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Living with the iPhone 5 – Should you Upgrade?

Published by on Jan 7th, 2013, 28 Comments

The iPhone is always a difficult phone to review, because by the time it reaches South Africa, interested people have already read everything they need to know about the phone. This time around South Africa got the iPhone quite late compared to previous years, and we were all too pleased when an iPhone 5 finally got delivered to us on launch day by Vodacom. First off, we did not want to rush a quick review of the device. We basically wanted to know one thing – is it still the gold standard in the smartphone world? And that meant spending a few weeks with it.

The looks:

At first glance the iPhone 5 is not a massive departure from the iPhone 4 and 4S – it uses the same metal and glass design which really does feel better than any other smartphone out there. But this time the outside rim and back plate is made with a single piece of aluminium, much like the designs Apple uses on their Macs. Unlike the previous model, the two colours are actually very different – Apple has gone for a black/slate design, and a white/silver combo.

The white version takes the “Mac” look a little further with silver aluminium, where as the black version is definitely more striking. They might as well have called it “obsidian” – it looks dark and shiny, with a subtle dark blue tint. But the most striking aspect of the phone is how light it feels – despite being larger in volume than the previous iPhone 4S, it is a good deal lighter. In fact, it feels so light some people are complaining that it feels fake…what a problem to have?

Choices, Choices:

We lived now with both colours for a while – we used them without cases, and tried not to babysit them too much. After these few weeks we have to recommend the white one – it just seems to wear better over time.

The black one got little silver scratches around the edges from just everyday use – so that lovely dark look quickly starts to look a little worn. We also found that the edge chipped off to show the raw aluminium underneath. Maybe Apple want to convinve us that the little scratches will look good over time – kind of like an old leather chair. However, we are not convinced at all. The simple truth is, that despite feeling great in hand, getting small scratches on a high end phone is just bad form by Apple. The good news is that in most cases you can actually touch up those scratches with a simple permanent marker.

The white model on the other hand still looks pristine. After a few weeks the only place on the phone that got a tiny scratch was the chromed Apple logo on the back.

In terms of storage size, we can now finally start recommending the larger models. In the past we always thought the 16GB model was more than enough for everyone. But with the better camera, 1080p video and overall growth in app sizes, we reckon the time has come for Apple to make the standard size 32GB. Maybe on the 5S/6?

That taller display:

iPhone users will find the latest model a joy to use – the slightly bigger screen gives a lot of apps some much needed extra screen real estate. Games have slightly wider views, and news apps can show a bit more text in a single page. We were also surprised to find that almost all of our apps were ready to use the larger resolution (unlike the switch to Retina which did take a long while). Apps that are not yet coded for the new screen simply get black letterboxing on the top and bottom of the screen. Not really noticeable on the black model, but on the white one it looks strange.

Unlike some supersized phones, the iPhone is still comfortable to hold and use with one hand. Reaching the top edge is starting to become a slight stretch though, but we can say it is still easy to use because the shape of the display has not gotten any wider. Apple has supposedly made some improvements with the display in terms of colour accuracy, but we could not notice any major improvement above the older iPhone 4 and 4S. Black levels are a little darker though.

We suspect some people might prefer a supersized phone after using the iPhone 5. While the screen is more comfortable to use, it definitely does not have the same “wow” effect as looking at a large screen like on the HTC One X or Samsung Galaxy S3.

Using the 4S afterwards feels like holding a little squat version of the phone, and truth be told, its not actually worse. Some people might even prefer it. You do get the sense that Apple just basically succumbed to the pressure of ever increasing screen sizes, without messing with the usability too much.

What else is new:

  • The camera is much improved. We were so impressed by the 4S camera a year ago. Since then the Nokia Lumia 920 arrived, but the iPhone 5 manages to keep up. Low light performance is excellent. The camera is very quick as well.
  • The phone feels a little faster in everything, as you might expect.
  • The iPhone 5 supports LTE networks, which as you might know is slowly rolling out in SA. The problem is that Apple controls the ability of the phone to connect to it, and right now Apple has not enabled phones in SA to connect to LTE.
  • Apple has retired the ubiquitous 30 pin connector, and replaced it with a “Lightning” connector. This means if you have iPod docks or car kits, you will need to buy adaptors or extra cables, which quickly becomes expensive. I personally had to buy an extra cable for the car (R200), and a 30 pin to Lightning adaptor for my alarm clock dock (R300).
  • Apple has included their new “earpod” headphones. They look completely new, and unlike the old models, they do not seem to become dislodged from your ears with a subtle breeze. They sound much better as well.

Should you upgrade?

Apple seems to be following a pattern here – they are well aware that the typical cellphone contract is 2 years, and their phones seem to improve enough every two years to warrant an upgrade.

Just like our 4S review last year, we do not actually see the benefit of upgrading to the latest one if you already own the previous one. The 4S runs the same software, and it is a very speedy phone. The 4S is still a great phone, and there is just not enough to warrant the expense.

If you are still using the iPhone 4, you should probably be up for an upgrade by now – then the iPhone 5 is a brilliant upgrade (that is if you are not convinced by the Android users that you should try the Samsung Galaxy S3 or HTC One X). You will notice the speed increases, you will appreciate the much improved camera, and you will probably get it at a good deal now that most cellphone networks in SA have the iPhone.

But – is the iPhone 5 good enough to compete with ever improving Android and Windows Phone devices out there? That is a difficult question – phones like the Samsung Galaxy S3 and Nokia Lumia 920 have definitely caught up to the iPhone in many respects – and exceeded it in many others. iOS 6 in particular is starting to feel a little stale in certain ways. While it is quick and very easy to understand, we really hope Apple will innovate a lot more with iOS 7. We are also disappointed to find that the iPhone does not automatically support LTE in SA, and Apple has to “approve” networks before the phone can get the little LTE switch in the software.

Current high end Android users will probably not be swayed by the slick looks of the iPhone 5 – but we do feel the current Apple iPhone ecosystem is still without equal. Things like a thriving AppStore, iTunes and excellent iCloud integration make the iPhone’s value proposition great, but Google is very quickly catching up, and we feel 2013 might be the tipping point where iPhone is no longer the phone to beat.

But right now, the iPhone 5 is still the standard in a very competitive smartphone world. While Android might have caught up in terms of software, the iPhone build and feel is stunning, and the overall polish of the entire user experience is still very hard to beat.

Pros:

Stunning fit and finish. Light weight.

Camera is a solid competitor to the Lumia 920.

 

Cons:

No LTE support for iPhone 5 in SA yet – Apple has to switch it on via a carrier update.

16GB base model is becoming a little small. Apple should increase the base model to 32GB.

Black model scratches easily.

You will need to buy adaptors if you have plenty of Apple 30 pin accessories.

Comments

  • CryThyBelovedCountry

    “AppStore, iTunes and excellent iCloud integration make the iPhone value proposition great, but Google is very quickly catching up”

    iCloud integration is way behind what apple has to offer. Android/Google has only ever existed in the cloud while apple was a late comer and has many problems with iCloud compared to Google.

    iTunes is a resource hungry and limited application where the expensive iTunes music player is the only real advantage. The limitations that Apple places on the iTunes universe with DRM is now showing to be limiting compared to other options.

    The AppStore is a marketing success of Apple. Note: MARKETING success. The is not real difference between Android and the Apple store other than that Apple has a lot more useless applications. The number of apps is irrelevant once a critical point has been reached. (once beach is not necessarily better than another because of the amount of sand) .

    The number of sales of the iPhone5 has been so disappointing that Apple is not publishing sales figures, as they normally do with a successful product, because the reception of the phone has been very luck warn, due to the fact that the iPhone5 has fallen behind in technology and operation system capabilities and integration with the cloud. 60% of mobile development is now taking place in the Android environment due to Apples lack of concern for developers, infrastructure investment and lack of communications.

    Finally, Apple has also become un-cool!

  • Jonathan Wiltsborough

    Some points -

    Apple was a latecomer to cloud yes. But it is well executed.

    iTunes Music does not use DRM. Just on movies and TV shows – and Google does the same.

    AppStore downloads are still more on iPhone. Your sand comment is funny – but if you are perhaps referring to quality of the beach, then yes, I would argue iPhone apps are still higher quality overall as well.

    Apple has published iPhone 5 sales – especially on launch. Really doubt its disappointing – launch day sales are still higher than any previous iPhone. And they have a financial conference call coming up soon, only then will we know the sales figures. Pretty standard procedure for Apple.

    “60% of mobile dev is now happening on Android” – what does that mean? Reference to what obscure study please?

    Only part I might agree with – Apple might have become uncool. But not for any of those reasons you mentioned. Maybe it has become uncool because it is so popular.

  • Chilternburt

    my 2 cents, anyone who buys a gadget to be cool, is automatically uncool, I buy stuff that works for my lifestyle and suits my needs.

  • Tbone187

    Innovation was the only key aspect of the iPhone… and to be honest, there isn’t much innovation going here with this latest instalment…Just fiddled around with an iPhone 5 a few minutes ago and it looks and feels exactly like the iPhone 3gs which I sold one month after purchase due to limited functionality…fanboys will always find reasons to justify their purchase…good luck with it…bottom line: it’s not a good deal for the money involved…

  • CryThyBelovedCountry

    Jonathon. I did a full reply to your mail with reference and all . Unfortunately my message did not go through the thought police, probably to defend apple. It has happened often that my comments where blocked when I made comments about apple that were substantiated by professional industrial commentators. Feel free to research on development trends – Apple vs Android and also read up why the Apple stock has fallen by 30% at the end of last year. Its is a pity that we cannot discuss freely on commercial subjects without the big players censoring in order to protect their investments.

  • xcal

    in my case, I’m *finally* moving from BlackBerry to iPhone:) My family were die-hard BBM users 2 years ago, which forced me to get my 1 and only BB device. Whatsapp and other tools have liberated my family, my contract is over and there is simply no other choice for me :) iBought iWhite iPhone. iWait for iDelivery :)

  • David N

    In what world do you think a iPhone 5 is “exactly like” the iPhone 3GS? How? Every single thing has changed – hardware and software. Closed minded comment.

  • Tbone187

    Misquote of note: I said it ”looks and feels exactly like…” …Hmmm …Meaning that browsing the iPhone 5 isn’t very different from browsing the older models…Pull your finger out the next time you feel the need to quote somebody…Besides, referring to my comment as close minded is a clear indication you don’t have an understanding of the concept ‘close minded’…

  • Flash

    One of the cons should be the limited stock of the phone that we get in this country. It’s a popular gadget yet some stores are only receiving 4 units every week or two. Useless

  • Lumia

    iPhone 5 camera comparable to Lumia…whatever! pathetic review!

  • ScubaSteve

    Sorry? The CONS alone keep it behind the pack. If it was a market leader it would have LTE, NFC, camera (not comparable with Lumia 920 but better) Maps that works. List goes on. Anyone who upgrades to iPhone 5 thinking the phone is a leader in its class is sorely mistaken. Yes the Apple fanboys will rave about the phone about how great it is. But the Samsung S3 and Lumia 920 are streaks ahead in Technology terms.

  • http://www.bandwidthblog.com Minnaar Pieters

    We reviewed both. Check our review of the Lumia. In hindsight, maybe the one area the Lumia is better is with image stabilization.

  • http://www.bandwidthblog.com Minnaar Pieters

    Excellent point. Will add to review. Thanks.

  • SkerP

    The iPhone5 is unlikely to drag Android users away from their Samsungs and their custom ROMs and their pages and pages of menus and settings. It will be appreciated by Apple fans, primarily for the superb physical design.

    Similarly, it may be seen as a bit ho-hum by iP4S/iOS5 users, but to users of iP4/iOS4.x or earlier (as in my case), it will be mind-blowing.

    I was a fan when I went from BB to iP4, but this new phone is just unbelievable.

    Simultaneously, after six months, my wife’s Android / Samsung POS has reiterated why the operating system is akin to an unfinished high school science project, and will be dispatched to the box reserved for old Motorolas and HTCs. She will now use my ex iP4, upgraded to iOS6.

  • The Great One

    Some points to consider -

    1. grammar and syntax…have another pair of eyes proof-read blog posts before they are published. It comes across as rushed and amateurish.

    2. facts vs opinion…this is tougher to negotiate as personal bias will always be a factor. An example from your post:

    “Android might have caught up in terms of software, the iPhone hardware remains without equal”

    in what way(s) is the iPhone hardware better than Android’s? It’s pointless making assertions like this without backing it up with cold, hard facts.

    3. App Store, iTunes, iCloud…what sets these apart from its Google-powered counterparts? How are these (and their respective integration) better, if at all? You mention these 3 aspects as being dealbreakers. Why do you think they’re deal breakers? Have you had a look at the Google alternatives? How does data cost affect your view of the above?

    Superficial “reviews” are dime-a-dozen on the interwebs. Don’t fall into the same trap.

  • DarkBlood

    SCHOOLED!!!!

  • http://www.bandwidthblog.com Minnaar Pieters

    Thanks Great One.

    1) Thanks for the tip.

    2) Of course with these products some subjective opinion does filter in. In my opinion I think the aluminium build and overall feel of the iPhone does actually feel better than any other phone we have come across. But the Nokia Lumia comes a close second though. In your case you might prefer the feel of plastic compared to aluminium. Horse for courses.

    3) Those are not deal breakers – but the the overall integration in the Apple ecosystem is really first rate. Google is catching up very quickly though (and exceeded Apple in key areas yes). Data costs are not a major issue, as most of the high bandwidth iCloud features only gets used over wifi (you might see that as a disadvantage).

    I spend a lot of time with different phones every week of the year, and yes this review is my own. You are free to review the iPhone 5 yourself with cold hard facts. Send us the link, we love to learn.

  • DarkBlood

    But….iPhone 5 does have a 32GB…and a 64GB. Am I reading this article wrong? Maybe I’m misunderstanding what you mean by “Base model” and “Standard”.

    (It appears I offended the moderators with my first comment – it was posted several hours ago and hasn’t quite appeared. Must be kinda sensitive to that.)

  • http://www.bandwidthblog.com Minnaar Pieters

    Hey DarkBlood – sorry, maybe I wasnt clear. I am saying that Apple should shift the base (cheapest) model to 32GB at least. 16GB is becoming a little tight.

    Regarding your missing comment – I assure you we do not delete comments. Will check the logs, we use Disqus’s filtering systems.

  • The Great One

    Ah, build quality and hardware are two very different aspects. Yes, build quality is *part* of the hardware, but they are very definitely mutually exclusive. When you use the term, hardware, you actually refer to the internals as well. In light of this saying that the iPhone is ahead in the hardware race is just patently wrong.

    Again, you mention those as the differentiators that sets the Apple ecosystem apart from the rest. You should’ve included reasons as to *why* you think their cloud integration is more accomplished or at least links to other blogs/reviews where this has been done.

    I’m not sure how you can say that data costs are not a major issue – bandwidth is bandwidth. Let’s assume that most people who use Wifi will do so over 3G (ADSL uncapped uptake is increasing, but is still in the minority). 3G is still expensive. ADSL is cheaper, but the cost is not negligible (voice + line rental + ISP costs). Surely this deserves a mention if you’re going to tout said features?

    I’m not trying to attack your article – just trying to provide constructive criticism. I’ve been toying with the idea of starting a tech blog. If I do, you’ll be the first to know ;)

  • http://www.bandwidthblog.com Minnaar Pieters

    All good points – thanks for the feedback. Appreciated.

  • http://twitter.com/Tag11Mac Mac Anamourlis

    “Using the 4S afterwards feels like holding a little squat version of the phone, and truth be told, not actually worse”

    To me this is the key: After using the iPhone 5 for about a month now, when I pick up my wife’s 4S it feels squat, clunky, heavy, too thick and definitely too small (the screen real estate that is).

    Truth be told, the upgrade from the 4S to the 5 (for me) was unnecessary, but once you’ve used the 5 for an extended period of time, I don’t think you can ever go back.

  • buffy

    How much did apple pay the reviewer to say its still the benchmark! Its faaaar from it now, i cloud is rubbish, the phones battery is crap. Generally not that great. The Nokia WP8 models are going to crush it!

  • Dirk Coetsee

    “the iPhone hardware remains without equal”. That’s just silly.

  • http://www.bandwidthblog.com Minnaar Pieters

    We will see about that.

  • dvwyk

    I had my iPhone 5 now for about 2 month (bought it before the official launch) and upgraded from the Iphone 4 (not S). I do not know what the fuss was all about, I’m a huge Apple fan, but must sadly admit that their iPhones can not be compared to the news Nokia and Samsung devices anymore. I am very dissapointed with my iPhone 5, one expects Apple to come out with something that will at least make you go “wow” or “cool”, I have yet to say those words with my iPhone5. I will not easily upgrade to another iPhone again and might even start looking at the Samsung next time… very sad, but true! Please Apple, bring the SJ wow factor back again…

  • http://www.mindinventory.com/iphone_development.php iPhone Development

    The iPhone 5 has been out for almost one 1 30 days now, and I’ve been having it around as my main cell cellphone. With the apparent and well-documented omission of the new Charts program, the iPhone 5 has certainly met my objectives. It’s a highly effective, very slim brilliant cell cellphone with outstanding performance.

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