Review by Andrew Kameka on Tuesday October 08, 2013.
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Apple hasn't always been known for its predictability, but the smartphone maker sure has gotten comfortable with a pattern when it concerns the iPhone. Apple's innovative streak really only rears its head in alternating cycles, so the "S" follow-up tends to be just an improvement on the last device before things really change the next year. The Apple iPhone 5S does nothing to buck that trend, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Hardware and Design
The Apple iPhone 5S is practically a clone of the iPhone 5. Both devices have the same dimensions, weight, button positioning, and style. The phone is as light as it's ever been and still composed of aluminum materials that will scuff when dropped or remain pristine if taken care of properly. It feels like something precious and is one of the few desirable phones that's tea-cupped size compared to the stature of most popular devices. The power button is easy to access at the top and the volume controls are on the left. The volume up and down buttons are nice to touch and a mute switch above them makes it easy to silence all audio on the device. The bottom of the iPhone 5S houses dual speakers with good sound and a Lightning charging port familiar to Apple mobile products.
Of course, all of that could be said of the previous iPhone. Apple went with the "If it ain't broke model" when it comes to the major design philosophy; however, it did tighten things up with a new Touch ID fingerprint sensor. The traditional home button has been replaced with a new sensor that detects fingerprints and unlocks the phone or accepts passwords in the App Store. The sensor is susceptible to some trickery, but it has done an admirable job of balancing ingenuity with security. Touch ID is very reliable and quickly recognizes me, which saves me from having to enter my very long Apple ID information when downloading apps. The difference between punching in a 4-digit PIN and placing a thumb on one button is small; however, getting the small things right is what Apple tends to do well. As I've said in a previous post, Touch ID is reliable enough and convenient enough to make this my preferred method for unlocking a phone.
Judging the display of the iPhone 5S is hard because people will pay more attention to what the LCD screen isn't rather than what is in its current state. The 4-inch screen is great because it has smart auto-brightness, beautiful colors, and retina display that ensures you cannot point out pixels. It also continues the trend of having a very responsive touch panel that makes the iPhone one of the fastest responding devices available. From a quality standpoint, the iPhone 5S screen is just fine.
The iPhone 5S suffers from a quantity problem. Smartphones regularly launch with 5-inch 1080p HD displays and some venture as high as 6.3 inches. No one expects Apple to go that high after the company stubbornly waited to introduce a 4-inch display. However, it's still disappointing that Apple has held fast to the company line that it doesn't want to increase the display size yet. The Moto X has shown that it's possible to introduce a screen as big as 4.7 inches and still support one hand usage, so there's no longer an excuse for keeping the screen size so small.
The latest iPhone has an A7 processor that is numerically twice as fast as the previous chip. In normal use, you don't always notice such a dramatic change in speed. The changes become apparent in small details like being very fast when taking an HDR photo. I can take two photos on my 5S in the amount of time it takes my iPhone 5 to take one. You'll also notice a faster browsing experience in Safari and enhanced gaming experiences.
Apple also sought to future-proof the iPhone 5S by making it the first device to introduce a setup powerful enough to run 64-bit software. That means nothing at the moment because you won't see any benefit. In the not too distant future, it could lead to smoother experience in a variety of media and software. The 5S also includes a future-ready M7 chip that pays attention to motion sensors. Developers can access the chip to pay attention to gyroscopes or accelerometers to track motion for things like cycling apps or navigation and perform certain activities in a low-power state. It's the same concept seen on the Moto X, and it's one that should improve an already strong ecosystem of accessories and fitness apps.
Key iPhone 5S specs
- 4-inch LCD display with 1136 x 640 resolution (326ppi)
- A7 processor (dual-core CPU, quad-core GPU)
- 8-megapixel rear camera
- 1.2-megapixel front camera
- Bluetooth 4.0, dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n 2.4/5GHz
- 4G LTE, HSPA+, CDMA (model-dependent)
- Dimensions: 123.8 x 58.6 x 7.6mm (4.87 x 2.31 x 0.30in)
- Weight: 112g (3.95oz)
Andrew is MobileBurn.com's managing editor. He is based in Miami, Florida.