iPhone 5s Review: The Smartphone Goes 64-bit

Article Index

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.

  • Truly elegant / light design
  • High-speed LTE radios
  • Double the performance vs. iPhone 5
  • Strong graphics performance
  • Refined UI with iOS 7
  • Beautiful display
  • Lingering issues with Apple Maps
  • No NFC
  • No larger screen option

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