You’d think there would be no surprises. After all there were weeks between Apple’s iPhone 5S launch and its official arrival in New Zealand. Yet when I first saw and held the phone, it was smaller and lighter than expected.
Apple has stuck with a four-inch display while most other phone makers have moved on to bigger screen sizes. The iPhone 5S is also one of the thinnest phones on the market.
I’ve used the bigger, and thicker 4.5 inch Lumia 920 for almost a year. Before that I had a HTC One X, also with a large display. So moving back to thin and small meant changing how I deal with a smartphone.
iPhone 5S size is right
Apple’s size decision is wise. The iPhone feels good in my hand. The new slightly more rounded case helps too.
It weighs next to nothing – about 110g. That’s light enough that I can forget it is in my pocket. It can also slip into a shirt pocket without causing problems.
Best of all, I can use the smaller phone one-handed. During my time with bigger phones I forgot how useful that can be. It never gets uncomfortable, that’s easily overlooked.
The iPhone 5S screen is one of the best I’ve seen. Apple uses the Retina display which makes text crisp and keeps images looking clear and beautiful. Colours are vibrant and you can view the display from a range of angles. I expected the smaller screen to mean more squinting. That didn’t happen.
Another surprise is just how good Touch ID is in practice. We still have an old Windows laptop with a fingerprint reader, which never got used. It was temperamental and needed resetting each time we upgraded or changed any system software. So I had low expectations.
Apple’s fingerprint reader is straightforward and natural. It allows you to unlock the phone without entering a passcode. You quickly become aware of how often this happens – dozens of times a day – and how much pain the fingerprint reader saves.
Reliable fingerprint reader
Once set-up, a process that takes a minute or two, it works reliably. During my week of using the iPhone 5S I had two occasions when the fingerprint reader didn’t work. On one of them my thumb was damp after washing some dishes – so no complaints there. On the other time I had to take four or five tries to get there.
Touch ID becomes second nature so quickly, I found myself trying to open the iPad the same way.
There’s no question the iPhone 5S is fast. There’s a new processor inside, which Apple says is 42 faster than the original iPhone processor. That’s not important. What matters is things happen quickly and the experience is smooth, never missing a beat.
One nice touch is the coprocessor which handles the phone’s sensors. It knows if you are walking or driving and adjusts the Maps display to match.
I’ve already written about the camera. As well as taking great still images, it does a good job with video and now has a slow motion mode which has some other reviewers excited. I can’t see any practical use for it in my work, but it is fun.
Battery life is not the iPhone 5S’s strongest point. Apple says it will work for up to 10 hours on 4G networks. In practice I found I could get through a day of light use on a single charge, but if I worked extensively in the phone it wouldn’t make it to the end of the working day. Perhaps I work for too long at s stretch.
Should you buy an iPhone 5S? If you’re an iPhone user or otherwise mainly live in the Apple stack it may not be worth switching right away, but it makes a good next upgrade. Frustrated Android or Windows Phone users may find it ticks the missing boxes.
It’s not right for you if a big screen is a must. Nor is it necessarily the best choice if you’re locked into the Android or Windows way of doing things.
And the iPhone 5S is quite possibly the most expensive choice on the market at the moment. Although you get a lot of phone for your $1050 or more depending on the amount of storage, you could spend the same money and get a lot more kit, even from Apple. The 5C is $150 less, the 4S is still on sale with prices starting at $649.