iPhone 5S review

Apple's first iPhone with Touch ID is now a solid budget buy

iPhone 5S review
A phone that's more than a iterative update

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The iPhone range, now including the iPhone 5S as the smallest and cheapest of the line-up, is born from strong media foundations, and thus can deliver in pretty much every department, from music to movies to imaging.

With the backing of the iTunes store the iPhone 5S puts millions of songs and thousands of films and TV shows at your fingertips, available for purchase and download.

The heritage goes further than that of course, with excellent sound reproduction on offer and an improved interface making all manner of music and video a really great experience.


With its heritage in the iPod sector the iPhone has top-notch audio capabilities, with a fully functional music player and great sound quality enabling it to mix with the big boys in the mobile world.

Apple doesn't make as much of a fuss about audio as the likes of LG and HTC, but the iPhone 5S delivers simple and clear sound (as long as you upgrade the bundled earbuds and go for something half decent instead).

Apple's bundled buds aren't bad, but they still leak sound compared to some decent over the ear cans or the plethora of in-ear and noise-reducing buds on the market.

iPhone 5S review

Back to the handset: you'll want to head over to the music player to get started. Here you can viewi all the songs saved on the 5S, as well as any you may have hanging around in iCloud, with a choice of sorting them by artist, song title or album.

As this is an Apple device album art is thrust into the mix, adding a bit of colour to the otherwise optician-white interface.

Tap a song to play and you'll be transported to the Now Playing screen which itself is pretty self explanatory. There you have normal play/pause, skip and scrub controls, with repeat and shuffle options below them.

If you tap on where the song details are on the now playing screen they will disappear to reveal a five star rating system, so you can let the iPhone 5S know which songs you favour. Tap again and the song details will return.

There's a button in the lower right corner below the album art which will bring up all the tracks on the album you're currently playing.

Of course you can now sign up for Apple Music as well, giving you access to millions of streaming tracks on demand. Apple's attempt to meld this with the traditional Music app hasn't been an unqualified success, and there are still various bugs that need ironing out.


Videos are, unsurprisingly, handled in the Video app, where you'll be able to view all your movies, TV shows and music videos you have stored on the iPhone 5S as well as iCloud.

If you're connected to Wi-Fi or trust your mobile signal not to cut out you can stream any iCloud content directly to the iPhone 5S, but if you're going on a plan or don't have a network connection you can always download the media to the handset to ensure fluid playback.

With the iPhone 5, Apple stretched the screen to provide a 16:9 aspect ratio and that 4-inch display is also present on the iPhone 5S making the video player a more pleasant experience.

iPhone 5S review

I've already mentioned that the new iPhone's screen isn't HD at 1136 x 640 and held up next to video playback on any of the current crop of high-end Android phones (or the QHD display on the likes of the LG G4 and Samsung Galaxy S6) you can see the disparity.

Some will argue that the 326ppi pixel density means the human eye won't really be able to discern the difference, but the fact is that on comparison there is a noticeable difference.

Watch video on the iPhone 5S in isolation however and you're unlikely to have any real complaints with a bright screen and smooth playback – you might find yourself wishing for a bigger screen though, which the newer iPhones can now offer.

The iPhone 5S supports MP4 video files, and that's pretty much it. There are workarounds with third party video players available in the App Store which support different formats, but loading those videos onto the phone isn't overly straightforward so I'd recommend sticking with Apple's rules this time.

iPhone 5S review

It's a shame these restrictions are in place, as many phone these days support a wide range of video formats and Apple's limiting approach may well put off some prospective punters – although iTunes is rather adept at conversion if you're that bothered.

Video player controls are very simple. You get play/pause, skip, scrub (at varying speeds depending on how far you drag your finger up and down the screen) and volume, and that's it.

If your video supports subtitles then an icon will appear in the bottom right of the video player where you can select your language and toggle them on and off.

iPhone 5C review

I found the iPhone 5S was averagely comfortable to hold for extended periods of time, with the thin frame and sharper edges not making it conducive to lengthy watching, although if you invest in the leather case you'll be able to prop it up against a mug or seat back without it sliding all over the place.

One issue I had was with the placement of the headphones port which is right on one side of the handset, meaning the rigid plastic connector sticking out of the bottom of the phone does get in the way of your hands somewhat.

I should also mention that when it comes to video it still absolutely pays to have an iDevice, as things like BBC iPlayer, 4OD and Sky Go all have downloads available on the iPhone 5S. I'm aware this happens on Android phones too these days, but it always feels like an afterthought compared to being iOS-first for most video brands.

Gareth Beavis
Formerly Global Editor in Chief

Gareth has been part of the consumer technology world in a career spanning three decades. He started life as a staff writer on the fledgling TechRadar, and has grown with the site (primarily as phones, tablets and wearables editor) until becoming Global Editor in Chief in 2018. Gareth has written over 4,000 articles for TechRadar, has contributed expert insight to a number of other publications, chaired panels on zeitgeist technologies, presented at the Gadget Show Live as well as representing the brand on TV and radio for multiple channels including Sky, BBC, ITV and Al-Jazeera. Passionate about fitness, he can bore anyone rigid about stress management, sleep tracking, heart rate variance as well as bemoaning something about the latest iPhone, Galaxy or OLED TV.