IPhone 5s Review – Elegance Refined

I think it’s fair to say we – as Apple fans and tech consumers – have become accustomed to Apple’s ways. We know the company likes to take its time perfecting hardware and software, we know it’s not going to load its devices with a boatload of specs just for the sake of it. But that’s what I like about the company.

Not only is it my own preferred way of doing things, it helps it from a marketing perspective. Regardless of how many other companies there are in any market, Apple will always stand out as the one that does things differently. Plus, consumers like products that “just work”. Apple is a champion at that.

None of us were surprised when Apple launched the 5s this year. It’s a pattern. One year Apple releases a new phone design, the next year it stays the same but gets some boosted specs, but ones that really make a difference to the user experience. Or will do in the future.


In terms of form factor there’s very little difference between the 5s and its predecessor. If you’ve had an iPhone 5, you’ll know what to expect. It’s an all glass and aluminum affair, with a two-tone design on the back.

The chassis is made from aluminum and – depending on which color option you go for – it’ll be anodized in gold, silver or “Space Gray”. Both silver and gold models have white enameled glass installed, whereas Space Gray only comes with black. Of all the things I was concerned about with the 5s prior to receiving it, gray was the biggest.

Having loved the slate and black combination with the iPhone 5, gray just didn’t look as good in the photos. Even in my own photos when I compare them, I prefer the slate. But in person, the gray adds an element of class and refinement you don’t get with the almost blue slate color. It’s incredibly classy.

As with the iPhone 5, the angled chamfers on the edges add a luxurious shine. But unlike the iPhone 5, you get the same effect from the steel ring surrounding the new home button.

Sure, it’s there to serve a purpose as part of the Touch ID sensor system, but it looks much classier than the home buttons of old. In fact, comparing the front panels from any other iPhone with this makes them seem a little childish. It’s a grown up design, on a very grown up phone.

With anything – even when Apple makes it – there are compromises. Choosing to use glass and aluminum and creating diamond-cut angles might make the best looking phone on the market, but it’s certainly not the best feeling.

Metal and glass are generally cold, and angles are not the most comfortable in hand. But it is light weight and thin, which goes someway towards appeasing the lack of warmth and ergonomics. Another small problem I had was with the home button.

Since the clickable area within the button is now smaller, it doesn’t always give the most reassuring response. It also sometimes gives a tiny (almost crunchy) click that sounds like something in the mechanism isn’t quite right. Like a flex connector getting caught which isn’t really possible with the design. Still, I prefer the feel – not the look – of the old home button design.

All in all, there’s little to fault in regards to the iPhone’s design. It’s an almost perfect example of fit and finish on a smartphone. Quality control issues are non existent, and it looks beautiful from any angle.

In fact, it’s hard to imagine how Apple would improve it next year. Except to make a slightly bigger version with a larger display. Perhaps? Or create a curved back, similar to the HTC One to make it more ergonomic.


Ever since the iPhone 4 was released, Apple’s Retina displays have been some of the best on the market. Sure, they may not be the biggest or most immersive, but it’s hard to find a better quality display panel on a smartphone. It’s sharp, reproduces colors brilliantly and is incredibly clear. Viewing angles are great too, with little to no discoloration from any angle.

Like the iPhone 5c and the iPhone 5 before it, Apple displays do have one severe weakness: Outdoor light. In bright sunlight, when the skies are clear and blue, the reflection off the iPhone’s is ridiculous.

And the display’s not bright enough to power through it leaving you struggling to see what’s on screen a lot of the time. Thankfully, I live in Cumbria in the North of England where’s it’s overcast and cloudy for 80% of the year. But, if I lived in Florida, I can’t imaging the frustrations I’d have using an iPhone.

Touch Screen responsive-ness is great, and combined with the excellent clarity and color reproduction make for a very pleasing end user experience.

Camera and Video

I could write a few paragraphs on just how great the iPhone 5s’ camera is. It is great. For day to day photography in almost any situation, the iPhone 5s will give you the best instant results out of any smartphone.

Pictures are sharp, color reproduction is realistic, and depth of field for such a small camera system is impressive. But, it’s not that different in quality to either the iPhone 5 or 5c. Until you get in to low light situations.

It gathers up to 30% more light thanks to its new F2.2, 5-lens make-up and its larger pixel size. Instead of making a larger sensor and packing in more pixels, Apple decided to keep it at 8MP and increasing the size of those pixels. Smart move by Apple.

There are a couple of areas really worth talking about. One is burst mode. Open up the camera app, then press and hold the shutter button (easier with the volume button) and you’ll hear really fast bursts of images being taken.

It’s more than just novelty. It comes in very useful if your subject is moving quickly, or you can’t keep your hand still. Burst shot results in dozens of photographs being taken in quick succession, you then get to pick your favorites which your iPhone will save.

I have an õlloclip macro lens, and when you’ve got something magnified so massively, every tiny move is exaggerated. Using burst mode in conjunction with it ensures I’ll get a good result. It certainly beats getting frustrated because I can’t keep still enough.

Video quality is brilliant too, as you’d expect, but the video camera also has another trick up its sleeve. Slo-Mo.

Since it has 120fps video shooting capabilities, you can now record at 4 times the frame rate of the usual video and then select certain parts for playback at 30fps. This results in a video that’s slowed down to a quarter of the record speed.

Exporting the videos and sharing has proven to be a frustration, but there are workarounds. One we found was by sending an iMessage to yourself to your Mac, you can drag and drop the file on to your Mac desktop and share it from there on Facebook or YouTube (for example).

Another improvement is the processing of the image. iPhone 5s’ camera does some incredibly fancy processing behind the scenes, and doesn’t even tell you it’s doing it.

It actually takes a selection of pictures every time you hit the shutter button and chooses the best quality image based on a number of conditions. Combined with the auto image stabilization, it means that many images should come out blur-free.

Although the added new features and extra low light performance are nice, for some reason I was expecting more. I wanted a much better camera. But, I know that a much larger sensor and lens would lead to deviations in iPhone hardware design.

You then end up with phones like the Lumia 1020. I’d rather stick with my beautiful iPhone than get a hump-backed phone I hate holding, or one that falls out my hand because it’s so top-heavy.

Lastly, we do have to mention the True-Tone flash. Unlike the old, single white LED flash, the iPhone 5s has a dual LED flash. One light is white, the other has a warmer orange tone.

Thanks to another lot of clever processing, your iPhone 5s cleverly combines the two to make sure that your skin looks like skin, and not a bright white reflective canvas when you inevitably take your night-out pictures from bars, clubs and pubs.

In practice, it definitely makes a difference to how skin comes out on photographs. From my own personal use, it made little impact. I generally never use the flash on the iPhone. If ever I want to illuminate a subject in one of my photos I’d rather use a small portable spotlight than use the unpredictable flash from an iPhone.


Apple’s A7 processor is something of an enigmatic improvement. It says it’s much better, but really hasn’t been given anything to test its abilities yet. Being 64-bit compared to the iPhone 5c and 5′s 32-bit A6 means it can handle up to twice as much information in the same amount of time.

Talking binary for a second. In the time it would take the A6 to process 8 lots of ones and zeros, the A7 can handle 16, but, they need to be programmed by the developers to be thrown at the A7 at the same speed for you to notice any difference.

In all the speed tests I’ve done, most processes aren’t any faster on the 5s. The only game I loaded up that was noticeably faster was Infinity Blade III, which has been optimized for the 64-bit processor.

The truth is that 64-bit processors in mobiles won’t see their potential shown off for the next year or so. This is very much where Apple’s “forward thinking phone” tag line comes in. This technology is much more about the future of iOS than it is about the now, but, they had to start somewhere.

As you’d expect, the A7 processor makes light work of iOS 7, but I can help but think that it could be even faster if it wasn’t for Apple’s insistence on animations between every single interface. There’s so much zooming in and out of apps and folders that some people have complained of symptoms similar to motion sickness. But, there’s not even a hint of lag with the 5s.

On the battery side, I have to say how refreshing it is to have an iPhone that I don’t get charger anxiety over. With my iPhone 5 running iOS 7, I rarely got through the day. iPhone 5s comfortably gets me through a day and a half before needing to scramble to find a dock.

If your fitness nut, or you just like to monitor your exercise, there’s a new chip built in to the iPhone 5s that should help stop your fitness regime from killing your iPhone’s battery. Apple’s M7 co-processor is its own, bespoke processing unit used specifically for keeping track of what all the iPhone’s motion sensors are doing.

Using apps like Moves, or Runtastic to track all your locations, speeds and movements when your iPhone is locked will require much less battery power once the apps you use have been optimized. You will almost certainly see a huge improvement in battery life.

Touch ID

When I first heard rumors of a fingerprint sensor being built in to the iPhone, I was skeptical. It seemed too gimmicky to be Apple. Little did I know, Cupertino’s designers hadn’t just done what everyone else was doing.

Unlike the Atrix and other fingerprint scanning devices, the scanner isn’t temperamental. More importantly, it’s been built in to a part of the iPhone that we already use every single day: The home button.

By not having it on the back, or somewhere else as it’s own bespoke and far-removed feature, it’s front and center inside the one button we use more than any other on the iPhone.

Perhaps what’s more impressive is how detailed this scanner is, and the quality of the engineering that went behind it. Underneath a layer of sapphire crystal is a 500 pixel per inch scanner that scans just underneath the surface of your finger or thumb.

It captures enough detail through the setup process that you don’t have to be too precise over which angle or direction you point your preferred digit when placing it on the home button.

What I really love though is just how fast it is. Most times I can simply click the home button from the lock screen and within a second I’m in to my phone. It’s much more convenient than having to “slide to unlock”.

In the week I’ve owned the iPhone 5s, I’ve only have approximately 4-5 times where it’s asked me to “try again” with my thumb print. Considering I must unlock my phone 50+ times every day, that really isn’t bad at all.

Wrap Up

One of the first questions I get asked when ever a new iPhone comes out is “should I upgrade?” And the answer really depends more on the user than it does the device. What kind of things do you value? What’s highest priority? What device do you have now? These are three questions you should ask before upgrading to the iPhone 5s. Especially if you already have an iPhone 5.

iPhone 5 users – There’s very little you’re going to notice that’s new about this phone. That’s the honest truth of it. How fast it feels when loading apps really depends on how quickly developers are going to get behind the 64-bit technology.

And how quickly they adopt 64-bit I think will depend more on what processors are powering the next iPads. If Apple skips on adding 64-bit processors to the iPad 5 and iPad mini 2, developers won’t need to rush to change their apps’ codes either.

That scenario is very unlikely given that the iPad 5 will feature an A7X chip. But still, I don’t think we’re going to see 64-bit apps flood the App Store for the next 12 months. So, on the speed side, you’re already good. Wait for the iPhone 6.

If you are desperate for better battery life, no matter how small the improvement, you may want to consider getting a new iPhone. There is definitely an improvement here, even if Apple has only bumped it up from 1440mAh to 1510mAh.

If you love the new colors, and the more elegant looking home button, again, that could be a reason for you to upgrade. But, it’s almost certain that which ever iPhones come after the iPhone 5s will also have the exact same home button as the 5s and perhaps the same colors. So, if you won’t mind waiting, you’re not going to miss out.

If you’re an iPhone 5 user and you want to upgrade, but want something different to what you have, go for the iPhone 5c. Not the 5s.

For anyone with an iPhone 4S or earlier, and you’re due an upgrade and want a new iPhone: Yes. Upgrade. The larger screen, faster processor, better camera and battery are all improvements you’ll appreciate from the get go. I just don’t quite see how any iPhone 5 user could benefit massively by upgrading to a 5s. The improvements are very small.

All in all, the iPhone 5s is a fantastic phone. It’s taken what was great about the iPhone 5 and enhanced it further. It (arguably) is the best looking smartphone every made, it has a fantastic camera, decent battery, great call and audio quality and unmatched industrial design. It is quite simply the best iPhone yet.

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