Written by Luke Buscombe

iPhone 5s Review

Introduction

There are many reviews of the iPhone5s on the web, but many focus on the phone alone or against android flagship models. As I was personally upgrading from an iPhone 4S, I wanted to focus on the experience of the upgrade specifically.

I ordered the Space Grey 64GB 5s as soon as the online orders were available from the Australian Apple store (2AM), and received the phone nine days later. This was a day before the initial estimated ship date after I made the order.

Camera

I've been quite happy with the camera on the 4S. It was able to get me many decent pictures on trips through Europe and around Australia in the last couple of years. Definitely anything being viewed on the device or Facebook / Flickr etc is easily taken care of by the camera. 

With the 5s, a few new features have been included on the camera which are not available on the 4S: 

Slow Motion Video

The iPhone 5s is capable of taking video at 120FPS. After shooting the video, the phone then lets you select which areas of the video you would like to view in slow motion. This segment can be changed at any time when the video is in the camera roll. If you choose to share the video, however, it will be exported at 30FPS with the slow motion segment set in place. 

Burst Mode

Holding down the shutter button on the 5s will start taking burst mode photos. The phone will select which it thinks is the best shot of the bunch, and allow you to discard the others. It will allow you to manually select any photos you'd like to keep before removing the extras. This is great for trying to get pictures of hyperactive pets or kids. 

FaceTime Camera

The front facing camera (referred to as the FaceTime camera by Apple) has been upgraded compared to the 4S. On the 4S the camera is a VGA resolution for both videos and photos, and quite frankly it sucks. While not quite picture taking quality, the front facing 1.2MP camera definitely makes a difference, which much less noise visible in photos and video. 

True Tone Flash

The 5s includes a new true tone flash. Rather than the single white LED for flash photography found on the 4S, the 5s includes both a white and a tungsten flash, with Frensel lenses across each LED to reduce sharpness of the flash-lit images. The combination gives a much more natural look to flash-lit images which can be especially useful if you take a lot of photos at night with your phone.

Speed

This is an easy one. Everything about the 5s is faster. From animations and movement in iOS7 to opening resource heavy games, the 5s easily outshines the 4S. If all you care about is speed, get the 5s now.

The 5s also supports 4G LTE (whereas the 4S is only 3G), so if your mobile carrier supports it, you will see a massive increase in mobile data speeds. 

Battery

I don't have extensive battery benchmarks available, but my regular charging time for my iPhone 4S was to charge between the hours of 6PM to around 11PM, which was always enough unless on the road for longer stints of travel. Use of the iPhone 5s has not required anything to change about this pattern, but the capacity of the battery has been increased to give an extra couple of hours talk-time compared to the 4S.

To be honest the 4S has the best battery life of any phone I had used prior to the 5s, so any improvements are just gravy. I've previously owned the Nexus 4 and the LG Optimus 7 E900, and the 4S wipes the floor with them in terms of battery life. The nexus 4 would be completely flat at the end of the day if I didn't have a charger with me all through the work day. 

Sound

While nothing to write home about, the sound on the iPhone 5s internal speaker is a definite upgrade in terms of volume output, though a speaker dock or bluetooth speaker will still be your best bet for playing music directly from the phone.

The 5s is shipped with the Apple earpod headphones, which are an upgrade from the standard headphones that were shipped with the 4S, especially if you are using them for running / jogging. I ordered a set separately when they were released alongside the iPhone 5 last year and have been happy with them. 

For anyone using non-Apple headphones, you may want to check the case that you purchase, as the official 5s case may restrict the use of larger headphone connectors. I address the official 5s case specifically later in the review. 

With my Sennheiser HD 497s (which fit with the 5s case on, by the way) the sound quality from both phones is excellent, but with no discernible increase in quality from my perspective. 

Touch ID

I was (and am) blown away with the speed and accuracy of Touch ID. If you currently have a 4S running iOS7, push the home button. The time it takes for the 'screen fade in' animation to complete is how long it takes to completely and securely unlock the phone with Touch ID. 

Even having to 'swipe to unlock' without a passcode takes longer than the Touch ID does to authenticate you and load the home screen. This really is a fantastic feature which I hope pushes through to other product categories like the iPads and macbooks soon. 

Moving back to the unlock code feels clunky once you are accustomed to it. 

I set up 4 fingers for myself and one for my girlfriend, and after a few days now of playing with the device the only times the sensor has failed has been due to awkward grip on my part. (think using the knuckle area of the thumb instead of the tip).  Happily, no one else I have shown the phone too has been able to unlock the phone using their finger.

As someone who rarely set a passcode prior to iOS7, Touch ID is definitely welcomed and lives up to Apples idea of trying to make any layer of security better than none at all. 

The home button itself is a lot clickier than the button on the 4S, but feels nice. Not having the 'icon' printed on the home button keeps the phone looking slick on the black model also. 

AirDrop

AirDrop is a new feature included in iOS7 that allows you to transfer files directly to other iOS7 users without having to send them via MMS or some other service. The iPhone 4S does not support AirDrop at all so there is no comparison here really.   

It is however, supported on the iPad Mini so I took the opportunity to test it out.  

Swiping up Control Center from the bottom of the screen allows you to toggle on/off the AirDrop functionality. When you choose to share a picture, for example, AirDrop is one of the options and you can then select any nearby devices that are AirDrop capable for the transfer.

The transfer between my 5s and the mini was very fast (5MP photograph) and definitely a nice way to share things around. 

The restrictions at this stage are that only limited number of Apple devices support the feature, and although AirDrop exists within Mac OS X, it will not work between iOS and OS X devices. 

The Case

I purchased the black leather cover for the 5s and am very happy with it. There are a couple of things to note with the case:

  • The case is real leather with a soft microfiber lining. It feels very nice in hand, as I would generally use a soft-touch plastic case for the 4S.
  • Its pricey. At about $50 AUD, it's definitely not a throw-away case. With that said, I am happy with the quality and feel for the cost involved. 
  • The case completely wraps around the phone, with covers over the volume and power buttons, and individual cut-outs for the mute switch, headphone port and lightning port. 
  • Due to the wrap-around design, the buttons are harder to push (slightly), but as someone who previously only had cut-away cases for the 4S they feel fine. 
  • Larger headphone connectors may have issues fitting into the headphone jack due to the recessed nature of the port. If you are plugging in a larger connector, you may want to test the case out before purchase if possible. (My Sennheiser HD497s are fine though)

Conclusion

If you currently have the 4S and are thinking about upgrading to the 5s, there are a couple of things to consider. If you are nearing end of contract and wont be laying out significant cash for the phone then I would definitely recommend upgrading to the 5s. If you'll be hit with a big end of contract fee for the upgrade though, I think it would be worth the wait instead.

The fact that Apple is still selling the 4S from the Apple store (albeit an 8GB model), means the 3.5" screen and 30-pin connector will still be around for a while yet with many accessories available on the market.

You can see what my thoughts are on the 4S running iOS7 here: http://impulsr.net/#/ios-7-on-iphone-4s/ 

I personally buy my phones off contract and use pre-paid accounts so it tends to work out cheaper over the two years (but with a higher up-font cost). If you're the same, I would definitely recommend the upgrade. The 5s absolutely flies and is an upgrade in every way.