What's the point of waiting for the same few people to write the same single glowing review of Apple's new phone? There is none. So we didn't.
We had our intern make a mock-up of the new phone using specs from the leaked cases; we found other devices that made use of some of the iPhone's components; and we carried the foam core iDevice for a couple weeks, loaded up our actual phones with iOS5 and iCloud and got down to business.
This is the first review of the iPhone 5. Sure, it's a little, uhm, hacked-together, but I'll bet you it's not going to differ significantly from the officially sanctioned reviews that come out next week.
The New Size
The iPhone 4 was radically industrial. And really nice looking! But like most radically industrial things, it was a little alienating to... humans. Square pegs don't quite fit in round holes. Stiff bricks don't quite fit in fleshy hands—and then there was the problem with its antenna placement. It's nice to see that Apple evolved the form of its flagship device. The iPhone 5 isn't much of a departure from the 4, but it's just skinnier enough to make a fat difference. Not skinny for its own sake, like some 3G Megan Fox—it's hand friendlier. With its slimmed form and tapered back, the iPhone 5 just fits better. It feels better on your palm, against your face, and in your pocket than its predecessor. Its subtle curved edges evoke a warmer feel than its predecessor.
Now forget that pretty new body. The real star of this new product is a sea change for the iPhone lineage: iOS 5. Some of it's catchup, sure, but it's cohesive, beautiful, and you'll never be able to go back to an older version again. And it owes most of its luster to the finally-great notifications.
It starts with something I'm almost reluctant to call a feature, because it's just correcting something awful about every previous iPhone: those god damned popup bubbles. Well, they're gone. Forever. In interface hell, buried beneath a heap of flaming Nokia menus. If you're watching a movie and someone sends you a text? A little bar flips down from the top to alert you—then after just enough time to see it, it flips back up. The same goes for any push notification. That's it.
The notification pane itself isn't an Android clone: unlike Android's sloppy cafeteria tray of cobbled together information, a data mosaic that's as hard to look at as it is to use, iOS 5's notifications are orderly, rational, and the most functional of all. A notification war room. Neat lines of notifications for any app that can provide them; your Twitter mentions, your Words With Friends turns, your missed calls, received texts. Each app is separated into clean sections, with the ability to easily clear if you want to dispense with them.
And there's more, of course; Jobs' bounty floweth. iMessage? BBM without having to own a BlackBerry, like drunkenness without liver failure. The new camera app? More accurate, with a lovely hardware shutter. Assistant works (mostly) as advertised for dictation, voice commands, and reference. The entire new iOS package is replete with small detail—like a camera button from the lock screen. Every nail is hammered.
Everyone wanted iCloud to be great—because it has the word cloud in it, and clouds are beloved tech things these days. But iCloud isn't raining diamonds and onion rings just because of its prefix—it's a decent backup system, but it's a letdown. Photostream beams your phone's pics to your Mac and other iOS devices, but only 30 days' worth—and only over Wi-Fi. And there's no way to delete something, uh, indiscrete from the stream. Having your contacts and settings backed up remotely is nice in case of disaster. But is iCloud deserving of its own moniker? Probably not.
The New Processor
It's an A5. It's the same thing that's in an iPad 2. The iPhone 5 loads and runs apps substantially faster than the iPhone 4. Yep.
The New Screen
It's wider. Even using a loupe, we're unable to tell if the pixel density's changed on our prototype. I stared very hard. At any rate, it doesn't really matter if the pixel count is upped; Apple has proven before that you can boost a screen without adding more points of light. This phone is no exception; the display looks "better," as every iPhone screen has from generation to generation.
The New Camera
Remember how great the camera in the MyTouch 4G is? It's the same thing, and it's just as good. The 8-megapixel backside-illuminated CMOS sensor really slams the gavel in the case for abandoning your point-and-shoot altogether. The virtual shutter snaps snappier, colors pop more, and noise is all but eliminated in all but the most unfavorable conditions.
Should I Buy It?
Of course you should. The iPhone 5 is an improvement on what is already the best mobile phone ever created. So why wouldn't you jump at the chance?
*We think you know what the asterisk is for.