Apple iPhone 5s review: Step by step

GSMArena team, 27 September 2013.

Tags: Apple, iOS

Apple iPhone 5s and iOS 7: a match made in heaven

The Apple iPhone 5s runs buttery smooth with iOS 7, a major overhaul to the user interface with brand-new flat looks, transparent menus and keyboard, new system icons and apps, new control center and much more.

Before we continue, here is a quick video demonstration of the new iOS 7 running on the iPhone 5s:

iOS 7 looks a lot different compared to its predecessors, but its logic of operation is mostly the same. All of your apps are on the homescreen, folders are available and there is the familiar dock that can take up to four shortcuts.

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Apple iOS 7

All system icons are different though: the clock now has an animated icon showing the current time, the system fonts have been altered, and there are lots of semi-transparent elements and new gestures.

Let's start from the beginning - the lockscreen. It's totally different and yet it works in a very similar way. The slide to unlock bar is now gone and you can swipe anywhere on the screen to unlock your iPhone 5s. The text is somewhat illogically placed right above the tiny arrow for the control center which points up, but you actually still need to slide to the right to access the homescreen. The swipe might've worked both ways, left too, but that's not the case.

There are three different unlock methods for you to choose from. One that is unique to the iPhone 5s is TouchID (more on that in a minute), but there's also the classic 4-digit passcode. If that's too insecure for your taste, you can also opt for a custom passcode. This will bring you a text field where you can enter a virtually limitless security combination.

The lockscreen also has the camera shortcut at the bottom, you can swipe up from there for quick access to the camera app. A double press of the Home key will bring up the multimedia controls as usual. Lockscreen notifications are available as well.

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The lockscreen works as before

You can notice two transparent arrows at the top and the bottom of the lockscreen. Swiping from the top down will display Notifications, while swiping up from the bottom will bring up the new Control Center.

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Notifications and Control Centers are available on the lockscreen

Swiping the lockscreen out of the way reveals the revamped homescreen. The Spotlight pane is now gone - but not lost. It's just triggered by a new pull-down gesture anywhere on the homescreen.

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The Spotlight is now hidden but has a dedicated gesture

Folders are available as usual, but there is no limit any more to how many apps you can put inside them. Pages are available in the folders, each page can pack up to nine apps and there is no limit on the page count. And you can finally put the Newsstand app away in a folder! Hallelujah!

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An iOS 7 folder

The opening and closing of folders is now accompanied by a cool animation. These take a bit too long, though, and might become irritating once you are past their initial "wow" phase. Another cool bit involves the folder icons and the folders themselves being semi-transparent and their backgrounds adapt to the prevailing theme color.

You may have already noticed the semi-transparent dock, folders, keyboard and Control Center in the screenshots. The Notification and Control Center colors are also adaptive, just like the folders, and they'll change depending on the background. So they might be blue-ish on the homescreen, but light gray in the web browser, or dark gray in the settings, or green in the gallery, etc.

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The semi-transparent Control Center and Notification Center in different colors

The keyboard is less transparent and has only two themes - very light or very dark gray. Of course, they also change depending on whether your keyboard has popped up on top of a light or a dark background. Beside the new theme and font, the iOS keyboard is unchanged, which is not a bad thing as it's certainly one of the most comfortable around.

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The iOS 7 keyboard

Dictation is also available courtesy of Siri. Just hit the dictation button to the left of the space bar and fire away. Keep in mind that the performance may suffer in noisy environments.

The changes don't end with those transparent and adaptive visuals. Opening an app involves a zoom in animation over the app icon, which is pretty cool.

The parallax effect is observable throughout iOS 7. Apple designed the new iOS on independent layers - background, homescreen icons, icon badges, and then app pop-ups. The iPhone then uses its accelerometer and gyroscope to move layers independently and create an illusion of depth. The movement is very subtle. In fact, you might not even notice it if you are not looking for it, but it's there and it looks awesome once you start moving your device.

The parallax effect is not only available on the homescreen. You can see it in folders and in the pop ups that ask you for passwords or display notifications. Those pop ups by the way are also translucent and adapt their background color.

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A system pop-up

In case you don't like the parallax effect you can turn it off from the Accessibility settings.

Apple iOS 7 brings live wallpapers. You can find them in the relevant section of the Wallpaper Settings. Currently there are seven live wallpapers but there is no wallpaper section available in the App Store. It seems we'll have to rely on Apple for adding more.

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Wallpaper settings • Dynamic wallpapers • Still wallpapers

You might have noticed in all these screenshots that Apple has ditched the cellular coverage bars and replaced them with five dots. The battery also got a new icon.

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Three out of five dots for signal strength and the new battery icon

Apple decided not to follow the competition and put the connectivity toggles in the notification area. They're in a brand new Control Center instead, that's pulled up with a swipe from the bottom of the screen.

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The Control Center

It has five non-customizable rows for various shortcuts. The top row has five toggles - Airplane, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, DND mode and Rotation Lock. The second row has the brightness slider. Next come the media player controls including a volume bar. The fourth row has AirDrop and AirPlay shortcuts. Finally, at the bottom of the Control Center there are four shortcuts - one that turns on/off the LED flash to serve as a flashlight and three app shortcuts - Clock, Calculator and Camera.

The volume slider is perhaps a bit redundant but nothing in the Control Center is customizable. It's a great, albeit well overdue, addition.

The Notification Center has been redesigned as well. It now has three tabs - Today, All and Missed. The Today tab has the date, a summary of all events for the day, calendar day view, reminders, stocks and tomorrow's summary. As usual, you can choose which apps you want to show up in the pull-down Notifications and in what order.

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Today tab • Settings

The Today tab is customizable, and you can disable its elements one by one - everything but the date displayed at the top can be removed so it doesn't get in the way. You can even disable the Today tab altogether in the Notification Center for the lockscreen.

The All tab is basically the notification center from iOS 6 but sans the weather, stocks and calendar events. The first two are now part of the Today tab, while the weather is gone for good. You can disable the All tab for the lockscreen as well (just turn off Notifications View). If both Notifications (All) and Today tabs are disabled, the entire Notification Center will no longer be available on the lockscreen.

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The All tab • The Missed tab

The Missed tab displays new emails, messages and missed calls you received while your iPhone 5s was locked. Those notifications are still available in the All tab.

Other than that, the handling of notifications hasn't changed a bit. You can opt to disable a notification, set it to be a banner, which will shortly pop up over the status bar or an alert showing up at the center of the screen.

There are also options to disable badges on app icons or disable lockscreen notifications.

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Notifications

As before, you can interact with notifications straight on the lockscreen. If a notification has just arrived, sliding to unlock will open up the relevant app - upon a missed call, you'll go straight to the phone app. You can also swipe a notification to perform a task - swipe to call back or text.

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Lockscreen notifications

The banner notification is very subtle. If you receive a text in the middle of something, it will briefly pop up over the status bar and disappear in a couple of seconds, and not distract from what you're doing.

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Homescreen notifications

Do Not Disturb is, as expected, still an integral part of iOS 7. It gives users further control of notifications, or rather their suppression. If turned on, it will mute incoming calls or alerts. You can allow calls from your favorite contacts and have the option to set a specific time interval in which you won't get any notifications.

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Do Not Disturb mode settings

There's a dedicated toggle to activate the DND feature and it can be customized in the Notifications submenu. When Do Not Disturb is on, a crescent icon appears next to the clock in the status bar.

According to Apple, iOS 7 offers multi-tasking for all apps. Previously true multi-tasking was reserved only for navigation or music streaming apps, the rest had to go in suspend mode.

Now, this multi-tasking for all apps will surely drain the battery faster than Apple would have liked, so there is a catch. Yes, all apps will work in the background, but iOS will learn which one of them you use most often and when.

Let's say you open the Facebook app every morning and don't use it for the rest of the day. iOS will soon learn that and will optimize the app to work according to your schedule until you change it. This means most of the day and night the app will still be in suspend mode (push notifications will work of course), but iOS will run Facebook shortly before your alarm goes on and load all the content. That way when you open it, your news feed will be already updated.

We noticed that apps also update in the background when push notifications come in. This is a part of what Apple calls opportunistic updates - the iPhone waits until a data connection is available and starts the updates then, so it doesn't need to activate the connection on another occasion and waste your battery.

We haven't spent enough time with iOS to give a proper judgment on how well the new multitasking works, but once we do we'll duly update this section.

All apps that use Cellular/Wi-Fi connection and can work in the background are listed under Settings -> General -> Background App refresh.

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Background App refresh

The task-switcher interface is invoked with a double tap on the Home key. It looks a lot like the webOS cards of old and, more recently, the HTC Sense Task switcher - all apps are presented with cards that you can swipe up to close. Each card has the respective app icon so you can easily recognize what's what.

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Multitasking in action

The multitasking UI works in both portrait and landscape mode, but you cannot see more than three cards at a time. It's one of the limitations of the card interface and we suspect this is why HTC went for a different task switcher with the One, but here's hoping that Apple will at least fix the landscape mode down the line.

The iOS 7 Settings menu has the same layout as in previous versions but updated with the new flat and borderless look.

Besides the Background App Refresh, iOS 7 offers even better control over the apps that use mobile data. The Cellular tab offers detailed cellular data breakdown by apps and services, allowing you to properly manage your resources.

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Settings • Cellular Data settings

Another thing worth mentioning is the Vimeo and Flickr integration in addition to Twitter and Facebook. Once you enter your account details in the settings you can upload your photos straight to your Flickr gallery, while your videos will go to your Vimeo. You just need to hit the share key on a picture or a video and use the dedicated Flickr/Vimeo icon.

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Sharing on Flickr and Vimeo

The last major change about the user interface is the Back gesture available in all iOS 7 default apps (maybe developers will be able to extend the support to third-party apps after launch). Whether you are in settings, App Store, Messages, Notes, Reminders, Safari, etc. a swipe from the left side of the screen will take you one step back.

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