Look, the iPhone 5 is great. All the things you’ve read about it already being light, fast, with a richer-looking display, all that’s true, so let’s take that as a given.
But there are real trade-offs. And I don’t mean like the iPad mini’s display. That’s not a trade-off (“swallow” the lower resolution display to get physical compactness), that’s a bunch of crap — how the tech press can be dancing in the streets over something with a two-generations-back-poor display is beyond me, and I say this as an Apple devotee, but that’s neither here nor there.
I mean real tradeoffs, as in, X is worse, but it’s so Y can be better. And these trade-offs are almost exclusively the purview of folks who are already iPhone owners. For newcomers, these will likely matter far less.
There’s two I’m thinking of. The first is the connector. When people first started grousing about what a pain it was going to be when Apple changed to the 9-pin connector from the 30-pin, I rolled my eyes. Life goes on, guys. But now that I have it, it actually is a pain in the ass, and it becomes so almost immediately.
“Hmm, battery’s low. Guess I’ll plug it in over here…oh wait.”
“I’ll listen to some podcasts in the car. I’ll just dock it here and…gah.”
If you’re an existing iPhone user, you may have several chargers, docks, and cables strewn about your home, car, and office, and now none of them are any use to you. It’s not that this is insurmountable, but there is a huge convenience and even cost factor to consider. If nothing else, your routine, your expectancies about how you can go about your day with this device upon which you so dearly rely, is upset. Again, this is not apocalyptic, but among all the little conveniences of this sleek new device will also be included this constant hiccup you’ll experience throughout your day, unless you immediately replace all your chargers, docks, and cables with iPhone 5-compatible ones. And since you already shelled out for the phone, that can be quite a lift.
I even grabbed an overpriced 30-pin to 9-pin adapter, just to have one, and goddamn it you can’t use it with a Speck case on. So now when I do plug the damn thing into an adapted charger, I have to squeeze the bottom of the case off. This is not worthy of medicating oneself over, but again, it’s yet another bump in the road you’ll be dealing with over and over.
All that said, it’s a better connector, it’s firm, and yet slips in and out more easily, it’s a smaller port for dust to find its way into, and it will likely open the door to all manner of peripherals that can take advantage of the connector’s technology. I have to say that on this score alone, though, the connector change, it’s a net negative. Ask me again in, like, three years when I’m ogling my iPhone 8 or 7S or whatever.
The second thing is that bigger screen, or, I should say, longer screen. Now, I really like it. I was dubious at first of the smidgen of extra room at the top, the extra-row-of-icons’ worth of space. But it really does look better, it really does leave more room for content — particularly when the keyboard or a menu pops up, and most importantly, the iPhone 5 as a result of its longer screen begins to feel like more of a reading device. Like, dare I say it, a “phablet.” I have begun lusting after the real estate afforded by things like Samsung’s Galaxy S III and Note, but it turns out that the extra length, as opposed to also having additional width, is all you need. There is a little more room for your eyeballs to breathe, and it’s great.
But! Actually, before I tell you, let me first show you:
Look, I am a small guy. That means I have small-ish hands. Not tiny, but small compared to most adult men. The pre-5 iPhones fit my small hand perfectly. I could reach every touch zone on the display and the home button with my thumb, no problem. Now, well, goddamn it, I can’t reach the top. In order to tap things on that top row, particularly those things in the uppermost corners, I have to either stretch uncomfortably (and carefully) or change my grip. This is not convenient, and it is, yes, another hiccup. What was once effortless and done without thought is now a thing.
But it’s not a deal-breaking thing. Nor is the connector issue. As I said at the start, the plusses of the iPhone 5 are fantastic. It looks better, it feels better, the display is better, it’s faster, and it has a better connection to wifi and cellular networks. These absolutely add up to a superior product to the previous models.
But they don’t add up to an eradication, an obsolescence of the previous models. There’s a very strong case to be made that for some, perhaps many people, the iPhone 4S is actually a better idea. It’s still fast, it’s still gorgeous, it’s still a fantastic phone — and it still works the way you expect it to, with all your accessories, and you can tap just as you have always tapped.
I’ve come down on the side of the positives outweighing the negatives, but unlike, say, with a move from the 3GS to the 4, where the change was to something staggeringly and obviously superior, the move from 4S to 5 is definitely a promotion, but it’s to something with new trade-offs that an old-school iPhone user will have to make a conscious decision to contend with. A smartphone of today is an object designed explicitly to smooth out your life, to make as many parts of your daily existence less troublesome. The iPhone 5 does this wonderfully in many ways, but for the first time in this product line’s history I think, it also takes a few steps back.