iPhone 5 so far: One road warrior's two-week test

The iPhone 5 doesn't exactly have busy CNET reporter Brooke Crothers pining away for his 4S. But there have been one or two issues.

iPhone 5: holds up well after a couple of weeks' use -- with some gotchas.
iPhone 5: holds up well after a couple of weeks' use -- with some gotchas. Apple

Two weeks in, I've got a better feel for the iPhone 5, both good and bad.

After upgrading from the iPhone 4S to the 5 two weeks ago yesterday, I've been on the road -- bouncing between the east and west coasts. That's plenty of opportunity to test the iPhone 5's mettle.

The good, the bad, the meh:

  • Wi-Fi: This was the first gotcha. After arriving at my destination in Philadelphia, a Wi-Fi network I needed to access didn't take -- despite working fine with a host of other devices, including an iPhone 3GS and an iPad 2. As it turns out, this wasn't an iPhone 5 problem but an iOS 6 thing. And it affected my Retina iPad -- upgraded to iOS 6 -- too. The problem was fixed via some weird router firmware acrobatics . Upshot: Lots of frustration.
  • Battery: No complaints here, as my expectations weren't terribly high. I agree with CNET Reviews' take on battery life: no worse than the 4S. Maybe even a little better, considering the fact that I was using the iPhone 5 on Verizon's 4G LTE network in suburban Philadelphia constantly. On average, I would say battery life was between a little less than a day and a day and a half, depending on how much I was leaning on Verizon's network and not Wi-Fi. Upshot: Unchanged from 4S.
  • 4G/LTE: Which brings us to LTE. The iPhone 5 is Apple's first phone on Verizon's 4G LTE network. Let me begin by saying that Verizon's 4G network has the same problems with flaky connections that any 3G network has. For example, I'm sitting smack dab in the middle of an LTE area in Los Angeles as I write this and I get decent 3G speeds (download about 3.8 Mbps, upload 0.45 Mbps) but not 4G. Of course, I can get rocking LTE speeds in plenty of other places. For example, in Thousand Oaks, Calif., on Friday I recorded download speeds up to 40Mbps and uploads of about 9Mbps. And the faster speeds are the rule not the exception. Upshot: Fast, with some exceptions.
  • Screen: The extra half-inch of diagonal size on the phone's Retina 4-inch screen is the rough equivalent (proportionately) of upgrading from a 17-inch desktop display to a 20-inch-class screen. It's not huge but it's extra screen real estate the iPhone desperately needed. In fact, I found myself using the iPhone 5 in lieu of the iPad. In other words, with the 4S I had little tolerance for Web browsing. With the 5, that tolerance threshold is lowered, i.e., I didn't feel the need to always reach for the iPad's 9.7-inch screen. But more to the point, it gets you closer to the big-screen benefits of the 4.8 inch Samsung Galaxy S3. Would I prefer an iPhone with a slightly larger display? Yeah, though the 4.8 incher on the Galaxy S3 makes that phone a little too big for my tastes.

    But does that mean Apple needs to haul out an iPhone 6 sooner rather than later? If there's a growing demand for big-screen phones like the S3 and HTC One X+ then maybe it does. And let me add that I take back what I said before about small smartphones with necessarily small screens being better/more handy than large-screen ones. I was wrong. Upshot: The iPhone was in dire need of a bigger screen.
  • Design: Apple nailed the the physical redesign. As I said before , Apple stretched out the 4S just enough to allow for a bigger screen, while making the iPhone lighter and easier to hold. It instantly and completely obsoletes the 4/4S. Which really wasn't that hard to do since the 4/4S was getting long in the tooth. I still feel the change every time I pick it up. Upshot: Great physical design.
  • Speed: It's fast. Period. The combo of the new A6 processor and LTE delivers. And as for its ability to process data -- irrespective of connection speeds -- I've never found myself saying, hey, this thing is slow. Upshot: Did I say it's fast?
  • Drop test: I knocked (inadvertently) the iPhone pretty hard into another hard surface. I couldn't find any scratches or physical damage. And everything seems to be intact internally. I did panic for a second when I tapped the top of the phone (right under the rear camera) to see if anything was loose and heard a rattling noise. But that fear was laid to rest when I went to an Apple store and tapped the same spot on four iPhone 5s and heard the exact same noise in each one. Upshot: Took a hard knock in stride.
  • Camera: I'm going to withhold detailed commentary on the camera until I get a better feel for what it can do. Suffice to say, there's almost no need anymore to use my small 14MP Kodak M580. If Apple (or another smartphone supplier) figures out how to fit optical zoom into a slim smartphone then -- for me at least -- a separate camera becomes all together unnecessary. The iPhone 5 takes good photos, though Apple should try to push the envelope more on camera tech, I think. Upshot: More later.

Finally, let me say that the comments above only scratch the surface of everyday iPhone usage scenarios. So, I won't pretend to cover all of the pros and cons of the iPhone 5. Constructive comments below are welcome.

iPhone 5.
iPhone 5. Apple
About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.

 

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