I’d spent 9 months with the iPhone 3G and loved it, but my interest was piqued by a new kid on the block; The HTC Desire. Looking back it was quite a leap of faith to buy the Desire as I had absolutely no idea what Android was, but once I had it I was hooked. One of the main reasons to jump was the better screen on the Desire. It was 3.7” (480x800) whilst the iPhone 3G was 3.5” (320x480).
I kept that Desire for 18 months but the lure of a Samsung Galaxy Nexus and Ice Cream Sandwich was too hard to resist. Then periodic upgrades to Nexus 4 and HTC One take me to where I am today.
After the Desire, the next three phones all followed market trends and went BIG as they had 4.65”, 4.7” and 4.7” screens. Now being honest, i've never fully enjoyed having a phone that big, but with Android flagships we haven’t really had much choice have we?
Here’s the problem with me, dainty little hands. Yep, i'll admit it. Look at this snap of me with my HTC One M7 trying to get to the top right hand corner with my thumb. No chance. As much as I enjoy using it, there is no way I comfortably use the M7 one handed.
So enough is enough. Look at the screen sizes on the 2014 flagships; HTC One M8 (5”), Samsung Galaxy S5 (5”), Sony Z2 (5.2”) and LG G3 (5.5”). I’m sorry, all way too big for me, look at my here with a M8 in the Three store, I can't even reach halfway up the damn thing with my thumb.
But what smaller option do we have? Aside from the Sony Z1 Compact (4.3”), there’s no decent spec Android phone with a smaller screen.
Now that the cpu war appears to be over the main requirement for me is a decent camera. I've got two young children so I need a fast shutter speed to capture them. I also need camera software that is intelligent and helpful enough to aid that sort of fast capture. The Sense camera app on the M7 is just that with its continuous shot mode. Its not even a ‘mode’ as such as you don't have to mess about with any options. If you want to take a single shot you just press the shutter once, but if you want to take a rapid burst of shots just hold down the shutter button and it rattles off upto 20 quick fire snaps. You can then go back into gallery and swipe through them, either keeping them all (great for Google+ auto awesome’s) or choose ‘best shot’ to keep the best one and discard all the rest.
But here lies an opportunity to try something new. The camera on my M7 is playing up, showing a purple cast across the image in lower light. So it needs to go back to HTC for warranty repair, but will leave me phone less for around 10 working days.
As I said above, the Sony Z1 Compact is the only decent spec smaller Android phone but i'm put off the Z1C because i'll lose the ‘burst’ mode. Apparently in the Sony camera app you have change mode and actually have to manually choose ‘burst mode’ instead of ‘normal’. If I were to do this i'd have missed the shot by the time i'd messed about switching modes.
If I didn’t got with the Z1C, what is left? What about an iPhone with its 4” screen? James Norton (@nortools) is nothing but glowing in his praise of the iPhone 5S and assures me the camera and app work in the same way as the M7. With the added benefit that the image quality on the 5S camera is going to be better than the M7.
So I decided to go with the iPhone 5S as I thought it would the more interesting experiment. I felt going for the Z1C would just be a side step as I know Android inside out.
Before we continue I must stress i’m very open minded about other phones and operating systems. If something is good, I will like it no matter who make it or what software its running. Similarly, if something is terrible i'll say so. Just because i've used Android for a good number of years it doesn't mean i've turned into one of these childish ‘haters’ that seem to frequent twitter.
… spends a week trying to procure a iPhone 5S …
So the iPhone has arrived, its a 16gb iPhone 5S in space gray as i'm really not brave enough to go white/silver or white/gold. Hardware wise, lets make no bones about it, this is a stunning device, beautifully crafted, not a joint out of place. You might remember my initial M7 build problems? This is a million miles away from that experience, it looks every penny a flagship and premium product.
Okay, first problem, Nano SIM. I suppose many people changing phones encounter this now? So out comes the ‘SIM cutter” to take my M7 Micro SIM down to a Nano SIM. When will manufacturers standardise on the same SIM card size? I can't believe we are still in a world where three different size of SIM cards are still being used in new devices. Grumble, grumble.
……. one week later …….
I've now been using the iPhone 5S as my daily driver for a week, so i'm hopefully in a decent position to comment on various elements that have caught my attention and are worthy of comment.
Size, Screen and Performance
Wow, I absolutely love it, one handed is a joy. For me, the 4” screen is just about the perfect size to get to the top right hand corner with my thumb. I have since picked my M7 up and its a like using a Nexus 7. The screen quality itself is also great. Much has been made of the ‘retina’ moniker and has been derided in certain quarters, but the screen is great and it performs really well in all conditions, including full sun. Speed wise, it's been fine all week. Switching between apps and opening apps is rapid. No matter what task i’ve attempted i’ve had no issues.
I am that stunned by how well this works its quite possibly the best gadget i’ve used in many a year. You use it in two main scenarios; unlocking the phone and purchasing/downloading apps. You can set up multiple fingers/thumbs, it works flawlessly and is so fast. You can have the phone unlocked in around 1 second. I will not miss having to go back to pins and swipe gesture unlocks.
Being able to unlock the phone with the bottom home button using your thumb becomes second nature. One handed, press the bottom button with your thumb to wake the screen then keep your thumb on the button (fingerprint scanner) and you are in within a second. Its a joy (can you tell I like that bit?). Because the phone is smaller than most Android phones the on/off button being on the top at the righthand side isn’t as much of a problem as it is on larger bodies. Plus, because you use the home button to wake most of the time, you only use the top button put the phone into sleep which is usually when its heading back into your pocket. Finally on buttons, I really do much prefer the physical home button that Android softkeys. Its tactile, you get feedback and its great for kids. My little ones have a torrid time with my Nexus 7 tablet constantly pressing the on screen buttons by mistake. When they use the iPad, no problems at all.
Google+ (and other Google apps/services)
Google+ looks almost identical to its Android counterpart and similarly allows you to auto upload photos when taken. Auto awesomes here we come! To be fair, Google have done a great job bringing all the main apps to iOS; Hangouts, Maps, Google Now, Chrome, Play Music etc. So far, I haven’t really missed anything and as you’d expect, all your Google data is synced across; contacts, bookmarks etc. Obviously, the only problem moving over to iOS is that all my Google Play store apps are sat over on Android and i’d have to buy the iOS versions if I wanted them on iPhone.
Apps are apps
Its quite striking that the majority of mainstream apps that I use are exactly the same on iOS as their Android counterparts. Aside from navigation buttons working differently, the apps perform almost identically. If you use Facebook, forums apps, Flickr, news apps, Strava etc then you’ll notice little difference.
I've tried a few iOS mail apps; stock, Mailbox, Gmail, MyMail etc, but none seem to compare to Gmail on Android. iOS Gmail is fine, its usable, but it just doesn't quite seem on par with the Android version. But not a deal breaker.
I’m not a heavy user by any means, but for me, the 5S battery has outlasted what i'd get from M7 almost every day. One thing I have noticed is that it just seems to gently sip battery when not in use. I noticed similar behaviour from our iPad compared to say the Nexus 7. iOS devices do seem to fare much better in standby/sleep than Android counterparts.
Camera & Camera App
In the first week i've been using the 5S i've found that camera outperforms the M7 in 95% of situations. The 5% where the iPhone doesn't quite match the HTC is in lower light and you need to capture movement. There have been a few times under those circumstances where i've got a bit of motion blur on the iPhone where the M7 would have performed better. But in the majority of situations, the iPhone wins hands down. You really notice having 8 megapixels versus the 4mp of the M7, it allows more cropping/zooming with less loss of detail.
Putting it bluntly, the iOS camera app is basic and automatic, but in a totally usable way. The only way you'll see any manual controls (exposure/shutter speed etc) is to buy another camera app from the App Store. Out of the box, the stock app is as point and shoot as it gets. But in 95% of situations that is all you need. Press the shutter once and it takes a great shot. Hold down the shutter and it fires off 10 photos per second. Then just like the HTC Sense app, you can go back and choose which ones to keep etc. I love this feature, it works just as well as the Sense version but with the added advantage of having better images.
I have absolutely no complaints about the 5S camera during this first week.
Ringtones and Sounds
Back in 2009, to get a different ringtone on my first iPhone I had to mess about renaming mp3 sounds files to have .m4r extensions, import them into iTunes, then sync iTunes to the iPhone to send the the ringtones across to the phone. Fast forward 5 years and i'm stunned to find that nothing has changed. Yes, you can buy ringtones from the Appstore, but not on your nelly at 99p etc. So to get one of my mp3s from my M7 across to the iPhone consisted of the laborious usb cable transfer, rename, import and iTunes sync process. This really needs addressing as its so antiquated.
Simple, but effective having a physical mute button. Want to quickly mute the phone without unlocking and heading into menus? Slide the mute button, great addition.
I've left this until the end as its one part of iOS for me that falls behind Android. But before we hammer it, lets start with one good point of iOS; Badges. iOS badges are just like the unread counters you get now on Android when you miss a call or how many unread SMS messages you have. But on iOS you can have them for all apps. So you have 5 unread mentions on twitter, it shows “5” as a small number in the top corner the app icon. 24 unread mails in Gmail, again, it will report that as number. I wish these would come across to Android for all apps.
For every app you can individually set how it notifies you. The amount of choice can be overwhelming with different sounds and actions for each and every app you have installed. By default, everything seems overbearing so you have to get in there and tone things down. On top of the useful badge feature mentioned above you have three on screen choices; off, banner and alerts. Alerts are those “in your face” pop ups in the middle of the screen, so no matter what you are doing you’ll get interrupted. Banners are less intrusive as they take up the top 2 text lines of the screen and slide on for a few seconds before disappearing. For me, I think iOS main problem is that it doesn't use the status bar in the same way Android does. When you get an email on Android you’ll get the mail icon appear in your status bar and it will stay there until you clear it, but its not that simple on iOS.
You can also get iOS to wake the screen when you get notifications as another choice for every app is ‘show on lock screen’. Whilst this is useful there appears to be one rule for stock apps and one rule for third party apps. For example, in Messages (stock sms/iMessage app) there is a ‘show preview’ toggle. So switch it off and it won’t show the start of the message, you'll just get ‘New Message’ (useful if you want to keep your messages private).. But in Gmail the same option isn't there, so it will always show a preview of the email content. If you then look at the stock email app, the ‘show preview’ toggle is there, its crazy. So there is no way to show Gmail notifications on the lock screen without displaying a preview of the email. I've read that this ‘show preview’ can be added to 3rd party apps, but its at the developer's discretion. It just seems daft not to use it.
As per Android you can swipe down the screen to show the iOS Notification Centre. One week in and i'm yet to get my head around iOS Notification Centre, LOL. I find it just as easy to see badges on my home screen and action those.
I'm a big fan of Notification LEDs on Android phones and not having something similar on the iPhone is a big miss for me. If you had a notification LED could you do away with waking the screen up all the time to show you have alerts?
One week in and iOS isn't the evil operating system that those haters and fanboys on Twitter would have you believe. Yes, its far more a closed shop than Android and you are restricted in many ways. Yes you can Jailbreak, but its not a straightforward as rooting on Android. I think the bottom line with the iPhone and iOS is that if you are a normal sort of person(?) who uses mainstream apps like of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc and don't care for tinkering then the iPhone is probably perfect for you. As I said above, even the camera app is lacking in controls, you just press and shoot. I think that sums up iOS in a nutshell really, Apple just want things to work and be as simple as possible for the end user.
I've been rooting, hacking and slashing for years on my Android phones, but recently with my HTC One i've not even bothered as there isn't that much that I couldn't do with stock Sense. In the same way this is true of the iPhone. Out of the box it just works and for many, that is all they want.
If Apple can cram all this great hardware into such a small package, why can’t Samsung, HTC and LG do the same? Fair play to Sony with the Z1 Compact, roll on the rumoured Z3 Compact.
People cite the lack of market demand? I’m not sure, I think there’s plenty of enthusiasm for a smaller Android flagship.
The strong rumours around the iPhone 6 is for both 4.7” and 5.5” versions. For me, even at 4.7” I think the iPhone would lose some of its appeal. My wife uses a iPhone 4S and states categorically she will not entertain a large screen iPhone with a 4.7” screen. Moving forward, Apple really need to keep that circa 4.0” category as there are iPhone owners who have become so accustomed to that size.
So what to do when my M7 comes back from repair? Go back to the M7? Keep the iPhone 5S? Sell the M7? Sell the 5S? Give the iPhone to the wife? Who knows? What I really need though is a 4.3” to 4.5” ish, high end Android device with cutting edge camera and software. Anyone know of one? Nah, me neither.
Maybe all hopes lie with the Moto X+1 ? But the rumours are a 5.2" screen in favour of the original's 4.7". Would that be a disaster after how well the original felt in the hand?
I would be interested to hear what you think of my iPhone adventure and if you have any phone recommendations to aid my dilemma?
Click here to view the item