When Apple unveiled the iPhone 5 last month, many tech pundits called it “boring.” I was one of them. In fact, I was so bored that I called the iPhone boring way back in July, on the basis of the lackluster new mobile operating system that Apple announced at its developer conference. After I got a few minutes with the iPhone 5 after Apple’s press event, I wrote that it was “a very impressive device.” But those words appeared under the headline, “No, This Is Not the Best iPhone Ever,” a conclusion that was prompted by my annoyance about Apple’s new, proprietary dock connector. The company should have gone with a universal connector, I argued. By making that unfriendly move, the firm had “screwed over” its most loyal customers, and missed a chance to build a truly perfect device.
Now, almost a month later, it’s time for me to get something off my chest: I’ve made a huge mistake. I’ve had the iPhone 5 for about a week and a half, and I’m still annoyed about the dock connector thing. But it’s a small problem, and in retrospect I was wrong to allow myself to become overwhelmed by dock-based frustration.
That’s because, in all other ways, the iPhone 5 is the best phone ever to grace the earth. It beats every single rival on just about every metric you can think of, including speed, battery life, and especially beauty and workmanship.
I’ll go even further: When I pick up the iPhone 5 and examine it closely, I find it difficult to believe that this device actually exists. The iPhone 5 does not feel like a product that was mass produced. In a strange way, it doesn’t feel like it was built at all. 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. Instead it just feels like a single, solid, exquisitely crafted piece of machinery, and once you pick it up you never want to put it down.
Manufacturers call this “build quality,” and Apple made a big deal out of it at its press event. But I dismissed it: I’ve always appreciated the build quality of Apple’s devices, but I could not understand how better manufacturing would change the iPhone in an appreciable way. After all, every other iPhone was built really well, too. But the only way to appreciate how much more solid the iPhone 5 feels is to use it for a few days—and, crucially, to use it without stuffing it into a case. (Really, you should never use a case: The phone is made of aluminum, so it’s less likely to break than the old, all-glass models. If you’re going to get a case for the iPhone 5, you’re ruining its best feature—it’d be like losing a bunch of weight and celebrating by donning a fat suit.) Compared to the iPhone 5, all other products will feel cheap. Even Apple’s products: When I hold my Macbook Air, I now notice gaps between the bottom cover and the body, or the ugly way the screen is indented into the frame. I can’t think of any other mass-manufactured product I’ve used that was as perfectly crafted as this phone.
I could have remained silent about my reversal. It’s been weeks since the iPhone 5 went on sale, so there’s no real point in my writing a review—dozens of critics, and more importantly millions of actual customers, have had a chance to use the device, so the opinion of one more tech writer isn’t really a big deal. But I decided to speak up after reading John Gruber’s review of the phone. Gruber, who runs the blog Daring Fireball and is an obsessive chronicler of Apple, argued that the tech critics like myself weren’t adequately valuing niceness, his word for how solid the iPhone 5 feels in your hands. He wrote:
The bored-by-the-iPhone tech press/industry experts surely value niceness, but they do not hold it in the same top-tier regard that Apple does. They are not equipped to devote an amount of attention to niceness commensurate with the amount of effort Apple puts into it. Apple can speak of micron-level precision and the computer-aided selection of the best-fitting of 725 identical-to-the-naked-eye components, but there is no benchmark, no tech spec, to measure nice. But you can feel it.