iPhone 5 Review: 5 Months with the New iPhone
After almost a year of non-stop rumors, Apple finally announced the iPhone 5 at an event in the early part of September and started taking pre-orders later in the week. Like most iPhone pre-orders go, the iPhone 5 sold out within hours of going on sale. As someone who pre-ordered on day one, I was fortunate enough to receive my new iPhone 5 on its first day of availability on September 21st. That was five months ago, I’ve been using the iPhone 5 on a daily basis ever since.
Prior to September, I was using an iPhone 3GS, a phone that I had been using for more than three years on AT&T’s 3G network. And while the device was indeed updated to iOS 6, given the stripped down version and the slow down and crashing that I had started experiencing, I knew that it was time to replace the device.
So, after a more than three year run with the iPhone 3GS, an eternity in smartphone years, I decided to buy Apple’s new iPhone, the iPhone 5, which just so happened to have two of the features I had been holding out for. A larger display and 4G LTE data speeds.
Since September, I’ve been using the iPhone 5 as my daily driver on AT&T’s 4G LTE network. My carrier decision was a no-brainer as I am still locked into an unlimited data plan on AT&T and the carrier allowed me to keep that when signing a new two-year contract on its network. I of course was also lured in by the fact that HSPA+ 21 would be my back up when LTE wasn’t available, and the fact that I could use voice and data at the same time.
CDMA networks like Sprint and Verizon still don’t allow you to talk on the phone and browse the web at the same time, something that may not be a big deal to some, but is a big deal to me.
The decision to snag the iPhone 5 was a much more difficult decision as the smartphone world was chock full of devices at the time. Back in September, I was heavily debating between a few different devices including the Samsung Galaxy S3, Galaxy Note 2, HTC One X or waiting for the new Nexus smartphone which turned out to be the Nexus 4.
After a ton of open and internal debate, I would up selecting Apple’s iPhone 5. Here is how my decision to pick up Apple’s new smartphone has fared over the last five months.
Things I Like About iPhone 5
Design – Looks, Pocketability
Maybe the first thing that you’ll notice about the iPhone 5 is its design. While the iPhone 4S was composed of plastic and glass, something that I disliked, the iPhone 5′s design is an industrial specimen that is as nice to look at as it is to hold.
The iPhone 5 is made up of a anodized aluminum back that is much more graceful, and in my opinion, durable than the glass back of the iPhone 5. It also combines hints of glass with a metal band to give it an overall look and craftsmanship that is up there near the top of the smartphone world right now. Both the HTC One and the Sony Xperia Z come close.
For me, the iPhone 5 is extremely nice to hold when making a phone call or when using the display with one hand. Some of the bigger Android phones, the Galaxy Note 2 in particular, are just way too big, even with my monstrous hands. The size of the iPhone 5 feels just right for a phone.
It’s also extremely lightweight, 112 grams to be exact. That’s lighter than just about every high-end smartphone on the market and it’s something that I’ve come to like a lot.
It means that it’s easy to transport around in your pocket and it means that you won’t feel weighed down if you’re on the phone for an extended amount of time. My mom loves to talk my ear off and I’ve never had to put the phone down out of discomfort.
Coming from the iPhone 3GS, I was hoping for a much faster, much more crisp software experience. And unsurprisingly, I found one with the iPhone 5 which is easily one of the fastest smartphones I’ve ever used.
What I mean by that is that things actually open when you tap them. For instance, with the iPhone 3GS, I had to wait for quite awhile before the camera app opened, which meant that I would often lose my shot. With the iPhone 5, applications open extremely fast and there is virtually no lag in the iOS 6 interface.
Those coming from an aging smartphone will definitely appreciate the speed of the iPhone 5 which is helped along by more RAM and a better processor.
Camera – Video, Low Light
I’ve been pretty impressed by the camera on the iPhone 5. The smartphone contains an 8MP iSight rear camera that was a vast improvement over the iPhone 3GS’ particularly with video and low light photography.
While many phones struggle to take photos in low-light environments, photos I took with the iPhone 3GS often came out distorted and grainy, the iPhone 5 handled low-light surprisingly well.
Another camera feature that has impressed me is the video. Video comes out nice and crisp and the sound is fantastic. Again, with the iPhone 3GS, video would often look washed out and the sound quality left something to be desired.
Now, instead of asking friends to take a photo or a video, I take them myself and that is an extremely liberating experience.
When it comes to the iPhone 5′s battery life, while there have been some hiccups (see: iOS 6.1), overall I’ve been extremely impressed with how my iPhone 5 has held up in daily usage.
As I’ve said before, I consider myself to be in between a power user and an average user. I use my iPhone 5 quite a bit throughout the day but I’m not gaming or shooting video for hours on end. Instead, I surf the web, check email, harass people on Twitter, listen to the occasional tune and post infrequently on sites like Instagram.
On most days, I am able to go through the entire day without having to charge my phone. On the weekends, when I am more attached to it and on-the-go, I often have to plug it in late in the day.
I’ve used plenty of 4G LTE phones and I have to say, the iPhone 5 is up there with the best of them in terms of battery life. No, you’re not going to get 24 hours of charge when using LTE for 24 hours straight but no smartphone is going to deliver that. What you will get is a solid amount of battery life, especially those who are just average smartphone users.
Connectivity – 4G LTE Speeds
After three years of using 3G data speeds, 4G LTE has been an absolute godsend. For those that aren’t familiar, the iPhone 5 utilizes LTE (Long Term Evolution) which is the step up from 3G and HSPA+ “4G” data. AT&T, Sprint, Verizon and now T-Mobile are all on board with 4G LTE and other smaller carriers like U.S. Cellular utilize it as well.
Now that I’ve used LTE for many years, I can’t go back to anything else. In fact, I tried using my girlfriend’s iPhone 4S the other day and I couldn’t believe how slow things were loading.
LTE is like having a Wi-Fi connection in your pocket outside of the house. It’s that fast. The web loads in a jiffy. Downloads are incredibly fast. And to be quite honest, LTE has occasionally been faster than my home Wi-Fi network.
Of course, it’s not available everywhere, but again, that’s why I bought the AT&T model as Ma Bell has its HSPA+ “4G” network up to hold me over when LTE isn’t available.
Just about every single big name device these days has a larger display. The Samsung Galaxy Note 2 is at 5.5-inches. The HTC One is at 4.7-inches. The Samsung Galaxy S4 is rumored to be either 4.99-inches or 5-inches. For many people, these larger sized phones are fantastic. For others, like myself, Apple hit the sweet spot with its 4-inch display.
As someone who fell in love with the 4-inch display size after using the original Droid Incredible, I had been hoping for a larger 4-inch display with the iPhone for quite some time. Apple delivered with the iPhone 5 and I was thankful for it.
The 4-inch display, with its 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio, is perfect for watching content on-the-go, and it also makes it easy to navigate the display with my thumbs.
When I need a larger display, I simply use my tablet. But for most things, the 4-inch display works perfectly.
There comes a time, in every smartphones life, where the owner decides to show friends a song or YouTube clip without any headphones instead utilizing the speakers of the device. I can say, comfortably, that I have done this many, many times with the iPhone 5 with no regrets.
The speakers on the iPhone 5 are loud and crisp and they don’t make you look ridiculous when trying to show something off to friends or family. I should also point out that call quality is great as well, even in loud environments.
On the iPhone 5, Apple installed a new Lightning dock connector to replace the 30-pin dock. At first, I absolutely hated this feature as I brought my iPhone 5 out numerous times and was unable to charge it because no one had the proper cord.
I’ll say that it’s beginning to grow on me a little bit though. Not just because more people I know have the cord, but because it’s just easy to use. It can be turned in either direction and still fit in the iPhone. Obviously, that’s a little perk but it’s a good one nonetheless.
Things I Don’t Like About iPhone 5
Design – Durability
While I indeed love the design of the iPhone 5, I, like my colleagues, have taken a bit of an issue with the durability of the design. Part of this is my fault, I’ll admit.
I’m the type of person that absolutely hates using a case with his smartphone. I don’t like the extra bulk. So, I’ve been using my iPhone 5 without a case since I bought it.
Read: iPhone 5: Black vs White.
I’ve dropped it several times, not big spills mind you, just smaller ones and already I am seeing the wear and tear that I would not have seen with the design of my iPhone 3GS and probably not even the iPhone 4S either.
Overall, it just looks worn with wear and tear developing along the sides. Again, not all of this is from its spills. I think it has more to do with how much I use it and how much time it has spent in my pockets. The aluminum has rubbed off in places and while it’s not a blight yet, it’s looking worse than a five month old smartphone should.
Connectivity – Call Drops, Wi-Fi
The iPhone 5 has not been perfect in terms of connectivity in terms of Wi-Fi and cellular connections. Many, many times I’ve been talking to someone over Wi-Fi or 4G LTE or even “4G” and I’ve lost the call for no apparent reason.
I realize that some of the problems likely have to do with AT&T and its networks, but there have been times when this has happened and I’ve had full service.
In addition, in the early days, I also experienced Wi-Fi connection issues with my home router and I know of several people who still are experiencing Wi-Fi issues with their iPhone 5. My issues have seemingly dissipated thanks to software updates but again, there are those out there still dealing with problems so be weary.
Connectivity has just been too unpredictable for my liking.
I’ve hated the positioning of the iPhone 5′s headphone jack since the day I started using the iPhone 5. I always feel like I am going to snap the headphone cord when I place it in my pocket.
I honestly wish that Apple had kept the jack on the top of the device like it did with previous iPhones.
Don’t get me wrong, for many things, the Retina Display looks fantastic. However, after using the Sony Xperia Z and seeing the displays that will be out in 2013, I am starting to bite my nails.
Displays this year are going to feature 1080p resolution with high pixel-per-inch counts. Content on them looks absolutely gorgeous and in my opinion, blows the looks of content the Retina Display away. And as someone who watches a lot of sports highlights on my iPhone, I can tell you that having full HD is extremely important to me.
Will the Retina Display get me through the two year contract? Absolutely. Text and the web still look great.
Will I be jealous of the screen tech that arrives on the scene this year? You bet.
Most of iOS 6
I’ve saved maybe my biggest gripe for last. While the iPhone 5 is able to handle the software on board, which of course is iOS 6, the software itself is really starting to show its age.
Yes, I enjoy some of its features including Do Not Disturb and the new sharing options for things like photos, but for the most part, iOS 6 has been a let down for me.
The UI is looking old and really needs some revitalization. I don’t use Passbook (one iOS 6′s big features) at all. I don’t use Siri at all. I’ve replaced Safari with Chrome and Apple Maps with Google Maps most of the time. And to top it all off, iOS 6 has been one of the most buggy releases in the time since I bought an iPhone.
It just seems like there is bug after bug after bug, many of which have affected my experience. Apple tackles them relatively quickly but still, it has definitely made life on the iPhone 5 a bit more frustrating than it should have been.
I have high hopes for iOS 7 in terms of design changes and some improvements to Apple’s core applications that look like they did when I first got them on my iPhone 3GS.
Whether or not Apple delivers though remains to be seen.
After using the iPhone 5 for five months, I can honestly say that I bought what I feel is the best phone for me. I love the battery life that the iPhone 5 offers. I thoroughly have been enjoying its 4-inch display even though I wish it had better resolution. The camera is fantastic and the industrial design is one that I feel is one of the best on the market.
I also love 4G LTE and those that haven’t used it yet will know what I am talking about once you give it a whirl.
However, there are some drawbacks. I am not in love with iOS 6, the design shows visible wear and tear even without drops, and I’ve had some connectivity issues as well.
For those that live and breath in the Apple ecosystem, the iPhone 5 is the best option because of its strengths. But for those that maybe aren’t in love with iOS and aren’t married to a MacBook or an iPad, there are certainly other options to take a look at.
At the end of the day though, this is a phone that should be at the top of everyone’s shopping list. Whether or not you buy it, well, I leave that decision to you.