iPhone 5S review

Faster, new camera and a clever fingerprint reader. But is it enough of an upgrade?

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

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The iPhone 5S is Apple's latest attempt to stay at the sharp end of the smartphone market, and it's even trying to do that with an iterative update.

Detractors will point to the identical shell (colours aside) of the iPhone 5S and claim that it's not much more than a rebadged iPhone 5 (nope... that's the iPhone 5C, people) but to do that misses the point of this new device massively.

We liked

The iPhone 5S is a phone that takes everything Apple has learned in this space over the last six and a half years and put it together in an incredibly cohesive manner.

If you want to match it spec for spec with other smartphones, then it's a difficult task - but it misses the point of Apple's new device.

Below the surface Apple has put together one of the most cutting-edge smartphones around, imbued with a top-end camera and a really innovative feature with Touch ID.

There's only so much that smartphone manufacturers can do to differentiate these days, and while Apple can't expect consumers to be wowed by the same shell, it can expect to get some interest in the sharp camera and gives a sense of relief with the new A7 chip.

We're also really intrigued to see what the M7 chip alongside will do - Apple is giving developers a really cool tool to play with, and it looks like it won't be too long before we see the fruits of that.

Yes, the A7 chip doesn't have a huge role to play now, but it does make things like camera use so much faster, and facilitates the increased security in Touch ID.

We disliked

We'll start with a different refrain: the screen technology on offer here is what upsets us most. There will be a lot of upgraders from the iPhone 4S to the iPhone 5S, and many of them will be disappointed to see that two years later they're still looking at the same resolution, albeit a bit stretched out.

The only reason they'll be a little sad is that the Full HD screens of the rivals are so much more impressive - in its own iPhone 5S world, the screen is just fine and looks great and clear - but woe betide anyone that sees one of the larger devices out there.

We do want to applaud Apple for sticking to its guns and offering up a decent choice for those that like a smaller display, but this is already too big for one hand, so a little more real estate wouldn't go amiss.

And then there's the price. Some reviewers don't seem to think this should be taken into account, that the mere fact Apple can command such a high cost for its phones, both on contract and SIM free, and still sell millions shows this is a moot point.

Perhaps it was less of an issue when Apple was such a market leader, but now there are at least three worthy competitors out there, and they all cost significantly less.

We can't see what lives in the iPhone 5S to justify being the most expensive phone on the market, although we do recognise the effort that's gone into the premium design and spec list for the 5S.

Battery life is also a little suspect for our liking, and we're already considering buying a second charger to carry around.


The iPhone 5S is, predictably, the best iPhone ever from Apple - but what's intriguing is just how much we enjoyed using this evolutionary device.

There's always an apathy with any kind of 'S' device from Apple, as it's historically just the same thing made a little bit better. It's true the advances on the iPhone 5S are few, but the ones that are there are very impressive indeed.

64 bit apps, while consumers are paying to not have access yet, are coming to really turbocharge the experience, and the A7 processor is clearly capable of some very heavy lifting.

The camera is improved impressively, taking some excellent shots with minimal backlift needed from the user, and the Touch ID sensor is the first real step into biometrics on a smartphone, and one that Apple has succeeded in implementing.

The new iOS 7.1 has helped things slightly, but it's still papering over some of the cracks that needed more of an alteration... we're already looking towards iOS 8 with a lot of hope.

So to say this is the best iPhone yet is relatively pointless, as of course it was going to be. But the combination of iOS 7 to freshen things up with a powerful core and great camera mean that this phone should be considered on its own considerable merits, and while the high price will continue to put many off, anyone already wedded to the iPhone bandwagon, or even if they're just on the fence, will find a lot of joy in a phone that's a lot more than an iterative update.

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.