Tuesday, October 8, 2013

iPhone 5s First Impressions

I’ve been using an iPhone 5s for four days now. Overall, I really like it.

I was worried that, coming from a 4S, the increased height would be a problem. It’s actually been a pretty easy adjustment. The extra screen real estate makes a significant difference, yet the phone feels lighter. I wonder where the “too big” line is; a little extra width would make an even bigger difference in what I could see on the screen, but I suspect it would be less comfortable to hold and to stow.

It’s way faster than a 4S but nowhere near fast enough that performance stops mattering. I’m really glad I didn’t get a 5c. It still feels like I’m often waiting for the phone, though sometimes this is for animations or the network. Either iOS 7’s background fetching doesn’t work that well or many of my apps don’t support it yet.

The camera is terrific. It launches much faster, burst mode works well, and even HDR photos are pretty quick now. The photo quality is also improved.

Touch ID is nice, but it needs improvement. On the plus side, it has never accepted a finger that I didn’t train it with. However, it often fails to accept the two thumbs that I did train. My guess is that it only works 75% of the time on the first try. When trying to test it, it worked 20 times in a row several times. But in everyday use, it often fails three times in a row. If my thumb is sweaty, lotioned, or even slightly dirty, it often doesn’t work at all and I have to type my (now longer) passcode. It doesn’t seem to mind a bit of dampness from hand washing, however.

With the 4S, I only had to enter the passcode a few times per day—based on idle time, I suppose. With the 5s, I have to use Touch ID (or type the passcode) every time. When it works, Touch ID feels slower than swiping to unlock. I’m pretty sure it’s not actually slower, but that second or so where it’s scanning my thumb feels like a long time because I’m not doing anything. The delay is long enough that I feel like there should be some visual feedback that it’s actually scanning.

The Compass app’s level always shows 3-4° on known level surfaces—I keep a real level handy—and this is not consistent on the those same surfaces from day to day. I can also rotate the phone on a level table and have it vary by 3°.

Siri is still pretty much unusable when I’m out, even in areas with supposedly high signal strength. Either it waits a while before reporting that Siri is unavailable, or it takes a long time to process and then requires enough correction that it would have been faster for me to perform the task manually. It does work OK for setting timers when I’m at home on Wi-Fi.

Update (2013-10-09): Garrett Murray concurs on Touch ID:

Because I’m usually home all day every day, in the past I rarely had passcode turned on, and when I did it was set to a 2- or 5-minute delay, which meant infrequently passcode entry. With Touch ID, every single interaction with the phone requires the aforementioned touch, hold, wait pattern. Feels very slow.

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As I’ve mentioned on Twitter (perhaps too frequently?) “too big” really depends on your hand size. I’m not a small person but my hands are medium-sized; an encased iPhone fits comfortably between my thenar prominence and distal interphalangeal joints (sorry, unaware of less technical terms for these :-) Supporting the base of the phone with the pinkie of my right hand as I do, I can essentially sweep across a 3.5" iPhone-size screen with my thumb, which means on the home screen of the 4" devices, the top row of icons is a bit of a stretch, and reaching the top left/back button requires I uncomfortably reposition my entire hand or use the other hand. As a result, I’m very happy for the swipe-to-go-back gesture in iOS 7, because I can execute it easily on the bottom half of the screen.

Background fetching is a pretty astonishing improvement for the apps that do support it. So far, the ones I use daily are the NY Times app, OmniFocus and Instacast. You can see in Settings > General > Background App Refresh which of your apps support it (though you should probably ignore the Location Services apps).

You might try retraining your thumbs a few times, emphasizing the orientations in which you actually *use* your thumb to unlock the phone. I’ve found that helped quite a bit.

I've also seen flaky Siri reliability, though “wait a long time and fail” is much less common than it used to be. Siri on the 5s usually either fails immediately and repeatedly, or works. Siri is notably faster than on the 4S, so I find myself using it more, particularly for location-based reminders where the UI is really cumbersome. Alarms set by Siri in iOS 7 no longer capitalize their descriptions, which is probably a bug.

I'd actually forgotten until I started using it that this would be my first LTE device; there's decent coverage around here, so it also makes a huge difference to Siri performance/latency on the cellular network. What networks are you on usually? I’ve taken to editing my text to add/remove a period rather than speaking the same thing over and over again, though at this point, any speed/hands-free advantage has been lost. I remain amazed Apple considers this level of reliability acceptable, as it must be given the years we’ve had Siri.

Very interested to see what Apple’s reaction to the compass/level issues will be. It’s consistently about 2° off horizontal and 1° off vertical on my phone.

I’ve not had much of a chance to use the camera, though perhaps I should just start.

"I remain amazed Apple considers this level of reliability acceptable, as it must be given the years we’ve had Siri."

Maps. iCloud. Apple.

@Nicholas I wear medium-sized gloves, and it’s a bit of a stretch for me, too, which is why I was surprised that (so far) it hasn’t been a problem. Too bad OmniFocus doesn’t yet support swipe-to-go-back.

Background fetching works great in OmniFocus. Check the Weather supports it but still seems slow at fetching to me. Same with Yahoo Weather (though that often hangs, anyway). I expect it will make a huge difference in future versions of Tweetbot and Netbot.

I’m going to give retraining a try, but I’m pretty sure I’ve trained all the common positions. The problems seem to be related to when there’s a film of anything on my fingers, or when my hands are dry and the skin is a little fuzzy.

I’m usually on 4G. Definitely no LTE here.

[...] Link. This is what I usually experience when I upgrade. [...]

[...] talking about my iPhone 5s, I mentioned how when Touch ID is enabled it’s not longer possible to have a delay before the [...]

[...] agree with him on his Touch ID opinion - mine has a success rate of about 66% or so, with the 33% including a high number of two or more [...]

[...] my iPhone 5s first impressions post, I [...]

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