iPhone 5: How Can Apple Possibly Top This? [First Impression]

iPhone 5: How Can Apple Possibly Top This? [First Impression]

Holy crap.

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?

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  • Complexity Staff

    It’s crazy. My jaw was dropping when I opened the box and picked up the iPhone 5.

    Photos and videos can’t do this thing justice.. you have to hold it.

    Amazing.

  • FriarNurgle

    Mine isn’t scheduled for delivery till Oct 2nd but a buddy at work went home and got his during lunch. The weight or lack there of is utterly amazing.

  • seanymac81

    I agree completely its an experience on its own to hold and feel the weight of this iPhone. Really so light I’ve forgotten its in my pocket at times. Brilliant kit!

  • skfalco

    Keep the good objective work john love your reviews even tho i am an android fan! always the big apple has something

  • ddevito

    Apple can top it by improving iOS. Outdated OS doesn’t do it justice

  • ddevito

    TheVerge:

    “Maybe you’ll call me an Android fanboy for saying this, or maybe it’s because much of my business utilizes Google apps and its communication tools, but it didn’t take me very long with the iPhone 5 to start thinking about getting back to the Galaxy Nexus and Jelly Bean (Android 4.1). For what I do, I think it’s a more effective, more elegant, and more powerful OS right now. What it may lack in polish and consistency, it makes up for in power and flexibility.”

  • ddevito

    TheVerge:

    “Maybe you’ll call me an Android fanboy for saying this, or maybe it’s because much of my business utilizes Google apps and its communication tools, but it didn’t take me very long with the iPhone 5 to start thinking about getting back to the Galaxy Nexus and Jelly Bean (Android 4.1). For what I do, I think it’s a more effective, more elegant, and more powerful OS right now. What it may lack in polish and consistency, it makes up for in power and flexibility.”

    http://www.theverge.com/2012/9/21/3363238/iphone-5-review

  • richphoto

    I am mostly thrilled with the speed of it, however the design is amazing. I waited since the 4 to get the 5 and it was really dragging in speed or apps etc. Interestingly the signal for AT&T on both phones 3g seem to have the same bars, I was hopeful the new antenna design would boost this, however I have not yet tried a call, the call quality could be much better.

  • ddevito

    TheVerge:

    “But there’s also another segment of the market, of which I consider myself a part. That segment thinks that there’s still a lot of work to be done in mobile devices; still a lot of innovation to come. And that’s not innovation for the sake of innovation. I mean real innovation in the way we use our phones, in the flexibility of those operating systems, in how those devices become an extension of ourselves. For that segment, I think the iPhone 5 and iOS 6 fall short. There’s a lot more work to be done, but right now Apple seems to be in a holding pattern, too comfortable or too scared to take real chances.”

  • Tkf530

    Give it an FM radio!

  • JoachimArt

    lets hope they top the iphone with a fresh new imac soon with the same TLC production quality.

  • RadTech5000

    Apple’s doing an amazingly good job meeting everyone’s expectations and even going far beyond them in the iPhone 5 case. No other company in the world is doing this and I believe it will only get better. All I can say is it’s a darn good time to be alive! :)

  • wchoreo

    The beta test continues…Siri (still not complete), Passbook (You gotta wait till companies sign on) and Maps(Need I say any more? Keep testing my friends.

  • BigLama

    let me just say that the instant i picked it up. i had to make sure the phone turned on!! i couldnt believe how light it was!!! its incredible!! and the screen! i couldnt believe that you could upgrade on the retina but apple sure did. The saturate makes everything on the screen seems so vivid
    Good work apple!!!

  • wchoreo

    John, maybe they won’t top it. There’s not a lot of innovation here, iOS 6 is old and stale and things are still in beta: Siri, Passbook and Maps, it seems everyone took a vacation and checked in once in a while to see if it was time to take the turkey out of the oven.

  • Bob Smogango

    I can why some would want the iPhone 5 sized screen and I can also see why one would want a 5 inch sized screen. I think Apple should step it up a notch and off two sizes of top end iPhones to go after the two distinct markets. Obviously a case can be made for either size from a user standpoint.

  • stephenminton

    I did the exact same thing – dropped it as soon as I took it out of the box; I thought I was just clumsy, but now you mention it, it probably is because I misjudged the weight…..it’s crazy how light this phone is. It feels like there’s nothing inside it.

  • Timo Pitkäranta

    So what you are saying Apple has basically done no new innovations at all. Apple made the phone lighter? Jesus Christ. This is the first iPhone which does not break when dropped? That should be taken granted when handling mobile devices. I guess the phone still does not work below freezing. Apple has insane amount of apps in the Appstore, but how about its mapping software, the one which is one of the most important apps you use on a daily basis? Well it’s totally useless. The new dock connector makes all the old devices obsolete without adapter, how convenient. How can the competition top this you say. That should not be a big problem when Apple keeps on doing nothing new, and keeping the money instead of using it on R&D.

    Lots ado about nothing, I’m going to buy Lumia 920 instead.

  • aLoopFan

    I thought I was the only one…crazy light!

  • MrsCleaver

    Actually, there IS one way Apple could have topped it, and that would be… to literally, “top” it by securing the phone in the box.

    Glad I was sitting in a chair when I opened mine. The suction from the box having never been opened was just enough to make the phone–which is not secured in the box in anyway–to fly off onto my lap and slide off onto the floor (carpeted!). Had I been standing… as in an Apple store, the phone would have crashed to the ground.

    If you’ve opened an iPhone 5, you know it is sitting RIGHT on top, nestled into it’s opening by only half it’s depth. One tip to the left or right and the phone slips out. A small band on opposing corners… or ANYTHING to secure it, would have been nice.

    Otherwise, great all around!

  • James Groom

    Loving the new iPhone i picked it up on Friday not waiting in line or ordering online and it was all mine.

    The weight was a real shock the difference was huge I could feel it in my hand up to my ear and just holding it apart from the iPhone 4 that I gave to my mum was a little heavier.

    The camera is amazing especially taking a Panorama picture at the beach it was just beautiful to look at.

    The earpods have great sound quality although they don’t sit in my ears too well but still the sound that come out of these are amazing.

    With the weight difference i almost dropped it glad i caught it even though it has a case on it.

  • wchoreo

    iPhone 5: How Can Apple Possibly Top This?
    Make a good phone next time around!

  • Tallest_Skil

    iPhone 5: How Can Apple Possibly Top This?
    Make a good phone next time around!

    Calling you stupid would be an insult to genuinely unintelligent people.

  • Overthe Wires

    Honestly everything you wrote we’re my exact impressions. A few of my friends also picked up on launch day all of us being both android users and apple users. Just lovers of tech ology. We all were totally blown away by this device. I’ve owned the iPhone since the very first one. Any leaks or pictures serve it absolutely no justice at all. When you see it in person and hold it you know right then and there you are holding the best iPhone they’ve made and you can arguably say the best smartphone ever designed. It’s the perfect weight balance. The screen looks so phenomenal. It’s much brighter than the 4S. It has richer and deeper colors. Greens pop, blues pop. That layer being gone did so much more for the display. I always kept my old iPhones at full brightness but this one it is not needed. It’s super bright. The design is just amazing. So thin. The bigger display just feels right. I love that I can still use one hand to operate the phone. Which I think is and always will be why people love iPhone. A large amount of the apps I use are already optimized for the screen. It’s such a big difference yet it’s so subtle that it doesn’t feel odd. It feels excellent in the hand. As I got to using for a few days and put it to tests I found the battery life to be incredible all around. Heavy use LTE in full effect calls, texts, I lasted more than a day. By the time I needed a charge it was already bed time. But one of the biggest things I noticed was how a,a singly fast lightning is at charging the phone. It’s major feature for me. Software speed wise I found it to be snappy. The 4s was no slouch but the overall experience is zippier. Speaker quality is great, audio quality is always top tier with apple, and call quality is outstanding. The only weird thing I’ve noticed and a few others have also is a few second delay when receiving calls. I found the camera to be much more crisp than the 4S. The 4S has a great one but the iPhone 5s camera is unbelievable, especially in low light. In pitch black you can get a crystal clear photo. A lot of people I see on Cnet or Forbes for some reason keep saying the iPhone is playing catchup. In what way I don’t know. When you look at the breakdowns of the display by display wizards and calibration geeks its the gold standard, when the benchmarks blow all competition out of the water, and when this is the first LTE phone with a long lasting battery I just can’t see much on the market that is better. Add the amazing build quality, the incredible top tier design, I mean nothing tops it. The only reason you would say otherwise or not get this phone is because you quite simply hate apple. Why you would hate a company that continues to push entire industries forward is beyond me, but to each his own! If you got one enjoy it. I love it. The ultimate digital device.

  • Overthe Wires

    I also wanted to add what apple has done since the beginning with their products is make them feel like an extension of the self. Designed like an instrument. When you get an apple product it’s the same feeling of getting that dream bass or guitar you always wanted. They design their devices like instruments.

  • Overthe Wires

    iPhone 5: How Can Apple Possibly Top This?
    Make a good phone next time around!

    Hahahaha. I swear where do these people comes from? I’d just love to meet them I. Person to see what type they are. Regardless, this person has his head up his ass. First of all I’m sure he doesn’t own the phone or has even touched it to even make such a statement. I’m sure he hates apple to be super oozing cool as if that’s actually the cool thing to be. When every top tech reviewing site gave it stellar reviews, when every benchmark shows it blowing the competition away it’s safe to say no one with a semi intelligent brain would listen to this guys opinion. I’m sure that holds true to people he knows in real life. He’s most likely the guy that everyone laughs at.

  • Overthe Wires

    So what you are saying Apple has basically done no new innovations at all. Apple made the phone lighter? Jesus Christ. This is the first iPhone which does not break when dropped? That should be taken granted when handling mobile devices. I guess the phone still does not work below freezing. Apple has insane amount of apps in the Appstore, but how about its mapping software, the one which is one of the most important apps you use on a daily basis? Well it’s totally useless. The new dock connector makes all the old devices obsolete without adapter, how convenient. How can the competition top this you say. That should not be a big problem when Apple keeps on doing nothing new, and keeping the money instead of using it on R&D.

    Lots ado about nothing, I’m going to buy Lumia 920 instead.

    Ahhhaha. Well have fun with that thing and its fake pictures and all. Please, what would you know about innovation or engineering. All display wizards and calibration experts are writing that the iPhone 5 has the rest and most accurate display ever shipped on a phone. It’s design and build are like no other in the industry. It’s software and desktop class applications have yet to be matched. All benchmark tests have shown that this phone blows the competition away and moon walks all over it. Massive innovation went on here. If you are that blind I feel sorry for you and your limited idea of what innovation is. But hey enjoy that plastic phone with its silly no app having operating system that will never catch market share because its inferior to the other offerings. Maps on the iPhone is going to get good when it collects user data. Lets be real google maps 1.0 was horrible. It’s only become what it is in the last few years. Even still apples turn by turn works flawless. The maps issue is blown out of proportion by jack ass bloggers dying for readership. The competition can’t top this. Why? Because they continue to use horrible hardware, specs that don’t keep up to iPhone 4, horrible inaccurate display technology, no desktop class apps, and no care for the consumer. Now remind me why are you on this website? Go lurk on some windows phone site man! Apple doesn’t want you anyway. Your far to stupid to be part of the group. The type that I would kick as hard as I can directly in the ass hole with a steal toe boot out the door.

About the author

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his girlfriend and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

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