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Apple iPhone 5s Review

on January 19, 2014 – 3:27 amNo Comment

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Apple calls the iPhone 5s, the most forward thinking iPhone yet. A departure from when Apple didn’t care to enter the spec wars, it claims to be the best smartphone in the world. Historically speaking, the “S” editions of Apple’s smartphones have changed little on the outside and have opted for substantial changes under the hood. This remains the case here as well. The iPhone 5s brings 64bit support, Touch ID fingerprint sensor and a completely overhauled operating system as well. Does all of this align to make investing in the iPhone worth it? We find out in our review.

Hardware

There’s little that has changed here over the previous iteration. You still have a 4inch display which feels diminutive amidst the 5inch plus behemoths that are its competition. There’s a simplicity to the design of the iPhone that has permeated through the generations and the 5s puts further emphasis on this.

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A polished metal rim surrounds the glass construction. The chamfered edges further accentuate the design. The phone’s measurements remain the same and it still weighs a feather light 112grams. The screen is a retina panel with a resolution of 1136  x 640 that while not as high resolution as the Full HD panels out there, manages to have better color accuracy than most. Additionally, the brightness rating of 500 nits is quite impressive.

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The iPhone 5s may be part of Apple’s third design revision and like 4s continues the standard set by the iPhone 5 however it is not entirely the same. Perhaps the most visible change is the Touch ID fingerprint scanner embedded into the home button with a stainless steel ring surrounding it. The steel ring is used to guide the user into the sensor area as well as to activate the Touch ID sensor. The bottom of the phone continues to have a lightening port flanked by speaker grilles on both sides. There’s a 3.5mm audio jack to the left.

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Moving over to the back of the phone and you can spot a few changes again if you look hard enough. The iPhone 5s gets a new type of LED flash called True Tone. The dual LED flash includes white and amber elements that analyze the ambient color temperature and help get images that are true to life instead of blanched out ghost like images an LED flash usually produces. This pretty much sums all of the outward changes. There’s of course the small matter of Apple introducing a gold variant of the iPhone 5s that you can check out in our gold iPhone 5s gallery here.

Software

The iPhone 5s brought with it a major new version of iOS. The seventh version of iOS is perhaps the biggest update since Apple added the ability to have native apps on the iPhone. A whole new interface greets you the moment you switch on the phone. Bright and colorful, Cupertino has done a decent job of cleaning out the cruft.

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The interface gets a ‘flat’ new look and fonts look particularly crisp. While the basic interface navigation remains the same for the sake of familiarity, most of the apps have been overhauled. Skeuomorphism is naught to be seen.

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Amongst the new additions to the operating system is the updated notification shade that can now display notifications in three distinct ways. It is possible to see events from the current day, all days and just missed notifications. There’s also calendar notifications, current date and weather conditions included here. A control panel can be activated by swiping up from bottom. This brings with it direct toggles for aircraft mode, WiFi, Bluetooth, Do Not Disturb, Rotation Lock. While not configurable, you also get sliders for brightness control and an entire music player section that also lets you adjust volume. Rounding up the bottom half are the AirDrop, AirPlay toggles which are placed above toggles for the Torch, Clock, Calendar, Camera.

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There are a lot more changes than are visible to the eye. There’s a spruced up keyboard while you can now add as many items as you want to the folder. Siri gets a visual overhaul as well as the ability to search Twitter, Wikipedia. Moreover Apple has added intelligent background updates to the operating system. The phone now learns your usage patterns and will update specific apps that you are most likely to use.

Performance

Day to day performance on the iPhone 5s remains top notch. While the iPhone 5 was fast, the 5s is faster still. The interface is fluid and apps open as fast as ever. While this is par for the course with every upgrade, there’s a bigger change under the hood. The new A7 processor chip uses the ARMv8 instruction set making it the first 64bit phone out there.

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64 bit support means that applications that are purpose built for iOS7 will  perform better, consume less battery life by depending less on using the main memory of the device. Exactly how 64 bit computing works is an article for another day but suffice it to say that Apple is once again the industry leader in a trend that will become mainstream in the next 12-24 months. The brand new GPU gains support for OpenGL ES 3.0 ensuring that you’ll get better and more complex games in the near future.

Additionally the phone also gets a new M7 coprocessor. The coprocessor is a dedicated motion tracker which will drastically improve battery life when using your phone for activity tracking. The M7 chip takes data from the gyroscope, accelerometer and the compass inside the phone without having to activate the more power hungry A7 chip. Check out the benchmark video below.

Display

We mentioned this earlier and we reiterate it, the display on the iPhone 5s is exactly the same as the one on the iPhone 5 however this is far from a bad thing. The IPS panel with a resolution of 640 x 1136 stretched over a 4 inch panel gives it a pixel density of 326ppi.

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The icons and text look crisp and while the display is on the smaller side, it contributes towards making the form factor more appropriate for one handed usage. The display has excellent color rendition and great viewing angles. It is also one of the brightest panels we’ve seen lately. Our only gripe with the display is that we feel that the size is getting a bit long in the tooth and we’d definitely appreciate a larger panel.

Camera

The iPhone 5s continues to provide a simple but solid imaging experience. The camera is an 8MP unit with a pixel size of 1.5 µm. There’s also a larger aperture of f/2.2 which will help in low light imaging. Apple claims that there is a 33 percent improvement in low light shots and our tests backed up that claim. The camera is definitely not as good as some of the new Lumia devices but it holds its own against most of the Android competition.

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The other half of the story here are the additions brought along by the iOS 7 update. The interface has got a fresh coat of paint that also brings with it some additional capabilities. You can now shoot images in a 1:1 (square) format as opposed to just the 4:3 shots from before. There’s of course the built in panorama mode. A wide variety of filters can also be applied on images and these can be previewed in real time showing off the power of the new 64bit A7 processor in the phone.

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 On to the image samples then. Day light performance isn’t drastically different from the iPhone 5. Images look nice and crisp with the HDR mode helping to extract more details from shadow regions. There’s a hint of noise brought upon by overly aggressive compression algorithms but not enough to be a hassle.

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Low light shots are a definite improvement and not only are noise levels kept under control, the new TrueTone flash helps to keep natural colors and white balance in images even in very poor lighting conditions. The camera can shoot video at 1080p resolution but also introduces a new 720p 120FPS mode for slow motion video capture. Follow through to our camera samples gallery for more images and videos shot on the iPhone 5s.

Touch ID

The biggest and definitely the most visible change in the iPhone 5s is the presence of the Touch ID sensor in the home button. While the promise is bigger than what is delivered with the first version, what really strikes us is how well the hardware component is integrated with the operating system as a whole. Fingerprint sensors in phones aren’t new. We saw them on Windows Mobile devices and HTC has brought it to the HTC One Max but they all feel like a hack job compared to Touch ID.

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The capacitive finger print sensor built into the iPhone 5s is one of the most advanced ones in use. The steel ring around the sensor works as a trigger to detect your finger and to activate the scanner. The Touch ID scanner then takes a high resolution image of sub-epidermal skin at 500ppi to map your finger print. The initial set up process takes about a minute following which you’ll be able to use your finger to unlock the phone as well as authorise purchases on iTunes and the App Store.

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In its current avatar, the implementation acts more of a convenience so that you don’t have to continuously enter your password everytime you unlock your device or buy an application. It might seem that you’re saving just a few seconds here and there but it does add up and the convenience is hard to give up once you see how quickly and effortlessly Touch ID works. What we’d like to see however is Apple giving Touch ID access to applications. Imagine having all your web and application passwords saved in one place and you being able to log in simply by activating your finger print. We do believe that this will happen eventually once Apple has rolled out Touch ID across its product portfolio and has ironed out any and all kinks in the system.

Connectivity & Battery Life

The iPhone 5s includes all your standard connectivity options like aGPS, GLONASS, bluetooth 4.0 and wifi b/g/n support but the biggest differentiator here is it’s global LTE support. There are 4 SKUs on offer depending on the region. Dubbed A1453, A1533, A1457 and A1530, the first two SKUs are aimed at the US market with the latter two heading to Europe and Asia respectively. The A1453 supports 13 LTE bands which means it’ll work on each and every US network while the A1533 is a dual GSM + CDMA variant.  As always the phone will ship in 16. 32 and 64 GB configurations.

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Compared to Android flagships, the iPhone 5s has a diminutive 1.580 mAh battery pack. This is an improvement over the 1,440 mAh cell in the iPhone 5. That said, don’t let the numbers fool you as the iPhone 5s delivers absolutely stunning battery life. Not only were we able to squeeze out over 10 hours of HD video playback from the phone, we could easily get over a day of active usage from the device. Your mileage may vary but moderate usage should easily deliver about 2 days of usage from the phone.

Conclusion

As you’d expect, the iPhone 5s is the best iPhone yet. Apple has delivered a measured but meaningful update to what remains one of the most popular smartphones out there. The forward looking 64 bit processor, M7 motion coprocessor and Touch ID all combine to give a significant boost to the hardware platform. On the software front, iOS7 brings a wealth of APIs that will allow developers to make use of the new hardware and deliver compelling use case scenarios and this really is where the iPhone’s strengths lie.

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Are the changes enough to warrant buying a new phone ? If you’re an iPhone 4/4s user then most definitely yes. The phone is a substantial upgrade with much faster internals and a brand new interface that fits like a glove and simply works better on this newer hardware. For iPhone 5 users however it is a bit harder to decide. Touch ID is a cool new feature but not reason enough in our opinion. There’s also the small matter of pricing with the iPhone 5s starting at Rs. 53,500 for the 16GB variant and going up to Rs. 71,500 for the 64GB version. That’s a lot of money to spend on a phone and we don’t think there’s incentive enough for those vested in the Android ecosystem to consider switching sides when a better equipped Android flagship device can be had for significantly lesser.

Pros

  • 64 bit A7 processor + M7 coprocessor
  • Touch ID
  • Camera

Cons

  • Price
  • Small screen & design is getting dated
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Dhruv Bhutani is a technology enthusiast who is always in sync with the latest and greatest in tech. He is currently using a Nokia Lumia 1020, HTC Butterfly S and whatever device he is reviewing at the moment. Suomirock ftw! . Catch him on Twitter @DhruvBhutani , you can also reach out on Facebook or .