iPhone 5 Review

What can I write that hasn’t been written on one of the myriad of tech sites. Heck, I even linked to one of them already. I’ll start with a quote that sums up how a lot of people are feeling so far.

I don't know how else to convey the niceness of this thing. This iPhone 5 review unit is the single nicest object in my possession. I own things that cost and remain worth more (e.g. my car). But I own nothing this nice.

I’m 3 weeks in with the iPhone 5. I waited to write this up after some significant use because that’s really the only way to know it beyond what’s on the spec sheet. Speaking of the spec sheet, here’s a list of what’s new-

Software Updates

Brand New Maps app
Siri is expanded with sports, Restaurant and Movie info and is now able to open apps.
Facebook Integration system-wide
Phone updates-updated options when you need to decline a call.
Mail now has pull-down to refresh
Safari now has synced tabs with your desktop or laptop Mac
Camera now has a Panorama feature
New iTunes and Appstore designs that are way easier to use.

Hardware Updates

Thinner, Lighter design
Unibody Construction with Aluminum back.
LTE wireless data
Improved Camera
Headphone jack moved to the bottom
Larger Screen
Improved color saturation
New A6 processor with claimed 2X speed

OK. That’s out of the way. So, What’s it like to actually use it?


My first impression as a long-time iPhone user-

This device feels amazing in my hand.

I really can’t overstate this point. Like all Apple products, the iPhone 5 is an object that looks great in photos and sounds great in descriptions, but really takes on a personality when you hold it in your hand. The consensus among my friends and internet connections was that the iPhone 4 design felt like the culmination of iPhone design. As if, this is what they were aiming for from the iPhone’s start back in 2007.

This one feels even more complete. For the first day or two, the 5 almost felt too light. Almost like there was no way that it could be real. When you carry the same phone in your pocket every day for over two years, it has a certain status and becomes your natural reference point.

The iPhone 4 and 4S feel SO heavy compared to the 5. That’s not to say that there is anything wrong with the previous design. After all, the previous models has a piece of glass as the back panel and the entire sides, top and bottom is a piece of stainless steel. Glass and stainless are quite a bit heavier than the aluminum that takes their place on the 5.

The 5 is also thinner. A good reference for size - the 5 is a thick as just the stainless steel ring/sides of the 4/ 4S. When I first saw it, I couldn’t help thinking that it looked like they had just pushed the display inside the frame. When holding it, the effect is dramatic. The 5 is 12% smaller, but it’s 20% lighter. Not proportianate. You can feel it.


I chose the black/slate model. This thing looks amazing and has a certain Stealth vibe. The buttons, screws, and even the pieces surrounding the headphone jack and lightning plug all have a matching matte black color. The transitions between glass and aluminum are pretty awesome. Fit and finish are exceptional. The Facetime camera is now centered above the speaker which makes more sense to me. Symmetry is good.

I wish it came with a black Lightning cable.

I do have one issue that many people have experienced over the past few weeks. The anodization on the back is pretty thin and it can get scratched easily. I’m usually pretty careful with my phone, and I’ve got a couple silver spots on the angled edges.

If I had known this before hand, I don’t know that I would have chosen the white model (which isn’t anodized and therefore, not susceptible to this type of scratching) as I really don’t like the white bezel next to the display. I’m thinking that the obvious solution would be for Apple to make a model with black Glass and a silver aluminum body. I’d have chosen that one if it were offered.


The camera on the iPhone 4 was great. The 4S was better, and the 5 is even better. It is an iterative update, but I can verify that it seems to have better exposure metering in normal light, and some drastic improvements in low light situations. Apple calls it Low light Boost Mode, but what’s really happening is a boost in ISO. If you know anything about photography, this makes perfect sense. For those that don’t, just know this- It takes better pictures in low-light. This has been one of the most common criticisms of the previous iPhone camera that I’ve seen in the past. Good move Apple.

The larger screen allows for a larger shutter button and more space for the still/video slider. This larger target is nice. Video playback just uses the whole screen now instead of letterboxing. Still photos are still the standard 3x4 size.

Panorama is something that you needed an app for in the past. Now it’s a built in feature and the implementation is better than anything I’ve seen on the app store. Instead of lining up each successive shot, you just start the camera and move it across the subject. It stitches the photos together quickly and results are pretty good.


[This section already appeared in part a couple weeks ago in another post.]

Though it isn’t the most talked-about feature, in real-world use, the addition of LTE for data is a game changer. Although LTE has been available on other phones in other markets for a few months, the network was just turned on the Thursday before the new phone launched here in Portland. I am able to get download and upload speeds while I’m downtown near my office that are superior to the best connection I’ve ever had on my Comcast Broadband connection at home over wifi. Dude. There literally isn’t a wifi connection that I will likely come across that is faster than my data connection.

One side effect- My battery is draining a bit faster than I’m used to because I’m doing things that just weren’t possible before. Better get another Lightning cable.

Hardware Speed

Though it would be easy to assume that data is the main difference, I’m noticing that the hardware is also significantly more capable. Apps are faster to open, camera opens faster, and web rendering is lighting fast. This morning before leaving the house, it crossed my mind that I didn’t have a lot of music as I hadn’t ever plugged into my Mac. I pulled up the iTunes store, and selected around 100 tracks to download from my purchased list. I figured that whatever didn’t get loaded over wifi would trickle in throughout the day over data. I was wrong. All of those songs were loaded and ready to go within 7 minutes. Keep in mind that this is the same wifi router and know that I expected it to take 30 minutes or so because of the limitations of the hardware.

I really love the speed. I don’t even consider whether my iPhone will actually open the video, or site because of its size or bandwidth requirements. Done.


Every iPhone I’ve had has had decent reception here in Portland. Occasionally, I’ve dropped calls in the elevators in my building, or a call won’t go through the first time and I’ve had troubles when visiting family in more remote locations, but these are pretty common problems from what I’ve seen. With the iPhone 5 I’m noticing less problems with connecting calls or with dropped calls. No Antennagate this time around either. Seems to work pretty well in the elevators too.

Larger Display

Perhaps the biggest change is the new 4 inch screen. I’ve heard quite a few people say that the screen is longer and narrower. Not true. The new screen is just a tad longer than the previous models, but the width is the same. It can be a tad deceiving as the longer screen makes it feel kind of skinny, but once you turn it on the size difference is obvious. There is just enough room for another row of app icons.

Many apps have already updated their designs to take advantage of the extra screen real estate, but there are still quite a few that haven’t. It makes a pretty big difference in apps that display information in a scrolling list style like Facebook, Tweetbot, Mail, and just about any reading app.

Some apps have added new information to the display. The new built-in weather app is a good example. They added a daily forecast right into the main view which makes the app a lot better in my opinion.

As I was writing this, I looked through about 20 apps on my phone and only found 5 that were updated. That will change over the coming months, but in the meantime, black bars on each end of the screen is something to get used to.

Richer Display

I didn’t really expect to be as impressed with the new phone’s screen as I am. I knew that Apple was claiming better saturation, but that’s not the only thing that’s new. Apple is using a new process for sandwiching all the touch sensitive components in there and it makes a big difference. From what I’ve gathered, the touch sensitive layer is bonded right to the glass this time. What that means is that the actual pixels feel like they are right on the glass.

The iPhone 4 felt like a huge step forward in this same way, but things always get better. The surface presence of the pixels on the iPhone 5 makes the iPhone 4 and 4S feel like you are looking through a huge slab of glass.

The color difference feels best summed up by saying that the blacks feel twice as deep as on the 4S. On previous models, black always had a bit of a backlit presence, but not so much on the 5. This does wonders for the saturation and contrast of anything you look at on your iPhone.

Both of these new improvements seem to make the biggest difference to me when reading text. We are one step closer to the resolution of glossy magazine print.


Basically, the iPhone 5 is a major step forward all the way around.

Design, Connectivity, User Interface, Size

If you are a fan of the iPhone in any of its previous iterations, this new version will please you. If you have been holding out waiting for LTE, a bigger screen or the end of a contract, I can safely say that now is a good time to jump in.

As I’ve already stated, I DO buy a new iPhone each time they update. Yes, it's true-  I'm a gadget nerd. I don’t recommend that everyone upgrade unless there is a new feature that is compelling to you but at this point, there isn’t much that isn’t  significantly better on the new model.

I love the way that Apple continues to move the iPhone forward in ways that just make so much sense.

So…if you upgrade, great. If not, there will likely be another great update in a year or so.