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iPhone 5S review

Faster, new camera and a clever fingerprint reader. But is it enough of an upgrade?

Our Verdict

The best iPhone yet, featuring a great camera and the TouchID fingerprint sensor. The high price will put many off, but you'll find a lot of joy in this phone whether you're an iPhone fan or if you've been sitting on the fence. It's more than just an iterative update.

Product features

  • Built-in Memory : 64 GB
  • Rear Camera Resolution : 8 Megapixel
  • Battery Talk Time : 10 Hour
  • Screen Resolution : 1136 x 640
  • Processor Core : Dual-core (2 Core)

View full specification

For

  • Powerful core
  • Touch ID is a real step up
  • Excellent camera

Against

  • Expensive
  • No screen tech change
  • Battery suspect
Scores in depth

Design

Features

Performance

Usability

Value

The iPhone 5S: a phone that looks like the iPhone 5, but goes so much further under the hood. Is that going to be enough to impress the baying hordes?

I feel like I've been here before: the iPhone 'S' conundrum. A new phone comes along, taking the shell of the previous model, adds some new bits and pieces, and then claims to be an entirely new phone.

Which it is, of course. But also it isn't. Well, mostly is. It's the kind of move that only Apple can pull off with any kind of conviction: the notion that it can take the same chassis, have a little tinker, throw in a new CPU, slightly better battery and camera, and call it an all-conquering device.

There are a few who question whether it's 'fair' to launch a phone and then append an 'S' to the same thing a year later - Apple's response would likely be that nobody is forcing you to buy the new hardware. And that's a fair point. Yes, this is a phone that bears far too many hallmarks of its predecessor. And yes, this is the third time Apple has done this.

The time is now right for the iPhone 6, with its larger screen and greater abilities inside and out. It's the first time in years we've had a real update to the iPhone design, and its release should give you pause if you're looking at buying an iPhone 5S right now.

The 5S is still one of the most expensive smartphones on the market right now, even on 3G plans - although thankfully the price has started to fall.

You'll still be looking at around £30 a month to get one without an upfront fee, but Apple has dropped its SIM-free prices following the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus releases. The 16GB model is now £459, while the 32GB version will set you back £499. The 64GB variant has vanished as an option.

iPhone 5S review

Apple is obviously aware of this change, be it the aluminium unibody of the HTC One M8, the new fight into low-light cameras or the need for a strong processor as a headline to shout about. And to be fair, it's addressed these needs to some degree or other on the iPhone 5S.

Whether it's the Touch ID home button (which is excellent, more on that later), the jump in CPU power or the fact the camera has, once again, been improved no end, the iPhone 5S is clearly Apple's attempt at bringing as much as it can to the party without having to re-design the whole concept all over again.

There are many that think releasing the same design twice is cheeky, and there are others who realise that sometimes there's no need for change. It's easy to fall into the former camp, and while Apple will happily point out it's not forcing anyone to buy its phones, its acutely aware the competition is now scarily strong and it needed to bring its best to stay relevant.

Design

What can you say about the design of the iPhone 5S that already hasn't been said with the iPhone 5? Let's face it: there's nothing really new here that's going to help you work out if the person sitting opposite you on the train is using the newer phone.

Perhaps that's less of an issue now that the iPhone is becoming something of a commodity, a device that is so oft-used by the middle-aged generation that it no longer carries the lustre that the exclusivity of the earlier models emanated.

That's not necessarily a bad thing either; just because it's not an 'exclusive' design, it doesn't make the iPhone 5S any less premium.

It's still a stunning phone to hold in the hand, coming with the all-aluminium-and-glass chassis. There's no doubt Apple has had a look at the way the iPhone 5 range (well, black and white) chipped so badly around the edges.

iPhone 5S review

But that same issue was apparent already in my iPhone sample within a week, so it looks like you're going to quickly need to stuff your new iPhone 5S in a case the second you release it from its box, lest you leave it in a pocket or bag with change and keys and it comes out looking like it's gone a few rounds with a randy cheese grater.

iPhone 5S review

The new colours, which include champagne and space grey, are a little odd, but at least promise to show up the scuffs a little less prominently.

The way the iPhone 5S feels in the hand is something impressive though, coming with the low, low weight of 112g and dimensions of 123.8 x 58.6 x 7.6mm.

It's still got that almost too-light feeling, that the premium metal finish is somehow diminished through the lack of heft, but it's a long, long way from feeling cheap.

iPhones 5S review

Compared to something like the Galaxy S5 or LG G3, the iPhone 5S is miles ahead when it comes to design, although less so than the HTC One M8 or One Mini 2 which have repeated the aluminium-clad trick.

It's got a slightly sharper edge than other models on the market, which can make it a little uncomfortable when being pressed to the ear. But I'm not going to quibble too much there lest it makes me seem a little wimpy.

iPhone 5S review

There are only a couple of real design differences compared to the iPhone 5, and one of them really is miniscule: the camera module is now flanked by a dual-LED flash, which I'll talk more about later (it's a really rather nifty piece of technology, trust me).

The other is a lot more substantial and impressive: the home button has been redesigned.

Yes, it doesn't sound like much, but consider how iconic the Apple home button has been over the past half-decade, and you'll see why I'm holding the change in such high esteem. The visual effect is impressive, taking the square off the button and putting a fancy silver ring around the key.

iPhone 5S review

The effect isn't only aesthetic, as this area now also serves as the fingerprint scanner, home to Apple's new Touch ID technology.

Having bought two separate biometric security firms, Apple was likely to do something like this, but the implementation and visual effect is really something that Apple does well, and has done so here too.

Beyond that, the iPhone 5S is identical to the 5, even down to the rattle in the power button. We're still a little confused as to why a device with such a high build quality has a slightly loose part with it, but shake the iPhone 5S gently and you'll feel the key moving around.

iPhone 5S review

It's not a big deal, but every so often you'll note the motion, and it does detract somewhat.

Thankfully the rest of the phone is built impeccably. The round volume keys are easy to hit. the switch to enable volume on or off has the same sturdy feel that I've come to enjoy, and the headphone port is still welded to the bottom of the phone.

The Lightning connection port is here as well, along with the stereo speakers on the bottom of the phone. I wish these were placed somewhere else, as when cupping the phone in landscape mode it's far too easy to cover these with palms or digits, and there's not really any way to shift around them.

iPhones 5S review

You can always use headphones, but that kind of negates the point of the speakers for gaming at all.

The right hand side hasn't been left completely alone on the 5S, with Apple choosing this surface as the location for the SIM card tray - but unlike most smartphones that take microSIMs these days, iPhones now rock the tiny nanoSIM technology.

iPhone 5S review

There's also the new leather cases, which are something of an oddity for a brand that's just overhauled its whole outlook with an all-new operating system. They're slightly cumbersome, making it hard to hit the buttons, and they get scuffed so easily - all for £25.

But beyond that I'm still impressed with the design of the iPhone 5S. It's hard not to be, as if there's one thing that Apple gets totally right it's the way it assembles its devices.

The metal and glass combination does feel a little fragile, and I'd recommend a case (perhaps a third party option) to protect the aluminium, but the design is something that at least helps mitigate the higher price.

Tech Specs

Product TypeSmartphone
Network BandQuad Band
Input MethodTouchscreen
TouchscreenYes
BluetoothYes
Wireless LANYes
USBNo
Contract TypeSIM-free
Built-in Memory64 GB
Built-in FlashYes
Memory Card SlotNo
Cellular Data Connectivity TechnologyGPRS, EDGE, HSDPA, HSUPA, UMTS, HSPA+
GPS ReceiverYes
Multi-SIM SupportedNo
Near Field CommunicationNo
Integrated TV TunerNo
Product FamilyiPhone 5s
Cellular Generation4G
Cellular Network SupportedGSM 850, GSM 900, GSM 1800, GSM 1900, WCDMA 850, WCDMA 900, WCDMA 1700, WCDMA 1900, WCDMA 2100
Multi-touch ScreenYes
Rear Camera Resolution8 Megapixel
Number of SIM Card Supported1
Front CameraYes
Phone StyleBar
ColourSilver
Operating SystemiOS
Brand NameApple
Battery Talk Time10 Hour
Screen Size10.2 cm (4")
Screen Resolution1136 x 640
Touchscreen TypeCapacitive
Weight (Approximate)112 g
Processor CoreDual-core (2 Core)
Maximum Video Resolution1920 x 1080
Processor ManufacturerApple
Wireless LAN StandardIEEE 802.11a/b/g/n
Backlight TechnologyLED
Operating System VersioniOS 7
Messaging TypeSMS (Short Message Service), MMS (Multi-media Messaging Service), Email, iMessage
RealtoneYes
Call FeaturesCall Log
Pixel Density326 ppi
Height123.7 mm
Width58.7 mm
Depth7.6 mm
Radio TunerNo
ManufacturerApple, Inc
Product NameiPhone 5s Smartphone
Processor Speed1.70 GHz
Product LineiPhone 5s
Screen TypeLCD
Sensor TypeAccelerometer, Gyro Sensor, Proximity Sensor, Digital Compass, Fingerprint Sensor, Ambient Light Sensor
Manufacturer Part NumberMF359X/A
Manufacturer Website Addresshttp://www.apple.com/uk
Marketing Information

Unrealized until now. Indispensable from now on.

A chip with 64-bit architecture. A fingerprint identity sensor. A better, faster camera. And an operating system built specifically for 64-bit. Any one of these features in a smartphone would make it ahead of its time. All of these features in a smartphone make it an iPhone that's definitely ahead of its time.

The gold standard. Also available in silver and gray.

iPhone 5s is precision crafted down to the micron. And it's evident throughout. The beautiful aluminum housing. The sleekness of metal and glass. Sapphire crystal in the Home button. And more sapphire crystal protecting the iSight camera. Design and construction of this level is unmatched. As a result, iPhone 5s looks and feels unbelievably thin and light. And it's available in three elegant expressions: gold, silver, and space gray.

Package Contents
  • iPhone 5s Smartphone
  • EarPods with Remote and Mic
  • Lightning to USB Cable
  • 5W USB Power Adapter
Limited Warranty1 Year