iPhone 5s Review

iPhone 5s Review

On September 20th, 2013, Apple released the iPhone 5s, which they claim to be one of “the most forward thinking phone anyone has ever made”. Seeing that this year’s model isn’t a ‘full blown’ upgrade, is Apple’s iPhone 5s really one of the most “Forward Thinking” phone on the market?

Video Review

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iPhone 5s The Design

Like Apple’s other “S” updates, the design of the iPhone 5s hasn’t changed very much from it’s predecessor. It features the same gorgeous aluminum design, measuring only 7.6 mm thin, and weighing 112 grams. If you were hoping for a larger display, you may be disappointed with this upgrade. The iPhone 5s keeps the 4″ display which was introduced with the iPhone 5, trailing further behind many of the competitor’s smartphones. While some may be fine with a 4″ display, it seems that many smartphone users are looking to go big!

Color Options

We’re also seeing a new color for the iPhone 5s. Last year’s iPhone 5 featured two color choices; Black and White. The iPhone 5s gives users more options by introducing a new color to the table, Gold. When the rumors were swirling about the possibility of a gold plated iPhone, my first reaction was that it would look quite tacky. After seeing it in person, it’s not too overdone, and looks much better than expected. However, getting your hands on one may be tricky. Most Apple stores are very constrained on this model, and ordering online will leave you waiting until at least October.

Apple has also updated the Black and White phones, to be “Space Grey” and “Silver”. The Space Grey phone contains a slightly lighter band and back plate, while the Silver phone is the same design as the white iPhone 5.

iPhone 5s 64-bit

The world’s first 64-bit smartphone. It sounds great on paper, but what does it really mean? Apple claims that this chip can deliver 2x the performance of the previous A6 chip, and it’s up to 40x faster than the original iPhone. Still sounds good, right? Sure it does, but just like owning a Ferrari, its true performance isn’t seen very often, especially when driving around city streets.

In general, day-to-day usage, you’d be very lucky to see a major speed increase. During Apple’s keynote, the developers of Infinity Blade took the stage to demo their third and final installment to the series, which takes advantage of the new 64-bit processor. Games of this intensity will certainly benefit from the performance boost, but it’s unlikely that we’ll see many applications fall into this category until next year.

That being said, Apple has built iOS 7 around this new chip, which allows for speedy fingerprint scans, burst camera mode at 10 fps, and performance improvements on the core applications, such as Maps, Safari, and Siri.

M7 Chip

In addition to the A7 processor, Apple added in an M7 chip, as well, which continuously monitors motion from many of the internal sensors, like the gyroscope, accelerometer, and compass. According to Apple, this chip will drastically improve fitness and health based applications, which I’m sure we’ll see over the next few months.

iPhone 5s Touch ID

The big ticket item of the iPhone 5s, is of course, the fingerprint sensor, dubbed Touch ID. “No two fingerprints are a like”, which makes the iPhone 5s one of the most secure mobile devices out there. But how does it perform, and how practical is this feature?

Despite what you may hear, the iPhone 5s isn’t the first smartphone to feature a fingerprint sensor, but it’s by far the best executed. Setting up your first fingerprint takes less than a minute, and thanks to the 500 ppi scanner, there’s almost a 0% chance that someone other than yourself will be able to unlock your phone.

In my tests, not only were my fingerprints recognized almost 100% of the time, but the speed at which the process takes place is freakishly fast!

Is It Secure?

Of course, the question of security comes up. Apple is assuring the public that, even though your fingerprint is being scanned, no images are stored on your device. Instead, the process breaks down unique details about your print into a mathematical representation, which cannot be reversed-engineered, and never will this information be stored on iCloud or on Apple’s servers.

There’s already over $16,000 to whoever can successfully hack the Touch ID system, but based on how Apple is explaining the process, even if information is gathered, it would be completely useless.

Update: The Chaos Computer Club has ‘claimed’ to have bypassed Touch ID using an elaborate method that requires a 2400 dpi scan of your fingerprint. If this method is legit, I don’t see thieves going through all this effort just to unlock an iPhone. As Touch ID reads the epidermal layers of your finger, it’s very likely that this would not work if someone else tried to bypass the system using this guy’s transferred fingerprint.

Until someone can figure out how to extract fingerprint data directly from the phone, this ‘hack’ is a non-issue.

How Practical Is Touch ID?

In terms of practicality, currently Touch ID can only be used to unlock your phone, and pay for purchases within iTunes, that’s it. Not surprisingly, though, Apple wants to keep Touch ID locked down quite tightly to make sure that one, it works, and two, it remains secure.

So while Touch ID may not seem too practical at the moment, the potential for this technology is far beyond how it’s being implemented now. If Apple finally throws in an NFC chip into their next iPhone, Touch ID will make mobile payments fast, and very secure. Until then, we may see software updates to allow us to link multiple usernames and passwords to Touch ID. Think 1Password, with fingerprint authentication.

iPhone 5s Camera

The last major hardware update comes to the camera. While most smartphones are boasting about 10, 13 and even 41 megapixels, Apple has decided to stick with an 8 megapixel camera, but instead, increase the sensor size by 15%, widen the aperture to f/2.2, and redesign the flash to accommodate for different lighting conditions.

The result of these changes yields better images in low light, and more natural images when using the flash. Compared to the iPhone 5, images contained less noise, a higher dynamic range, and slightly more vibrant colors. When shooting in ideal lighting conditions, the changes to the camera system won’t be too apparent, but you’ll definitely see improvements in low-light conditions.

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iPhone 5 vs iPhone 5s


iPhone 5 vs iPhone 5s low light


During my tests with the new True Tone flash, in most cases, images ended up looking more natural than they did with the iPhone 5. This new flash system contains two LEDs, the normal ‘cool white’, and a ‘warm amber’. When an image is taken, the iPhone 5s intelligently chooses which LED to flash, based on the surrounding lighting conditions.

Other additions to the camera include 10 fps burst mode, and slow-motion video, shooting 720p footage at 120 frames-per-second, allowing you to slow it down to 30 frames-per-second after the fact.

iPhone 5s Battery

Apple has always been at the forefront of great battery technology. They’ve traditionally been able to achieve longer charges than their competitors, even with all the technology the squeeze into their devices. However! The iPhone 5s has about the same battery life as the iPhone 5. 10 hours of talk/browse time, which is probably about 8 hours of semi-heavy usage.

The iPhone 5s increased it’s battery capacity to 1560 mAh, which is up from the previous 1440 mAh, but still well behind some of the current smartphones, like the Galaxy S4’s 2600 mAh, or even the LG G2’s 3000 mAh battery. I understand these large phones have more room to pack in a battery, and the 64-bit chip in the iPhone 5s certainly sucks a lot of juice, but I expected a little bit more from Apple this time around.

iPhone5s iOS 7

On the software side of things, back in June, Apple unveiled a major change to the iPhone operating system, iOS 7. Unlike past updates, iOS 7 sports a completely new, ‘flat’ UI, which has received mix reviews among the community. Having used iOS 7 since the beta was first released, it was a shocker at first, but once you look past the ugly icons, the experience, for the most part, is quite positive. There are a few design decisions that I personally would change, but I’m sure Apple will tweak this radically new design as the months and years go on.

Thoughts on iOS 7

Final Thoughts

So, is the iPhone 5s the ‘forward thinking’ phone that Apple claims? Well there’s no question that it’s a good phone. The specs are impressive, the camera is great, and the fingerprint sensor certainly has potential. But as someone who upgraded from the iPhone 5, I wouldn’t say it’s a major step up. The iPhone 5s is certainly thinking forward…to the iPhone 6. All of the technology that we’re seeing in this year’s model is going to be amazing next year, once developers start taking advantage of the 64-bit chip, and the fingerprint sensor. Until then, it’s just another iPhone.

If you’re currently holding an iPhone 4S or below, the iPhone 5s is going to be a fantastic upgrade! If you’re an iPhone 5 owner, you may want to wait until the next iPhone, unless you desperately need a fingerprint sensor, for some reason.

Wishlist for the iPhone 6

– Larger display (5″ or so)
– NFC to work with the fingerprint sensor (mobile payments)
– Larger capacity battery