I've had three days now to play with the new iPhone 5. And, having owned every one of them but the first, I view this latest model as an evolutionary but not revolutionary upgrade.
By now, if you care about this kind of stuff, you've probably read countless tech reviews from mobile phone and PC experts. I'm not that guy. I'm just someone who uses his phone every day for work and for play. And, I would've written this sooner, but the upgrade didn't go so well. Migrating my old phone from iTunes failed after about four hours, and backing up from iCloud took a good 18 hours to complete. In essence, I've only had a working iPhone 5 for two days.
Here are a few of my early impressions:
Form factor: Pictures don't really do this phone justice. The new iPhone feels much thinner and lighter than its predecessor. After using it for just a few hours, the iPhone 4S feels and looks like a brick, as ridiculous as that sounds. The added height is interesting, and takes a while to get used to. So far, I don't love it. The screen is somehow brighter than the last one, too – almost too bright and saturated at its max. I'm sure in a few more days, I won't even notice. As usual, the build quality is excellent. Even if this new model is a little boring, it looks and feels nicer than any other phone on the market.
Camera: I haven't seen much of an improvement here, though the specs indicate that maximum ISO has been bumped up, and the aperture has been expanded. That's good for low-light situations, and in my first tests, those picture do look pretty good. The panorama feature is extremely cool, but that works with the older phone, too.
Battery life: Much better, at least for now. My old iPhone would be at about 40 percent by mid afternoon. On the new phone, it's easily holding a charge all day.
Speed: For typical tasks, the iPhone 5 doesn't seem blazingly faster than its predecessor. I'm sure it is, but for e-mail, the Web, Twitter and Facebook, it's just a bit snappier. Opening more processor-intensive apps like MLB At Bat, you begin to see the difference.
Maps: Not good. While they've worked fine for me, it's obvious that Apple rushed this to market to exclude Google. The Siri-powered turn-by-turn directions have worked well for me so far, but the native Apple maps just have much less detail their predecessor. I'm sure this will improve over time, but for now, it's a black eye for Apple.
Siri: The first generation of Siri worked well for me about 10 percent of the time. So far, the better microphones and Siri upgrades seem to be slightly more accurate. That's not saying much. Siri is just barely less useless to me now, but I still can't count on her for a tweet, Facebook update or accurate text message. Even my 4-year-old asked, "Siri doesn't understand English very well, does she, Daddy?"
4G: On Verizon, it's extremely fast. I'm very impressed, although this isn't so much praise of the phone as it is of the network.
Call quality: My first few calls haven't been great, but that's a total wildcard. I'll need more time to evaluate.
Connectivity: The new cable is tiny and interchangeable, which is great. Unfortunately, every connector in my house, office and car is for the older jack, so I find myself walking around with a cable. I can't connect my iPhone to my car stereo, and adapters aren't yet available. Third-party models don't exist, and Apple's are $30 apiece. This transition, while typically of Apple, is especially cruel and greedy to its loyal customers.
Durability: So far, so good. Either the Apple logo on the back came with a tiny scratch on it, or it scratched within the first 10 minutes of ownership, but so far the white iPhone 5 looks up to the task of going caseless.
Software: Excellent. Big improvements all around in iOS 6. Love the "Do Not Disturb" function and FaceTime over cellular. Thing is, all of this works almost as well on the iPhone 4S. Of course, the iPhone 5 is the ultimate device to showcase this software on. I'm sure the combination of more horsepower plus newer software will become increasingly evident in coming weeks.
Price: A bargain at $199, although I would've like to seen a storage capacity increase. With HD video and large image files, the 16GB model isn't enough for most serious users, so expect to spend $299 for the 32GB model (personally, I don't like to keep my music in the cloud, so I can hear it anytime).
Should you upgrade? Yes. If only for the 4G and battery life. If my review sounds like a tepid endorsement, it is ... and it isn't. Again, the iPhone was pretty great in its last form, so tweaks like speed, size and 4G just push it back to the top, without completely upending the wireless industry once again.
If you're not eligible for an upgrade, the world won't end if you wait to buy. But if you are, do yourself a favor: sell your old iPhone and get this one. There's no way you'll be disappointed if you do. The best phone in the world just got a little better. And "better than best" is pretty, pretty good.
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