the phone by the time the battery meter slips to 50%.  This would seem to match up fairly well with Apple’s claim of about 10 hours of battery life when watching videos or surfing the web over Wi-Fi.  I don’t think most users will have an issue making it through an entire day on a single charge.

An example of the battery life I have experienced so far. Almost 5 hours of Wi-Fi and LTE use and still nearly half the battery remaining.

Initial Verdict

Especially because so many of the new features of the iPhone 5 leaked before it was released, many people may have been underwhelmed by the changes made for the iPhone 5.  Granted, none of the changes are earth shattering or haven’t been seen before in other phones.  What Apple has done, though, is taken an already great phone and made it even better in almost every category that matters in a smartphone.   The iPhone 5 does really feel like a grown up version of the iPhone and everything does “just work” smoothly.  While this may not have been the most exciting smartphone launch ever, this iPhone refinement approach has allowed Apple to, once again, offer the best overall smartphone experience on the market.  The iPhone 5 is  the complete package of sleek hardware and software that competitors have yet to fully match.

 

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  • Dave

    I fully agree w/ UR observations & conclusions. I am an old, converted, Apple bigot who will never go back to anything less sophisticated, beautiful and capable.

  • Mike

    I agree with all of your comments. I have not held an iPhone 5 and am not exactly willing to pay the $450 for the early upgrade option that AT&T offers. However, I owned an HTC android set before I finally dove into the iPhone world with the 4S. All the improvements you mentioned coming to iOS is exactly what I experienced. I want a smartphone that just works, day in and day out. It is the most important piece of equipment I own. I hope you enjoy your time with the iPhone 5, I decided to spend another wonderful year with the 4S to make the upgrade even better next year.

    • brad0885

      You are right that one of the best parts of the iPhone are that it just consistently works. It’s true the iPhone maybe lacks the bells and whistles of a few other phones but it also lacks many of the freezing, crashes, jerkiness, and other issues that plague many other phones.

      • imaginarynumber

        erm… i have seen quite a few iphones lock up, often whilst viewing pdf files. The owners tend to scratch their heads when it happens as there is no “intuitive” way of rebooting a phone that is hanging.

  • http://www.joshuascottmccullough.com Josh McCullough

    Quick question: did you take the first few pictures with your child’s toy camera from 1985?

    • brad0885

      Actually some photos were taken with an iPad and yeah you are right that the quality isn’t the best.

      • http://www.joshuascottmccullough.com Josh McCullough

        It’s still amazing that 8MP cameras can be crammed into such a small space (both iPhone, Droid and others) – good for on-the-go.

  • http://www.joshuascottmccullough.com Josh McCullough

    Regarding the camera, you may want to invest in a “real” camera – if you zoom in on the photos you posted, you can see they are extremely pixelated due to the high ISO used (due to the low light). This would happen with any current cell phone camera; they are just simply not replacements for even the cheapest point-and-shoot camera.

  • Jack

    Nokia Lumia 920 blows the iPhone 5 out of the water. The iPhone 5 didn’t really get much of an upgrade besides 4G, which is old technology since most other phones have had this for years now.

    • http://www.joshuascottmccullough.com Josh McCullough

      What’s funny to me is that iPhone users get one new phone option every 1-2 years, meanwhile Droid/WP7 users get new phone option(s) every few months. That, alone, will ensure that I stay with Droid/WP7 for my phone. More options are better than one!

      • jhrogersii

        That’s a double-edged sword, though. More than one Android manufacturer has used that release schedule as a way to roll out OS upgrades and fix hardware issues, rather than offering them to existing customers with existing phones. This system is great if you are rich, or don’t mind playing the eBay/Craigslist game to get another device. However, for the general consumer, it really sucks when you lock into a two year contract and get stuck with a phone that has its issues and old OS fixed and upgraded 3-4 months later. Just ask people who got stuck with early LTE models like the Droid Incredible and Photon and the abysmal battery life that they had, or had multi-tasking issues and a locked bootloader with the HTC One X if they will be happy after two years.

    • jhrogersii

      The Lumia 920 “might” be a great smartphone, in terms of specs and design. If M$ can finally put out a mobile OS that isn’t playing catch up, and can grow a real, competitive ecosystem, then it will finally fulfill its promise. However, that’s what we all heard at the launch of WP7, and then again for Mango (which was a big letdown. I owned a Focus and waited for that garbage), and then AGAIN at the launch of the 900. Myself and two other writes here gave WP7 a shot around the Mango launch, and we were all incredibly disappointed. It just couldn’t touch the total package that we were already using.

      At the end of the day, M$ and Nokia need to quit shooting themselves in the foot (no legacy upgrades, faked photos, lies to the press about faked photos and videos, a phone reveal that doesn’t reveal very much at all just to beat Apple to press) and actually SHIP something that has great design, software, and ecosystem, in one package. If they don’t pull it off this time, Nokia is done. They are losing too much cash too fast to not have the 920 hit big and survive. I’m sure M$ would buy them out, but that would just be a sad end for such a formerly great company.

      Don’t get me wrong. I really hope Windows Phone and Nokia ultimately succeed in becoming that strong third player in the smartphone market. I just can’t bring myself to like Android. I’ve tried, but it just isn’t for me, at all. I do like the middle ground approach of WP, though. It’s a very smart approach to try and pull people in from both sides. However, there are still just a lot of “ifs” out there that have to become “yes”s before that can happen.