After months of rumors, weeks of leaks, and days of post-release anticipation, I finally got my hands on a gold iPhone 5S for testing. After testing this phone for around 30 minutes, putting it through its paces, I’m confident that I’ve made the right choice, and I’m really impressed.
The golden iPhone has been quite controversial (remember this parody?), so I was quite surprised to find that the gold was actually stunning. The gold isn’t dark, flashy, and shiny like bling. It’s a soft, light, matte gold that can very accurately be called “champagne”.
The profile of the 5S is nearly identical to the iPhone, with the exception of the camera and the home button. Concealing the fingerprint scanner in the home button is a true innovation, because it leaves the rest of the phone’s design as clean and open as ever.
The phone as a whole has a feeling of durability when you pick it up. There’s no give in the back, and it doesn’t seem prone to scratching, as the old glass backs of the 4S and 4 were. The back barely even picks up fingerprints. This is a phone that’s designed in a way that makes a case optional.
Also incredible, though not necessarily new, is how they’ve managed to maintain the weight and width. The 5S is still thinner than a pencil, and reasonably light, especially in comparison to the 5C. I’ve always love the mirrored beveled edge, and that has also made an appearance in the design, along with the flat, smooth rim.
Speed and Display
I’ll admit that the 5S display is narrow, and that it could use another centimeter. Color reproduction is very good, as usual.
With the 5S you’re (very) rarely waiting. Admittedly, It’s something that you won’t notice everyday, until you move onto a device that isn’t the 5S, and you realize that your wait time on every task has been 0. As the song goes, “you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone”. After having used the 5S, going back to my 4 was really challenging.
For gaming, I tested the 5S on Temple Run 2. It ran very smoothly thanks to the new 64 bit processor and graphics enhancements, which Apple likes to plug as “console quality”. I’m glad to report that there was absolutely 0 lag, and gameplay was just about flawless. Given the complex and changing layout of Temple Run 2, it’s a pretty good indicator that just about any game will run flawlessly on the 5S.
Text is crisp on the retina display, and images load quickly thanks to the 4G LTE connectivity, and improved WiFi antenna. A Youtube video of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” music video, played in Safari, loaded in just a few seconds, and played perfectly through without buffering. As with games, video looks good, if not great on the display. Videos are where a full HD display is missed the most.
Speaking of the new Wifi antenna, you may be interested to know that I empirically found the iPhone 5S’s antenna to be far superior to that of the 5C. This was no minor difference. On the same wifi network, the 5S started playing the given song on iTunes radio instantly after it was tapped. On the 5C, several seconds of buffering were required to play that same song on the same Wifi network.
Lastly in the speed category, SIRI is now significantly faster. Commands like “make the screen brighter” are understood and acted on near instantaneously. More complicated commands like “Where’s the best pizza restaurant on the way to New York?” only take a few seconds to resolve.
Battery Life and Heat Dissipation
Battery life could be better. Doing intensive activities like using the camera can drain the battery pretty quickly. It’s not bad. It’s just not great, based on my limited testing.
Heat dissipation is an issue that iPhones, and Apple products in general have had trouble with in the past, so I was happy to see that the 5S seems to have resolved this issue. In a course of activities that noticeably heated the iPhone 5C, including gameplay, camera use, and multitasking, I didn’t notice any increase in temperature on the 5S.
Fingerprint Scanner (“Touch ID”)
I didn’t get a chance to test out the scanner myself, but the person I borrowed the phone from reported that the scanner had worked very well in their own use. I’ll have more on this when I get my own 5S next week (I ordered it).
Sound Quality, Music, and Speakers
The sound quality didn’t disappoint on the built-in speakers. Using iTunes radio, I tested the 5S versus the 5C, and found the 5S to be significantly louder (more on this in my comparison post). The audio was very crisp, even at high volumes, and highs, mids, and basses all seemed to sound very nice. I used Billy Joel’s “Piano Man”, and “Come Together” by the Beatles for testing, by the way.
On the point of audio, I also found the new iOS 7 ringtones very entertaining. Many of the ringtones and alert sounds remind me and my friend (a gamer) of the music from old ‘90s, and 2000s era video games, like Pokemon and Animal Crossing. Those also sound very nice.
Camera (the highlight of the phone)
see demo photo full sized here. I had to shrink it down to fit into this post.
The camera is what truly sets the 5S apart from the competition. I tested the 120 FPS HD slow-motion video, and I was amazed to find that there were no exposure or focus issues whatsoever. I’ve had cameras with slow-motion 120 p video before (like this one), and I’ve often found such videos to be pixelated, out of focus, or severely underexposed . The moving objects in the video were perfectly crisp, and performed just as billed.
Photos were crisp, detailed, and had nice “bokeh”, at least for a smartphone, even in burst mode. Autofocus was snappy, and stabilization was effective at minimizing shake. Color balance was pretty good as well. I didn’t get a chance to test it in low light, which is supposedly where the most marked improvements were, so I’ll comment on that later.
All the features brought up in the keynote worked as billed. The instagram-like filters worked fine, though I’m not sure why it took Apple so long to implement this, considering that it’s practically the same technology as photobooth for iOS. Burst mode (multiple shots in rapid succession) seemed to worked at the described 10 frames per second, and even has a neat little counter for keeping track of how many shots you’ve taken.
The improved frontside “Facetime HD” camera also took decent photos, especially as front-facing cameras go.
Also worth noting is that the iPhone 5S comes with Apple’s iPhoto, along with their entire iLife and iWork suites. iPhoto for iOS is decent, but for the price of free it’s a good photo organization and editing tool.
First Impressions – Conclusion
My conclusion based on these first few tasks and sessions with the 5S is that it’s an excellent phone, and a more significant upgrade than it’s given credit for.
While the battery life and display size don’t thrill me, the design, the awesome camera, the fingerprint scanner, and the consistently excellent experience that the 5S provides have me sold on it.
The iPhone 5S is available online at Apple.com, and in-store at just about every retailer (Best Buy, Walmart, Radioshack,etc,). The gold is sold out until October.
Own a 5S? Leave a comment with your own first impressions
With the release of iOS 7, many are left wondering, more so than with any previous release, whether, or why they should upgrade to iOS 7. In an effort to convince myself, I’ve created a list of seven reason why I would, and 7 reasons why I would not recommend downloading iOS 7 on to your iOS device. Please give this a share, a like, a tweet, or a “+1” if you found this helpful, so that others can receive that same help.
7 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade To iOS 7
Greatly improved Multitasking: On the iPhone, and the iPad, multitasking has been made dramatically more efficient. For example, instead of viewing app icons when switching between apps, you can now view the full app, and slide through them, allowing fast switching from app to app. A five finger gesture from any app on the iPad or iPad Mini allows for switching immediately between apps, and for getting to the home screen. These awesome gestures just about eliminate the need for the home button.
The New and improved Siri is faster and wittier. Her speech is now almost humanlike in fluidity, and her answers are far more accurate. Siri also has quite a new features, such as “lower the volume”, and “brighten the screen”, and “open CNN”. Siri can read tweets as well.
Control Center: I happen to adjust things like my screen brightness, and my orientation lock often. I’ve got habits, and prefered visibility, which I balance with battery, and other concerns. Control Center, a feature borrowed from Android, makes all of these activities much easier. Whether turning on and off airplane mode, lowering and raising brightness, or accessing the camera, flashlight, or stopwatch, Control center speeds up my day consistently, by putting these settings all in one place, available anywhere on my device with a single swipe.
I’m including a “3.a” to highlight the newly improved notification center, available by swiping down from the top of the screen. It’s rather minor change, but apple has basically redesigned it to serve as a dashboard to your life, rather than your phone. You can instantly check messages, notifications, weather, and upcoming appointments, providing a perfect overview of your day. The notification center has changed from an occasional place to check, to a first-thing-to-check-in-the-morning HQ of your life.
Air Drop: Air Drop is another feature that I’ve been waiting for ages, and that you probably have too, without even knowing it. Air Drop allows device-to-device file transfer, meaning that you can easily transfer things like photos, documents, and videos right to your computer, or to another phone, and without Wifi or cellular internet. It seems like those technologies are rather ubiquitous, but in places like airports, and during times like week-long blackouts, this feature has been sorely missed in my life.
iTunes Radio: One of the most fantastic new features of iOS is the Pandora-like Itunes Radio. It’s got the same great Pandora experience, but it’s built right into Itunes, with better curating and saving features, and less intrusive ads. iTunes Radio is what Pandora should have been.
Improved Safari: Ever gotten stuck at the 8 tab maximum? I frequently max out my tabs in Safari, but the new Safari has no maximum. Tabs can finally be rearranged easily, and the new Safari experience is faster, and smoother.
Improved Photos and Camera apps: In the photos app, photos are now automatically sorted by date and location. New camera-editing features allow for easy filters, like instagram, and the new square photo mode makes for some interesting shots. Minor enhancements, but improvements nonetheless.
7 Reasons not to upgrade to iOS 7
You’ve heard the reasons why I recommend upgrading to iOS 7. iOS 7 isn’t for everyone though, and if these reasons worry you, or fit you, I would not recommend upgrading, at least just yet.
You’re very happy with iOS already. If iOS is already perfect for you, and you don’t feel like you need any of these new features, by all means, DON’T UPGRADE.
Your device is more than two years old. I wouldn’t recommend upgrading any iPhone older than an iPhone 4S, and any iPad older than an iPad 3 (although the iPad 2 would be probably be fine, if you really want it). The iPhone 4, for example, is missing a lot of the biggest features of iOS 7.
Your battery life isn’t good: New operating systems can often kill the battery of an older device, decreasing battery life often by as much as 20%.
Your phone is already slowing down: Because of the added stress on hardware of a new operating system, and increased use of RAM and processor, iPhones 4S and below will likely slow down on iOS 6 versus iOS 7. Because of the 5C’s similarity to the iPhone 5, neither phone will likely have any trouble with speed decreases.
You don’t like the new look. The infamous skeuomorphism of the past has been replaced with a minimalist, refined look. The colors are bright and solid, and the apps are designed to be as simple as possible. It’s a whole new experience, and it certainly takes adjusting.
You want everything to “just work”. Initially there will be bugs, as with any new operating system, and things may not always work as planned. If you’re not ready to handle that, wait a month or two before updating to iOS 7.
You’re jailbroken. For the jailbroken community of users out there, iOS 7 in its final release has not yet been cracked, or at least not well. If you want to stay jailbroken, you’re going to have to wait.
I’m Doing Both. Here’s my explanation.
I’m not leaning wholesale either way. After demoing iOS 7 on my iPhone 4 early, thanks to my developer account, I’ve decided that iOS 7 on the iPhone 4 just isn’t worth it. I’m also getting an iPhone 5S next week, so there’s no point in switching for just a week. My iPad mini, on the other hand, is more than capable of running iOS 7, and that was upgraded yesterday. I love iOS 7 on the mini, and I don’t on the iPhone 4.
What you do is up to you, but hopefully this guide was of help in making your decision. Please give this a share if you found this helpful, so that others can receive that same help.
Periodically I will write open letters to tech companies, usually chastising them for interface, or some form of glitch. Now I write to Blackberry to chastise them for a marketing mistake, which really could be corrected.
Now, here’s my letter:
Rumor has it you’re releasing BBM for iPhone and Android on September 20th. You know what else is being released on September 20th? The iPhone 5S. Let me know if you see the problem yet.
I get the whole “it’s hard to compete in hardware” thing, and that you’re selling assets and becoming a software company in some sense, but that doesn’t mean you have to ruin every decision. The news on the 20th, and the 21st is going to be everything iPhone: iPhones sell out. iPhones miss expectations. Critics, and fanboys alike will be talking iPhone, and BBM will quietly make its entrance, shrinking further into oblivion.
Your goal should be to make your remaining assets as valuable as can be, and you definitely could do that with BBM, but to do that, you need to be the headline, not the footnote.
If you’re from Blackberry (and you may be, because I’m emailing this to your PR team), I urge you to push your announcement back a week, or at least until the following Tuesday. Everybody will just be receiving their newly shipped iPhones, and will adventurously try the new Blackberry app, which they will have heard about, because by this time people will care.
Don’t screw up another decision. Release it late, and enjoy success with your new app.
P.S: I’m still waiting on my demo BB10 device, after emailing you close to 18 months ago. Any time now, I will