Design & Feel
A lot has already been said about how thin and light the iPhone 5 is, but it really can’t be overstated. The iPhone 5 is so light, you won’t even believe it’s a phone at first. It’s practically ephemeral.
Weighing just one hundred and twelve grams, the iPhone 5 is lighter than the iPod touch was just two years ago. To me, that’s just a marvel: I remember back in 2010 picking up an iPod touch and wondering if Apple would ever be able to make an iPhone that felt this good in the hand. Now they have, and it’s just incredible. The device is so light that the first time I picked up my new iPhone 5 out of its box, I ended up pulling at it too hard and spastically hurling it across the room. The iPhone 5 makes the iPhone 4S feel like a lump of dark matter.
The iPhone 5 makes the iPhone 4S feel like a lump of dark matter.
Likewise, the iPhone 5 is improbably thin. Although it’s by no means the thinnest smartphone out there, it’s markedly less fat than the iPhone 4S. From the side, the iPhone 4S was an antenna sandwiched between two thick panes of glass: the iPhone 5 is just the antenna.
The impact is profound. My girlfriend put it best when she compared the feel of the iPhone 5 in her hand with the iPhone 4S I’d just handed down to her: “This is like picking up your first MacBook Air after lugging around a MacBook Pro for years.”
One of the things that really impresses about the iPhone 5, though, is how well balanced it is. Although it is incredibly thin and light, the device feels evenly weighted at every point. It’s an easy to overlook thing, but it makes the iPhone 5 feel just incredible in the hand: solid and substantial despite its lightness.
The iPhone 5 is like picking up a MacBook Air after lugging around a MacBook Pro for years.
The iPhone 5 trades in the iPhone 4S’s glass backplate for a two-toned aluminum back. There are a lot of practical advantages to this approach, not least of which is strength, but what was less clear to me before I actually had an iPhone 5 in my hands was whether or not I liked the new look.
It turns out, I do. Very much. I like my iPads black and my iPhones white, so I ordered the white-and-silver iPhone 5. This was a harder decision to make than in the past, because in photographs, something looked a little off to me about the white iPhone 5, especially compared to the sleek, stealthy black model. Luckily, this was illusory: while perhaps not as photogenic on the web, the white iPhone 5 is a creature of grace to the black model’s Dark Knight.
As for the aluminum, I’m glad to see it come back to the iPhone 5. I always loved the way the original iPhone felt in your hand. Aluminum is just a pleasant thing to touch: the way it warms up in contact with your skin, the slight thrill of abrasion as you stroke its invisible static field. That it’s tough is just another benefit: with the iPhone 4, you pretty much had to use a case, because it could be cracked from dropping on both the screen and the back. Between the new, tougher Gorilla Glass used in the iPhone 5 and the aluminum unibody construction, the iPhone 5 was clearly designed to be used without one.
But can it be? It’s too early to tell, but some early reports suggest that the aluminum back of the iPhone 5 is easily susceptible to scratching. I think these fears may be blown out of proportion. I tend to sloppily cram my phone into my pocket with my keys, and the first time I did so with the iPhone 5, I was horrified to see a scratch on the back when I pulled it out of my pocket. It turned out to be a lot of panic over nothing: I was able to buff it out simply by rubbing it with my thumb a few times. I noticed a similar effect in the chassis of the Retina MacBook Pro, and can only speculate that Apple is using some sort of anti-scratching technology in their unibody process.
Time will tell if the iPhone 5 can really be used without a case or not. What is for sure, though, is you won’t want to use one. It seems a crime to take a design marvel like the iPhone 5 — a device so thin and light and well balanced and so pleasing to feel — and put it in a sarcophagus. In the Museum of the Touch, the iPhone 5 is a Michelangelo.
In the Museum of the Touch, the iPhone 5 is a Michelangelo.