iPhone 5 Review: Feeding the need for speed

Just as in politics, the vast majority of the smartphone universe is made up of iOSocrats and Androidicans (or, if you will, Androidicrats and iOSicans) with only a small sliver of undecided (or older BlackBerry users deciding to reject the useless protest third party candidate vote, and non-smartphone users finally willing to dive in).

Androdicans will buy only Android phones; iOSocrats will stick with whatever candidate Apple annually nominates. So any review of the new iPhone 5, such as this one, will appeal largely to current iPhone owners and the small slice of the feature phone undecided.

So the question then is this: should current iPhone owners move up to the iPhone 5?

Based on two fun-filled days playing with my new iPhone 5, I'd say this: Are you friggin' kidding me? You will love this new iPhone.

Each new iPhone actually comprises two distinct products: the hardware and an iOS upgrade. Since all iPhone and iPod users can gain the advantages of iOS 6 — such as the handy VIP email box, Panoramic photo option, integrated Facebook and Twitter, (and some disadvantages such as no pre-installed YouTube and the train wreck that Apple's Maps app seems to be) — I'm going to stick strictly to the hardware and iPhone 5-specific features.

Reasons To Buy An iPhone 5

These are two primary reasons to join the millions who have already survived the rowdy lines to get an iPhone 5 (although, owners of the less-than-year-old iPhone 4S are likely not eligible for the subsidy discount).

4G LTE: Oh. My. God.

I have no idea how iPhone 5's Web browsing speed stacks up against LTE Android phones — and I don't care, and neither should the logical constituency for iPhone 5. All you need to know is upgrading from AT&T's HSPA+ "4G" or Verizon's 3G EV-DO to anyone's 4G LTE is like switching from a balky Segway to a finely-tuned Ferrari.

Not only do I get a reliable data connection in midtown Manhattan (hooray!), but iPhone 5 loads websites and downloads apps and loads Maps and uploads photos and syncs email and does nearly everything an Internet connection allows in blink-and-you'll-miss-it seconds. In other words, I'm a very happy user.

What makes iPhone 5 so fast? Apple's custom-designed A6 processor chip, which also speeds up and smooths-out every other function on the iPhone 5. After conducting comparative benchmark tests, PC Magazine proclaimed iPhone 5 "The Fastest Smartphone in the Land." Unlike my decidedly unscientific judgment of comparative smartphone LTE speeds, PC Magazine did the tests and concludes that the iPhone 5 is "the fastest handheld computer sold in the U.S."

iPhone 5 Improvements

There are other iPhone 5 attributes heralded by Apple that, to me, are nice and somewhat impressive, but are merely gravy compared to its LTE and A6 performance boosts.

Screen Size: iPhone 5 now sports a 4-inch screen. Yawn! Motorola's $100 Droid M has a 4.3-inch display and, for the same price as iPhone 5, Samsung's Galaxy S III offers a whopping 4.8-inch AMOLED. Yeah, you see more on the screen (and prepare for dozens upon dozens of apps needing updating to compensate for the extra screen real estate; 70 apps were waiting for me Saturday morning) than on the 4S, but I'm going to have a decided inferiority complex when someone whips out their larger Android phone.

But I found the iPhone 5's screen plays bigger than previous iPhones, and holds its own with phones boasting larger screens because its longer shape creates a 16:9 aspect ratio — the same as your HDTV.

As a result, widescreen videos play fullscreen, where on previous iPhones they were letterboxed. There's a photo comparison in the gallery below so you can see that iPhone 5's video display is much larger than the half-inch differential from previous iPhones for video-viewing.

Size & Weight: Even though constructed of aluminum and glass — no plastic — the iPhone 5 is perceptively lighter and thinner than any previous iPhone, and many other larger Android phones — you can feel it.

While depth and weight is a weighty matter for a device you're toting in your pocket, I've never understood this race for fewer grams and millimeters. Most folks obviate these thin/light/aesthetic advantages by hiding their beautiful and skinny iPhone into an ugly, fat case.

If you don't encase iPhone 5, be careful. iPhone 5 is so feather-light and slippery I found it almost elusive when trying to pull it from a pocket and without dropping it. What's more, try and grip it firmly and its sharp edges start to cut at your fingers.

EarPods: These new, rounder earbuds stick comfortably in your ears — they don't hang limply as Apple's iconic stick-buds do. But they don't go too far in and they don't clog up the canal. Nice, but I've always preferred my own choice of earbuds.

FaceTime Over Cellular: I've used FaceTime once — to test it on the iPhone 4S with my buddy Ed Baig at USA Today. Maybe I'll use FaceTime more now that I don't have to worry about being connected via Wi-Fi.

Except AT&T doesn't let you use your standard data plan to connect LTE FaceTime calls. You have to join the company's multi-user Mobile Share bucket-o'-data-minutes.

Some folks are incensed about this, but not me. My wife gets my hand-me-down iPhones. Between the two of us, we average less than 2 GB of data usage a month — but we're paying for unlimited plans. By forcing me to switch to a limited Mobile Share program, I'll save nearly $50 a month compared to my usual bill from AT&T. Sweet!

iPhone 5 Disappointments

Lightning: Apple has replaced its ridiculously large 30-pin connector with a ridiculously tiny 9-pin connector, which can be inserted without regard to top or bottom orientation. It's a convenient configuration I wish microUSB would have adopted.

But those cheapskates at Apple don't include an adapter, and it'll be two-to-three weeks before any adapters ($29) or extra USB-to-Lightning cables ($19) are available.

In the long-term, the switch to the little Lightning jack is probably a good thing. But Apple should have included an adapter.

NFC: Not including NFC won't mean much to most folks, but I think Apple blew a huge opportunity here. I'll have more on Apple's NFC bungle in a week or so.

Wi-Fi: Like many folks, I was having a lot of trouble keeping my iPhone 5 (and my upgraded-to-iOS 6 iPad) connected via Wi-Fi. My home networks just kept frustratingly dodging in and out.

But I found an explanation and a solution online: Go to Settings, Wi-Fi, then tap the blue arrow to the right of the network you're connected to. Scroll down to the bottom of the resulting page to HTTP Proxy. If "Off" is blue, tap "Auto," and your connection will immediately improve.

Conclusions

Holy mother of god is this phone fast, at everything. LTE and the A6 processor are the reasons for iPhone owners and teetering BlackBerry devotees to upgrade to the iPhone 5.

For non-smartphone owners, the iPhone 5 offers some minor advantages over the latest bleeding edge Android and upcoming Windows Phone 8 candidates such as the Nokia Lumia 920 and the HTC 8X, but also pales in other comparisons. Your iPhone-Android-Windows choice should therefore come down to iO6 and Apple's more elegant ecosystem.

As a piece of hardware, iPhone 5 is one speedy smartphone, that's for sure.

All photos by Stewart Wolpin for DVICE.

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