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Apple iPhone 5S Review: Game changer or just the same old story?

Since the day the first iPhone was unveiled almost 6 years have passed. At that time, against all odds, Apple and its leader Steve Jobs had an important advantage over the competition and they had all the necessary time in the world to bring the... revolution in technology. However today things are completely different that what they used to be in 2007, since competition is fierce and rapidly evolving.

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Android has been installed in most smartphones in the world and Microsoft - especially after the acquisition of Nokia- is a formidable opponent that you cannot ignore. Every 2 years Apple has been presenting us with a new fresh lineup of iPhones and we now know that each S equipped iPhone is just a hardware upgrade and not a design improvement. It's the 3rd time Apple does this thing. iPhone 5S is similar to iPhone 5 but under the hood, it's really really different. It supports 64 bit architecture, it packs a movement co-processor an improved i-Sight camera and a Touch ID sensor.

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It looks like a totally new device, even though its appearance resembles a lot the iPhone 5 and this is not at all acceptable by some users. On the other hand this justifies totally the flagship title - especially if you compare it with the iPhone 5C. The iPhone 5S is the most powerful iPhone ever designed, but apart from this, is it in fact the game changing device destined to bring the next mobile evolution? I think yes, once more.

Have a look at the iPhone 5S unboxing video

 

Appearance and built quality

OK, you can clearly see that the iPhone 5S is quite similar to the iPhone 5. All major differences can be pinpointed in the center home button, that now has a special fingerprint scanner installed - something that's easily noticeable from the special fingerprint "ring" around the home button.

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Apple's iPhone 5S has been constructed mainly by aluminum with impeccable finish and glass. All materials offer excellent quality built and the feeling you get when you hold the device is really out of this world, especially when you know that it's only 7.6 mm thick and it's weight doesn't exceed 112 grams! It's an excellent smartphone... if only it had a larger display!

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The new iPhone 5S was released in 3 different colors: space grey, silver and gold. The space grey color replaces the dark colored iPhone 5 - especially because of its color problems- and the gold version of the iPhone is the newest of all.

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Display

The display of the device retains the same size and resolution as its predecessor. It's impeccable in everyday use, it depicts black color in an awesome way, it's quite bright and with high contrast - something that favors image and video playback. It's Retina obviously, meaning that it packs an LED-backlit IPS panel with a diagonal of 4 inches @ 1160 x 640 pixels resolution with an awesome pixel per inch size (326ppi).

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It's beautiful no matter how you watch it, but it's... not enough. Obviously I'm using smartphones with 4.5-5.0 inch displays lately but still the term Retina has ceased to impress me and I believe that it's the Achilles's Heel of this smartphone. That's why I cannot understand what's the problem with Apple. Why don't they unveil a 4.5-5.0 inch smartphone in the market to please all kinds of users? In any way, I love the Retina display but OK, let's face it, it's obsolete now. People want a smartphone with a large display to enjoy websites and videos from the internet in its large display so I think that Apple should really re-consider this in its next iPhone unveiling, next year. After all, let's face it, you don't want your flagship facing the mini versions of your opponent's smartphones!

Specs and features

Well I guess you already know that the iPhone 5S shares a lot in common with its predecessor on the outside, but not on the inside. There you will see that it has been hugely improved. It packs a new, improved SoC named A7. It packs two ARM based cores (ARMv8) @ 1.3GHz and supports 64 bit architecture meaning that later in the coming months when the OS and the apps support 64 bit architecture then things will be faster, better, brighter for all! Obviously moving from a 32 bit architecture to a 64 bit one, is inevitable, but I don't know if this is a game changing feature at this time. Obviously it suits Apple to move into 64 bit architecture - perhaps to work better with future versions of Mac OS X? - and this is a string point in any case.

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The device packs a PowerVR GPU with OpenGL 3.0, DirectX 10 and OpelCL 1.x support, while Apple chose to keep the RAM of the model the same with the previous (1GB RAM), but with the difference that the iPhone 5S uses a LPDDR3 RAM memory and not the LPDDR2 used by iPhone 5 and iPhone 5C. Finally the device will offer support for the most 4G LTE bands in the world, and has be constructed by Qualcomm. In addition the new iPhone 5S will be available in 16/32/64GB versions with no micro SD support of course.

Touch ID

Well truth is that fingerprint sensors are no news to us. There have been several smartphones that introduced them to the world lately (Motorola Atrix 4G), even though the whole implementation was really poor. Apple took something that was well known to the world but managed to turn it into something secy and quite serious in our everyday use, especially for those who want to make purchases from the App Store or secure their data.
According to Apple everyone can feel safe, since their fingerprint is stored locally on the device (into a small memory section of the processor) and is never uploaded to the main Apple servers. Touch ID  is in fact replacing the passcode we all know in the iPhone security features, and it can be combined with your Apple ID, in order to make purchases from the App Store. It works like a charm and it's quite easy to set it up. The authentication can be made in steps, where the fingerprint sensor takes "photos" of your fingerprints (you can add up to 5 fingers) so that it will recognize you when needed.

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Touch ID is a marvellous new feature the new iPhone brings. It's almost certain that this new technology will be used in most of Apple's forthcoming models, including the new iPad and iPad mini.
Facetime HD andι iSight camera

The FaceTime HD camera is similar to the one installed on the iPhone 5, so we're talking about a 1.2MPixel camera (capable of shooting 1280x960 pixel photos and 720p videos) that packs an improved BSI (Back Side Illumination) sensor. Almost the same thing happens with the main iSight camera - that remains at an 8.0MPixel resolution- but has several improvements under the... hood.

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The BSI sensor is quite larger than the one used by iPhone 5, since it can store up to 1.5X times bigger elements, in an effort to improve the camera functions, especially in low light conditions. The lens has f:/2.2 aperture and this means that we're dealing with a wide view lens that makes it quite easy to capture shots and video. It's made out of 5 elements and it's 33% more sensitive to light. The lens is covered by sapphire, really durable against anything you may try to... do to it! The iSight camera also has two (not one) LED's called TrueTone! One of them offers a warmer light and the other a more colder light and they both work together to offer the best possible light to match perfectly the skin tone of your "digital" target. This means that with TrueTone LED the skin of people will be depicted more normally in photos, looking more natural. It's a feature that really works flawlessly.

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When you turn on the device and its camera, you get to see a brand new menu (UI), quite minimal that helps us shoot photos and videos in seconds with excellent results. You get several image filters, the ability to record 720p video @ 120fps (slow mo), use the HDR feature we all know, or shoot low res images at the time you record video, along with square photos that will be excellent for all of you who use the Instagram. The Camera app is really fast, and shoots photos like a charm. I'm not sure if it's happening because of the iOS, or because of the A7 SoC, but the final imaging (and recording) result is superior to the one I had with the iPhone 5. You won't spot a lot of differences between the two phones (as you watch the photos they shoot) but all in all, the iPhone 5S is an excellent camera phone!

Image samples

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Software

Yes I know you all love it. iOS 7 is really beautiful as far as it concern its aesthetics, with transparencies, new animations and an improved color palette that makes it look more fresh, young and user friendly. All the apps we knew existed in the iPhone 5 have found their place in the iPhone 5S, they are completely redesigned and most of them use the AirDrop feature that allows users share content (documents, photos, videos) with other iOS users around them.

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Apple continues to... ignore NFC technology - not without good reason since there are not enough accessories available in the market- but I think that soon, perhaps the next iPhone, it will implement it finally

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One of the most important features of the new iPhone 5S (and the iPhone 5C for that matter) is the fact that you get the iWork suite for free, which is great, since it includes  useful apps especially for professional users. It's obvious that with this way Apple tries to respond to Google and Microsoft (who offers Office for free, with each new Windows Phone 8 smartphone).

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Speed and everyday use

The iPhone 5S is as fast as you can imagine guys, there's no doubt about it. I spotted some glitches regarding some iOS animations, but I'm sure they are going to disappear in the following updates. The A7 SoC works great with the M7 co processor and reduces it's CPU load, while this marvellous GPU (PowerVR created by Imagination Technologies) is certain to blow your mind with its benchmarking results, speed and the ability to depict impressive 3D graphics, or full HD movies!

Even though in reality the iPhone 5S is just a dual core smartphone with 1GB of RAM it's still more powerful than most of the Android smartphones it's going to compete with. It can last for almost two days in stand by mode, but if you work with it really hard then it will last about one day of use.
My result

The iPhone 5S is an exceptional smartphone, powerful and complete with impressive features, that can be quite easy to use by almost everyone. The visual effects and animations are impecable and the company tries hard to offer a usable UI, with out lots of various settings that may confuse you. Those of you who previously owned an iPhone will surely find it quite easy to navigate in the UI and use the device, but they will also understand that they have a device really powerful and quite different at the same time.

 

Some might say that it's something normal, something we've seen again and that Apple isn't as innovative as it used to be. I know that a 4.0 inch display in such a smartphone is like refusing to evolve, since most competitors have larger and perhaps better displays. Nevertheless the iPhone needs a larger display if it's going to confront the competition that is improving it's flagships constantly. I would also like the battery to last a bit longer but, no it doesn't so in terms of battery usage I cannot say that I was impressed.


The camera is exceptional, no questions asked. Today there are no apps or games that can take advantage of the specs of the iPhone 5S or its 64 bit architecture. I also believe however that in about 6 months it's going to be a hugely different device , a game changing smartphone, as Apple imagined it to be. Today though it's Apple's flagship and one of the best smartphones available today. Tomorrow perhaps Apple will change everything... again.

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