Review: Apple iPhone 5s
Sep 23, 2013, 1:30 PM by Eric M. Zeman
Apple's latest iPhone offers an improved camera, fingerprint sensor, and powerful processor in the same body as last year's phone.
Is It Your Type?
The iPhone has always been a polarizing device. The iPhone 5s is a device for the iPhone faithful. It takes everything about the iPhone 5 and raises the bar. As good as it is, the 5s isn't for everyone. Here's our take on the Apple iPhone 5s.
Last year's iPhone 5 was a stunning achievement in design and engineering. It may have looked like a common, oblong slab from a distance, but up close it was obvious just how much attention Apple paid to the details. This year's 5s is, for all intents and purposes, the same device. From an external point of view, only the colors differentiate the 5s from the 5.
It looks so similar because Apple has adopted an every-other-year refresh cycle for its iPhone hardware. The iPhone 4S was identical to the iPhone 4. Thus we have the familiar-looking iPhone 5s.
The iPhone 5s is a finely crafted piece of hardware. The frame and back panel are forged from aluminum, while the front and portions of the back are made of glass. The metal-and-glass combination has always evoked an aura of high-class quality. The chamfered edges, the exactness of the design, the quiet simplicity all give the iPhone 5s an appeal all its own. There's nothing cheap about it. There is no creaky plastic, there are no uneven seams: this hardware is as good as it gets.
In the hand, the 5s is slim, light, and comfortable to hold. Its weight is kept at a minimum. Some might prefer the edges to be more rounded. Despite the chamfers along the side surface, there are still hard angles between the back/front panels and the aluminum frame. The narrow profile helps offset the edges. It’s small enough that it will fit into any pocket without trouble. It’s so light, I often forgot I had the device on me.
The 5s comes in three shades: "space" gray, white/silver, and gold (or champagne.) All three look elegant. We purchased a slate gray one, but looked at the white and gold models in the Apple Store. To be honest, I expected the gold model to be gaudy looking. Instead, the light champagne color is quite attractive. I wouldn't buy it for myself, but I certainly understand the appeal it holds for others. Plus, it’s the color that lets everyone know you have the new iPhone.
Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.
The gray model has an entirely black front. You can see the slit for the earpiece at the top, and the round Home button at the bottom. The LCD screen itself vanishes into the black frame when it’s off. The 5s's bezels surrounding the display are not the thinnest around; not by far. LG and Samsung have thinner bezels on the G2 and Note 3, for example. The 16:9 aspect ratio of the display gives the iPhone 5s an elongated look.
The Home button is different from years past, and is the most obvious change to the design when compared to the iPhone 5. The Home button includes a fingerprint sensor that Apple calls Touch ID. (We'll discuss Touch ID in detail separately.) The button itself is less concave than before. In fact, it is nearly flat. There's a ring that surrounds it, that’s easy for your finger to feel. The ring isn't raised, but instead rims the slightly recessed button. The travel and feedback of the button is excellent, but the sound is pretty loud. I was surprised at the "clacky" sound it makes.
The volume buttons are on the left edge, exactly where they were on the iPhone 5. The volume buttons are little circles that are separated by about a centimeter. The "up" volume button doubles as a camera shutter button. The travel and feedback of these buttons is perfect, and their shape makes them easy to find without looking. The little flip switch to turn the ringer on and off is there, too, and works perfectly. The lock button is all by itself on the top of the 5s. It also has excellent travel and feedback.
Both the headphone jack and Lightning port are on the bottom. The Lightning port is Apple's proprietary port for connecting and charging its iOS devices. It was introduced with the iPhone 5 last year. It is very easy to use, as it accepts the plug in either orientation. It is worth pointing out, however, that Apple ignores the worldwide microUSB standard, which is used by every other phone maker for charging and syncing. The Lightning port is less frustrating than microUSB, though; I'll give Apple that.
As with all iPhones, the 5s's battery is inaccessible. You can't swap it out or pull it. Same goes for memory. You're stuck with 16, 32, or 64GB, there's no expansion slot. The nano SIM card port is in the same spot on the right edge of the phone. The nano SIM card is smaller than the micro SIM card that is currently used by most phones. You can't remove the SIM card and use it with other phones unless you have an adapter. Granted, few people ever eject their SIM card, but it's something worth knowing.
The iPhone 5s is a really, really nice piece of hardware. It carried over all the good things of the IPhone 5, though it would have been nice to see Apple make a few changes. I mean, every other phone maker introduces new stuff constantly, and I think it is a bit lazy on Apple's part to skate through two years with the same design. Even so, you can't knock the quality of the iPhone 5s. It still leads the pack.
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