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Offline: touching the iPhone 5

Offline: touching the iPhone 5

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iphone 5
iphone 5

So far three: Josh's, Ross's, Sam's. How could I not? A few minutes at a time. Giving them back like a hot potato, trying to quench my desire before it grows too hot and I bike to the nearest Apple Store and pay whatever it takes for a device I can't use. In my brief encounters I heft and examine, slotting it into the nooks of my hand, reaching across the screen with my thumb to test the requirements of 4 inches. I sidescroll back-and-forth on the home screen. Did I just see lag? Wait, how does the panorama work? What's Passbook? Don't tell me. Oh man, I need this. Here, take it back, leave me alone. I'm a Huawei man now. Do I look weak? I feel weak.

I'm sure a million words have been spilled by tech journalists trying to describe the new iPhone. With every iPhone, I find our prose gives out under the weight of adulation, even though it's adulation on a leash. We might try to sound flippant, as if we just woke from sleep to a phone call (our review editor, hoping for a shortage of one-way-or-other bias), and are trying to mask the grog in our voice. "Oh, it's taller and thinner and lighter I guess, but it's still just an iPhone," we fool ourselves into saying through cotton mouths. Apple seems to have anticipated this line, running a full-page ad in my newspaper every day with a simple photo of the iPhone and that cocky "The most iPhone yet" tagline.

Most of my experience with new-gen gadgets is only tactile. If you'll recall, I'm the guy that's not using the internet for a year, and gadgets these days are all using the internet always, only, faster, better, parasitically, symbiotically, all-year-long. It's the obvious irony of my current experiment: I write for a technology-centric publication, and the internet-purposed gadgets are inescapable. At the office, in my reading material, and on my mind. When they appear in front of my eyes, I have the Pavlovian drool of desire and purchase-justification, but I'm quickly brought back to earth.

It's like holding a sharpened pencil, or a row of sharpened pencils

Modern devices are aggressively internet-ey, and push notifications constantly jump in front of me, grabbing at my eyeballs. But they're mostly just useless unconnected. Once I tried to use a Nexus 7 with the Wi-Fi off, and found not a single app that was usable without a connection or internet-delivered content — even the camera is only built for video chat. There's no text editor. Offline Google Docs still eludes us.

But I love the feel of the Nexus 7, and so I pick it up in the office often — many of my co-workers have one. The soft matte back is such a sigh of relief, like slouching into a couch after a long day of work and a wearying commute. I've been touching unforgiving gadgets for so long, I'm almost in tears at the fact that someone built a tablet that's not just comfortable, but comforting.

The iPhone 5 isn't comforting, but it's empowering. It's like holding a sharpened pencil, or a row of sharpened pencils. Your fingers move them with anticipation. You're going to destroy this test. I feel the matte back like I'd test the graphite on a piece of paper, making sure my marks are deep, even Scantron-ready. If someone told me the iPhone 5 was whittled instead of assembled, I'd believe them. I'd like to play hockey with the phone, slap the phone on my knee like an instrument, stack a dozen phones like wooden blocks, maybe even bite it like a gold coin.

The iPhone 4 had an unfortunate problem of feeling precarious without a case, like a thin vase: no matter how well you hold it, it's best to put it down and step away, just to be safe. If I had two iPhone 4s, I'd like to keep them an inch or two apart. Maybe hold one in each hand. What if they try and bite each other? The iPhone 4 was precious, its beautiful screen an illuminated manuscript. The mysterious, finicky antenna invited superstition and religious observances.

The iPhone 5 isn't comforting, but it's empowering

I read in a recent Wired feature on Gorilla Glass (which is used for the front panel of the iPhone, and many other phones) how the strength of the glass is in its compression, and that if impacted correctly, the glass "explodes" so to speak. That's how the iPhone 4 always felt to me. I kept it in a case, afraid of it. The case didn't just protect it from the ground, it protected me from something that was too powerful, too dangerous, to be handled bare-handed.

But the iPhone 5 is too light, too slight, to feel dangerous. Yes, it's precious, and the fear of dropping remains, but like those #2 pencils, I feel as if it's under my command at last. Me and this iPhone, we're going places.

Not literally, of course. I hear the new maps are terrible.

Paul Miller will regularly be posting dispatches from the disconnected world on The Verge during his year away from the internet. He won't be reading your comments, but he'll be here in spirit.