Julian is back again for another review. This time it will be a review on the IPhone 5S. I was originally going to do a video review but due to time constraints, I chose to write it instead. Now lets get to it.
We’ve come to expect evolution not revolution from the “S” update to Apple’s iPhone range, but the iPhone 5s could be enough to buck that trend. Inside the familiar metal casing beats a new processor, the Apple A7, making the iPhone 5s the first smartphone – and iOS 7 the first smartphone platform – to transition to 64-bit; the home button has lost its square sigil but gained a biometric sensor that might be the first to actually convince owners to use it; and the camera may still be 8-megapixels in resolution on paper, but those pixels – and the way Apple uses them – are quantifiably better than before. Does that make the iPhone 5s the automatic choice in smartphones?
It may now come in three colors, but the iPhone 5s doesn’t stray too far from the iPhone 5 before it. Whether you go for silver, “space gray”, or gold, each uses the same 7.6mm thick metal casing as before and the same 4-inch Retina display screen running at 1146 x 640 resolution. Apple still refuses to go bigger than 4-inches, arguing that single-handed use still works most successfully when the screen is relatively compact. As before, then, it feels crisp and premium in the hand, the diamond-cut bevelled edges catching the light while the combination of the matte finish back panel with the shiny Apple logo and “iPhone” text looking great. Apple also now offers a leather case ($39) for the iPhone 5s, which fits tightly to the handset without the bulk many such cases add. Three capacity versions are offered, starting from $199.99 with agreement for the 16GB, and rising to $399.99 for the 64GB. Despite hopes otherwise, there’s still no 128GB iPhone option. In the box, there’s a set of Apple’s EarPods earphones, a Lightning to USB cable, and a USB power adapter.
Apple’s answer is Touch ID, a fingerprint sensor built straight into the iPhone 5s home button. It’s not the first time we’ve seen biometrics included on a smartphone – Motorola has tried it before, for instance – but so far fingerprint-based security is yet to have caught on. Touch ID looks set to change that track record, though, thanks to a combination of inspired placement and near-zero effort implementation. Rather than mounting the sensor on an edge somewhere, Apple has integrated it into the home button: the physical control owners already use to wake the device. Scanning times are almost instantaneous, and you don’t have to be careful about what angle you press it at. In fact, we’ve been able to successfully unlock our phone holding it upside-down. Using Touch ID requires some registration, and Apple recommends you do it for more than one finger since if you cut or mark your fingertip, the sensor might not read it successfully. You’re walked through it during initial setup, though you can also access the registration through the settings page. First, you’ll need a PIN code as usual – that’s in case the biometrics doesn’t work, but is also required the first time you unlock the iPhone 5s after you restart the phone, or after 48 hours of idle time – and then it’s a case of repeatedly tapping your fingertip onto the sensor until iOS has built up an understanding of the fingerprint. Once you’ve done that, you do the same with the edges of your fingertip, which helps the iPhone 5s recognize you even if you come at the sensor from an angle. Up to five fingers can be registered, either all your own or a mixture of prints from different people you want to have access. Right now there’s no way to assign different access privileges depending on whose finger it is that’s recognized, though it’s not hard to imagine an iPad that uses Touch ID to seamlessly log into different user accounts. Once that’s done, suddenly unlocking your iPhone becomes incredibly easy. Touch ID is magical in how simple it makes using the iPhone 5s. Press the home button and you’re looking at the homescreen; it’s actually cutting down on even more taps compared to an PIN-free device, since now you don’t have to swipe the unlock bar either. We haven’t had a single occasion where someone else could unlock the phone with an unregistered finger, and nor have we had to resort to the PIN code.
Impressively, the iPhone 5s took just 2 min 24 sec to output a 5 minute, 1080p Full HD video, while a 720p version took just 1 min 28 sec. In contrast, the iPhone 5 took 4 min 23 sec with the 1080p video, and 2 min 4 sec for the 720p. Even the iPad 4, with its powerful A5X chip, took considerably longer with the same tasks: 4 min 17 sec to output the 1080p video, and 3 min 57 for the 720p version. A SunSpider score of 470.0ms (lower is better) means the iPhone 5s completed the test in half the time it took the iPad 4, and almost half the time of the iPhone 5, which ran it in 848ms. In the new 64-bit version of Geekbench, a synthetic test of processor and memory performance, the iPhone 5s scored 1,374 in single-core testing, and 2,389 (updated) in multi-core testing; Geekbench also confirms the handset’s 1.3GHz CPU clock speed and 1GB of memory. Unsurprisingly, then, the iPhone 5s feels fast, no matter what you throw at it. iOS 7 whips between apps with alacrity, and even heavy inboxes and big multimedia files don’t cause the smartphone to slow down.
On paper, the iPhone 5s’ iSight camera is 8-megapixels, just like before. However, not all pixels are created equal. The smartphone world has split off in several directions when it comes to cameras, with some chasing higher and higher megapixel counts, while others opt for bigger individual pixels or treating clusters of pixels as single points. Apple’s approach is to go for bigger pixels and grab more light. Compared to the iPhone 5, the iPhone 5s has 15-percent larger pixels than before, and the aperture of the lens has increased too, to f/2.2. Together, that adds up to a third more light captured in each shot, versus the outgoing phone. It’s not the first smartphone to take that approach, though Apple perhaps strikes a better balance between pixel size and resolution. It’s not the first smartphone to take that approach, though Apple perhaps strikes a better balance between pixel size and resolution. HTC, for instance, opted for a relatively small number of big pixels in the HTC One, but while they’re individually larger than in Apple’s camera, you only get half the overall resolution. Nokia’s Lumia 1020 opts to cluster groups of pixels from its 41-megapixel camera together, producing a 5-megapixel image, but if you want the full resolution there’s a lag of a few seconds as the Windows Phone churns through the data.Apple’s other hardware change is the new True Tone flash. We’ve seen phones that have two LEDs instead of one, but the iPhone 5s gets two different colors of LED. For the first time on any camera – not just a smartphone camera – it’s now possible to mix together white and amber light according to the ambient lighting of the scene. With more than 1,000 tone combinations for the iPhone to choose between, the promise is an end to sickly skin tones where the traditionally cool LED flash of a smartphone camera doesn’t match warmer ambient lighting.
Beyond the new interface design, the key features include quicker access to settings and notifications with the new Control Center and Notification Center, accessed from anywhere in iOS 7 with an upward or downward swipe respectively. There’s also a new multitasking interface which now shows a preview of the app’s current status rather than just its icon. Safari has been considerably improved, spending more time in full-screen mode to make the most of the 4-inch display. A new tab view makes navigating between open pages more straightforward, and the split address box and search box layout in iOS 6 and earlier have thankfully been replaced with a single, unified box that cuts down on mis-taps. The other big change in iOS 7 is what you get free. Those who buy a new iOS 7 device – rather than upgrading their existing device – will find free copies of Apple’s own iWorks suite (Pages, Numbers, and Keynote) along with iPhoto and iMovie waiting for download. That’s almost $40 of content-creation apps.
PHONE AND BATTERY
The iPhone 5s supports UMTS/HSPA+, DC-HSDPA, and LTE, with up to 100Mbps support, network-depending; select models get CDMA/EV-DO Rev.A. All have WiFi a/b/g/n (2.4/5GHz) – though not 802.11ac – Bluetooth 4.0 LE, and GPS/GLONASS.
Unfortunately, even with more band support in a single device, the proliferation of LTE network frequencies across the globe means that Apple still can’t produce just one version of iPhone 5s that works on all of them. In total, there’s support for 37 bands, with five different variants depending on carrier and geography.Despite the faster chip and increase in LTE bands, Apple claims battery life is on par with what the iPhone 5 delivered. The iPhone 5s is rated for up to 10 hours of 3G talk time or up to 250 hours of standby, or alternatively up to 8 hours of 3G web-browsing (or 10 hours over either LTE or WiFi). Up to 10 hours video playback or up to 40 hours audio playback is suggested from a single charge.
The iPhone 5s is the best iPhone so far, by a long shot. Apple is notorious for describing its products as “magical”. The magic of the iPhone 5s is in how usable its improvements are. The updated camera is both fast and capable, with the True Tone flash proving itself to be no gimmick, while the Touch ID system feels like the first biometrics system that actually stands a chance of succeeding in the mass market. Would we pick the iPhone 5s over the iPhone 5c? In a heartbeat. The camera, convenience, and performance increases make that a no-brainer decision for smartphone power users. That trifecta of talents also makes a strong case against the top-tier Android devices, too: Apple still dominates the market for hand-friendly phones with flagship performance. The iPhone 5s may be Apple’s evolutionary stage, but the combination of usable technological advances and the benefits of iOS 7 add up to a supremely compelling device.