iPhone 5s 16GB Black/Space Grey Review

From the moment I first set eyes upon the pretentious linguistic devices of the updated Apple website advertising their latest iPhone 5s, I knew that it was time to update my increasingly senile iPhone 4s. Read on for an honest iPhone 5s perspective from someone who once worshipped the iconic iPhone 4s only to be underwhelmed by the latest offering from Apple.

Unboxing

Space Grey iPhone 5s box

The box for the iPhone 5s is in the same style as every other iPhone box before it, though it did confuse me as to why Apple would give a different style of packaging for the iPhone 5c with the plastic bubble protecting it, very similar to what the iPods are packaged in, making it look even more like a children’s toy. The plastic bubble packaging is illogical too, as it causes problems for the staff in Apple with the barcode being partially around the curved edge of the box, making it difficult to scan at the checkout, compared to the iPhone 5s, it’s almost embarrassing to take an iPhone 5c to the counter when buying it considering the precious little in price between the two and the childish aesthetic of it.

iPhone 5s Hardware; so safe it’s boring

Space Grey iPhone 5s Touch ID

The iPhone 5s is not much different from the iPhone 5 – it is still 7.6mm deep, still 123.8mm tall and 112g in weight. One thing that really made me question Apple Inc.’s thinking now that the influence of Steve Jobs is being less felt was the naming of this iPhone 5s colour as space grey, what’s grey about space? And what is grey about the iPhone 5s? It’s more of a dull silver or pewter, and there’s still more black than pewter than for it to logically be called space grey. This is a pretty poor attempt on behalf of Apple to appeal to the hipsters of the world with something space related, that may also explain the garish iOS 7 and toy-like appearance of the iPhone 5c – Jony Ive, that filthy hipster. What’s wrong with having something more business-like such as the back of the case being entirely black? I’ve seen several space grey cars in Liverpool and Manchester, and this isn’t space grey, those look a lot slicker than the iPhone 5s.

The champagne option for the iPhone 5s looks tacky in the photos online but looks surprisingly nice in person from my female perspective, personally I still wouldn’t have the 5s in Champagne or Silver though as my iPhone 4s was white and I had all sorts of issues of dirt showing up (especially in the gap around the edges between the screen and the metal edges) and discolouration with certain cases which is why I opted for Space Grey so that I don’t have to worry about dirt as much, but I am still quite OCD in the sense that I am meticulous in keeping my iPhone as clean as possible, getting out a microfiber cloth and cleaning the screen and the back after using it every time before putting it carefully back into my jeans pocket, cleaning it even if all I’ve done is check the time.

The younger generation of iPhone users, the ones that are late to the Apple party who think the salmon purée pink iPhone 5c is “gorgeous”, they make it worse by falling for Jony Ive’s hipster-friendly design choices, I’m honestly surprised that the square on the home button wasn’t replaced with a triangle on the 5c, but they entirely ditched it on the 5s. This particular demographic are only interested in the iPhone as a fashion accessory and are only further fueling Jony Ive’s terrible ideas and I sadly believe that this is the slow demise of Apple now that they’ve stopped taking risks and just started playing it safe. Steve Jobs got rid of the polycarbonate MacBook Pro for a reason; he would cringe at a polycarbonate iPhone. It’s time for Apple to go back to supporting their business demographic that happen to make all the content that makes their platform the success that it is with consumers.

The cases available for the iPhone 5s are a lot better than the ones available for the 5c. The iPhone 5c cases seem to offer little to no protection with holes cut into the back purely to show off the garish colours of the polycarbonate iPhone underneath, with the case also looking like it is made from flimsy silicone. The iPhone 5c cases are available in some pretty garish colours themselves if you don’t go for a simple black case, but these look substantial and like they do offer a decent amount of protection. With a soft microfiber lining on the interior to protect your iPhone 5s and keep it looking as good as new, and a luxuriously soft premium leather exterior, it feels amazing in your hand and still feels comfortably slim. The leather is deliberately shaped around the volume buttons and the on/off button, which I think is great as it stops gunk and dirt from getting lodged around the buttons. The leather also protects the chamfered edge of the iPhone which adds additional protection if you place it face-down as it holds the screen up.

iPhone 5s Touch ID sensor

The iPhone 5s Touch ID sensor impresses the Apple fanboy and fangirl sorority, but the NSA and other three letter government agencies say it all as they won’t use it because it isn’t actually all that secure, is this a replacement for the password that’s arrived too early? Probably not, a password is more secure. Biometrics are nothing new and this still hasn’t really made them appealing to the mass market or even their intended market; business. It does make unlocking the phone faster in some cases, but Bryan and Hammy strongly disagree on that point and still prefer a four digit unlock code.

As a developer, the iPhone 5s Touch ID sensor really interested me, but Apple hasn’t opened up the Touch ID API to developers yet, thus making the Touch ID feature fairly meaningless for me at present, sure, it can save time when inputting your PIN on the lock-screen, but was the second that took really that much of an effort? I think we’re entering into an age of digital laziness and shortcuts, not that it is a bad thing when executed well, but this smacks entirely of gimmick, especially now that it seems Apple has run out of innovative ideas to bring to the market.

A7 system on a chip and M7 motion sensor

Apple is proud of this being the world’s first 64 bit smartphone, but there’s simply no need for 64 bit processors in a consumer smartphone, there isn’t 4GB of RAM in it, in fact there is only 1GB, so why bother? Possibly because Samsung engineered the A7 system on a chip; that explains things.

The M7 allows you to track your travels without running your battery life down so this means you can utilise this data inside a variety of applications such as fitness tracking apps or ones that simply map out your cycling route and record your times, as well as the Maps apps where the M7 can tell when you’re in the car and when you get out of the car it changes to on-foot and will reveal side streets to you on your route that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to go down in a vehicle. This is a nice step forward, but nothing mind-blowing, just what should have been done with the iPhone 5.

iPhone 5s iSight camera

Space Grey iPhone 5s iSight Camera and True Tone flash

The new iSight camera sensor allegedly collects 33% more light than the iPhone 5, and the camera itself is protected with sapphire crystal like the home button.

Truetone Flash is a welcomed feature with the addition of an amber LED flash along with the white LED, which adjusts the flash intensity and colour temperature to one of 1,000+ unique combinations to give the perfect lighting to your photograph. It takes the colour temperatures and light levels from your environment and tailors the flash to take a nicely lit photo. Night photos worth keeping? Yes please. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I had taken photos at night on my iPhone 4s and had to delete all of the photos because they were either too dark or bleached by the flash, so I am very happy with how the low-light photographs come out.

There is now also continuous burst mode, which takes 10 photographs per second by simply keeping your finger on the shutter button and removing when you have taken your desired amount of photos. Perfect for capturing that photo of your cat yawning like a maniac. Auto image stabilization is also a welcomed feature, especially if you’re trying to snap photos of a marathon or swimming, I have tested this and it actually works very well.

I personally dislike the slow-motion video feature as it isn’t all slow-mo, it starts at regular speed, then goes slow-mo in the middle then speeds up at the end, I would assume slow-motion to be slow-motion throughout. Finally, we can zoom in using the camera whilst recording video, this was irritating on previous models when you start recording then decide you want to zoom in – and couldn’t.

Panorama is looking even better with the improved camera, it is a lot smoother which makes it easier to use, on my iPhone 4s the arrow and the line to keep the photo on the same level was jerky and unstable and made it difficult to take a decent photo.

The front facing camera on the iPhone 5s is better too, despite it still being just 1.2MP, it has an improved backside illumination sensor to make FaceTiming in low light situations clearer and makes photos look smoother, although the front facing camera still only records in 720p whereas the rear facing camera records in 1080p at 30fps.

Apple integrated some filters into their Camera app, obviously this is to draw people away from apps such as Instagram, but Apple shouldn’t have bought into yet more hipster-pandering nonsense as there is precious little point in integrating a better camera and then degrading the photos with the same filters millions of other people are going to be using and encouraging people to capture less information. I think it defeats the whole point of having a better camera and defeats the whole point of buying the latest iPhone, we should be encouraging users to capture wider and better photographs in their apps, otherwise what’s the point in lusting after the latest hardware?

Having the ability to shoot square photos just makes it appeal to dat dirty hipstah Jony Ive’s evangelists even more, especially with the filters, even advertising on the Apple site that it makes it easier to upload photos to Instagram, definitely cringe inducing all round as Instagram isn’t classy, this is out-of-place on a £549 device. Instead of wasting time developing this nonsense, Apple should have instead focused on the actually useful functionality of the iPhone 5s and iOS 7, as a result the iPhone 5s and iOS 7 fall flat on their blank white faces as examples of fine design and are instead the most safe and boring products on the market currently. We went through a golden age of tech, an absolute renaissance where things that were said to be impossible became possible, but now we seem to be entering into a phase of boring products that once again lack innovation just like with RIM’s BlackBerry.

iPhone 5s software; a half-baked and over-hyped Apple crumble

The iPhone 5s ships with iOS 7 out of the box, given this situation, there is no ability to downgrade it to the significantly different iOS 6 should you wish as with the MacBooks that ship with Mountain Lion when a lot of industry software can take a while to catch up. This would be fine if iOS 7 wasn’t such a mess for even a consumer, this is where the real woes begin for an avid iPhone user like myself.

iOS 7 Issues

Back of iPhone 5s Space Grey

So, after finally getting my hands on the long-awaited iPhone 5s on the day of its launch and having used it for a couple of weeks since then, I’m disappointed. I was excited when unboxing it as I was upgrading from a white iPhone 4s to a ‘Space Grey’ iPhone 5s, but as I plugged it in and set it charging for 8 hours, set it up, within the first 5 minutes of using it, it will not connect to any of my email accounts servers and tells me I have 10 unread messages when they’re all read. Force quitting the app used to fix the false badge notifications, but not anymore. Instead, it deleted all of my messages and conversations. There is already an update for iOS 7.0.2, too, which doesn’t seem too promising if they’ve already had to do an update just a few days after launch.

iMessages on iOS 7 are a mess. My partner (Hammy) and I send quite large iMessages to each other multiple times per day, and iOS 7 has made this quite difficult; it will keep sent iMessages at my end long, but they will arrive at the other end shortened within a speech bubble and then any big messages I receive will arrive shortened too, these messages are possible to view in their entirety if you tap the speech bubble, but they can’t be replied to from within there, it just seems very illogical, this is where iOS 6 was far superior if you did a lot of communicating.

Something I found interesting were the claims that the iPhone 5s on iOS 7 uses Multi-Path TCP. Originally I thought that it required saying a specific phrase to Siri to enable it, but it seems like it works straight out of the box. I guess this is a nice addition, if it works, as it should every time, because if your WiFi stops working for any reason then it doesn’t restart a page load or a YouTube video, it carries on via 3G/4G.

After almost a month of use, I have come across a few more issues that really irritate me. One of which is every time I take a photo in Messages to put straight into a message, Messages crashes, and if I try it again straight afterwards then it restarts my iPhone, and when I force-quit apps in multi-tasking if I force-quit more than 3 in a row then it will restart my iPhone. This is an issue for me as I tend to force-quit all of my apps multiple times per day to de-clutter my iPhone as I don’t find the iOS Multitasking API to work very well when it comes to conserving battery life and ensuring there’s a decent amount of system resources available.

When I first used my 5s, the battery life was dire and barely lasted the day, even after leaving it on charge all day and all night without use, I’d start using it at 10am and by 12pm I’d be on 6% and desperately searching for a charger. Oddly enough, the battery life has improved with use to the point I start using it at 10am and by 4:30pm I’m only down to 42%, perhaps those software updates and app updates really improved the battery performance of the iPhone 5s, but probably more because of my next point.

Background App Refresh is a smart idea implemented in a not so smart way; it is automatically set to ‘on’ and you don’t really notice it first time because it is a new feature, it drains the battery life a huge amount. Basically, whilst you’re doing other things and multitasking, the apps that are open and running in the background will constantly refresh and search for new content, while running on WiFi or a cellular network, whilst this is nice if you don’t want to wait for an app to gather new data, it is quite a waste of data and battery, but it does satisfy a niche of people who want this. If you want to switch off Background App Refresh then it is in ‘Settings > General > Background App Refresh’.

iOS 7 Connectivity

Bluetooth and WiFi capabilities have greatly improved too. On my iPhone 4s, I found myself regularly having to go into Settings and reconnect to my WiFi because it had a habit of dropping out on me every twenty minutes, but on the 5s this has greatly improved in that I haven’t had to go into Settings and reconnect once yet.

There is also the addition of AirDrop, which previously wasn’t available on iPhone or iPad but is available on iPhone 5 and later, 4th Gen iPad, 5th Gen iPod Touch and iPad Mini with iOS7. I haven’t yet used AirDrop, but I’m sure I will get the opportunity to try it out soon, as it seems like a great feature. AirDrop allows you to send files and photos to your friends that are nearby very quickly with minimal messing about. Unfortunately, what is quite disappointing is how AirDrop is iOS 7 only, and how AirDrop doesn’t allow you to share files from iOS to Mac OS or vice versa, which I hope will be fixed in an update soon as it is stupid for something with the same name that does the same thing by the same company to be limited in this way.

Personal Hotspot also now connects quicker, not sure how this offers any benefit because all I care about is if the connection is more reliable and stays connected for longer and doesn’t drop out like my WiFi used to with my 4s. 4G is particularly underwhelming for me with the lack of 4G coverage around the UK, for example, I can’t get 4G coverage in my house, but when I occasionally get a bit of coverage in the hospital it is 4G which is neither use nor ornament because if you’re lucky enough to get coverage in a hospital then it only lasts 2 minutes and then disappears again.

iOS 7 Clock & Calendar

One of the more puzzling choices by Apple is to have such a dazzlingly white UI for the Clock and Calendar app, this is something that people tend to view first thing in the morning just after waking up or just before going to sleep, this isn’t exactly logical, this should at least be customizable. A good choice would have been to have the app automatically use the system time just like the Maps app features the Night Mode, same with the Mail and Messages apps or even the whole iOS 7 UI, I think that having this period tie in with Do Not Disturb period assignable in Settings would be logical too, especially if this colour transformation subtly and stylishly morphed into the other.

iOS 7 Sound Effects and Dynamic Wallpapers

The sound effects of iOS 7 are grating to say the least with their new ‘depth’ as the fanboys and fangirls are calling it, more like a layered almost-comedic sound effect, especially with the hilarious sounding ‘By The Seaside’. it is a good thing that you can change them back to the old ones of iOS 6, the ringtones are no doubt to encourage users to buy the premium ringtones from iTunes, I’ll be opening up Melodyne soon to make a decent ringtone.

Dynamic Wallpapers are nothing but a novelty for the first few hours of using your new iPhone 5s, where you choose your favorite colourful dynamic wallpaper and sit tilting your iPhone in every direction watching as the bubbles move around the screen, but you soon realize that this is nothing but a battery drain and a novelty. I will definitely be sticking to the regular wallpapers or my own photos as wallpaper.

Wishlist for iOS 8

Apple proclaim their new iPhone 5s as a forward thinking phone, I’m proclaiming this as a forward thinking iPhone 5s review by including a short wishlist for the future of iOS and the next iPhone, Apple stated that it isn’t just “what’s next” but what “should be next”.

Apple, please make iOS customizable like Android and Windows Phone is, that’s not a call to make it as ‘hackable’ as Android, that’s a simple request to allow us to customize the UI a little more such as in apps like Clock and Calendar just to make things easier on the eyes after a long day or when we’ve just woken up. I can only assume that iOS 7 is so bland and uninteresting looking with a lack of textures because Apple is planning on allowing users to heavily customize their UI from this blank canvas.

Widgets in iOS 8

Micro apps in the form of widgets would be a seriously great addition to iOS, especially if the widgets could also be used on Mac OS X’s dashboard and on Apple’s inevitable iWatch, that would give developers an app that’s quick to develop, which could be using on multiple platforms and generate plenty of sales. It would be so great to see traffic statistics for websites in the lock-screen or Notification Center or on my wrist on an iWatch.

Real-time Collaboration in iWork

A purchase of a new iOS device from Apple now gives you a courtesy download of their iWork suite, that’s certainly one way to compete with Google and Microsoft, but unfortunately iWork still lacks real-time collaboration and that’s a huge disappointment in my opinion as this is likely to become more of a de facto standard for Apple users, I think I’ll be continuing to use Google Drive for collaboration until Apple sorts this out, even if we were forced to use Mac OS X Server, that wouldn’t be an issue. Apple is losing out on what were their bread and butter demographic – enterprise users.

Is the iPhone 5s the best phone available?

If you liked the iPhone 5, then chances are you’ll like the iPhone 5s once you’ve grown accustomed to the visual abomination that is iOS 7, the lack of buttons and using text as action buttons can see quite illogical at times, especially with some of the less than great app redesigns that some apps are being updated with.

The iPhone 5s doesn’t actually add much to my life versus the iPhone 4s or iPhone 5, it’s about what you’d expect from a fairly safe spec-bump. If you already own an iPhone 5 then the iPhone 5s doesn’t offer a significant update if you’re buying off-contract from the Apple Store, but if this is being offered to you as an upgrade at a sensible price then give it a try.

There are a fair amount more accessibility options in iOS 7 with the iPhone 5s, which I find to be a great step forward in helping vision or hearing impaired customers use the iPhone with as much assistance and help as possible. Hammy has several legally blind friends, and he would recommend the iPhone to them as nothing comes close on the interface front with things like Siri and he braille options, but the bright white app views instead of them being off-white led him to email Apple’s Tim Cook ([email protected]) and request some more changes on the UI front; iOS 7 has now started to suffer from some of the same issues that reading from a sheet of paper poses to them.

Siri has been given a handful of improvements in iOS 7, but it still feels more like an abandoned gimmick than anything of significant worth, this could change the way that the blind interact with their devices and I feel Apple still misses the mark on that front.

Instead of doing anything innovative, Apple has created a very boring and very safe phone, there’s no risk involved and there’s nothing that we haven’t really seen before, we’re all familiar with biometrics and 64 bit processors, but what’s the point when the OS is flawed on such a fundamental level now? There’s no denying that iOS was becoming stale and needed a new user interface paradigm, but it worked though, though I’m certain this isn’t what Steve Jobs would have envisioned for Apple, and maybe that would have been their undoing if things had stayed the same?

What else is there that even comes close to the iPhone despite all the flaws though? It may not be anywhere near perfect, but Android is far from being enterprise ready and still suffers heavily from fragmentation, and Windows Phone just doesn’t have a decent form of traction due to forcing developers to use Windows to use Visual Studio so there’s not much software available worth speaking of.

As passé and dull as the iPhone 5s is visually as well as technologically, it is still the best smartphone available in my opinion, though that grates me a lot to say that even as an Apple user considering how much of a step backwards this change for the sake of change actually is. It’s all fun and games until an OS loses the high-resolution textures that made having such a high-resolution display worthwhile and fun until your business smartphone ends up feeling like a toy aimed at the hipster demographic, then we have a real issue on our hands. Here’s hoping iOS 8 takes what made iOS 7 nice in terms of APIs and makes the whole UI situation a lot better.

Helen Duff

Helen Duff ()

Can often be found drinking coffee, watching anime, complaining and writing about cosmetics and candy.

  • I’ll say it before anyone else can: “inb4 fanboys and fangirls attack you for being honest even though you’re an iPhone user”

  • Old Holborn

    So you attack people for being hipster, using it as a derogatory term and then make a comment about the 5s being unfashionable? The definition is a hipster is someone who follows the latest trends & fashions, surely that means that it is actually an anti-hipster phone?

    Also putting a barrier around yourself by saying that you are an iPhone user is the equivalent of saying “I’m not racist, I used to have a black mate but…”.

    Kind regards,
    OH

    • “Hipster” is treated as a synonym for “oppositional defiant” up North; interchange the two as you please. “Hipsters” or whatever you want to call them seem to follow pop culture just like everyone else yet seem to gravitate towards things with ostentatious and needlessly in-your-face design whilst hypocritically saying things are too mainstream for them yet carrying on drinking the Kool-Aid.

      Instead of a beautifully crafted high-res UI full of brilliant textures ala iOS 6, it’s as if we’ve had someone drop a flaming paper bag of turd on our collective doorsteps in both design, reliability and functionality, yet the oppositional defiant demographic (Hipsters or whatever you want to call them, or even just people with bizarre taste in design, at least in my opinion) seem to be gloating about how it is the most exquisite and beautifully designed thing on a level with the effort that went into a piece of art from the Dutch Golden Age when in actuality all the time consuming and premium looking elements of design have been removed through an OS rewrite and plenty of bugs have been introduced.

      iOS 7 is mainly made up of typography now, the whole ‘design’ side of things has more or less gone out of the window and the ‘flat UI’ style of icons is so easy that even the most unartistic of people could create a reasonable looking icon or even the most tasteless of developers could churn out something on a par with what’s already out there in terms of iOS 7 styled apps.

      What else is there but an iPhone though? It’s the least worst of a bad bunch, Apple should be able to do far better with all that capital. Then again, it was a failing company before Jobs returned to it and with his passing it has gone back to the same innovation lacking husk it once was, no surprise there.

      Smartphones have probably reached their final form in the now traditional candy bar touchscreen style, time to start researching wearable tech and flexible displays to make something really interesting and really convenient.

      As for telling the truth about one of the most over-hyped products in history being on a par with using the “but I have a black friend” argument, that’s purely nonsense on every level. Anything race related aside, the iPhone is one of the more highly priced phones on the market, it doesn’t necessarily do what other phones can, but it is definitely still the best if only for the rich software library and BYOD/MDM functionality within enterprise usage scenarios, but as the latest milestone from Apple, both the iPhone 5s and iOS 7 are fundamentally flawed and Helen is quite right, the phone is boring; no widgets, no UI customisation, instead we’ve got a bland UI with a reliability that isn’t what people should expect after buying an Apple product, after all that was how the price tag used to be justified.

  • Woolleybaalamb

    Visual abomination – couldn’t agree more. And yesterday all my data in calendar disappeared. It came back, bit by bit, but gave me such a scare that I’m investing in what we thought we didn’t need any more, ie a diary, as backup.

    • I’ve had the same thing happen! I’ve even had iCloud/iOS 7 eat my entire Contacts, and Apple’s support team couldn’t do a thing to help, I ended up retrieving a slightly out of date version via Time Machine. There’s just no excuse for this kind of problem on such a fundamental level like this. I remember when people bought a Mac or an iPhone because they were reliable for business use and not fashion accessories!

      • Woolleybaalamb

        Gaaaah! Not only buying a diary but a new address book too!! IOS 7 is costing me a lot more than the download time. D’you think Apple have taken out shares in WH Smith. Steve Jobs must be revolving like a rev counter

  • Woolleybaalamb

    Oh, and furthermore, it wouldn’t permit me to reply via the link in your email notification of the post, I had to return to the web page where I made my original posting.