Like many of you, I pre-ordered iPhone 5, actually two of them, the first day it was available. I’ve carried an iPhone since the iPhone 3G appeared and have had every subsequent model since then. This year, I reviewed and fell in love with the Samsung Galaxy SIII and very nearly left Apple for the larger nearly 5-inch phone.
But after watching the Apple keynote and getting a hold of an early version of the device, I decided to stay with the Cupertino, CA, company — and after a week with iPhone 5, I’m glad I hung around.
Listen, there wasn’t much I didn’t like about the Samsung. It’s fast. It’s customizable. It’s a pretty phone and it does just about everything better than most any phone I’ve tested.
Two things concerned me, though.
The Samsung ecosystem just isn’t as good as Apple’s. Just isn’t. The Google Play store has apps you can’t always trust and apps that are not as good, in general, as the majority I find in the App Store from Apple. I like how Apple products seamlessly integrate with each other as well.
The second thing was the sheer size of the Samsung phone. End of the day, it’s got a gorgeous screen, but it’s just too big. I can reach all parts of the phone with one hand, but it’s just a very very big phone, especially when you make calls with it.
Samsung, which makes so many different sized phones, should try a 4.0 or 4.3 Galaxy S III version. But back to the topic:
What impressed me about the Apple keynote when iPhone 5 was announced was that Apple was making the screen longer, but not wider. The 3.5-inch model was getting too small. The heavily rumored 4-inch screen was needed.
I figured that would create more room for apps, typing and “viewability” and when I got the phone last Friday, Sept. 21, I was right. The new iPhone, impossibly thin and light (you really have to hold it to appreciate that fact) still was the same width. It was easy to hold in one hand. To me, that was a smart design move.
A new processor makes the phone noticeably faster than the iPhone 4S I was carrying, and I felt the rear-facing camera took better pictures than 4S it was replacing and the front facing camera, updated to HD, absolutely smoked the old one, which wasn’t good enough to take self portraits for Facebook, to be honest.
When I used the iPhone for first time, it looked extra long and weird, but the feeling quickly went away. New technology on the screen which essentially makes the screen thinner as well as stronger once again clearly establishes iPhone as having the best display. The colors are richer on iPhone 5 vs. the 4S and everything is still Retina display sharp. And now with the longer screen, you can watch videos and movies in true 16 x 9 resolution like on your HDTV. Other phones have offered these features in the past.
Other phones have also offered 4G LTE, which came to the iPad last spring and hits iPhone 5 now, but Apple has brought 4G LTE to the masses with the same type of battery life 3G users get. Some other companies have accomplished similar feats, but really didn’t do so until this year. Apple has said it didn’t want to make design compromises to accommodate 4G LTE prior to a time, like now, when it could bring it to market and keep its devices thin and light.
I’ll leave the battery tests to others, but I could regularly start my day at 7 a.m. and watch videos, talk, send emails and text all day and have plenty of battery left when I put the phone down around midnight.
And the new iPhone feels like, well, an expensive watch, jewelry, something very expensive — and all of those at the same time.
There’s no cheap plasticky feel like with the Samsung. It’s doesn’t feel cheaply built like some other phones. No, the iPhone 5 feels and looks elegant, though, I fretted all week about carrying it without a case.
All the drop videos we’ve seen indicate the iPhone 5 screen and back are stronger than ever, but the phone still seems a little tender to us. It’s so light, so delicate looking and feeling that it feels as though it needs a case. Thankfully, on Thursday — on Day 6 — Otterbox sent in a few cases for review (more on those later)
A few things I noticed about iPhone 5:
— Wi-Fi reception is improved. The signal in the same spots in my house is stronger on the 5 than the 4S it replaced.
— I live in Charlotte, and the Maps app is money here. It shows streets as you approach and the Siri voice guides you easily around town. It called a few streets “Coll” for some reason, but everything was right. Of course, we know more than a few folks have issues with Maps lack of accuracy and Apple is working hard to address it.
Once completed, Maps should be a solid update. The 3D “flyover” feature is gorgeous to look at, but I’m not sure how useful it is. Could see a teacher plugging into a big screen to give a tour of a city she or he is talking about to the class.
— The new Lightning cable doesn’t work with older iPhones or older iPhone cables and is a bit of a nuisance. Apple should be selling converters and new cables for less than $20-$40, but the new cable is easier to use, more durable, and in time, we’ll forget about the hassle of conversion. Plus, it allows the new iPhone to be so thin and light, and the old cable was bulky and not very, well, cool. Lightning is.
— Phone reception is better and FaceTime calls over AT&T cellular, via 4G LTE and 3G, are solid. In fact, many of my contacts report I sound clearer now than before.
— The camera is improved, but not hugely so. The biggest change is you can take photos while shooting video (part of iOS6) and the iPhone 5 is incredible when shooting photos in low light. There’s no comparison between this and any other iPhone or Android phone in low light.
The new panorama feature works well and takes large and beautiful pictures with little effort. I had some file sizes over 30MB and the 4G LTE send them effortlessly.
— I created a few Passbook cards via the passsource.com website and they worked. I made a grocery store card and fitness club card.
This could be the killer feature for iOS 6 if company’s start supporting it. I hate carrying all those loyalty cards in the wallet or keychain.
This could also set the stage for Apple to add technology called NFC to allow iPhones to be used as virtual credit cards.
You’d swipe your phone over a scanner instead of your card in the future. Imaging kicking your wallet to the curb.
— Apple’s new EarPod earphones are a huge leap over the old Apple headphones. Bass response is so much better and the total sound is richer. I wouldn’t seek to buy after market “buds” to replace these. Better? They fall out of the ear much less often. If you run, though, you still may want to look elsewhere.
— Siri is also a little better, too, offering sports scores and stats and a super easy way to make dinner reservations. It’s also more responsive and less error prone.
All in all, Apple has seriously raised the smartphone bar with iPhone 5. There are other smartphones on the market that are certainly worthy contenders, and for some users superior. But for the vast majority of average every-day users, Apple has again produced the most compelling, easy-to-use smartphone in the world.