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Apple iPhone 5s review

Verdict

An outstanding smartphone, but with a 4in screen and wallet-damaging price, it’s no longer the best of the lot

Review Date: 15 Nov 2013

Reviewed By: Jonathan Bray

Price when reviewed: Free, on a £38.00 per month, 24 months contract.

Buy it now for: £428
(see more store prices)

Overall Rating
5 stars out of 6

Features & Design
5 stars out of 6

Value for Money
4 stars out of 6

Performance
6 stars out of 6

We've updated this review with our experiences of using Touch ID and the camera. Scroll to the end of the review to read more

Apple may have stepped outside its comfort zone with the colourful 5c, but with the iPhone 5s it’s firmly back in its smoking jacket and slippers. In the absence of a major redesign, the company has taken the body of the iPhone 5 and given it a welcome boost in features and core power. See also: the 11 best smartphones of 2014.

Thus the iPhone 5s has a chassis that’s all but identical to its predecessor, right down to the positioning of the speaker grilles and the metal bands running around the phone’s edge. The only differences surround the colours – the black iPhone this time has a slightly lighter “space gray” rear panel, and there’s a new gold colour, which is more tasteful than it sounds.

Suffice it to say, if you’re familiar with the iPhone, you’ll know precisely what this latest iPhone looks and feels like: it’s sleek, one of the lightest smartphones around at a mere 112g, and a highly desirable object in its own right.

Make sure, though, you take care how you treat it. The aluminium rear might look tough and hard-wearing, but as we’ve found with the iPhone 5, it picks up dings and scratches rather easily if dropped or put in a pocket with other metal objects.

Touch ID

Aside from the colours, the only physical difference between the 5s and its predecessor is the home button, where the new Touch ID fingerprint reader resides. It’s no longer decorated with the familiar square motif, and it’s a little flatter, but the interest lies not in the way it looks, but the way Touch ID can make your life a whole lot easier.

Apple iPhone 5s

After registering a fingerprint during set up, you can use that digit to both unlock the phone and authorise iTunes purchases. It’s highly convenient, and works reliably, but not always instantaneously – a pause of three or four seconds before recognition is common.

However, before you go off and change your easily remembered iTunes password to a super-secure, randomised string of characters, stuffed with numbers and other symbols, be aware that the 5s will occasionally ask you to verify your fingerprint by re-entering the password. It isn’t a completely set-and-forget option.

Camera

Flip the 5s over and you may notice the other physical difference: there’s now a dual-LED flash, replacing the single LED of old. Dubbed True Tone, each LED flashes at a different colour temperature. The aim is to avoid the horrid washed-out, ghostly look that traditional flashes can give skin tones – and it’s a success. It’s a real asset for pub and party snaps.

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User comments

Oh dear. Derp !

Still give it 5 out of 6. Really !!
It seems the motion sensors are faulty.
http://gizmodo.com/the-iphone-5s-motion-sensors-ar
e-totally-screwed-up-1440286727
Why do people get sucked in to Apple and it's inferior products.

By finn1974 on 5 Oct 2013

it’s no longer the best of the lot

Although a quality phone it wouldn't be my first choice at the moment. What the iPhone really needs is a bigger screen. Maybe with the iPhone 6?

By Alfresco on 5 Oct 2013

Plonkers

Hit, hit Apple when you can why don't you.
What I need is an iphone and an ipad then the best of the world is with you. The new anticipated arrival ipad 5 will suffice for me with BIG ENOUGH screen, small weight/size ratio and apps that not only work but give the experience deserved of a slab.
For me a smart phone needs to be "discreet" and useful and that's it!

By peterwoods on 6 Oct 2013

Yeah I agree. 4 inches shouldn't be seen as a downside. It's a phone, not a tablet

By TimoGunt on 7 Oct 2013

I thought 3.5 inches was the perfect size for a phone screen? Hey, it's a phone not a tablet, right?

By TheHonestTruth on 7 Oct 2013

Well in all honesty I have the 3.5 inch. Haven't bothered going for the 5 or 5s. I wouldn't have been upset if they had never gone to 4 inch. I need it to fit in my pocket otherwise there's no point in having a phone

By TimoGunt on 7 Oct 2013

@TimoGunt

You must have tiny pockets then if something larger than 4 inches doesn't fit in it. A 5" screen isn't a huge difference IMO and should Apple ever go to this size I'll finally cave a buy an iPhone

By EddyOS_2K9 on 7 Oct 2013

What's worth considering

Benchmarks and stats comparisons are interesting to know a device's potential, but I'm much more interested in what it does in practice. The reason why I'm sticking with Apple so far is the apps. In particular, for me, music creation apps and games, both of which seem far better on iOS than Android.

I think that's for a combination of reasons - technical (Android platform more fragmented, so harder to develop a sure-fire hit with certainty it will work everywhere, and latency weirdly an issue with music software to the point that being even as good as Garageband is virtually impossible) + human (developers preferring iOS, perhaps because of false perceptions, but generally finding that less money comes back from investment in Android)

So how about an Android v iOS (and Windows Phone while we're at it) usefulness comparison, with modern apps in mind? I could not care AT ALL about how many apps are available in each store. I would love to know what the killer apps are to tempt a platform switch, and how common apps (e.g. Facebook) differ, if at all, across the major competitor phones. Thanks!

By bern_leckie on 7 Oct 2013

@EddyOS_2K9

Yep tiny pockets and tiny hands. I like to use a phone with one hand too. I did have the HTC HD7 don't laugh, dreadful phone and I thought it was too big. I'm happy for them to create two different size phones but I want the smaller version, each to their own. I just don't think it should be marked down for being smaller when that's the size I want. Having said all that I won't be buying this phone. iPhone 6 maybe

By TimoGunt on 7 Oct 2013

@Timogunt

I wasn't having a go! I just find going to a smaller phone difficult as I'm so used to the larger ones these days. I do like the look of the 5s, though, but will wait for the 6 and see what 'ground breaking' features it has

By EddyOS_2K9 on 8 Oct 2013

That's what Apple needs to act on. There clearly are people that want a bigger iphone. Would it need a bigger resolution too? Apple try to stick to rigid resolutions to make development easier

By TimoGunt on 8 Oct 2013

Is Switching phone brands harder now?

I am pretty sure the operating system of the brand has become almost more important than the tech spec. If all your codes, data, contacts and stuff is integrated into the apps you use, it must be daunting now to switch to a completely different system. I know Apple enables a very smooth way of changing devices and presumably Android does too.....but switching from one to the other and perhaps having a tablet in one and a phone in the other, is becoming Much more of a compromise these days, as we depend on these gadgets to be integrated into our lifestyles?

By gharrop on 10 Oct 2013

Why switch?

There's nothing really here that makes me want to move from my 4S to this one. It is longer (a whole set of icons longer) but lighter. No big deal. The burst mode on the camera is a feature of IOS7 not the phone. Most of the other features I can live without. The fingerprint feature is a gimmick, and not a particularly smart one.

I don't use a phone for surfing the web so a screen big enough to do that is irrelevant to me. That's what my iPad and desktops are for. For the same reason I don't read books or magazines on it. Lest be honest, if you're over 40 your eyes aren't going to be good enough to do that. I use my phone for making -phone calls, texting and IMs, travel (maps, network rail and TomTom) In other words I use it for things that are good on a small screen. For games and surfing the bigger screen of a tablet is better.

For me, it would be better if it were shorter than the 4S, not longer, but the same in the other dimensions as the 5S.

For the price, I've no incentive to upgrade.

By Rob_1 on 10 Oct 2013

The A7 SoC

Apple's A7 SoC is a ARMv8 implementation including 32 and 64 bit execution units. The ARMv8 64 bit ISA include some major improvements, and is almost like a total reimagining of the instruction set.

The 64 bit Instruction Set Architecture doubles the number of general and floating point registers, and eliminates a lot of cruft that's built up over the last decade. It's certainly a faster architecture, but it's not entirely clear whether the doubling in speed is specifically attributable to the generic ARMv8 architecture or Apple's secret sauce - implemented by Apple as a Instruction Set Architecture licensee rather than as a processor licensee (like Samsung).

Qualcomm - the only other ISA licensee that I know of - has probably got their product manager writing "I will not spout off without talking to the engineers" 100,000 on a blackboard somewhere.

By varase on 21 Oct 2013

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