iPhone 5 Review From An Androidholic: The Good, The Bad and the Scratches
I've had the recent opportunity to work with an iPhone 5, Apple's current flagship handset. As a serious Android user I thought I would take time to review this device from the view of an Android user, but trying to be fair to the device. It's very expensive, it feels very solidly made, it scratches with a stern look, but it's also a smartphone.
The iPhone 5 is the current Apple flagship handset, released in late 2012 and available in two versions (CDMA and GSM) each with three capacities (16, 32 and 64 GB) and two colors (“black & slate” or “white & silver”). The cell ‘phone introduced a couple of new technologies in an Apple handset, LTE and a 4.0″ screen, with the promise of no compromise in usability (including battery life). Meanwhile over in Android land, we've had these features for quite a while now – but Apple's claims boil down to how they have made the already perfect smartphone just that bit more perfect.
In the context of Android devices, the iPhone 5 fits somewhere in the mid to high end. It has a 1.2 GHz dual core processor and a high resolution 4.0″ screen. Apple's box specifications have been bested elsewhere, but what it says on the box is only a part of the story. In many respects it doesn't matter what the hardware numbers are, it's down to how the device works in the hands. With this in mind, let's take a look at the iPhone, starting with the design.
If you've used an older generation iPhone, the 5 is remarkably thin and light. I'm used to the Nexus 4 as my daily cell ‘phone and the iPhone 5 makes the Nexus look and feel huge. As I'll come on to, this is both a strength and a weakness. It's constructed out of a mix of painted metal and glass. Unfortunately, the painted metal is very easy to scratch and the black one I've been using is nearly new but already has plenty of nicks and scratches. It's been covered elsewhere and although it doesn't make a difference to how the device works, I'm still disappointed at how cosmetically fragile the iPhone 5 is. It's not as though Apple's cases are especially protective or inexpensive, either.
The iPhone 5 has the ringer mute switch and volume buttons along the left hand edge of the handset and the power / lock key on the top right. The bottom houses the Lightning connector and headphone socket. The 5 comes with 2G, 3G and LTE radios, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth but no NFC. There's an 8MP camera with flash on the back, another camera for video calling and the single home key on the front. Finally, the SIM tray sits on the right hand side of the device.
The new Lightning port takes the cable either way around and is as near as matters the same size as microUSB. I dislike manufacturers' own charger and data port solutions: Apple should have put the microUSB port on the iPhone 5. Something else that Apple did differently is the introduction of the nanoSIM, which is an environmental mess because it means old SIM cards cannot be reused (this is the reason why the device I've been using has been put into airplane mode). Some carriers charge for a replacement SIM card. Between this and the case situation, the iPhone 5 is getting even more expensive.
The new iPhone is the same width as older iPhones; it's larger because it's been made taller. At first, the handset feels oddly proportioned but you soon get used to it. It is remarkably thin and light. Older iPhones could fit twenty icons on the home screen (including the four locked into position at the bottom) and the new model has space for an extra row of four. For web browsing, it can help to see more on the screen but because it's the same width, it doesn't always make websites any easier to use unless you put the handset into landscape mode. Overall, it's an improvement but it feels half hearted compared with the Nexus 4. Still, the screen itself is absolutely beautiful with strong brightness and color.
Let me move on to software with a bias towards productivity. Hopefully, you'll forgive me for going on at length here, but there are some fundamental differences between the iPhone and Android devices.
In use, the iPhone is fast, fluid and consistent in use. It's this smoothness that Google were aiming for with the introduction of Android Jelly Bean and it's very pleasing to use. Also, the iPhone is very much like a Google Nexus product: when you get the device, it comes with a core selection of Apple applications and you need to add your own apps, accounts and services. I like this approach as it means your device isn't loaded up with so many useless
applications that you're not going to use.
Apple's core applications are competent but unexciting. They include the Safari browser, Mail, Messaging, plus the expected calculator, calendar, contacts and notes applications. Apple's browser, Safari, is fast, renders accurately and can synchronize bookmarks with your Apple iCloud account. The Apple Mail application works well with just about every email account and the contacts, calendar and note applications work well too. The iPhone 5 also comes with Siri, Apple's digital assistant, which is good to argue with (grin). I don't find Siri all that useful until I'm driving and the iPhone is connected to my hands free kit, when I use it to send messages on my behalf. The iPhone also ships with other apps including Apple Maps, Newstand, Passbook, Game Centre, Stocks and Compass: some of these are less useful than others!
Apple's text editing interface is excellent. You can select, copy, paste and change where the cursor is with a combination of taps, double taps and holding down on the screen. This is one of my favourite features of the iPhone and it has been included in iOS for several years now. If you want to use the iPhone with a wireless keyboard, iOS supports this too.
When it comes to third party applications, you must use Apple's App Store (iTunes) unless you're prepared to hack the device. There's a huge number of applications available and whilst many are free, if you look closely enough you'll spot that some applications are premium titles for the iPhone but are free on Android. There are some structural reasons for this and the difference for most people should only be a few bucks at most because productivity application prices are comparable between iOS and Android. Dropbox is free, Documents-to-Go costs there or thereabouts the same as you'll find it in the Google Play Store. One very important point to consider is that if you add a third party web browser or email client, the handset will default to using the standard Apple apps; you are not able to use the Chrome browser to open a link from an email, it will take you to Safari.
It is difficult for me to comment on the iPhone 5's battery life as I had to use mine without a SIM, but testing over Wi-Fi it's comparable to my Android devices. The 5 has a relatively small 1,440 mAh battery but the operating system is designed for efficiency. I see few complaints about battery life from iPhone 5 users, but a lot of customers plug their iPhone in at absolutely every opportunity.
The last thing to consider for productivity purposes is the screen size of the device and here, the iPhone stumbles. That beautiful, sharp screen is quite a narrow profile 4.0″ in size (across the diagonal). Because the screen is so sharp, the device can render text in a very small font, which means that some web pages are difficult to read without lots of zooming, scrolling or putting the device into landscape mode. The iPhone makes harder work of some web sites compared with Android devices with a similar size screen but a lower resolution, such as the Samsung Galaxy S III Mini or Sony Xperia J. When it comes to rendering complicated sites, the 5 is fast. It's nearly as fast as my Nexus 4 or HTC One S. It's a similar story when it comes to opening large and complicated documents; the iPhone 5 is only a little slower than the Nexus 4 or HTC One S, but it's significantly quicker than the Xperia J or Galaxy S III Mini. The speed difference between the high end devices is not noticeable unless you put the devices side by side.
For productivity purposes, the iPhone 5 scores highly. The screen can be something of a handicap, even compared with Android devices with a similar sized display, but one trick I recommend is to look for an application so that you don't have to use the website. That's okay because Apple's App Store is very well populated, there really is an app for that. The iPhone 5 also offers solid battery life, a good keyboard and it's fast and fluid. It is expensive smartphone and I am not convinced that it is worth the premium, but against the odds, overall I like the device. I'm British, so the term that springs to mind is, “quite a fine device.”
There's a “but” coming…
At this point, I'm aware that I am moving from an Android device to an iOS handset, where I am used to the flexibility of Android compared with iOS. If you're reading this article because you are considering switching from Android to iOS, I've some more observations that may help your transition.
By way of background, something Apple fans often say is that Apple products “just work.” This is simply not true. My day job shows me that the iPhone has many common set up and configuration issues. If a certain email account does not automagically set itself up on one device, it will likely not set itself up on the iPhone 5. Unfortunately, Apple have designed their software not to show the user any warning messages that might help resolve the issue. I've a couple of good examples and the first occurs when moving from an Android device to an iOS device: getting your Gmail account to synchronize with the iPhone.
You see, it is easy to add your Gmail account using the email wizard: pick the Gmail option, provide your credentials and the iPhone will set it up. However, this will only synchronize your Gmail, calendar and notes and it does not support push, so you have to use a regular poll. This is frustrating because push is generally better than regular poll. Worse, there's no clue given how to get your contacts onto the device. As I write, there are two easy ways to synchronize your contacts: you can set up Gmail to use the Microsoft Exchange protocol (only until the end of July 2013) or use the CardDav protocol. Apple do not provide any on-device guidance for either of these two methods and the user is left to go figure. A quick search of Google will provide you with the settings you need because entering your credentials into the account section of the iPhone does not help… if you decide to use the Exchange process, sometimes the iPhone will refuse to recognise your (correct) password for a period of several days or weeks. Thanks, Apple!
Another weakness of iOS is that it is impossible to change the default service for certain actions. If you install another web browser or email client and you try to send a document via email, the iPhone uses the default mail application. If you click on a link it loads the standard web browser and not the third party one you might have installed. This is especially frustrating given how well Google's Chrome and Gmail applications look and work on iOS!
However, the above default application issue can cause other problems. I have experienced an unusual issue whereby when I tried to connect Documents-to-Go with my Dropbox account, the application hung when I provided my credentials. This was caused by having the Dropbox app already set up on the iPhone; Documents-to-Go called up the Dropbox app to allow access, but the app is unable to understand what is required of it and whilst it doesn't crash, it cannot proceed with the request. It does not provide the user with an error message… The solution is to uninstall Dropbox, re-configure Documents-to-Go, then if wanted, reinstall Dropbox. It is not an insurmountable problem but shows a certain inelegance.
Ultimately, I've helped clients through the transition both ways. Android and iOS have their own quirks, inefficiencies and stumbling blocks. I would love to see an iPhone the size of the Nexus 4 and I would also love to see Android running on the iPhone 5!