Apple iPhone 5S Review

A paginated review video post format which includes a table specifications. This is a big week for Apple; it has two new phones hitting store shelves, and a brand new operating system that becomes available Sept. 18 for compatible devices. The new mobile operating system is a big visual change, and is likely to feel somewhat disorienting to users upgrading from iOS 6, but in most important ways, it’s not that dissimilar from what you’re used to, and many of the changes are definitely for the best.

Apple has entered the spec wars. The iPhone 5S isn’t just supposed to be “the most amazing iPhone yet.” It’s not “the thinnest and lightest iPhone ever.” No, Apple says the 5S is “the most forward-thinking iPhone yet” and “the best smartphone in the world.”

Like its predecessor, the iPhone 5s is one of the best handsets you can buy. But more importantly, it’s laying the groundwork for the smartphones of tomorrow.

Along with the A7, the 5s also includes a new separate helper chip, the M7 coprocessor. It’s designed to efficiently monitor data gathered from the phone’s accelerometer, compass, and gyroscope without bogging down the CPU and draining the device’s battery. Argus and Strava Run were among the first apps updated to take advantage of this feature.

The touch, the feel

Using Apple’s Touch ID fingerprint security system feels very much like being in a secret agent movie: you pull the phone out of your pocket, touch the ringed home button (which is now much more tactile, directing your finger to exactly the right spot), and presto — you’re in.

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Specifications Overview

Model 5s 5 5s
Thickness 0.3 inches 0.32 inches 0.4 inches
Camera 8 MP 8 MP 8 MP
Screen size 4 inches 4 inches 3.5 inches
Chipset Apple A7 Apple A6 Apple A5
CPU DC 1.3 GHz DC 1.3 GHz Dual-core 1 GHz Cortex-A9

The Up’s vibrating motor is used for two different alarm features, both of which I’ve come to love. When you’re sleeping at night, you can set your alarm, and the Up will rouse you up to 30 minutes before that time based on when you’re in lighter sleep and will wake up feeling better.

Future-proofing the smartphone

Apple’s spent more time talking about the 5S’s specs than I’ve ever seen the company do in the past, but the improvements are hard to evaluate. In benchmarks, the new A7 processor is spectacular — the top of its class in nearly every way.

Yes, fingerprint sensors are nothing new — I had one on a Toshiba Satellite X205 purchased back in 2007 — but the implementation on the 5s feels like the technology is finally taking a step into the future. And it’s not the only thing in the phone that feels that way.

But first, the present. The iPhone 5s looks almost exactly like the now discontinued iPhone 5. It has the same 4-inch Retina display and brushed aluminum backside, and the same chamfered bezel that gives the otherwise rounded rectangular device a gem-like appearance. Unless the gold version is in your hand, the metal-ringed home button and an elongated dual LED flash on the rear are really the only subtle physical differentiators from its predecessor.

The 64-bit A7 processor inside makes every action on the device blazingly fast. Every tap, swipe, and animation in iOS 7 just feels amazingly snappy.

For some, the 5s’ 4-inch display which will seem conspicuously small compared to most flagship Android handsets, and shared design with the iPhone 5 will be considered negatives. But for my hand size and smartphone needs, 4-inches is more than enough for videos and gaming, while still being comfortably pocketable.

Improved camera hardware and software

The Apple iPhone 5s kept the camera resolution at 8MP for a third generation in a row but make no mistake, it’s not the same camera. The sensor has been changed with a 15% bigger unit, which should improve low-light performance. The lens has a wider aperture too – it has gone from F/2.4 to F/2.2, which should allow 25% more light in, another thing to help low-light performance. And daylight performance of the iPhone 5 was already pretty great.


Time to go over the image quality, we’ll also bring in some iPhone 5 photos to see if there’s actual progress. iPhone photos have been some of the best in the business for a few years now and the iPhone 5s is no exception.

The rear-facing camera comes with some fun new photo features too, most notably a burst and slow-motion video modes. The former, something we’ve seen in Android devices for years and in standalone apps like Camera+, snaps 10 stills per second — making it ideal for action shots. The photos are aggregated in a folder inside your camera roll, with the “best” shots determined by iOS 7 and denoted by a dot underneath.

You can choose to save these, or any image taken in the cluster of burst shots, as an individual photo in your Photo Stream or Camera Roll.

The iPhone 6 is the next one we will be looking at to hopefully stir things up. In a good way or bad? In Apple’s own way.

Like its predecessor, the iPhone 5s is one of the best handsets you can buy. But more importantly (and unlike much of its competition), the handset is laying the groundwork for the smartphones of tomorrow. The 64-bit A7 chip and M7 coprocessor together mark a profound jump in device performance and efficiency.

Final Words

This all but guarantees new and exciting software innovation. Touch ID, despite being hacked within a matter of days, streamlines your iOS experience and holds a lot of promise for future applications. The most disappointing thing about the iPhone 5s is that the features I’m most excited about aren’t available yet.

Blazing fast A7 processor. Call quality is excellent, especially using FaceTime Audio. Touch ID feels like the future, and works flawlessly. Vastly improved camera, particularly the slo-mo feature, is enough to warrant an upgrade.