Ω A Few Days With an iPhone 5


I had very high hopes for the iPhone 5. Having had an iPhone 4 for the last two years, I noticed that new versions of iOS were beginning to make my phone feel sluggish. My wife’s 4S still feels acceptably fast, so when the nature of the processors in the iPhone 5 was announced, I knew only good things were coming.

I got my iPhone 5 via Verizon on Friday having placed my order late enough that if I’d ordered through Apple, I wouldn’t have received my iPhone until later this week. The packaging is as beautiful as always, and this time the headphones—the “EarPods”—come in a nice little difficult-to-open plastic box. Other than that, the packaging is only remarkable, as one would expect, because it’s so damned nice. Otherwise, it does its job and gets out of the way.

Setup turned out to be nontrivial because I started the job over at my wife’s office and tried to finish the job at home. I ended up goofing up the process and needed to start from scratch. After a while, it was all done and I was off and using the phone.

Other reviews have a lot of detail in them about the iPhone 5—more than I can possibly ever achieve. So let me tell you what I’ve found so far:

Field Test Mode is sticky.

If you put your previous iPhone into field test mode and backed it up with the signal strength indicator showing instead of bars (as outlined here), the signal strength indicator “preference” will carry forward to the new iPhone. This is good news because it makes figuring out what’s going on with my next point all that easier.

If you live in an LTE fringe area, your battery life will suck.

We live in the edge of an LTE area as evidenced by the aforementioned signal strength numbers. With LTE on, I see -111dBm to -117dBm consistently. Turning off LTE, which reverts the phone back to Verizon’s version of 3G, I see -80dBm or thereabouts. If I leave LTE on, my battery is depleted—<10%—by the end of the day, or about 16 hours after unplugging in the morning.

My assumption here is that the phone is doing the same thing the 3G phones do when in a 3G fringe area, namely “searching” by pinging the tower with a full boat of transmit power. It bounces between 3G and LTE, resulting in a much-decreased battery life. I’ve got anecdotal evidence of this gained by listening to my clock radio last night which is next to the charging iPhone 5. Every so often, the radio would buzz and hum (a very different buzz and hum from the 3G buzz and hum we’ve all heard on telecons). Turning off LTE made this pattern disappear.

My suggestion to Apple, if it’s not already covered by somebody’s patent, is to ignore LTE when I’ve got a WiFi signal or when I have a decent 3G signal and I’m not “doing” anything. When I start “doing” something which requires data, look for LTE; otherwise, preserve my battery life. Until LTE blankets the country, there are going to be a lot of phones out there in fringe areas hoping for an LTE signal they’re not likely to get.

4" is a smidgen too big.

I have big hands, and you know what they say about men with big hands, don’t you?

Yes, we wear big gloves.

All joking aside, I can span an octave and a fourth on a piano (if I stretch, an octave and a fifth), and yet I find that locating the “back” button so typical in iOS navigation at the upper left-hand corner of the screen puts it just a bit too far out of comfortable reach. Getting to it requires me to curl my pinky, ring and middle fingers of my right hand just a touch closer than is comfortable in order for me to get my right thumb over to that corner.

I keep a firm grip on my phone with those three fingers and my palm. This maneuver makes that grip just a bit more tenuous than I prefer.

As an iOS app developer (OK, an aspiring iOS app developer), I’m now rethinking the navigation of the app I’m working on. I think Apple should, too.

This phone is amazingly fast.

Again, I’m jumping two generations here, but as I demonstrated over the weekend with this little video demonstration, even the simplest of tasks, such as launching The Weather Channel app, happens so much faster, it’s like… like having a newer, faster phone. This phone came out only two years after the 4, only a year after the 4S, and yet it’s a leap forward in speed. Touch is significantly more responsive than my 4. Safari page load times are noticeably faster. It’s just better.

One Lightning cord is not enough.

I didn’t realize just how dependent I’ve become on having multiple cords hanging around the house to plug into. Well, two anyway, one on the iMac, and one at my bedside. I can see that the online store is backordered, so a trip to the local Apple store is called for. $20 isn’t too unreasonable, given that it’s more than just a piece of wire with some connectors on the end. And I’ve bought my fair share of non-Apple cables and they are hit or miss. I’d like a 100% hit rate, so it’s off to the Apple store I go.

The EarPods ain’t half bad.

I don’t claim to have a golden ear. In fact, one of my ears wouldn’t qualify for bronze. But these things are comfortable and don’t fall out when I’m folding laundry. (Sigh. Yes, I do the laundry.) And they have a good design for the button pod, too, which beats the design I have on my Klipsch earbuds hands down. (The Klipsch buttons are all round and almost identically-sized which means it takes me a moment to figure out which button I have my thumb on by comparing it to one of the other two.)

But it feels like the control pod’s position on the right ear cord has changed. (Rummage, rummage, compare, compare…) Turns out, I’m right, but it’s only about 1/2" higher, and yet I somehow keep missing it, even though it’s larger, too.

4" is just right.

OK, in direct contradiction to what I said above, I have to admit that the extra row of icons and the larger viewing are for comics and other things is wonderful. Now I can get all of the things I most frequently use onto my first page of icons (with one spot left over, even), and I can read Zits no matter how small the Sunday strip writing is.

Siri is cool.

No, really, I had a great time the other night posting a status to Facebook, unedited, 100% accurately. I even guessed the proper commands for open parenthesis (“open parenthesis”) and close parenthesis (“close parenthesis”—we’re not talking rocket science, here) and other punctuation. I spoke at a reasonable pace, and it got it all. Super nifty.

And, damn! it’s thin.

Maybe it won’t leave wear lines in my jeans quite as much as the 4 did.

It’s the little things. They add up to a big thing.

Sometimes, it’s the little things in life which make the biggest differences. Though Apple’s tagline for the iPhone 5 is “The biggest thing to happen to iPhone since iPhone,” I think it’s all the little things which make this so big. No one feature is enough to sell me on the phone. But anybody considering the outlay of $200 vs. your two-year contract costs and thinking “I don’t have that much” really ought to reconsider, save up for a few months, and get a 5 instead of a 4S or 4.

It’s just worth it.

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