Design of iPhone 4(S) > 5?

September 23, 2012

A couple of days ago, Ben Brooks said the following at the end of a piece regarding nicks he was seeing on his black iPhone 5:

All of this to say, if you haven’t bought one yet — I’d seriously consider the white model, that’s what I would get if I could do it over again.

Agreed. After having owned the white 4 and 4S, I ordered the black model this time around because, from the pics online, I thought it looked the best. However, I was quickly disabused of that notion once I actually held the black one in my hand. You see, mine was nicked and scratched right out of the box, before I even put my pillow-soft hands all over it.

After 24 hours of use there were a couple more nicks in it, which was incredibly odd, because as anyone who has read this site for any length of time knows, there’s probably no one on the planet who’s more anal-retentive and careful when it comes to handling his toys. (The 4S this replaced looks as perfect as the day I bought it one year ago. There’s not a single blemish on it.) More to the point, I can’t recall this phone ever having touched anything other than my skin and cotton.

Sure, the iPhone 5 might not shatter if you drop it, but the edges are soft, and the paint thin—time will not be kind to these devices.

The aluminum on the black model is anodized/painted black pretty much everywhere but the front glass, and that layer of paint so easily scratches off that I shutter to think what these black models are going to look like after just a week of use by a “normal” person.

The aluminum on the white model doesn't appear to be painted at all, and so the sides, back, and chamfers, while still overly susceptible to nicks and scratches, don’t advertise their warts as much because there isn’t a glaring silver color sitting under a matte black coat.

Anyway, after having the phone for 48 hours I decided that I was going to try to swap it out for the white model. (I had to swap out my white 4S twice to get “good” buttons—even after all of these generations, the buttons are still a crapshoot, which pisses me off to no end.) I went down to a local Apple store, explained the issue, and was walking out of the store with a white iPhone 5 within minutes.

I’ll say this about the white 5: if you really liked the white 4S, you’ll really like the white 5. I think it looks great, and wish I went with it from jump. Unfortunately though, it too had a slight nick on a chamfer right out of the box (though it’s far less noticeable), the SIM tray doesn’t sit flush, there’s a slight gash near the headphone jack (again, right out of the box) and I’m having some button issues as well, just as I did on the black model.

The home button is perfect (unlike the black one I had, which was biased heavily toward the top of the button), but the power button is a little wobbly, and the volume-up button probably is the worst button I’ve ever had on an Apple device. It depresses probably a half millimeter before engaging the actual button underneath. It’s maddening to use, and I can’t stop touching it hoping that it will just right itself. (UPDATE: The day after I wrote this post I again went to an Apple store and swapped this phone for another. Third time was a charm (as with the 4S)—this one is perfect!)

Am I being ridiculous? Depends who you ask. I have serious (likely clinical) issues when it comes to this sort of thing, there’s no doubt about it, but then again, I also paid $650 for a device that I expect to look and operate flawlessly out of the box. Don’t analogize its build quality to a “finely crafted watch” and expect me to roll over when it isn’t perfect.

I think it’s safe to say that between the iPhone 4(S) and 5 there probably isn’t a better made—at volume—consumer electronics device in the history of the world. I just wish production was a bit more consistent, and quality control a bit more rigorous. It’s asking a lot, I realize, but it’s Apple, and I know they’re capable of it.

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