iPhone 5: First Impressions Hands-On Review

After today’s iPhone 5 launch event, I had a chance to play with Apple’s new phone. So far, I see plenty of reason for me to upgrade. Below, what I like and what you may wish to consider.

How Android Won Me Away From The iPhone

First, some background. For the past two years, I’ve been primarily an Android user. I’ve owned an iPhone since the iPhone 3GS, upgraded to the iPhone 4 and currently have an iPhone 4s.

But in 2011, the 4G LTE speed of the Droid Charge wooed me away to making that my primary phone in 2011. The iPhone I use as a secondary phone (I live a strange multiplatform life, I know).

How The iPhone Started Winning Me Back

In 2012, I moved to the Galaxy Nexus, and it hasn’t been an enjoyable experience. It still gives me the 4G speed I want, as well as turn-by-turn navigation I’ve found so handy. I hate to leave home without that.

But the email client with the Galaxy Nexus is horrible (email, not Gmail – see my detailed explanation the email flaws with Android), and I‘ve found Android 4 to be more confusing than Android 2.

The times I switch to using my iPhone 4S, it’s like a relief. Things feel like they work better, and that’s not just because I’m just used to the iPhone. Remember, I’m an every day Android user. It’s just that the iOS operating system, the apps written for it and the hardware all just seem to work together better, in my opinion. You might disagree, and that’s fine. There’s no wrong phone. What works for you works for you.

Hurray! 4G LTE & Turn-By-Turn GPS

What’s held me back from using the iPhone as my day-to-day phone has been its lack of true 4G (which to me is 4G LTE) and turn-by-turn GPS. The iPhone 5 solves both of these issues, which makes it a strong candidate to replace my Galaxy Nexus for my regular usage.

Bigger Screen, Not Super-Sized Screen

What about screen size? If you want a giant screen, look elsewhere that the 4″ screen the iPhone 5 offers. Some people love big screens, and that’s great. If that’s a priority, you’ll probably want to think twice about choosing the iPhone 5.

Personally, I find screen size not so much an issue. I’m often zooming in on web pages regardless of whether I’m using my iPhone 4S with its smaller screen or either my Galaxy Nexus or the Samsung Galaxy S III from Samsung that I’m currently testing. The extra space for my particular activities with those devices isn’t that important.

Still, the iPhone 5 will give you more screen real estate than previous versions of the iPhone. Perhaps I’ll really notice that extra space when I start using the phone on a daily basis. But in playing with it today, it didn’t feel hugely different. I could see a little more of a web page at-a-glance:

The screenshot above shows the iPhone 4S with the mobile version of Techmeme loaded. The iPhone 5′s larger screen shows me about two more lines of the last story shown on the iPhone 4S. The Samsung Galaxy S III shows me two complete additional stories.

By the way, yes, the Samsung’s screen looks dimmer. I had cranked the brightness up all the way, but it might have powered dimmed as I set up the shot. That’s not the main point of the picture. It’s really about screen real estate. And even then, like I said, if you’re actually viewing an article, what you see can  change if you decide to zoom in. So these types of comparisons are tough.

Related to the screen quality, there’s no doubt that the Retina resolution of the iPhone 4S and the iPhone 5 screens makes a huge difference (at least to me) when viewing side-by-side with a non-Retina display. But when I’m using a non-Retina device, I’m never thinking that somehow, I can no longer see or only with great difficulty. It’s a very nice feature, but it’s not an essential feature likely to anyone on a budget.

Back to screen real estate, another example of that extra space with the iPhone 5 not making that much of a difference is with email, if I shift into landscape mode:

It would be nice if, as with the iPad or with my Galaxy Nexus if my inbox list showed to the left with a preview screen to the right. There just might be enough room. But then again, maybe not. The main point is there’s clearly not enough extra room to make a dramatic difference with email, and that’s one of the most popular apps anyone does on a phone.

Thumb Reach

Still, I appreciate I get more screen real estate without having to give up “thumb reach.” I’m a thumb typist. I like to walk and type with one hand, which means one thumb. I can do that easily with the iPhone 4S, because the predictive typing is excellent and my thumb can all the keys.

On the Galaxy Nexus, it’s a longer thumb reach. On the Galaxy S III, is an even harder reach, plus the predictions are so bad that I have to shift to two hands to do corrections.

Yes, I know there are other keyboards and things I could (and may) try with the Samsung, But out of the box, the iPhone and the Galaxy Nexus don’t make me have to do this. And that leads to the iPhone 5. Consider this:

That’s my iPhone 4S on top of my iPhone 5. The width across the screen is pretty much the same on both devices (if it’s different, it’s so tiny as not to be noticeable. That means you’ve got more screen but not more thumb reach. I like it.

Now consider this:

That’s the iPhone 5 on top of the Galaxy Nexus. You can see the extra width of the Galaxy Nexus clearly, which is great if you want more screen (and some do) but bad for thumb reach (which won’t bother some, of course).

How’s the phone feel? Great. It’s much lighter than the iPhone 4S, noticeably so. The extra tallness isn’t a problem. Here’s me holding it as I would my regular phone:

It’s also actually just a bit thinner than an iPhone 4S:

Siri Gets GPS

How about the GPS navigation? I was pretty impressed that I could say “Siri, I want to go to the Metreon” (a theater complex in San Francisco), and it fired up a list of possible matches that, after I selected the theater location, launched navigation.

I’m used to doing a similar thing with my Android phones, but you have to remember to start the spoken command with “Navigate to…” followed by where you want to go. Generally, this works really well. But Siri understanding the casual “I want to go to….” as a navigation request? That was smart.

LTE Issues & So Much For A “Global” iPhone

As for LTE, the downside is that even though Apple is using a single chip for this and talks about it being a global phone, there are carrier-specific versions. Your AT&T phone, despite having LTE, won’t be configured to work if you decide to change to Verizon. So if there’s a global iPhone, it doesn’t recognize the US as effectively two separate countries.

That’s disappointing, but it’s hardly uncommon, as is the case with the Samsung Galaxy S III, as I’ve covered before. The Verge also has a nice article about some of the issues to consider, on this front.

Panorama Photo Shooting

 The new panorama picture mode was very good. I use this type of feature on my Android phones, which typically offer it, all the time. The iPhone version works smoothly and is fast. As soon as you stop shooting your picture is done, which isn’t the norm. It’s downright amazing, actually. You can see it in action in this video I shot of the process.

YouTube Preview Image

Overall: No Killer Feature, Still Killer Phone

More? I only had about 15 minutes total with the phone, so there’s no way I can offer anything beyond the quick first impressions that I’m giving here.

For example, the new Maps application looks nice, but the phone also wasn’t configured with the Yelp app, so I couldn’t test how well the integration between Maps and Yelp really work (though I suspect it’ll be fine).

Those are my first impressions. Life with the phone may prove much different. Overall, it doesn’t feel that Apple has any killer features in the iPhone 5. But making it more solid with LTE and GPS, along with a bunch of other small changes, seem to add up to one killer phone.

See also more information from Apple (press release, product site) as well as reviews from others via Techmeme.

Related Articles

Related Topics: Apple | Apple: iOS | Apple: iPhone | Channel: Mobile Marketing | Features & Analysis | Top News

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About The Author: is Founding Editor of Marketing Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search marketing and internet marketing issues, who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



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  • http://www.CravingTech.com/ Michael Aulia @CravingTech.com

    Great first impression. I thought I was going to find a press release being rewritten as a review :) It’s probably not a big of a jump but iPhone users will definitely love iPhone 5. Pre-ordering tomorrow

  • David Singer

    I look at a lot of the same things you do and it was nice to get that perspective. The physical size is more important to me than screen size and I’m with you on “thumb reach” and OS.

    I never had a big LTE concern, but that’s because I generally have a (Verizon) mifi and AT&T reception in NYC has been written about plenty.

  • http://www.elijahlynn.net/ Elijah Lynn

    I am an Android fan, mainly because I believe in open source software (Free Software).

    That being said, I always envy how fast the iPhone is and how smooth the user experience is. I will never buy one, but I am glad it exists because I know us Android people will achieve that sexiness too someday!

    I know some of the ROMs are just as fast as iOS but stock Android just isn’t. Apple is milliseconds faster most of the time, and those milliseconds make a better experience.

    Android 4.1 made a pretty big leap in terms of speed and I know the Android team is working on this, I can’t wait for the next release of the Nexus!

  • http://twitter.com/7hobby 7-hobby.com

    the only thing that I like is the bigger size, and I am still
    hesitant to pay for it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bill.chen.3766 Bill Chen

    great share it ,thank you ,my iPhone 4 is ok now

  • Keita123

    I’m gonna upgrade, and I’m also leaving AT&T for sprint.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=535260227 Jeff Kean

    you obviously have not used a S3, it address all these issues you just mentioned, with stock rom.

  • http://www.tvsinternetmarketing.com/ Travis Van Slooten

    As an Android user since day one, I’ve been on the fence for the past year about switching to Apple. I said if the iPhone 5 had a bigger screen and 4g I was in. I’ve been looking for an iPhone 5 vs. Android comparison so your post is perfect. Thanks for taking the time to put this together. After reading this, I think I’ll have to take the plunge…although I wish Apple would have made the screen the same size as my Droid:) I like big screens…did I mention that?

    Travis Van Slooten

  • http://www.facebook.com/harmony.wallender Harmony Wallender

    I am shocked that Apple would steal turn by turn navigation from Google. Google better sue….

  • http://www.WeAreSpoke.com creativereason

    Or rather they licensed it from TomTom, but you know don’t let the facts get in the way of your anti-Apple bias.

  • Alan

    Danny you say you are a thumb typer and you want to go to the iPhone 5? Have you even tried the Smasung’s Swype type feature? I guarantee if you use swype type for 4 day you won’t go to the iPhone!

  • Yong Li

    “I want to go to …” works with Google Now.

  • http://www.elijahlynn.net/ Elijah Lynn

    You may be right but I don’t think S3 is fully open source. I think they have some proprietary hot sauce mixed in. I am speaking about stock Android not the mods Samsung or anyone else makes. If they don’t contribute back then it doesn’t help the community.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=738107959 Chad Wilsted

    wow! tom tom? one more reason not to upgrade to 5. any of you ever own a tom tom? had one before i switched to iphone 3gs..it was so bad at figuring out where it was going that i literally chucked the 400 dollar P.O.S. out the window and felt better. Mac should have gone with garmen if they were going to liscence.

  • http://www.WeAreSpoke.com creativereason

    Licensed it from TomTom, and a ton of other providers. I’ve been using iOS 6 for two months and have to say that turn-by-turn is better than on my HTC One X.

  • http://www.facebook.com/yann.larriau Yann Larriau

    AT&T and Verizon use different technologies for their cellular network, so they can’t make a phone that works on both. Apart from that though, it’s global. (not on a single chip, anyway, which is what thay did to make it so thin)

  • http://www.gamerjunk.net GamerJunkdotNet

    I am switching to iPhone because guess what? iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4 and 4S are getting iOS 6 at the same time. Unlike Android who has such a fragmented nature that some popular phones will never get updated to Jelly Bean.

  • http://twitter.com/GuysGab Guys Gab

    I’m having a world of problems with Bluetooth Audio skipping on my iPhone 5. I didn’t have this problem with my iPhone 4, so it’s either the new phone or iOS6. It’s crazy, I can physically touch my phone and the audio will stop playing. Hopefully it’s a software issue that can be addressed in the next iOS update.

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