Apple iPhone 5s Review: “S” is for “Same” but also for “SPEED”
With every “S” release of the iPhone, there really are no Surprises as every numerical revision comes with the expected improvement in speed, camera performance, and at least one special feature. The 3GS boosted speed, the 4S also boosted speed, brought in an 8-megapixel camera, and Siri, and now the 5S pretty much has the same upgrades. Building off of last year’s iPhone 5, the 5s brings overall improvement in speed, camera quality, and its ace feature being the much talked about finger print sensor for Touch ID. Is this enough to the best phone in the market? Or better yet, is it even worth upgrading from your iPhone 5? Let’s find out!
Build and Design
Just like all the “S” iPhone upgrades, the iPhone 5s doesn’t have any real changes to its design from the iPhone 5 except with some new colors you can choose from You’ still have last year’s white/silver but Apple introduces “space gray” which is more or less the “Black iPhone” with the silver edges (I really miss the black edges) and now there’s the gold color which is not really made of gold but it’s similar to the white/silver except with… the gold color instead of the silver. Some people will either really love the gold color, or will absolutely hate it but it’s good to have choices right?
The iPhone 5s retains its aluminum frame, chamfered edges and even weight and dimensions of 3.9oz at 4.9 x 2.3 x 0.3 inches. It’s pretty much a carbon copy of the iPhone 5 and most people won’t even be able to tell the difference at first glance. There are however a few subtle differences aside from the different color variations. On the front, if you look at the “Home” button the iPhone 5s doesn’t have the white square anymore because it has been replaced with the finger print sensor. On the back of the iPhone 5s, you’ll also notice that the flash looks a little bit different because that has been upgraded with the True Tone flash for improved white balance. What I noticed about the back plate of the iPhone 5s is that it seems like it is more resistant to scratches but time will tell if this is true or not.
Even though the iPhone 5s is nearly identical to the 5, it is still one of the best looking phones out on the market today with it’s sleek industrial design and the best to use one handed (of course that also depends on individual tastes). The only other phone that can compete with its design in my opinion is the HTC One, but that’s an entirely separate debate altogether!
When we were first introduced to the iPhone 5, a lot of us were disappointed with the slight increase in screen size from 3.5-inches to 4-inches. For at least 2-3 years, we’ve been begging Apple to give us a bigger screen and even 4-inches last year was nowhere near what other rival smartphones had to offer. The iPhone 5s has the exact same size and 1136 x 640 resolution Retina display. That’s not to say it’s a terrible thing in anyway as the Retina display remains one of the best smart phone screens on the market. Text is sharp, pictures look great, the touch screen is responsive, and video is as good as it gets on a 4-inch display. However if you look at the HTC One’s 4.7-inch 1080 screen, it totally dwarfs the iPhone and it is definitely something to consider if you are in need of a larger screen.
Now finally, this is something new to talk about! The fingerprint scanner has been rumored for a long time and had low expectations. Fingerprint scanners have been tried on phones before such as the Motorola Atrix 4G which was cumbersome, gimmicky, and pretty much useless. This type of technology doesn’t even work well on a laptop so why would anyone want to attempt this again on an iPhone? Surprisingly, Apple hits the mark with Touch ID as it is executed wonderfully with the iPhone 5s.
The iconic “Home Button” now pulls double duty as the iPhone 5s fingerprint scanner. How it works is that it takes high resolution images at 500 ppi of your fingerprint at incredible detail. Setup is effortless and takes about a minute to do where you just place your finger on the sensor / Home Button multiple times and at different angles and it gets associated with your unlock code and App Store password. What this means is that you can unlock your phone and make apps and music purchases with just your thumbprint; no need to slide to unlock, enter a pin-code or a password making the process extremely simple and arguably secure. Touch ID can register up to 5 different fingers and from what I’ve been told, people have used other parts of their body (yes people, even THAT if that’s what you’re thinking), animal paws, and other objects to register authentication.
Touch ID is actually really smart in that the more you use it, the better it works. In fact you can unlock your phone with your fingerprints at different angles so you don’t have to scan it at perfect alignment making it much more convenient. I hate to say it but this is good for those sinners who like to text and drive, which you shouldn’t be doing anyway. My only issue with Touch ID is that there is currently no third-party support for such a refined technology. So far the only two uses are what I mentioned above which is to unlock your phone and to authenticate app and music purchases. Imagine being able to use this to login other websites, bank and shopping apps where impulse buying will be all too easy.
As I have said for the past few years, we get faster speed with every new iPhone. Even though there are subtle changes from the aesthetics and everything on the outside, everything from within has received a complete overhaul. The iPhone 5s is powered by a 64-bit dual-core A7 processor which Apple claims to be 2X faster than the A6 chip from the iPhone 5.
Without going too much detail into benchmarks (Anandtech has an excellent write-up in regards to the numbers), the iPhone 5s scores do support the “twice as fast claim as we look at the Geekbench 3 chart below:
To me, benchmarks don’t really mean much as I am more interested in the real world performance vs. what’s on paper. Right from the start of using the iPhone 5s, I could right away feel the performance difference from the previous iPhone 5 in loading all the apps that I use. However in using the current apps, they all run as equally smooth as they did on the iPhone 5 and even navigating though the OS feels about the same. The reason for this is that there aren’t really many apps that take advantage of the new 64-bit A7 processor yet and even most of the graphic intensive games have marginal if any improvements in performance, which is analogous to how the iPhone 4S was to the 4.
However, games like Infinite Blade III is now optimized for the iPhone 5s as of this writing and the game performance is impressive. The game loads in a matter of seconds whereas it takes over a minute loading on the iPhone 5. Details are sharp and the game is just a preview of what’s more to come on what the A7 has to offer.
In addition to the A7, Apple adds another new piece of hardware into the iPhone 5s in the form of the M7 co-processor, which is used to handle the motion data from the gyroscope, compass, and accelerometer to offload the work of the main processor. Fitness based apps will be utilizing the M7 so you save some battery life and processing power when those are running in the background. Even the Maps app instantly knows when you’re walking or driving but it will be awhile for more apps to take advantage of this.
Communications and 4G LTE
Like the iPhone 5, the iPhone 5s supports a broad spectrum of networks going from GSM/EDGE, UMTS/HSPA , DC-HSDPA on the GSM version. On the CDMA side, you have all the above, plus CDMA EV-DO Rev. A and Rev. B. There is also the usual Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 A2DP capability as well. Best of all, both the GSM and CDMA versions support LTE. What’s new this year is that the iPhone 5s will have global LTE meaning there will be 4 different versions for each regions you will get the highest speeds available in your part of the world.
iOS7 is Apple’s latest incarnation of its operating system which they claim to be the most advanced in the world. Although that point can be highly arguable, it is no doubt the largest revision to date with a heavy facelift in design and new features. With Jony Ive involved with the production of iOS7, we are presented with a much flatter and colorful interface vs the old skeuomorphic look we’ve been bored with for years. Since the new operating system has been talked about ad nauseam since its beta, we’re going to go over some of the more important additions.
Under the hood, iOS7 more or less runs very similar to the previous operating system in terms of navigating through the device. Apple’s “new but familiar” approach makes it easy for longtime iOS veterans to get used to the new software while new users will be able to figure it out just as quickly. It just takes us iOS old timers awhile to get acquainted with the new fonts and icons.
The pull-down notification screen receives a very welcoming facelift where it displays the weather, traffic info and calendar as well as all your notifications and missed calls in three different tabs. Playing catch-up to Android, you can now access your Bluetooth, network, flashlight and other settings by simply swiping up on the Home Screen without having to go through an ordeal of navigating through the Settings. Unfortunately, there is still no option to use a third-party keyboard nor is there anything similar to the very popular and efficient swype.
All the core apps also received a nice redesign such as a more modern looking Messages, calculator and Weather is beautiful. iOS7 does have some misses though such as the overly confusing Calendar app which is a step backwards from the original. The once simple Calendar is now an over-cluttered mess with the main monthly overview that does not even indicate which days have an appointment, not even by color markings. Thankfully, there is at least a list-view feature which is someone hidden by tapping on the magnifying glass on the top corner.
iOS7 now brings AirDrop which is similar to the feature found on OSX where you can share documents and files from one device to another to anyone on your contact list or people you’ve just met. Another nice addition is iTunes Radio which is Apple’s entry to the streaming audio market directly competing with services such as Pandora and Slacker. You can listen to the featured preset stations or create your own passed on the songs or artists you pick and it will play music similar to that artist or based on what you like, yes kind of like Pandora. Unfortunately you can only skip up to six songs but supposedly Music Match subscribers are supposed to get unlimited skips which doesn’t work for me at the time of this writing (I will update once that happens or figure out what I’m doing wrong).
The Camera and Photo apps have also been redesigned. There are now filters and a Square mode similar to Instagram and the albums can now be viewed by time and place. And finally with the purchase of a new iOS device, you get the entire iWorks productivity suite for free! That includes Pages, Numbers, Keynote, Garage Band, and iPhoto, which is a nice savings if you haven’t purchased these already.
Apple touts the iPhone as being the world’s most popular camera and that statement is accurate for a reason. Since the iPhone 4, it has been one of the best overall smartphone cameras available and the camera gets better every year. While other competitors boast high megapixels, the iPhone 5s sticks with now three year streak of 8MP. Building off of the previous generations of iPhone cameras, the 5s has some new improvements and additions. The biggest issue the iPhone camera had was that it did not take good low light photos. The 5s has increased it’s pixel and aperture size which increases light sensitivity by 33%. What this means is that you will see a definite improvement from your low-light shots. Daytime and well lit photos look as good as they did on the previous iPhone 5. The new front facing FaceTime 1.2MP camera also is improved in capturing photos and videos. Taking selfies in low lighting look better than before.
The Camera also takes advantage of the new A7 processor in which you now have the capability of taking real burst-mode shots (not software tricks) by simply holding down the shutter button as long as you want taking as much shots as you want. The iPhone will choose what it thinks the best shot was for you and instead of making a mess of your Photos library, it will put that burst shot into a separate folder which is very well thought out on Apple’s part.
Another exclusive 5s camera feature is taking 720p video in slow-motion. How this works is that it records at 120fps and then reduces it to 30fps during playback which works pretty effectively. Thanks to iOS7, video recorded at 1080p and photos taken now has image stabilization, which is also helpful for those who have shaky hands or in situations where you can hold your hand still.
And finally Apple improves the camera flash by bringing True Tone Flash to the 5s which is a dual flash system consisting of a white LED and an amber LED working together to create a much more natural color balance when you need to use a flash. If you look at the photo samples, it works pretty well.
Even with an upgrade in specs, the battery life is very similar to last year’s iPhone 5, which is not bad, but somewhat of a letdown. The iPhone 5s features a 1580mAh battery, which is a slight improvement over 1440mAh from last year. Apple advertises up to 10hours on 3G with 250 hours on standby with 10 hours of LTE, 10 hours of video playback and 40 hours of audio.
From my own personal testing through a full workday, I took the battery off the charger at 7AM and went through my daily routine of calls, text, emails, social networking with Bluetooth and WiFi on and the battery gave out at 5:21PM which was about 21 minutes longer than what I got out of the iPhone 5. I was really hoping that Apple would impress us in this area, but it is still competitive against other rival smartphones.
With every “S” revision of the iPhone, you can always expect an overall improvement over something already great and Apple has done just that with the 5s. But with fierce competition such as the HTC One, Samsung Galaxy S4, and the Nokia 1020, the iPhone now has a harder time to sway those who are looking for a bigger screen, flexible operating system, and a new different design. If these three categories are your main priorities in looking for a smartphone then the iPhone 5s or any iPhone isn’t really for you and there are a lot of good phones out in the market right now. Even if you are still under contract with the iPhone 5, you will be able to survive just phone for another year and wait for the iPhone 6 next year.
Now if you can look past everything I mentioned above, the iPhone 5s brings a faster processor, better camera, and a well-executed Touch ID concept. Let’s also not forget to take into account that the App Store is the strongest in the mobile market and iOS is the easiest mobile operating to use. If you are looking for a good overall smartphone or just want to have the best iPhone out there, then you will not regret owning an iPhone 5s.
- Touch ID is very well executed
- Impressive camera
- Excellent Performance
- Still the easiest smartphone to use
- No real design upgrade
- Still waiting for a bigger screen
- iOS7 is still playing catch-up
- No real improvement to battery life
Overall Rating: 4/5