I finally got my hands on an iPhone 5, and honestly, it is exactly what you would expect. It feels like every previous iPhone, though it might be a tiny bit faster and more responsive. Essentially, it is a very small incremental upgrade for you if you have an iPhone 4, but it might be worth it if you have an iPhone 3. Apple has finally joined the 4G wagon, and that's a welcome addition, but hardware wise, there isn't much different going on at a noticeable level. It's a bit bigger, but the display is essentially the same, and it feels the same in your hand. CNET seems to like it so far.
What is noticeable is iOS 6. There's a lot that's been changed, but not directly on the surface. On the surface, you have your desktop with icons and your taskbar at the top. The most usable difference is that Siri is better. By which I mean she is actually useable and can understand most of what you are saying now. It won't be a frustrating game of two people who speak different languages trying to communicate anymore. Or at least not as often. This makes the personal-assistant feel that Apple is trying to provide really come through.
Any other smartphone is just a smartphone. You can do almost anything you want, and the options are endless, but with most of them, especially Android phones, you have to go looking for what you want and figure out how to use it. Apple wants to make the phone an extension of your daily life, and used properly, it really can be now. You can use your iPhone like a personal organizer, and everything falls into place in the most intuitive of ways.
There are two things wholly new in iOS 6, and they've gotten very different receptions. First, let's talk very briefly about the Maps app. It's terrible. It's just atrocious. It's not even really useable. If you are fairly familiar with the area, it might work. For example, sometimes I forget where the turn is to go up to Hanover. Maps could help me with that. But for the most part, it is not going to help you get where you want to go. It is so bad that Apple actually released a formal apology, which is something I can't remember them ever doing, even with the antenna debacle. But why Maps is so bad could be a thesis on corporate ignorance and arrogance, or a discussion of how Google has spent years and years working on their navigation system and manually collecting data, and it is still not perfect.
What is cool, and might actually be useful down the line, is Passbook. Passbook is an app in which you can store things like loyalty cards, coupons, tickets, and the like, to be viewed later for use. Now, instead of printing out that movie ticket you got online, you can just show your iPhone at the box office, and you're in. It has a location-awareness feature that I wasn't able to test out, but the theory is that if you are, for example, at the theater, Passbook knows and will make it easier for you to access the thing you want.