The iPhone 5S, as expected, takes the design of the popular iPhone 5 and refines it with a few extra flourishes and boosted hardware. While it doesn’t look much different on the outside, do the internal changes make it a worthwhile buy? Read on to see if Apple’s latest is their best to date.
Design and Build
The iPhone 5S follows the precedent set by previous ‘S’ generations of Apple smartphones. The big changes aren’t outward. The 5S uses unibody construction identical to that of the iPhone 5 with only a few minor tweaks. This is a good thing. The iPhone 5 stands as a pinnacle of smartphone design, and we don’t mind seeing the style hang around for one more generation.
The 5S is built of aluminum with plastic accents and an all-glass front. It feels solid while maintaining a small footprint. The phone is both thin and light. Apple has really covered their bases here, and even though the phone doesn’t represent a huge design change it somehow comes across a bit sleeker than last year’s model.
Perhaps it’s the understated Touch ID Home button, which forgoes any graphic for gloss and metal. It’s dimensional without being concave. Maybe it’s the new color options. Space Gray is a beautiful update to black, while a gold option offers something new altogether. The phone is also available in silver/white, which looks just as good as it did with the iPhone 5.
Easily the most talked about addition to the iPhone 5S is Touch ID. Touch ID allows a user to unlock his or her smartphone (as well as sign off on App Store purchases) using only their fingerprint as identification. The novel concept has been attempted in smartphones prior, but never has it been executed as well.
Touch ID allows a user (or users) to register up to five fingerprints to be recognized by the device. The sensor is embedded in the Home button, meaning unlocking the phone is as easy as resting a thumb or finger where it is wont to go, anyway. It’s fast, too, provided Touch ID locks onto your print on the first try.
But Touch ID is not perfect. While the setup process does it’s best to map out your print so that it will detect a match no matter how your finger lands on the sensor, it’s isn’t always accurate. It might take a few tries to register. Also, good luck with fingers that are sweaty or damp and prune-y after a shower.
We’re hesitant to call it a bulletproof security method, all things considered. It can be spoofed, though it does require some effort. It’s not that you shouldn’t trust Touch ID, only that you should trust it about as much as any other method of locking a smartphone. Security concerns aside, Touch ID puts slide-to-unlock to shame. Once you try it, chances are you won’t be going back.
iOS 7 isn’t exclusive to the iPhone 5S (owners of the iPhone 4, 4S, 5, and 5C also received the update), but it is the flagship device of Apple’s revamped mobile platform. The major change is one of aesthetics, eschewing real-world textures for a simple, clean look.
The update emphasizes a bold new era for Apple, but it more or less remains footed in the iOS of yesteryear. Once you get past the bright colors and redesigned App icons, the operating system operates the same on a functional level. If you have used iOS, you can use iOS 7.
That isn’t to say there aren’t some compelling new features. A personal favorite is Control Center, which is accessed by swiping up from the bottom of the screen. It gives quick access to toggling things like WiFi and Bluetooth, controlling music playback, and turning on the phone’s flash as a flashlight. It also puts AirDrop, another new iOS 7 feature, only a few taps away.
AirDrop allows you to share files such as photos or videos with any iOS 7 used nearby. The functionality has existed on Mac hardware as part of OS X for some time, but it makes it’s iOS debut in the latest version.
Also given a fresh coat of paint is Notification Center, which now features three panels to organize your calendar events, incoming notifications, and missed notifications. Multitasking, still accessed by double-tapping the Home button, now gives a preview of the open application.
Siri has also seen a swath of new enhancements as the voice-activated personal assistant exits beta in iOS 7. There are a slew of new commands and queries, and users for the first time can assign a male voice.
The changes are nothing small, and the result is huge. While iOS 7 has been polarizing for many users (especially those coming from older versions of the software), it is hands-down the biggest (and best) update to Apple’s mobile platform to date.
A7 Processor, Display and Hardware
Internally, Apple’s biggest upgrade to the iPhone 5S is it’s A7 processor. It’s the first time an iPhone can tout 64-bit processing, and initial benchmarks suggest it could be the fastest mobile CPU out there. It’s definitely the fastest iPhone to date.
Apple claims 40 times faster than the first Apple smartphone. Graphics performance is said to be 56 times faster. It’s said to be up to two times faster in bother categories compared to the iPhone 5.
The A7 is aided is aided by Apple’s new M7 coprocessor. The chip saddles the load of processing input from the iPhone 5S’ motion sensors. The extra power aims to increase efficiency and improve on battery life.
The processing power is well worth it in the end, but right now the benefits of Apple’s chip tandem won’t be realized. Too many apps are stuck on 32-bit architecture, and it might be some time before native 64-bit apps begin populating the App Store. Same goes for apps taking advantage of the M7’s unique capabilities.
The remaining internal hardware doesn’t offer any huge improvements over the iPhone 5. The same 4-inch Retina display is utilized, offering 326 pixels-per-inch. It still looks good, so there was little reason for Apple to upgrade here. That might not happen until the company decides to again change the screen size of the iPhone.
Aside from Touch ID and an A7 processor, the biggest change is to the iPhone 5S’ camera. Its 8MP camera might sound deceptively similar to the iPhone 5’s, but the similarities end there. The camera uses an image sensor that is 15 percent larger than the 8MP camera of last year’s model along with a f/2.2 aperture.
According to Apple, this means a 33 percent increase in sensitivity to light. The sensor does perform better in a wider range of lighting conditions, but that isn’t the only noticeable difference. Apple doesn’t fall short compared to their previous releases with the iPhone 5S.
Apple’s True Tone flash takes advantage of two LED flashes of different color temperatures to produce a theoretically better result than traditional single-bulb smartphone flashes. There is a difference to be noted, but it hardly elevates the LED flash to a new realm. The best photo results come with plenty of natural light, but in a pinch the True Tone flash won’t produce washed out results.
New features also come to the both the photo and video modes of the camera, as well. One area where the A7 processor does make a difference is the ability capture 120fps slow motion video at 720p. Burst mode for photos snaps off 10 pictures a second and smartly chooses the “best” result.
These modes, in addition with the optical improvements, put the iPhone 5S in the upper echelon of smartphone cameras.
One area where the iPhone 5S produced slightly underwhelming results is the battery. But even this must be clarified. Battery life was only disappointing because it didn’t jump much from the iPhone 5.
Apple did go with a larger battery in the 5S, but battery life remains more or less on par with the last generation. If you are familiar with the iPhone 5, you will know that this is a good thing, overall. You’ll get a full day of normal use without worrying about finding a charge.
It would have been nice to get more, but we can’t complain much about battery life otherwise.
The iPhone 5S is quite simply the best iPhone we have seen to date, if not the best smartphone on the market today. That being said, if you own an iPhone 5, and upgrade likely isn’t a necessity unless you crave the improved camera, faster processor, and Touch ID fingerprint system.
For owners of older iPhones, an upgrade is a no-brainer. For those deciding between platforms, there are some decent Android competitors like the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One to consider, but it’s hard to see where anyone could go wrong with the iPhone 5S.