From a touring point of view: I used to use the 2008 Shimano 105's (st-5600) which also had an exposed gear cable to hold my maps in place on my handle bar bag. I "up graded" to the clunky 105 (st-5703) and have not been impressed ever since. Especially as you can't use the more modern rear derailleurs (Dyna sys) with road shifters and Shimano seem to be veering away from triple chain rings (especially on their road and hydraulic brake system, I thought I'd look at the Gevenalle audax levers as I have 2 disc specific bikes that I may convert to the Gevenalle hydraulic brakes and levers)
I thought I would try the Gevenalle audax on a bicycle as it's the cheapest of the different types.
I use a 44cm wide FSA compact handle bar (short fingers) Braking is fine on the hoods and in the drops ( although next time I will remove my spa cycles gel pads from the drops for a better grip) the gear shifters do not get in the way of braking as you can reach under them and I can just about reach to change down from too to lower gears whilst in the hoods (which is generally only on descents). Changing gears in the hoods is easy and the shift levers do not get in the way of my handle bar bag (ortlieb ultimate 5 with side mesh pockets)
Changing gear is effortless and seems to make you feel more connected to your bicycle (almost like a fixie), and if the chain makes a noise it's easy to trim. I also like how you can change loads of gears in one swing of the shifters. Coasting to a junction and dropping gear in preparation to stop, finding out out don't need to. Dumping the cassette into a higher gear and smacking it down the road. Or dropping the gears by ranging the shifter to the left when you have to hit another gradient change upwards on a tight bend as you have to brake and lose momentum.
Also it's great not to have to tinker with barrel adjusters, on month long tours there is usually a bit of twiddling to do and there is nothing worse than a jumping chain on a 10%+ on a loaded bicycle. Things like that don't happen any more.
You also have peace of mind if you derailleurs get damaged as you can still change gear, which is nice to know on tour when your a few days away from a bike shop.
I think they are amazing. I've ordered one hydraulic set and another set of 10 speed road shifters (but somehow think I will keep with the friction shifting).