With much fanfare – though sadly few surprises, considering how many leaks there had been – the iPhone 5S sashayed onto the mobile scene, with Apple trumpeting its faster processor, fancy new camera, and of course iOS 7 operating system. But does it live up to the hype?
First impressions and design
Apart from the new colours, including the elusive champagne gold, the iPhone 5S looks the same as the iPhone 5.
The screen is the same size, and the same resolution. And now we mention it, 4 inches is looking a little small for a high-end handset nowadays. No wonder Apple is rumoured to be testing a 5-inch display for the iPhone 6.
Not that we’re complaining. Its resolution may be trounced spec-wise by its rivals, but it still looks nice and bright and clear.
The only noticeable difference externally is that the square has gone from the home button, to make way for the Touch ID fingerprint scanner, which we’ll get to in a minute.
But overall the 5S feels suitably premium, if not much different from the iPhone 5.
It’s on the inside it’s all change, thanks to iOS 7.
The new operating system has come to other Apple handsets too, as well as iPads and the iPod Touch, so it’s not exclusive to the 5S.
But if you’ve not used it before, it’s a more colourful, more playful approach. iOS 6 looks positively drab and lifeless in comparison.
We’re big fans of the new icons, and there are a ton of new features you’ll discover as you dig deeper.
Dragging up from the bottom of the screen gives you quick access to options like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for example, rather than going hunting through the settings.
There’s a spirit level. You can swipe back to go from reading an email to perusing your inbox. And so on.
The new design may not be to everyone’s tastes, but once you’ve used it a while iOS 7 just grows on you.
The 5S’s nippy A7 processor keeps things moving super smoothly as well, with no slowdown or juddering at all during our test.
Games glide along as if on ice, and everything opens as quickly as you could hope for.
There’s also the new M7 motion coprocessor inside, which talks to the accelerometer, gyroscope, and compass to give more accurate tracking when using fitness apps.
It knows when you’re driving rather than walking, for example.
It sounds great, but in reality, very few apps really makes use of it at the moment. It should usher in a new wave of fitness apps though, so it could be a deal-breaker for fitness fanatics.
So what about the Touch ID fingerprint scanner? Laptops may have had the function for years, but the 5S is the first high-end smart phone to come equipped for reading your digits.
And it works very well. To set it up, you have to touch your thumb on the home button again and again, varying the position slightly so it gets a good feel for your print.
You can teach it five of your digits. Then once you’re set up, you can use it to unlock your phone and to buy things from iTunes.
It’s a great innovation, and takes less than a second to get you into your phone, which is much quicker than entering a password.
It only misread our prints a couple of times in the days we used it. But it’s not perfect.
Apple also claims the camera on the 5S is much improved, with a slightly larger sensor that lets in more light, meaning better low-light performance.
Shots had bags of detail in daylight, and we could make out a lot more in night shots, too.
The new burst mode is very handy as well, as it snaps 10 frames a second, then lets you pick your favourite shot.
To use it, just hold the on-screen shutter button, and it’ll reel off shots until you release. Simple.
The iPhone 5’s camera was one of the best around, and the 5S’s is even better.
Apple may not have upped the megapixel count to try and compete with Nokia’s 41-megapixel Lumia 1020, nor dropped it like the 4-megapixel HTC One, but it’s tweaked it where it counts.
The only downside is the lens positioning. It’s right in the top corner, and given how narrow the phone is, it’s easy for your fingers to get in the way when shooting in landscape.
For all that Apple is keen to out Touch ID, after restarting your phone, you have to enter your password to unlock it, and the same is true when buying from iTunes for the first time.
It’s limited to Apple-only apps as well. So it’s not a complete replacement for a password, just a time-saver once you’re already in the system.
The 5S is also equipped for 4G. We used a 3 SIM card with ours, and seeing as 3’s 4G network doesn’t launch until December, we couldn’t test its LTE capabilities.
But the good news is 3 won’t charge any extra for 4G. Considering what the likes of EE are asking for 4G at the moment, it could save you a fortune.
Apple claims the 5S will give you another couple of hours talk time over the iPhone 5, but we found the battery life was pretty similar.
With fairly intensive use, it lasted a full day with a little spare, which was better than we found on the Nexus 4.
So, should you upgrade? The 5S is the best iPhone yet, no doubt about it. It might even be a bit ahead of its time.
When developers get their heads around all its new capabilities, and start making apps that really make use of the 5S’s power, then it’ll be a truly awesome handset. Until then, you’re paying for a better camera and the fingerprint scanner.
It’s pricey, too. Starting at £549 SIM-free, it’s more than £250 more expensive than the Nexus 5. That’s got to cost it a star off its final score.
If money is no object, go for it, as this is one of the best handsets available. But the rest of us are better off waiting until it’s reached its potential, or even finding a better bargain elsewhere.