Apple iPhone5 Review: Special Edition of Random Thoughts

number 5, five, 5, abstract numberBy Alex Salomon
So it’s official: on Friday morning, bright and early, my wife and I snatched Apple iPhone5 32GB #3 (Black, hers) & #4 (White, mine) smartphones in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. We arrived early, camped out in front of the store from about 7AM and got the phones by 9 AM. She was upgrading a 4S, I was upgrading a 4 (& a 3GS that I still was using as an iTouch). So far, none of this tale is exciting nor fresh, but bear with me!

See, I self-qualify as a phone geek; a nerd, dork, weirdo phone guy. I work with, lead, and guide programmers/assemblers to use smart phones as readers for temperature labels, temperature recorders and other data loggers. And I have been working on NFC (Near Field Communication) and other protocols for quite a few years (see my bio). So, I have the joy of interacting with uber-geeks and then, in turn, trying to convince small and large customers to embrace the transition from using PCs to smartphones!

In this context, I simply collect phones! I have had countless Nokias, Blackberries and currently own and use the following devices:
Nexus S (unlocked, unrooted), Galaxy Nexus “Prime” (unlocked, unrooted), iPhone 4, Galaxy S2 (EU version, unlocked, rooted), Blackberry 9930 (mostly for international tasks and NFC), HTC Evo 4G (unlocked, unrooted), Sony Xperia S (standard) and the brand new iPhone 5 (Sprint).

I have played extensively with the Galaxy S3 and the new Razr M… while drooling at the anticipation of the Razr HD (arguably my next victim!).

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Don’t get me wrong: I am not a professional reviewer and sometimes, I think I know much more than I actually do, so I have bricked a fair amount of phones (almost bricked my brand new iPhone5 this morning!). Therefore I am not going to bore you with professional details or specs or hardware!!

But I do want to establish that I use the phones. I abuse them, even. I have countless international SIMs, I text, email, exchange, use apps, discard them faster than I use them.

So, without further ado, here is my personal review of the iPhone 5… with plenty of random thoughts and insights:

1. As mentioned earlier on Twitter when I use the iPhone outdoors with polarized sunglasses and bright natural light, the screen becomes blurry (by a large factor of discomfort) – more so than with the Nexus and Galaxy Nexus. I wonder if it is due to the retina display? Either way, the fact remains: to read and browse outdoors can be difficult with polarized sunglasses.

2. I have found the maps app to be perfectly OK. I have read about the bugs and everything else, but I have no complaints. So just like many users won’t need sunglasses making my first point moot to them, all the hoopla on the maps app is, well, moot to me!

3. So far, my battery life is draining fast and furious. I googled it and found this thread and I do suspect it is a software issue (I had restored an old backup from the iPhone4). I just recently restored the phone (remember how I almost bricked it?!?!) and the battery seems to be draining “normally” (ie., in line with Apple’s propaganda).

Regardless, for a monster user, the locked in battery is always an issue and a negative. I am also worried that the “older backup drainage” is going to be a common issue — let’s see if we hear noise about this!

4. Hardware and experience-wise, the iPhone5 is an upgrade compared to my iPhone 4. However, it is only a very modest upgrade compared to my wife’s iPhone 4S. Despite all the Apple propaganda, it just does not pack that much more punch. This upgrade is a no-brainer for 2 generations removed. It is a no-brainer for 4S if you have 4G-LTE availability.

But then, here is the rub: if you have 4G-LTE, you just need to upgrade to unleash the speed and power — not necessarily with an iPhone5!
(we’ll be in California all next week so I will be burning that 4G speed!)

5. Pound for pound, punch for punch, gadget for gadget, the iPhone5 is weaker than the Samsung S3 and the Razr M. I can bore you to death or you can believe me!

Without NFC (yes, I sell and work with NFC for a living so I am slightly biased), without unlocked features and support, and without widgets, the iPhone5 is plain vanilla and bit boring.

If you enjoy the Android eco-system, you’ll enjoy the widgets, the new gadgets, the removable batteries, the NFC (yes, the NFC!), the free dongle, the customizable backs and sleeves, and the better keyboard options… so for those folks, it is a no-brainer: the iPhone 5 is not the best phone out there. It just isn’t!

6. Also voice for voice, Siri is OK and improving. But Google’s voice recognition is FAR BETTER. You have to use both to understand, but Google’s server version is better.

Again, I am biased. I use the voice recognition to voice-type emails in English, French, Spanish. I also try, but tend to butcher Portuguese. Google’s voice recognition picks up and understands all my weird accents (haccents, really) and gets me. Siri and I are not even dating yet. That is a big difference.

7. I am continuously mesmerized that independent, mostly pro-bono geeks put out amazing ROMs and variations on the Android ecosystem — as well as jailbreaking for the iPhone. And I am continuously amazed that plain vanilla user interfaces are so boring, so restricted, so … plain vanilla. There again, Droid phones free their users, while the iPhone cages them!

8. Another drawback is the camera functions. The camera itself is great and the pictures are super crisp. But the standard camera app. is so poor and offers so few options, it is laughable. The S3 camera functions are amazing. That is one area where I can sense that Apple would have to copy Samsung to be better!
(please comment or tweet me your best iPhone camera app… no instagram, please!).

9. Small hands vs. larger hands… OK, this one is completely subjective!! My wife loves the smaller iPhones format. She hated the enlarged Nexus and Galaxy devices because she couldn’t quite fit one hand around the phone to type and use her thumbs. The narrower iPhones (4, 4S, 5) all score big in this category.

10. The weight, shape, styles are top notch. Impressively so. Nothing to compare, really: the phone is the easiest to lodge in my pockets. Simple as that.

11. The speakerphones are really impressive and nice. Also simple as that. They are powerful enough to listen to a spoken podcast (not a song) under the shower. That is a BIG DEAL!!

Okay, so all in all: an amazing design, great sound, and tons of apps versus pedestrian upgrades and features with limited options (battery, feel, look, gadgets).

So, in the great words of a U2 song, “where is the love?” And that, all of that, comes from the stunning, chaining, and jailing Apple eco-system. In our house, we use Macs, iPads, iTV, iPhones and we are completely and utterly “Mac-ified.” The seamless sharing of calendars, notes, appointments, pictures is amazing.
For any active family, the ability to link calendars (yes, there is Cozi for Droid… but it is not the same!), to share notes, and to use the Apple products throughout the house makes it a rewarding, intoxicating, and addictive experience.

The iMessaging, the iPhone locator, the photo streaming, and the wireless sync-ing of several libraries are far superior to any HTC Sync, any Droid + Windows experience. It just does not even compare!!

But, all in all, I really think this sums it up: the iPhone is not the better “phone.”

Apple became “lazy” on the phone: it makes the best laptops (and arguably still the best tablets) but no longer the best phone. BUT, it is no doubt saved by the user experience and ecosystem which are far superior to anything else. The Apple Universe is an amazing experience (maybe it will peak soon, but then again, maybe not).

That is the “Magic:” the hardware has become second to the experience, to the user interaction. And in that respect, Apple is the best — even if only with “just a solid, good phone.”


Twitter:  @alex__salomon   @seeitmarket     Facebook:  See It Market

Any opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views or opinions of any other person or entity.