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September 30, 2013

Apple iPhone 5S Review

Once a year, Apple would introduce the new model of their very popular iPhone. This year is a first as Apple introduced not one, but two, iPhone models — the iPhone 5c and the iPhone 5s. So we bought these 2 models to test and review. Check out our full review of the iPhone 5s below.

We’ve always had this dilemma every time we review an iteration (the S model) of a current iPhone since we first encountered the 3GS many years ago. This year is no exception.

The iPhone 5S looks and feels like the 12-month old iPhone 5. We suggest reading up on our iPhone 5 review here first before proceeding, so we don’t repeat ourselves from time to time.

Take note, some parts of this review will be shortened (like the design, display, etc) as we’ve already discussed them in the iPhone 5 link above.

Design and Construction.

If you’re a long-time iPhone 5 user, you’re not missing anything on the design department. It is the same small, thin and hefty device that Apple did not bother to further polish this year.

First is the slightly elongated dual-LED light at the back of the phone, just beside the camera and a small pin-hole for the noise-canceling mic.

Second is the fingerprint scanner embedded into the physical home button. The old one has a perfectly concave but shallow button with a small, squarish mark with rounded corners at the center; the new one has a ridge around the flat, depressed circular area where the Touch ID sensor is incorporated.

Then, there’s the color variants — the space gray which is slightly lighter then the old black one; the silver which is exactly the same as the white model from last year; and the coveted champagne gold which experience huge demand that it’s selling for twice the retail price (Php60k and higher).

Still, the iPhone 5S (like the iPhone 5) remains to be one of the best-looking and solidly built handset in the market. The combination of glass and aluminum alloy is just elegant and refined.

Display.

In the age of full HD displays, Apple’s marketing term — Retina Display — does not seem to count so much as before. While we agree that a pixel density of 326ppi is already enough for the naked eye, we could not deny we’ve been spoiled with a lot of 1080p displays pushing the pixel density to 441ppi and above.

Once you zoom into the display and look a little closer, you will see the difference. The pixels are more prominent and you appreciate the idea of having a higher pixel density.

Nevertheless, with a small 4-inch display, the 640×1136 pixel resolution (even if it’s even lower than a 720p resolution) will do just fine.

OS, UI and Apps.

Just before iPhone 5S and 5C were released to the market, Apple already seeded out iOS 7 to the older models like the iPhone 5 and iPhone 4S. As such, we’re already familiar with the changes introduced with the new OS.

Since the very first iPhone was released, Apple has never strayed away from their original UI and design. After 6 years, it has finally changed significantly. Again, we cannot help but notice that a lot of the new gestures and layouts in the UI were inspired by Android.

Spotlight was moved from the farthest left of the window to the middle of the app list (shown by dragging any empty space in the middle of the screen).

Icons and windows are now flat and uses vectors instead of the old gradient colors. The Status window pulls down from the top while the shortcuts and quick menus are pull up from the bottom. Even the running Apps list was lifted from HTC’s Sense UI.

Don’t get us wrong — we actually liked the new UI of iOS 7. It’s very much closer to Android now and becomes easy to figure out.

We could spend more paragraphs explaining the new UI features of iOS 7, some of them really great refinements of Android and other UIs, but over-all we feel that Apple is making it more complicated to the average user than before.

Before, it was just the icon and the home button. It was so simple a 2-year old and an 80-year old can both figure it out in a matter of seconds. Now it’s swipe up, swipe down, swipe from the middle, left and right, plus the home button. It’s not as dead simple as before.

Multimedia and Camera.

Except for the improvements in the camera, we could have given the iPhone 5S a lower score in the multimedia department.

Compared to the iPhone 5 from a year ago, you don’t get a bigger screen, not even a full HD resolution for watching movies. There were also no improvements done on the audio quality of the speakers.

The feeling is like upgrading your old 32-inch LED TV from 2012 at home with a new 2013 model that has the same 720p resolution and same 32-inch size. On that this time, you can turn it on in just 0.5 seconds instead of a full second and then channel surf twice as fast from before.

Then we move on to the camera. Of all the new features of the iPhone 5S, we think this is the one where it made a good lasting impression – the 720p @ 120fps video recording got the most nod from the people we showed it to. It’s basically a slow-mo feature incorporated in the camera app.

The sample video above shows a number of low-light and evening shots taken at full HD using the rear camera. The quality is quite good and has much less noise.

Here’s the slow-mo version of the video taken above.

The first video shows the recording played at 30fps while this second one is the original 720p @ 120fps. It was quite hard to just lift the slow-mo videos straight out of the phone. You can’t even share the slow-mo on Instagram. You will have to either share it via Email, YouTube, FB or Vimeo to preserve the capture.

Here are some sample photos taken with the iPhone 5S.

With scenarios that there’s ample lighting, we could not spot any improvements compared to the old iPhone 5. Some of the photos above sure do look really great and even the macro shots are actually amazing.

Nonetheless, if it were not for the slow-mo feature, we might not really appreciate what Apple did to the camera of the iPhone 5S.

The two speakers at the bottom of the device is more prominent and the volume is more consistent and even (not too loud and tinny but not too soft either).

Fingerprint Sensor and Touch ID.

The idea of a fingerprint sensor on a smartphone isn’t an novel one. Motorola had the Atrix with fingerprint sensor back in 2011 and the idea did not even caught on to other handsets until the 5S.

The rationale was simple – add a biometric security feature to the iPhone so that users will have easier time unlocking their devices as well as make purchases in the iTunes Store.

The Touch ID was served as an alternative or supplement security feature. You still have the PIN code or the long password as the default measure. The fingerprint sensor comes in as a secondary measure.

Here are the several permutations we tried with the 5S:

1) Directly unlock the phone with a simple PIN code or password.

2) Directly unlock the phone with a finger print scan.

3) If you forgot your PIN code or password , or entered the wrong one 3 times, you can use still use the fingerprint scan to unlock.

4) Completely remove PIN code or password and finger print scan.

There’s actually no option to just use a fingerprint scan and no PIN code. There’s also no option to ask for both PIN code and scan your fingerprint to unlock.

This permutation means you can actually unlock the phone either with a finger print scan or with a PIN code. The same is true with purchasing content directly from iTunes Store – use your account password or run a scan.

We tried to figure out the different scenarios where this biometric scan actually makes practical sense and here’s what we could come up so far:

* Making a long press (around 3 seconds) on the home button to simultaneously wake up the iPhone and auto-unlock it via Touch ID.

* Provide biometric access to the device for up to 5 people without sharing the PIN code or password. The Touch ID feature can store up to 5 different fingerprints. No need to give the password as you can just add their finger prints.

* Eliminate the “Forgot Password” feature and replace it with a biometric scan.

The scanner is very accurate, way better than those biometric login scanners you’ll find in the office’s main door. Based on our repeated tests, we only get about 3 errors in 20 attempts to scan a print.

It’s a nice feature to have but we still think it’s a classic case of a “solution waiting for a problem“. We’d rather that Apple find a work-around to that issue of LTE connectivity getting cut off when receiving or making calls. Or maybe some really cool power-saving feature to extend battery life.

Performance and Benchmarks.

Apple was never the type that would boast the number of CPU cores or crank up the frequency of the chip to insane numbers. So, we won’t delve into the fact that they still use a 1.3GHz dual-core processor.

Instead, we’ll focus on the surprising fact that they’ve developed the first 64-bit mobile OS. We’ve covered this part quite a bit here but in our opinion, it’s an improvement that will never be really felt even by an experienced iPhone user.

The most appreciable explanation we can offer as to the benefits that a 64-bit platform provide over the current 32-bit platform is the ability of the system to handle memory (RAM) beyond the 4GB limit.

This was a huge issue before with desktop computers and laptops – where even if you upgrade the RAM to 4GB or 8GB, the operating system will only recognize 3.5GB.

For the iPhone 5S, we could not find any practical or noticeable improvements because of this shift. Developers will also find it confusing that they’ll have to deal with 2 current models, one running 32-bit (iPhone 5C) while the other is 64-bit (iPhone 5S).

At least Apple gets to brag about having the very first 64-bit mobile OS in the world.

Nevertheless, we had to do some sort of benchmark to see some numerical differences between the A6 chip of the iPhone 5 and the A7 of the iPhone 5S.

PassMark Performance Mobile Test:
CPU: 36,024 (iPhone 5S) vs. 17,568 (iPhone 5)
Memory: 4,146 (iPhone 5S) vs. 2,788 (iPhone 5)
Disk: 13,266 (iPhone 5S) vs.10,213 (iPhone 5)
2D: 2,462 (iPhone 5S) vs. 875 (iPhone 5)
3D: 1,929 (iPhone 5S) vs. 1,647 (iPhone 5)
Overall: 5,069 (iPhone 5S) vs. 2,800 (iPhone 5)

So yes, the numbers clearly show the iPhone 5S got at least twice the performance boost as the iPhone 5.

Call Quality, Connectivity and Battery Life.

The iPhone 5 has been pretty consistent with signal reception when it comes to making or accepting phone calls. Audio is quite good, loud and crisp although we seldom encounter instances when one party could not hear the other despite the line being clear.

We’ve also noticed that when placed side by side the iPhone 5C, the 5S gets a slightly weaker signal and there were even times it could not find an LTE signal when the 5C just beside it hooks up to the network just fine.

As for connectivity, it’s got everything you’d expect for a flagship phone except for NFC. LTE speed is also great and we’re getting results in the north of 15Mbps downlink and 6Mbps uplink.

As for battery life, we’re still a bit disappointed that Apple didn’t improve it on the iPhone 5S. Been using the iPhone 5 alongside the iPhone 5S for a week now and I don’t see any improvements in battery life.

Conclusion.

The iPhone 5S is sill a solid phone but this is mostly because of the advantages derived from the simplicity and robustness of the OS. Apple no longer has monopoly over good design or even impressive hardware.

With the updates introduced to the iPhone 5S, it seems line Apple is ignoring the big strides a lot of the Android handset makers are doing — bigger and better hardware, more computing power, better displays and longer battery life. The iPhone 5S seems to be lagging behind.

It will, no doubt, sell really well. But once you see people willing to pay twice the price for a gold color, then it’s all about status symbol and blind loyalty; not excellent craftsmanship and superiority.

The Apple iPhone 5S is not yet officially released in the Philippines but the schedule has been set sometime in December of 2013. No official price has been set although regional stores in Singapore and Hong Kong puts the starting price at around Php32,000 and above.

Apple iPhone 5S specs:
4.0-inch IPS LCD display @ 640×1136 pixels, 326ppi
Corning Gorilla Glass 2
Apple A7 1.3GHz dual-core processor
PowerVR SGX544MP4 quad-core graphics
16GB, 32GB, 64GB internal storage
1GB RAM
DC-HSDPA 42Mbps, LTE 100Mbps
WiFi 802.11 b/g/n, dual-band
Bluetooth 4.0
8MP iSight camera, LED flash
1080p video recording
1.2MP HD front-facing camera, 720p @ 30fps
GPS w/ aGPS support, GLONASS
iOS 7.0.2
112 grams (weight)
123.8 x 58.6 x 7.6 mm (dimensions)

What we liked about it:
* Great performance
* Impressive camera
* LTE support

What we did not like:
* Very expensive
* Same old design
* Gimmicky Touch ID
* Same poor battery life
* Small screen and low resolution

Disclosure: We spent Php45,000 to purchase this 32GB model of the iPhone 5S in Hong Kong.

Apple iPhone 5S & 5C: What We Think We Know
This could be the Apple iPhone 5S
iPhone 5S in the flesh, first impressions

141 Responses to “Apple iPhone 5S Review”

  1. Jacinto says:

    the finger print scanner is not that smooth :|

  2. scks says:

    this phone suuuuuuucks!

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