Hello iPhone 5, nice to meet you. My name is Mark Serrels and I want to hate you. It's your job to convince me I should still care, that you are still worth my time. This may sound harsh but it's the way I feel and I can't change that. Only you can change that. You can change that by being better than I expect you to be. You can change that by subverting my perceptions and being good for the video games I love to play. You can change that by surpassing my expectations.
———- Some perspective: I have an iPhone 4S. Before that I had an iPhone 3GS. Before that, I had some dreadful phone and I don't want to talk about those dark, dark days. I have loved iPhones, I have caressed them, I have dropped them and I have cradled them. I have discovered a new type of gaming through iPhones and it is only now, after being underwhelmed by what Apple had to show at their last conference that I'm thinking about changing.
A week ago my friend passed me his Samsung SIII. It felt big. It felt new. It felt like I had been given something that was a step up. I gave it back to him, I quickly checked twitter on my iPhone 4S. It felt old fashioned.
A week later, I saw the iPhone 5. I looked at the design. I felt underwhelmed. It still looked old fashioned.
iPhone 5 — I want to hate you. I want an excuse — any excuse, really — to switch.
I am not a tech-head. I don't care about benchmarking. I wouldn't know where to begin. I'm not going to weigh the iPhone 5 and I'm not going to do a speed-test. I'm going to pick up this iPhone 5 and I'm going to play games on it. Then I'm going to report back. This is what I am going to do. If you want those other things, you should head to Gizmodo.
But I will say one thing — the iPhone 5 is light. It's the first thing you'll notice when you hold it in your hand. I've heard people criticise the Samsung SIII for being light and feeling cheap — but the iPhone 5 feels light in a different way.
And I will say one other thing: if you have a 4G connection on your iPhone 5, games will download fast. Very fast indeed. Lightning fast.
Apple has also cleverly upped the 3G download limit from 20MB to 50MB. Which means you can download most games without being connected to Wi-Fi. This was handy.
These were the first things I noticed.
The second thing I noticed was the ubiquitous black bars around every single game I downloaded.
The iPhone 5 is bigger — you are probably aware of this. It's bigger lengthwise but the same width. Its resolution is 1136 by 640 and practically identical to normal widescreen ratios. This is mostly a good thing, but it leaves almost every game on iOS with some pretty ugly black bars on both sides. I don't expect this to be a problem for long — most popular games, I expect, will have updates to fit the new iPhone 5, but for now, these black bars exist, and they don't look great.
All the iOS stalwarts I've played so far — Tiny Wings, Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja — have these black bars. And brand new titles like Rayman Jungle Run are also somehow beholden to them. Even supremely high end titles like those in the Real Racing series are stuck with the same black bars.
Some are already updated for the new resolution, but these games are few and far between — Temple Run, for example is fitted for the new resolution — but truthfully, it didn't take me all that long to adjust. Seconds actually. iOS games tend to be twitch-timing, reaction-based affairs, so I barely noticed the black bars once I started playing. In fact, it almost made me nostalgic for playing PAL games on my N64 back in the day.
But it's far from ideal. It's a very real issue — particularly since, with iPhone gaming, folks very rarely adventure outside of the games they've already downloaded. Most get buy their Fruit Ninjas, their Flight Controls and that's enough. Updates will come, undoubtedly, but for now it's an issue.
The iPhone 5 feels nice to hold, and this is important. I like the lightness of it, and I like the way the improved processor speed makes everything seem responsive.
It's noticeable. Even when typing; when searching for games on the App Store. It's noticeable during the games as well, but perhaps less so. The overall experience of using an iPhone 5 is slick, controlled and rapid. The ability to very quickly download new games over 4G is a boon, it matters. The last time I tested out an iPhone for gaming I had to wait for things to download. This time, there was no wait.
The overwhelming impression I have is this: gaming on iOS doesn't seem like a priority for Apple, not really, but that doesn't stop it being the best destination if you want to play on your mobile phone. That's nothing to do with Apple's design, which is outdated. It has nothing to do with the resolution, which is now awkward.
It has everything to do with the iOS marketplace and the overwhelming amount of people who use it — which is a self fulfilling cycle. Games are tailored for the iPhone and mobile games are designed specifically for it. Android will continue to be of secondary importance until Apple really screw up.
I want to hate the iPhone 5, but it's difficult. It's difficult because the best mobile games are designed for the iPhone 5 and, no matter what Apple does, what they change or don't change, this will continue to be the case. If you want to play games on your mobile device, prepare to be tethered to this thing, with its strange design and irritating black bars. I don't hate the iPhone 5, but I don't necessarily like it.
But for now, I think I'm probably stuck with it.