[By Nic Lindh on Thursday, 07 November 2013]
As expected, the Web has been awash in reviews of the iPhone 5S and iPad Air, and the consensus is that they continue the evolution of their product lines quite nicely.
Thanks to the A7 chip, the 5S and Air are noticeably faster than the last generation. It makes a huge difference in iOS 7, where animations are buttery smooth and apps launch in turbo mode. As they always do, Apple wrote their new operating system to target their latest hardware. The tightrope they walk, of course, is that they have to avoid making the New Thing cause their old things to act like they’ve developed arthritis, limping along with much creaking. Judging from the performance of iOS 7 on the current iPad mini (why Apple decreed the M is lower case I guess we’ll never know. But e e cummings is probably happy wherever he is now) a device with the same innards as the iPad 2, it’s acceptable on older devices, which is an impressive feat. But the operating system really shines on current hardware.
One curiously overlooked aspect from the many reviews I’ve read is how Apple managed to greatly improve something that was already great: Scrolling. iOS has been the king of scrolling for its entire existence, providing the illusion you’re manipulating something tangible instead of stroking a piece of glass, but on the 5S and Air, it’s much improved. I don’t know how. But it’s quite noticeable, especially if you’re an obsessive nerd. It is—to use the technical term—insane how good it feels.
A roundup of things that stand out about the new devices, starting with the iPhone 5S:
It feels just like its predecessor in the hand. This is a good thing.
TouchID is remarkably accurate, to the point that failures are aberrations. Not sure what some people are whining about, except those people might need to up their personal hygiene a bit. Yes, you have to train yourself to put your finger on it firmly. (“You’re holding it wrong.”) Duh. It’s not magic. But once in muscle memory operation is smooth as glass. And a tiny frisson of the future every time.
iOS 7 is a battery hog. My 5S gets about the same not good battery life as the 5 running iOS 7, usually arriving home from work with around 30% left, compared with 50% or so on iOS 6. Hopefully it’s high on the priority list for future updates.
It’s a big mini.
If you’ve gotten used to the previous generation mini, as I have, it’s shockingly huge to look at, but not that much heavier.
With its recent weight loss, it’s a great reading device, although holding it one-handed is still awkward. It’s not so much the weight as the weight distribution. Don’t expect to be hanging around Parisian lamp posts nonchalantly reading Camus with one hand.
I loved the leather Smart Cover of the previous generation. But no more of that. For some inscrutable reason Apple decided only the Smart Case gets leather. Peasants with Smart Covers get polyurethane. (No doubt highly accomplished people spent many hours in conference rooms before reaching this odd conclusion. I hope there was some 12 Angry Men-type outlier in there arguing for leather.) Like the mini covers, the Smart Cover has three panes instead of four, which makes it less stable and more likely to collapse. So it’s a regression on two fronts. I’d assume Apple has patented the heck out of the Smart Covers, so it’s unlikely we’ll see a third-party leather version. This is sad, though of course a first nerd problem.
If you have an iPhone 5 and you’re sane, probably not. The 5S is way faster and TouchID is living in the future, but unless those things really float your boat, hold off till the next revision.
If you have a 4 or 4s (thanks again, Apple, for random capitalization) and you’re out of contract, it’s a no-brainer. Lighter, infinitely faster and with a bigger screen. You want this.
If you have an iPad 2, run to the Apple Store. If you have a 3 or 4, it’s a decent upgrade, but unless the weight of those devices bother you, meh, go play with one and see how you feel.
If you have a current mini and love it, it might be time to go back to full-size. But wait for the new retina mini and check them both out beforehand. My suspicion is most people who love the current mini will want to wait for the retina turbo mini and then jump on it like a lion who has had dentistry for the first time in years.
In my particular use case (this is the section where I justify spending money like a drunken sailor) I want to use the iPad more for creation than consumption, and the larger screen makes that easier for me, personally. Ahem.
It’s clear the A7 is a huge leap for performance on iOS and it bodes very well for the future.