REVIEW UPDATED: 10th October 2013
Time was when we’d sit and listen to an Apple keynote and be genuinely surprised by the product being launched, but that didn’t happen this year.
Just about every feature of the iPhone 5S had been leaked months or weeks earlier, including the fact that a third colour option – gold – would be introduced. The world also knew that a plastic iPhone – the 5C, reviewed – would be launched simultaneously, although many people incorrectly assumed the ‘C’ stood for cheap.
None of this, of course, takes away from the fact that the 5S is a superb smartphone and worthy flagship. Just as the iPhone 4S was almost indistinguishable from the iPhone 4, the 5S has only its rather understated golden finish to make it stand out. We think this will be the most desirable of the three colours, but the new Space Grey (a noticeably lighter shade than the black iPhone 5) should also prove popular.
But like the 4S, the similarities between last year’s iPhone and the 5S are largely superficial.
iPhone 5S review: Touch ID
The first thing you notice about the iPhone 5S is its new Home button. Apple has built a fingerprint scanner into the button, so you can unlock the phone in an instant by touching it. The scanner has already caused a huge amount of controversy (and it isn’t even the first to appear on a phone), but there’s no denying that this is a seriously convenient – and cool – feature, which is more secure than the four-digit passcode most iPhone owners use.
You can register up to five fingers, and set restrictions based on the fingerprint. This is handy as it means you could, for example, register your child's finger and disable access to the App Store and Safari as well as set age-appropriate limits on music, TV shows and films. It still falls short of proper user profiles, but it's one step in the right direction. Each stored fingerprint can have an attached name so you remember whose is whose.
Using Touch ID doesn't preclude using a passcode. In fact, you need to set up a passcode in order to use Touch ID, and enter it before registering a new fingerprint.
Touch ID isn't only for unlocking the 5S: you can also use your finger instead of your Apple ID password. When you purchase an app, for example, you'll be prompted to touch the scanner. This is an option you can disable in the settings, though, restricting fingers to unlocking the iPhone only.
iPhone 5S review: storage, processor and performance
The 16GB iPhone 5S costs £549 inc VAT in the UK. The 32GB flavour will set you back £629 inc VAT, and the 64GB model a whopping £709 inc VAT. For comparison purposes, the now retired iPhone 5 used to cost as follows: 16GB = £529, 32GB = £599, and 64GB £699. For more, see also: Apple iPhone 5S vs iPhone 5 comparison review: What's the new iPhone got? and iPhone 5S price in the UK.
Apple’s new 64-bit A7 processor is partly to thank for the existence of the fingerprint reader. It’s remarkably fast and means there’s no delay in reading your finger and unlocking the phone.
The A7 also makes iOS 7 buttery smooth. There’s nary a judder or stutter when swiping between home screens, or exiting an app and watching your icons fly into place. Apps launch and web pages load faster than ever: the iPhone 5S is simply a joy to use.
The A7 also has a motion co-processor – the M7 – which will come into its own when the developers of activity tracking apps update their software to use the new chip. It should mean the 5S can replace the likes of a Fitbit Flex or Withings Pulse.
Our benchmarks show just how much quicker the new A7 chip makes the 5S. In SunSpider 1.0, the 5S completed the test in just 417ms. The iPhone 5 (running iOS 7), meanwhile, took 721ms, and the Samsung Galaxy S4 922ms.
Similar gains were found in Geekbench 3, with the iPhone 5 scoring 721 points, and the 5S managing 1,076. Running GLBenchmark 2.7 (Egypt HD), the iPhone 5S managed 53fps, compared to the iPhone 5’s 41fps. However, a bigger difference can be seen using the T-Rex HD test, where the 5S scored 37fps versus the 5’s 14fps. That’s more than twice the performance.
iPhone 5S review: design, build, dimensions
The iPhone 5S's dimensions are 123.8x58.6x7.6mm, and it weighs just 112g. If that sounds familiar, it's because the iPhone 5 has exactly the same vital stats. That means that cases for the iPhone 5 will also fit the 5S.
The only caveat is the new True Tone flash (see later) which may be partially blocked by cases which have a really tight aperture for the iPhone 5's camera and LED. See also: Best cases for the iPhone 5S
iPhone 5S review: battery life
The 5S has a 5.92Wh battery, which if you care about details is 8.6 percent more capacity than the iPhone 5. As ever, it's a built-in, non-swappable lithium-ion battery. Apple says the iPhone 5S will last for up to 250 hours on standby, and 10 hours of talk time. Web surfing is 8 hours on 3G, and 10 hours on LTE and Wi-Fi. Apple claims 10 hours for video playback and 40 hours audio playback, for the iPhone 5S.
Such figures are usually taken with a pinch of salt, but Apple's claims are typically close to the mark. In our video-looping test, the 5S lasted an impressive 11 hours, which compares well with an iPhone 5 (running iOS 7) which managed just shy of nine-and-three-quarter hours, and a Samsung Galaxy S4 which could manage only seven hours.
Plus, the M7 co-processor should allow the 5S to last a lot longer than the 5 (and 5C) when running activity tracking apps.
iPhone 5S review: cameras
The iPhone 5S has two cameras, a front-facing FaceTime camera and a rear-facing camera known as an iSight camera. The specifications work out as follows.
The iPhone 5S iSight camera has what Apple describes as a 'better 8Mp sensor', than either the iPhone 5 or the iPhone 5C. It lists the sensor as 8 megapixels with 1.5µ pixels. It has ƒ/2.2 aperture and a True Tone flash which has two LEDs, one of which is amber. The FaceTime Camera takes 1.2Mp photos at a resolution of 1280x960, and offers 720p HD video recording.
Importantly, the 5S no longer uses an upscaled 4Mp mode in very low light as the iPhone 5 does, and photos taken in dark conditions have much less noise. In good light, you won’t see a huge difference between images from the two iPhones, but at night, the 5S does a better job.
Here are two photos, the first from the iPhone 5, and the second from the 5S. The difference is subtle, but noticeable.
iPhone 5 low light
iPhone 5S low light
In good light, there's not much difference, until you look up close.
Below are 100 percent crops showing that the 5S resolves a little more detail than the 5:
The faster A7 processor means there’s a new 10fps burst mode which should ensure you don’t miss the crucial moment in the action. Hold your finger on the shutter button and the 5S will keep taking 10 photos per second until you’ve taken a thousand!
For photos and videos, the 5S relies on the same electronic stabilisation as the 5. It does a decent job at reducing camera shake. One extra feature you'll find in the Camera app is slo-mo video. Here, the 5S shoots at 1280x720 (720p) and doubles the frame rate to 120fps. You can choose in the resulting clip where to drag the two sliders to apply the slo-mo effect. There's a smooth change in speed at those points as you can see in the example clips below.
The dual-LED flash delivers much better lighting than the iPhone 5’s single LED, giving more natural-looking results. Overall, the low-light improvements make the 5S a better proposition for taking photos when there isn’t much light.
iPhone 5S review: display
One thing that hasn’t changed is the 4in Retina display. It still has the same 1136x640 resolution as the iPhone 5 (and 5C) and is a decent screen. However, compared to the larger, Full HD displays of the iPhone 5S’s rivals, the screen is starting to feel cramped.
Wi-Fi and Bluetooth remain unchanged as well, so there’s no 802.11ac support in the 5S. Still, with 802.11n on board, it should still be quicker than your broadband even in a year’s time. Support for more LTE bands means that you will – in the future – be able to roam on 4G in more places than you can with an iPhone 5.
iPhone 5S review: software
The iPhone 5S comes with iOS 7, and can be upgraded for free to all new versions of Apple's operating system. For a more in-depth look at the iPhone 5S's interface and features see our iOS 7 review