|Introduction and Specifications|
|For a time, Apple's annual tradition involved the unveiling of a new iPhone at WWDC. Then, things changed, and the iPhone's annual coming-out party began to happen a lot closer to the all-important holiday shopping season. But perhaps the most interesting change of late is how the iPhone line is evolving. At this year's gala, two new iPhone handsets were unveiled, marking the first event where more than a single new device was given the spotlight. The first weekend that they were available, Apple saw record sales, proving that the fire is still burning bright within their customer base.
The iPhone 5c is little more than a repackaged iPhone 5; the internals are essentially the same as those found in last year's flagship, while the rear is constructed from plastic instead of aluminum. The iPhone 5s, on the other hand, cements a consistent pattern for Apple. The company has shown no intentions of reinventing the wheel (or, the phone) every year. Instead, they seem content doing so every other year, with the in-between years offering up an enhanced "s" version of last year's phone to tide consumers over. It's almost akin to Intel's "Tick-Tock" manufacturing model actually, though semiconductor architecture is a whole different ball of wax versus mobile consumer products, obviously.
The question then, of course, is this: is the "s" strategy enough? Early on, pundits slammed the iPhone 4S for being a warmed-over, gently-refreshed iPhone 4. The phone went on to become Apple's best-selling iPhone until the release of the iPhone 5. No doubt, those same pundits will be watching to see if the iPhone 5s can do for Apple what the iPhone 4S did in late 2011. Will consumers see the 5s as a big enough upgrade, or will they be inclined to wait until the iPhone 6 emerges?
Despite boasting a chassis that mimics the one found on the iPhone 5, the iPhone 5s actually has more than a few new tricks on the internal side that technology geeks especially will appreciate. The new A7 processor is the first 64-bit SoC employed in a smartphone design, and while it's likely limited somewhat, being paired with just 1GB of RAM (the same density found in the iPhone 5), this is clearly a move that's shows Apple's platform intentions for the future and the A7 architecture has a lot more going on other than a 64-bit instruction set and extended registers. Let's take a look at what's inside the new iPhone 5S...
The highlight features of the 5s is pretty straight-forward. There's the 64-bit A7 inside, the improved camera sensor (which allows more light to be captured while minimizing noise), and Apple's new Touch ID fingerprint sensor; but let's not forget Apple's new iOS7 operating system as well. Interestingly, it's also the lack of features that's making news -- namely, no NFC or contact-based solutions of any kind. Meanwhile, Android and Windows Phone are ushering in one new flagship after another, making it tougher and tougher for the iPhone to stand out. With that in mind, we'll explore the pros, the cons, and everything in between on the pages ahead.
|Design and Hardware|
|The iPhone 5, in many ways, resembled an iPhone 4S that had just been up-sized a bit. You still had the chamfered edges, there's still plenty of glass and aluminum, and Apple's minimalist design style is in full force. With the iPhone 5s, it's more of the same. Somehow, Apple has maintained the same size (4.87" x 2.31" x 0.3"), and even the same weight (3.95 ounces), with the 5s. Mind you, that's despite the fact that the battery size has been increased from 1,440mAh in the iPhone 5 to 1,580mAh in the iPhone 5s. The screen dimensions are the same as well, as are all of the hardware buttons save for the new fingerprint reader sensor area.
The Touch ID sensor is perhaps the biggest leap forward for Apple's iPhone line. The company has been relatively averse to adding third-party hardware. For some time, it avoided LTE chips reportedly due to their power consumption. Then, it ignored NFC while most of the Android world flocked to it. With megapixel counts on cameraphones swelling (Nokia's 41MP Lumia 1020 comes to mind), Apple has retained the 8MP resolution on the 5s. So, without question, a new wrinkle in the hardware is getting a ton of attention.
The Home button has long since been viewed as hallowed on the iPhone. While the exterior of the iPhone line has changed numerous times over the years, the constant was that single toggle button. Apple wouldn't change such an iconic piece of its overall iPhone image without good reason, but the Touch ID feels like an excellent update. In the middle of 2012, Apple shelled out $356 million for a little-known company called AuthenTec. The firm's forte? Content and data protection, primarily in the realm of fingerprint sensors and contactless payment.
At the time, hardly anyone batted an eye. That's pocket change for Apple, and honestly, the company quietly acquires a few smaller outfits each year it seems. As it turns out, this one was big. A year later, that technology is baked into the most prominent button on the iPhone, and it's a bigger risk than some may realize. Security has been a huge pain point in the cloud computing sector. Everyone from Evernote to Sony and even Apple itself has been hacked within the past 18 months, and while the damage has been minimal, it's proof that the digital world is still a volatile one. The Touch ID sensor pairs with a dedicated hardware chip within the iPhone, which can store up to five fingerprints. In reality, even the iOS software doesn't know your fingerprint's identity. It's a great security measure, and moreover, the sensor itself actually detects a layer directly under your skin. In other words, would-be thieves have a long way to go to hack into the new iPhone 5S.
The process of training the phone takes around three to five minutes, and then you're done. By supporting up to five fingers, you're able to program your spouse's finger in there as well in case they need to access your dialer in an emergency. It works like a charm. In fact, it's shockingly fast, and it eliminates the need to enter a conventional PIN number to unlock your phone. After just a day of use, we found it cumbersome, comparatively, to unlock Android and Windows Phone products that lack a fingerprint sensor. You could say that Apple's likely starting a trend here, but in fact, it's one that was already started. Motorola's Atrix had a fingerprint sensor baked in back in early 2011, but its erratic behavior soured so many customers that Moto has yet to embed such a sensor into any of its phones since.
Moving on to the display, the same 4" (1,136 x 640) Retina Display is on board. There was a time where that pixel count felt impressive, but today, the iPhone is facing a slew of Android phones that boast 1080p panels. Of course, it's safe to say that the iPhone 5s display is still striking. Colors are perfectly displayed, viewing angles are excellent, and it's clear that iOS 7 was engineered to look its absolute best at this screen resolution. Could Apple have offered a higher-resolution display? Sure, but the company probably opted to hold steady in order to not diminish battery life -- and that's a choice that many should be okay. However, some of us on the team here that have been using 4.7 - 5-inch devices can never go back and the iPhone 5S just feels too small in comparison.
Internally, there's still only 1GB of RAM. While the phone is blisteringly fast as-is, this limit really hampers what could be possible with third-party apps. We would've loved to have seen 2GB (or even 4GB), as is becoming common in flagship Android handsets. Particularly with the 64-bit processor, additional RAM would have helped the iPhone 5s's benchmarking prowess to show even more impressively in certain workloads.
While we're talking internals, Apple's A7 chip and its 64-bit architecture have led Apple to claiming that it's some 2x faster than the previous generation in both CPU and graphics performance. It has an all-new image signal processor, supports OpenGL ES 3.0, and for the first time ever, is paired with what Apple calls its "M7 co-processor." This companion chip collects motion data from the accelerometer, gyroscope, and compass, and thankfully, Apple has opened up the API for the M7 in order for third-party app developers to tap into it. Already, Nike is updating one of its fitness tracking apps to monitor when you're moving and when you're at rest. While the M7 won't be tapped into much at launch, the possibilities here are interesting to consider. Perhaps we won't even need additional hardware on our wrists in order to track fitness stats and the like; we'll have to wait and see what developers do to take advantage of the new silicon.
On the iPhone 5s backside, there's a refined 8MP camera with an enlarged ƒ/2.2 aperture. The new sensor is larger, with pixels measuring 1.5 microns. Combined, these two improvements allow the iPhone 5S to boast 33 percent greater light sensitivity. Apple has also rethought the flash; the "True Tone flash" figures out exactly how much light your shot needs instead of blindly blasting the subject. What it means is more evenly-lit shots with better white balance. In our testing, we still didn't find that it made us any more likely to use the flash, but technically, it's an improvement.
We'd also like to point out that Apple has yet to up the maximum internal storage available in its flagship phone. Yes, we know that the cloud is the go-to point of access, but local storage still matters. Particularly on phones, having offline access to music, apps, articles, navigation, personal documents, and prized photos is important. We'd argue that with unavoidable data caps and tiers, local storage is even more important now than ever before. Having 32GB, 64GB, and 128GB available in the iPhone 5s would have easily distanced Apple's flagship smartphone from the lower-end iPhone 5c as well as the competition.
|User Interface (iOS 7)|
|iOS 7 is, by all accounts, the biggest overhaul of the iOS operating system since its birth. It's likely because famed hardware designer Jonathan Ive is now also overseeing user interface design and he's working hand-in-hand with Craig Federighi, Apple's newly-instated senior vice president of Software Engineering. With iOS 7, gone are the skeuomorphic design cues that have long since been a staple of iOS. There's no more leather in the calendar app, and Game Center has no green felt table beneath it. We were never really bothered by those design cues, but for whatever reason, Apple decided that now was the time to move on.
So, what we're left with is a flat, cleaner operating system UI, where shadows and eccentric details are eschewed for pastel, simplistic icons that just pop off of the screen. Longtime Apple users will no doubt suggest that the new interface feels a little toyish, or even plain. There will be folks who actually prefer the look and feel of iOS 6, and for good reason. That design was excellent, and iOS 7 is not so much an improvement as it is a different spin from a design team that just has very different ideas.
One thing hasn't changed, and that's the fabric of iOS. It still very much feels and acts like iOS. Gestures and swipes react the same way, and Apple's stockpile of core apps are all here (Messages, Photos, Mail, Weather, Clock, Compass, Stocks, etc.). New elements are indeed here, but they are few. For starters, there's a new notification window that's accessible via an upward swipe from the bottom of the screen. This brings long-needed shortcuts to Airplane Mode, a flashlight, a timer, music settings, screen brightness, and Bluetooth / Wi-Fi toggles. For as great as this is, it's unfortunately not customizable. If you're looking to swap that timer shortcut for any other app, you're out of luck.
The standard top-down pull brings Notification Center into view, but a new "Today" screen greets the eye in iOS 7. This takes a look at the weather and your upcoming appointments, and gives you a brief summary of what's ahead. Clicking the "All" button brings up a more common list of all notifications that have accumulated since you last cleared. Siri is also improved in iOS 7, now presenting Web searches right on the Siri screen instead of redirecting you over to a Safari window. The Compass app has gained a level, while app folders can now hold an unlimited amount of programs. Interestingly, Spotlight (Apple's universal search function) is no longer on its own home pane; instead, you just yank down on the screen (aim for the middle, then pull down) and Spotlight appears from within any app. It works just as well, and now it's even easier to toggle. In fact, I found myself rarely peeking into folders to find apps any longer -- I just use Spotlight.
iOS 7 now enables blocked calling, which has been a sorely needed feature for as long as the operating system has existed. If you spot a call in your Phone list that you'd never like to hear from again, just tap the options and select "Block." It's simple and effective. Apple has also enabled background downloading of apps for those who'd prefer it, and if you find the new system font to be too light / thin for your eyes, there's an option in Settings to bring back the bold.
Apple also introduced iBeacon with iOS 7, which uses Bluetooth to judge your proximity and react accordingly. Apple has been mum on what this could mean, but small businesses could definitely use it to spot an iPhone user as they enter and shoot them a coupon, for instance. Hopefully, we'll see developers take advantage of this in one way or another.
Now, let's talk about what isn't in iOS 7. There is still no option to add a third-party keyboard, and the stock keyboard still doesn't support swipe-to-type or word prediction. The lock screen is still terribly drab, and you can't do any customizing in order to bring additional glanceable information to the surface. Thankfully, you can toggle Notification Center while the screen is locked, but customizing it is out of the question. There's also no option for NFC, so you can forget about tap-to-pay solutions. Siri, while improved, in my opinion is still no match for Google Now -- neither in terms of reaction time nor in terms of overall utility. Maps was a huge black mark on the launch of iOS 6, and while the new version is better, it still is no match for Google Maps either.
On the whole, iOS 7 is refreshing to use. It'll take a bit of getting used to, but Apple didn't do anything completely insane here. It still feels and acts like iOS. Users who enjoyed prior aspects of iOS will be delighted with the subtle improvements, and we're hoping that it matures a bit as developers build programs to fully take advantage of iBeacon and the M7 CoreMotion API.
|Camera Performance and Battery Life|
iPhone 5s Camera Performance -As has been the case in prior years, Apple is putting a lot of emphasis on the performance of the camera within the 5s. While still just an 8MP shooter, the aperture is wider at f/2.2 allowing the camera to capture more light than before.
Apple has also retooled both the camera software and the Photos app. Now, switching into video, square (for Instagram fanatics) and panorama modes is as easy as a swipe. Apple's HDR mode is still world-class, but you won't find any manual controls here. It's a shame, really. This is probably one of the best phone cameras on the market, but you can't adjust ISO, exposure, shutter speed, etc. Apple has made a meaningful decision to block these actions, and while it impedes the power user, it makes sense for the masses who want simplicity.
Taking a photo is faster than ever, and the results are spectacular. Apple has raised the bar yet again on the camera front. There's just something about Apple's integrated approach (fine-tuning the camera hardware and the camera software) that makes images stand out. Have a look below and judge for yourself.
iPhone 5s Battery Life -In our standard web browsing rundown test, which regularly reloads a Web link while cellular data is active, Wi-Fi is on and Mail / Twitter / Facebook are set to update every 15 minutes, we saw the battery exhaust itself after 10.5 hours. In everyday use, we had no issues getting through an entire workday. All told, we squeezed around 22 hours of use out of a single charge by using the iPhone as we normally would -- involving an hour or so of calls per day, multiple hours of browsing / checking notifications, and nonstop push updates from five connected accounts.
Apple has managed to increase the battery size from 1,440mAh in the iPhone 5 to 1,580mAh in the iPhone 5s, and it's clear that the internals were engineered in such a way to have an even more minimal impact on battery drain. While we've read some early reports that iOS 7 is actually hurting battery life on the aging iPhone 4S, the iPhone 5s impressed us with its longevity.
|Performance & Benchmarks|
|Performance is always a delicate topic when it comes to Apple. Comparing
the iPhone 5s to Android phones and Windows Phone can take some digging to level the playing field. However, there are few benchmarks you can
look at across platforms, where equal workloads can be applied and conclusions can be drawn.
On the surface, it would appear Apple is behind the times with the A7 processor powering the iPhone 5s. The 1.30GHz dual-core A7 (ARMv7) processor is slower in terms of clock speed, and many Android phones are already shipping with 1.5GHz and faster quad-core chips. In addition, 1GB of system RAM is standard with the iPhone 5, which is half of what many flagship Android phones possess. But here's the thing: Apple is vertically integrated and they can hand-tuned their SoC architecture and OS to take excellent advantage of each other. You will not find a more optimized CPU/OS pair in the market today, than the A7 and iOS 7, and there's also a major ace in the hole this time around, 64-bit support. Apple has managed to one-up its competition in the silicon game by architecting a 64-bit chip into a phone by licensing ARM's ARMv8 architecture. It'll take some time for app developers to catch up and produce software that truly takes advantage of it, but the benchmarks below clearly display some of the early benefits.
Looking at Geekbench, we netted an overall score of 2183. For the sake of comparison, we also ran an in-house iPhone 4S through the Geekbench gauntlet. As a refresher, that device has an 800MHz A5 CPU and only 512MB of RAM. The score? A paltry 607. Even the iPhone 5, which astounded us last year with a Geekbench score of 1638, falls far short of the new mark set by the 5s.
Android phones use an OS from Google and a processor from any number of companies. They work well together, but there are inefficiencies that Apple can more efficiently deal with. In other words, Apple makes the absolute most of its SoC. Apple can squeeze every drop of performance out of it, and also design future SoCs to better alleviate what Apple considers bottlenecks in iOS. You could also argue that the A7's lower clock speeds help when it comes to battery life.
The simple fact of the matter is that the iPhone 5s is much faster than the iPhone 5 and 4S. In average use, browsing the web and flipping through the usual complement of apps, the speed increase is very noticable. Page flips are slightly quicker, apps load slightly faster. But there's additional graphical horsepower in here too.
The other browser-based benchmark we ran was Browsermark, which netted a score of 3507. That smokes the competition, including the iPhone 5, 4S and iPad 4. If you haven't noticed by now, the 64-bit A7 chip is seriously showing off in the benchmarking department.
GLBenchmark specifically focuses on the graphics performance of the graphics core in a given mobile test device. This benchmark measures OpenGL graphics performance across a number of rendering workloads. "The benchmark contains high-level 3D animations and low-level graphic measurements. GLBenchmark Egypt HD is the upgraded version of the old Egypt 2.1 test: it is more complex, uses more and higher resolution textures and is optimized for 1080p."
It's another impressive showing for the A7 SoC in the iPhone 5s. Here the A7 clearly demonstrates a massive fillrate advantage, a traditional strong suit for Apple since the iPhone 4S. The Egypt HD Offscreen test shows the A7 keeping pace with its closest rivals, falling only behind two tablet device, one of which is NVIDIA's Tegra 4-powered SHIELD Android gaming handheld.
Basemark X is yet another graphically-intense benchmark, and as you'd expect, the 64-bit A7 SoC dominates this test as well. While the iPhone 5s isn't exactly a hardcore gamer's weapon of choice, it certainly can hold its own based on the raw muscle sitting underneath its shell.
Make no mistake: the iPhone 5s is no marginal improvement over the iPhone 5 and 4S in terms of raw speed. It more than doubles the speed in practically every test we threw at it, and it will surely show off its muscle as more and more apps are built to take advantage of the extra oomph provided by the A7 and its modest allotment of 1GB of system RAM. Beyond elegant functional and mechanical design, the new Apple A7 processor clearly demonstrates Apple's design prowess when it comes to base silicon technologies as well. Our only wish? That the 64-bit chip were paired up with greater than 1GB of RAM. With 2GB+ in here, we suspect these numbers would have scaled even higher.
|Summary and Conclusion|
|We said this last year with the iPhone 5, but we'll say it again this year; the latest iPhone (the 5s, in this case) is indeed the best iPhone yet. While it looks the same on the outside, Apple's internal upgrades have delivered a phone that's blisteringly fast and a pleasure to use. Performance wise, the iPhone 5s is in a class of its own. It's markedly faster than the iPhone 4S and 5 that came before it, and its 64-bit underpinnings make it a formidable opponent when compared to rival platforms, too. The benchmarks make clear that Apple is making serious strides with each new iPhone iteration; while the exterior may look awfully similar, the insides are turbocharged. iOS 7 feels buttery smooth throughout. App launches seem virtually instantaneous, switching between programs is a breeze, and all of the new animations are handled with poise. Put simply, it's the fastest iPhone yet as well, by far.
The iPhone 5s marks an interesting waypoint for Apple. The company is using last year's mechanical design (by and large, anyway), but this year's iOS. It's quite clear from iOS 7's colorful motif that the operating system was designed with the also-colorful iPhone 5c line in mind. Nevertheless, iOS 7 runs beautifully on Apple's top-tier hardware, and the incremental hardware tweaks are impressive. The improved camera sensor is nothing to scoff at, and those who place a huge amount of value on their cameraphone will no doubt be tempted to upgrade -- even if they're presently using an iPhone 5. The Touch ID fingerprint sensor is similarly brilliant. It's not so much the actual technology; it's the implementation. Fingerprint sensors have been around on phones and laptops alike, but Apple's tight integration with the software leads to no lag when using it to login or approve iTunes purchases. It just works. Though, we do wish that this could somehow integrate with all third-party apps; imagine how great it would be to use the Touch ID sensor to login to Evernote, Google Wallet, Instagram, and every other app on your phone that requires a password. Apple is likely walking before they run here, however. The inherent security concerns are also good cause for a slower roll-out.
iOS 7 is perhaps just as important to the success of the iPhone 5s as it surgically revised hardware. This is Jony Ive's workmanship, through and through. It's a completely new look for iOS, and while the user interface remains familiar enough, it has added a few elements that advanced the entire system. An enhanced Notification Center, call blocking, a Photos app with huge improvements on the organizational side, a slicker Camera UI, and automatic app downloads all bolster the experience significantly. Our usual Apple gripes still apply of course. There still aren't enough customization possibilities, the lock screen is still too barren and iCloud is still just a so-so cloud option with far too little (5GB) free space.
Still, there's a lot to love about the iPhone 5s. The iBeacon and M7 CoreMotion API hooks are bound to stir up some very interesting applications from developers, and the Touch ID sensor is one of the most impressive feats of integration we've seen in a while. Apple continues to set the bar in terms of usability. The iPhone 5 is fast, it's slick, and it gets out of the way to let users use the phone for the tool and digital companion that it is intended to be.
At $199 on contract (up to $399 for the 64GB unit), the price points remain the same as the previous generation iPhone 5 at launch. This is in line with what any other flagship phone would command, and by our estimation, it's worth it. Reportedly, white / silver and gold units are near impossible to find, and demand is far outstripping supply right out of the gate. If you're using an iPhone 4 or older, the upgrade is a no-brainer. For iPhone 4S and 5 users, the choice is a bit tougher. But, with the new carrier plans that let users pay a monthly lease fee and swap out to a newer phone in a year (or every six months in the case of T-Mobile), it could make sense to snag this model now and grab the iPhone 6 next year. Just check those carrier terms and conditions.