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« Moving Day | Main | Prepaid Phones in Korea REDUX »
Tuesday
Dec042012

iPhone 5 Hands On

[Update 2:] Chris corrected me on some of the frequency info below. See here for more.

[Update:] Here's the Apple Press release on iPhone 5's impending touchdown in South Korea courtesy of Engadget.

[Original Post:] Chris from KT's Expat Blog was kind enough to let me fondle a couple of iPhone 5's this past weekend. The iPhone 5 went on preorder here in Korea last week (11/30) and will be available to purchase on various LTE plans come this Friday (12/7) I snapped a few pics and was able to get a fairly good impression of Apple's new piece of kit.

Software

Nothing new here, in that I was running iOS 6 on my iPhone 4S in October before I hocked it on Craigslist and got myself a Galaxy Note II. iOS in itself is a pretty mature mobile operating system now, and save a few tweeks here and there is probably not going to change much between now and the next round of iPads and iPhones that will, inevitably, come out in 2013. It does the job, it does it well, and its pretty UI is nice to look at. The Galaxy Note II lets me play around with the UI quite bit, and there are plenty of 3rd party apps to change things up, but Apple excels in its UI design. Compare iOS messaging with its muted blues and greens with The Note II's garish blue and yellow colour scheme and you begin to see why I like iOS's look, perhaps more than Android's utility.

Given the new processor in the iPhone 5 iOS is super snappy (especially compared to my iPad2) and in the immortal words of Steven P. Jobs, it scrolls like butter.

iOS is not without its foibles though. A persistent data bug (still present in 6.1) has caused some consternation on the internets - especially among podcasters, who have seen bandwidth bills go through the roof as the operating system connects to servers more often than it under the previous version. My own experience confirms this. The last month I had my iPhone 4S I ate through 7GB or so of data as opposed to a usual 4GB.

Other software related goodness is nothing new if you have been running iOS 6 already, You Tube has disappeared, The maps are still crap, but expect Korean retailers to jump on the new Passbook app given the innumerable loyalty cards and whatnot that Korean consumers are want to carry.

Hardware

OMG it's light! The iPhone 4S had a sturdy heft to it, albeit in a small package. The 5 in comparison is something just over 100g and almost went flying out of my hand at one point since I am used to the relative bulk of the Note II. (Who am I kidding? The Note II is frickin' enormous!) The removal of the glass back is most welcome. The new brushed aluminium back gives the phone some purchase in the hand and on surfaces, whereas I was always paranoid with the 4S that it would slip out out of my hand, let alone the fear that I would end up smashing the damn thing. (Readers might remember my first iPhone 3GS got a little bit smashed too).

It does feel a little long - especially compared to previous iPhones, but again tiny in comparison to my current handset of choice. And you can see in the pics Chris snapped of me with both phones up to my ear the difference. I quite like the colour scheme, black and grey, and it looks and feels like a well made piece of kit. The Note II by comparison, at least the back, is plastic and cheap feeling. The upshot of that though is I have little concern on throwing it down on a table, plastic is resilient, and easily replaceable, the iPhone by comparison would have to be completely swapped out if anything untoward happened to it.

(Side note - I met Chris at Wangshimri station. There is a guy there who will do cheap unofficial iPhone repair - especially screens etc - if you are not keen on paying through the nose!)

LTE

Chris' iPhone 5 is the US (Verizon wireless) version and so works in Korea on the 2100 MHz 1800 MHz band no problem. I would venture to guess that customers in Korea will be getting the exact same model, Korean users will be getting the 3rd model of the iPhone 5 that runs on the 1800MHz band. This will mean that Korean iPhone 5s will have some difficulty working at LTE speeds in different countries (which use different frequencies). 3G performance remains the same on 2100MHz.

Notwithstanding LTE performance discussed herein is probably valid. That being said we were at a fairly densely populated spot in Seoul on a Sunday afternoon when lots of people were sitting in a cafe with us on their phones.... That being said the Note II kicks ass when it comes to download speeds over LTE. The iPhone 5 peaked at 14 Mb/s sure, but wildly fluctuated between that and a low of about 5 Mb/s while the Note II maintained consistent speeds of between 9 and 11 Mb/s.

Meh. This is in no way a scientific test. I tend to think that radio calibration of a domestic (Korean) LTE device comes into play. And sheer surface area of the Note II should not be discounted either. Regardless LTE is fantastic no matter what phone you are carrying.

Random Notes

In my discussion with Chris it came up why Korea is always so far behind when it comes to getting its iDevices. The first reason should be clear to anyone who follows this stuff, or indeed reads this humble organ. The KCC. The Korea Communications Commission is most definitely a source of a lot of delay. Some would say unnecessary delay. Other countries, like Canada, Japan, etc are happy to take the assessment of the US' Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in terms of wireless radio rating and safety etc. So devices that pass the FCC inspection in The States are cool in those countries. Not so in Korea, where the KCC will not accept the findings of the FCC and so run their own battery of tests etc. Some would cite the National Security Law (which communications laws and standards are still beholden to), while others will also raise the spectre of protectionism and bureaucratic meddling to aid domestic manufacturers. Readers will probably know which side of that argument I fall on.

As a result all the iPhones that the carriers order come to Korea and then have to go back to the manufacturer in China and be retooled with new backs baring the mark of the KCC (If you have a look at an iPhone / iPad from The States it has a FCC logo, in Korea it has a KCC logo). This adds to the delay - and is apparently a bit of an issue given that the latest iPhone is manufactured front to back, and glued tightly shut if the boys at iFixit are to be believed. (they have pictures).

Overall

If you are sufficiently entrenched in Apple's ecosystem the iPhone 5 is a logical choice and there is no denying that Cupertino turns out some sexy hardware. But having now fondled one for myself and compared to the utility I get out of the Note II I can't say I am convinced. It is, in every respect, iterative in its design (an extra row of icons!) and does nothing that a (cheaper) Android handset can do. And frankly the price is prohibitive. An iPhone 5 will set you back at least W1000000 unlocked from Expansys while the carriers here in Korea will expect you to sign up for a 30 month LTE contract at various prices / plans. (Though the actual cost of the handset will be divided over the course of the 30 months).

Unless of course Chris wants to sell me one of his...

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