iOS 10 on the iPhone 5

iPhone 5 lock screen iOS 10

I usually wait a while before installing a new version of Mac OS X or iOS on my devices, especially considering that my hardware isn’t the latest and greatest anymore. And in this specific instance there was the same kind of trepidation as when I updated my iPhone 4 to iOS 7, and my iPad 3 to iOS 9 in the past — Will this hardware be capable enough to keep up with the new features and performance requirements of the new iOS?

Judging from the feedback, many iPhone 4 and iPad 3 users, back then, clearly regretted updating their devices to the latest iOS version they could technically support. The performance change (whether perceived or measured with a chronograph) between iOS 6 and iOS 7 on the iPhone 4 felt disappointing, and many complained about the overall sluggishness of the device. But at least with regard to perceived performance, I also thought it was a matter of habits and the way one usually interacted with the iPhone. I’m not a ‘fast & furious’ user, and the slower transitions in iOS 7’s UI on my iPhone 4 didn’t really bother me. I didn’t regret updating: I felt that the benefits of iOS 7 outweighed the drawbacks. My iPhone 4 never really felt ‘unusable’ to me — as I wrote in my initial impressions three years ago, “Some animations and transitions are different from iOS 6, so I feel the experience as being different rather than disappointingly slower.”

I had more or less the same reaction when I updated my iPad 3 to iOS 9 last year. Apart from the occasional lag and stutter (especially in the virtual keyboard’s ability to keep up with my typing), I can’t say I’m disappointed with iOS 9 on my iPad. As an aside, the devices on which I’ve seen iOS 9 perform in a truly appalling way are the iPad 2 and the iPhone 4s, certainly because of their insufficient 512 MB of internal RAM. (The iPad 3 has 1 GB and the difference is noticeable).

Back to the iPhone 5 and iOS 10, I was relieved after reading iOS 10 is a pleasant surprise for the iPhone 5 and 5C by Andrew Cunningham at Ars Technica. Andrew had been critical of the overall performance of new iOS versions on the slowest supported hardware in the past, so when he concludes that:

For the first time in a while, I’m comfortable recommending the latest version of iOS for the oldest-supported iPhone without major caveats or qualifications. Yes, newer iPhones are faster and can do more things, but if you’re still using an iPhone 5 or 5C (or if you’ve handed your old one down to someone else in your circle of family and friends), iOS 10 will treat the hardware about the same as iOS 9 did — not bad, given that the iPhone 5 is four years old.

Any doubt I had about updating my iPhone 5 to iOS 10 quickly went away.

My experience so far

I installed iOS 10 on the iPhone 5 a week ago. I wanted to wait a few days before writing anything, because I needed to see if something unexpected turned up during extended use. So far, I really have nothing bad to report, and I agree with Cunningham’s assessment overall. Here are a few stray observations anyway:

  • I don’t know why I expected long installation times. In truth, I found it took less to update my iPhone 5 from iOS 9 to iOS 10 (between 15 and 20 minutes) than it took to update from iOS 8 to iOS 9 a year ago (between 25 and 30 minutes). As a personal practice, I always connect the iPhone to iTunes for major iOS updates, while minor updates are done over the air.
  • When it was explained that iOS 10 would replace the traditional Slide to unlock gesture with Press Home to open to unlock the device, I was disappointed and a little annoyed: discontinuing a long-standing, well-designed gesture always feels a bit user-hostile. Same goes with the rearranged swipes — left to get to the camera (instead of upwards), right to enter the Today View. I remember thinking it would take me a long time before I could effectively retrain my muscle memory. I was wrong: it took me just one day, and now I even find the Press Home to open gesture more convenient than Slide to unlock. In one-handed use, and in cramped spaces such as a crowded bus or train, or whenever I had only one hand free and had to quickly take out my iPhone and check something, I often found difficult to simultaneously hold the phone securely and unlock it with a swipe. There were times when the iPhone would not unlock because I basically did not ‘swipe enough’, if you know what I mean. Now in the same situations I can comfortably wake the iPhone and unlock it by clicking the Home button twice. Perhaps my retraining didn’t take much because the iPhone 5 doesn’t have Touch ID. I heard from iPhone 5s and 6/6s users that they’re still trying to adjust to the new gesture.
  • Animations and transitions are shorter than under iOS 9, so, in a way, the device feels faster than before when navigating the springboard and launching/closing applications. On the other hand, I’ve always had a few apps on my iPhone that took longer to launch than others. Under iOS 10, ironically, they feel slower at launch because of this effect. In other words, you tap on the app, iOS 10 quickly displays the opening transition, then you’re stuck a few seconds with the app launch screen. The app doesn’t really take more time launching than under iOS 9, but feels a bit slower at load time due to the faster transition iOS 10 now provides when entering the app. I hope I’m making sense.
  • A few system sounds have changed. If, like me, you’ve always kept the keyboard clicking sound activated, you’ll notice that now the keyboard has a different sound. It’s softer, and modifier keys have a different ‘tune’ when hit. The general impression is that the new clicking sound is more cartoonish and whimsical, where the previous was more typewriter-like. Some like it, some not. I like it, actually. It reminds me of raindrops falling on a soft surface. The ‘clack’ when you lock the phone has also changed. It’s less harsh now and I can’t really describe it, but I’ll admit I’m not a fan, and I very much preferred the old sound.
  • I found myself liking the redesigned Control Centre much more than anticipated. It’s another detail of iOS 10’s user interface that didn’t convince me when it was first presented — I felt that giving Control Centre multiple screens was a bad idea, a needless complication of an effective and easy-to-use feature — but it’s a definitely better experience when in use.
  • Performance isn’t disappointing at all. Nothing feels slower than before. If you were satisfied with iOS 9 performance on your iPhone 5 (and 5c), you shouldn’t have problems updating to iOS 10. This may be a premature assessment, but it seems that third-party keyboards behave a bit better under iOS 10, at least the two I have installed — Microsoft’s Word Flow and Google’s Gboard. Jumping from the system keyboard to one of them feels faster, as it does using them; they feel more integrated overall. (At least to me.)
  • Speaking of performance, some iPhone 5 users have told me they’re not exactly happy with multitasking, finding the process less snappy than before and also finding the iPhone more ‘forgetful’ about the app’s state when returning to a previously used app, needing to reload content more often than before. Again, I don’t know if I’m usually more patient or if the issue is connected to how different users approach the same device, or if the differentiating factor are the apps involved or how much free space is left on the device, but I haven’t really noticed anything strange on my iPhone 5 (32 GB, with about 8 GB free). Multitasking-wise, my iPhone seems to behave basically like before. Your mileage may vary, I guess.
  • I haven’t conducted any specific tests regarding battery life, but in my normal, day-to-day use I haven’t noticed anything different than under iOS 9.3.5. My iPhone 5 doesn’t seem to discharge faster or consume more energy than before — which is a good thing.

So far, I’m very surprised and very pleased by iOS 10 on my iPhone 5 and, like Andrew Cunningham at Ars Technica, I certainly recommend the upgrade to other fellows still using an iPhone 5 or 5c. iOS 10 feels like a solid release, and by upgrading I think you gain much more than anything you may lose. I might update this piece in the following days with further observations. If you have specific questions or doubts, feel free to contact me via email or Twitter and I’ll try to be helpful.

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About Riccardo Mori

Writer. Translator. Mac consultant. Enthusiast photographer. • If you like what I write, please consider supporting my writing by purchasing my short stories, Minigrooves or by making a donation. Thank you!