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iPhone 5. The best yet repetitive.

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The iPhone 5. This is the greatest iPhone ever, no question about it.

 

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The tolerances here are unheard of in the rest of the industry. Apple uses a 29MP camera to measure 725 different ceramic inlays for the antennas and picks out the best match to use. Yes, the antennas bother me, but they’re executed with perfection. It's amazing that Apple is able to produce millions of these finely crafted devices.

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The chamfered edges in particular are quite amazing. I know intellectually that this isn’t anything special but the execution here is top notch. It makes the iPhone 5 even more jewel and watch like than the iPhone 4.

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It’s gorgeous, watch how the light plays with the edges.

Static photos don't do the iPhone 5's beauty justice. Here is a quick video showing how the environment affects the phone. This is one of those rare products that actually looks better in real life than in press photos.

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So pure. 

 

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One thing I do have to point out is that people having been receiving iPhones with imperfections on the chamfered edges. This was my phone right out of the box. I took it to the Apple Store and they were more than happy to replace it with a new one. If yours has nicks or scratches (they usually appear as vertical lines) on it, take it to the Genius Bar immediately. You paid for the phone, you deserve a perfect one. These defects are clearly coming from the machining process when they cut the chiseled edge.

 

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The biggest change to the new iPhone is the larger, 4” display. It’s by far the best display Apple has ever shipped. It makes colors on the iPhone 4 look dull in comparison, and seems to be slightly more accurate than the iPad’s retina display. Most people won't notice the improvements but if you have any attention to detail, your eyes will immediately appreciate the delicious colors. 

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The concern is that 4” might be too large. I found one handed usage possible, but not as easy as the iPhone 4. You’ll find yourself moving the phone around in your hand a lot during the use of it. It's still usable though, unlike devices like the HTC One X.

 

 
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I welcome the new display because it really does open up the canvas and feel refreshing to the eye. I find reading, watching video and just general use more comfortable on the 5. I still wouldn't use it to watch movies but it's perfect for watching news clips on apps like CNN. Also, I used to use Instapaper exclusively on my iPad but with the added screen real-estate, I've started doing light reading on my phone. Some apps like the music app don’t make good use of the space but I’m expecting 3rd party developers to do some interesting work.

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The most radical change has got to be the thinner, lighter design. Everyone that I’ve shown my phone to responds, “Woah, it’s so light!” and proceeds to almost dropping it because they're so shocked by the reduced mass. This doesn't mean that the iPhone feels cheap though, and the people that describe the phone as feeling "hollow" are incorrect. The center of mass is still inside the phone, where the battery, logic board and display make up the majority of the mass.

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But what’s most interesting is that the thinner design along with the more slender proportions makes the phone feel smaller in the hand. It’s weird, it really shouldn’t but it does. This aids the phone tremendously in making the larger display more usable.

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If I were to look at pure hardware design, I do prefer the completely glass iPhone 4. It feels more sleek and resolved. I do like the 5, but it needed a better solution for the design and placement of the visual elements on the back.

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Apple seems to be going with finer and finer bead-blasts depending on the scale of the product. The iPad has a finer texture than the MacBooks and the iPhone even finer than the iPad. The clean execution of the Apple logo looks nice (particularly in black), though the mirror finish could be even smoother.

There has been a bit of controversy on the internet regarding how easily scratched the iPhone gets. People seem to be wanting Apple to defy the laws of material science but that's not going to happen. The iPhone is made from Aluminum, the same material as the iPad and MacBooks. It's going to to scratch more easily than the stainless steel band and glass surfaces of the iPhone 4. That's the nature of the material. Deal with it.

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Another radical change, the Lightning connector. People are complaining but that’s how life works, you've got to let go of the past sometimes. 

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Lightning is really tiny. The female jack actually has two fingers that grab the connector. It feels great to plug-in, and feels far more durable than the original dock connector.

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Even the USB connector has a smaller design.

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Apple also includes EarPods (with a travel case). They were designed by 3D-scanning ears to find the average shape between them. The result is a pair of earphones that look awesome - in a functional way.

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The EarPods are completely plastic and have no padding. Surprisingly, they’re one of the most comfortable earphones I’ve ever owned. Keep in mind though, they’re not going to fit everyone, but they’ll fit more people than the original ones did.

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They sound quite nice too. They’re smoother and the bass response has been dramatically improved. The mid and high clarity seems to be improved but still lacking. For $30 earphones, these are fantastic. They’ve earned their place in my bag for casual use.

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The iPhone 5’s hardware is great, and still substantially ahead of the rest of the industry (Nokia being an exception). The issue with the iPhone is that iOS has become stagnant. The iPhone 5 doesn’t bring anything monumental with iOS 6. There’s nothing bad, but there’s nothing innovative. I was hoping that Apple had some secret features that they were going to launch with the iPhone 5, but there was nothing.

 

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Turn by turn navigation via Siri is a seamless experience (at least in LA and Seattle from my testing), but it’s not going to change the industry. By the way, I don’t know if I have bad eyes, but I feel that the interface on maps is way too low-contrast for driving. I want to take a quick glance and keep my eyes on the road but the white-on-pastel text makes me squint.

 

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Overall, I love the iPhone 5 but it didn't bring me to my knees like past models. The hardware is excellent but iOS 6 is simply not looking as innovative as before. It’s more refined and polished than its competitors but it’s not advancing as it should. I’m not disappointed per-se but I'm beginning to worry slightly. The last time Apple moved into a new architecture for the iPhone was the jump from the 3GS to the 4. Compare that with the 4S to the 5. You see what I mean?

I think the biggest problem is that I don't know what to say when people come up to me and ask, "What's the one feature that'll make me want to get the iPhone 5?"