[Review] The iPhone 5S (from an Android users point of view)

As an Android enthusiast, I constantly hear the strident call of those on the other side of the smartphone debate that I am “wrong” for bashing the iPhone and, along with it, iOS.  And I am happy to defend from all comers the Android platform and what I perceive as its superiority.  So it came as a great blow to my personal belief system when my daytime employer suddenly was to provide me with an iPhone 5S as my work phone.  This was to replace my trusty Blackberry which (let’s face it) was dying a slow hideous death.  So grudgingly, I accepted my new tech, and thought this would be an ideal chance for me to give it and Apple fan boys everywhere a fair shake by spending a weekend getting to know the “real” Apple.  Will I be converted?  Will my passion for all things Android taint my desire to use the 5S at all?  Read on to find out!

I’m not opposed to Apple products in general – as you can see here I actually am quite fond of some of them.  I just also happen to believe that Android smartphones in general are superior.  But you came here to read my take on the iPhone 5S, not defend myself as a reviewer.  So, let’s get started…

How It Looks:

One of the areas the iPhone 5/5S shines is in terms of hardware and aesthetic appeal.  You can read here how both of the Two Tech Geeks agree:  the hardware design of the iPhone’s latest version of itself is well designed and crafted.  The 5S is identical in terms of hardware to the reviewed iPhone 5 and its incredibly thin, light, and premium looking.  The screen is sharp, bright, and clear, and sports impressive viewing angles.  Its not the largest or brightest panel on the market any longer, as many Android smartphone makers have moved well beyond the iPhone’s 4” display size.  The symmetry of the design show that the folks Apple have making their handset and overseeing the quality control are doing a bang up job.
Coming from a Blackberry device, its leaps and bounds better.  But if you are like me and also have a current generation Android device to compare the iPhone 5S to the LG G2 the iPhone tends to look small and outdated however.  If I put my current personal phone next to my current work phone, I doubt someone who is was truly objective would pick the smaller, not as bright, not as large display device.  The G2 makes the iPhone look small…not the other way around.

How It Feels:

Apple has spent quite of bit of time and money in developing an iPhone that will feel in hand as good as it looks.  And the iPhone 5S accomplishes this mission quite well.  Picking it up and holding it for text messages, phone calls, or web surfing screams “premium device” to anyone who will listen.  The rounded corers and thin profile mated with an aluminum and glass finish give it a universal appeal, and one can test this theory of how well people like it by merely looking around.  I was waiting in a doctors office lobby the other morning and noticed that the other 3 people in the room with me were all on their iPhones while waiting.  You don’t sell millions and millions of high end (and expensive) devices by having a phone that is bad looking or uncomfortable to hold for long periods of time.
Once again, in a battle royale with my old Blackberry device, the iPhone blows it out of the water.  But also once again, when compared to the latest generation of Android handsets (and the LG G2 in particular) the iPhone feels small and cramped.  I dislike typing on it since the keyboard seems smashed into a tiny width and the narrow and tall portrait screen aren’t ideal for viewing most any kind of media, such as web pages or video content.  Yeah, I can turn it from portrait to landscape, but I can do the same on the G2, and the G2 will still win.  Listen – bigger is bigger, and in the mobile device space, bigger > smaller every time.  One of the reasons I left my Droid Incredible for the Galaxy Nexus was screen size…and I then left the Galaxy Nexus for the G2 for (wait for it) screen size.  The iPhone 5S feels great…but I still don’t want to use it for those things I can do on my G2 without squinting.

How It Works:

The iPhone mantra “it just works.”  I can ask anyone with an iPhone and they will give me the same answer.  Looking at various Apple related message boards I can continually see something similar repeated over and over and over again:  trust iOS to manage your phone for you, because it just works.  Coming from the open source Android platform makes this probably the single most difficult experience of my life.  Its all a matter of what you’re used to.  And I’m certainly not used to letting the phone run me; in fact, quite the opposite.
But I digress.  My own foibles aside, the iPhone does work, after a fashion.  While tied to my corporate e-mail and such, I can send and receive message easily, if somewhat obnoxiously (see my not really thrilled reaction to the iOS 7 update here)  I can organize the home screen, minus any widgets of course since they don’t exist in iOS.  I can move icons around but can’t put them in anything other than lined up order.  No icons in just the 4 corners of the screen for you!  Many of the features and inner functions of iOS seem counter-intuitive to a long time Android user, and the lack of a “back” button is mildly annoying about 43 times a day.  The single home button of the iPhone 5S does serve not only double but triple and quadruple duty – starting with taking you home, and continuing through recently opened apps, Touch ID (by far and away my favorite iPhone 5S feature, more on this in a moment) and simply firing up the screen when its turned off.  Ironically, with more screen real estate, Android devices have more room for multiple on screen keys, and thus eliminate the need for a “home button” and also eliminating the incredibly large bottom bezel that comes with it.  Apple (much like Samsung in this respect) is loathe to give up on this legacy button since its SO much a part of how their OS works.  While it can’t justify its own existence with merely software usage, it certainly can with its major hardware function:  Touch ID.
Touch ID deserves its own break out paragraph, so here it is.  This might be the single greatest and most useful hardware innovation to go into a mobile device in years.  Instead of incorporating a mobile payment service that’s not widely adopted yet or wireless charging (another personal favorite of mine) Apple instead went with an idea that is simple to discuss and has been incredibly difficult for any other hardware OEM to get right (yes I’m looking at you HTC).  Touch ID scans your fingerprint, or multiple fingers, and retains the image to allow you to unlock the phone with a single press.  This is the ID system we’ve all been waiting for.  While it might be more elegant to have it integrated into the display (and reduce the bezel issue in the iPhone) the Touch ID panel in the home button, to coin a phrase, just works.  You can also use this Touch ID system in lieu of passwords to make purchase in the App Store and iTunes.  In case you missed it before, this thing is really, really good.
iOS 7 drives very good hardware, but in my opinion the legacy of iOS as an operating system is increasingly getting left behind by a constant stream of updates and revisions that Android has undergone.  Kit Kat, Android’s latest iteration, is not as far behind as it was when Android was first compared to iOS, and many of iOS’s best features are those that have been ported from Android.  Bright colors and nice animations are fun, but if they don’t add any additional functionality then they don’t do anything for me.  The lack of simple things like widgets is still mindboggling in the 7th version of Apple’s operating system, and one can only wonder what kind of creativity might come from having a developer community as ardent for Apple as the one that exists for Android.  Open source does have some advantages…no matter what its drawbacks.  And while Apple had managed to do some great things in the past – the present and future currently belong to the largest mobile operating system in the world.

Final thoughts:

In comparing the iPhone 5S to my previously Blackberry device, it’s a night and day change.  The old gold standard for corporate mobile devices pales when put up against the latest flagship from Apple.  Issues arise when comparing the 5S to the latest devices put out by Android however.  Screen size, battery life, and power/flexibility of the operating system are all categories that could be swung in favor of other mobile devices powered by Android.  Other than the Touch ID system, which is clearly superior to anything else out in the market from any OEM, there isn’t a real compelling reason to choose Apple’s 5S, unless you’ve already had an iPhone for many years and are invested in their ecosystem.
Rumors abound that Apple has in production a new, larger device to meet the demands of smartphone users in the United States.  The iPad mini was also born in response to a market that embraced the 7 inch Android tablet with great enthusiasm.  And this is the main issue with Apple recently – instead of making devices that are on the cutting edge, they are now adopting those features developed and produced on other platforms.  Where Apple once led the market in the smartphone innovation space, they are now behind – and are in danger of being left behind.

[Op-Ed] A completely unbiased Android users opinion of iOS 7 – it sucks

Image courtesy of Apple.com

So…yeah.  I’m an Android guy.  Have been for a long time, and its still my current phone.  But as many already know, I DO own Apple products.  Yes, even me.  For all my bashing of their not really being a tech company more than a marketing company and not having had an innovation since the iPad first debuted, I do like and purchase (or ask for as gifts) some of their devices.  This puts me in a unique position: to be on the outside looking in.  No “iSheep” fanboiness here…I’m looking solely at how the device works best for me.  And I have to be honest – I wish Apple would have left my iPod touch the way it was before iOS 7.

I really couldn’t live without my iPod.  For all my posturing, I love this piece of tech.  It makes my daily commute more bearable and allows me to listen to my entire library of music in a small, portable package.  And it has done so since they had little trackwheels and clicky buttons.  And when I got my latest iPod touch (see my review here) I was elated.  And recently, when I heard about the upgrade to iOS 7, I figured “why not?”  I was actually a little interesting in getting a chance to play around with it, and I’d seen the early release photos of what it was supposed to look like as well.  But the reality did not match the idea I had of what the experience was going to be like in my mind.

First off, lets get the obvious out of the way – the colors are hideous.  Flat out annoying.  And standardized icons have been changed (along with some of their names) to boot.  Which (for me) means that after downloading and launching it for the first time, my first thought was “did something go wrong with this install?”  Because things sure look and feel off around here.  Folders no longer look like folders, but more like grey blobs in which other, more colorful blobs reside.  Facetime was moved out of the folder blob where I had placed it, and it was now front and center on my home screen.  Really, Apple?

Image courtesy of Apple.com

Okay, okay – maybe I’m being overly critical you might say.  The colors don’t look that bad.  And haven’t you been saying that iOS is tired and could use an update?  Yes – perhaps all of these things are true.  But there’s tweaking and there is radical redesign; this is the latter.  And not all change for the sake of change is good.  Just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean others won’t either…but as with most things Apple, you don’t get a choice.  With my Android phone, if I don’t like how the stock look and feel of things is, I can install a custom launcher and then choose from dozens (if not hundreds) of other icon packs, themes, and other such to change it over and over and over again until I find something I like that works for me.  Rather than the “Apple tells me that I will love it” (whether I love it or not) approach.

My annoyance with iOS 7 is more than skin deep however.  There are other relatively minor changes that are puzzling too.  For example, on iOS 6 one of the features I used most was a double button press to wake the screen which, if your last activity was playing music, would wake the iPod to the music player and allow you to play the current or next track with just a single additional tap on the screen.  This is gone in iOS 7, now replaced with the double button press taking me to the lock screen and asking me to swipe to unlock, then pressing again on the music player to start my track playing.  While not important to some, this is one of the main features I used with my iPod, and now it takes longer to get my music to play.  Perhaps this has something to do with more security in this version of iOS, but honestly, its more irritating than anything else about the operating system to me.

Image courtesy of Apple.com

Hey, its not all bad – the Control Center feature (accessing your settings from a single contextual swipe up menu from the bottom of the screen) is useful and actually decently implemented.  Not something radically innovative again, as this “feature” (in various forms) has been in versions of Android for a while now, but at least it was well thought out. The new animations for things opening and closing/launching is neat, but hardly something I would hang my hat on if I was touting the merits of the overall operating system.  The sorting of pictures (excuse me, Photos) into Collections and Moments is long overdue, and a vast improvement over the glut of photos en masse in Camera Roll – but again, this is something that should come as the icing on the cake, not the cake itself.  And all these changes come at a price – even my less than 1 year old iPod touch (5th gen) stutters and lags a bit when performing routine tasks.  I can’t imagine what the new iOS its doing to owners of iPhones from the 3S-4S range.

Most of the changes seem forced, copies of other operating systems innovations (the tabbed multi-tasking or Safari tab switchers come to mind immediately) or fall into the catagory of just plain “why haven’t we had this until now?”  I think that Apple’s leadership realized that they needed to make a big splash with something and they were counting on iOS 7 and the new iPhone 5S/C to do just that.  Well, maybe just the iOS 7 and 5C since the 5S (as usual) is mostly just a spec bump and a new gold color chassis.  For my money, I’ve been thinking more and more often how I wish I had my old drab looking iOS 6 look and feel back.  At least with it, I knew where everything was.

[News]First pictures of the iPhone 5S case leak out

This morning purported images of the iPhone 5S case leaked out.  They look remarkably similar to the iPhone 5 except for some minor changes inside.

It’s probably safe to say that the iPhone 5S will be virtually indistinguishable from the iPhone 5 from the outside.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing though, as the iPhone 5 design is fantastic.  Quite frankly I’m much more interested in the Jony Ives iOS7 makeover than the new hardware. I’m expecting a pretty major refresh and think iOS fans are in for a treat.  We’ll find out soon enough.