Review: Apple iPhone 5s (16GB/32GB/64GB)
Pros: An improved sequel to the iPhone 5, which was Apple’s best iPhone to date. Retains the same 4” screen, LTE cellular support, and form factor, while offering three chassis color options and adding a fingerprint sensor. Hardware tweaks improve low light performance of both cameras, incorporate a dual-LED rear flash, increase the rear camera’s angle width and aperture; software adds tricks including slow-motion video recording and 10 frame per second burst mode for stills. Features slightly improved headphone port audio, and still solid iOS 7 software foundation, newly augmented by a collection of excellent free iWork and iLife apps. Major boosts to 3-D graphics capabilities and CPU power can increase frame rates and speeds of numerous power-hungry apps. Compatible with past iPhone 5 cases and batteries; offers better battery life than iPhone 5 under some conditions.
Cons: Despite a larger battery, real-world battery performance too often falls below Apple’s best case estimates, with potentially major problems in cellular calling talk time, and similar drain with cellular data. LTE service remains inconsistent between neighborhoods, cities, and countries, with widely varying data speeds and availability. LTE service remains inconsistent, now with not only widely varying data speeds and availability, but also increased user saturation in areas with “strong” signals. Verizon users still can’t talk and access cellular data at same time. FaceTime HD support has apparently been dropped in iOS 7 software for 720p video calling. Due to marketing or manufacturing issues, gold versions are effectively unobtainable at press time, and silver versions are in very short supply. No capacity bump over prior models.
Since 2007, iLounge has independently tested every iPhone model, annually purchasing multiple phones, conducting numerous and time-consuming tests, and bringing together the sometimes differing opinions of our team of editors. There have been some memorably exciting moments over the years—various phones arrived with the first truly amazing iOS games, the first really great photos and video recordings, the first Retina screen and first FaceTime calling abilities—as well as numerous small steps of progress; we’ve also conducted countless hours of rote battery, wireless, and nitty gritty testing that ultimately get summed up as dry statistics. We can’t make the test results seem more exciting than they really are, but they matter: Apple’s performance claims aren’t always spot-on, and especially when they’re not, prospective customers need to know as much.
This year, Apple broke with tradition by releasing two new iPhones as replacements for last year’s iPhone 5. One is the iPhone 5c (full review here), which is nearly identical in functionality to the iPhone 5, but offered at lower $99-$199 prices in one of five colored plastic shells instead of the prior metal and glass frame. The other is the iPhone 5s ($199/16GB, $299/32GB, $399/64GB), which looks nearly identical to the iPhone 5 but offers four key differences: speed, a tweaked rear camera, a fingerprint scanner, and new color choices. Buyers of the prior iPhone 5 should understand each of these models to be so modestly different from last year’s phone that trading up to either one would be all but pointless, but they go in different directions: the iPhone 5c is a downgrade, at least on the outside, while the iPhone 5s is an upgrade, primarily on the inside. Neither of them delivers one of those memorably exciting moments, but the iPhone 5s comes closer, and has a better prospect of doing so in the future.
Rather than repeating last year’s review, we’re going to stick largely to discussing what’s new in these phones. They certainly aren’t the most exciting new iPhone updates Apple has offered, but as history has demonstrated, small tweaks to already good and great products can be enough to keep sequels viable for another year. Read on to see why the iPhone 5s merited our A- rating and high recommendation, as the iPhone 5c drops to a B+ rating and general recommendation.