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iPhone 5s review: lots to love

iPhone 5S

Apple makes great looking phones, and the iPhone 5S is no exception. It’s priced a wee bit too high to make it an essential purchase, but it would be one of the shiniest phones you’d ever own. Outside of its beauty, the 5S is fast, light and very useful, and it’s also the world’s first phone to come with a 64-bit CPU, for all that matters. I liked the 5S, a lot, subsequently there’s very little to complain about. If you’re an iPhone 5 owner, approach a new purchase of or upgrade to the 5S with caution – there’s very little besides the new TouchID fingerprint reader to motivate a purchase. For new Apple users, the 5S will be like a breath of fresh air to you. What makes the iPhone 5S such a cool phone to own? The answer is right below.

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The 5S looks exactly like the 5, so it’s the same 4-inch screen, Retina Display and metal back. Same adamantium volume keys, you get the idea. The only visible difference is the silver, sapphire crystal fingerprint reader that sits handsomely around the square-free home button. But line up the 5S next to the 5 and you’ll be hard pressed to find physical changes. It’s still the best-designed phone on the market. No gimmicks, just all business and class clamped into one expensive candy-bar.

I’m also glad that Apple’s decided to not keep the glass back of the iPhone 4S. The metal finish is premium and made my space grey 5S shine with hipster joy. Around the edges is the power button, mute toggle, volume keys and the Lightning port. On the pearly white front is the speaker for the ear, a 1.2MP front facing camera and the new home button, which is also the TouchID fingerprint reader that really works.

Apple won’t release an addition to its product lineup unless it functions without fail. And TouchID is a flawless product. It only has a hard time recognising the finger in darker environments. Normally, it’s a proper replacement for passwords and can even be used instead of a password when buying apps, music and games in iTunes. It’s pretty incredible to, in essence, pay for something with your finger acting as a credit card. Creepy thought actually.

Besides Apple now turning us into semi-cyborgs, the 5S keeps you well connected, thanks to a WiFi, 4G and Bluetooth support. It’s a blazing fast phone, paired with space-age materials that work seamlessly to create an experience not unlike harmony. Once you’re used to the 112g weight of the 5S, and finished admiring the craftsmanship, you’ll want to get a cover for it. The 5S has the ability to quickly pick up scratches, and mine even lost part of its colour after what I can assume was consistent rubbing of my pocketed keys.


It’s a phone that you’ll pay to protect though, primarily to save that brilliant screen from scratching. The Retina Display looks a little brighter than the 5’s, but both screens are identical.

As soon as the screen is safe, you can start to admire what is one of the clearest displays on the market, save for competitors like the LG G2 and HTC One. Content looks phenomenal, from YouTube to games and apps that usually require a wider screen, the display is seamless. Apple’s next display will blow us all away, but for now it’s still a benchmark screen.

Being the heart of the phone, the screen nicely matches up with the thin bezels on the side to make content really stand out. The phone melts away and all that’s left is screen. The only time you ever remember that you’re holding a phone is when the weight sometimes catches up to your wrists. I watched so much YouTube on the 5S that I had to create a small pillow fort to give my hands a rest. The screen is that good, and the sound isn’t so bad either. Of course, I recommend headphones or paired speakers for best results.


Since it’s design first, hardware second with Apple, it’s great to see that the weight of the 5S hasn’t increased at all, even with all these fancy new chips and wires humming inside. First up, the 5S has native iOS 7 running happily with the A7 CPU, which is where your fingerprints are stored, as a mathematical equation.

Then there’s a dual-core 1.3Ghz CPU, an 8MP camera (that shoots in slow-motion), a two-day long battery and new dual-LED flash. Apple says it’s for warmer pictures at night with skin tone that looks more natural, and less ghostly. The camera does exactly that, and most night pictures are exceptionally easy on the eyes now. And the slow-mo works like a treat. It slows down and the speeds time up again at the end for effect — I’m just surprised by how well it works. But you can’t export the slow-mo clip off the phone. I tried and the video played back at normal speed. There’s this easy workaround, but hopefully an iOS 7 update will fix this minor niggle.

The camera is instant and takes some picture-perfect shots otherwise, but won’t recreate those glamorous shots everyone else seems to reproduce. The one thing the 5S can’t do is make me a better photographer, no matter how good the camera is. And it’s been changed for iOS 7. There’s five modes: Slow-Mo, Video, Photo, Square and Pano, as well as built-in Instagram-like filters. With HDR and auto-flash, the aim of the 5S’ camera is to take good pictures with as little thought as possible, and here it’s easily accomplished. The camera’s greatest accomplishment though is its speed and accessibility. There’s two ways to access the camera alone from the lock screen, and then three from the Home screen.

The 5S is fast overall – this is Apple’s fastest device and you’ll have a hard time finding a game that challenges the frame-rates the 5S is capable of pushing out. Games that demand the most such as Infinity Blade III were humbled by the A7 CPU. The 5S gets extra points for now becoming the best mobile gaming device out there. Because it’s so light and capable, and home to hundreds and thousands of games, the 5S can beat the 3DS and Vita into submission. Plus, you won’t look like a teenager when you’re playing a game on the way home from work.


iOS 7, Apple’s latest update, does change iOS for good. For the better actually, and iOS 6 now looks dated as hell. It also fits well with the speed and feel of the 5S, with the phone’s display zooming into view whenever the fingerprint reader activates. It’s taking a step inside, and the parallax backgrounds as well as the transparent everything else makes the 5S look like a slice of modern art.

There are thousands of minor updates to iOS 7, as well as major ones like the new notification slider and information tray. Or you can sink your teeth into a new looking App Store that runs much faster. Even better, listen to iTunes Radio which is an excellent Spotify replacement which is not only free on the 5S, but every phone running iOS 7 or desktop with the latest version of iTunes. iTunes Radio eclipses many paid-for apps, and is a genius idea – but you will need to be connected to WiFi (and have a US iTunes account) for it to work.

What I don’t like about iOS 7 is how it will pause and hang the 5S every two to three days, causing it restart (which it does so very quickly). The 5S likes to overheat and perhaps this causes everything to lock, but it’s a new phone, with a fresh OS, so I expect these bugs to be worked out in a few months from now.

Everything else is fine. iOS 7 is a very competent iOS that does feel extremely different to Android. You’ll get a caged feeling, because Apple doesn’t like anyone to really interfere with the inner-workings of its devices. So exporting music, no matter what anyone says about it, is a royal pain. Android does this with ease: it’s plug in, copy and paste. Paying this much for something that doesn’t even trust you is a face slap.

That’s why iOS 7 is only competent. It runs every app you’ll need it to, in a high-res display without a hitch. You can customise the 5S to some degree, but only by means of folders and changing backgrounds. There’s no themes, but you’ll love iOS 7’s look – well, what other choice do you have?

But it’s the only OS to be in harmony with its device, essentially because Apple are one of the only companies that make phones and software too. You’ll never see iOS 7 on a BlackBerry Z10, or an iPhone with Jelly Bean. With the 5S and iOS 7, you’re getting two products that are at the top of their respective games. Neither is flawless, but combine to form a well-crafted phone.

Verdict: The iPhone 5S is an essential purchase if you can afford it, and don’t already own the 5. Although there is a lot to differentiate the 5S from the 5, I’d hold back until the iPhone 6. For newcomers, the 5S will absolutely blow you away. There’s nothing to hate on, just lots to love.

Score: 8/10

The rest of the stats look as good.

iPhone 5S review unit supplied by Vodacom

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