iPhone 5S: One Year On

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The Apple iPhone 5S. Apple’s incremental upgrade to the iPhone 5. I always thought it was strange everyone flocked to get the “S” phones, because normally there re almost no improvements. The 3GS and 4S are perfect examples. They look pretty much the same and typically don’t have many hardware improvements. The 5S was almost exactly the same. The only major improvements were the fingerprint sensor and, arguably, the dual-tone flash. But apart from those two things, and some tiny and very minor design changes, it is the same phone with improved internals, like all the previous S phones were. Apple still managed to make headlines with it and still managed to break sales records with it and it has been consistently labelled as the best phone in the world. The question I’m going to ask today, is not is it really the best phone in the world (that would spark a shitstorm of epic proportions, in any case the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus have been released and these are obviously better) but is it still a good phones? Can you buy one now, since the prices have dropped considerably, and still get a good phone. How, after one year, does the Apple iPhone 5S still hold up to other high end phones?

The main thing people worry about when buying used phones or phones a year old is whether the performance is still there. After a update to iOS 8, the answer is…yes, the performance is still there. It still plays the higher end games on the app store well, with little dropped frames. The OS still runs smoothly, and animations don’t lag, which is always a nice thing to see after a year of use. And although Apple has been attacked for reportedly slowing down phones deliberately with each software update (to persuade people to buy newer phones and products from Apple) I don’t see any of this here. Even if we benchmark the phone with Antutu Benchmark, it still gets the same kind of results it got a year ago. The performance is still very good and it could even hold up against the newly released iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, from what I’ve seen. At the very least it will play all the games and open all the apps and do everything an iPhone can do with no issues whatsoever.

Next, the camera. Apple has decided to stick with 8 megapixels, which means although you lose a lot of the quality and sharpness of the higher megapixel cameras use in smartphones, they’ve decided to better the image by improving almost everything else, from low light performance and a lower aperture to a faster shutter speed to simply better processing software to make the images look better than it would in previous phones. So the 5S still holds strongly in that respect. The images are still excellent and certainly comparable to high end smartphones of today, which means you shouldn’t be dissapointed in the camera performance. If you are? Well, then you should really get a proper camera, ask Jacob for advice on those.

Battery life is something that most manufacturers overlook slightly. Really it should be the most important thing about any electronic device, but nowadays people are more interested in megapixel count and whether it runs Android or iOS or whether it has 3GB of RAM or 4 cores or 2 cores or whatever. Apple, thankfully, doesn’t fall into the trap of being in a spec race. Unfortunately, they don’t focus on battery life either. The battery life has always been distinctively average on iPhones. It lasts enough to get you comfortably through the day, not any more and not any less. The fact that it doesn’t have much power to, um, power means the battery life is very consistent, or at least more consistent than on other phones. It doesn’t have the highest end specs because the games don’t have the highest end graphics compared to other mobile platforms, and Apple are great with software optimisations to make their OS faster on lower end hardware (until they deliberately throttle it) which means the battery doesn’t have a quad core 2.5GHZ CPU with a GPU clocked at 800mhz and 3GB of RAM in addition to extra cores for voice processing and listening out for commands. It means that there is less variation between battery life. For example, on my phone, a OnePlus One, if I play an intense 3D game then I can manage around 5 hours of screen on time. On the other hand, with a lot lighter usage, namely listening to music, browsing the internet and not really doing much beside that, I can get more than 10 hours of screen on time and easily two days of battery life. The iPhone will never do 2 days on a single battery, unless you use it like my dad (only taking it out to stare at it, and then wonder for the next 5 minutes how to open the calculator app and use it, by which time he’s already forgotten what he needed it for and then puts it into his pocket and forgets about it for the next few hours) and that’s really pushing it. It will get you over a full day of usage, nothing more and nothing less, and with intense gaming you will probably get 3/4 of the battery life, but never halve it, while light usage will only get you 1.5 times the batter life, never double. It’s a consistent game from Apple. The thing is, the battery life is also very similar across the range of phones. The difference between the 5S and the 6 Plus will not be extreme. So whatever phone you’re getting from Apple, the battery life will broadly be the same.

However, please note that the life of the battery decreases a lot more on iPhones than on other phones. I’m not entirely sure why, but with every Apple product I’ve used (iPod Touch 3rd Gen, iPhone 4 and this 5S for a bit) the battery life has decreased a lot more than on other devices as time has gone by. Its not a massive effect, but after a couple of years you will be remembering those days when you could go a full day on a single charge and not worry about charging it.

Finally, any gripes or things about the phone that I find annoying or shouldn’t be there. First of all, the TouchID fingerprint sensor doesn’t actually work most of the time. It worked fine a year ago, but now not so much. Usually it simply shows me the password enter screen and I try again next time I unlock it. Every once in a while however it does work, and honestly it’s not much faster than simply swiping and quickly entering your passcode before moving on. Secondly, The edges of the phone wear out very quickly. There are white wear marks just below the top edges of the phone. In addition to that, the chamfered edges Apple so proudly advertised scratch extremely easily and leave lots of marks, which means that if you buy it second hand it WILL have marks on it. Assume that unless you see concrete photos with proof that says otherwise, don’t go by the word of whoever you’re buying it from. Thirdly (this is another problem that all Apple products I’ve used have had) the vibrator motor fades slightly after a lot of use. This is, again, one of those things you don’t notice gradually, but if you go from using a new iPhone to one that’s been used for a year with no use in between you will notice this difference (indeed on my iPhone 4 the motor stopped working altogether, but for some reason it started working again, albeit in it’s previous slightly faded state).

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As a whole, the iPhone 5S is still a fine phone that will hold up against the newer iPhone 6 and against high end phones even today. But, to be honest, for the price you paid for that thing you would definitely expect it to. So if you want one, you can buy one off Apple themselves, and bypass any of the wear and tear stuff I’ve gone through, or if you’re going to buy one second hand, be wary of the things I’ve said. Although it’s a well built phone there are one or two things that are worth looking out for, as mentioned above.

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