Hands on With the iPhone 5

You’ve watched the keynote, seen the unboxing videos and read the reviews. You know everything there is to know about the latest and greatest iPhone — what else could you possibly have to discover?

Well I received my iPhone 5 yesterday via FedEx, and I spent the afternoon testing it in various conditions. How well did LTE work? What is the hardware like in real life? Is it worth the upgrade? This isn’t your typical new iPhone review, it’s a walkthrough of the product with casual and real thoughts as it’s being used. Hit us up after the jump to find out more.

First Impressions

A lot of hyperbolic statements are thrown out at Apple events. We hear all the time that it’s the lightest, thinnest, best iPhone ever, but really, is it? After spending some time with the iPhone 5, I have to say that even though it shares several physical traits with the previous generation, the improvements are pretty substantial.

Of course the box is pretty.

Of course the box is pretty.

Holy crap is this thing light. It’s also super thin. If you want to put the thickness difference into perspective, take your iPhone 4 or 4S and set it on a flat surface. Notice the raised lip where the glass goes out over the stainless steel band? Take off that glass and that’s pretty much where the iPhone 5 sits. It’s so thin, that you wonder how it could get thinner in later generations (which we all know will happen).

The Look

My wife and I both switched from AT&T to Verizon, and we each have the black iPhone 5. For me, I think that black offers a distinct advantage over the white models. There’s the obvious things, like how you can’t see the FaceTime camera or the light sensor next to the earpiece, but then there’s the less obvious part which is more important today: letter boxed apps.

Matte and gloss black look awesome together.

Matte and gloss black look awesome together.

Most of the apps I use on a regular basis have adapted to the iPhone 5’s larger screen. But not all of them have, and as a result, those ugly black boxes appear on the screen. With the black screen, however, you can’t even notice. In fact, it took me a second to catch those first few apps that were letter boxed, because it just looked so normal and regular. With a white iPhone 5, that wouldn’t be the case.

The Exterior

The back of the iPhone does have a tendency to collect smudges, but it’s still less than the glass front and back found on the 4S. I don’t really mind those glossy parts on the top and bottom either, because I’m a huge fan of matte finishes, and the gloss for the logo, text and other areas frames it nicely.

Overall, the fit and finish of everything is just phenomenal. It feels more solid than the 4S, even though it’s so thin. There was this one part on my iPhone 4S that stuck out ever so slightly from the stainless steel band, and it would rub against my finger when I used it. That was so irritating, and there’s nothing like that here on the iPhone 5. That said, I’ve seen the drop videos, and having worked with aluminum in the past on my own projects, I know that the frame can dent easily. I also get a bit concerned about the wear and tear of the phone over time, but that’s something that we won’t know for at least a few months.

And it fits nicely in your hand, too

And it fits nicely in your hand, too

All of the buttons seem very precise as well. The home button has a distinct “click” that requires more pressure than the iPhones before it. The volume buttons and vibrate slider aren’t too shabby, either. Really, this does seem like all of the hyperbole was more like stating the facts. There’s no complaints on my end.

The Feel

IOS 6 is a definite improvement, and it shines on the iPhone 5. Things move faster, windows slide faster and everything just feels so much quicker. That’s one of the really noticeable things about the iPhone 5: speed. This thing is quick, and a definite improvement over my 4S on AT&T.

Everything fits just right.

Everything fits just right.

Speaking of, one problem I had quite frequently with my AT&T service was dropped calls in my house. It’s like that in many places I know, but it seemed like my home office was a particularly bad area, which caused me to lose all sorts of important conversations midstream. With Verizon, not only were calls kept pretty solid and consistent, but I was able to pull 13Mbps down, which is faster than I ever moved on AT&Ts “4G” network. Granted, it’s still not the lightning speeds that some people will see, but for it being that fast in a notorious AT&T dead zone, I was happy. In addition, driving around town I noticed clearer and more concise speech from people on the other end of the line. Overall, it’s a big improvement.

A Few Tidbits

What you probably didn’t notice in all of the demos and reviews is exactly how shockingly small the Lightning connector is. When I first pulled it out of the box, I didn’t know what to think. It’s 1/4-inch wide, and gives a satisfying click when it locks into place on the phone. Yes, it means that I’ll need an adapter or two to make it work with my car’s stereo, but man is it small.

Also, the EarPods are quite satisfying to listen to. No, they’re not audiophile grade, and I’m sure they’re not worth $29 when sold separately. But for a set that’s included in the package, they’re certainly nothing to scoff at. The added bass is a nice touch, and yet you can still hear your surroundings so they’re good on a run.

Final Thoughts

What iPhone haters don’t get is that even though there’s always a new iPhone around the corner, what you get for your money is of a higher quality than most commercial products period. You can pay $600 for a TV and it’ll creak and groan when you adjust it on your wall mount. Spend $1,000 on a good SLR and have problems with the switches.

With the iPhone 5, you don’t have that. You have the precision of a Swiss watch, and the fitment of a fine luxury automobile. They always tell us that this iPhone is the one. This is the one that is better than all the others. Nothing can beat it — until next year, that is. With the iPhone 5, I think all that is true. This really is the best iPhone ever made, by leaps and bounds.