Save for the new, slightly larger camera and dual-LED 'TrueTone' flash on the back and TouchID fingerprint sensor in the home button, the iPhone 5S is identical to last year's model. Apple has maintained the same hardened glass front and aluminum chassis, but now it's offering two new colors - space gray and gold. Space gray is more or less last year's black model with a slightly lighter shade of aluminum, but gold is a true first for the iPhone series. Depending on where your preferences lie, the gold version may be regarded as either gaudy or gorgeous, but regardless of personal taste, it's refreshing to see Apple embracing colors outside of its longstanding black and white iPhone variants.
In spite of any drastic design changes, the iPhone 5S remains one of the best looking, most well-constructed smartphones on the market. Although the competition has shown renewed interest in design with devices like the HTC One, Lumia 925, and the Moto X, Apple remains unrivaled in its meticulous consideration for hardware.
Under the hood, the iPhone 5S' advancements are far more significant. Apple has laid claim to producing the world's first 64-bit processor in the world with the new A7 system-on-a-chip (SOC). While the actionable benefits of its 64-bit architecture are limited until more apps and games are developed natively or optimized to take advantage, the A7 has perceivable impact on the speed of iOS 7 and apps. Browsing through iOS 7's animation-heavy interface and launching apps is notably faster than the iPhone 5. In GeekBench 3 and 3D Mark benchmark tests, the iPhone 5S more than doubles the CPU scores of the iPhone 5 and three times the framerates when running intense graphics.
The iPhone 5S also commands a substantial lead in processing power over the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4, accounting for a graphics boost of up to 32% and 38% in CPU benchmarks.
But the A7 means more than raw power - it actually enables useful features, like the iPhone 5S' expanded camera functionality.
Though the iPhone 5S' camera retains the 8-megapixel count of the iPhone 5, it's now capable of capturing 120 frames-per-second slow-motion video and 10 frames-per-second burst photography. Driven by the A7, the camera snaps photos and videos faster for cleaner, more detailed, and more vibrant shots. Burst mode's rapid capture speeds eliminate the need to time the perfect shot - just hold the shutter button down and the iPhone %S will snap a string of photos, automatically presenting the best of the bunch. Slow-motion, although viewed as a novelty, is actually one of my favorite features of the iPhone 5S.
Everything - even the most mundane of actions - looks incredible and epic in slow motion with smooth, detailed progressions. While many are certain to embrace the iPhone 5S' slow-motion camera for comedy, an equal share will create stunning montages.
Apple has also made improvements to the lens and sensor. The rear-facing camera now has a ƒ2.2 aperture lens and 1.5µ pixel sensor, which gathers and processes more light for better low-light photography and richer composition. Though the improvements aren't so significant to warrant an upgrade by itself, the iPhone 5S has one of the best smartphone cameras on the market.
The feature most likely to attract attention, however, is the new fingerprint scanner. Apple has built a new sensor into the home button, which is capable of detecting certain distinguishing elements of your fingerprint almost instantaneously. By simply placing your thumb on the sensor - or any finger, for that matter - the iPhone 5S can identify your fingerprint and unlock your phone. When you set up the iPhone 5S for the first time (or access the settings anytime thereafter), you can register a new fingerprint profile via a brief calibration process. The system asks that you repeatedly press your finger to the sensor, including the edges of your print, so that it can capture and store a unique TouchID. The iPhone 5S supports multiple profiles for multiple fingers and users, allowing you to give loved ones streamlined access to your device while maintaining a high level of security. It even allows you to forego the tedium of entering a password every time you want to download a new app - just scan your finger and you're good to go.
Initially, it took awhile for me to shake the learned behavior of waking my display and quickly entering a pin code, but once I became accustomed to TouchID, it became almost like second-nature. Gone are the days where I would mistakenly hit the wrong digit or press one number too many times. Now, I don't have to look at my phone while I unlock it - I just go straight to the primary UI and launch an app.
The only I gripes I've found with the iPhone 5S are minor. Calibrating the TouchID for each finger on either hand that you may choose to use to unlock your device can be time consuming. There were also times - albeit rarely - when the TouchID would fail to recognize my fingerprint, causing me to make repeated attempts before just unlocking the device manually, thus defeating the purpose entirely.
Apple is also becoming increasingly behind the curve in terms of battery life. While the iPhone 5S lasts for a day's worth of casual use, charge levels are substantially undercut by any rigorous app or game usage. The iPhone 5S remains within the acceptable margins, but falls short of larger Android and Windows Phone devices. I also encountered a few odd software bugs, wherein third-party apps would crash randomly and cause the OS to revert to the boot-up logo. It's possible that the issues stem from the absence of patched support for the A7's 64-bit architecture or lingering issues with iOS 7, but in either scenario, should be resolved easily with future updates.