First impressions: iPhone 5S and iOS 7

Since my contract renewal was up, I had the option to renew it and buy a new phone alongside with it. Since I have an unofficial policy of never buying into the same platform twice in a row, and because it has been a long time since I bought something from Cupertino, I decided to go with the newest iPhone, the 5S. I’m planning on a more thorough review sometime later this year after more thorough use, but here are a few short first impressions.

First and foremost, it’s clear from the first second of holding the iPhone 5S that Apple’s hardware is in a whole different league compared to the competition. There is no other device out there that feels as solid, tight, pleasing to hold, sturdy, and yet surprisingly light as the 5S. The Phone Nobody Buys For Some Inexplicable Reason, the HTC One, comes close, but is considerably heavier. Samsung’s slithery plastic doesn’t even register here.

It’s also fast. Very fast. Applications open instantly, and touch response is excellent – just that noticeable bit faster than on my Find 5 and Android 4.3. I notice that iOS is more picky about where you tap than Android though; it almost feels as if Android reads your mind so that even when you tap a little too high or a little too much to the left, it will still register properly. The 5S requires more precise pecking, which is a little annoying to get used to. Scrolling behaviour is in the eye of the beholder; while Android scrolls faster, iOS scrolls smoother. Scrolling down a long webpage gets tiresome on iOS, while Android handles it just fine – although less smooth.

The big difference between iOS and Android, in my view, is that iOS feels more archaic and feature-phony. It lacks several incredibly useful aspects that make Android such a pleasure to use – mostly related to inter-application communication and multitasking. iOS is very much application-in, application-out, which during heavy use can get quite tiresome and frustrating. A robust sharing system would go a long way to reduce some of the frantic application switching, but most of all, I wish iOS would proudly copy Android’s Application Components and activities, which negate the need for manual application switching for most use cases.

Another thing iOS desperately needs is the ability to set your own default applications. Several third party applications are way better than Apple’s own, but sadly, iOS does not allow you to set them as default. There is no valid excuse to justify the existence of this honestly pathetic state of affairs, especially on a platform that is, supposedly, application-centric. Some third party applications have added the option to e.g. select Google Chrome as the default browser to handle links (e.g. a Twitter client will open links in Chrome instead of Safari), but this is a dirty hack, and this needs to be addressed.

I want to close off with what I consider iOS’ standout feature: the quality of its third party applications. The best applications in their respective categories are better in almost every way than their Android counterparts – they’re better-looking, smoother, faster, and just more pleasurable to use. It’s hard to describe, really. TweetBot 3.0 blows the competition on Android out of the water. iPhoto is better than anything Android has to offer. Alien Blue has been the best reddit client on any platform for years now, and the iOS 7 version just widens the gap. Even cross-platform applications are better on iOS than on Android. Facebook is smoother, faster, and better designed on iOS, for instance. And heck, even Google’s own applications are better on iOS than on Android!

For the most part, the gap has been narrowing a bit in recent times, thanks to Android 4.0 and up, but overall, Android still has a long way to go. Using the iPhone 5S for only a few days makes this abundantly clear.

There’s no point in trying to answer the question about whether or not you should buy into iOS over Android, since that all comes down to personal preference anyway. I just have a policy of keeping up with as many platforms as possible, and it was iOS’ turn. Despite iOS’ obvious shortcomings, the quality of the hardware and third party applications make up for it, so in my view, it all eventually evens out. The question now is: which of the two platforms will fix their own shortcomings faster?


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