Review: iPhone 5S

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written by Jay Hammon (@Gravity_Flux

So there comes a certain time of year, typically in the fall, where people tend to freak out for 3 obsessive reasons. No, not Halloween costumes, candy corn and a new season of The Walking Dead but rather it’s the start of football season, pumpkin spice everything and the new iPhones releasing. When it comes to the horde of ravenous Apple devotees there are two camps. One prefers to wait in line for hours in the cold and rain to be the very first person on their friends list to post photos of their sparkly new(er) phone on their Instagram or Facebook. The other group tends to wait out the siege and pick up their new smartphone once they can simply walk into their local Apple, cell phone or electronics store. One requires endurance, rations and a stun gun while the other requires patience, patience and a nonfat pumpkin spice latte or seven.

I’m somewhere in the middle of these groups. I tried waiting in line but couldn’t devote the time to do it properly as I just have too much going on to waste hours standing around… and let’s be honest; my iPhone 4S battery wouldn’t last long enough to keep me entertained anyways. After a few days of calls and drop-ins I finally scored myself a shiny new iPhone 5S 16gig. With the ability to stream everything via the Cloud I just didn’t see any reason to pay for more storage. My 4S was 16gig as well and when I traded it in I still had 4gigs of free space. I run a clean ship.

With that said this review will be equal parts iPhone 5S and iOS7 review as I moved to both at relatively the same time. So let’s start with the device that’s causing all the raucous!

Aesthetics

First things first! Coming from the 4S this phone is thinner and lighter which is great for me. I’m a dude and absolutely hate having a chunky phone in my pocket. I just don’t find that to be an attractive look and fanny packs aren’t really in style any more so having a slender phone in my front pocket is a big plus. I went with the grey because that’s what was available but I actually dig it because from the front it’s your typical white Apple product but from the back it has a cool graphite colored section. Basically it’s the mullet of the smartphone world; all business up front and party in the rear.

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Performance

The newest iteration of the iPhone is the fastest yet and I can see the difference of that A7 chip working as I hop between apps and load info in-app. The inclusion of the M7 chip for mobile GPS tracking also seems to work wonders. I used Google Maps and noticed when I intentionally took a wrong turn that the software was much quicker in correcting the next indicated direction which can make the difference between catching the very next turn or having to continue my way into a maze of turns and missed directions much like Sarah navigating the Labyrinth. Now people who use apps like Map My Run can really calculate their mileage down to the minutia if they choose to.    

My biggest complaint with my 4S was the horrible battery life. Spend 15 minutes surfing Yelp, Facebook, sending texts and e-mails all while playing Puzzles & Dragons and I’d find my fully charged phone down to 70%. Continue using my phone and I’d quickly be scouring the land for a plug to jack so I could juice up my phone. I would use all the tricks to enhance my battery life and nothing worked. If I didn’t constantly have my 4S hooked up to a charger it would quickly flash low-battery warnings at me and threaten to end it all by leaping off the coffee table. While my 5S isn’t the messiah of battery technology that I’d hoped for it’s still leaps and bounds better. I can now edit some photos with the updated Camera app, make reservations with Open Table and FaceTime with my BFF while only dropping down 5-10%. I no longer fear short drives in my car without a charger. It’s liberating to no longer be shackled by that short white cable any more. I think I’m in lust.

Technology

One of the most notable new pieces of technology for the iPhone 5S is the fingerprint scanner. While not new technology by any means it is new for a smartphone and is typically the first thing people ask to see when they realize I’m using a 5S.

Once you’ve started using your new phone you’ll still set up a numeric passcode that you’ll use whenever you reboot your phone otherwise you’ll be able to use your fingerprint. Your phone will direct you to tap your chosen digit onto the sensor repeatedly for roughly 30 seconds. I chose my thumb based on how I usually hold my phone. If you want to earn cool points use your pinky and become a pro at finger gymnastics.  From there you can use that finger from almost any angle to unlock your phone. Try using a different finger? Uh uh uhhh… nope! You can start using your passcode, switch over and your phone will smoothly make the transition and unlock. I’ve gotten into the habit of tapping the home button to wake up the phone while keeping my finger rested on the sensor to quickly access my device.                        

In my opinion this is really more of a gimmick than a true innovation as it doesn’t really add a new feature to win the smartphone war but it’s still pretty slick and, as I said, this seems to be the one thing everyone wants to see work in person.

Usability And Features

+Screen And Camera

The screen is crisp and clear with better resolution. The previous gen iPhone was laying down 960 x 640 while the 5S is rocking 1136 x 640. That translates into games, videos and pictures really popping on our mobile devices; blurring lines between smartphone and desktop graphics even more. The first time you watch a video or play an HD game designed for the 5S you’ll notice how much better the quality is. I’ve found there’s less eye strain when using my phone for extended periods now too. I guess they’re working to do anything they can do to keep me using their phone longer.

the control center is now a quick swipe up from the bottom

the control center is now a quick swipe up from the bottom

and spotlight search is a swipe down from the home screen (while not all the way at the top otherwise you open notifications)

and spotlight search is a swipe down from the home screen (while not all the way at the top otherwise you open notifications)

The camera received a nice update so videos and photos are a smidgen nicer than they were before. Slow-mo videos, auto-stabilization and 15% more sensor space for those low light conditions are a few of the updates that have taken place. I’m expecting to see a ton of slow-mo videos popping up all over the interwebs now. Our 5S will do its part to make our photos and videos look better than our lack of skills would otherwise allow. Selfie princesses around the world rejoice!

+Speakers

The speakers still do the trick if you need to listen to some of your own tunes at your desk at work to drown out that lame radio station blasting the same 4 songs over and over again. Just don’t expect to use the built in speaker to rock your favorite Bieber song at any parties though.

Software

                  Now to touch on a few of my favorite and least favorite tweaks to the software with iOS7 (or 7.02 if you’re current).

                  +Pros

To start with I really dig the new look. At first I wasn’t sure if I liked it because it was better or because it was new but after over a week with the OS I can definitely say I dig it. It feels “lighter” and not as rigid as the previous version. The new look is a vast change from everything we’ve gotten used to previously and really helped make my new phone feel like a new phone.

Initially I didn’t care for how the direction for some of the swipe commands were changed but I quickly got used to that and came to prefer the new method to remove apps from operating in the background. The tiles are a little on the large side so you can’t see as many at one time but now you can see what you were last doing in that app much more easily so all in all it was a positive change for me.

We now have more options for editing and taking photos and videos from the native Camera application in an attempt to compete with the features used on apps like Instagram. You can crop, filter and touch-up your photos to really make sure every photo highlights how photogenic you and your dog are. I’ve found in the end that I’m still using other apps to fine tune photos but it’s nice to see Apple moving in the right direction.

 We also received some new/better swipe features from the main unlock screen. Swipe up to bring up a control panel for music, Bluetooth, flashlight and a slew of other options. Do a swipe down from mid-screen to bring up the search function and do a full swipe down to bring up your notifications which you can then filter by Today, All and Missed.

Want to block that neurotic ex or spiteful coworker? There’s a feature for that. Simply go into your contacts and select ‘block’. It’s like taking a magic eraser to those irksome texts and FaceTime requests; it’s like they never existed.

the home screen does away with those pesky black opaque bars

the home screen does away with those pesky black opaque bars

and the home screen color theme draws from the background image

and the home screen color theme draws from the background image

+Cons

The new calendar is hit or miss for me. I like how an all-day event is listed very cleanly at the top of that day but I hate how difficult it is to see all my events for a day at a glance. For me this really killed some of the ease of use that I came to appreciate about the calendar. I do have to say it’s pretty cool that you can create events from your texts now. If you mention ‘tonight’ or ‘Monday’ in a text you’ll see the word is underlined. Tap the word and you’re ushered into your calendar where you can complete the creation of the event. I’m hoping with time I learn to love the new calendar but right now… we aren’t on speaking terms.

My biggest gripe, yes, even bigger than my calendar gripe, is the delay required after unlocking the device before I can pull up my background apps. Prior to iOS7 I would unlock my phone and quickly double tap the home button to bring up my most recently used apps and get to it. Now after unlocking the device you’ll double tap the home button and continue staring at your home screen image; nothing happens. If you give your phone a few seconds to ponder its own existence and then double tap the home button you’ll find your recently used apps leap joyfully onto your screen. This sounds minor until you constantly run into it. I’ve found myself either double tapping and then waiting to re-double tap or going into a berserker frenzy and doing quadruple taps which then freaks my phone out and puts me in places I just don’t want to be. I feel like a kid cracked out on too much caffeine while on time out in the corner. I’m sure I’ll learn to adjust to this change in interface but at this point in time I find it to be rather annoying.

Also, while we’re mentioning the background images, what’s the deal with not being able to properly scale and adjust the lock and home screen images? I really enjoy my photo from a recent Seahawks game but I don’t want our faces to be so ginormous that they take up the entire screen and look grainy. Again, small things, but isn’t it the small things that really make a user’s experience with a software and UI exceptional or mediocre?

Verdict

In spite of few complaints regarding the device and its new iOS I really love my upgrade to the 5S and iOS7. Knowing Apple we’ll slowly see some changes and adjustments trickle out over the next year… just in time for the 6 to release. Like so many other early adopters I’ll continue to play around and explore to find new features and options that I can use or ignore as they fit my lifestyle and needs. As much as I may hate to say it I think Apple has done it again. Now excuse me while I get my pumpkin spice latte fix in preparation for the big game. What can I say? I love this time of yea

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