Every review of the iPhone 5 makes great efforts to talk about how light it is. I’ve read those reviews over and over again since Tuesday. Even so, when taking my iPhone 5 out of the box for the first time, I so misjudged the weight that it went flying from my fingers and onto the floor. This is lightness to the point of ephemerability. It’s so hard to believe, and yet it’s testament to the iPhone 5’s construction that such a thin slate of glass and aluminum doesn’t break apart between your fingers like a communion wafer when you touch it, let alone when you — as I did — accidentally fling it across a room. But my iPhone 5 wasn’t even scratched.
This isn’t our review of the iPhone 5. Far from it: we’ll be posting an in-depth review first thing on Monday morning, once we’ve had a chance to put it through its paces in full. These are our first impressions, and let’s say it right off the bat: from the second it comes out of the box, the iPhone 5 seems like such a leap over the iPhone 4S that it’s like picking up your first MacBook Air after lugging around a lunky 2008 MacBook Pro for years. In a couple of years, Apple has improved the design of the iPhone 4/4S so much that the latter now seems absolutely antediluvian.
A device that is so light you can’t even feel it in your pocket, but packed with the most powerful mobile technology in the world
Let’s go back to the weight. Have you ever picked up an iPod touch at the Apple Store and compared it to your iPhone and said, “Man, I wish Apple could figure out how to cram the guts of a phone into something this thin and light?” The iPhone 5 is the culmination of that dream: a device that is so light you can’t even feel it in your pocket, but packed with the most powerful mobile technology in the world. A no-compromise device that eschews heft and bulk while seemingly giving up nothing.
Reviewing a device and saying it “feels great in the hand” is such a cop-out, yet it’s true: the iPhone 5 feels wonderful. It’s light, but it has a wonderful balance to it. Something delicate, but not fragile. The aluminum back similarly feels great in the hand, with just a hint of that slightly staticky abrasiveness that makes a MacBook or an iPod feel so pleasant to the touch.
The new Lightning dock connector is tiny. You probably knew that already, but it’s hard to describe just how button cute it is. The connector fits into the port with just the right amount of resistance: it’s incredibly satisfying in a way that plugging a 30-Pin dock connector into an iPhone or iPad has never been.
It’s strange, but in a lot of reviews, we’ve seen people say that the display is “no better than the one in the iPhone 4S, just taller.” That’s self-evident crap. When the iPhone 4 came out, the display was often described as like a living, glossy magazine print, but I always thought this was a bit disingenuous: especially when Apple started using better display technology in the new iPad and Retina MacBook Pro, it was clear that the iPhone’s colors were washed out in comparison. The iPhone 5 changes all that: at first blush, icons look so good on the screen that they almost seem to rest upon the glass, not under it.
At first blush, icons on the iPhone 5 look so good on the screen that they almost seem to rest upon the glass, not under it.
Speaking of the longer display, it does feel different, and letterboxing of unsupported apps just sucks. It’s incredibly irritating to have to hold your iPhone one way to enter text in an app optimized for the iPhone 5, and to hold it about half an inch up to enter text in one that hasn’t been. This is all in portrait mode: in landscape mode, things feel a little more normal to me. Widescreen videos look great on the iPhone 5, and it’s nice to see the letterboxes go; likewise, it’s great to have more apps on every screen, and more space to cram apps into every folder. Still, I can’t quite shake the feeling that the real reason the iPhone 5’s display is longer is to help isolate the LTE antenna, which is a notorious issue for smartphone designers.
As for LTE, it’s blinding fast, better than many WiFi networks, but if you have the third-gen iPad, you already know that. We haven’t noticed any real difference in speaker quality, although shots from the camera look marginally better (and quite a bit better in low-light).
Speed-wise, the iPhone 5’s A6 processor feels a bit speedier and snappier than the iPhone 4S, but don’t expect apps to load instantaneously or anything. We’re pleased with the speed increase, but at first blush, it’s not as revolutionary as the design change.
Which brings us back to the iPhone 5’s design. The two-toned new glass-and-aluminum design is something that a lot of people have wondered about even after viewing pictures online. To me, it always looked a little weird. In person, though, it just looks beautiful. Pictures don’t really convey how much the subtle gradient between the two colors (black and slate, white and silver) and two materials (glass and aluminum) really work. It is a beautiful design.
Pictures don’t really convey how much the subtle gradient between the two colors (black and slate, white and silver) and two materials (glass and aluminum) in the iPhone 5 really work.
We’ll have more thoughts up as we have them, and our comprehensive full review will be posted Monday, so keep in mind that I could very well go back on all of this then, once I’ve had a chance to put the iPhone 5 through its paces. For right now, I can say this: while I’ve fallen in love at first blush with every iPhone I’ve ever had, and while the iPhone 5 might, under scrutiny, not quite be as perfect a device as it first appears, this doesn’t just come across as another incremental iPhone redesign. It comes across as the iPhone’s ideal Platonic form. If you thought the iPhone 5 announcement was a disappointment, all you need to do is hold this phone in your hands to realize what a cynic you were being. How can Apple possibly top this in two years’ time? How can the competition?