This iPhone 5s review is different, it’s personal. This is my phone that I bought and use every day. My experiences in choosing and using the iPhone 5s may help you decide whether this is the phone for you. The features and functions of the 5s make this phone worthy of your consideration if you’re looking to get a new phone.
Not interested in the personal journey? Feel free to scroll down to the review below. Or sit back and enjoy the ride.
My iPhone 5s Story
I wasn’t going to do it. I wasn’t going to get an iPhone 5s. I had an article written, Why I’m Not Getting an iPhone 5s, that I will never publish. I was convinced I wasn’t going to upgrade to the iPhone 5s, my iPhone 4S was perfectly adequate for my needs. The next thing I knew, I was standing in a lengthy line at the Apple Store waiting to get an iPhone 5s at 7:30 AM on launch day.
That didn’t work. I went to four other stores, leaving empty-handed before I ordered my AT&T 64 GB silver iPhone 5s online.
A bit of history first. I wasn’t an early adopter of the iPhone. I waited until the third generation of the iPhone, the 3GS, before I decided to get one. I upgraded from a Palm Treo 750 which I was reluctant to give up because I was such an avid fan of its keyboard. Moving to a virtual keyboard wasn’t a change I embraced but my Treo’s operating system wasn’t going to be supported any longer so I knew I would have to make a move.
As a polygadgetist, I used a Palm PDA and an iPod Touch in addition to my Treo. I wanted the successor to me Treo to be compatible with either the Palm PDA or the iPod so I wouldn’t have to start from scratch with apps.
This was 2009 and I debated between getting the iPhone 3GS and the Palm Pre. While I appreciated the many powerful features of the Pre, including the ability to multi-task and run iTunes (later taken away), I was disappointed that the Pre wasn’t backwards compatible, making all of my favorite apps on my PDA obsolete. If I couldn’t play Ball Smash! on my Pre, then there wasn’t a very good reason to stay with the Palm platform. When Palm stopped making smartphones a few years later, my choice of the iPhone was affirmed.
I made the move to the iPhone 3GS and seemed to enter the “S” cycle of iPhone launches. I upgraded to the 4S in 2011, even though I was eligible for an upgrade to the iPhone 4 in 2010 when I moved back to the US. No need to upgrade if you don’t have to — even with getting a discount you’re still spending money.
Why I Didn’t Want the 5s at First
I was reluctant to upgrade to the 5s mainly because of the Lightning connector. Last year, Apple retired the 30-pin connector it had used since it first launched the original iPod in 2001. As someone who has owned Apple mobile products since the iPod Mini nearly 10 years ago, my collection of 30 pin connector cords, docks, and other accessories is vast.
Yes, I know, I could get an adaptor to fit a device with a Lightning connector into a 30 pin connector. But adaptors only get you so far and that adaptor looks like something I would lose frequently. The first time I need an adaptor and don’t have one, I won’t be happy. (That probably will happen soon.)
I’m a big fan of large screens. As someone who tests smartphones with screens up to 5.3″, I have always struggled going back to the 3.5″ screen of my iPhone 4S. The iPhone 5s has the same 4″ size screen of the iPhone 5, but that screen only is longer, not wider than the 4S screen, displaying more lines of text, not larger text and images.
Why I Changed My Mind
Trusted friends and daughters urged me to upgrade to the 5s, telling me that I would be delighted with the latest tech Apple had to offer. They were persuasive with their reasons that I would appreciate having a more powerful processor, Touch ID fingerprint sensor and a better camera.
I was leaning towards getting the 5s when I updated my 4S to iOS 7. I quickly became a big fan of iOS 7 features, but not of its effect on my iPhone. I’m a power user of the phone and the strain of my demands seemed to be too much for my two-year old device.
My 4S battery life suffered greatly with iOS 7. I spend many hours in the car each day with my phone connected via Bluetooth to the car’s sound system and to my Pebble watch. I receive a lot of notifications on my phone from apps such as Twitter and Facebook. I listen to podcasts and audiobooks throughout the day. With iOS 7 I needed to charge my 4S two or three times a day. Yes, I know that I could adjust my iOS 7 settings to make the battery last longer but then I wouldn’t be able to appreciate iOS 7 in all of its glory.
I know plenty of people who have updated their 4S iPhones to iOS 7 without any problems. No strain on battery life, no problems with apps, they are fully enjoying the new features of iOS 7.
Apps weren’t loading and updating properly either. Perhaps I had too many on the device? Yes, I could and should pare down from my obese collection of 391 apps, but I didn’t have to do that before iOS 7 so perhaps the update created issues I would be dealing with later.
iPhone 5s Review
I’ve been using the 5s for three weeks now, putting it to the test, and am liking it even more than I thought I would.
The larger screen turns out to make more of a difference than I expected it would. While it’s not the 5.5″ screen of the Note 3, the 5s offering extra real estate in front of my eyes is quite significant. By turning the phone 90° I can take full advantage of the 4″ length of the screen when fonts are too tiny to see. Unfortunately, not all apps take advantage of the rotation capabilities of the iPhone (I’m talking to you, Twitter and Facebook!).
Many apps are not optimized for the larger screen size of the iPhone 5/5s. This painting, The Sea from the Heights of Dieppe, in the Louvre HD app fills the iPhone 4S screen but has black borders on the 5s screen.
Having Touch ID will spoil you quickly. Immediately, entering a passcode seems to be a gargantuan undertaking. Setting up Touch ID was not only easy, it was fun.
Go to Settings => General => Touch ID and Passcode => Touch ID.
You’ll be asked to press your finger on to the home button repeatedly until your print has been recorded. Then you press your finger at different angles to give the sensor a wider view of your print. You can repeat the process with up to five fingers so you can use multiple digits of your own and/or record the prints of your trusted loved ones.
Once activated, the Touch ID sensor has worked smoothly for me. The process is so intuitive that I don’t even notice that I’m unlocking the phone, rather it seems almost as if I don’t have the phone passcode protected. In fact, turning on my phone using Touch ID is even easier than turning on the phone without passcode protection. I just touch the Home button with my finger, no swiping needed, and the phone opens into the last screen I was using. Magic!
You can activate Touch ID for Phone Unlock and the iTunes and App Stores. I’m hoping future versions allow you to use Touch ID for in-app purchases, Find My iPhone, Find My Friends and other times when a passcode is required.
The design of the 5s is nearly identical to the 5 though much more svelte than the 4S. The thinner and lighter body of the 5s is pleasing but won’t be a significant factor for most people. If you thought the 4S was heavy, then perhaps your funds should be invested in barbells instead of a new phone?
The elegant, artistic design of the 5s is lovely but hidden by the case I enrobe the phone with for protection.
The camera is one of the crown jewels of the iPhone 5s with its improved hardware and software. The iSight camera with a larger sensor and True Tone flash has been beating other smartphone cameras in head-to-head tests.
See, Laptop Magazine, iPhone 5s vs. Nokia Lumia 1020: Camera Shootout
I have been extremely pleased with the 5s camera, both with the quality of the images and the features such as Burst mode and True Tone flash.
Sample photos taken with the iPhone 5s:
Samples of iPhone 4s vs iPhone 5s photos:
Compare the cameras using Flash:
The 4S gained Burst mode with iOS 7, but the images are taken at a much slower speed than the 10 frames per second of the 5s. The 5s camera also analyzes the images taken with Burst mode and gives you a composite picture with the best shot. You can then go in and see the images taken in Burst mode and delete or choose individual ones. With the 4S all of the Burst mode shots end up in your camera roll and aren’t combined for the best shot.
I use Burst mode frequently and if you have kids or take group photos you’ll appreciate this feature too. As my iPhone is now my only camera, having a high quality camera makes a big difference.
The slow motion video hasn’t come in handy yet but will be very impressive when I need to use it.
The universe of hard core gamers who use the iPhone as their primary gaming device is probably quite small so Apple equipping this phone with a chip of such massive power is a mystery to some. My theory is that Apple is recognizing that the apps are what bring the functionality to the iPhone and the iPad so the company is upgrading these devices with power instead of added features. The benefits of the added processing power aren’t apparent yet for most but once app developers start harnessing the power of this generation of iDevices, we will then be able to appreciate their capabilities.
Apple uses Infinity Blade to show off the processing power and graphics of updated hardware. If you’re an Infinity Blade fan, you can take advantage of the power of the 5s right away:
My issue with the short battery life of the iPhone 4S was eliminated with the 5s. The 1420 mAh battery of the 4S has been replaced with the 1570 mAh battery of the 5s. The 5s needs more power with its larger screen and 64-bit processing, though it uses its power more efficiently with two co-processor chips.
The stated battery life of the 5s is:
- Talk time: Up to 10 hours on 3G
- Standby time: Up to 250 hours
- Internet use: Up to 8 hours on 3G, up to 10 hours on LTE, up to 10 hours on Wi-Fi
- Video playback: Up to 10 hours
- Audio playback: Up to 40 hours
I can get through a day of heavy use easily without worrying about where the closest outlet is and whether I have a Lightning cable handy.
I have loaded up on Lightning cables and adaptors so I wouldn’t be caught without one when I need to charge my 5s. I have grown to appreciate how the Lightning connector is reversible so now I become annoyed when I inevitably try to plug my 30-pin connector into my iPad 3 the wrong way.
Reports have surfaced about the iPhone 5s having inaccurate readings for the Level and Compass app. My level shows the same reading on my 5s as my 4S, but the compass readings on my 5s are 10-17° off of the reading on my 4S. If you depend upon the compass app on your smartphone for navigation purposes, wait until this issue is sorted by Apple before investing in the 5s. Apple is not replacing the phones with inaccurate readings pending a future solution.
The iPhone 5s is still in short supply in the US with a 2-3 week ship time showing at the Apple Store online.
The phone is available in
- Gold and White
- Silver and White
- Space Gray and Black
With a two-year contract –
- 16 GB $199
- 32 GB $299
- 64 GB $399
Without a contract –
- 16 GB $649
- 32 GB $749
- 64 GB $849
If you’re in the market for a new cell phone or you’re eligible for an upgrade, be sure to check out the iPhone 5s. The design, the power of the phone, the Touch ID and advanced camera may be enough to convince you to choose the 5s. If you’re content with your current phone or need your phone for compass navigation, you may want to wait on the 5s.
What do you think of the iPhone 5s? Are you planning to upgrade your phone? Which are your favorite features of the 5s? Let us know in the Comments section below!
Thank you to the members of the Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania Robotics Team who attended the Tech Talk at Tierney on Monday. I was honored to be a panelist at the event and to meet amazing fellow tech bloggers as well as impressive young girls interested in careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) .