The iPhone 5S: a phone that looks like the iPhone 5, but goes so much further under the hood. Is that going to be enough to impress the baying hordes?

I feel like I've been here before: the iPhone 'S' conundrum. The new phone comes along, taking the shell of the previous model, adds some new bits and pieces, and then claims to be an entirely new phone.

Scores in depth

Design

Features

Performance

Usability

Value




Which it is, of course. But also it isn't. Well, mostly is. It's the kind of move that only Apple can pull off with any kind of conviction: the notion that it can take the same chassis, have a little tinker, throw in a new CPU, slightly better battery and camera, and call it an all-conquering device.

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But then again, such is the clamour to know all about it, is that such a bad move? There are literally millions of people the world over who can't wait to see what the next handset from Apple will be, and there was no surprise with the iPhone 5S.

There are a few who question whether it's 'fair' to launch a phone and then append an 'S' to the same thing a year later - Apple's response would likely be that nobody is forcing you to buy the new hardware. And that's a fair point. Yes, this is a phone that bears far too many hallmarks of its predecessor. And yes, this is the third time Apple has done this.

The time is now right for the iPhone 6, with its larger screen and greater abilities inside and out. It's the first time in years we've had a real update to the iPhone design, and its release should give you pause if you're looking at buying an iPhone 5S right now.

The 5S is still one of the most expensive smartphones on the market right now, even on 3G plans - although thankfully the price has started to fall slightly on contract.

You'll still be looking at post £40 a month to get one without an upfront fee in the UK, and £549 is inexplicably still the price if you want the low end model, pushing all the way up to over £700 for the 64GB variant.

iPhone 5S review

But if it was such a bad business move, if the market wasn't willing to accept such a thing, then Apple would have folded as a smartphone brand years ago... or at least been lagging behind the competition.

That said, times are changing in the smartphone landscape. Where before Apple was able to just create the phone it wanted, and forget the competition in the knowledge that it wasn't going to have to worry about losing consumers to a competitor, now it's been forced to realise that there are at least four decent options for a consumer to think about if they want to get a rather good handset.

Apple is obviously aware of this change, be it the aluminium unibody of the HTC One M8, the new fight into low-light cameras or the need for a strong processor as a headline to shout about. And to be fair, it's addressed these needs to some degree or other on the iPhone 5S.

Whether it's the all-new Touch ID home button (which is excellent, more on that later), the huge jump in CPU power or the fact the camera has, once again, been improved no end, the new iPhone is clearly Apple's attempt at bringing as much as it can to the party without having to re-design the whole concept all over again.

There are many that think releasing the same design twice is cheeky, and there are others who realise that sometimes there's no need for change. It's easy to fall into the former camp, and while Apple will happily point out it's not forcing anyone to buy its phones, its acutely aware the competition is now scarily strong and it needed to bring its best to stay relevant.

Design

What can you say about the design of the iPhone 5S that already hasn't been said with the iPhone 5? Let's face it: there's nothing really new here that's going to help you work out if the person sitting opposite you on the train is using the newer phone.

Perhaps that's less of an issue now that the iPhone is becoming something of a commodity, a device that is so oft-used by the middle-aged generation that it no longer carries the lustre that the exclusivity of the earlier models emanated.

That's not necessarily a bad thing either; just because it's not an 'exclusive' design, it doesn't make the iPhone 5S any less premium.

It's still a stunning phone to hold in the hand, coming with the all-aluminium-and-glass chassis. There's no doubt Apple has had a look at the way the iPhone 5 range (well, black and white) chipped so badly around the edges.

iPhone 5S review

But that same issue was apparent already in my iPhone sample within a week, so it looks like you're going to quickly need to stuff your new iPhone 5S in a case the second you release it from its box, lest you leave it in a pocket or bag with change and keys and it comes out looking like it's gone a few rounds with a randy cheese grater.

iPhone 5S review

The new colours, which include champagne and space grey, are a little odd, but at least promise to show up the scuffs a little less prominently.

The way the iPhone 5S feels in the hand is something impressive though, coming with the low, low weight of 112g and dimensions of 123.8 x 58.6 x 7.6mm.

It's still got that almost too-light feeling, that the premium metal finish is somehow diminished through the lack of heft, but it's a long, long way from feeling cheap.

iPhones 5S review

Compared to something like the Galaxy S5 or LG G3, the iPhone 5S is miles ahead when it comes to design, although less so than the HTC One M8 or One Mini 2 which have repeated the aluminium-clad trick.

It's got a slightly sharper edge than other models on the market, which can make it a little uncomfortable when being pressed to the ear. But I'm not going to quibble too much there lest it makes me seem a little wimpy.

iPhone 5S review

There are only a couple of real design differences compared to the iPhone 5, and one of them really is miniscule: the camera module is now flanked by a dual-LED flash, which I'll talk more about later (it's a really rather nifty piece of technology, trust me).

The other is a lot more substantial and impressive: the home button has been redesigned.

Yes, it doesn't sound like much, but consider how iconic the Apple home button has been over the past half-decade, and you'll see why I'm holding the change in such high esteem. The visual effect is impressive, taking the square off the button and putting a fancy silver ring around the key.

iPhone 5S review

The effect isn't only aesthetic, as this area now also serves as the fingerprint scanner, home to Apple's new Touch ID technology.

Having bought two separate biometric security firms, Apple was likely to do something like this, but the implementation and visual effect is really something that Apple does well, and has done so here too.

Beyond that, the iPhone 5S is identical to the 5, even down to the rattle in the power button. We're still a little confused as to why a device with such a high build quality has a slightly loose part with it, but shake the iPhone 5S gently and you'll feel the key moving around.

iPhone 5S review

It's not a big deal, but every so often you'll note the motion, and it does detract somewhat.

Thankfully the rest of the phone is built impeccably. The round volume keys are easy to hit. the switch to enable volume on or off has the same sturdy feel that I've come to enjoy, and the headphone port is still welded to the bottom of the phone.

The Lightning connection port is here as well, along with the stereo speakers on the bottom of the phone. I wish these were placed somewhere else, as when cupping the phone in landscape mode it's far too easy to cover these with palms or digits, and there's not really any way to shift around them.

iPhones 5S review

You can always use headphones, but that kind of negates the point of the speakers for gaming at all.

The right hand side hasn't been left completely alone on the 5S, with Apple choosing this surface as the location for the SIM card tray - but unlike most smartphones that take microSIMs these days, iPhones now rock the tiny nanoSIM technology.

iPhone 5S review

There's also the new leather cases, which are something of an oddity for a brand that's just overhauled its whole outlook with an all-new operating system. They're slightly cumbersome, making it hard to hit the buttons, and they get scuffed so easily - all for £25.

But beyond that I'm still impressed with the design of the iPhone 5S. It's hard not to be, as if there's one thing that Apple gets totally right it's the way it assembles its devices.

The metal and glass combination does feel a little fragile, and I'd recommend a case (perhaps a third party option) to protect the aluminium, but the design is something that at least helps mitigate the higher price.