Apple Inc. launched a new phone on Friday. Maybe you heard about it.
Following the now-ritualistic frenzy of hype and lineups, the iPhone 5 is available in Canada. We got our hands on the smartphone, and after a few hours of playing around with it, we've decided we do believe Apple when it says this is the best iPhone yet (although it's not without glitches).
Almost every physical feature of the new iPhone is an improvement. By now, you already know the headline measurements – the iPhone 5 is lighter, thinner and features a taller screen than the iPhone 4S. More importantly, it feels more polished, somehow cleaner. The glass and aluminum body comes off as both luxurious and futuristic, while remaining surprisingly sturdy. It is Apple minimalism at its finest.
Generally, we found two design-related problems. The first is heat. Give the iPhone something processor-intensive to do, and you'll notice it gets quite warm throughout the back. The second issue is apps. While many of the big-name apps, such as Facebook and pretty much all of Apple's in-house software, have been optimized for the new, taller screen, most have not. That means you'll see ugly black bars on either side of the apps when you run them.
Originally, Apple's voice-activated robot butler hated Canada. The version of the software that came with the last iPhone couldn't do directions in this country, and generally balked at doing most location-related things north of the border.
iPhone 5 Siri, however, doesn't have these problems. The software can now do Canadian directions (albeit badly; more on this later). In addition, Siri has been upgraded to cover myriad other areas, such as sports. If you ask it how the Blue Jays are doing, it pulls up the Major League Standings. Does any of this make Siri anything more than a kind of Star-Trek-ish gimmick? Not really. Is it still kind of cool to use? Yes.
So far, Apple's newest headphones have been somewhat polarizing. Some people hate them. We happen to think they're a big improvement over the traditional Apple headphones. They fit snugly in the ear without trying to drill right into your skull the way many in-ear headphones do. The sound quality is also surprisingly good, although this will depend much more on the quality of whatever audio you're loading on your iPhone. Sure, you're not going to buy a new iPhone because the headphones are better, but it doesn't hurt.
On the surface, it's a great idea: a virtual coupon book that lets you find and store all kinds of discount codes, digital loyalty cards and even virtual boarding passes. In reality, Passbook is a consolation gift from Apple to make up for the fact that the phone doesn't come with NFC, a wireless communication standard that would have paved the way for you to use your phone as a mobile wallet.
But while NFC-enabled shopping would have forced Apple to try to shake up the banking industry, Passbook doesn't. What you get here is a series of marginally useful discounts and offers from the likes of Sephora and Starbucks, almost all of them impossible to obtain without going through some kind of sign-up process. As far as we can tell, Cineplex is the only Canadian player doing anything Passbook-related so far.
Purely in an effort to give Google a bloody nose, Apple has kicked the search engine's maps software off its mobile devices. The problem is, Apple Maps' in-house production is a mess, whereas Google Maps is very good.
Brace yourself for inaccurate directions, phantom points of interest and bridges that look like they're melting. In time, Apple will fix all the glitches in its app. But for now, you're better off going on the web and loading up Google's software.