The new iPhone is here, and while it doesn’t come with a brand new number, it does manage to sneak in a few new features that aim to make it the best iPhone yet.
You can expect the new iPhone to be better than the old iPhone, but if you look at both of them — the 5 and the 5S — you might be confused that you were looking at the same phone.
There are a few subtle differences in design, but none of them in the casing, as Apple has kept the same chassis in this instance, now available in three colours: space grey, gold, and silver.
The button on the front has changed, however, and no longer features the friendly squircle (yes, it’s a thing) which told everyone that this was the home button. Instead, it’s now void of markings, and is made of laser cut sapphire crystal with stainless steel detection ring and a fingerprint scanning sensor underneath.
At the back of the iPhone 5S, there’s another thing to help differentiate it from the iPhone 5, and that’s the flash, which now includes two LEDs for the flash, as part of Apple’s True Tone flash technology.
The camera has also changed to support this, with an increased aperture, bigger sensor, and better support for low light due to the new technology.
Everything else has changed on the inside of the phone, though, and includes a new processor, called the A7 and designed for 64-bit operations that can also run the older 32-bit applications.
An extra motion processor (M7) has been thrown inside this new phone, with the idea being that it will specifically capture motion and movement based activities and store them, alleviating some of the stress put on the processor which in turn takes some of the load off the battery.
Connectivity options haven’t really changed from the prior phone, and include 802.11 a/b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, and support for 4G LTE.
Storage is the same, too, with choices of either 16, 32, or 64GB, while the ports and buttons (outside of the front button design) remain identical too, including the availability of Lightning and 3.5mm ports at the bottom, a power button up top, and the volume buttons and mute/rotation switch on the very left side.
Other features don’t seem so different, including the weight at 112 grams, the thickness at 7.6mm, the 1GB RAM, Gorilla Glass screen protection, 4 inch 640×1136 screen (326ppi), and 1.2 megapixel front-facing camera.
Oh, there’s one other thing that’s new, and that’s Apple’s update to its iOS operating system. Preinstalled to the iPhone 5S is iOS 7, the very latest edition of the operating system with less emphasis on making the phone look like an older piece of hardware, and larger fonts, a more vibrant and flatter design, and more places to drag your fingers with gestures aplenty that do all manner of things.
It’s hard to believe we’re at the seventh iteration of the iPhone, but even with the name “5S,” here we are.
And in this generation, Apple has decided to forgo jumping ahead to the new number and upgrade last year’s 5, a move that hasn’t impressed everyone, especially those keen to see where Apple would go interpreting the bigger smartphones in a way only Apple knows how.
For now, though, we have this year’s iPhone, and it’s an example of not judging a book by its cover.
If you did, you’d mistake the 5S for last year’s member of the family, which can no longer be found and isn’t actually part of Apple’s lineup.
But once you start using the new iPhone, the differences would be noticeable, with the smooth new iOS 7 appearing the moment you switch it on.
We’ll get to what’s changed later in the review, but most of what you’ll notice about the iPhone 5S comes from some of the changes under the hood, and how Apple has brought all of these together.
One of these changes comes in the form of a new type of processor, which Apple calls the A7.
Since we’re technically in the seventh generation of the iPhones, this numbering system makes sense, but the A7 chip is more than just a new model chip that increases performance and provides more speed. Rather, this is Apple’s first mobile processor that provides 64-bit operations, and is just as important as the shift from the days when Apple ran RISC-based PowerPC chips and decided to jump forward to the Intel x86 based processors it uses today.
This change in chip architecture won’t really present benefits for another few months, at least, as developers put their heads together and come up with ways to make the 64-bit A7 chip do more than any mobile before it.
Right now, the only program that seems like it was designed to really give the iPhone 5S a flogging is the game “Infinity Blade III,” which looks amazing (above), with solid graphics that look as good as what you see on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 today.
The gameplay isn’t as amazing, as it’s really just a simple gesture-based brawler, but it looks the part, and with a little time, you can see the processing prowess of the 5S being used for a whole lot more.
Past the sheer capabilities of the new chip being used, the iPhone 5S doesn’t struggle at all, and pretty much flies with everything you throw at it.
Like other flagship smartphones, there is minimal lag when jumping between applications, nor is there much of a wait when you’re trying to load software.
Essentially, it’s a smartphone that flies, and while you might see some slowdowns in a year or two, today it’s absolutely awesome.
The 4G performance is equally strong, and we found high speeds as we travelled across Sydney.
Provided you have access to a 4G provider – of which every major telco in Australia now supports – you’ll be be able to achieve speeds between 30 and 80Mbps in cities across this big nation of ours.
Apple’s changes to the camera appear to have helped too, and while it doesn’t have the biggest number of megapixels on the market, the eight megapixel shooter in this camera still holds its own rather nicely.
Images shot at both day and night provide a decent amount of detail, and its the latter of these which surprises us most of all, with clear imagery when light is more of a concern.
If you’re in close quarters and desperately need to use a flash, Apple has provided a new type of flash capable of creating colour combinations as it samples the available light and tries to come up with a better flash colour to light your scene with.
Called True Tone, the technology is made of two different colour flashes that seek to make the addition of light to an image more balanced and natural.
But while this seems like a great idea – and it does, and even reminds us of some of the ideas Holga and Woca cameras came with – our results were less than impressive. Testing against out dogs, we found the light would still often blow out, and even in the open, the light would be discoloured and still too harsh.
We’re still fans of the idea, and your experience might turn out differently to ours, but overall, we think we’ll just stick to shooting in low light on the iPhone 5S without the flash, as the images produced this way were stronger and featured better colour.
More features are also offered from the 5S, if you need them, such as a burst mode which lets you fire images quickly and then narrow down which ones you actually want to keep, as well as a slow-mo movie capture, which fires off a movie at 120fps and lets you change the points later on as to where the slow down starts and finishes.
Used effectively, you can easily create a tiny movie that shows someone doing something in real time – such as jumping into a pool – and then stop the video down at the climax, letting slow motion mode take over, finishing it when all the fun is over.
It’s a neat concept, and is really easy to use.
Another neat feature is the fingerprint scanner, which sits below the home button and relies on advanced analysis of your fingerprints to do functions.
The plural form of “fingerprint” is also part of the equation, because it’s not just about keeping one fingerprint registered on your device, but many, as you can keep several fingers and thumbs registered so that you can use whatever digits you rely on most to unlock that smartphone of yours.
At present time, those functions are quite limited, and include unlocking your smartphone and making purchases on the iTunes Store, but when you do try this, it’s next to impossible to swing out with the system.
Every time we wanted to gain access back into our iPhone 5S review unit, the mapped fingerprint would let us in, whether we switched the phone on and held our finger against the scanner, or launched the phone on standby with that button.
Apple’s improvement to the iOS operating system is another pivotal part of the package, and it’s really in iOS 7 that we’re seeing the look and feel of Apple change to something more modern.
Gone are the touches that make it like you’re using an older piece of tech, graphical touches that emulate the imagery of older devices in a field called skeuomorphism.
Rather, everything in iOS 7 is large, easy to read, with a feeling that this is the future and we’re glad to have you a part of it.
Coming from an Android background, it’s easy to see why people are making connections with what Android OS and Apple’s iOS 7 are doing, but it feels also like this is the way mobile operating systems are evolving.
For instance, elements like the task manager both use swipe gestures to close currently running apps, while the drop-down notification bar and swipe-up power control are things Android has had for years.
The flatness and bold colours are also things both Android and Windows Phone 7 and 8 each have, and with iOS joining these operating systems, it’s suggestive that the designers aren’t so much borrowing, but realising that this is the way forward.
Overall, iOS 7 greets the iPhone 5S with an uncluttered look that is easy on the eyes, and because it feels more like a reinvention of the platform, also helps to make the iPhone 5S just that much better.
One area on the iPhone 5S that has many hoping for an improvement on its predecessor is that of the battery.
We’re delighted to say that this phone manages a full day of life for us plus a little more, and that was while listening to music, downloading files, surfing the web, making phone calls, playing the odd game, social networking, and doing a little mapping.
Power users might have to take a recharge in the day, but generally, a full day should be possible from this phone.
That’s not the best performance on a 4G phone, mind you, but with a 4 inch screen, we know there isn’t a massive battery here, and that’s part of why the battery can’t be as impressive as the HTC One or Galaxy S4.
Still though, a day of life isn’t bad for an iPhone on LTE, especially when so many people complained about its predecessor barely pulling in that.
You might look at that result and see it as a negative, but really it’s not, and there aren’t many negatives about the iPhone 5S.
If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that Apple tends to be a perfectionist, making sure everything is spot on, iron clad, and brilliant before it makes its way to a tightly constructed box with immaculate printing.
As such, the only things that are bad about the iPhone 5S are the things that Apple seems to have missed or excluded when designing this handset.
Features like Near-Field Communication aren’t here, so there will be no quick and easy device pairing for you, and you’ll have to put those headphones, speakers, and other NFC-capable gadgets into Bluetooth pairing mode before you can link the iPhone 5 to them.
Support for wireless 802.11ac is also missing in action, even though Apple has already started using it in other products, including those released in the MacBook Air range and the just updated iMac all-in-one desktops.
And while the 4G LTE connectivity on the iPhone 5 pretty much runs the gamut of what’s required, it still lacks support for Category 4 connections.
There’s nothing wrong with Category 3 LTE at all, mind you, and we managed speeds as high as 75Mbps with the iPhone 5S, but given that this device is supposed to last people one or two years, we would have liked to see Apple push into this new area ahead of everyone else and offer 150Mbps speeds.
The omission of these parts doesn’t dampen the iPhone 5S, mind you, and it’s still a brilliant piece of technology, and easily one of the best smartphones out there.
But for a product that calls itself (at least in the marketing copy) “the most forward thinking smartphone,” you have to wonder why features that are present in other top tier competitors – 802.11ac in the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One, and Cat4 in Huawei’s Ascend P2, among others coming shortly – aren’t in this “forward thinking” device.
While it’s not the upgrade that many wanted or expected, the iPhone 5S is the best iPhone Apple has made yet, evolving the platform just enough to keep it a leading device with solid features.
Beautiful screen, excellent design, fantastic speeds and performance; these are the primary things we look for in a smartphone, and they’re all here in this device, as well as a couple of new features that will truly show their worth in the coming months.
It won’t please everyone, mind you, and anyone who desires a big screen or support for more wireless protocols will want to look elsewhere, and that’s totally fine as there are plenty of excellent choices.
But if you live and breathe an iLife, Apple’s iPhone 5S is the best phone for you.