Jon Bentley: 10 things the iPhone 5 needs before I'll buy one

Our new CNET UK columnist, the Gadget Show's Jon Bentley, holds forth on what's holding him back from buying an iPhone. Will Apple get it right this time?

Jon Bentley Columnist
Jon Bentley’s career has been dominated by two passions – cars and technology. The addiction to cars led to his first job, at the European headquarters of the Ford Motor Company. In 1984 he joined the BBC’s Top Gear programme as a Researcher. He went on to become Producer and Editor of the show between 1987 and 1999, where he was responsible for launching the TV careers of Jeremy Clarkson, Quentin Willson and Vicki Butler-Henderson. In 2002 Jon launched Fifth Gear for Five and produced the show until 2004 when he became a presenter. When Five launched The Gadget Show in 2004 he was quickly snapped up from Fifth Gear.
Jon Bentley
6 min read

I've always had colossal respect for the iPhone. Before Apple brought forth its mobile offering, the smart phone world was populated by impossibly nerdy, and often inaccessible, niche products. Now almost universally, consumers consider the smart phone a must-have product.

The iPhone quickly became the best smart phone in the world with the launch of the 3GS in 2009, and since then, it's won every smart phone test I've conducted on The Gadget Show. Samsung's recent high-end competitor, the Galaxy S2, would now beat it, but only just.

The iPhone is undoubtedly one of the greatest technology feats of the 21st century so far, but I've never liked it quite enough to actually part with my money over one. Here's what the new iPhone 5 needs to get my cash:

1. A radio

I find life simply unbearable if I do not have a radio within button-prodding distance and Apple's stubborn refusal to put an FM radio on the iPhone is the primary reason I've never purchased one for myself. And don't tell me that 3G radio is a good substitute -- it isn't. Network capacity and signal prove inadequate for this task, and the bandwidth would zap through my monthly data allowance in no time.

I'm convinced that Apple doesn't bother purely because there isn't any decent FM radio in California, just bland middle-of-the-road pap. But here in Britain we have the best radio in the world and I can't bear to suffer withdrawal symptoms. So let's have FM, and for that matter a DAB radio as well, so I can listen to 6 Music and the World Service.

2. A decent alarm clock

Without a totally dependable alarm clock, I'm a nervous wreck. I lie in bed quivering, unable to sleep in case I don't wake up on time. Unlike every Nokia I've ever owned, the iPhone's alarm clock doesn't work when the phone is off, so I end up leaving the phone on, but forgetting to activate silent mode.

This results in wrong number calls from early morning revellers, nuisance texts from insurance companies or calls from the office who've forgotten that we're filming in the States that week and are ringing up to check next week's dubbing arrangements... at three in the morning local time.

I know Apple isn't alone in this oversight. Most Android phones are similarly afflicted. The result is I carry round a spare Nokia 6303i Classic as my alarm clock. Why can't Apple fix this, or at least give you the option?

3. Better reception

The initial rumpus about the iPhone 4's reception difficulties, 'Antennagate', has been largely forgotten -- even though the problems still exist. If you don't use a rubber bumper the reception slips away all too easily mid-call and isn't that great to start with. When I'm out walking with an iPhone I find myself sprinting up hills mid-call in the hope that I keep my signal.

It's great for the fitness regime, but come on Apple, you've been making smart phones for four years now -- you're paying Nokia for all those technical patents -- it's about time you got this right.

4. A proper flash

The iPhone 4 has a pretty decent camera, except in one important respect -- the flash. The tiny, yet piercing, LED is so hopelessly unfit for purpose it goes beyond red-eye into somewhere far worse -- the almost supernatural realms of fluorescent green-eye. It turns your night-time shots into horror stills, your best friends into zombies.

When I enjoy a night out on the town I want some pleasantly lit memories of my friends enjoying themselves. A better LED flash is the absolute minimum. A xenon flash, a good one like the old Nokia N82's, would be ideal.

5. Plug and Play without iTunes

iTunes and I don't get along very well. In particular I hate the way -- jailbreaking and somewhat questionable third-party applications aside -- you have to use the bloated software to get audio files onto your iPhone that you've downloaded elsewhere. It's just the thing I often need to do in a desperate hurry when I'm about to rush off on a foreign trip or go for a walk.

Finding a computer with iTunes, transferring the file, importing it then transferring it again -- it's all far, far, far too much bother. Can I just plug and play like I do on other phones? Please!

6. Tougher glass

Most phones are tough enough to take the occasional tumble. Not the iPhone. Let it slip out of your hand and the next thing to go flying will be the contents of your stomach as you instantly anticipate the sickening consequences of your momentary carelessness. Judging by the experiences of The Gadget Show office, dropping the iPhone4 is a shattering experience every time, and potentially a very expensive one. Design something tougher.

7. A normal SIM card

Is it really so vital to use those Micro SIM cards that won't fit into virtually every other phone without an adaptor? I'm always testing different phones and I know I'd never have the adaptor with me at the crucial moment. Apple says it can't fit a normal sized SIM into an iPhone because it's so packed full of technology.

Rubbish. Everyone else seems to manage it. Still, at least the iPhone 4 has a SIM card -- there's always the threat they'll use virtual SIMs, presumably to require a purchase through iTunes, with Apple taking 30 per cent of your phone bill.

8. A smoother shape

The first three iPhones were wonderfully friendly to hold. With their smooth edges and roundy-round corners they positively invited you to caress and cherish them. I've always found the iPhone 4 sharp-edged and uncomfortable in comparison. It's like the prototype that should never have made it into production. I want a more approachable, more tactile iPhone again.

9. A faster processor

The iPhone 4 is already feeling a tad lumbering compared to its dual-core rivals from HTC and Samsung, which devour and render Web pages with noticeably more vim. The iOS 5 update will slow things down further and make it lose even more phone races. This is one thing on my list that Apple is sure to deal with. They'd better add more RAM, too -- rivals already have twice the iPhone 4's 512MB.

10. A lower price tag

When you're using an iPhone, everybody sneaks a surreptitious glance to see whether or not it's the latest model. My financially prudent side hates the idea of spending £612 on a phone that will be conspicuously out of date next year.

With other, less expensive phones, nobody really notices how old they are and you can usually make a case for them if it comes to a gadget stand-off -- "The game keypad on my Xperia Play has never been surpassed," or "I bought my old Nokia N8 because it's got the best phone camera in the world."

With an iPhone you're on an expensive treadmill, heading towards compulsive phone update disorder. Feeding the addiction needs to be significantly cheaper.

So what do you think of my list? Would any of these persuade you to buy an iPhone 5? Or will you be getting one regardless. Let fly in the comments section below or on CNET UK's dashing Facebook page.

  • Jon Bentley is a presenter on The Gadget Show. His career has been dominated by two passions -- cars and technology. In 1984, he joined the BBC's Top Gear, becoming producer and editor of the show and launching the TV careers of Jeremy Clarkson, Quentin Willson and Vicki Butler-Henderson. In 2002, Jon launched Fifth Gear for Five, joining The Gadget Show when it started in 2004.