iPhone 5s: Apple's New Flagship Device

November 7, 2013 by
iPhone 5s at a Glance

Look and Feel

It feels sleek and light. Same form factor as the iPhone 5 but with more guts inside.

Defining Features
Touch ID is the big physical improvement of the 5s. It also has a crazy fast processor and an improved camera.

Core Functionality
This is where iOS 7 really shines. There's no better device for experiencing Apple's new OS design and user experience.

Recommended For
Performance oriented users, early adopters, Apple fans, shutterbugs and people who want pocket-friendly phones.

Editor's Rating
***** (out of 5 stars)

A New Phone for a New iOS

On Sept. 20, Apple released the iPhone 5s and the 5c as two new options for consumers (even though the latter was essentially an iPhone 5 in a brightly-colored plastic body).

The 5s costs $100 more with a 2-year contract but boasts a new 64-bit A7 processor (and an M7 coprocessor). The 5c only has a 32-bit A6 processor.

Apple advertises iOS 7 as being built for the 5s -- "built specifically for 64-bit architecture" -- so with that in mind, let's see how they stack up as a whole.

Using It

Look and Feel

The iPhone 5s feels great in your hands. The aluminum side and back panels are smooth and the glass face is as sleek as ever. The device is remarkably lightweight. It also comes in three colors: white (silver), black (space gray) and gold.

It's no larger than the iPhone 5, but can still use it with one hand.

The 4-inch display is the same size as the iPhone 5 and many critics were disappointed the 5s wasn't larger in size, like most of its competition. But from my experience, the 5s is still usable with one hand. Its competitors are not.
The 5/5s are only a half inch larger than the 4/4s, but otherwise their design is consistent. The 5/5s do not have glass back panels, which is a notable durabilty improvement. They also have Lightning connector ports in place of the previous 30-pin ports.

Defining Features

Touch ID
Nearly every review I read for the 5s called its Touch ID fingerprint-scan login feature "revolutionary." It seems minor, but it really is major. Just think about how many times a day you enter in your passcode to unlock your phone. It's a lot.

Touch ID truly is revolutionary.

It's more than a good idea; the feaure really delivers. While I wouldn't say it work the first time every time (sometimes it doesn't scan your thumb or finger cleanly), I would estimate it's about 95% effective at first scan.

64-bit A7 Processor
Initial reviews were amazed by the 5s' processor, Gigaom said it's actually "too much for a smartphone" and better suited for a MacBook. And that's exactly what this phone is: All the power of a laptop, right in your pocket.

For comparisonís sake, the iPhone 5 has a 32-bit A6 processor. Apple says the A7 has twice the processing speed and twice the graphics power of the A6.

I was very impressed with the speed and performance of the 5s. I was watching videos, operating multiple apps and sending iMessages/texts without any hiccups at all.

iOS 7
The new Apple OS introduces a new look and feel as well as some nifty new features. The lock screen has a ton of handy options (it used to be just music and camera), like screen brightness, airplane mode, flashlight, clock options and calculator.

The app/icon design has also become less skeuomorphic (i.e. more graphical and less "real-world-texture" based), so things like Calendar and Notepad do not look like real-life paper anymore, for example.


Core Functionality


The 5s features a number of camera improvements over the 5. It's still an 8-megapixel camera, but its sensor is 15% bigger and it has a f/2.2 aperture. This means it lets more light in and has a larger surface to capture your image upon (i.e. the sensor works like "film").
It also introduces auto image stabilization, burst mode (allows you to take multiple photos per second by holding down the shutter button), True Tone flash (an improvement over the previous LED flash), and slo-mo video capture.
Performance and Battery Life
As someone who's long complained about iPhones' poor battery life, I was impressed with the 5s battery. I'm a heavy user, so to not have to plug my phone in at my desk at all during a typical workday is a big improvement. My previous iPhone needed to be charged at least once during an 8-hour day.
As mentioned earlier, the 5s processor is incredibly fast. Which? magazine recently called it "the fastest phone ever," and I would believe that. The thing is a race car.
OS and Available Apps
Buying an iOS device gets you access to Apple's robust app and media (iTunes) ecosystem. The company is doing some exciting things with Apple TV and iTunes Radio, so iPhones are worth considering for those options as well.

Recommended for

The iPhone 5s is the best iPhone available and is, in my opinion, more than $100 better than the iPhone 5c. Since it's one of the fastest, most advanced smartphones on the market, it's also one of the most expensive ($700-$900 unlocked), so it's obviously not for everybody.

It's also not for people who want a larger display and form factor.

Along with iOS 7, the 5s has pushed the boundaries for what a high-end smartphone can do. So if you don't want an iPhone, you may have to wait until competitors counter with their newest devices (e.g. Nexus 5, Galaxy S5, HTC Two, etc.) to get something comparable.


The Bottom Line

The iPhone 5s takes the iPhone line to unprecedented speeds and performance, and delivers the best possible iOS 7 experience. And while some argue the 5s didn't bring much in the way of new hardware or missed an opportunity to go bigger, Touch ID is a game changer.

If you're a high-end phone user, the only reasons you're not buying this phone are a) you prefer another OS or b) your contract behooves you to wait for the iPhone 6.

Compare Cellular Editor's Rating: ***** (out of 5 stars)
Posted in: Apple iPhone, Product Reviews