Today we’re due to see the arrival of the iPhone 6. Apple are in the best position possible really. Whatever they produce. Whatever they announce, it’ll sell. It’ll sell incredibly well, and then some.
Before I get the almost inevitable criticism, I should point out that I’m usually an Android user. I’ve got used to the foibles and operation of an Android handset so, as you’ll no doubt find out, there might be an amount of bias in this article. It’s hopefully not going to take anything away from the iPhone 5s, but it shows some of the differences as I “jump ship” and look at the Apple handset.
Right now, as I speak, there’s a beautifully shiny iPhone 5s in every single mobile phone store in the world, but hardly anyone will go and buy it because, in a few hours from now, the iPhone 6 will appear. It’s like buying the older “pre-facelift” version of a car. Why? Is the iPhone 5s no good now? No. Not at all. The iPhone 5s has been reviewed quite a bit and you’re probably all familiar with it or you’ve used one. It’s a great phone. A really great phone but I, however, haven’t used it for a great deal of time.
So this is my take on the phone I’ve used solidly for a month. Should you still consider it, despite the iPhone 6 appearing soon? Is iOS bearable for an Android fan? Is the hype worth it? Let’s find out.
I’m also writing this entire review on my iPad, if that means anything. ;)
After using various Samsung and HTC devices in recent weeks, my instant first reaction to the 5s is that the screen is a little small. Although this is something you quickly get used to, compared with the likes of the HTC One M8 it does feel a little dinky. I’m now using the LG G3 (5″ screen) and, due to the tiny bezel, it feels like the right size for me. I presume the iPhone 6 will resolve this particular issue.
The build quality, pretty instantly, is impressive to say the least. Solid, strong and a distinctive design which is both classy and recognisable. The aluminium body gives off a premium feed, but it remains light.
However, as an ex-Android user you can find yourself cursing it almost immediately. It could be the keyboard, or the fact that YouTube uploads don’t carry on uploading once you switch to another app, or perhaps the lack of a back button. Oh yes, the back button, that’s definitely a scary thing to not have if you’re making “the change”. My wife used this (she’s had an Android handset for ages and, although she uses the iPad heavily, she sits on the fence phone-wise), and her first opinion if it was that it was like doing everything left-handed (she’s right-handed of course).
There’s a certain amount of “getting used to” that needs doing, but it’s a mere few minutes or an hour or two before you learn the swipes and the fact that some settings are centrally located. It’s a learning curve, and as a previous Android user you will have to have some patience. It’d be the same if you swapped the other way too.
That ease of use I just mentioned is such a hook for most people. If you’re coming to this “fresh”, as I’ve seen many do, it’s intuitive and easy to get going. Once you’ve got the basic navigation skills and picked up how everything works then you’re set.
The design is pretty stunning, I have to say. I’d perhaps borrow a phrase from a design show on TV and call it “industrial chic”. The chunky buttons and polished, clean lines give it a precise and strong appearance which most people sadly have to then hide behind beefy covers in order to protect their investment.
On the software side, there’s a huge array of apps and games to play and download. You’ll find that some, which are advertised as free, are actually limited by the amount of levels and you’ll then find that there’s an in-game purchase to unlock the full game. This happens sometimes on Android too. In the old days we used to call these “demos” but now they’re off-loaded as full games, even though they’re not.
The choice of apps is well-known, and although there’s a greater percentage of paid-for apps in the iOS App Store than Google Play, you’ll probably be thankful that these apps are more tightly controlled and hamper the OS a lot less. Yes, you could say that the Apple way of doing things can feel “restrictive” at times, but those rules are for the greater good.
The iPhone, because of its popularity, has a huge mass of extra kit that you can use with it. This makes me kinda envious immediately. Cases which are designed with laser-precision and a range of accessories to go alongside your device including covers, speakers and a whole lot more. Add this to the Apple updates and support, plus the fact that the OS is familiar and you’ve got a product that people keep coming back to. People keep wanting.
The amount of accessories and additional kit for the iPhone is staggering. The support that these Apple products have from accessory dealers is just huge. If you need a case, for example, you know that every case manufacturer in the world will DEFINITELY have an iPhone 5s case. Can you say that about any other handset? Really?
Cables, wireless chargers, car holders, screen protectors, car kits – the lot – it’s all available and designed specifically for this handset. It’s that prolific that accessory manufacturers would be nuts not to target it.
For me this is still a little expensive though. Currently £709 for the 64GB version is just on the edge of sanity. I’ll bet my house on the fact that the handset probably costs less than a quarter of that to build, and now that Apple have got together with Beats, you can buy a pair of £169.95 Beats headphones direct from the Apple site too. Just think about that if you’re walking to work with those headphones plugged into your shiny new iPhone and a posh case. You’re probably carry nearly £900 of kit. Anyone else freaking out or is it just me?
That said, you get the “Find my iPhone” app, and you can lock this remotely. I liked that functionality. I also liked the iCloud functionality and, with me being a “Google fan”, how well the iPhone integrated all my Google-based contacts into the phone, even though it wasn’t an Android.
Up front, that fingerprint sensor wasn’t something I really used. It’s easy to setup though and it seemed to work well enough. I was also worried about that screen. I all-too-easily broke my iPad screen and feared that this would be next.
The camera, I’ll confess, is nothing short of brilliant. Images, especially with the HDR auto mode, were crystal clear and incredibly vivid. I used this solely as my holiday camera and it never failed to impress. The videos came out fantastically and I could then capture photos from them after. I loved the slo-mo functionality too, which slowed down videos at any point. You can adjust this after filming something or remove it completely. It was great for action sequences. I quickly got used to the way that the gallery system worked and how to share images via Twitter, Facebook and email. The GMail app, alas, wasn’t as integrated into the OS as it is on Android, and I found that I had to keep checking it for email. I also found that, when attempting to upload my images to Dropbox later, it kept stopping and I’d have to keep waking up the phone to continue the upload. It could just be my ham-fisted Android techniques I guess.
The phone itself (obviously being the “S” variant) was extremely quick and I didn’t experience any slow down and the battery seemed to last forever. I only got one scare, which was in Cyprus when I took the phone out on a bike ride. Half way into the ride it told me that the battery was running low, and my usual “Android twitchiness” got the better of me and I headed back thinking that my entire journey, which was being recorded by GPS on Strava, wouldn’t get logged. However, two things happened. Firstly, because I tried to get back quickly before the battery died, I recorded a record journey time. Secondly, when I did get back, I still had absolutely ages left on the battery. It had simply warned me at 20%, which was still more than enough time to get home and still meant that the iPhone was capable of working for much longer. I’d assumed that it would go flat quickly but it didn’t.
iOS is something I quickly got used to, although I didn’t fiddle around (or feel the need to) with the AirDrop or Today notification window. I liked how most settings were kept central and how fluidly everything worked. Despite the multitude of apps and many different developers, it felt like one complete package – not a phone, an OS and stacks of applications from several people. I did like the way it handled logging into WiFi networks, especially as I was using the paid-for ones abroad.
Would I switch?
Now as I mentioned before, this is more of a review of the product from my perspective as an Android user. At the end of my time, I’ve still switched back to Android and I’ve now got an LG G3. Call me a creature of habit, but it’s something I’ve got used to over the years and, although the iPhone does absolutely everything an Android handset can do, I’d still chose Android. Let me perhaps explain my reasons more clearly in bullet-points…
– The iPhone is a better and more complete “package” than some Android handsets, which can sometimes feel like a bolted-on shell for the Android OS.
– The iPhone camera is brilliant. Can’t fault it.
– The iPhone OS is more controlled.
– Battery life (probably due to OS control) is very good
– No unexpected slow-downs during use, despite the odd app popping up notifications etc
– Resource-heavy apps worked smoothly and without issue
– The in-built security (iPhones are still stolen in large numbers) is great to see and it’s something I’d like to see others implementing.
.. hmm.. I didn’t really explain my reasons at all there did I? For me I guess it comes down to a few things. The first is the price, which for me personally is just too much. Writing about phones, as I have done for some 12 years now, I know that it isn’t costing anywhere near the price-tag to make these things. The premium feel, premium build and premium badge / logo / branding shouldn’t mean that you have to pay a massive premium to get one, but unfortunately that’s just the way things are – whether it be a phone, a car, a laptop or whatever. On Android I can whack a 64GB microSD card into a phone and boost storage for pennies. The screen was also too small for me. A 4″ unit seems, at least in my privileged “phone reviewer” position, to seem a little out of date now.
We also have to talk about the ecosystem. I’ve fallen / bought into the Google ecosystem. It has many faults, and Google (like others) can track me, sell me things and probably read, see and hear everything I’m doing. However, it’s where I’ve ended up and – as a Google user – I felt a slightly on the outside here. You can use the iPhone perfectly well with Google, but you can feel how deep the integration goes on Android whereas on the iPhone it’s only skin deep.
If, however, you’re using an earlier iPhone or an iPad and you want to upgrade without forking out for a shiny new iPhone 6, what the hell is wrong with the iPhone 5s? It might be a bit cheaper after today too! :)
I’ll tell you. Nothing. Nothing at all. It takes fantastic pictures. The sound quality coming out of the (very nice) headphones is staggering, the whole Apple iTunes offering is seamless and fluid, the ecosystem is neat and clean, the major apps you’re going to want are always available to download and they’re always good on this platform. Inside, outside, in the cloud, in your pocket, it’s how an ecosystem and a product should work. It doesn’t feel like you’re buying a phone with a particular OS from a particular maker – it’s one complete product.