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My weekend with the iPhone 5s: It’s hard not to recommend this phone to anyone

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Although I ordered an iPhone 5s(s aapl) online about 30 minutes after the device went on sale on September 20, my 16 GB Space Gray edition only just arrived in time for this past weekend. I ordered an unlocked GSM model to replace my iPhone 5, which I sold to recoup most of my upgrade costs.

Was the device worth the wait? After spending the weekend with it, I can say: absolutely. Even though I use Android more often than iOS, it’s difficult for me not to recommend the new iPhone 5s to practically anyone who asks.

Overall, the new iPhone looks just like my old handset, with the exception of the Touch ID home button. It definitely works as advertised; I have it set up with both of my thumbs so I’m covered regardless of which hand is holding the device. Yes, other smartphones have had fingerprint sensors, so what makes this better? Two things.

iPhone touch ID

First, the sensor is exactly where you’d expect it to be and it’s integrated into the hardware so that it doesn’t even look like a sensor. The 2011 Motorola Atrix (s goog) had a sensor in an odd place, looked like a sensor and you had to swipe or roll your finger down to make it work, for example.

Second, Touch ID doesn’t just work to unlock the device but it can work with software as well: Goodbye typing a password when buying from the iTunes store! It works so well that you don’t need to explain how it works to new phone users; Apple does this through the fingerprint enrollment process. That intuitiveness is  what makes it seem “magical”: you don’t see the technology, you instead see a useful function.

The iPhone 5s camera is superb as well; very fast and consistently takes good images. The dual “true tone” flash is a noticeable improvement here. Are there better cameras in phones available today? I’d say sure: I find the HTC One is a smidge better in low light while the Lumia 1020(s nok) captures an amazing amount of detail for cropped photos. But all around, the iPhone camera is a perfect all-around device that all but a few discriminating photographers will be happy with.

Backyard with iPhone 5s

Apple’s new iOS 7 is pretty quick and responsive on the new phone, but I’m not seeing the types of performance bumps that benchmarks and marketing might suggest. Is the phone faster than the iPhone 5? Yup. Is it so much faster that I see a big difference? Not really, but some of those speed gains may come from rewritten apps that take advantage of the new A7 chip and the ARM v8 instruction set it supports.

I still find it jarring when I open up a third-party app that isn’t yet written for iOS 7 however. The biggest issue I have is the use of the older iPhone software keyboard; visually it looks terrible within the iOS 7 environment. That’s on developers to rectify more than it is on Apple at this point and I hope it goes away soon.

Regardless, I may be in the minority when I say I actually like iOS 7. And why not: Apple took some of the best features found in other operating systems that I use and integrated them into the iPhone. We could get into a “copying vs. innovation” discussion here, but as an end-user, I simply don’t care. As long as my mobile device works well and has features I like, I’m happy.

command center iOS 7

If I had to pick on the iPhone for any specific function, it’s battery life. I may be spoiled in this regard though. I’ve been using larger Android devices for over a year and these typically have larger batteries that easily last a day. And the battery in my main driver, the Moto X, hasn’t drained in a single day yet. So while Apple says the iPhone 5s offers the same battery life as the prior model — a claim I tend to agree with — it’s not an “all day” device for me the way I use my phones. I carry a portable 2600 mAh battery when I tote the iPhone; not a big deal or much extra weight.

Put together with the iOS ecosystem of apps and content — I love the new iTunes Radio — the new iPhone 5s is surely the most compelling iPhone yet. I’d easily recommend it to anyone that asks, provided they don’t see Apple’s walled garden and control to be a detriment. In that case, there are plenty of solid Android choices to point folks to, with the Moto X being my recommended all-around handset pick of the moment for Android users.

33 Responses to “My weekend with the iPhone 5s: It’s hard not to recommend this phone to anyone”

  1. A very balanced review, I would say. I like the iTune radio the most on iOS 7, much much better than Pandora and Nokia music that I was using recently. I am waiting for my upgrade in verizon and have been debating between Moto X and Iphone 5s because I cannot get Nokia 1520 there. Perhaps I will go for Iphone 5s because of its resale value. Having said that I am jealous about voice control option in Moto X (which I think is very practical unlike Samsung’s eye scrolling stuff which barely works), which I am going to miss in my Iphone 5s.

  2. Do you recommend the 5s over my note 2? Im currently going back to the iphone after 4yrs with android but im still getting my main every day google services on the iphone too. But im open to switching to wp8 too? Any suggestions?

  3. Michael Ticker

    Kevin, does your unlocked 5S have the whole “borked inclinometer” issue that was reported a few days ago. I ask, only because I care about using the sensors inside the phone for racing games (i’m fond of). I don’t care about keeping a nail straight.

    I also care about the compass.

  4. leon dodu

    i had an iphone 3gs previously, and have finally bought the 5s. It has shipped and will come soon. Do you think I’ll like it more? If so, which features are better from 3gs > 5s?

  5. Hi Kevin, so would you switch to the 5S over the MotoX as your daily driver? I’m switching from my HTC One to the iPhone 5S to see how well it fits in with my workflow as a daily driver, that being said I’m still going to take the One with me.

    • I’m likely staying with the Moto X for most of my usage because of my heavy reliance on Google services and because of the touchless control. I’m also using Google Glass now and that’s really meant for Android devices.

  6. “First, the sensor is exactly where you’d expect it to be and it’s integrated into the hardware so that it doesn’t even look like a sensor. ”

    What on earth is that supposed to mean? Where exactly are fingerprint sensors expected to be placed? Is there a rule? I had an Atrix for 2.5 years and the fingerprint sensor worked flawlessly. If one day in those 2.5 years, it was suddenly moved elsewhere, it wouldn’t really be where I expected it to be.The sensor for the Atrix was also the power button so that you don’t have to move your finger anywhere else after powering on. That makes perfect sense. Are you saying that’s not the case in the iPhone 5s?

    • By that I meant the fingerprint sensor is in a familiar place: where the home screen button has been for the past 6 years. Yes, the Atrix sensor was also the power button, but I and many other reviewers found it to be in awkward position: The top back of the device.

  7. Where were you able to order “an unlocked GSM model” of iPhone 5s? All the iPhone 5s in the U.S. are locked to carriers, I haven’t seen any (legitimate) store/site that sell it unlocked.

    • I have to say that after using it for a couple of days, I got used to it. I now have to say that I do find it an improvement over iOS 6.

      As for battery life, turn off all the bells and whistles you’re not using. I find battery life to be very good.

  8. PublicFarley

    I love how evey iPhone/iPad review has to end with this type of caveat:

    “I’d easily recommend it to anyone that asks, provided they don’t see Apple’s walled garden and control to be a detriment. In that case, there are plenty of solid Android choices to point folks to”

    Come on Kevin. Other than a small sliver of geek phone tinkerers, how is the Apple approach a detriment to users? In fact Apple’s curated approach has fostered a higher quality, better trusted app ecosystem. Huge win for the user experience.