Apple iPhone 5S review: Bigger and better than before!

By Faizan Nizami | Last Updated: Saturday, November 16, 2013 - 23:30

Faizan Nizami

It takes two to tango, and Apple finally got down to business when it brought to the market two new smartphone offerings — iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C.

Apple raised the bar when it unveiled the iPhone 5 last year. The iPhone 5S seeks to further it with a new age processor, a snappier OS, an improved camera and a fingerprint sensor. But is it really “forward thinking” as Apple claims?

We’ll put its name to the test.

It’s deceptively faster, distinctly lighter, and has an impeccable build quality, but does it really pack the punch that we’ve come to expect, and hope, from Apple? Is the iPhone 5S really what it’s all cracked up to be? And can Apple measure up to the staggering amount of competition it attracts from the likes of Samsung, HTC, Sony and LG?

Hardware

The iPhone 5S is not staggeringly different from the iPhone 5, unless you’ve figured out the nitty gritties of it in the specs department. In other words, Apple’s kept the iPhone 5S’s dimensions similar to that of its predecessor and that’s not a bad thing in our books.

Apart from similar weight (112g) and measurements (4.87 x 2.31 x 0.3 inches), the phone isn’t visibly pruned.

And then there’s the screen: 5S features a 4-inch, 1136 x 640 Retina display boasting a pixel density of 326 pixels per inch, coupled with a brightness rating of 500 nits and a contrast ratio of 800:1.

Also on board are Bluetooth 4.0, GLONASS navigation, and a GPS and dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n. The phone comes in 16GB, 32GB and 64GB variants. As we’ve come to expect of Apple, there’s no expandable storage (sadly). The phone also lacks wireless charging and NFC (Near Field Communication).

Design

The new iPhone 5S comes in three colours — champagne gold, space grey (gunmetal grey) and silver. We couldn’t get our hands on the gold one because it’s selling like hot cakes; instead, we got the silver unit for this review (sigh). Though the colour isn’t completely dazzling and particularly appealing, the finishing on the phone is squeaky clean.

When it boils down to how it looks, it’s not a major improvement over the now, newly old iPhone 5.

Encased in an aluminium chassis and coupled with chamfered edges, the 5S is deceptively similar to the iPhone 5 in the looks department, at least to the untrained eye. There aren’t many cosmetic changes knitted into the phone, nor has it donned new attire. The only physical feature that sets it apart is the home button that carries with it a discrete, circular fingerprint sensor which is quietly fitted into the home button (Touch ID). We’ll discuss that later in the review.

The design language remains true to Apple’s ability to cast performance with stunning bodywork. The 5S feels a smidgeon more shaved than the iPhone 5; it’s a looker alright, but it hasn’t brought something new to the table; try putting the two of them together, you’ll get the idea.

Performance

Although our encounter with the iPhone 5S was brief, it’s safe to suggest that the new A7 chip is snappier, speedy and is the first phone to bring 64-bit desktop-class architecture home to a smartphone.

What that means is the CPU and graphics performance is at par with desktop-class processing. Apple claims that the A7 is twice as fast as the A6. Now you can work with more graphic-intensive apps, use multiple apps without lag or rebooting, editing photos and videos all the while having time to play a demanding game as Infinity Blade III. It’s a jiffy.

Apple also built the iOS 7 to complement the A7 and “maximize” its performance. Download and play the most demanding games with excellent graphics quality.

The battery works well under stressful conditions, I had the phone running the entire day and still had some juice left.

. The sample unit lasted an entire day. The usage included –• Calls - 2 hours• Text messages – 20• Browsing – 1.5 hours• Photos – 50• Video Playback – 1.5 hours• Music Playback – 1 hour• Approximate Screen on Time – 4 hours. By the end of it, the phone still had 17% juice left. A typical user should be content with the phone’s battery life.

The 5S brings with it an all-new M7 motion coprocessor. According to Apple it, “offloads work from the A7 for improved power efficiency”. What remains to be seen is whether they’ll open up their APIs to let developers take full advantage of the M7 so we have newer and better apps optimised for the iOS 7.

Touch ID

Encased within a sapphire crystal ring lies the iPhone 5s’ definitive, most-talked about and also its most-hyped feature — the fingerprint scanner/sensor a.k.a. Touch ID.

The silver ring enclosing the home button is the deal here; it’s what activates the process. The in-built sensor is capable of capturing minute details of your signature fingerprint. To initiate the image capture, one has to constantly tap the home button. Place your thumb or finger on the button; tap repeatedly; six or seven times ought to do the trick (it took six with me). So now the phone has sufficient data but it also asks you to place you thumb/finger at various other positions. Once your fingerprint is fed into the sensor it sends the image(s) to the chip which in turn saves you imprint in a high-res format. Also, you can feed multiple prints into the biometric scanner. To top it all, you can save up to five or six imprints too! If anything, this is another security enhancement to the already built-in, old-faithful passcode unlock aspect of the phone.

While this might prove convenient, will it garner admirers, potential buyers and fanboys for the sake of a new feature?

As it happens, it might just do the trick. While it’s great to show it all off it does provide an added sense of security, albeit an extra one at that.

You can buy stuff off of iTunes store (movies, songs, ringtones) if you find the idea of entering your passcode tardy. It’s pretty nifty alright, to use your thumb or finger to unlock, buy stuff online. Though, many out there would still prefer the old slide-to-unlock attribute coupled with a passcode of their choosing.

Oh, and if you were thinking of severing your friends’ fingers would give you access to his or her phone, think again. Apple didn’t build the sensor to read dead cells; it needs living and breathing tissues to do the needful.

Potential thieves — hacking somebody’s fingers up isn’t going to cut it either!

Camera

Apple brings a better iSight rear camera and FaceTime HD front-facing shooter to the 5S.

The iSight camera comes with 8-megapixels, aperture (f/2.2) and pixel size of 1.5µm. The iSight on the 5S is a notch up. It must also be noted that previous iPhones — right from iPhone 4 to 4S and the iPhone 5 — all had immaculate camera capabilities. What sets the tone and pace of the 5S’ snapper is its higher pixel (f/2.2 compared to f/2.4) size and bigger aperture (1.5µm versus 1.4µm) compared to the last phone.

More pixels don’t a good camera phone make. And Apple’s kept the iSight camera on the 5S simple and sharp. Daylight shots are brighter and a tiny bit sharper than the iPhone 5 (you’ll notice the difference when you place both photos on a bigger screen). There’s some amount of noise on photos as well. Apple claims that it has improved auto image stabilization; it also has good colour reproduction. Taking panoramic shots feels faster, since it adjusts the pace of the shots being taken, and, according to Apple, is 50 percent faster than the previous version. And then there’s the burst mode — 10 photos in one second.

The burst shots are stored in the photo stream and the phone, quite intuitively, lets you choose the ones with less noise, more image stability, adjust exposure and contrast, has face detection and better quality.

Then there is the True Tone Flash. The flash comes in two shades; amber and white. The amber flash here evaluates the scene to match the adequate colour temperature. The result – more natural colour production.

The FaceTime HD camera has 720p video capture quality.

The video capture on the iPhone 5S is spectacular. You actually feel like you’re seeing a full HD video. The 1080p video quality with 30fps is smashing. Once again, Apple shows that pixels aren’t the deal breaker here.

Check out our sample video here.

Does the camera pack a wallop? Well, Apple isn’t competing with the likes of Nokia 1020, it holds its own, and it holds it well.

iOS 7

It won’t do justice to the iOS 7 by outlining what it is and is capable of doing in a few lines here, so we’ll cover some of the features that make the iOS 7 coveted. We’ll have a full blown review on the new OS once we’ve worked out the kinks behind it.

The UI remains pretty much the same, other than a few differences, the mechanics haven’t seen a major overhaul. But if you look closely, the changes are not that subtle. Icons look more vivid, the colours on them, sharp; newer icons and a lot more graphics, including transition properties, are at work here. Few noticeable changes include a full-blown version of SIRI which now comes with a new male voice and some added changes; keyboard looks dandy, and there’s even a small bar, available on every screen, at the top that pulls down the Spotlight. And then there is Control Centre.

Control Center

The Control Centre answers questions to those left unanswered by previous iterations of the iOS. It’s something that many would fine handy.

Swipe the Control Centre from the bottom of the screen and you are greeted with a menu which carries many options to make your lives easier. From the top, there’s a list of toggle buttons; airplane mode, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Do Not Disturb mode, Portrait Orientation Lock. They’ve also thrown in a brightness adjustment slider; a music player widget; the AirDrop feature that makes you discoverable to everyone or only people in your contacts. At the end there’s a flashlight toggle option, a stopwatch, calculator and camera access option

Interestingly, it seems Apple might have taken a leaf out of Android or Windows.

The home button doubles up as a multitasking window to clear the area full of unwanted apps. Just press the home button twice and all opened apps are found arranged in a portrait manner. The “killing applications” is a new facet to the iOS 7, it does make you remember something familiar. Android.

Well, it’s pretty useful but unlike the Android 4.2.3, it lacks the clear all button at the top right corner of the screen. It’s not a chink in the armour; it just calls for closing down apps you don’t need one at the time rather than all at once.

Audio

Those who have had an encounter with Apple are no strangers to iTunes, which, is the default music player on the 5S too. The bundled ear pods offer decent audio quality though we’d recommend switching to a better set of earphones.

The audio quality of iPhones has always been great and the 5S enlarges that reputation. Music was well balanced, with perfect mids, highs and punchy bass.

The iPhone 5S reigns supreme in this department!

iPhone 5S has promise. It carries forward the legacy set by its predecessor and improves upon it. Sure, it’s not a total improvement but it builds upon what was already great and makes it even better. The iPhone 5S has what it takes it steer Apple into a more “forward-thinking” future.

So, where does Apple go from here? Rumour has it the Cupertino-based company’s got a curved screen display in the works. Something that LG and Samsung have started work on.

Many would want it for its new features, hardware (A7, iSight, 64-bit) and software (Touch ID, iOS 7). Many would pass it off as iteration. Many would want to wait for something like an iPhone 6. Many wouldn’t want to empty their coiffeurs for a 50K smartphone if they already own something similar. A lot of them don’t really find the idea of a 4” phone appealing to their better senses; they need bigger screens. And many would just stick to their Androids and Windows Phones.

So, to those who haven’t yet but want to get in on some Apple iPhone action, go ahead, you won’t be disappointed because the iPhone 5S is the greatest iPhone.



First Published: Tuesday, November 12, 2013 - 20:14

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