Apple iPhone 5s

The iPhone 5s is Apple's greatest demonstration yet of what total control over both hardware and software can offer. Bursting with potential, it now needs the software to deliver on its promise.

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Seamus Byrne is the Editor of CNET Australia. At other times he'll be found messing with apps, watching TV, building LEGO, and rolling dice. Usually at the same time.

This year, Apple is getting back on the "s" upgrade cycle — its key year for being resoundingly abused for lacking innovation and new ideas. If the outside looks the same, how can Apple have done anything exciting or new? Without form-factor change, a device is fundamentally the same as it was last year. Case closed.

There is no question that fashion and looks play a role in the modern smartphone landscape. This year, Apple has given more than a nod to the fashion stakes with the launch of the colourful iPhone 5c, as well as the shiny, gold model of the iPhone 5s.

However, the iPhone 5s is all about what lies beneath the surface: new processing, new architecture, new sensors and new flashes. All built to drive home Apple's advantage as a focused company that exerts total control over the relationship between hardware and software on its platform.

But does that make it a phone worth upgrading to?

More than skin deep

The iPhone 5s looks almost identical to last year's iPhone 5. Every measurement, every gram, every button and every machined hole is the same. Except two: the upgraded dual-LED flash; and the new home button design. The new flash could be missed if you're not looking closely, but the home button is the dead giveaway that you're holding an iPhone 5s.

Gone is the ever-present round cornered box on the home button. Now it is a clean, round surface surrounded by a glossy metal ring — the trigger point for Apple's new fingerprint sensor technology, Touch ID.

There's been a lot of confusion already about Touch ID as people's spy thriller fantasies divert discussions away from reality. It is not really what people think of when they hear "fingerprint scanner". It is far more advanced than anything seen before in a consumer device. A touch of the finger is all you need to trigger a reading — you don't actually depress the button — and it isn't reading the outer layer of your skin, but rather the living tissue below the surface. No one can cut off your finger to impersonate you, or lift a print off your touchscreen to hack the system.

Your fingerprint data is also stored in a hardware-secured area of the processor, and will never be backed up off the device, so your actual fingerprint data is incredibly well secured. The only information that even Apple's apps will ever see is a "Yes" or "No" response from the secure area to verify that you are who your finger says you are. Read this detailed insight into how secure Apple's "Secure Enclave" really is.

Right now, the only two functions that Touch ID offers are unlocking your phone and triggering iTunes payments. As basic as that is, after just a few days of touching the home button to unlock the iPhone, it feels clumsy to have to go back to a standard passcode on older devices.

A7 + M7 + iOS 7

If someone were selling a computer that offers a 100 per cent performance improvement over last year's model, it would be considered an astonishing feat of engineering. Apple has done just that with the new A7 processor, becoming the first company to release a 64-bit mobile processor. Apple claims that it has up to two times the performance over last year's A6 processor in the iPhone 5, as well as twice the graphics performance.

The A7 also supports OpenGL ES version 3.0, the latest in mobile graphics standards supported across all mobile platforms except Windows Phone. Other phones supporting this to date include the HTC One, the Samsung Galaxy S4, the Sony Xperia Z and the new Nexus 7 tablet.

iOS 7 has also made the leap to 64-bit to take full advantage of the new hardware. It seamlessly supports 32-bit to ensure that all existing apps run and to continue to support older iPhone hardware. Apple has rewritten all of its own core app offerings to support 64-bit to give everyone something that takes full advantage at launch.

Visually, iOS 7 is a big departure from iOS 6. A fresh style palette and layering effects give iOS a very new feel. As much as the software becomes available to all iPhone users from the iPhone 4 onwards, it is hard to separate the new hardware from the iOS 7 update. The software aims to deliver tangible benefits to those owning the new hardware in order to bring the potential to life as soon as possible.

While the raw power of the A7 combines well with the re-engineered iOS 7 for a very snappy experience, it may just be the new M7 motion co-processor that steals the show in the months ahead. The M7 constantly watches the gyroscope, compass and accelerometer to give useful information to apps, as well as to guide performance management on the main A7 processor. While the main processor has always been able to watch these motion tools, the M7 does this job at a much lower power burden, saving battery life and allowing for all-day logging of motion data for use in a new class of fitness apps that could easily parallel what devices like Fitbit and Jawbone Up have been doing in recent years.

If we were living in Bartertown, the M7 is Master to the A7's Blaster.

Some of the M7's smartest work is focused on telling the A7 what connectivity and network tasks to drop based on how the device is moving. Moving so fast that you must be in a vehicle? Tell the A7 to stop trying to offer new Wi-Fi networks for you to join. Sitting so still that you're probably sleeping? Tell the A7 to reduce network pings and conserve power until morning.

Apple hasn't added any room for battery capacity, and has only increased overall performance. Every smart power-saving measure will be very welcome.

System performance

While we have had no chance to run apps that have been tailored to the new hardware, the overall performance of the iPhone 5s feels very slick and snappy. The new layering effects give a sense of depth to the home screen without a hint of lag or performance concern. Current high-end games like Infinity Blade II, Epoch, Shadowgun and Sky Gamblers all run beautifully on the iPhone 5s.

Infinity Blade developers held court at the iPhone 5s launch event, and spoke of the incredible power they saw in this new hardware, pushing some performance up to five times more than the previous generation. But for our purposes in this review, it is all projection and possibility. Until we see new apps being launched that specifically target the new hardware's 64-bit potential and the support for OpenGL ES 3.0, we are discussing what is yet to come.

Thankfully, a few benchmarks help point to some tangible leaps forward in general browser and graphics performance. The results show that Apple has definitely pushed the iPhone 5s well beyond the smartphones that have come before it.

SunSpider 1.0.1: JavaScript performance test (ms)

  • 399.7
  • iPhone 5s
  • 727.2
  • iPhone 5c
  • 841
  • iPhone 5
  • 1033
  • HTC One
  • 1182.2
  • Samsung Galaxy S4
  • 907.9
  • Nokia Lumia 1020

(Shorter bar equals better performance)

GFXBench: 2.5 Egypt HD off-screen test (frames per second)

  • 56
  • iPhone 5s
  • 29
  • iPhone 5c
  • 29
  • iPhone 5
  • 36
  • HTC One
  • 40
  • Samsung Galaxy S4

(Longer bar equals better performance. Lumia 1020 excluded — no OpenGL support)

GFXBench: 2.7 T-Rex HD off-screen test (frames per second)

  • 24
  • iPhone 5s
  • 6.8
  • iPhone 5c
  • 6.4
  • iPhone 5
  • 15
  • HTC One
  • 16
  • Samsung Galaxy S4

(Longer bar equals better performance. Lumia 1020 excluded — no OpenGL support)

These results show a huge leap forward, with the A7 chip compared to many of the leading competitors that we currently have access to. The SunSpider result shows unparalleled performance in a smartphone, and is comfortably twice as better as last year's iPhone. After a search for SunSpider results from other hardware in recent years, we actually find the iPhone 5s achieving results akin to a Sandy Bridge Core i3 Mobile processor — a laptop processor that's not even two years old.

The results are just as clear for graphics performance. These GFXBench tests are OpenGL ES 2.0 tests, not 3.0. On the older test, the iPhone 5s performs incredibly smoothly, while in the newer 2.7 test, the iPhone 5s is the only device to perform at what would be considered a playable framerate in what is meant to be something of a torture test.


Of all the new features, it is the camera that is the best "day one" demonstration of Apple's effort to get hardware and software really working together in greater harmony than ever before. The new camera delivers a mix of speed and finesse out of the box to deliver a greatly improved experience over the iPhone 5.

Apple's new sensor features a slightly wider lens than the iPhone 5, plus a bigger 8-megapixel sensor with larger pixels. Apple claims that 33 per cent more light is reaching the sensor than in the iPhone 5.

Burst shooting is the first big win for iPhone photographers, with 10 frames per second shooting just by holding your finger on the shoot button. A burst-shot sequence is kept as a batched object for you to choose favourites to keep and then easily delete en masse. The camera software will also try to recommend the best shots from the burst to make your choices as easy as possible.

You also have two new features while shooting video. Firstly, you can pinch for up to 3x zoom while you are shooting your 1080p videos. The quality remains crisp as the iPhone crops in on the camera sensor rather than digitally zooming the whole image. Secondly, there is a new Slow Mo video option that shoots 720p at 120 frames per second. On review, you can immediately trim your start and end points, and then choose where a quarter-speed slow-motion sequence will play in the middle of the scene. You need to export the video specifically to maintain the slow-motion effect off the iPhone, but it is a fun and simple trick that is great fun with pets and kids.

The True Tone dual-LED flash is another great example of where hardware and software are being very closely married in the iPhone 5s. The new flash features a cool and warm component light. As you take a picture that requires flash, iOS 7 detects white-balance settings as normal, but also chooses a flash colour from a range of over 1000 warmth variations to try to compensate and capture a balanced shot that pays particular attention to capturing realistic skin tones.

Download above images in full size:
iPhone 5s | iPhone 5 | Lumia 1020 | HTC One | Galaxy S4
(Credit: CBSi)

Download above images in full size:
iPhone 5s | iPhone 5 | Lumia 1020 | HTC One | Galaxy S4
(Credit: CBSi)

Download above images in full size:
iPhone 5s | iPhone 5 | Lumia 1020 | HTC One | Galaxy S4
(Credit: CBSi)

In our testing of the new camera, images did an excellent job of capturing well-balanced, realistic colours both in daylight and at night. The images are nicely saturated, a little heavy on the reds, but overall the phone takes a pleasing picture.

The lens produces sharp results, particularly in the centre of the frame. Towards the edges, sharpness does drop off, which is expected. The slightly wider field of view of the 5s lens compared to the iPhone 5 works twofold, in that you can fit more into each shot, but there is some visible barrel distortion at the edges of the frame.

Automatic white balance (AWB) under indoor and fluorescent lighting is warm, but pleasing. The new iPhone's AWB excels in outdoor situations, because, unlike some of the other smartphone cameras tested, it doesn't get confused with mixed light sources and colour casts. Overall, the AWB results of the 5s are cooler than the iPhone 5 when shooting outdoors, but this gives a much more accurate and true-to-life result.

The wider maximum aperture lens (f/2.2 on the 5s compared to f/2.4 on the 5) means the camera is able to use a faster shutter speed and lower ISO to achieve the same exposure as the older model. Therefore, photos in low light turn out sharper, as there is less chance of the shutter being left open long enough to capture hand shake. There is also less visible noise, because the camera is capturing images at a lower sensitivity.

That said, there is some evidence of over-processing at lower ISO levels, but it does not affect the usability of images and makes them look sharp.

Compared to the older model, the iPhone 5s camera doesn't appear to have tweaked its exposure metering mode much, but the AWB processing and lens sharpness has improved substantially.

In the review period, we have struggled to create a scene where we get a good sense of what the True Tone flash is really doing, but we will follow up soon with some more detailed comparisons between the iPhone 5s and other top camera smartphones.

Network performance

In the long-term evolution (LTE) era, it seems that any supporting device is limited more by network than by its own performance. We tested the iPhone 5s on both Vodafone and Telstra 4G networks in the Sydney CBD, and saw results in the 29Mbps-40Mbps download range and 17-30Mbps upload range.


Compared to many of the larger phones in the smartphone market today, the iPhone struggles to keep up. The larger screen design makes more room for a larger battery, which gives greater battery performance.

As the iPhone 5s maintains the iPhone 5 form factor, the battery can only be the same size inside the frame. With all of the performance improvements, it is admirable that the battery life is on par with last year's iPhone 5, but for some, that will be a disappointment. At its worst, under high loads, the iPhone 5s will definitely only last through the business hours of the day without needing a further charge.

Under less stressful conditions, but still leaving Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on all day, our tests over the last week point to the iPhone 5s lasting 14+ hours.

But this still doesn't tell the whole story. We left the iPhone 5s to sit without a charger overnight on four occasions, again with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi still on, and on average found just 3 per cent to 4 per cent battery life decrease over that six- to eight-hour period. This points to the M7 co-processor stepping in and ensuring that the system reduces power usage steeply.

Over one weekend, we used the iPhone 5s very lightly; a little photography, plus some basic and only very occasional app usage, with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth again left on at all times. We charged the iPhone 5s late on Friday afternoon, and the phone lasted on that single charge until late Monday evening.

So while the iPhone 5s may still struggle to keep up with larger devices with larger-capacity batteries on-board when pushed constantly at high load, the introduction of the M7 co-processor is ensuring that the new iPhone makes the most of its downtime to conserve battery life for those times when you really need it.

Serious potential, but potential nonetheless

M7; 64-bit A7; iOS 7; Touch ID: all of these advances are showing us great potential, but it's never a good thing to recommend a product based on potential alone. What if developers never find that next great idea to take full advantage of what this hardware has to offer?

Apple's advantage in any debate over potential, though, is its focus and control. When Apple releases a new iOS upgrade, most devices in the market upgrade quickly. When Apple releases a new iPhone, it is a focused flagship launch that gives developers a single target to shoot for. A new feature is a new feature that every new buyer will have at their disposal.

This isn't said to question Android software fragmentation. Rather, when Samsung launches a new device with new hardware features, it is typically only Samsung that will ever write software to take advantage of the feature — and as a percentage of all Android devices in the market, it is a small target to aim for. For Apple, every developer has a clear understanding of what new hardware features will become standard across the entire iPhone range of devices within the next two years.

So when we speak of the potential of the M7 for fitness-tracking apps, we can feel confident that we will soon see more apps than just the Nike+ Motion app that was discussed at the launch event. When we speak of the graphics potential of the new A7 hardware, we can feel confident that we will see game developers pushing those limits in the coming months.

Tap, tap, tap?

If there's one glaring omission in iOS, it's the continued lack of an advanced keyboard option. SwiftKey, Swype and friends have had Android and BlackBerry users typing like artists for years now. Apple's continued focus on a 4-inch form factor is not inherently a problem — it's a question of preference more than objective superiority — but failing to give users a slicker way to interface with text on this small screen is an issue that feels worse by the minute.

Near-field communication (NFC) is the other ongoing omission, though it has yet to gain much traction with other platforms as a revolutionary payment platform. It has definitely been used smartly for connecting devices for entertainment purposes, particularly by Sony, but Apple hasn't exactly missed the boat on the great payment revolution. On the other hand, Apple may even be actively moving in another direction, with "iBeacon" being another new feature in iOS 7 that aims to use Bluetooth LE for transactions without the need for as much physical contact as NFC demands.

Mobile gamers and iPhotographers

Most iPhone owners are probably upgrading around a two-year contract cycle. If this is your year, upgrading from the iPhone 4S, it's a pretty good year to upgrade. Not only are you shifting up to the 5-series form factor, but you're also getting some very powerful new hardware under the hood, plus the Touch ID system and a great new camera. Enjoy.

If you're mid-cycle and watching along with interest, it was a lot easier to skip the new phone back when you owned an iPhone 4 as you watched the iPhone 4S launch. This year's iPhone has genuinely new features, and iOS 7 really aims to take advantage of many of those features. But in the end, it could be months before some of these features really take root. What you can bank on is that by the time next year's iPhone comes around, these features will have come of age. And those who have the patience will be well rewarded with whatever comes next — in whatever new form factor Apple may devise.

If there are types of users that will clearly win with the iPhone 5s, it is mobile gamers and iPhotographers.

Gamers will see new games very soon — Infinity Blade III in a matter of days — and upgraded versions of existing games will look stunning on this new phone very soon, all good enough to AirPlay to your TV if you want to take your eyes somewhere bigger. If you hate to drop frames and love to show off how good a game can look on your phone, then the iPhone 5s will make you very happy.

If you're an iPhone user who cares deeply about your mobile photography experience, the iPhone 5s is a significant step forward. Burst shooting, True Tone flash and slow-motion video mode are features exclusively available to the new hardware.

There's a chance that we could add "life trackers" to the list once some apps arrive to take advantage of the M7 co-processor. But I wouldn't be throwing away those widgets and wristbands until the right apps launch with the right features, and that might take a little while.


In the competitive landscape, Apple still chooses to march to its own beat. With the iPhone 5s, that beat aims to bring Apple's hardware and software into tighter formation than ever. That union has always been Apple's strength, and it has clearly built a platform that aims to take greater advantage of that in the year, and years, ahead.

If you look beyond the surface, there is a great deal of technical and functional innovation tucked away in the iPhone 5s waiting to be unleashed by some smart iOS developers. Today, we have to stop short of giving an Editor's Choice award, but we feel confident that this new iPhone will prove its potential and reveal itself to have been an important milestone for Apple over the course of the year ahead.

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"mostly bling... but a good phone"

whatsa posted a review   

The Good:Its new

The Bad:95% bling updates

Avid Apple fans will love the iPhone 5s, but casual users should stick to cheaper smartphones


Rodneytrutone posted a comment   

I would take the 5s photos every time. Im getting it. Any tips from owners? Or Cnet 😃


Im Batman posted a comment   

Cheers for the review, great photo comparison.

Will keep and eye on the battery life reports of the 5s, the often comment is that the iP5 battery life was lacking... so will see how the iP5s performs
(the Mrs is keen, but not if the battery life is poor)


melanthios posted a comment   

NFC? Who cares. It saves about 1 second if that.


hallo436 posted a reply   

Traditional Blutooth connection

1. Dig up menu in phone
2. Turn on blutooth on connecting device.
3. Check availability on visibility list, if not make visible.
4. Enter pass code on phone
5. Success? If not return to step 4
6. New device to be paired? Unpair and go back to step 3

NFC method.

1. Tap
2. Done
3. New device to be paired? Go back to step 1.


DeepakG posted a comment   

Sorry but didn't Huawei release a 64-bit mobile processor prior to Apple.


Will1505 posted a reply   

The processors have been made about a year ago but haven't been put into production.

The ARM a57 was made a year ago and ready for production a few months ago but probably won't be used until the start of next year.


Pining posted a comment   

"The iPhone 5s is Apple's greatest demonstration yet of what total control over both hardware and software can offer. Bursting with potential, it now needs the software to deliver on its promise."

What an amusing joke. The phone hasn't kept up with it's competitors.

8.6 for putting out a product which shows no demonstrable difference with it's predecessor. If it was another brand it would have been canned.

Are you able to put me in touch with another tech site that doesn't appear to do articles advertising apple products and passing them off as reviews?

I'd appreciate it!!


Seamus Byrne posted a reply   

Brilliant. It's as though you didn't even read the opening. Thanks for being "that guy" who says that if it looks the same, it must be the same.

You also must have skipped the benchmarks that shows outstanding performance upgrades. And better than its competitors.


Will1505 posted a reply   

I think he is more or less tasking about how so much hasn't changed over time.

Battery life has decreased (eve after multiple complaints), the screen tech hasn't changed in 4 years, RAM that hasn't kept up, an OS that even after the new update hasn't really changed a huge amount in 5 years.

And too a point they went a little backward with this iphone as it isn't a global phone as the 4-5 was. And yet it is the most expensive phone on the market.

When comparing a Note 3 or LG G2 with a iphone 5s, you can see how they haven't kept up.


Pining posted a reply   

Yep. I read the opening...

In fact I've read a fair bit about the product(s).

I even read the 'outstanding benchmark performance (or lack thereof.) How much better was it? As you stood there looking at it, could you physically SEE it go faster?

Pit this phone against the 5 (which lets be honest, at the time was a failure,) and after a year of investment in advancing a product, it hasn't gone anywhere.

This product sells because of it's brand name history.

I emphasize 'history,' as it's present and future haven't got a lot on offer.

And so much potential!!

One buys a product for what it does now. If it doesn't do it now, you don't buy a product, especially a mobile phone. By the time it does what it might, it will be superceded.

As I said. Nothing more than an advertisement for the product.

(And I laugh about all the times this site banished other products as cheap and nasty because they were made from plastic. The 5C. What a Cack! I'll be looking for your review on THAT one!)


AlastairM posted a reply   
United Kingdom

"It's a positive review of an Apple product thus it must be a paid advert!"

Well done in a 10/10 perfect demonstration of Android fanboy-ism!


IgaalN posted a comment   

Why is it that Apple gets away with not offering a micro sd card and user replaceable battery while HTC always get slammed for that!


ChrisW4 posted a reply   

Because it's Apple! They can do no wrong in fans eyes. I agree with pining's comment too, if any other manufacturer released an "updated" version of their flagship such as the 5s, with a price rise, they would be slammed.Compared to what their competitors are doing, Apple have become tryhards. Which is a shame seeing as they revolutionised mobile phones.


Rokat posted a comment   

Typical slanted CNET review. "Bursting with potential, it now needs the software to deliver on its promise".

I notice that unlike every NOKIA phone review, you don't slap CRAPPLE for developing this when there is no software to take advantage of 64 bit processors or fingerprint scanners (yet apparently), al la the usual drivel about how WP8 doesn't have enough apps in the store.

Oh and Seamus, we all fully expect you to upgrade your score and give it an Editors Choice.


Seamus Byrne posted a reply   

Difference being that iPhone keeps getting a lot of new apps. Apps that do take advantage of every new feature Apple offers. WP8 is struggling to get third party software that pushes new features and give users the best possible experience.

Case in point. The fantastic demo of the Qantas WP7.5 app that would track your GPS location and let you know when you had to leave to make your flight on time. Great demo, but it never launched. WP8 needs to execute on the best ideas it has in order to draw the attention it deserves. As a platform, I really like WP8. But in practice it still needs a lot more killer software. Including games.

It's not about 'enough' apps. It's about giving users that one app that makes them see why they should switch platforms.


Will1505 posted a comment   

O....M.....G. IS this the first iphone that doesn't get a cnet editors choice?

Battery life is extremely disappointing. I have a fried that went from a 4 (lasting 8 hours of heavy use) to a 5 (6 hours of moderate use). A phone battery should never use over 30% on music play back in an hour.

Should also be notes that android has been capable of 64bit processing since its inception.


Seamus Byrne posted a reply   

This isn't the first to not get one here in Australia. If apps that take advantage of the potential appear particularly quickly then I might update the score and give an Editor's Choice.

As stated above, the M7 seems to be doing a great job of mitigating battery concerns, but some are still there.

Not sure where you're getting Android 64-bit from. It isn't, and no Android phone has a 64-bit chip yet either. This is the first. Full stop.


Will1505 posted a reply   

True, no android phone has a 64bit chip yet however android can run on a 64bit bit and process at 64bit. Android being based on Linux allows this to happen.

More details about 64bit android can be found here.


Seamus Byrne posted a reply   

Thanks. The hard part for Android is the hardware fragmentation there. In two years every iOS developer will be writing for a majority of devices that are exclusively 64-bit (by then the 5s will be the 'entry level' option).

But for Android there are so many handsets out there and so many manufacturers it won't get to a majority 64-bit standard anytime soon.

I hope I'm wrong. Google has made some good decisions to improve the Play Store recently. Hopefully they can draw a line in the sand somewhere to say "only 64-bit hardware can run 6.0" or something like that.


Rolloxan posted a comment   

Any benchmark comparisons with a Snapdragon 800 handset?


Seamus Byrne posted a reply   

I haven't had any in the office yet, but a quick check found these SunSpider results:

Asus PadFone Infinity (Snapdragon 800): 899.7
Galaxy S4 (Exynos 5 Octa): 679

So the A7 is crushing those chips too.

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User Reviews / Comments  Apple iPhone 5s

  • whatsa



    "Avid Apple fans will love the iPhone 5s, but casual users should stick to cheaper smartphones"

  • Rodneytrutone


    "I would take the 5s photos every time. Im getting it. Any tips from owners? Or Cnet 😃"

  • Im Batman

    Im Batman

    "Cheers for the review, great photo comparison.

    Will keep and eye on the battery life reports of the 5s, the often comment is that the iP5 battery life was lacking... so will see how th..."

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