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iPhone 5S review

evan kypreos

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Summary

Our Score:

9

User Score:

Pros

  • Touch ID works perfectly
  • Excellent performance
  • Great all-round camera
  • Very light and comfortable in one hand

Cons

  • Battery life could be better
  • 4-inch screen too small for some
  • Extra storage cost

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Key Features

  • 4-inch Retina display; Fingerprint unlocking; 8MP Camera; True-Tone LED flash; A7 Dual-core processor; Aluminium body
  • Manufacturer: Apple
  • Review Price: £549.00

Update: 21/03/2016

If you're looking for a new 4-inch iPhone, the iPhone 5S is no longer the best model you can buy. On March 21 Apple revealed the iPhone SE, a response to the people who still want a smaller iPhone. It's a seriously good piece of kit and if you have the money to shell out on a relatively pricey contract, it could be the perfect upgrade.

Related: iPhone SE

Related: iPhone 8

There are improvements across the board. While the form factor has remained mostly the same (say for a couple of tweaks to the corners and chamfered edges), everything else is bang up to date with the latest iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus.

First, there's the latest Apple A9 processor that you'll find in both the flagship devices, which should improve performance significantly. There's faster 4G and better 802.11ac Wi-Fi, too. The camera has had a huge upgrade, bringing it in line with the latest devices. This is huge news for anyone remotely interested in taking photos on their iPhone and is probably the most attractive thing about the iPhone SE.

You'll also get Apple Pay, 4K video recording, better slow-motion and Live Photos thrown in. Prices start from £359 upfront, and we'll update our other iPhone SE coverage when networks give us contract pricing.

If you're in the market for a new phone, the iPhone SE should be on your shortlist, especially if you need something a little smaller than the gigantic iPhone 6S and 6S Plus.

First reviewed 5/12/2013

Related: iPhone 7 release date

Living with the iPhone 5S

By smartphone standards the iPhone 5S is outright ancient. First released in 2013, with the rumoured approach of Apple’s fabled iPhone 6S on the horizon, the iPhone 5S is close to becoming two phone generations old.

This means compared to more modern handsets the iPhone 5S is no longer a powerhouse handset. Making up for this, the upfront cost of the iPhone 5S has plummeted.

Now many carriers, including Vodafone UK, are offering the iPhone 5S with no upfront cost on a variety of affordable contracts.

Apple has also dropped the iPhone 5S’ sim-free price on the Apple Store and is selling the 16GB model for £459 - making it £80 cheaper than the £540, 16GB iPhone 6.

The price, combined with its smaller 4.7in screen and form factor mean the iPhone 5S remains, on paper, a fairly compelling choice for Apple fans on a budget and has stood the test of time surprisingly well.

iPhone 5S video review

What has surprised me most about the iPhone 5S is that I have not missed 5-inch phones as much as I thought I would. I sometimes struggle juggling bigger phones while on a train or bus so it's been a bit of a relief stepping down in screen size. That changed since I lived with the 5.5-inch LG G3. That phone looks like a tablet compared to the iPhone 5S but manages to remain easy to use because of clever ergonomic design. Other competitors like the Samsung Galaxy S5 and HTC One M8 aren't quite as slick to use.

There’s is not much to say about the iPhone 5S’s performance here other than that it’s blisteringly fast and very reliable. I’ve not experienced any issues with apps misbehaving other than the Google Maps hanging occasionally. It's annoying but may be as much down to the app as to the phone.

Apple’s iOS has its limitations, you can't customise to anywhere near the levels of an Android phone, but the fact that it just keeps working well is a godsend to those too busy to learn every little foible of their phone. I’ve not experienced the slow-down effects that tend to occur on Androids after lots of apps and updates have been installed - the iPhone 5S is rock solid.

iOS 7 is a wonderfully simple operating system and while some don't like the new design, I've been delighted by it. The ‘Today’ notification isn’t something I’ve taken to much, but the multitasking menu and the Control Centre are great. In fact the lack of these features is one of the reasons I picked Android over iOS in the past. The Control Centre is still missing a quick access button to the full settings menu, which is particularly annoying when wanting to switch or connect to Wi-Fi networks. The newer iOS 8 is even better and the iPhone 5S runs perfectly with it on too.

It’s the Apple app store that makes iOS a great platform. As a mobile gamer the depth and breadth of titles is fantastic – Limbo, for example is a great little game that you can’t get anywhere else. Generally the apps are still of higher quality and depth than you can get anywhere else.

SEE ALSO: iPhone 6 Review

iOS 7

Cameras have become so important on mobiles that there are now some, like the Nokia Lumia 1020 and Samsung Galaxy Zoom, which are more camera than phone. I’ve found that the iPhone 5S’s camera to be solid, but not as exceptional as some others. It is perfectly suited for snapping and reacts quickly, which is what I want from a phone camera, but there’s not as much detail as you can get from the Galaxy S5 or LG G3.

SEE ALSO: iPhone 6 Plus Review

On the flip side the 5S’s camera works well in lower-lit conditions. The multi-tonal flash provides some far softer and more realistically lit shots in pubs and restaurants when compared to the harsh white light of most LED or Xenon flashes. The 120fps slow motion video is also great. I wasn't that fussed when I first used it but it quickly makes videos looks more polished and special. Fantastic slow shots of my nephews and nieces jumping on a trampoline made me view it in a new light. The front camera also works well for video-chat as long as there's decent ambient light.

Read also: Best Mobile Phones 2015

The iPhone 5S lacks a microSD card slot for memory expansion, but you can still get it in 16/32GB versions, Apple has discontinued the 64GB one. The catch is the extra storage is pricey – too pricey – each increment costs an extra £40 on top of the £459 base price. It all depends on your storage needs, but if you don’t carry a load of movies or music with you 16GB (of which 13.6GB is usable) should be adequate, but for many the 32GB model will be optimal and I haven’t managed to fill 32GB yet. At this price, though, the iPhone 5S is for big Apple fans only. The iPhone 6 is much better and you can now get much higher spec phones, like the Galaxy Note 4, for the same price.

One of the most talked about features of the iPhone 5S, and my personal favourite, is Touch ID. This is a fingerprint scanner located in the home button of the phone that lets you unlock it without requiring a PIN or password. It works brilliantly and I already find it irritating to use any phone with a PIN or gesture lock now. It may be a luxury, but I’m in no doubt that this feature, or one very like it, will be in every phone will have in a few years. It just makes using your phone on the move so much easier.

After a few weeks of use I had a bit of an issue with call quality – essentially my voice appeared distant to the person on the other end. The issue resolved itself after a short while but it was irritating while it lasted. It was not isolated either, a quick hunt on the internet showed a few users had the same problem. This is no longer a problem but we do sometimes find that call quality on the iPhone 5S is poor in low reception areas.

In terms of stamina the iPhone 5S is good but not outstanding. If used sparingly you will get two full days of use without a charge, but play games or use intensive apps for a few hours and you will need to recharge it overnight. The good thing about the battery is that it charges very quickly and is predictable – the 5S never suddenly drops a load of charge while it’s been sitting in my pocket.

On a day to day basis the iPhone 5S does everything I want it to do, and does the things I do most, better than any other phone I’ve used. It’s not gimmicky and other than the lack of widgets and customisations there’s not much I miss from using bigger Android phones. Apple has increased the screen size with the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus and thanks to a slick design it doesn't make a big difference to the ergonomics. If you can afford it we'd opt for one of the newer versions but if you like your phones petite then the iPhone 5S is the best you can get.

If you want to find out more detail about every aspect of the iPhone 5S then continue to the next page to read the full review.

Overall Score

9

Scores In Detail

  • Battery Life 7
  • Calls & Sound 9
  • Camera 9
  • Design 8
  • Performance 9
  • Screen Quality 9
  • Software 9
  • Value 8

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Chris M

September 11, 2013, 7:41 am

"Will going from 32 to 64-bit benefit users? Well 64-bit will help the 3D graphical capabilities of the iPhone 5S. It’s also required for high security apps. And Apple will need that for a unique new feature on the iPhone 5S, the fingerprint scanner."

Errr... that is simply not true. The move to 64 bit does not affect the 3D rendering pipeline in any meaningful way, and it certainly doesn't magically provide anything for high security apps.

SaneVoice

September 11, 2013, 12:51 pm

64 bit is great for the desktop for memory and cpu intensive activities such as rendering and editing video. The fraction of a second better performance on usual phone applications is meaningless for iPhone 5s. The fingerprint scanner is just a distraction for being the same phone as last year. There is no innovation, no bigger screen, no additional button for quick instant camera function, list could go but Apple have lost new ideas.

StockStalker1

September 12, 2013, 8:06 am

I wonder how many people are like me and don't even bother with a lock screen at all, making the fingerprint sensor worthless. The screen is still dinky by today's standards which probably will cause people to jump to the Android wagon.

Hi! :)

September 14, 2013, 7:49 pm

Who gives a damn about how big the screen is?! I can't believe big screens are still a thing! IT'S A PHONE NOT A TABLET! Call me old-fashioned, but I'm one of those people that actually wants my phone to fit in my pocket... much less, my hand! I mean what do you people do on your phones?! Watch a movie?! Um... hello! It's called A TV! Yeah we still have those! If you want a bigger screen get a tablet! The iPhone was built to be extremely efficient while also being EASY TO USE! That includes portability- fitting it into your pocket- and manageability- fitting it into your hand! I'm sorry, but when I have to call someone, I don't want to have to hold a tablet up to my face, so to speak. I mean what's next people?! The brick?!

Xizardy

September 14, 2013, 10:11 pm

What innovation does any other phone or Company do? All Samsung does is create really big screens. If Apple every fell to the same level as other Companies and created a 7" phone screens then everyone would love them. Don't bad mouth a company,because they feel differently on whats a good screen size.

LOL, so you call the following ideas "new" innovation?
Bigger screen
Extra button, for quick camera use.

What a joke.

Do you not understand how Apple produces phones? Every 2 years they give us a new design or model, however every opposite year they just update the current model. Quit bitching, because you didn't get what you want even though everyone knew the (s) phones don't change design, just internal mostly.

If Apple gave new design every year they would of been out of the phone business 2 years ago. The way they operate is how they have to operate, when they don;t produce 50 different models of phones like Andriod.

Nick Schmidt

September 15, 2013, 2:39 am

With all this discussion on wether or not Apple is done innovating, here is my take. I think the race between Apple and its competitors is a classic example of the Tortoise and the Hare (Apple being the Tortoise). I think that Apple knows that it is impossible to create astoundingly new and innovative products each year. So instead of throwing everything that it has into every new product, Apple is playing it safe, while it is actually innovating behind the scenes. Meanwhile, the Hare (Samsung, mainly), is running the race as fast as possible, delivering every new technology it creates, wether it is ready or not. Eventually, this will come to an end. In terms of the update from the S3 to the S4, this was view as a largely incremental update to the flagship Galaxy line. I believe that the smartphone market has grown and innovated so rapidly, that it would be in both company's interests to stop trying to one-up the competition, but instead focus on how they will be able to innovate for years to come. This is something I believe Apple figured out a couple years ago, and something Samsung is figuring out now. It will be interesting to see the smartphone market two or three years from now.

MikeX

September 15, 2013, 11:21 am

Those who do not lock their phone are high stake gamblers! Given the amount of personal data that is stored on a typical smartphone and the increasing threat from identity fraud, not taking security seriously is simply insane.

The addition of an effective finger print scanner in the new iPhone is a welcome addition, especially for those who hate lock screen PINs, and will hopefully encourage those who currently fail to secure their device to do so.
The screen size may still be small by comparison to some other devices but will equally serve many, who prefer a more manageable size phone, very well. I have GN2 and although it is sometimes nice to have the big screen I often wish I had a smaller lump to carry around!

Many Android users in fact pick up the smaller versions of the their large screen counterparts, thus the Samsung mini range. So I doubt this will cause an increase flocking to Android.

Nick

September 15, 2013, 5:18 pm

Hmm, A no-longer-acceptable paltry 4 in. 326 ppi screen is left in the competitions' pixel dust.. I phone s boasting the same screen as their now cheaper variant 5C? Non accessible battery and with nearly the same still poor talk time? (Don't throw those pocketed chargers away ifans!) Still inaccessible batteries and non-expandable memories i.e, no SIM or micro SD card slot? A now paltry 8 megapixel camera and a still primitive IOS 7 widget architecture?! Cmon iphone, if this is your best response to 5 to 6 inch HD front and rear displays and against stratospheric S Pens etc.Android products, then Steve Jobs is spinning a hole through his casket this week. Sorry Steve, (Jeff),seems I too will have to go get me a new Note 3 for the next couple of years.. maybe you'll have caught up by then.

David Baker

September 15, 2013, 11:25 pm

I recently jumped to a Google Edition S4. Everyone seems to thing this is a great phone, but in my experience not so much. I get terrible battery life. This must be something I'm doing wrong since it's really bad, much shorter than my old 4s running the same stuff. In general Android is great, but so is iOs, and the Apple software is more polished and simply quicker, or more responsive, without lags. Another shocker for me is the difficulty of controlling the phone through the headset. I'm sure there is some work around to get the iphone functionality (controlling music, answering the phone, etc.) but it's not smooth and simple out of the box. Finally there is the Samsung screen, which to my mind has terrible color balance. Lots of great things about the Samsung, but also some ragged edges.

Nick Schmidt

September 16, 2013, 3:39 am

So my question is; since you don't like the battery life, you don't like the lag, you don't particularly like the screen, and you say that iOS is equally as good of an OS, what do you like more about your S4 than your 4S? (By the way I just now noticed the similarity in phone names...) I'm not saying that you shouldn't like android, I just don't see why you made the switch.

SaneVoice

September 16, 2013, 9:24 am

Bitching is a user prerogative. A bigger screen? how do you differentiate what screen size makes a phone not a phone? The iPhone 5s has the same screen as last years model, it's a good size but adding another 0.5 inch would have made the 5s closer to its competition. I have a samsung S4 and and an iPhone and I find myself using the S4 when browsing or using apps for photos or video because it has a bigger screen. Any screen bigger than the S4 is too difficult to carry and in my opinion hence not a phone.

Tom

September 16, 2013, 6:26 pm

Not everyone likes the gigantic screens on android phones, personally I strongly dislike those large phones, I am sure that I am not alone. There are phones and tablets. Those 5 inch phones are far too big for a phone, and too small to be proper tablets. Also, why do one need those 1080p screens on phones. I have never looked at my 55inch samsung series 9 tv and went I need more pixels! All a 1080p screen would do would be draining battery life quicker. Personally, I would have like apple to put a 720p screen on the iphone just so that it would be a standard resolution rather than the weird one they have now.

Also the build quality of those android phones are just so poor, they just feel so plasticy and cheap, it certainly does not match its price tag (exceptions to the asus padfone infinity and the HTC one). I try to jumped to the android by buying a galaxy s3 to replace my iPhone 4. I expected the samsung to be lightening fast with its quad core processor, but it simply does't feel that. Battery does not match at all with the ads, I still need to charge it everyday after heavy use just like my old iphone.

I am happy with how the iPhone is progressing. Not sure why people has so much expectation with apple, they are being deigned by human beings, not miracle maker. Same goes with samsung. The eye control with their phones are fantastic applications of the technology, but it is not new technology. My 20+ year old canon eos 5 uses a cam to track my eye so that the camera would focus on the subject I looked at. That was back in 1992!

I do like the iphone5 and there is a good chance that it would be getting one, it would replace my iphone 4 which I still use today. In the end, if you feel that apple hasn't done enough, just wait a year and something new would come out!

Colter

September 17, 2013, 5:23 am

Bigger is not always better while the s4's screen isn't too big yet it is getting there and I prefer the smaller 5s screen and really I don't notice much if any difference in screen quality between the two in real life and with the processor I don't care how many cores or ram space there is ios has always been snappier and smoother than android on any device I've tried.

amit kerai

September 17, 2013, 7:52 am

i have large fingers and i have survived previously without large screens. i think apple keyboard is better than the rest but with apps like swiftkey which improves the typing experience on my s3 helps. I find it hard to read and type on browsers often because half the keyboard steals half the screen. If a girl mate with small hands and is tech stupid i would say go for the iphone but otherwise i think its stupid to spend so much when htc has caught up on build quality.

Barry

September 17, 2013, 12:39 pm

Boring old Apple . I use to love the apple phones but I opened my eyes and brought a.Note 2 and 12 months on Its been a true friend . I love the big screen expandable memory the long battery life have bought 2 more batteries and so cheap, plus not being tired to Apple itunes and so much more. Going to upgrade to the Note 3.
Apple shows little innovation considering the money they make . Open your eyes silly fan boys.

Cam

September 17, 2013, 4:10 pm

As a developer, I'm excited about the upgraded processor. This progress in combination with improved JavaScript rendering and better mobile web frameworks will eventually lead to the downfall of native apps so we can finally build and maintain one responsive mobile web app instead of 3 to 5 native apps. Another couple years of these improvements and we're there. And when that day comes, apps will be released at an astounding pace.

Jasper Picklepuss

September 17, 2013, 4:34 pm

The problem for me, Barry, is that I'm so used to the way Apple's software works that while I changed over to Samsung Gallery S4 four months ago, I'm still not used to it. The extra software tricks were fun but I don't use them on a daily basis. If I ever change back, what I would miss is the amazing, huge, beautiful screen! I read all my kindle books on the S4 and almost never on the iPad. Samsung is a great company, especially for televisions.

Steve

September 17, 2013, 9:28 pm

For once a Comment thread that actually has some balanced and decent views from Apple and Android Fans. Refreshing to see this and not just a massive slagging match. Personally I'm an Apple fan but have had an Android phone and loved it. For me there is something special about using an Apple product. My wife on the other hand loves her Samsung GS3 and doesn't want an Apple phone. Isn't it nice to just have a choice?

Alex

September 17, 2013, 9:57 pm

I'm planning on getting the 5s because I've had my 4s for 2 years now. I'll admit I'm not terrible excited about the 5s. If they let me have the same hardware and software in the 4s size I would be thrilled. I'm not updating my ipad 4 to IOS7 either. I hate and despise the look. If I have a change of heart with the 5s maybe I will, but now the design looks like cheap Android and Microsoft - - a fisher price design. Jony Ive is an idiot.

vendas roma

September 18, 2013, 12:15 pm

I've moved to a Lumia 920 and the difference form the iphone to the Lumia is amazing. My old iphone 4 was incredible better. It simply worked,. The Lumia I can't even hold it...it has buttons everywhere and I'm always pressing one of the without wanting. It drives me completely crazy. After two months of use I really regret having spent money on ii. My old iphone 4 was miles away! Iphone is a phone!

Jay

September 21, 2013, 2:45 am

I disagree. Screen size makes a difference in what you can see, both in true resolution and inclusiveness. A larger screen wins hands down. Big screens is NOT what Samsung specializes in, they also provide excellent and 'true' connectivity...ie true USB without the proprietary bs that Apple insists upon. You can connect whatever you like to a Samsung - try that with Apple (especially as they say "No" you cannot).

Obsolescence is a true issue with Apple. Without the 'innovation' others are claiming for them, obsolescence is a real problem. Devices should last years, not discarded after such a short cycle with a stagnant OS design.

And the absurd fanboy drivel about 'plastic' being 'cheap' and inferior is so typical of creating arguments out of nothing. The iPhone 5C is plastic (call it polycarbonate or whatever you like) but the argument that Apple makes for it APPLIES to their competitors' products - always have. Double standards and emotional bias typically rule the commentaries, not objective observation.

I've used iOS devices and currently use the Note 2. I use it for the 'features' it offers - rarely as a 'phone.' Seriously, stop comparing it to a phone and arguing it's 'too big.' Like the Dell Streak 7 this 'Phablet' (whatever) HAS a phone feature - but the real purpose of this device is its multitasking ability and horsepower. Connect the Note 2 (now 3) to an HD monitor, (Apple) bluetooth mouse and keyboard (lol) and run it like a PC. You can! You can even run multiple videos, email, SMS, Skype, and background music ALL AT THE SAME TIME. That is horsepower.

The iPhone 5s boasts an A7 64-bit processor and claims it is twice as fast and allows security and video enhancement. SMH. Because of Apple's locked environment and inaccessible API's you don't see the 'lack of horsepower' under it's shell, despite newer processors. You'll never get an iPhone to run like a computer until Apple gets off it's high horse and considers real innovation and user-freedoms as paramount to designing feature rich and powerful devices worthy of business environments (now somewhat limited)

Clicking photos, playing music, navigating maps and uploading personal data is a typical 'smartphone'. Being able to run multiple applications with freedom to connect to whatever you like AND see it in a respectable window frame (to name a few) is user empowerment - a true 'smart' device.

Xizardy

September 21, 2013, 12:42 pm

I don't disagree with a lot of this, but you can't seriously say any other phone company is more innovated then Apple. A bigger screen is not innovated any in shape or form. A camera with more mp is not innovation now days, maybe 10 years ago.

So many ppl expect the world out of every iphone, but they can't do everything at once, or what are they gonna do next year?

I think the iphone 5c is crap and would never buy it. And Apple is very strick when it comes to what they allow you to do. How ever I jail break as soon as possible, so that doesn't affect me very much.

True Apple fans understand how Apple works and deals with it because of the quality of phones they put out. Apple has done the same phones practice for 5 years, not sure why ppl are still expecting different. I promise a bigger screen will come next year, I think it will be 4.7 at the biggest, I couldn't imagine anything bigger:

Ducas Johnson

September 23, 2013, 9:50 am

I initially thought that about IOS7,I thought im not updating my ipad no way! but i had a go with my iphone 4s-Three days later ive now updated my ipad! Its actually brilliant with so many new features! Actually feels like ive got a new phone.

Actionable Steps

September 25, 2013, 12:01 pm

Not turning my head in any way. It's just another under-delivering Apple product with just enough features missing so when they make the iPhone 6 they can sell you some more stuff than android and samsung already have...

JBingham

September 25, 2013, 2:15 pm

I don't want big screens on a mobile. 4 inches is plenty big enough. if I want to watch a film on a trainn than every phone will be a compromise anyway, so don't see why you would want to sacrifice portability for trying to get a phone to deliver a cinema experience for something for which it is not inherently designed, when a tablet will be do the job better and doesn't require always being instantly accessible like a phone.

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