The iPhone 5

I've lived with my iPhone 5 for a week two and a half weeks now[1]. There are a lot of link-bait, FUD posts on the internet, as happens with any Apple product launch. This post, however, is merely my own experience with the device, pros and cons, since I received it.

First things first. The iPhone 5 is a fantastic device. It is noticeably lighter than the iPhone 4/4S. The extra screen real estate is very nice. Almost every app I use on a regular basis has upgraded to take advantage of the taller screen. Apps like Instapaper and iBooks go from feeling just a bit cramped on previous iPhones to being a true pleasure to use. Apps with a keyboard, like Byword[2], really benefit from a larger area above the keyboard to see your work. It took me very little time to get used to the larger screen. The change was clearly well thought-out.

The design of the iPhone 5—I have a black one—is, to me, more functional and unobtrusive than beautiful. Though, I suppose that can be a type of beauty. It feels very natural in your hand and the hardware stays out of the way when you're using it. The form truly follows the function.

I haven't seen as large a difference from switching from AT&T to Verizon as I thought I would. The process of switching was unbelievably easy, though. I simply ordered two iPhones from the Verizon website[3] and requested through a built-in web form that they use our existing numbers. When the new phones arrived I turned them on, went through the activation screens and Boom. Our numbers on brand new Verizon iPhone 5's and within an hour the old phones both said 'No Service'. I tested the new ones and they both sent an received calls immediately after activation. The process, which could have really been awful, was really easy.

As for the network it's been better but not amazingly so. Our biggest annoyances previously were signal strength in our house, in our local grocery store, and at Erin's parent's house in Hampton. Here in the house I do get three bars—unless I'm in my office; more on that in a bit—and the signal is usually LTE even though we are technically in the Extended LTE zone rather than full LTE. In the grocery store the signal dies just like it did with AT&T. That may have more to do with how the store is built than the phone or the network. I was probably too harsh on AT&T on that one. The network at my in-law's house is almost exactly the same. One or two bars, LTE in and out.

On the interstates and in Richmond, however, I generally get a full five bars and LTE. When I do get a good LTE signal it is fast. Really fast. Using the Speedtest app I've seen as fast as 17mbps down and 10mbps up. That's on par with my cable internet. And since my cable internet can be, um, less than 100% reliable during the day when I need it for work, I purchased a USB wifi adapter for my work computer that I can use with the iPhone's Personal Hotspot so I can keep working during my inevitable internet outages. I have tested that out just a little and it seems to work fine.

Ok. It is beautiful and well-designed and light and all. What about problems?

The battery is really good, but there are some things that really drain it fast. Previous LTE phones have really drained batteries quickly. The iPhone 5 does perform admirably when a good LTE signal is available—or when it isn't. The issue comes when it can just barely sniff out the LTE signal. Rapidly switching between the LTE and 3G antenna trying to lock onto LTE can really hurt battery life. It might be better to go into settings and switch off LTE in low-signal situations.

That same antenna-switching contributed to another problem: heat. Under normal use the iPhone 5 runs nice and cool. Indeed, the aluminum back makes it actually feel cool under normal conditions. I can attest, though, that low-signal antenna switching plus having GPS on for turn-by-turn directions plus charging the device will make make it run very hot indeed. Almost to the point where it's uncomfortable to hold. Honestly, though, you really have to be pushing the hardware really, well, hard to get that kind of heat. In addition to the LTE switching and charging and GPS/turn-by-turn I was also streaming music over that same LTE/3G and had at two other apps—Downcast and Reminders—running location services in the background. 99.9% of the time, under normal to moderately heavy use, it runs as cool as can be.

Maps and directions. I totally get that a lot of people are disappointed with the new Maps.app. Tim Cook has even apologized for the issues. I have every confidence that the situation will improve, but in my experience I have had no problems with Maps or directions. I have used the app for directions all over central and southeast Virginia without any problems. Despite the problems people have had with the data set, there is no denying that the app itself is a definite upgrade from the previous Maps.app. It's been completely rebuilt with vector graphics and lets not forget that we are no longer sending location data to the increasingly-creepy Google. If you do have problems with the new app you can definitely use a third-party navigation app in the meantime, but I believe that Apple is making Maps a high priority and we will eventually see iPhone Maps live up to its potential.

One weird issue I'm having that I have not seen with previous iPhones is audio interference when listening to audio—music or podcasts, does not matter which—in my office through my stereo amp. I'm running the audio through a male-male headphone cable directly from the iPhone to the amp. Doesn't matter which cable I use or whether the phone is plugged in or not. Every few minutes I get an audible, static interference that goes away when I pick up the phone and hold it across both sides of the bottom of the device. So, it seems that whatever signal is interfering with the phone is affecting the bottom metal part of the case. I'm of an opinion that this is a product of the headphone jack now being on the bottom of the iPhone—never had this with any other iPhone or iPad—and the fact that I have a lot of devices, many wireless, running in that room—it only happens in my office. My simple, low-tech fix? A piece of aluminum foil laid on the desk under the iPhone. I need to do some experimentation with better audio cables, moving devices around the room, and trying Erin's iPhone, but the aluminum foil is a pretty cheap short-term fix[4].

The Lightning Connector is a pro and a con. For me it is a great piece of hardware that's functional and looks great. My only complaint is that we just have the two Lightning cables. We both have three locations where we generally want to plug in to charge. For me they are: my nightstand, my desk in my office, and in the car. For Erin: her nightstand, her desk at work, and in her car. This means we have to move our cables around with us quite a lot. It's a short-term problem—I've ordered two Lightning-to-30-pin adapters and I plan on picking up some extra cables at the Apple Store this weekend—but it is a hassle. A big customer service win for Apple would have been to put one of the adapters in each box with the new iPhone 5, but that's definitely not the Apple way. Just ask the VGA port and the floppy drive...

Bottom line: The iPhone 5 is a really wonderful mobile computer. There are some aspects of the design that you really must experience first-hand to appreciate—the weight, the taller screen, etc.—but once you do you will find that the iPhone 5 is a worthy successor to the iPhones that preceded it.


Addendum One: I did finally find an issue with Maps.app. A local nine-hole golf course was closed a few years ago and made into a small subdivision. Maps has all of the new streets there, but still labels the whole area Bermuda Golf Course and shades it green as if it's a park. I checked maps.google.com and it's correct there. I reported it through Maps as a 'problem' but it seems pretty low priority to me.

Maps.app

Maps.app

maps.google.com

maps.google.com

Addendum Two: I believe I have gotten to the bottom of the excessive heat problem. I only feel the iPhone heating up when I am both plugged in and running Spotify. I think that perhaps there is something about that app that makes the processor work extra hard. And it is more noticeable when streaming music than when playing music saved to the device in Spotify. Charging + Spotify + Network = Heat. Incidentally, Spotify is one of the few apps that still has not been updated for the iPhone 5 screen size.


[1]: I have been really slow writing this...

[2]: Which I'm using right now to write this on the iPhone 5.

[3]: At 3am. It's a good thing it was simple because I was just barely awake.

[4]: I'll post a follow-up when I get it solved.