iPhone 5S review
The Good The iPhone 5S delivers an improved camera, a nifty fingerprint sensor, and a next-gen CPU and motion-tracking chip. Apple throws in the iWork app suite for free. iOS 7 adds some nice step-ups, too, including AirDrop file transfers and the Android-like Control Center.
The Bad External design is identical to that of the iPhone 5, including a 4-inch screen that looks downright tiny next to Android competitors. For now, the fingerprint sensor only works with Apple apps. The 64-bit A7 processor and M7 motion-tracking chip don't have killer apps yet. iOS 7 differences are potentially jarring for longtime iPhone users.
The Bottom Line The iPhone 5S is not a required upgrade, but it's easily the fastest and most advanced Apple smartphone to date.
This is Apple's half-step year, a rebuilding year. It's telegraphed by the name itself: adding an "S" versus giving the phone a whole new name. The 5S introduces technologies that could transform the future of iOS as a computing platform. But it doesn't manifest these changes right off the bat. Its promises haven't come to fruition yet.
What did Apple do this year as an encore? It added...a few new improvements. Enter the iPhone 5S, which along with the iPhone 5C mark the first time Apple's delivered two new iPhones in one year. But the 5C is really the iPhone 5 in colored plastic. There's really only one new iPhone, and that's the 5S.
We wanted a bigger screen , an improved camera, and better battery life. Apple gave us a fingerprint sensor, an improved camera, and a faster processor. Faster is better, especially when battery life doesn't suffer, but the 5S doesn't feel like a shocking new product.
Apple does this every other year with iPhones -- see the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4S. It's a common occurrence in iPads and MacBooks, too: take a familiar form, and repeat. But, in a phone landscape dominated by rapid change, it can feel frustrating, even for a product we loved just 12 months ago. Even iOS 7, Apple's graphically overhauled operating system, feels different but not really all that shocking. Even the new colors -- gold and "space gray" -- are subtler than you realize.
That doesn't mean there aren't changes, but many of them seem like roadwork for the future; a cleverly ingenious under-the-home-button fingerprint sensor, a clearly better camera, majorly upgraded graphics, a motion-tracking M7 coprocessor, and a new A7 processor capable of 64-bit computing are a lot of under-the-hood tweaks. But, after a week of using the iPhone 5S, it's hard to find situations that currently take advantage of these features, except for the fingerprint sensor and camera.
Design: Take the iPhone 5, and add gold (or 'space gray')
The iPhone 5 was a somewhat subtle but completely thorough redesign of the iPhone, from screen size to headphone placement. It introduced an aluminum frame, a thinner and lighter build, and came in two colors.
The 5S is a carbon copy, with some new color variations. You can get last year's white/silver color, or "space gray," which matches black glass and a darker gray anodized aluminum. And, yes, there's gold. But it's not like a prop from Liberace's home: it's mellow gold, more a champagne, or a light bronze. Paired with white glass on the back and front, you might have a hard time noticing the gold in the wild unless it was held in the sun.
iPhone 5 and 5S. Can you tell the difference?
A year later, the iPhone 5's design still feels sleek and high-end in the 5S, great in the hand, and more compact than most competitor phones. But, it also has a smaller screen (4 inches) than most of its Android cousins.
A larger screen would have really helped this year: not because the competition has it, but because Apple's newest features and apps would put it to good use. I found editing and appreciating the improved photos and video recording, and even playing games, to be challenging; the better that graphics and camera quality get, the more you need a larger screen to appreciate them.
There's no 128GB iPhone this year; you'll have to once again pick between 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB.
All versions come with the same A7 processor.
Touch ID: The party-trick tech on the 5S
See that little home button down there? It doesn't have a square on it anymore. It's also flat and recessed, not concave. That's practically the only outward-facing indication the iPhone 5S offers to the world, but lurking under the button is the most interesting piece of iPhone tech in quite some time. Unfortunately, it doesn't do as much right now as I wish it could.
"Touch ID" is Apple's fingerprint sensor, a secret sauce of clever scanning technology that amounts to a home button that's now both capacitive and clickable. The fact it does both can be a little disorienting at first, but the clicking is what the home button normally does, while gently touching the sensor activates the fingerprint scan.
Touch ID's simple round button works on a simple press, versus a "swipe" gesture on a lot of previous fingerprint readers. The scanning technology, when it registers your fingerprint, encourages you to press from a variety of angles, so your fingerprint can be read even on its side or on an edge. It's fast: a simple click on the button and the phone unlocks, the scan happening invisibly. Most people won't even know it scanned them, but try another finger and you'll see that it worked.
A few previous smartphones have added fingerprint sensors before, like the Motorola Atrix, but those were more awkward bars that needed finger-swiping. The Touch ID-enabled home button feels invisible; it works with a tap, can recognize your finger from many angles, and feels like it has less of a fail rate than fingerprint sensors I've used on laptops. It's impressive tech.
Its only limitation, really, is how little Apple has employed Touch ID into the iPhone experience at the moment. Scanning your finger takes the place of entering a passcode in most instances, or entering a password every time you purchase something from the App Store or iTunes. But, that's all Touch ID does for now: it doesn't remember your other passwords on various cloud services, or link to your credit card, or pay for movie tickets via Fandango.
In fact, you'd better remember whatever passcode you used to lock your phone, because Touch ID isn't a pure replacement. If you restart your iPhone, or turn it off and on, or don't use it for 48 hours, it'll ask for your passcode again before allowing fingerprint recognition. That's potentially useful as an extra deterrent for would-be fingerprint thieves, but it proved a little quirky over a week of use. I never knew when the 5S might insist I enter my passcode again.
Worried about a kid pressing his finger down over and over and erasing your phone's memory? Never fear. Touch ID cleverly defaults to asking for a passcode after three fingerprint attempts, and after five bad tries, it requires it. Then you still have 10 passcode attempts before any "erase contents after 10 passcode failures" setting you've possibly enabled kicks in.
How much time does it save? A little, especially since this process skips the "swipe to unlock" gesture. You'll also save a few seconds over entering a passcode. But, in terms of convenience.
That being said, I expect Touch ID to make its way onto every Apple device: iPads next, and eventually Macs. Why not? It's easy to use.
Touch ID may be getting all the headlines lately, but the iPhone 5S' improved camera is probably its biggest selling point. Cameras are no longer afterthoughts on smartphones: they're becoming the most important feature, for many, as they slowly but surely replace point-and-shoot cameras.
If you're getting a new iPhone for its camera, get the 5S. A suite of new and useful upgrades help make the already-good iPhone 5 camera into something even better...but, in a landscape riddled with increasingly impressive phone cameras, the iPhone stands out a little less than before.
Newer A7-driven processing also enables true burst-mode shooting: hold down the shutter button and you'll snag as many shots as you desire. The iPhone 5 could take multiple shots with quick taps, but the iPhone 5S can capture rapid-motion activities like sports events (or, in my household, random baby tricks). Instead of spamming your Camera Roll with identical-looking images, the new iOS 7 camera app cleverly bundles them in a subfolder, and even autopicks what it considers the best shots. This decision is based on image crispness and other factors; sometimes it's on the money, but I also saw it pick a blurry image of my 7-month-old over a sullen but crisp side profile. You can pick your own favorites easily, and delete the rest at the touch of a button.
Clicks from iphone 5S
Apple credits this to a new image signal processor (ISP) on the iPhone 5S' A7 processor. It does result in quicker autofocus, faster snapshots, and less blur all around. Considering how shaky the average person's hand is when taking casual phone shots, it's a necessary improvement.
Apple has made a big change to the built-in LED flash, too, doubling its size and creating an intelligent "True Tone" flash that senses the photo environment and serves up the appropriate flash tone from separate white and amber LEDs.
The 1080p video recording also gains a little more digital stabilization, 3x digital zoom thanks to iOS 7, and there's a new Slo-Mo recording mode, which is separately toggled in the camera app. The iPhone records 720p video at 120 frames per second, and applies the slow-motion effect afterward, playing at 30 frames per second.
You can readjust the start and stop points of slow motion with your fingers, much like editing a video clip. It looks great, but the slowed-down footage retains the audio track. You could always edit over it in iMovie (which is a free app, now, anyway). This type of ultrafast recording could earn the iPhone 5S a spot on a skateboarder's helmet or a skydiver's gear in place of the popular GoPro camera.
Now, how different is all of this from competing high-end phones boasting better cameras? The iPhone 5S suffers on physical megapixel count, but its speed/quality ratio are hard to beat. Adding slow-motion recording is gimmicky but works really well, and the improved flash technology is nice to have. But, overall, it's the extra speed and hardware-software-processor integration on the iPhone 5S that produced the best results. The camera is really the iPhone 5S' biggest improvement and feature, even without added megapixels...but it doesn't feel like as dramatic a leap as last year's iPhone 5's camera.
A7 processor: A beast on paper
We're in a pretty great time for mobile phone processors. Much like laptops and PCs a few years ago, impressive year-over-year gains in speed are becoming the norm. The iPhone 5 was more than twice as fast as the iPhone 4S, and true to Apple's claims based on every benchmark we could find, the iPhone 5S and its new A7 processor seem at least twice as fast as the 5 and its A6.
Is the iPhone 5S faster than other phones like the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One? Based on every benchmark we could throw at the 5S, the answer is yes. How much? That depends on the test. Linpack suggests that the iPhone 5S is a lot faster -- and about twice as fast as the iPhone 5C. Geekbench 3, which recently updated its app to allow for 64-bit testing, suggests a nearly 3x gain over the iPhone 5C's A6 processor.
The 64-bit computing potential of the iPhone 5S and its A7 chip is, at the moment, largely theoretical. It could pave the way to more computer-like experiences on our phones, or even a future merge between Mac OS X and iOS.
Apple's core apps on the 5S are 64-bit optimized, but I didn't anecdotally appreciate huge gains in most of them...except for the camera. It's hard to tell how the A7 will make the iPhone 5S better, even if you can sense the speed. The killer apps don't seem to be here yet.
Infinity Blade III on 5S
Gaming and the iPhone 5S
Infinity Blade III, demonstrated at Apple's event, is the first of the "5S-optimized" games that's now available.
The game's crisp graphics actually look good on the iPhone 5C, 5S, and iPhone 5 (running iOS 6), and so similar to the casual eye that you probably would have a hard time telling the difference -- on the iPhone's four-inch screen, at least. Certain far-off details and possibly subtle textures seemed to lurk on the 5S, but it became more of a perception test than a game experience difference-maker. But, regardless, look at the above screenshot: the game looks damn impressive.
These are early days, though: Infinity Blade III was very quickly adapted for the 5S and its 64-bit processor. Future games are bound to take better advantage. One clear difference right now is load time: on the 5S, Infinity Blade III took an average of 7 seconds to start up after quitting out and closing all multitasking windows. On the iPhone 5C, it took 1 minute 22 seconds. That's a crazy gap, and maybe the game will post an update adjusting that difference, but it also shows where 5S-optimized apps might be heading versus the .
Using downloaded gaming-benchmark apps, which are never that clear of a real-world test for a phone's abilities, the iPhone 5S still scored an impressive 13,858 using 3DMark's Ice Storm Unlimited test, compared with 5,691 on the iPhone 5C; the 5S ran the graphics tests at 101 and 61 frames per second, versus 27.1 and 19.7 seconds on the iPhone 5C. Apple claims at least 2x graphics improvement over the iPhone 5 and 5C's A6 processor, but it looks like that gap could be even wider. These numbers are better than the Samsung Galaxy S4 and any other recent Android phone we've tested, making the iPhone 5S a theoretical paper champion for mobile gaming.
Giving XCom a go: It loads quickly.
Previous graphics-intensive games like Riptide GP2, Need for Speed Most Wanted, and XCom: Enemy Unknown loaded quickly and played well, but didn't look very different from the way they played on the iPhone 5/5C. But you could imagine great games that not only take advantage of the A7, but use forthcoming iOS 7-compatible game controller cases and future Apple TV AirPlay compatibility to make for experiences that could feel gaming-console-quality.
The M7 processor: Future of motion (and the iWatch?)
There's another new processor onboard the iPhone 5S, and its presence might be a wink to iPods and wearable tech to come. The M7 consolidates the collection of motion-sensing data from the iPhone's accelerometer without taxing the A7 processor.
It could be a gateway to a new generation of improved health-tracking and motion-aware apps that work without significant battery drain, much like Bluetooth 4.0 allows for connected wearable devices like the Fitbit and Pebble Watch.
Basically, the M7 is its own fitness tracker, buried deep inside your iPhone 5S. It never turns off, and it records your motion and activity via a three-axis accelerometer. That activity gets recorded, and goes back a full seven days.
Apps that want to take advantage of that data have to ask your permission: you toggle those settings under Privacy/Motion Tracking. But what's interesting is that any app can be off, and simply turn on later and suck up the collected data as needed. The Argus app, once I signed up, actually back-populated with my last seven days of activity. It's weird, but useful -- and since it doesn't even seem to need to be online to work, it could be handy when away on vacations.
Control Center: An overdue and very useful flip-up settings page.
Both the iPhone 5C and 5S come preinstalled with iOS 7, Apple's latest version of the mobile operating system. Much like the iPhone 5 was to iPhone hardware last year, iOS 7 is a soup-to-nuts graphical and design overhaul: familiar apps have new layouts, Siri has been greatly enhanced to do more and show more, and there are even new ringtones and alert sounds to play with.
As an operating system, iOS 7 runs smoothly and seamlessly on the iPhone 5S, as you'd expect, but its aesthetics sometimes feel like a mixed bag. New display-maximizing layouts in many apps like Safari are a huge plus, but these come along with sometimes-confusing new interfaces and menus. Much like a Facebook redesign, I think many longtime users will find themselves suddenly (and hopefully temporarily) confused. Some additions, like an expanded Notifications pull-down screen, are welcome; others, like a new, confusing Calendar app that lacks appointment lists, will throw hard-core iPhone users off their game. It all grew on me after a few weeks, though.
iOS 7 does have its distinct advantages: AirDrop for local person-to-person wireless file sharing; crisp and excellent-sounding FaceTime audio calls, which don't use up much bandwidth and can be used to make calls over Wi-Fi for free; and also the brilliant flip-up Control Panel, which puts many necessary settings and controls at your fingertips at any time. Siri is smarter and can do more things, like turn on Bluetooth or play requested movie trailers.
AirDrop creates a little local area network for sharing documents, and it pings anyone you want to reach who has AirDrop turned on: a specific person, personal contacts, or even perfect strangers. It should be interesting to see how AirDrop ends up playing out in the wild.
iTunes Radio, a free streaming-music service similar to Pandora, comes baked into the Music app. Make-your-own artist-generated playlists had a good selection of content. The streaming is ad-supported, but iTunes Match customers get the experience ad-free. Considering it's free either way, it sounds pretty good and is nice to have, but unsurprising.
Redesigned Camera and Photo apps are part of the iOS 7 package, and both feel like big improvements. Digital zoom for video and added photo filters, plus an Instagram-esque "square" photo-crop mode, come built-in. The Photo app presents previous photos in a large timeline organized by year and location. It's a great way to sift through thousands of photos, but this level of presentation feels better-suited to a Mac version of iPhoto. That archive-style presentation would be a lot better if iCloud enabled full syncing and uploading of Mac/PC photo libraries. But, as I said before, the Photo app's elaborate presentation practically begs for a larger screen.
Apple is also offering Pages, Numbers, Keynote, iMove and iPhoto apps for free with new device purchases, a nice little package of tools that finally gives iOS devices the type of productivity software that's increasingly being bundled on competing mobile products. You can get many alternatives on the App Store for these features, some of them already free, but these universal apps also run on iPads, with more effective layouts.
Display and speakers
The 1,136x640-pixel 4-inch 326ppi Retina Display on the iPhone 5S is the same as the one on the iPhone 5. It's bright, color-accurate, and extremely responsive to touch. But, it's feeling just a tiny bit small compared with the screens on the competition. Many smartphones now boast 1,920x1,080-pixel displays, and have more screen real estate.
Now, not everyone wants a mega-large phone, and the iPhone has always had a smartly discreet feel, but more Android phones have gotten a sweet spot right with 4.3- and 4.7-inch displays, like the Moto X, which feels great and is still pretty compact. The iPhone 5S screen could be a little bit bigger.
Audio is still pumped out through the speaker grille on the right side of the Lightning connector on the bottom: it's possible to accidentally cover it up and muffle playback with just a single finger. Even though there aren't stereo speakers per se, audio playback still sounds loud enough to enjoy videos and movies without headphones...but I'd generally choose the headphones.
Antenna and wireless connectivity
The iPhone 5S has dual-band 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, just like the iPhone 5, along with Bluetooth 4.0. Apple's AirDrop technology in iOS 7 allows for local file sharing, perhaps minimizing the omission of NFC in the iPhone, but it's worth noting that NFC still isn't in any Apple device. Both the iPhone 5C and 5S also lack faster 802.11ac Wi-Fi, which has been introduced in many products including 2013 MacBook Airs and AirPort routers. It's a surprising omission on the otherwise feature-packed 5S.
Last year, the addition of LTE cellular broadband in the iPhone 5 resulted in dramatically faster Web browsing. For the most part, your experience won't change here: you'll browse about as fast in the US, but Apple has added more carrier support for international compatibility.
Trying it out anecdotally in my office, I got around 20.7Mbps download and 2.5 Mbps upload over AT&T's network at three bars of service, compared with 18.3 and 4.1 on the iPhone 5C. You shouldn't see a difference.
Over days of average use, the iPhone 5S feels like the same call-quality experience as on the iPhone 5.
FaceTime audio calls made over Wi-Fi on iOS 7 do sound a lot better and more present, and could be the start of a lot of people opting to make FaceTime phone calls versus standard calls.
Using a video playback battery test that looped a music video in the iOS Music app, in Airplane mode and half-brightness, the iPhone 5S lasted exactly 11 hours. On a second test running a 720p video of Toy Story 3 over and over again, the battery lasted 10 hours and 57 minutes. That's better than the iPhone 5C, which lasted 10 hours 16 minutes and 9 hours 45 minutes on two battery run tests. Both are a step above last year's iPhone 5, at least on pure video playback.
From left: HTC One, Samsung Galaxy S4, Moto X, iPhone 5S
iPhone 5S versus its competition
Versus its fiercest competition, the iPhone 5S stands on somewhat shakier ground. With Touch ID as its only compelling hardware innovation, Apple opens the door wide for Samsung (Galaxy S4), Nokia (Lumia 1020), HTC (One), and LG ( G2 ) to woo customers with an array of phones that include bigger screens, exciting design, and advanced camera offerings.
Likewise, software parity on the big-ticket items -- compared with Android especially and with Windows Phone to some extent -- means that Apple has very little to offer that's different or new beyond iOS 7's glossier look.
Customers will choose the iPhone 5S for many reasons: because they trust the brand, because they like the phone, because they're already entrenched in Apple's ecosystem -- but not because it can do a lot of important things that other phones can't. Time will tell whether Touch ID becomes a new standard in smartphone security, or if the M7 processor ushers in a new era of connected wearable tech and apps, or if 64-bit mobile computing will be a phase shift. None of those elements is currently positioned to be major difference-makers.
Bottom line: if you want a splashier, larger screen, expanded storage capabilities, or a camera with a larger lens and physical zoom, well...don't look for an iPhone.
Which do I get: iPhone 5S or 5C?
If you've waited for an iPhone all this time but skipped a generation or two, get the iPhone 5S. You'll appreciate the better camera and the cover-your-bases future-proofing. But, if you just want a basic and very good smartphone that works well, the iPhone 5C will do just fine. There are few, if any, critical features that it doesn't have.
Apple iphone 5S 16 GB is available in three colors Silver, Gold and Space Grey. Priced at ₹52,500.
Apple iphone 5S 32 GB is available in three colors Silver, Gold and Space Grey. Priced at ₹61,500.
Apple iphone 5S 64 GB is available in three colors Silver, Gold and Space Grey. Priced at ₹70,500.
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