iPhone 5s review
- Touch ID
- Improved camera and flash
- Wide LTE support
- Battery life
Launching 2013's most anticipated smartphone comes with its perils and pleasures. Simultaneously launching a second handset targeting a completely new demographic, for the first time in your company's history, is brave as it is hazardous. However, as we've come to expect from the most Marmite tech company in the world, if anyone can pull it off, it's Apple.
Since the iPhone 5s and cheaper iPhone 5c were unveiled, we've spent every waking (and sometimes sleeping) minute putting the first iOS 7-out-of-the-box devices through their paces.
The iPhone 5s is Apple’s most powerful phone to date and potentially the most game-changing iPhone it’s launched in six years. We say potentially as, for it to change the way we think about mobile, Apple's going to need a helping hand along the way. We'll come onto that.
With big name rivals like the HTC One, Samsung Galaxy S4 and Sony Xperia Z to compete against, the new iPhone certainly has a lot of work to do…
iPhone 5s: Features
Unquestionably, the standout features of the iPhone 5s are its newest hardware inclusions and upgrades, namely Touch ID, the M7 motion co-processor, 64-bit architecture and the all-new iSight camera. These are not only what differentiate it from the previous iPhone 5, but justify its place as the flagship iPhone when compared to the iPhone 5c.
Now, fingerprint scanning is a pretty boring subject and our only real day-to-day experience of using the technology is with those digit readers built into laptops – a slide-to-unlock affair that worked 60% of the time.
So, when Apple bought AuthenTec, spawning rumours of similar technology being integrated into its devices, we weren’t exactly enamoured. However, Apple has done its age-old trick of turning a dull feature into something resembling sexy.
Introduced to replace passcode authentication for unlocking the phone and making iTunes purchases, Touch ID is a joy to use. The sensor is built right into the Home button and registration of a thumb, finger or both – five digits can be registered – takes about a minute using a most-pleasing enrolment system.
Once recorded, Touch ID has 360-degree, readability of registered digits, meaning it’ll unlock your phone no matter what way up you’re holding the handset. The key selling point, however, is the simplicity and speed of identification.
Check out our iPhone 5s Touch ID demo walkthough video:
You don’t have to use Touch ID, but after a few hours with it, the mere thought of entering a four-digit passcode to unlock the device seemed so passé. And this is so easy.
For some – 36%, according to a McAfee study earlier in the year, including this reviewer and Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer – Touch ID could be the first time security of any kind will be used to protect entry to their phone. It's all seamless, efficient and totally Apple.
Apple is keen to point out that it doesn’t store fingerprint details in iCloud or any of its remote servers. It’s all contained within the hardware, meaning nobody can get at your data. Even the NSA.
While this is great news for security, we can’t see Apple opening up Touch ID for third-party development anytime soon. So forget your dreams about online fingerprint banking (Barclays declined to comment on its plans) and real-life retail payments. We'd have also liked the option to open different apps with different digits. Maybe in the next iOS 7 upgrade.
Next in the handful of hardware advancements is what could turn the iPhone 5s from an evolutionary upgrade to a revolutionary game changer.
Like the GPU that bears the graphical strain from a computer's processor, the new M7 Coprocessor takes the weight of motion measurements - compass, accelerometer and gyroscope - away from the all-new A7 CPU.
Apple claims this will provide a 6x power saving for (iOS 7-updated) apps that record motion - Nike+, Strava, Moves, etc - but this dedicated chip can also tell what state of movement you're in and will adjust the iPhone 5s accordingly.
To test this, we used Apple Maps to plot an A to B route that required driving and walking. Upon reaching our destination, and exiting the car, the navigation switched from car to foot, taking us down one-way streets that wouldn't have been possible in a motor.
If the Coprocessor is clever enough to know where you are and what you're doing (to an extent), it could pave the way for the next wave of apps and features. One example we were given was this: if your iPhone 5s is put in a gym locker while you pump iron, it knows that a) you're not using it b) there's no network coverage c) it's stationary.
The iPhone could then power itself right down, switching off 3G/4G, the screen and so forth until the time it’s picked up again, where it would come back to life, ready to take that call from your PT asking why you sat in the sauna for two hours rather than making yourself sick doing burpees.
With a whole new data stream open to developers, it won't be long before a new breed of M7/iOS 7 apps appear in the App Store. What's more, if there's one emerging area that the M7 would supplement perfectly, it's wearable technology. iBand before Christmas, then?
Another improvement that could pave the way for Apps 2.0, is the A7 CPU/64-bit architecture combo. On paper, Apple claims the power couple will deliver speed twice that of the A6 chip and vastly improved OpenGL ES 3.0-compatible graphics.
At the time of writing, no 64-bit games or apps were available. The Infinity Blade demo we saw at the iPhone 5s/c launch admittedly looked outrageous in terms of graphical prowess but, while Apple says iOS 7 was built with 64-bit in mind, the spec bump won't be apparent until developers start taking advantage.
However, Apple's in this for the long game and will soon have all its devices - iMacs, iPads, iPhones - and operating systems - Mac OS and iOS - all running under the same programming banner, which will no doubt please developers. Moreover, no one else is doing that. Apart from Samsung, who was quick to confirm its next raft of smartphones would be 64-bit.
As another spec-war begins, we can report that the A7 chip has definitely made the Camera app a lot zippier on the iPhone 5s. Real-time previews, on-the-fly effects processing, slo-mo, autofocus (see more in iSight, below) are faster and free from lag or judder. For us, this app demonstrates the most noticeable speed improvement in the iPhone 5s's armory.