The iPhone 5s is, quite truly, nothing like a typical "s" cycle upgrade. The new iPhone gets the processor upgrade, as well as a dedicated motion processor. The camera not only has a lot more features, but is a marked improvement over the fairly competent iPhone 5, which it succeeds. Touch ID feels at home straightaway. However, till the time your apps get updated to take care of the 64-bit architecture or the motion co-processor or the fingerprint sensor, the 5s feels like an incremental update. But, the future proofing is undeniable, and apps will soon fall in line. Not a big enough upgrade for anyone already using an iPhone 5. But, for anyone using a 4s, the iPhone 5c was itself a big upgrade and the 5s is just massive.
The iPhone 5S is the perfect example of a bit of the new, with a dollop of the old. For all the talk about being the next big step for the iPhone, the 5s looks exactly like the 5, on the outside. But, there is a lot more in store.
Build & Design: New, yet the same!
Despite whatever is new and whatever is not, the foundation of any comparison begins at the roots - the design. The iPhone 5s is the perfect example of some new, with a lot of the old. For all the talk about it being the next big step for the iPhone, the 5s looks exactly like the 5, on the outside. If you were a fan of the iPhone 5's aluminum chassis and chamfered edges, you will feel a warm sense of familiarity here.
However, the colour options have been tweaked - space grey, silver and the attention grabbing gold. Space grey looks a tad more like a darker version of grey than actually being closer to the black option in the iPhone 5. The silver version that we have received for testing is actually a dual colour play of silver and white
However, the bad part about carrying forward the same materials is the 5s will possibly retain the same susceptibility to scratches and nicks, even though Apple says that the newer more metallic colours will make the 5s additionally resilient to the aforementioned evils.
Between the 5s and the 5, almost nothing seems to have changed. The form factor, the dimensions and the weight remain exactly the same as the predecessor - 123.8 x 58.6 x 7.6 mm and 112 grams. All the ports and keys are also placed exactly as before. If they aren’t looking very closely, or you are using the golden iPhone 5s, most people may not even notice the difference, unless someone notices the dual LED flash at the back, or the redesigned home button which now hosts the fingerprint scanner.
Display: The 4-inch real estate has its share of fans
Apple has been lectured quite often by people who seem to know better, about the presumed reality that a 4-inch screen isn’t big enough for a modern day flagship smartphone. The examples cited are of the latest Android flagships. However, Apple has remained with the 4-inch Retina display (1,136 x 640 pixels) as on the iPhone 5. Maybe a bigger screen will arrive with the next iteration, but for the moment, those of us who do not like carrying around humongous phones are quite happy.
iOS 7: Not a unique point
We don’t really understand the logic of claiming iOS 7 as a unique feature of the iPhone 5s just because it comes with this OS out of the box. All compatible iPhones are eligible for the update, and if reports are to be believed, more than 70% of the eligible iOS devices have already upgraded to iOS 7.
Touch ID: A lot of potential
Another important upgrade is the Touch ID. Yes, biometrics have been done before in smartphones, but it hasn’t been done too well. The fingerprint sensor is integrated into the home button itself and is protected with a sapphire crystal layer. The silver ring encircling the home button is the only visual give-away that this isn’t the iPhone 5’s home button! The Touch ID sensor communicates directly with the registered fingerprint on the A7 chip, and that is locked away so that apps that don’t have authorization do not have access to it. The fingerprint is also registered with a particular iPhone, so there's no chance of it ending up on iCloud.
Simply put, the fingerprint sensor is an additional security layer for your phone when it is locked, or when you may be making transactions on iTunes. You can unlock the iPhone 5s with the registered fingerprint, and not have to punch in a four digit pass-code every time. Pick up the phone, press any hardware key to wake up the display, let your finger rest easy on the scanner (also known as the Home Button to the rest of us!), and voila. All this takes about 2 seconds, and is definitely a lot more convenient than punching in a code every single time.
Secondly, the Touch ID sensor can also be set as the authentication method for the App Store. Whenever you tap on “Free” or “Buy” on any item in the App Store, you are typically asked for your iTunes password. If you have enabled Touch ID for iTunes (Settings -> General -> Touch ID & Passcode), you can scan the fingerprint to authenticate a transaction or even a free app download, without having to bother with the iTunes account password.
At the time when you are setting up your new iPhone, you will be prompted to set up the fingerprint scanner. You can set up to five fingers to be used with Touch ID. If there are multiple people using the same phone, this is a rather convenient aspect. However, I did notice that the scan time did increase, marginally, if you have more than one print registered. But, that isn’t really a big problem. It's important to note that the passcode still remains in the mix, and is a parallel security measure along with the sensor.
With iPhone 5s’s Touch ID, as with any such feature, the biggest fear always had been about how consistent the sensor would be. For the entire time we have been using this feature, we haven't faced a single situation where the sensor didn’t detect the print from the finger resting on the home key. Every time, the response is prompt and precise - be it to unlock the phone or to verify a purchase on the app store.
But, at the moment, that is all you can do with a feature as smooth as this. The real stuff will happen once third part apps start utilizing this feature. The potential is endless, and for the India perspective even without the payments structure being in the mix - Touch ID to sign into Facebook or Touch ID to log me into Gmail or Instagram should attract users. There are a lot of possibilities, starting with doing away with the task of tapping in the password for every single app download. Also, if it is a phone being used by a single user, and most are, how about different fingers to launch different tasks on the phone?
Power Package: Definitely an improvement but potential will reveal itself over time
The big change, possibly the biggest, comes with the new power package. You have the 64-bit dual core processor, teaming up with the M7 motion co-processor and a beefed up GPU. There aren’t many third party apps that can take advantage of the 64-bit architecture, but that just means two things - the iPhone 5s' power package is designed to be future proof and app developers will sort themselves out and provide the compatibility soon enough. The same goes for the M7 motion co-processor. The M7, on its part, collects data from the accelerometer, gyroscope, compass, etc., and can change app behavior depending on those readings. All those fitness apps, can easily utilize this processor with lesser load on the main processor and the battery.
All of this does make a significant difference, and yet at times, doesn’t. Speaking as someone who is an iPhone 5 user, I did not notice the any performance difference in most use cases. Between the two devices side by side, most apps open at the same speed. This is exactly what I meant when I said that despite the significantly improved 64-bit processor, the iPhone 5s will remain just an incremental update, albeit a newer product, till the time the apps can take advantage of the new hardware.
Speaking of which, the significant boost that the 64-bit architecture provides is well illustrated by the browser benchmark tests, run on Safari. The performance, page render times and the ability to handle multiple tab load - all see a significant difference for the better. The benchmark tests tell their own tale, with a massive difference.
The PowerVR G6430 GPU succeeds the PowerVR SGX 543MP3 graphics, with discernibly improved performance. While aspects like game load time and gameplay performance remain the same, the same games look a little better on the iPhone 5s. The newer graphics, at least made Real Racing look slightly better - the textures and the detailing on the cars definitely was crisper and better. As more and more games are updated to take advantage of the improved graphics, we will start noticing performance differences as well.
For the sake of the more powerful processor, Apple has loaded the iPhone 5s with a slightly bigger battery - 1560mAh to the iPhone 5’s 1440mAh. Under the exact same load on a work day, the iPhone 5s lasted me exactly one hour more on a single charge, and got through the evening a lot more comfortably than the iPhone 5. If you have just Twitter and a couple of IMs running in the background, the iPhone 5s will easily get you through a day and a half.
Camera: Improvement, definitely
My colleague, Swapnil, has been testing the iPhone 5s’s camera, and the reports from his end point to a rather impressive camera.
To Buy or not to buy?
The iPhone 5s is, quite truly, nothing like a typical “s” cycle upgrade. The new iPhone gets the processor upgrade, as well as a dedicated motion co-processor. The camera not only has a lot more features, but is a marked improvement over the fairly competent iPhone 5, which it succeeds. Touch ID feels at home straightaway. However, till the time your apps get updated to take care of the 64-bit architecture or the motion co-processor or the fingerprint sensor, the 5s will feel like an incremental update. The future proofing, however, is undeniable, and apps will soon fall in line. Not a big enough upgrade for anyone already using an iPhone 5. But, for anyone using a 4s, the iPhone 5c was itself a big upgrade and the 5s is just a massive one.
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