High Variance

My Thoughts on the iPhone 5

So I got my iPhone 5 about a week ago (pre-ordered from AT&T) and have barely been able to brag about it to anyone since most of my local friends aren’t nearly as nerdy as I am. Then I remembered that I had a blog and decided the world needed hear all about my new device.

But first, a little background: Two years ago I started carrying an iPhone 4 and a year ago I was only slightly tempted to upgrade to a 4S. The camera was a little better, the cpu was a little faster, and it had Siri which I didn’t think I’d use much. And I would have had to pay the one year upgrade penalty. I passed. Fast-forward to this year and I was champing at the bit for something new.

And so, without further ado, here’s what I’d say if you saw me on the street and said “Ooh, is that an iPhone 5? How do you like it?”

Big Stuff:

Camera: It’s way better. Low light pictures look a lot better, but the thing I really notice is the speed. It launches quickly (the 4 was a dog), and you can tap away at the shutter seemingly several times a second. It’s a life-saver when you have an older daughter who loves funny faces and chewing on her own hair, but occasionally flashes the most beautiful smile you’ve ever seen.

Maps: I get it that if you live in a place where the coverage stinks, the new Maps app stinks too. But in New Haven, the coverage is fine. And it’s huge upgrade over IOS 5 both in terms of features and UI. Turn-by-turn voice directions are extremely well integrated–much nicer and more functional than either Tom Tom or Navigon. I love that you can flip back and forth between the 2D map of your route and the 3D rendering of where you are on the route. The vector-based tiles are prettier and faster to download too. I’m glad I have the Tom Tom app, which stores maps locally, for when I’m out of cell range, but let’s be honest: that hasn’t happened in years and it will be a while before it happens again.

CPU: It’s way faster. I have a shortcut on my home screen that launches OmniFocus and goes straight to “new task” screen. It used to take about 5 seconds, but now it’s less than a second. All sorts of other stuff loads and runs faster too.

64 GB flash: In this cloud-based age we live in, local storage isn’t supposed to matter since your apps should just be able to pull in what you need from the net as you need it. But as I’ve complained bitterly about already, Apple’s vision of cloud photography is currently Photo Stream. Ugh. With double the room on my device, both my wife and I can stop carefully deciding what pictures and home videos we have space for. Some day Adobe Revel might solve this more elegantly, but for now they don’t do video and they don’t have a Windows app.

Little Stuff:

The physical device: Yeah, it’s nice. But my eyes aren’t good enough to really appreciate the straight lines and shiny camfer. And it’s really thin, especially since I’m going caseless for now compared to my old rubber-clad 4. It feels great in the pocket but it’s surprisingly hard to pick up off a counter or desk! My wife thinks it feels a little like a Nano, and she’s right.

Screen: I can’t tell if the colors are more saturated or if the pixels are closer to the surface but supposedly they are. It’s nice to have more text on the screen in portrait mode, but this is partially offset by the awkwardness of moving my thumb to the opposite top corner. This has become easier with time, so I’m guessing I’ll completely adjust soon. The extra row of icons is useful as my home screen was getting a little cramped. I rarely venture to my other screens now, and that’s a good thing.

Lightning: I like it a lot–it’s durable, tiny, and easy since it’s double-sided. It’s a little annoying that I now need different cables for my phone and iPad, but Apple had to upgrade this connector eventually and I think we’ll have Lightning for a long time.

LTE: in some ways, this is the biggest new feature of the phone. When you’re near an LTE tower, it’s crazy fast–the other day SpeedTest gave me 28Mbps downstream and 12 Mbps upstream. That’s 3x and 8x faster than my U-Verse at home! Of course, per byte, it’s expensive and I’m on wifi 90% of the time. And right now, AT&T’s coverage isn’t that great.

Siri: We’re still just getting to know each other, but I like what I hear so far. It’s absolutely the fastest way to enter new appointments on my calendar. Last Friday I asked “What was the score in last night’s NFL game?” and got the box score in moments. I use it to set alarms. I expected to enjoy the novelty of it and then forget about it, but instead my usage seems to be increasing.

Final Thoughts:

This phone did not need a whole bunch of fancy new features (e.g., curved AMOLED display, NFC, giant screen) to be fantastic. The iPhone has been fantastic since they introduced it in 2007. I find it amazing that they’ve been able to make it incrementally better every year by refining and improving what it already does. And yet the tech press keeps wanting the next iPhone to be a quantum leap. That’s not how how it works. Truly revolutionary devices aren’t 5.0’s, they are 1.0’s.