The Apple iPhone 5 goes on sale Friday, Sept. 21, and the early reviews are in. It’s surprisingly thin, wonderfully light, shockingly fast and improved in dozens of little ways, the critics agree. What they disagree about is the primary niggling annoyance—the bit Apple didn’t quite get right. And on this, each generally went his own way.
On the whole, however, they agree it’s a delight, a super-fast marvel. Most people, they suggest, will find it to be the best smartphone on the market, and for everyone else, thank goodness—diversity is a good thing.
The New York Times’ David Pogue writes that Apple’s typical obsession over details and its ability to call the shots with components suppliers are both working to the buyer’s advantage in the iPhone 5. The camera is “among the best ever put into a phone,” he writes, and the device is so thin and light, “it’s well on its way to becoming a bookmark.”
But then there’s that connector issue. For the first time, Apple has changed the charging connector on the iPhone, rendering obsolete all iPhone accessories (many of them quite expensive) unless a user buys a $29 adapter, and sometimes not even then.
The change was inevitable–Apple did hold out a very long time, by tech standards—and necessary to slim the phone down as much as Apple did. It’s a better connector as connectors go, most agree. But it still kind of stinks.
“If you have a few accessories, you could easily pay $150 in adapters for a $200 phone,” wrote Pogue. “That’s not just a slap in the face to loyal customers, it’s a jab in the eye.”
The major gripe of All Things D’s Walt Mossberg—who of course also found the iPhone 5 to be significantly faster, thinner and lighter to almost the point of seeming a mock-up rather than the real thing—was the proprietary mapping application that Apple has replaced Google Maps with.
While Apple’s Maps offer iPhone users turn-by-turn directions—a feature that Android users have long enjoyed but that Google has left out of Apple’s version of Google Maps—Mossberg found it to be “a step backward” from the Google app.
“While Apple’s maps feature a 3-D ‘Flyover’ view of some central cities, they lack Google’s very useful ground-level photographic street views. And they also lack public-transit routing,” wrote Mossberg. “Apple will instead link you to third-party transit apps. Also, while I found Apple’s maps accurate, they tend to default to a more zoomed-in view than Google’s, making them look emptier until you zoom out.”
Bloomberg’s Rich Jaroslovsky found the “fit and finish” of the iPhone 5 to be “more like a fine wristwatch,” than something one should throw in a purse with keys, and praised its performance, particularly on AT&T’s Long Term Evolution (LTE) network, as “roaringly fast.”
But he also bumped into the trouble with Apple Maps.
In an initial test, he wrote, the iPhone 5 was “too easily confused, especially in urban areas. At one point as I was driving south on San Francisco’s Embarcadero, it thought I was going north; at another point, it mistakenly thought I was on Fremont Street, a couple of blocks away.”
Apple gave him a second unit to try out, which behaved better. Though when the GPS system was in use for an extended period, Jaroslovsky wrote, “the phone grew noticeably hot.”
In Engadget’s Geekbench test suite, wrote Tim Stevens, the iPhone 5 scored an impressive 1,628, compared to the iPhone 4S’ 634.
“That’s more than twice as fast,” he wrote, “and while you won’t necessarily see such huge increases in day-to-day usage, apps do load noticeably quicker, HDR images are processed in half the time and tasks like video rendering in iMovie are equally expedient.”
But Stevens went on to write that, while much about the phone is ahead of the curve, “it’s the operating system here that’s beginning to feel a bit dated and beginning to show its age.”
Still, like the others, Stevens agrees it’s an excellent phone, “a hallmark of design” and no doubt—as Apple has also asserted—the best iPhone yet.
If you’re an Android user and you love it, great. Stick with it. But if you’ve been thinking of switching or are a current iPhone user ready to upgrade, it’s a no-brainer. As Stevens writes, “This is the one you’ve been waiting for.”