When I started this document, I meant only to give a few impressions of the new iPhone 5S. But, as I used the phone every day, I found more and more that needed to be said. It’s not a comprehensive review, but I think I touches on some subjects that other big name sites may have missed.
First impression is absolute sorcery, not quite to the level of “You had me at scrolling,” or retina displays. Those additions changed not only the way I thought about using my phone, but what I thought was possible with technology. And though I see TouchID as a real, useful feature, it doesn’t—in its currant state—change everything.
Upon further use, some drawbacks arise: phone on table, upside down, sliding the grip, retraining prints (which I actually should not have done as much as I did; it learns over time if you stick with it). Apple claims the the reader works at 360 degrees, but the easiest way to confuse the sensor is to use it with your finger in a different rotational position. I’ve seen reviews that claim 80–90 percent success rate. My daily use feels much closer to about 60.
Overall, it’s amazing tech with a useful application but tenuous real world reliability.
3D games are simply incredible, especially in the stat that matters most: frame rate. Just as a phone UI is transcendent at 60fps, so too is gaming. Textures still leave something to be desired, but that may be more a function of limited storage. On this note, the 5S will be the last 16GB model that I buy. Hopefully by the iPhone 6 and beyond we’ll be looking at 32, 64, and 128GB models.
Burst mode is great, but it still fails the ultimate “regular person” camera test: no-flash pictures of the kids playing inside the house. Low light is worlds better than the 4S. I don’t shoot much video and have little interest in doing so for slo-mo, though the effect looked great with the [marching band] I work with.
The bigger screen is great to look at, especially for games. I still want a wider screen vs height (in portrait orientation). The 16:9 aspect ratio just seems too skinny. And, to counter the usual argument about one-handed use, Apple already crossed that threshold with the 5/5S. I can’t reach the corners without shuffling my grip, and the tall nature of the phone makes the balance such that I’m more nervous about dropping it. That said, now that I have the larger screen, I would not want to go back. I assume that the obvious reasons are further reinforced by how thin and light the newer 16:9 devices are.
Build and Design
I missed the iPhone 5 design discussion and have a few points. I’ve always considered the iPhone 4 to be the culmination of the original iPhone’s design. The 5/5S is something different. Many have said that the 5C is Ive’s hardware to match iOS 7. I’d argue that the 5S form factor matches just as well, if not better. Of all the previous designs, this one feels the most like you’re just holding a sheet of glass, upon which your apps come to life.
At this point, there’s little reason for me to try to recommend an iPhone to a new user. Now certainly that is not because the device is lackluster or deficient in some way. It’s quite the opposite, in fact. There is no phone on the market that I would more strongly advise anyone to buy. Apple’s build quality and polish of both hardware and software are still in a league of their own, even with iOS’s remaining growing pains. The problem with recommendations and the iPhone is that so many people have already made up their minds about the product, the company, or its users.
The real challenge for Apple with the 5S is not to make a great device, they’ve done that with flying fluorescent colors. Now, they need people to look at it as new, and not just more of the same. With a media at the peak of Apple antipathy, that could prove quite the difficult task.