When Apple took the stage and finally made the iPhone 5 official, there was a moment of relief that surged through everyone. No more rumors, no more iPhone 5 concepts and no more speculation names, design or specs – at least not for another few months when rumors of the iPhone 5S or whatever hits the rumor mill.
We were also (momentarily) happy to learn the leaked parts were actually real. While the iPhone 5 may not be as large as some of us would like or host an entirely new design, the Cupertino-based firm chose to leave glass back panels out of the iPhone 5 for more svelte and seemingly durable anodized aluminum. This, we thought, could not be a more welcomed change. Glass is seemingly fragile while a metal casing must only prove to be more durable.
By all means, the anodized aluminum is not going to shatter. And from what we can tell, the iPhone 5 is pretty strong in its own right – iFixYouri dropped an iPhone 5 on a cement floor at least 11 times from various heights before they threw the phone at the ground to break it. However, as tough as the phone may be, the aesthetics are not built to last.
As I noted in my First Impressions, some iPhone 5 units – including my own, which you can see a high-res photo of by clicking the image above – came from the factory with scratches, scuffs, gouges and chips in the paint on the matte back panel and antenna. My personal device came with a scuff along the back left edge of the antenna, one on the upper right corner of the backside, a fairly deep gouge in the middle of the antenna on the upper left corner of the device, a chip in the paint on the back panel and other various nicks and scrapes. I noticed these almost immediately after removing the plastic from the face and rear panel.
But I'm hardly the only one. Apparently, this is a widespread issue that is affecting mostly – if not only – black models.
So what's the problem, exactly? Is it a quality control issue at one of the factories? When you have thousands of devices leave a factory with a physical defect, it's definitely possible. But I believe there is a better explanation. The issue stems from the material used, anodized aluminum.
As demonstrated in a cringe-inducing video by iFixIt, the iPhone 5 is much more susceptible to chipping paint, scratches and nasty gouges than the iPhone 4S, which hosts the rear glass panel we were so anxious to get rid of. Glass is a much harder, more rigid material than aluminum, which is why it shatters upon a hard impact with another hard object, like asphalt. This also means it will be noticeably more resistant to scratches and other visual defects.
Anodized aluminum, on the other hand, will not shatter when it hits a hard surface. It may suffer a dent, a tiny ding or, as the drop test video demonstrated, a warped frame. But it will not shatter. That said, because the material is much softer, it will suffer from chipping, gouging, scratches and numerous other blemishes … apparently, quite severely. (We have already learned this from the HTC One S, have we not?)
It could still be a quality control issue. However, I think the problem is just a poor choice in material from Apple. It may look nice and it may not shatter, but some back panels didn't even make it out of the factory before showing wear. Imagine what these devices will look like come this time next year, or 2014, when everyone who signed a two year agreement will be switching to a new phone.
When I discovered the nicks all over my unit, my immediate reaction was to give Verizon a call and request a new device. As petty as it may seem to whine and fuss over a few nicks, it's the principle of the matter. While phones aren't quite as large of an investment as, say, a new car, you probably wouldn't be happy if you purchased a car and learned after you got home that it came with a few dents and dings that were positively not put there by you. I've tried calling Verizon several times now and have yet to get through.
I have also pondered just riding it out and seeing what sort of compensation Apple gives, if any, to those with pre-damaged iPhones. That said, I'm not sure what they could do this time around. Issuing a free case would be nice, but that doesn't answer to the deprecating nicks all over my phone. I've also considered just dealing with it. If I get my iPhone replaced, those nicks will find their way onto my new one in due time anyway, unless I use the phone in a case 24/7, which is not something I'm known to do.
However, I have heard from a few sources that Apple is servicing iPhones, even those purchased from carriers or third party stores. I'm not putting too much faith in these claims but I will be heading to the local Apple store this afternoon to see if I can resolve my "scratchgate" or "scuffgate" problem once and for all.
For the time being, I've slipped my iPhone 5 in a case to stave any more damage. I'm not at all impressed with how susceptible the iPhone 5 is to scratches, and not a fan of the fact that I may have to keep it in a case for the length of my stint with the phone.
Tell me, readers. Did any of you receive an iPhone 5 with blemishes from the factory? Have you already had yours replaced? Or does it not bother you at all that you purchased a $650 (or more) phone, albeit with a contract, and it came pre-blemished?