For most people, the iPhone 5S is the best smartphone you can buy.
Yes, it looks nearly identical to last year’s iPhone 5. Yes, there are plenty of other smartphones out there that are just as good and can do a lot more things. Yes, the screen is relatively tiny compared to a bunch of the giant Android phones out there.
But that doesn’t matter.
What makes the iPhone 5S so great is that it hits the perfect balance of power, useful features, and great design. I can’t name too many other devices that accomplish that.
The iPhone 5S takes what made the iPhone 5 so great and adds a bit more. There’s a fingerprint sensor embedded in the home button that lets you unlock the device without a passcode. There’s a better camera with an improved flash. And there are a few internal hardware improvements that will help future-proof the device as Apple and developers build in more goodies.
The iPhone 5S experience is nearly identical to the iPhone 5 experience, so I’m not going to waste time going over what you already know. Instead, it’s more important to talk about the new stuff.
Here. We. Go.
The Fingerprint Sensor
I was worried this would be a gimmick, Apple’s latest snafu a la Apple Maps or the not-so-helpful Siri assistant. I was wrong. The fingerprint sensor, which Apple calls Touch ID, works flawlessly. There’s about a minute-long setup process, and after that, you’re good to go. Just tap your finger on the embedded sensor on the home button and the phone unlocks itself, no passcode required.
Apple isn’t the first company to put a fingerprint sensor on a smartphone, but it is the first to get it right. In the past, fingerprint sensors required you to swipe your finger across it to get a read. Even then, they didn’t always work. Apple’s Touch ID is so sensitive and perfect that it can detect your fingerprint every single time. I never had a problem.
Now is Touch ID a game-changer? Is it something you need to run out and upgrade your older iPhone for right now?
Touch ID is something that’s simply nice to have, a minor convenience. It’s an iterative innovation, but one that is incredibly useful.
The camera is noticeably better. The iPhone 5S has a special dual LED flash that helps the phone take better photos in low-light settings. My photos looked better than the ones taken on my older iPhone 5. I also enjoyed the new slow-motion video feature, which lets you shoot video at 120 frames per second and slow down portions of your video clips. The 5S has only been out for a little over a week, and people have already figured out some really clever ways to use the feature.
When Apple announced the iPhone 5S a few weeks ago, it spent a lot of time boasting about its new 64-bit processor, which is about twice as fast as the processor in the iPhone 5. The boost in speed is nice to have, but I didn’t notice any improvement in performance over the iPhone 5. All my apps ran just as quickly as before. I felt like I was still using an iPhone 5.
Yes, gadget geeks have tested the new iPhone 5S processor, and does make the device the fastest smartphone on the planet right now. But most people won’t notice. Apple’s iPhone software and most other apps are so lightweight that they don’t even need that kind of power.
Apple is stubborn. As great as the iPhone 5S is, I still wish it had a bigger screen. There’s clearly a demand for such big-screen devices, yet Apple refuses to budge, only giving us a modest bump in screen size last year with the 4-inch iPhone 5.
I’ve tested dozens of smartphones over the years, and every time I test one with a larger screen, I find myself dreaming of device that size that has Apple’s great design and attention to detail in the operating system. There’s still talk that Apple is noodling around with designs for a big-screen iPhone for next year, but that’s not the device we got this year.
For now, the biggest drawback for iPhone owners is going to be big-screen envy.
Those who didn’t make it this far into my review of the iPhone 5S and instead rushed to the comments to blast me because of my glowing headline shouldn’t buy the iPhone 5S. They should buy the HTC One, Nokia Lumia 925, or Samsung Galaxy S4.
Everyone else will be perfectly happy with the iPhone 5S. Buying an iPhone gives you access to the best apps before anyone else. It gives you access to quick customer support at the Apple Store. It gives you beautiful design both in software and hardware. Unless you absolutely must have a giant screen, the iPhone 5S is nearly perfect.