In-depth review: The Apple iPhone 5s

5.00

David Phelan takes a long look at Apple's new flagship phone

Let's get some of the basics out of the way. Is this the best iPhone yet? Certainly. The best looking? Sure - it looks pretty much like last year's iPhone 5. Same shape and design, which is why it's not called the iPhone 6. So should you upgrade to another iPhone already?

After all, from today the new Apple mobile software, iOS 7, will be downloadable. It's free and so radically different it'll make you feel you've got a whole new phone instantly. It works with iPhone 4, 4s and 5, not to mention iPads from the second generation onwards.

Well, you might upgrade if you fancy a new colour. As before, you can choose from silver and black. Black is now called space grey, a name deemed so cool by Burberry's Chief Creative Officer Christopher Bailey that he plumped for it. Bailey recently told the Independent that if he had to choose between the five colours of the other new iPhone, the 5c, he'd pick yellow, “Because it makes you smile”.

And for the 5S, there's now gold to go with space grey and silver. That may make you smile, but if it makes you reel, note that this is a subtle, understated gold, not rose-tinted or blingtastic. It's most noticeable on the edge band or the ring round the home button on the front of the phone.

That home button is the new phone's biggest cosmetic change. But don't be fooled into thinking that means there are few changes: the differences all lie within. So that new home button is hiding a fingerprint sensor, for instance.

Recent phone innovations from major manufacturers have ranged from the superbly useful to the ridiculous. Nokia's Lumia phones have touchscreens which respond even if you're wearing gloves (useful), Samsung's Galaxy S4 has a humidity sensor built in (maybe not so much). You might think a fingerprint sensor is in the ridiculous category. How hard is it to type in a password, as many email programs now insist you must? Will it work well or are you going to be poking the sensor with increasing frustration?

Apple is not the first to put a fingerprint sensor on a phone, but it makes the system so effortless, that really doesn't matter. Setting it up takes around a minute per digit - you can register up to five fingers or thumbs and they don't all have to be yours. And though it wasn't quite 100 per cent reliable, in my tests it was almost flawless unless I had wet or dirty fingers.

And once you've got used to not typing in your passcode, keeping your phone secure isn't a chore. I was sceptical of this gimmick but it quickly won me over. Plus, of course, it's deeply cool.

The scanner, and much else in the 5s, works because the phone's processor is a significant upgrade to the last version. The A7 chip is powerful and - in my tests - remarkably fast. Web pages build in an instant, apps open quickly and so on.

The big challenges for the A7 will come when games with HD graphics arrive, for instance. But for now the signs are promising and this is a high-speed phone.

The A7 chip has a helping hand in the form of the M7 coprocessor. This measures movement in the phone's accelerometer, gyroscope and compass. It's likely that this will be exploited in new fitness apps, for example. And Apple has already found uses for it in the 5s. So the M7 can tell if you're driving or walking, for instance. So if you're following a route on Apple Maps, as you get out of the car it will automatically switch from driving to walking instructions. I've only tried this when I was cycling but it worked like a dream.

Though while we're about it Apple, how come there are no cycling instructions in Maps?

The camera on the iPhone 5s is also a substantial upgrade. It has the same pixel count as before, eight megapixels, but this time those pixels are spread across a bigger sensor so they are bigger and therefore better at pulling in light. This should mean the camera performs better in low light and certainly my experience is of a powerful, effective snapper with no discernible shutter lag, unlike many rival cameraphones. Features like burst mode, which shoots up to 10 frames a second, are achieved without seeming to tax the phone. And there are snazzy effects like slow motion for the video camera where it records at 120 frames per second. Not to mention frames and effects that can be added, in a clear nod to the influence of Instagram, though these are also available to other phones capable of iOS 7.

The iPhone 5s has decent battery life, about the same as last year's model. Though this is no mean achievement given the extra things you'll be doing with it, it would have been nice to have seen battery life increase.

This is a 4G phone and unlike the iPhone 5, will be available with 4G compatibility on Vodafone and EE now, O2 shortly and 3 by the end of the year.

Apple's timetable in the last six years has been to radically redesign the iPhone every two years. So the similarly styled 3G and 3GS were followed by iPhone 4 and 4s, 5 and now 5s. The pressure is on Apple to provide an iPhone 6 next autumn that is nothing like this model.

Since the iPhone 5 was a great-looking phone, this is too, even if it's too familiar for some. And the changes under the bonnet are genuinely game-changing. The 64-bit architecture built into the chip and the 64-bit iOS software haven't been mentioned in much of the press coverage. But they reveal a muscle and future-proofing which set the iPhone 5s ahead of its rivals in power and capability.

Those rivals now have a year to try and overtake Apple again, but for now the iPhone 5s is the most advanced smartphone around.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
News
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
people
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
News
i100
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Recruitment Genius: Junior IT Support Technician

    £20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Junior IT Support Technician ...

    Recruitment Genius: ASP.NET Developer / Programmer - SQL, MVC, C#

    £35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This distributor and wholesaler...

    Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - Bedfordshire - £30,000 + Excellent package

    £28000 - £30000 per annum + Bonus, Pension, 25days hol, PHC +: Ashdown Group: ...

    Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Credit Controller

    £20000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The successful candidate will h...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot