Review: iPhone 5s – A Couple Weeks with a New Phone

Apple | Smartphone | $ 199.00

Banner1

It’s been a long 7 years since Apple released the first iPhone, known back then as just iPhone, today as iPhone 2G (or 2.5G).  Seven years has passed and Apple has developed a brand new iPhone, the 5s, as they do every year.  The 5s marks a couple firsts for Apple: the first major OS design change, the first finger print sensor in an iPhone, the first smartphone with 64-bit computing.  Many of these changes have been said to be gimmicky, but how do they actually rate in real world use?  

Specifications

Dimensions: 4.87”, 2.31”, 0.30”
Weight: 3.95 oz
Processors

Apple A7, Dual-Core ARM8 @ 1.29 GHz
Coprocessor: Apple M7 (motion)
PowerVR Series 6 (Graphics, Anandtech)
Cirrus Logic (Audio, Phonearena)

RAM: 1 GB DDR3 (1000 MB)
Screen: 4” 640×1138 (~320ppi) IPS
Wireless

WiFi
Compass
GPS
Bluetooth
Cellular*

Camera: 8 MP Rear, 1.2 MP Front
Sensors

Gyroscope (3-axis)
Accelerometer
Ambient Light
Fingerprint

In the Box

iPhone 5s
Lightning-to-USB Cable
USB Wall Charger
Apple EarPods with Remote and Mic
Carrying Case for EarPods

InTheBox

Design

From an aesthetic standpoint, Apple really didn’t change too much of the design going from the 5 to the 5s.  The design is relatively the same.  Apple did, however, replace one color from their earlier options, space grey replaces the black, while introducing a new color, champagne gold.  Together, this allows 3 different color options for users to choose from: space grey, silver, and champagne gold.

Volume2

On the back side, you get the same block of anodized aluminum you got with the previous generation available in the color choice you made.  I was never a fan of the glass “bars” that lay on top, and below, the aluminum backing, I still aren’t as well.  The phone would look better with a full aluminum back honestly.  However, this design is still unique and offer some contrasting of colors giving the phone another dimension to its design scheme.

Design2

The front of the phone is the same iPhone with one main exception, the home button.  A metal ring surrounds the home button, matching the color of your device, which is used for the fingerprint sensor.  The little rounded square that was once part of the home button has also been removed.  This design change can give some added color to the already plain face of the iPhone.  I do miss that little square though.

Design5

All-in-all, Apple didn’t change the design of the 5s too much.  They did introduce some new colors, although I didn’t get any of the new colors.  The new TouchID sensor adds on a nice silver ring around the home button that doesn’t impact the iPhone’s design negatively.  For those that loved the 5’s design, they will be happy with the 5s.  For those that hate the glass bars adjacent to the aluminum back, you’ll still hate the bars.

Design: ★★★★½

Features

Among the newest features to hit the new iPhone 5s were the new processors, TouchID fingerprint sensing, and a slightly improved camera.  Some of these features were seen as gimmicks, others were not.  Some of these features were thought to have little impact on the actual phone performance, others were not.

Let’s begin with something that all of us understood the most, the camera.  The camera on the new 5s was introduced with a nice new feature set.  Apple implemented a new optics system that allowed the camera to have a 1/2.2 aperture compared to the 1/2.4 of the iPhone 5.  This allows more light to hit the sensor while creating a narrower depth of field.

Instead of boosting pixels inside of the sensor, Apple elected to go with a larger sensor, but keep the pixel count the same.  The result is a sensor that is more sensitive to light, boosting low light performance.  Apple also introduced a dual-flash to attempt to balance out the temperature created by a standard LED flash.

The final changes to the camera were through the A7 processor that also processes the photos as well.  Better noise reduction algorithms was something that Apple didn’t tout, but they are there.  Others included software-based algorithms to reduce motion blur and faster burst shooting (10 per second) with an intelligent auto-select feature.  120 FPS video capture was also introduced for true slow-motion video recording.

Camera

*I really haven’t had too much time with the iPhone camera to make any real analysis of how it works in the real world, so that part of the review will be not scored.

The new iPhone included a pair of new processors that are on the new 5s.  Apple introduced the A7 as the first 64-bit processor that was built into a smartphone.  Contrary to general belief, this does have uses past being able to address 4 GB of RAM.  More or less, the 4 GB of RAM portion is a side-effect of switching to 64-bit.  AnandTech did a good analysis of what benefits there were.  I’ll go over them briefly though.

The new 64-bit architecture more than doubled the amount of general use registers.  The number of registers allows for less load and store instructions which leads to a more efficient processor in general.  ARM8 also supports a more efficient instruction set which also seemed to nix off some older legacy instructions as well.  This leads to a smaller instruction set, less total instructions leads to better efficiency as there is less to lookup in the instruction table.

Geekbench

The introduction of the M7 processor also takes a load of work off of the A7 processor.  During games, or even general application support that use any of the sensor, this allows the A7 to focus its use on actual application computation while all the sensor information can be processed by the M7.  Apple did talk about the power saving of the M7 for fitness apps as a low power processor was running in the background instead of a high-powered one.

TouchID

The last real feature that Apple introduced was the TouchID sensor that was introduced into the iPhone 5s.  This sensor is a standard capacitive fingerprint sensor that would be used to unlock the iPhone and make iTunes purchases.  It’s not open to developers yet, but the TouchID sensor is very responsive and quite accurate about 90% of the time.  I have never had the sensor fail on me twice in a row.  Using the sensor actually felt very natural and operates very quickly, so it doesn’t hurt the user experience in anyway.  Actually, it improves it, unlocking is a lot faster now as the TouchID sensor reads faster than it takes me to swipe to unlock.

Features: ★★★★

Build

Apple’s always been one to use the finest materials in their products to not only have them feel great, but strong as well.  In the past, Apple has been scrutinized for using glass on their iPhone.  This can very well be the reason they introduced the aluminum plate on the back.  Personally, I still feel that glass offers better build over polycarbonate in the long run.

Dock

The aluminum body of the 5s is really no different from that on the 5.  The sandblasted aluminum does a great job avoiding scratches in comparison to the glossy finish that has been known to easily scratch.  That said, the Apple logo on this iPhone does tend to get scratched up.  Other than that, the build quality of the iPhone 5s is great.

Build

Build: ★★★★

Reuse

On the hardware side of things, the iPhone 5s is really a marvel of engineering.  Apple’s been able to keep power usage at low rates while being able to match the benchmarks of much more power-hungry hardware.  This is no easy feat.  Many have said that Apple has always been playing catch-up at the hardware level, and quite frankly, I don’t feel this way.  That said, from the hardware level, the iPhone 5s holds great reason to keep using.  The Touch ID is no gimmick and it works well.  Camera is respectable as well.

Home2

What Apple has never really done well was incorporate a plethora of features for the power use.  Things such as customization of software and a usable file system have always been an issue with any iPhone you get; 3rd party apps can only get you so far.  This has been, and always will be a downfall of iOS.  On the other hand, you do gain efficiency with the way that iOS is integrated so well with the hardware.

Reuse: ★★★★½

Value

Apple is still selling to the subsidized market with the pricing scheme they have for the iPhone 5s.  Starting at 650 for a 16 GB, then 100 dollars more for double the memory, up to 64 GB.  The price is pretty high, but comparable to most flagship phones out there (exception being the Google Nexus series).  With that said, the iPhone 5s does offer the same value as the other flagships, but offers its features in other places.

Still, many will feel, myself included, that the 5s can seem a little over priced at times.  If you are going on contract, the 199, 299, and 399 price ranges may be a little better, but you end up paying an arm and a leg in your plans.

Value: ★★★★½

Final Thoughts

With each introduction of a new iPhone, Apple either gets a lot of praise for it, or a lot of hate.  When it releases, the iPhone is said to work extremely well, with a few caveats.  These caveats are normally software-side, rarely hardware (antennagate).  I feel that the new hardware improvements Apple promised in the 5s were met.  The TouchID Sensor is the thing that impressed me the most with the speed and accuracy that it worked at.  No, it’s not perfect, but the iPhone 5s is definitely a respectable phone, just from another perspective.

Overall Score

Apple iPhone 5s

† All prices are in US currency.
This review was written by the iFans.com Review Team. Cumulative scores are rounded to the nearest half or full star.
All accessories, applications, themes, tweaks, or other products were purchased by iFans at their respective prices unless stated otherwise.

Post a response / What do you think?