Apple iPhone 5s review: Step by step

GSMArena team, 27 September 2013.

Tags: Apple, iOS

Introduction

It's that time of year again and Apple's in the usual record-breaking mood at the box-office. This is an S year in the Cupertino calendar but different enough - it may be that two phones instead of one account for almost double last year's record sales. We can only guess as to which one contributed how, but this is hardly the point. We have the latest flagship reporting for duty and it will be both the main course and the desert, considering the 5c didn't quite impress as an appetizer.

As with every "S" version of the iPhone the changes are subtle but not illusory. There's no new design obviously, no bigger screen or a bump in resolution - nothing to go against the conservative grain of how Apple typically delivers iPhone upgrades every other year. That said, it's not this phone's fault that the iPhone 5 wasn't the full-digit upgrade everyone was hoping for.

As usual with Apple - we need to give it that - a certain set of users just can't wait to get the next big thing. Others, though, won't just get rid of the iPhone 5 unless the newcomer is convincing enough. An iPhone may fail to meet the (usually over-inflated) expectations but it has never been a product to be displeased with.

The new OS version may be a decider as well, if more people share our experience and feel the slowdown on an iPhone 5 running iOS 7, but the rest of the new stuff may as well be just enough to tip the scales in favor of the iPhone 5s.

Apple iPhone 5s Apple iPhone 5s Apple iPhone 5s
The iPhone 5s

The first thing that makes a tangible difference is Touch ID, with a fingerprint scanner having made the iconic Home button its residence. The camera has a bigger sensor and dual LED flash, and gladly takes advantage of what's probably the most notable improvement - the 64-bit A7 chip. The iOS enters its 64-bit stage in its seventh iteration, well ahead of the competition. What this means is better memory management and more complex tasks and apps ahead. This could as well be the first step to bringing the iOS closer to Apple's dedicated desktop OS X - an early message that both platforms are due for a rendezvous eventually.

Key features

    • Quad-band GSM and quad-band or penta-band 3G support with 21 Mbps HSDPA, 42 Mbps DC-HSDPA and 5.76 Mbps HSUPA
    • LTE support on all models and CDMA support when sold by CDMA carriers
    • 4" 16M-color LED-backlit IPS TFT capacitive touchscreen of 640 x 1136px resolution, 326 ppi
    • Corning Gorilla Glass, fingerprint-resistant coating
    • 1.3 GHz dual-core ARMv8 64-bit CPU, PowerVR G6430 GPU, 1GB of RAM, Apple A7 SoC
    • iOS 7 and iCloud integration
    • 8 MP autofocus camera, 1/3'' sensor size, 1.5µm pixel size, True Tone dual-LED flash, touch focus, digital image stabilization
    • 1080p video recording at 30fps, 720p@120fps slow motion videos
    • 1.2MP secondary front-facing camera, 720p video recording
    • Touch ID fingerprint scanner embedded into home button
    • Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n, Wi-Fi hotspot
    • GPS with A-GPS connectivity, GLONASS support; digital compass
    • 16/32/64GB storage options
    • Accelerometer, proximity sensor and a three-axis gyro sensor
    • Active noise cancellation with a dedicated secondary microphone, dedicated third microphone for Siri
    • Standard 3.5 mm audio jack, stereo Bluetooth v4.0
    • Apple Maps with free voice-guided navigation in 50-odd countries
    • iTunes Radio
    • AirDrop file transfer
    • Voice recognition, Siri virtual assistant
    • Supports HD Voice (needs carrier support too)
    • FaceTime video calls over Wi-Fi and cellular
    • Impressively slim and light

Main disadvantages

    • Screen feels small by 2013 standards
    • Very expensive without carrier subsidies
    • TouchID is greatly underused
    • No USB Mass Storage mode, iTunes required for data transfer
    • No FM radio
    • No expandable storage, sealed-in battery
    • No NFC connectivity
    • 1080p@30fps video recording is low by current flagship status
    • Mono audio recording in videos

The iPhone 5s pushes the major re-design another year back - but this is something we can live with. After all, the styling of the iPhone is still relevant - to say the least. Digging a little deeper reveals that Apple has taken good care of bringing many major facets of performance to a new level on its latest flagship. The processor, the camera, Touch ID, video recording and still imagery, low light performance, and naturally, the look and feel of iOS 7.

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The iPhone 5s at HQ

However many things are still annoying about the iPhone - many, if not all, repeating themselves years on end. We like the premium compact and lightweight body of the iPhone but perhaps Apple is running out of excuses in terms of screen size and resolution.

And that's what makes the next point even more agonizing - the price. Apple tax or not, the iPhone 5s is more expensive than any of the competition's flagships, and by a good margin too. The bottom line is Apple is charging more and delivering less: a smaller screen, lower resolution, less storage. Oh well. Who can blame them if they can get away with it? Scratch that - make an art of it.

Anyway, an iPhone has always been more than the sum of its specs. But we're going to do the math anyway. Starting with the hardware, which may look similar but not without some noteworthy changes. Let's go.

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