50 shades of black

09 Oct 2012

Many positive reviews of the iPhone 5 obsess over the feel of the device. It’s good, but in my hand it’s no better than an iPhone 4. To be honest, the mix of materials and abundance of seams is pretty inelegant. Yet Slate has this to say:

This is a gadget that seems as if it fell into the box fully formed. If you run your hands around its face, you scarcely feel any seams or other points of connection; there’s little evidence that this thing is a highly complex device made from lots of smaller things.

What? Are they holding the same phone I am? There are seams everywhere! They stick out in particular on the black device, since the thing is covered in a plethora of contrasting blacks.

  1. The screen

  2. The bezel around the screen

  3. The thin plastic inserts around the edge of the screen, edge of the back-top glass, the edge of the black-bottom glass

  4. The two shiny chamfers

  5. Five dark plastic inserts in the sides to break up the antenna and around the camera

  6. The metal back, which is matte and hard to wipe clean

  7. The shiny Apple and iPhone logos which feel weird against the texture of the metal

  8. The metal edge around the case

There are so many slightly different blacks that I’d much prefer the look of a silver-and-black iPhone 5, more like the iPhone 4. There are so many materials that embracing the contrast would have been preferable.

Specifically, the horizontal seam between the glass and the back plate is crazy-making. Little bits of fluff and such get stuck in it, and the fact the camera isn’t vertically centered in the glass highlights that these “radio windows” are a compromise.

Still, after two weeks with this phone, I know the weight and thinness are worth the compromise. But a compromise it is. In contrast, Gruber’s iPhone 5 review praises:

Is it worth devoting the first 750 or so words of this piece to the iPhone 5’s surface appeal? I don’t know how else to convey the niceness of this thing. This iPhone 5 review unit is the single nicest object in my possession.

I understand the feeling - I felt it when I went from an iPhone 3G to an iPhone 4. Two years later, the 4’s glass front and back with the aluminum band continues to be the nicest-feeling object in my possession. The iPhone 5 is a better phone, but as a pure and elegant use of materials, the iPhone 4 still gets my vote for the nicest phone ever made.