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The iPhone 5 plays catch-up with Android smartphones

Galen Gruman | Sept. 13, 2012
4G LTE and big screens are old hat in Android, but new to the iPhone 5. NFC is still MIA in the iPhone. Where does Android's hardware edge matter most?

The same is true with Verizon Wireless, which has the most LTE deployments, but whose LTE speed can vary from 5X that of 3G to essentially the same. My experience in San Francisco is that Verizon's LTE is only marginally faster than its 3G. Colleagues in other cities such as Boston see a real difference between Verizon's LTE and 3G service, and they say they'd never go back to 3G.

And LTE is even less deployed outside the U.S.

Still, LTE is the future, and in the world of technology, not supporting an emerging standard is a real turn-off to techies. The LTE issue will matter to them -- that is, to much of the tech press trumpeting mobile devices. It will also matter more to everyday users in the next few years as the carriers' LTE deployments become common. Not having LTE in the iPhone 5 would have sent a signal that Apple is seriously behind, even if the practical benefit of LTE is a couple years away for most users.

Apple did announce with a world-compatible LTE radio, which will mean international travelers should be able to get LTE wherever it is available. (Whether they'll be to afford to is a different question.) But this so-called benefit is more for Apple's sake, letting it simplify its hardware design, testing, and manufacturing.

Large screens: The iPhone's historic 3.5-inch screen (measured diagonally) has long been a strain on older eyes. In contrast, the last year or so has seen Android smartphones upsizing to 4.0-, 4.3-, 4.5-, 4.7-, and even 5.0-inch screens.

A bigger display can do one of two things: Cram more items on the screen, or magnify the same number of items on the screen. If you're 25, you want the former; if you're 50, you want the latter. Most Android devices have done the former. But the larger screens better support the use of larger fonts and of the magnification capabilities for sight-impaired users (also useful for anyone who wears reading glasses). On the iPhone's small screen, the built-in magnification option means lots of scrolling, so you trade visibility for usability.

The iPhone 5's screen measures 4 inches, which is the bare minimum. Unfortunately, the way Apple upsized the iPhone's screen was to make it longer, not magnify the screen for easier readability. Essentially, it adds pixels to allow a 16:9 aspect ratio when turned horizontally for better viewing of widescreen movies. So, for those of us past our 30s, the iPhone 5 will be no more readable than previous models.

I'd argue for a 4.3-inch screen with the same number of pixels, since the very large screens begin to have issues of pocket fit and difficulties in thumb-typing; bigger is not always better. In this aspect, Apple is truly behind the curve.


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