Apple iPhone 5S review

Perfection in a tight package

Apple iPhone 5S review

Earlier than its official launch in the Netherlands, we bring you the review of the Apple iPhone 5S. The device has been made available by that offers the device earlier than normal.

The introduction of the iPhone 5S didn't really come with any surprises, except for the fact that Apple deviated from the habit of announcing just one new model. Besides the 5S, the plastic made iPhone 5C was announced. The previous model went straight into the trash and the iPhone 4S would become the new entry-level model. The iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4 and iPhone 5 all went discontinued.

By far the most interest went out to the new iPhone 5S. Not surprisingly, because it is the new flagship and also equipped with fingerprint scanner and the first to use a 64-bit processor. The latter was perhaps the biggest surprise of the day. We got a chance to test the iPhone 5S in the Space Grey version, something we did with iOS version 7.0.2.

iPhone 5s contents

What's with the device?

The boxes containing iPhones haven't really changed in ages. Once opened, the device shines towards you. Underneath is an envelope of quick start instructions. There's also a skewer for opening the SIM slot. So there's no real manual, but that's only good for sites like us. Then at least we have something to write about.

Also present is a headphone type EarPods, the same one that came with the iPhone 5. Included is a microphone and remote control. Finally, you get a Lightning cable and a loose plug. All neatly packaged in protective plastic and high quality. We didn't expect anything else, either.


As usual with an S-iPhone, the appearance has remained virtually the same. There are some differences. The biggest one is in the color palette. The black version is now called 'Space Grey' and the metal back is now grey instead of black. There is also a third version; Gold. Instead of ostentatious gold the front is white with gold accents and the metal back is gold coloured.


The front however still has a change; on the slightly recessed home button there is no longer a square. It is plain black. That's to give the fingerprint scanner a good view on your fingers, but more on that later. The left side has three buttons; the mute button and two separate volume buttons. The buttons give quite some resistance and contribute to the high quality feeling.


Another place where we see change is the back. The camera is now assisted by two LED flashes. One is white, the other a bit redder. This is a True Tone flash which will be discussed later. On the right side is the sim lock. You'll need the supplied pricker to open it. It contains a nanoSIM that is smaller in size than the usual microSIM.


The top provides space for the on and off button. At the bottom left is the 3.5 mm audio jack and the Lightning jack which is surrounded by two large speakers. Apple still uses the pentalobe screws so you can't easily open it yourself.

The design of the iPhone 5S remains one of the finest in the market. Corners are rounded or cut at an angle. There's an incredible amount of detail in the design. A comparison with a watch or piece of jewelry is quickly made.


Inside the iPhone 5S is a 5.92 Wh battery. The previous model had to make do with 5.45 Wh. A complicated calculation shows that 5.92 Wh equals 1,558 mAh, which is indeed more than the 1,440 from the iPhone 5. The difference is never clear to us in practice. You can still do one day with an iPhone. Maybe some components use more energy, maybe it's because of iOS 7. We don't know but you won't notice the bigger battery.


The iPhone is one of the few smartphones that doesn't have a real energy-saving mode. If you want to get the most out of your device, you'll have to turn off things like Bluetooth yourself. The biggest gain you can make is by setting the screen brightness to low and automatic. You can also set most email accounts to Fetch and manually. Emails are not automatically retrieved but as soon as you open the email app. The iPhone also offers the option to turn off 4G or 3G to save battery power, but we don't see the point if you have such a subscription.

New is the possibility to retrieve data in the background. It is advisable to browse through this critically from time to time and to disable apps that have a lower priority.

Call quality

We're not gonna talk about deathgrips this time. Not only because it would be faint, but also because it's out of the question. Actually, since the iPhone 4S. Calling actually goes very well with the iPhone. The call screen will take some getting used to for iPhone veterans, and depends on your set background. The circles around the buttons take on that color.


We can also be very brief about the phone possibilities of the iPhone. They are excellent. There's nothing to complain about and there are plenty of settings.


Apple adjusts the screen every two iPhone generations. Because they already did that for iPhone 5, we have to wait for iPhone 6. However, something strange strikes us on the screen. We've seen the competition make screens that are above 326 in pixel density. Although theoretically you shouldn't see it, you do see it. Not that it stands out very much but sometimes there seems to be a filter across the screen. Don't get us wrong, the screen in the iPhone 5S is still above average, it's just not at the top of the ranking anymore.

Something we keep hammering away at is the iPhone's tiny screen. Four inches isn't big these days. If you're used to it, you don't complain. Those who've had bigger do. And that's a challenge for Apple. Those who have boarded Android and got used to 4.5 to 5 inches will have a lot of trouble working with 4 inches. If Apple wants to attract this target group, a larger iPhone is inevitable. Fortunately, the rumors about the iPhone 6 are favourable in that respect. Current iPhone users who swear by the current format will be as easily persuaded as when the screen went from 3.5 to 4 inches.


We'd like to use this section to tell you a little more about iOS 7. It's the latest version of the iPhone operating system. And it's the biggest update since the iPhone came out. Not only does it look completely different, but it also works differently in some cases.


Although the design is based on the Flat Design principle, the start screen has several layers, some of which are slightly transparent. If you tilt the iPhone slightly, the icons appear to be separate from the background. This phenomenon is known as the parallax effect. Also different are the animations for opening and closing apps. The icon is zoomed in and out. Although nice to think of, the effect is bad for some people's stomachs. Complaints similar to car sickness flooded the internet. Although those zoom-in and zoom-out animations cannot be turned off, the parallax effect can be turned off. The new colour palette with bright 80's colours also takes some getting used to. That goes fast by the way. One day of use and iOS 6 looks old right away.

Apple changed the notification screen. It's now called the message center, and tabs have been added. There's a daily view that lets you view weather and trade show information in addition to appointments for that day. There's also an "All" and "Missed" tab. Instead of clicking on the tab, you can also swipe to it.


If you swipe up from underneath the screen, a whole new screen appears; the control panel. It has become a bit messy. For example, there are shortcuts to activate airplane mode, WiFi, bluetooth, night mode and screen rotation. You can also use it to set the sound and screen brightness and to control the media player/iPod. There are also four shortcuts to apps including timer, calculator and camera. The fourth button activates the LED light on the back, handy when you're looking for something in the dark. Unfortunately you can't change these buttons. There is also AirDrop in the middle of the menu. It's a bit strange because you can use it to activate AirDrop. As far as we're concerned, this one would have fitted at the top of the menu as well.


The multi-tasking part has also been overhauled. You now get an overview of running apps with a preview of the app. If you want to have one out, just swipe the app up to close it. Where else have we seen that? Right, webOS! If you're looking for Spotlight, you'll have to swipe down from now on.


In addition to new colours and simpler icons, there is also something different when it comes to operation. Something added right. It is perhaps best to demonstrate it in the settings menu. For example, if you are in a 'General' submenu, you can go back by swiping from the left side of the screen to the right. This new gesture does not work everywhere in the system and is therefore somewhat confusing. Developers will have to modify existing apps to make use of this, Facebook and Twitter are examples of apps that have already been modified. Developers will have to work with their apps anyway to make the design compatible with iOS 7.

In the end, as an existing user, it's not so bad to use iOS 7. In any case, it's not as bad as we feared beforehand. Despite the inconsistency, we want the aligned or overlapping texts and not yet customized icons best claim that we have fallen slightly in love with iOS 7. Although the work is in progress, it is a welcome fresh interface with which Apple shows us the future. Two steps forward, one back as far as we're concerned. At least we're going in the right direction.


The address book is one of the few apps that Apple hasn't done much about. It's still a bare list of names. You can still link Facebook and Twitter and sync contacts. The iPhone seems to have gotten worse in automatically linking contacts.


So we had a lot of duplicates or splintered contacts. It could also be up to us with all different cloud accounts. Biggest objection is that you can't have Google accounts push automatically anymore. This only applies to Gmail messages, but fortunately there is the separate Gmail app for that.


Also the operation of sending messages and e-mail does not seem to have changed. Fortunately, because that was already very good in iOS. Messages are automatically sent via the own iMessage network if the recipient has them. Convenient and almost invisible for the user. That's how technology should be.



The iPhone 5S uses Safari to go on the Internet. This browser is incredibly fast compared to, for example, Android. In addition to being fast, the browser has been overhauled by Apple. The address bar for example. Here you can now also enter your search query. By the way, if you are looking for the '.com' button, it's hidden under the '...' button. Long press and it will appear. The control buttons will disappear together with the address bar when scrolling through a page. The address bar changes into the name of the website. If you want the controls back, you can scroll up, but clicking on the website name is also sufficient.


The way of displaying tabs is also new. Strongly inspired by Chrome for Android, it shows tabs in 3D that you can swipe out of the overview to close. We don't blame Apple for adopting this, the other way around has happened often enough. In addition to a bookmark overview and reading list, there is now also a tab with links from logged in social media such as Facebook and Twitter. The idea is fun but we doubt if anyone would really use it.

Apple has been promoting its own AirDrop technology for some time now. It is a way that uses existing techniques such as Bluetooth and WiFi to send content to other users. For example, if you want to share a photo with the person next to you, you can use AirDrop. Does the other person need to have an iPhone or iPad that supports it? We tried it with an iMac but couldn't get it to work. Oddly, things like that are supposed to work at Apple.


When the iPhone 5S was announced we were perhaps most disappointed with the camera. The number of megapixels was stuck at 8. We had at least expected an increase to 12. Yet it is not the same camera as in the iPhone 5. The aperture has been increased to f/2.2 and the sensor is 15% larger so it catches more light. The result is that the iPhone 5S takes good pictures, but no more than that. There is much better available today.

Apple has put the necessary man hours into rebuilding the camera app. From now on, you can shoot square shots similar to how Instagram does that. You can also choose filters just like Instagram. It's fun, but we've got plenty of apps for that.

We find it more convenient to record videos in slomotion. The unique thing is that this is done in Full HD and at 120 frames per second. It delivers nice images and new possibilities.


The way to view photos back has also been changed. You zoom in on moments, collections and years. You can find photos surprisingly quickly if you have a huge collection. This way is much better than a simple list of photos in chronological order.

Apple iPhone 5S camera samples


Existing programs

The standard arsenal of pre-installed apps has grown considerably over the years. Unlike iOS 6, none have been added, just removed from skeuomorphism such as stitched leather. Strangely enough, not all of them, including "Find my iPhone. Apparently they haven't had time for this yet.


As mentioned before, the transformation to iOS 7 has been reasonably successful everywhere. In some apps, it delivers very nice new approaches to existing problems. One app we would like to highlight is the diary. The top level is the annual overview, click on a month and you go to that month as submenu. Click on a day and you get the day overview as a submenu. Turn the device and you get the week menu. So instead of an option it has become a menu structure. The average user probably won't notice it (and that's a good thing too), it just makes a designer happy. Also the new approach of the gallery app is a nice example, but we already discussed it extensively.



Apple introduces with the 5S an old acquaintance in the phone industry; the fingerprint scanner. We always found them very clumsy, inaccurate, slow and ugly. Apple incorporated the scanner in the home button and called it Touch ID. Most people unlock their iPhone by pressing the home button and entering a code. "Wouldn't it be convenient to combine those two actions?" They must have thought Apple.


You can authorize several fingers and the process is quite simple. You are asked to put your finger on the home button until it vibrates, then you take it off and put it back just as he likes it. Then you are asked to enter the sides of your finger so that he knows your finger from all angles. Once saved, unlock the iPhone with that finger. In addition to unlocking your iPhone, you can also use it to make purchases from the App Store. And against all odds, it works surprisingly well. The device recognizes your finger within the count of a finger and you have access. That may seem like a long time, but remember you spent that time entering a code or swiping your device open.

Apple iPhone 5s Touch ID

Moreover, in most cases our finger was recognized flawlessly. The fingerprint is stored on the iPhone itself and Apple promises that they cannot be read out online. Of course it's a privacy thing, but consider how often you leave your fingerprints during the day. In the end, it was our favorite way to secure the device.


Honestly, we don't have it like that on S-iPhone's. They are usually a moderate upgrade from the previous model for which you pay the main price anyway. These iPhons 5S seem to break with that tradition. Although the 5S doesn't seem to differ much from its predecessor, a lot of changes have been made for an S-iPhone. More than the usual processor and camera upgrade. Of course, the new A7 processor is faster than its predecessor, but it is also the first to be based on 64-bit. Let's leave it at that for a moment if it's really necessary, it's certainly clever of Apple to have made this transition almost invisible to users and app developers.

The fingerprint scanner is the icing on the cake that's more than a gimmick. Without ending up in an endless privacy discussion, it really adds to the ease of use and security of your beloved iDevice. And while iOS 7 isn't exclusive to the iPhone 5S, the new operating system adds a sense of novelty we've missed before. All of which makes this generation iPhone perhaps the first since the iPhone 3GS to make it worth upgrading from its predecessor. Apple has elevated perfecting the iPhone to an art form and with the 5S they have succeeded reasonably well. Now even a bigger screen, but we'll talk more about that next year. Until that time, the iPhone 5S is a more than fine stopover.

The iPhone 5S is officially coming to the Netherlands on October 25th. In the meantime it is available at

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