iPhone 5s Review: Apple Pay Now A Reality With Apple Watch

Reviews Michael Grothaus 11:04, 11 Mar 2015

The iPhone 5s is 15 months old, but if you do want an iPhone with a 4in display is it still a VIABLE option? We reopen the files to find out

Typical Price: 
The blazingly fast 64-bit A7 processor and the M7 motion co-processor. The new camera features are worth it for photo buffs too
Touch ID is cool, but feature-limited, Still the same 4-inch display and overall design
If you have an iPhone 5, the 5s is a worthy reason to upgrade for the A7, M7, and camera. But don’t upgrade just for the Touch ID alone. You’ll be disappointed. If you have any iPhone below the 5, jump ship to the iPhone 5s. It will blow you mind.

The hottest smartphones of the holiday season were the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. But Apple still sells the smaller iPhone 5s (and iPhone 5c), and if you’re after a smartphone with a smaller display than the company’s most recent option this is your best option –– it has TouchID, a 64-bit CPU, the M7 coprocessor and a very decent camera.

Indeed, the iPhone 5s was one of the best handsets released in 2014. It looked great, was constructed from gorgeous, premium build materials and, for a lot of people, was the perfect size for a smartphone being not too big but still perfectly adequate for one-handed use and things like video. Compared to the Nexus 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, however, the iPhone 5s is TINY –– you can fit the 5s inside the screen space of the Nexus 6 for instance. And for many, this leap might be too much to bear. And for this reason alone, a lot of people are still looking to the now-cheaper iPhone 5s. 

But the iPhone 5s is not a new phone, not by a young stretch. So, the big question here is this: fifteen months after its original release, is the iPhone 5s still up to task and, more interestingly, does it offer better value for money than its newer, larger counterparts? On the surface this would seem to be the case: the iPhone 5s was one of the most highly praised handsets of 2014, it features TouchID and is plenty powerful. 

The iPhone 5s WILL be able to take advantage of Apple Pay once it launches in the UK later this year but, in typical Apple style, you will have to purchase an Apple Watch in order to do so. Apple confirmed during its recent launch event that Apple Pay functionality would indeed be bundled inside the Apple Watch and in doing so allow older handsets –– iPhone 5s, iPhone 5 and iPhone 5c –– to make Apple Pay transactions from April 24 in the US and later on in 2015 elsewhere. 

Below we’re going to take a look at the good and bad points of the iPhone 5s in light of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus release. The point of all of which is to help you decide whether the iPhone 5s is viable option as your next phone over the more expensive iPhone 6. Right, let’s do this!

The Good

Both models of the iPhone 6 not only have a higher screen resolution than the iPhone 5s, they also feature advanced display technology like dual-domain pixels, which give you wider viewing angles and (almost) 40% better contrast ratio. However, given the iPhone 5s has less screen real estate (whether or not that is a good thing is entirely subjective) it’s arguable that any user without the sharpest eye wouldn’t notice a difference.

Indeed, when I was visiting family over the holidays and compared my iPhone 6 to my brother’s iPhone 5s, I couldn’t tell a difference in the screens. And when I saw the iPhone 5s compared to some of my friend’s Windows Phones and Android phones, the display still looked far superior. Granted, that could be because the all-aluminum design of the iPhone 5s still makes the phone one of the best looking in history. In the end though, though 4-inch iPhones are falling out of favour, the display on the iPhone 5s is still amazing and if you like your smartphones on the smaller size, the iPhone 5s is the one to get.

Another thing that holds up well in the iPhone 5s are the A7 and M7 coprocessors. Sure, the A7 is a technically inferior chip compared to the iPhone 6’s A8 processor, but because it’s also a 64-bit chip it still kills it when it comes to running processor-intensive apps and games. I can’t tell a bit of difference when running a power-hungry app like Apple’s Pages word processor on the iPhone 5s versus the iPhone 6.

But perhaps the biggest reason the iPhone 5s is still holding up so well--and is still great choice for a smartphone-- is thanks to iOS 8. The operating system runs much better on the iPhone 5s than iOS 7 ever did. Matter of fact, compare and iPhone 5s running iOS 7 and one running iOS 8 to each other and I swear the speed differences will make you think the two phones are physically different hardware.

And let’s talk about the iPhone 5s’ Touch ID. The fingerprint sensor was first unveiled on the 5s and was its flagship feature. At the time it was revolutionary--but it was also quite limited, only allowing you to unlock your iPhone and confirm downloads through the App and iTunes Stores. But now thanks to iOS 8 the Touch ID is now available to third-party apps, which gives it a whole new level of usefulness on the iPhone 5s. This makes the 5s itself more relevant today than it was upon its release in 2013. 

Showing Its Age

But just because the iPhone 5s has a lot going for it still doesn’t mean it’s not showing its age. My biggest beef with it is its level of storage, or lack thereof. When the iPhone 5s originally came out it was available in 16, 32, and 64 GB sizes. However, in typical Apple fashion, the company cut the then-high-end 64GB model when it relegated the 5s to second class citizen with the release of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus (which now come in 16, 64, and 128 GB sizes). That means if you want an iPhone 5s, you are limited to the almost-useless 16 GB storage option or the bare-minimum-for-usefulness 32GB size. By 2015 standards, that’s not a lot.

Another thing that causes the iPhone 5s to show its age is the lack of NFC. Now that the iPhone 6 has NFC, which is used in conjunction with the Touch ID to make mobile payments via Apple Pay, the lack of NFC on the iPhone 5s makes it clear the 5s is no longer “future proof”. Apple Pay and NFC are the future of iPhones and getting a 5s means those features are never going to be in your future. 

The camera on the 5s is also starting to show its age. Yes, it’s got the same 8MP sensor and five-element lens of the camera in the iPhone 6, but on the iPhone 6 Apple really tweaked out the software with something called “Focus Pixels”. This is software that works with the 8MP sensor, which allows it to obtain more information about the image you are photographing. What this means in real world terms is that the iPhone 6 camera autofocuses much faster than that in the iPhone 5s. And compare night shots taken with the iPhone 6 to that of the 5s and you’ll see how much better software tweaks makes the camera in the iPhone 6.

Besides the storage and camera shortcomings, the iPhone 5s also lacks some other things the iPhone 6--and all future phones will have--including a barometer built into the motion processor (this allows your iPhone to know if you are climbing a flight of stairs; useful for fitness buffs) and 802.11ac wireless connectivity. Most people won’t miss either of these, but their lack is a reminder that the 5s is an aging device.


The iPhone 5s’ battery isn’t great. It will do a full day with careful management but anything remotely resembling heavy usage will require a decent top up at some point in the afternoon to see you through until bedtime. This has always been the case with iPhones, and it’s a similar tale for the iPhone 5 and the iPhone 5c. But Apple attempted to fix this with the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus –– and to a large extent it succeeded.

The iPhone 6, arguably the more popular handset of the two, has around 25% better battery life than the iPhone 5s; the iPhone 6 Plus is even better and will easily deliver a good day and a bit of charge with heavy use. Despite its additional size, battery life is a huge USP for the iPhone 6 Plus. It was the main reason I choose it over the iPhone 6 when upgrading my old phone and why I think a lot of people throughout 2015 will do the same. All day battery life (a thing iPhone users have wanted for YEARS) is now a reality on iPhone –– you just have to get a pretty big handset to experience it. 

Cost and Verdict

Apple sells the iPhone 5s unlocked for £459 (16 GB) and £499 (32 GB), though sometimes you can get the entry-level model free on contract from various carriers now. Now, we’ve done our brief re-evaluation of the iPhone 5s’ ups and downs, the BIG question still remains: should you get one?

That’s a tricky question. The answer is “yes” if a 4-inch display is enough for you (and anything larger is just too big). However, if you are debating over whether to get the iPhone 5s or the iPhone 6 on anything other than display size, I would suggest going with the iPhone 6 if you are the type of person that keeps a smartphone for a few years. 

The iPhone 5s was a great phone for 2013 and 2014 and is a fine phone for 2015, but once 2016 rolls around and NFC payments and 64 GB storage are the norm, your iPhone 5s is quickly going to feel very limited.

You can read our original review of the iPhone 5s over on Page 2. 


Length 123.8mm
Width 58.6mm
Thickness 7.6 mm
Weight 112 g
Screen Size 640 x 1136 pixels, 4.0 inches (~326 ppi pixel density)
Operating System Apple iOS 7
Camera Resolution 8 MP, 3264x2448 pixels, autofocus, dual-LED (True Tone) flash. Features: 1/3'' sensor size, 1.5 µm pixel size, simultaneous HD video and image recording, touch focus, geo-tagging, face detection, HDR panorama, HDR photo
Video Resolution Yes, 1080p@30fps, 720p@120fps, advanced video stabilization
Processor Apple A7
Connectivity Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, dual-band, Wi-Fi hotspot, Bluetooth 4.0
High-speed Data DC-HSDPA, 42 Mbps; HSDPA, 21 Mbps; HSUPA, 5.76 Mbps, LTE, 100 Mbps; EV-DO Rev. A, up to 3.1 Mbps
Built-in Memory 16GB, 32GB, 64GB, no SD-support

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