Although I ordered an iPhone 5s online about 30 minutes after the device went on sale on September 20, my 16 GB Space Gray edition only just arrived in time for this past weekend. I ordered an unlocked GSM model to replace my iPhone 5, which I sold to recoup most of my upgrade costs.
Was the device worth the wait? After spending the weekend with it, I can say: absolutely. Even though I use Android more often than iOS, it’s difficult for me not to recommend the new iPhone 5s to practically anyone who asks.
Overall, the new iPhone looks just like my old handset, with the exception of the Touch ID home button. It definitely works as advertised; I have it set up with both of my thumbs so I’m covered regardless of which hand is holding the device. Yes, other smartphones have had fingerprint sensors, so what makes this better? Two things.
First, the sensor is exactly where you’d expect it to be and it’s integrated into the hardware so that it doesn’t even look like a sensor. The 2011 Motorola Atrix had a sensor in an odd place, looked like a sensor and you had to swipe or roll your finger down to make it work, for example.
Second, Touch ID doesn’t just work to unlock the device but it can work with software as well: Goodbye typing a password when buying from the iTunes store! It works so well that you don’t need to explain how it works to new phone users; Apple does this through the fingerprint enrollment process. That intuitiveness is what makes it seem “magical”: you don’t see the technology, you instead see a useful function.
The iPhone 5s camera is superb as well; very fast and consistently takes good images. The dual “true tone” flash is a noticeable improvement here. Are there better cameras in phones available today? I’d say sure: I find the HTC One is a smidge better in low light while the Lumia 1020 captures an amazing amount of detail for cropped photos. But all around, the iPhone camera is a perfect all-around device that all but a few discriminating photographers will be happy with.
Apple’s new iOS 7 is pretty quick and responsive on the new phone, but I’m not seeing the types of performance bumps that benchmarks and marketing might suggest. Is the phone faster than the iPhone 5? Yup. Is it so much faster that I see a big difference? Not really, but some of those speed gains may come from rewritten apps that take advantage of the new A7 chip and the ARM v8 instruction set it supports.
I still find it jarring when I open up a third-party app that isn’t yet written for iOS 7 however. The biggest issue I have is the use of the older iPhone software keyboard; visually it looks terrible within the iOS 7 environment. That’s on developers to rectify more than it is on Apple at this point and I hope it goes away soon.
If I had to pick on the iPhone for any specific function, it’s battery life. I may be spoiled in this regard though. I’ve been using larger Android devices for over a year and these typically have larger batteries that easily last a day. And the battery in my main driver, the Moto X, hasn’t drained in a single day yet. So while Apple says the iPhone 5s offers the same battery life as the prior model — a claim I tend to agree with — it’s not an “all day” device for me the way I use my phones. I carry a portable 2600 mAh battery when I tote the iPhone; not a big deal or much extra weight.
Put together with the iOS ecosystem of apps and content — I love the new iTunes Radio — the new iPhone 5s is surely the most compelling iPhone yet. I’d easily recommend it to anyone that asks, provided they don’t see Apple’s walled garden and control to be a detriment. In that case, there are plenty of solid Android choices to point folks to, with the Moto X being my recommended all-around handset pick of the moment for Android users.