iPhone 5s review: The Best iPhone Yet?
Is Apple's iPhone 5S the best iPhone ever created? Michael endeavours to find out
This year was the first time Apple ever end-of-life’d their previous iPhone –– the iPhone 5 –– and removed it from sale after only 12 months. Many had expected the opposite – drop the price of last year’s model and introduce this year’s model as the new flagship. But instead Apple shelved the old one and introduced the iPhone 5c, the one made of a plastic, in its place.
With the iPhone 5s nearly all the big changes occur inside: the new processor, the new imaging technology, and the new M7 coprocessor. And, like all “s” brand updates before it, the iPhone 5s is more about refinement than revolution – it takes everything that made its predecessor great and ups the ante in several key areas: power, power efficiency, imaging and utility.
We’ve already taken a thorough look at the iPhone 5c, so now it’s time to examine the iPhone 5s. Is it really the “best iPhone ever”? Just how fast is that A7 processor? And is the Touch ID really that useful? Read on to find out.
iPhone 5S review: Design, Display and Build
To start with, lets get the design, display and build out of the way, because little has changed from the iPhone 5 to the iPhone 5s. The 5s has the exact same physical body as the iPhone 5. The materials are the same, the volume, mute, and power buttons are the same, and even the speaker grille layout is the same.
Physically speaking, the only differences between the iPhone 5 and 5s are the Home button and the colors, with the latter being the most obvious change. The iPhone 5 came in black and the two-tone white and silver variant, dubbed "White". The new iPhone 5s comes in “space grey” (which could have easily been called “platinum”), gold and silver. The model I tested was the space grey model and I actually prefer its look over my old black iPhone 5.
Besides colours, the only other physical difference is in the Home button. Because of the Touch ID fingerprint sensor built into the home button, the button is no longer as concave as on previous models. However, it feels just as good –– if not better on the fingertip. It’s also just as responsive when pressed.
As for the display, absolutely nothing has changed. It’s the exact same display found on the iPhone 5 and the new iPhone 5c: a 4-inch Retina display IPS LCD panel with an 1136x640 resolution at 326 ppi. It’s as beautiful as ever, but nothing is new.
iPhone 5S review: Connectivity
Just as with the design, display and build, little has changed with the connectivity features of the iPhone 5s. The iPhone 5s offers that same Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, dual-band, Wi-Fi hotspot, and Bluetooth 4.0 as its predecessor, including full support for Apple’s AirPlay and AirDrop clients.
The iPhone 5S fully supports 2G and 3G (DC-HSPA and HSPA+) bands just as before but this time Apple has added in a host of additional 4G bands. With the iPhone 5s you are virtually ensured that the phone will work in any country in the world provided you have a compatible nano-SIM card. Apple’s new iPhones are the first truly global handsets the company has ever produced.
iPhone 5S review: Touch ID
But what about the Touch ID? That’s Apple’s flagship iPhone 5s fingerprint scanner feature. Apple was keen to add biometrics to the iPhone and for the most part the fingerprint scanner works well. However, my issue with it is that is offers very little benefit – for now at least, anyway.
That’s because all you can do with the Touch ID right now is use it to unlock your iPhone and approve purchases in the App Store and iTunes Store. Now, I completely understand why this is the case – Apple needs to go slow and steady with the capabilities of the first useful fingerprint scanner a smartphone has ever seen. There’s also a large amount of trust that users need to build up as far as biometrics are concerned. It’s a new technology and needs to be understood and proven safe before it’s adopted for more advanced features like mobile payments.
That’s why I tell people not to buy the iPhone 5s only for the Touch ID. You’ll be disappointed because there is little to use it for. The good thing about the Touch ID is that it will be easy to add capabilities to in the future since the hardware is now there. Hopefully Apple will be rolling out iCloud Keychain soon, which would allow users to log into websites on their iPhone 5s with just the touch of their finger – no more passwords and usernames!
But the holy grail of Touch ID use is when Apple opens it up for use in third-party apps – something not likely to happen until at least iOS 8. But when they do, Touch ID will be a godsend. I keep several of my apps passcode protected. Instead of entering a passcode each time, it would be much faster if I could just tap my finger.
Touch ID is also probably Apple’s “in” into the world of mobile payments. NFC is great, but not very secure. But NFC with a Touch ID sensor provides security and speed and you can be sure Apple will use both in conjunction when they do enter the mobile payments market.
iPhone 5S review: A7 Processor and RAM
If there were one reason to buy the iPhone 5s the A7 processor and M7 motion-coprocessors would be it. Let’s talk about the A7 first. It’s a 64-bit ARM processor with two cores running at 1.29Ghz.
The A7 is the world’s first 64-bit processor in a smartphone.... and it freaking flies. In my Geekbench tests the A7 scored a whopping 2560 when both cores of the A7 were in use. That compares to a scores of 1646 in the iPhone 5c, which uses the older A6 processor from the iPhone 5.
Opening apps and loading GPU-intensive content like games is incredibly fast. Even the startup and shutdown times of the iPhone 5s have been cut in half over those of its predecessor.
In addition to the A7, the iPhone 5s also features 1GB of RAM. Now, let’s be clear: there are plenty of smartphones out there with more RAM, but they are nowhere near as fast as the iPhone 5s. That’s because Apple doesn’t rely on brute power to speed up its phones. It tackles speed the smart way by designing iOS around the processor and RAM and making them work smarter together.
It’s this software optimization that will keep the iPhone 5s the world’s fastest smartphone even after Samsung and others rush out mobiles with 64-bit chips and more RAM. Phones can run faster on less raw horsepower with good coding – as Apple has proved time and time again.
iPhone 5S review: M7 Motion Co-Processor
The M7 motion co-processor is the second part of the reason people should buy the iPhone 5s. The M7 motion co-processor’s sole job is to measure motion data from the accelerometer, gyroscope, and compass. In the past this would have been the A7’s job.
The immediate advantage this co-processor provides is a whopping saving on battery life because the A7 doesn’t have to be constantly engaged anymore to measure motion data. The M7 handles all of that in the background much more efficiently.
What’s more, the M7 is so sensitive it can tell the difference between when you are walking, running, sitting, or driving. This means apps that support the M7 can give you a more accurate reading of how many calories you are burning since it can now tell what activity you are doing while moving.
Fitness apps also no longer need to be actively engaged to record your motion. Since the M7 is always recording motion data in the background, you can launch a fitness app after you started moving and it will look at the data from the M7 and update your stats appropriately.
If you are a fitness fanatic the M7 makes clear that the iPhone 5s is the only phone for you.
iPhone 5S review: iSight camera
Many were disappointed that the iPhone 5s kept an 8-megapixel camera. After all, it’s not uncommon to find 12 MP and larger on smartphones these days. But as is the case with iOS, the A7 CPU and the amount of RAM inside the iPhone 5s – more isn’t always the best, and sometimes a tweak will suffice.
Matter of fact, the most important factor in capturing good photographs is light. How much light can a camera’s sensor capture? In the iPhone 5s Apple has bumped up the light sensor in the iSight camera by 15%, which allows it to capture that much more light, allowing your pictures to look better. This 15% larger sensor actually gives you better pictures than a 15% bump in megapixels would.
To capture even more light, Apple also added larger pixels to the light sensor, measuring 1.5 microns, and increased the aperture to ƒ/2.2. Is this better than simply adding a 12 MP camera? You bet.
iPhone 5S iSight Picture Samples
Apple also greatly increased the flash capabilities on the iPhone 5s. Now the 5s features a "True Tone" flash, which consists of an amber LED and a white LED. The two differently colored LED flashes allow for better pictures to be taken because the dual flash works with software algorithms in iOS 7 to adjust the flash intensity and color temperature, meaning the iPhone 5s knows the best amount of light--and which type--to emit to let you capture the most natural images possible.
In my tests, the True Tone flash captures skin tone more accurately than the LED flash aboard the iPhone 5.
But it’s not just the underlying camera hardware and flash that have been added to the iPhone 5s’ camera capabilities. iOS 7 adds many new camera features to the camera software. Things like live filters, auto image stabilization, slow-motion video and a brand new UX. But some of those software features –– slow motion video, for instance –– are limited to the iPhone 5s.
iPhone 5S Slow-motion UX Images
That’s because the features – auto image stabilization, Burst mode, and Slo-mo video – requires the hardware found in the iPhone 5s to work. Auto image stabilization uses the processing power of the 64-bit A7 to work with the software in iOS 7 to automatically adjust for shakiness. The A6 and below don’t have enough processing power to accurately compensate for shakiness in the milliseconds needed.
Burst mode allows you to capture ten images per second – handy for shots of moving things, like players in a football match. The feature will snap 10 images per second for as long as you hold the shutter button down. iOS 7’s software then selects the best image of the series, or you can scroll through all the burst images to select the one you like best. Of course, just as with Auto image stabilization, Burst mode relies on the processing capabilities of the A7 to work well.
That same is true for Slo-mo video, which allows you to shoot at 120fps in 720p and play it back at just a quarter of the speed, which results in video that appears to be in slow motion. Good slow motion video would not be possible without the power of the A7, and the results you can capture aboard the iPhone 5S are pretty damn impressive.
iPhone 5S review: Battery and Storage
There’s no new storage option on the iPhone 5s, unfortunately. It still comes in in three storage flavours: 16GB, 32GB and 64GB. As for the battery, it’s slightly improved, with a 1560 mAh capacity. Apple says that will give you 10 hours of talk time on 3G and 8 hours on 4G. However we rarely ever only use our iPhones just for talking, so battery life is hard to gauge. Depending how you use your iPhone, the battery could last longer or shorter, which is why I feel that any battery tests are usually completely pointless. But yes, the iPhone 5s’ battery will last about 10% longer than the battery in the iPhone 5, provided your use it exactly the same.
Update: Apple recognises some iPhone 5s devices have battery issues - offering replacements
Apple has officially recognised that some of its customers are experiencing battery issues with the iPhone 5S.
The problem has occured in units which are affected by a manufacturing fault which can either cause battery life to be dramatically reduced compared to fully functional models or means the cell takes much longer to charge.
The company has announced it will replace faulty units.
Apple spokesperson, Teresa Brewer, said in a public statement, "We recently discovered a manufacturing issue affecting a very limited number of iPhone 5S devices that could cause the battery to take longer to charge or result in reduced battery life."
"We are reaching out to customers with affected phones and will provide them with a replacement phone," she added.
iPhone 5S review update: Apple in-store repairs
Reports indicate that Apple may soon be offering in-store repair services for the iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C.
According to 9to5Mac, sources "with knowledge of the upcoming initiative," said Apple will be issuing specialist machinery to its retail outlets in order to provide on-site repairs and part replacement.
Previously many issues were resolved by entirely replacing a handset.
Stores will be able to replace broken or faulty touchscreens within about an hour. Replacement batteries can also be fitted, along with volume buttons, vibration motors, the rear camera and speakers.
While the iPhone 5C's Home button can also be replaced, the reports indicate the iPhone 5S's Touch ID button is too complicated for repair in-store at present.
Users with AppleCare warranties will be able to have repairs made free of charge, but for devices outside of warranty replacement parts will incur a fee which varies depending on the part in question. A new display would set you back $149, while a new battery is $79.
Stings a little, but a lot cheaper than a whole new phone.
The pricing structure in dollars suggests the scheme will arrive in the US first as per Apple service rollouts in the past. According to the sources the machinery, parts and training documentation is already arriving in some Apple outlets.
Hopefully we'll see a global rollout in due course.
iPhone 5S review: Conclusion
The iPhone 5s is the best smartphone Apple has ever made and the fastest smartphone on the planet. If you are a speed junkie or a fitness buff, ditch your iPhone 5 for the iPhone 5s. It’s well worth it. It’s also worth it for the camera improvements if you enjoy taking lots of pics with your iPhone.
But don’t buy the iPhone 5s just for its flagship feature: Touch ID. Yes, it’s nice, but it has very limited use at present. But given that it would simply take software updates to make it more useful, that could change quickly. Apple no doubt has big plans for this feature.
Thinking about the iPhone 5c? Skip it if you can spend the extra money. For less than £90 more you’ll get twice the phone going up to the iPhone 5s –– and you’ll be future-proof when Apple decides to add more features relating to its Touch ID.
As for Samsung, they should be very worried. Yes, the company said the next Galaxy will have a 64-bit chip, but until they learn that software optimization is as important for performance as raw hardware power is, Apple’s iPhones will always get more power from less hardware. Such is the bonus of owning both the hardware are the software that powers it.
|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|
|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|