iphone 5s review 014 640x409The iPhone 5s has been out for some time, and we have had plenty of time to use it in the real world. As Apple’s latest and greatest is it obviously a natural upgrade path for those who are happy with the Apple ecosystem and experience, especially those who own an iPhone 4 and  older handsets. For iPhone 5 owners, a non-subsidized upgrade is not as obvious, unless you absolutely want the best iPhone “now”.

For those who have a broader horizon than the iPhone ecosystem, I’m throwing in some comparisons with the best Android handsets of the moment to see where everyone stand in today’s context. A new iPhone is always an event in itself, but what I can promise you is that this is not one of those “this is the best iPhone ever built (duh)” reviews. Instead, I hope that this article will give you a good sense of what the iPhone 5s can do, and where it stands in the overall market.

Context

Before we dive in the review itself, let me tell you how I use my phone. Although I try to write reviews that are genuinely useful to YOU, my own usage will influence how I perceive the phone features and even design. Through my own experience, I hope that you will be able to extrapolate how the handset will work for you.

I use my smartphone to keep up with emails (curation) and social media updates. I check some news websites from time to time, but I don’t call much. Maybe 10 minutes a day, at most. I also rarely play games, even if I like to check the latest titles from time to time. Finally, I mostly listen to music or watch video when I’m flying.

Industrial Design (nearly unchanged)

iphone 5s review 007 640x426Since the iPhone 5s is a “performance-kicker” rather than a new generation (the iPhone 6 would be that), it’s not really surprising that Apple hasn’t changed much in terms of industrial design. To be fair, not much has changed since the iPhone 4 (which remains a “people’s favorite” in terms of pure industrial design of all-time), although it’s hard to argue that the design wasn’t a huge success, and that’s exactly one of the reason why Apple has sold so many of them. If you were expecting a big change, you are probably disappointed, however any big change would be a very risky move for Apple, and I think that this is largely the reason why there are no big changes. Why mess up something that works pretty well? Interesting discussion, but let’s stick to the review for now.

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There are a few differences that can be seen from the outside. First, the Home button has changed. It now houses a sophisticated fingerprint reader that allows users to secure their phones (mostly) without the hassle of unlocking them with a password or a 4-digit code. In the back, astute observers will see that the LED flash has changed and went from a round shape to a “capsule” shape because there are now 2 LEDs. You’ll see why a bit later.

Other than that, Apple has introduced a new “gold” color, which one could argue is aimed for the Asian market, and the company has adopted a dark silver back for the black iPhone 5s. The White iPhone 5s is very slightly different, but looks the same overall.

Basically, the overall physical properties of the iPhone 5s are very similar to the iPhone 5. If you liked the design, aluminum material, light weight and overall look and feel, you should still be very happy with this update. On the contrary, if you felt that it was prone to scratches, easy to shatter and too small — your position will remain unchanged. The iPhone 5s is an evolution of the status quo, and none of the competitive battle lines have been changed.

Display (quite ordinary these days)

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On the surface and in the specs, the iPhone 5s screen has not changed. It is still using the same 1136×640 pixels (727,040 pixels) resolution, while most smartphones in that price range have moved to 1080p:1920×1080 (2,073,600 pixels).

This means that competing devices have nearly 3X more pixels than the iPhone, but in terms of visual sharpness we have to take into account the pixel density (PPI or points per inch), and because the iPhone display is relatively small (4”), the overall iPhone 5s pixel density is pretty decent at 326ppi, but competitors still get higher PPI: 468ppi/HTC One (Feb 2013), 441ppi/Galaxy S4 (Apr 2013) and 423ppi/LG G2 (Aug 2013). That said, I have a 20/20 vision and in my opinion, 326ppi is good enough. It’s not that I wouldn’t refuse a higher PPI, but this is not an area of concern for me.

There are internal changes in iPhone 5s display: Sharp manufactures some very cool IGZO displays which are supposed to be more power-efficient than regular LCD displays, and the iPhone 5s is supposed to use one of those. Note that Apple has previously used IPS displays from LG or Samsung and started to use Sharp to reduce its dependency on those two. Interestingly enough, Samsung has invested in Sharp, possibly to reduce Sharp’s reliance (and allegiance) on Apple. Politics…

Camera (excellent overall experience, not absolute best quality)

If there is one thing that most people agree on, it is that iPhones are very good camera phones. Maybe not not in “absolute terms” anymore, but it has always been among the top camera-phone. Its success comes from an overall experience which mixes quality, speed and ease of use. The good news is that this remains unchanged.

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A photo taken in difficult a lighting situation (dusk, back-lighting): the iPhone 5S handled it very well

The iPhone 5s Camera has received a number of improvements, among them a larger sensor (+15%). Instead of going for “more pixels”, Apple has chosen to stick with their current camera resolution (8 Megapixels), like HTC did on the HTC One (4MP). The immediate result is that each pixel receives more light (1.5 microns of sensor surface per pixel), so the image should be better. Apple says that the sensor size increase and a larger lens aperture (f2.2) brings the total light increase sensitivity to 33%. Apple also uses a digital image stabilizer, which means that it is done as a software process instead of actually stabilizing the camera module like Nokia and LG are doing.

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While the iPhone uses software/digital stabilization, Nokia and LG (above the G2) use a physical stabilization solution

The iPhone cameras have always been a little “noisy” because their are optimized to work well in low-light. There are several solutions to this problem, but the reality is that every high-end mobile camera work within a comparable similar set of capabilities, with some strengths here and there. Each phone maker then chooses to trade off and bias in a particular direction.

For example, LG and Nokia are going towards “absolute quality” for static scenes, which often translates to higher shutter action lag since the viewfinder image analysis is more complicated and the shutter speed is slowed down as much as possible. HTC wants extremely low lag and high responsiveness (for dynamic scenes), but to do so it has to perform the pre-shoot image analysis faster and uses a faster shutter speed too. It’s fast, but the image quality could be better.

Finally, Samsung and Apple are somewhere in the middle, where their image are noisier than LG and Nokia, but the camera app is a bit more responsive than those two. I suspect that Apple doesn’t mind the additional noise, because it’s not easily perceptible on web shares (FB..n) and even on the phone’s screen. Not a bad tradeoff.

In broad daylight, the iPhone 5s is an excellent camera which provides a great and “easy” user experience. During my tests, I walked around SF with the 5s, the G2 and the Note 3. All of them have excellent cameras, but I wanted to snap a few pictures in different conditions. I’ve noticed that the iPhone camera often have a mind of its own, and it will sometime ignore or bend a user instruction for what -it thinks- is the greater good of the photo. In short, it tries to protect you from yourself. Most of the time, it’s not a bad thing, but that depends on what YOU really want. Example:

iphone 5s lg g2 note3 0011

In this photo, I want to take a photo of the tree. Both the LG G2 and the Galaxy Note 3 focus their attention on the tree and set the exposure accordingly. That comes of course at the expense of the background, which is now over-exposed (white sky). The iPhone on the other hand decides that it’s best for the overall photo to not to this, that’s why the sky has some blue left. In this particular example, it’s not what I want, and I prefer the other two photos. But let’s take a look at something different:

iphone 5s lg g2 note3 002

In this shot, I focus on the middle of the house because it’s an intuitive thing to do, but I don’t mean that the window is particularly important. The iPhone prefers to look at the whole scene and makes sure that nothing is over-exposed The Galaxy Note 3 behaves similarly. The LG G2 focuses on that particular spot and actually shows more details in that particular area. While the LG G2 has done exactly what “I told it to”, I must say that to the average user, the photos from the 5s or the Note 3 would probably look better.

And this is why the pure optical properties of a camera phone are only part of the equation. The fine-tuning and behavior of the camera will be determined by more than the acuity of the sensors. It is completely dependent upon the interpretation of the data and the response to it. And this is more of art than a science. If this was a scientific experiment, the G2 would probably get higher grades. But photography is really about “art”, and sometime there’s no right and wrong, but there are things that work great and things that aren’t so great — your own perception will determine this.

My take on this is that the iPhone 5s has trade offs that make it a very balanced camera. It’s not the best in low-light, nor it is the best in broad daylight. It is actually still a bit noisy at times, but overall, it provides a very satisfying and consistent user experience that most people would be very happy with. The good news for the competition is that they too can tweak their camera experience to satisfy their desired target market since this is largely a software issue in my opinion.

Low-light photos

The photo below has been shot in very difficult lighting and I think that this is fairly typical of the party of diner shots that a lot of you may want to get out there. In this particular case, I’m using the LG G2 as the alternative phone, and if you have followed our G2 review, you may have seen that the iPhone 5 didn’t really stand a chance, so I wanted to see where the iPhone 5s stood, since it’s supposed to be “33%” more sensitive to light.

iphone 5s lg g2 lowlight stack

iphone 5s lg g2 lowlight crop

This shows that the iPhone 5s does pretty well. The color balance is right and the scene is definitely usable for web purposes. However, you can tell without much difficulty that the image is noisy. The LG G2 gets very good brightness, and I would even say that it is “too” bright (brighter than what my eyes were seeing), so LG is being a little aggressive with the low-light settings here. Additionally, the color-balance is slightly off, but you could probably not tell if I didn’t mention it. For web purposes, the LG G2 photo is superior in my opinion.

If you want to check smaller details, look at the 100% crop below, or check the full resolution images on our Ubergizmo flickr account.

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iPhone 5 (left) and iPhone 5s (right) in a low light environment of only 7 LUX

Low-light with Flash

The new True Tone flash is one of the most exciting new aspects of the camera. Normally, I wouldn’t even consider using a flash, and for a casual Facebook usage, a slightly blurry photo work well enough. What the True Tone flash does is that it analyses what the camera is looking at and it adapts the flash color and intensity to send just enough light to make your photo clear, but not to the point that it looks unnatural. Apple says that the current dual-LED setup can produce about 1000 combinations of light intensity/color hue, and if you compare that to the “dumb” or monochrome flash that comes with the competition, you know what’s going to be introduced by everyone else next. This is an example where Apple is actually innovative.

Panoramas with dynamic auto-exposure (great)

i5s note3 panorama small 640x388

When shooting panoramas, it is fairly normal that the brightness of the scene will vary a lot from one side to the next since you may have the sun coming on one side, and shadows on the other. Most phones use a static exposure, so if the lighting conditions change drastically during the panorama shot, chances are that the photo will be over-exposed or under-exposed in some places. Dynamic auto-exposure allows the camera app to adapt to changing light conditions and basically outputs a better image that looks like it was taken in one shot. This is a must-have if you’re big into panoramas. The good news is that other cameras handle this situation very well too, even if they aren’t marketing that fact.

Slow Motion Video (fun!)

This features come from the video recording at 120 frames per second (120 FPS) Capability. The idea is quite simple: shoot at 120FPS and when you play the video back at 30FPS, it creates a 4X slow-down. For that to work, the hardware needs to be able to capture at 120FPS. It’s not trivial, but high-end chips can do that. In my opinion, the ease of use in the camera app is what makes this valuable. It’s very easy to choose a specific portion of the video to slow down, so you can focus on a particular moment.

Camera wrap-up (very good+)

New features like slow-motion are cool, but I think that the the iPhone Camera app is great because it mostly doesn’t require any other action than “point & shoot”. Apple’s automatic settings and things like the dynamic auto-exposure contribute greatly to this. Additionally, the auto-focus does a very good job at being relatively fast and mostly on point, which is key to a quick and seamless experience."THE CAMERA EXPERIENCE IS VERY NICE AND CONSISTENT"  

The photo quality is very good, but there is clearly some competition out there and I would say that the Nokia 1020 or the LG G2 can be more performant in many situations. Apple has deliberately favored “ease of use” over “absolute photo quality”, and I think that it’s mostly a good choice since smartphone photography is generally casual.

Competitors can catch up by tweaking their apps in the same way, or create a few user modes, one of which could mimic this behavior. That would be my personal preference since it’s all about choice. In the future, I would like to see a more high-quality 3rd party apps so that we can all download the Camera apps that fit our personal usage – this is true for every platforms.

Finally, and I don’t think that I’ve seen this in any other iPhone review: the size of the display must not be underestimated when it come to photographic user experience. This does not affect the photos themselves, but taking pictures with a big display feels much better. From that perspective, taking photos with the iPhone 5s is good, with the G2 it’s very good and with the Galaxy Note 3, it’s just excellent.

iOS 7 & Apps

With iOS getting a new look and new functionalities, the iPhone 5s will feel different than the iPhones you have played with before. If you own a recent phone (iPhone 4+), you will probably upgrade, so this is not really a sway factor, and an eventual upgrade to the iPhone 5s will likely be motivated by the hardware upgrades. For those who haven’t played with iOS 7, here are the key takeaways.

A new look

ios7 screenshots 1 640x379

Center: the new notification area is very welcome and *finally* provides a quick access to the brightness settings

The first thing that you will see is the new graphic design. This is a big change for iOS which had stayed relatively untouched since the first iPhone. Some people love it, others hate it — I personally think that this is a good change, even if I question things like the narrow fonts of the overall balancing of the icons. I’m no designer, but I don’t think that you need to be a designer to have an opinion."LIKE IT OR NOT, THIS IS IOS"  

Mine is that too many people were probably involved in the design process, and that the use of pastel colors is geared towards pleasing the Asian market. In some ways, the pastel reminds me of Meizu phones for example. It’s a sensible change and there’s nothing wrong with it, but if you wonder what the origins of this choice come from, this is where I think it came from.

In the end, this is an improvement for me because I think that using wood-looking bookshelves and making things look somewhat “realistic” had reached its limits in iOS 6. The old “realistic-looking” trend is called “skeuomorphism” and it is now gone – Jony Ive, Apple’s design leader shelved it in favor of a “flat” design. Like it or not, if you want to use an Apple mobile device, “flat” is what you are going to get.

Going in details over the graphic design is a bit pointless, but now that you have some context, I’d like to show you things about it that will actually affect the user experience. The first pervasive one is the font: while I think that it looks good, it is also somewhat difficult to read sometime, especially depending on the background image that you may be using. Like it or not, this is iOS.

Productivity tweaks

I like the redesigned notification area. It’s quick and clear, and I don’t mind if this was inspired from Android. It’s a very good thing for users, and it works. Apple could improve the management of the notifications by adding a “clear all” button. I noticed that I spent quite a bit of time removing notifications category by category.

By swiping up from the bottom, the Control Center shows up and lets you access common things like power-related toggles, screen brightness, music playback controls and a few key apps, like the calculator or the camera. It’s not possible to decide which apps appear at this point, and I don’t see that happening soon in the future, but never say no.

ios7 screenshots 2 640x379

Left: the multi-tasking UI want “Palm-style”, center: the settings have become more and more complex

The multitasking user interface (UI) has been much improved in iOS 7 and it takes some cues from Web OS with a screen that shows the apps as “cards” that you can switch to, or swipe away by swiping “up” –  I like the change, a lot (interestingly the proSwitcher app introduced this concept to iPhones in 2009). There are some possible improvements:

  1. The swiping motion doesn’t always work depending on where you start it (you must start in precisely in the middle-bottom of the card)

  2. Could we have a “close all” button since many people will have tons of apps open? Note that closing all the apps all the time does use resources, and isn’t always a good thing. But doing that once in a while may be a good thing.

The UI animations are pretty slick, but I feel that Apple has been falling into the same trap as other companies: it would be really nice to be able to disable the animations because they take time away from doing stuff. It doesn’t feel like much, but if each animation takes 0.2 or 0.3 seconds, think at how many times this happens in a day/week. It’s a simple option, so I hope that Apple will add it down the road.

It used to be that the Settings on iOS were simpler than the Android equivalent, and maybe it is true at some level, but with the ever increasing number of options (and often “per app” options), I feel like the settings of iOS have become pretty much similar to the Android phones. Some Android manufacturers have created a few tabs to divide the complexity of the settings, but don’t expect this to become any simpler in the short term.

Background app updates are now available, and that’s a great thing for power users. This is something that users of all mobile platforms have asked for and I don’t care if Android has delivered it first – this should be in every mobile OS, and I’m glad that I won’t have to manually approve updates of dozens of apps.

Fingerprint Reader (pretty reliable)

The fingerprint reader is one of the big new feature in the iPhone 5s and it will probably spark a new arms race, with HTC adding one in the HTC One Max. Most likely others will follow. First of all, I’d like to say that I don’t consider this as a “security” feature, but as a “convenience” feature. As such, my metric for success is simple: is it faster than typing a 4-digit code, and is it reliable? I’m glad to report that “yes” is the answer on both counts."TOUCH ID IS ABOUT CONVENIENCE, NOT SECURITY"  

Let me explain why this is not a security feature: Apple says that your fingerprint is unique and that’s why it is a “perfect” password. However, the first thing that is presented to me when I turn my iPhone 5s on is the 4-digit password code, which is definitely not “unbreakable”. If I don’t want to enter the code, I can use my fingerprints, but if all fails, the code remains a way to get in. Also, the iPhone 5s fingerprint reader has allegedly been hacked already, so it’s not unbreakable either. If you want something harder to break, use a long password, but your unlock time is going to sink.

Now, I found the TouchID setup to be simple and fairly efficient. You can enter many fingerprints, including someone else’s if you want to give access to your spouse for example. In practice, TouchID achieves its goal at providing a way to block access to your phone from kids and people who are normally close to you, while not requiring 5 taps (4 digit + confirmation) to get in.

By recording a video of myself unlocking the phone with TouchID and after replaying it frame by frame, I estimate that it takes iOS ⅔ of a second to unlock the phone and in total, you wait about 2 seconds before having control on the phone. It probably takes me about 2 seconds to enter the 4-digit code, so that portion has been accelerated by TouchID by a little more than 100%.

Entertainment (good)

We know that every high-end smartphone can play high-quality media files, music etc. This is not even a question anymore, it’s just a fact. So what defines the entertainment capabilities. I would say that it is a combination of what is available and how good the device is as a playback medium.

I think that iTunes and Google Play both provide similar services and neither myself of people that I meet do complain about the lack of movies, music etc. Of course, if there are services that you really can’t find in another other platform, then maybe your choice become simple. for the sake of a device review, I’ll focus on the hardware playback capabilities, namely for video, music and games.

To make a long story short, this comes down to three things: display quality, display size and audio quality. We know that the Phone display is a quality display. However, it is also one of the smallest on the smartphone market and that has a significant impact on both movie playback and gaming: who wants to watch movies or play games on a smaller screen? If you do, then it’s a great fit, but I suspect that most people would rather watch a movie on a Galaxy Note 3.

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Which one do you want to watch movies or play on?

If you get past the the screen size, games will benefit from the tremendous speed of the iPhone A7 chip combined with the relatively low resolution of the display. Since there are less than 1M pixels to process (versus 2M in most smartphones), the framerates in games often top 60FPS and even a heavy game like Real Racing 3 runs above 30FPS most of the time.

the iPhone 5s speaker is loud and strong, which is surprising in relation to the small body, but Apple has had a great history of building good loudspeakers, especially since the iPhone 4, so that’s exactly what I expected.

Finally, let’s not forget that most people use headphones during their multimedia activities. In that respect, I don’t think that Apple has really promoted surround audio in a big way, but some Android phones have started to ship with some serious capabilities. I have heard a demo that runs on a Qualcomm 800 chip and the audio spatialization was unbelievable (this 3rd party video shows what the demo was like).

People were removing their headphones to see if the sound was coming from the outside. At the moment, the hard part is to identify handsets that have enabled those capabilities and finding content with the proper audio encoding. In time, this will prove to be one of the most exciting progress in handset multimedia.

It used to be that the iPhone would get an “excellent” rating in the Entertainment/multimedia category, but the world has moved to 1080p displays, large displays and unfortunately, the iPhone has not. The industrial design of the iPhone has limited its own multimedia capabilities and no amount of processing power can make up for a smaller screen, and it really comes down to this: when it comes to entertainment, larger is better (to a point).

Benchmarks / Performance (excellent)

M7 processor to handle the sensors

apple m7 photo

From what we know, the Apple “M7” processor is more or less an external ARM Cortex MCU (the NXP LPC18A1), which is a Digital Signal Controller. It acts like a DSP (digital signal processor) and is capable of performing fast math on a stream of data thanks to its SIMD instruction set. However, at the end of the day, it’s just a tiny specialized block of logic whose reason of being is to be low-power. Hardware-wise, there’s nothing to really get excited about.

The A7 main chip could easily handle the processing that M7 does, however it would basically be “overkill” and would yield a poor performance-per-watt ratio. In short, if you’re going to transport a coffee table, use your sedan (M7), not a moving truck (A7), it will save you some gas. It makes a lot of sense, but the real news here is that Apple is committed to adding another co-processor and maintain its presence for the foreseeable future.

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The Motion X 24/7 app continuously uses the M7 processor to monitor sensors

Apps like 24/7 from Motion X are among the first to use the M7 chip to monitor sensors to save on power consumption. This is exactly the kind of always-on applications that low-power co-processors like the M7 can enable. This particular app has been designed to monitor your sleep cycles and wakes you up at an optimal time (at the end of the sleep cycle), it can also pair with other devices to monitor heart rate and recently 24/7 even got “snore detection” and weight loss tracking.

A7 Processor Overview

Since the performance is going to revolve around the Apple A7 processor (still manufactured by Samsung with a 28nm process, from 32nm previously), it may be interesting to take a closer look to set the stage for the upcoming benchmarks. The A7 processor is a new dual-core chip design from Apple.

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This time around, Apple made some big changes and switched to using a 64-bit. We’re going to talk more about that shortly, but besides the memory addressing benefits (use more RAM), 64-bit also brings more CPU registers and since they can be used to avoid slow memory access, that may boost the performance right there. There are also dedicated encryption instructions now.

Today, the higher single-core performance is the most important feature of the A7 in my opinion. Why? Because every single application benefits from faster single-core performance, and most applications don’t scale with multi-core. If you are interested by this topic, check our article entitled “Are more cores, better?”.

Moving to 64-bit: Apple prepares for the future

There was no shortage of drama on this topic: often times, coverage from “pro” or “anti” Apple outlets has been a bit misleading, so maybe it’s time to take a step back and look at this with a cool head. There is no need to be for or against, but it’s nice have some understanding of which features may benefit YOU.

As we have said earlier, the Apple A7 chip features a number of new features. That includes the ability to use larger (64-bit) registers and more importantly, more of them (sometime 32 instead of 16). Clearly, additional registers are a good thing and can contribute greatly to performance in some cases. I don’t think that anyone is disputing that.

However, we need to get a sense of the magnitude of the speedup. In very specific (and rare) instances, it’s possible to double the performance, and that typically involves hand-tuned (tiny) portions of code that gets executed millions of times per second. In general, compiled code (the overwhelming majority of the code) will show a much smaller improvement (10%-15%), and sometime, the compiled code won’t use the extra registers at all or won’t exhibit perceptible benefits. The new encryption-related instructions should show the most potential for performance jumps (10X is possible), but there are not a lot of apps that use them massively."64BIT IS A BUZZWORD FOR NOW"  

The takeaway is that there is great potential for few very specific cases, but the idea is that 64-bit does not mean “2X faster than 32-bit” in general. Adding new registers is also not a specific 64-bit thing, it’s just convenient to add them when there is already a big architecture change.

In 1997, Intel added the MMX registers to its processors, leaving the rest mostly untouched (from a software point of view). In that case, extreme performance increases were also possible in very specific cases, but overall, most users didn’t “feel” it. This is somewhat similar.

The reason of being of “64-bit” is to address more memory. Of course, more memory could also lead to increased performance (by avoiding usage of the slower flash storage), but given that the iPhone 5s has only 1GB of memory (vs. 3GB for competing high-end smartphones), this is not really an argument today. In essence, the “64-bitness” of the A7 is not where the additional speed boost is coming from. The ability to execute more instructions per clock cycle is really where it comes from.

What’s important about 64-bit is the fact that it is Apple’s first step in making Desktop and Mobile converge, and that is very important, but not beneficial to consumers “today”.

Apple’s A7 is a “total package” that includes extra registers, co-processors etc… so as a whole, it is a great evolution from the previous A6, and you will see that benchmarks show that it is very comparable, and sometime superior to the best that Qualcomm or NVIDIA have to offer.

Each company wants to promote its product the best it can (“octo-core”…) and that means walking the fine “marketing” line on all sides. Eventually, all mobile processors will switch to 64bit, so it’s a natural evolution in chip architectures. It didn’t change your life on PC, it won’t change your life on mobile.

Benchmarks

Let’s look at the numbers now. After all, what we really want to know is how all of this translate into potential improvement of YOUR user experience. Let’s start with the classic CPU benchmark GeekBench:

iphone 5s geekbench multi

As you can see here, since the iPhone 5s is a dual-core chip, I would say that it does very well against quad-core chips in a test where performance does truly scale with additional cores. And of course, the next graph explains why:

iphone 5s geekbench3 single b

And this is the “ha-ha” moment for the iPhone 5s benchmarks because it leads the single-core performance without question. This is important for one simple reason: every single app benefits from single-core performance, and that’s why I like what I see. There are cases where having more cores yields better performance, and in-game physics or image processing may fall into this category, but overall, it’s almost always better achieve the same level of performance without using more cores — that is unless having more cores would save significant power, but we haven’t see any evidence of that here, so: single-core performance is just awesome here.

iphone 5s 3dmark isu

iphone 5s basemark x b

iphone 5s glbench 27 off

In terms of graphics and gaming, we had hoped that Apple’s new chip would fare better, but in current benchmarks, it proves to be a good competitor for the best out there. The highest score is found BaseMark X, which is a pixel-processing oriented test, while GLBenchmark 2.7 is a more vertex-oriented one. It is fair to think that vertex processing is somewhat of an issue here. In practice, and with current games, it shouldn’t be much of a problem since developers tend to minimize the number of polygons (and therefore vertices) whenever possible.

Apple will also benefit from the fact that it does not have a full HD display (I wouldn’t call that a “feature”, haha). With only 727k (1136×640) pixels to compute instead of 2,073k (1920×1080), Apple has 2.85X less work to do when it comes to rendering stuff on screen. Thanks to that, it’s virtually guaranteed that framerates will be high. Because the screen is small, users should not notice a big difference in terms of image quality.

Perceived performance

A lot of people say that they don’t do anything fancy, and therefore don’t “need” the extra processing power. The common wisdom makes sense, but in reality, raw speed translate into two things for virtually everyone:

1/ Faster responsiveness: it’s true that basic UI has been running at 60FPS for a while on the iPhone, nearly from day one. However, app loading time and app initialization time have greatly benefited from faster chips. A faster device means that you spend less time waiting for the apps to be ready, and spend more time doing what you do. In my book, that is a “better user experience”.

2/ Longer battery life: as software gets bigger and more bloated all the time (try iOS7 on an old iPhone…). It’s just a fact of life. As your apps get updated, they will use ever more resources. Older devices will invariably take more time to accomplish the same tasks over time and we all know how computers get bloated and slower. Well, it’s not quite the same with smartphone, but the same logic is true."YOU CAN FEEL THE SPEED DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE 5 AND 5S"  

The battery life is all about putting the main chip into “sleep mode” as often as possible. One way to do that is to wake up the chip, accomplish the task as quickly as possible then go back to sleep. That’s why a fast processor helps save power.

The iPhone 5s is noticeably faster than the iPhone 5, but in my opinion it is when you have a 4S or older that an upgrade is very compelling. If you are happy with the iPhone ecosystem and are ready to upgrade, this is pretty much a no-brainer.

Battery Life (very good)

Small battery capacity

Because iPhones have a small battery (+-1500mAh) when compared to competing phones (up to 3200mAh), Apple has spent considerable time optimizing its software and hardware so that its user experience remains decent. Although it is undeniable that other phones have outperformed the previous iPhones in terms of battery life I have to say that I’m pretty impressed by what Apple can squeeze out of a 1500 mAh battery.

Note also that the small body size of the iPhone may also explain the fact that its battery cannot really grow in volume. Necessity is really the mother of all invention here, and I would encourage competitors to take similar steps to optimize their software while keeping their huge battery capacity. This would be an incredible combination.

Hard numbers

Let’s talk about numbers. The first one that I’ve run is the overnight battery depletion (8h), which simulates what happens when your phone is in standby, doing nothing other than receiving notification and possibly emitting short alerts. The iPhone 5s scored less than 2% of battery use, which is very low. This is in my opinion one of the most important things to look at because most of the time, your phone is doing nothing, but you expect it to be up and ready when you need it.

1 hour of video streaming via iTunes will use 14% of the battery, while playing the video file from the local storage will use about 9%. In any case, this translates into between 7hrs to 10 hours of video playback, depending on whether or not you stream the content (test conditions: 150 LUX brightness, WiFi ON, BT OFF, GPS OFF, Sound OFF). Note: I’n not 100% sure that Apple is streaming 1080p movies since the iPhone display isn’t full 1080p.

I’ve played Real Racing 3 for one hour (including navigating the menus etc…), and 26% of the battery was gone by then, yielding a theoretical 3.8 hours of gaming in those conditions. Not bad at all (150 LUX brightness).

There are things that aren’t really affected by any software optimizations. “Talk Time” for instance is one of those and tends to scale linearly with the battery capacity. In this particular instance, I would expect competing phones with 2X the battery capacity to be 2X better, however I’m not sure when someone needs to be in a call for 10 to 30 hours… if you won’t be able to charge the handset in a reliable way that may be a good use case. If that’s your case, my advice is to aim solely for battery capacity.

Misc: accelerometer issues

There was quite a lot of noise about the iPhone 5s accelerometer not working like it is supposed to be. As it stands, developers have noticed that the motion sensors can have errors of 5 to 6 degrees and this shows up everywhere, including Apple’s own Compass app. If you want to know more details, I would recommend reading the analysis from Eagle Jones from Reality Cap, an iOS development company.

The good news is that a fix is possible. The bad news is that each app may have to recalibrate its measurement on your specific phone, so there is no “one fix for all”. With my personal use, this didn’t bother me, but that’s a pretty big blunder, and one that is nearly unthinkable from a company with such rigorous Q&A process. If you somehow rely on this function, you may want to do some homework.

Update: Apple says that this has been fixed with iOS 7.0.3, and so far, user feedback suggests that it works within 1 degree of accuracy. Seems good enough for most people.

Conclusion (Very good+)

iphone 5s review 018 640x426Smartphones have reached a cruising speed where they steadily evolve at a slower pace (in %) in terms of processing power and functionality. The iPhone 5s evolution definitely keeps Apple as a major player in the smartphone race and should give it a nice boost going into the holiday season. The key points of the iPhone 5s for me are the: improved camera, the single-core performance and the new fingerprint reader since they all add to a better user experience."IF YOU LIKE THE APPLE ECOSYSTEM, THIS IS YOUR BEST, AND ONLY, OPTION"  

The second takeaway is that the iPhone 5s is very good any many things, but not the best in an absolute sense. Competitors have managed to carve out large strongholds where they lead in terms of camera performance and/or display quality+size, battery capacity etc… Apple has lost many potential customers on the screen size “issue” alone, but I’ll assume that if you are reading this, a 4” screen is fine for you – it’s just a matter of personal preferences, so get what works for you. The good news is that there is something for everyone in this dynamic market.

Apple’s greatest strength is its eco-system. If the same hardware was used to make an Android phone, the iPhone would not sell nearly as much. That is why a pure “hardware review” hits a wall. This is about the overall user experience, not just how good the hardware is. An iPhone 5s upgrade makes complete sense for those who are happy with their old iPhones or those who don’t want to bother with a switch, even if they occasionally salivate on that Android 5”+ IPS display.

Overall product rating: 8/10

Filed in Apple >Cellphones >Reviews. Read more about iPhone 5S.

Key SpecsiPhone 5s
StatusReleased
Resolution1136x640
Size (Diagonal, Inches)4"
Processor NameA7
2-core
1.3 GHz
Max. Total Storage Capacity64 GB
Megapixels8 MP
Battery Capacity (mAh)1560 mAh
Street Price$649
Complete product dataApple iPhone 5s Full specs
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