Apple iPhone 5s (AT&T) Review

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$199.99
Editor's Choice

Pros: Excellent camera and flash; Lightning fast A7 processor; Fingerprint sensor works well; Solid and elegant design in new colors; Bright display

Cons: Relatively small screen; Below-average battery life; Limited camera features

Verdict: The iPhone 5s boasts a fantastic camera and an array of cutting edge technologies that make this compact smartphone a force to be reckoned with.

Apple is giving Android the finger with the iPhone 5s. And we're not just talking about the fingerprint sensor beneath the screen. The new A7 chip inside this unassuming beast promises to run circles around the Galaxy S4 and other devices. Apple's sequel ($199 for 16GB) also features a beefed up camera with larger pixels as well as a new dual flash system. Then there's iOS 7, which sports a colorful yet clean new design that looks like an antidote to cluttered Android skins. At a time big-screen flagships are all the rage, though, should you give this compact powerhouse a chance?

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Design

Same weight, same dimensions, same 4-inch display. That's to be expected when Apple is in between major redesigns. But that doesn't mean the iPhone 5s doesn't have flair. The new gold version (really more of a champagne) has panache without going to gaudy town. The gold ring around the power button provides a nice subtle contrast to the white front. But there's something more industrial chic about the space gray iPhone 5s with black front. The silver version is the most pedestrian of the three models.

Otherwise, the iPhone 5s has the same sturdy yet elegant aluminum-and-glass design as its predecessor, complete with polished chamfered edges. Other than the HTC One, no other smartphone comes close to looking like a luxury item. The only notable aesthetic differences between the iPhone 5s and the 5 is the new circular home button and dual flash on the back.

It's worth noting that the iPhone 5 remains one of the lightest (3.95 ounces) and most one-hand-friendly designs around. You just have to be willing to give up larger screen size for this convenience.

Fingerprint and Touch ID

Apple iPhone 5s (AT&T) FingerprintGiven that smartphone owners look at their phones 100 to 150 times per day, we're glad that Apple integrated a fingerprint sensor into the Home button on the 5s. Instead of entering a passcode multiple times a day, just hold your finger on the scanner and the device unlocks almost immediately (about a second).

Setting up Touch ID couldn't be easier. Just place the finger you want to register on the sensor multiple times until the 5s gets a complete profile. You can also register multiple fingers, which we recommend because you never know when you need to pick the phone up with your left or right hand. On a few occasions the 5s didn't recognize our finger the first time, but overall we appreciate the convenience.

Apple iPhone 5s (AT&T) Touch IDIn addition to unlocking your device, you can use Touch ID to make app and iTunes purchases with a touch of your finger. In our testing this worked every time.

However, Touch ID has a lot of unrealized potential. For example, we could see Apple pairing the technology with Passbook apps for mobile payments or redeeming offers. And although you can store multiple fingers on the iPhone 5s, we wish you could set up special profiles for your kids so that when they touched the sensor only the apps you approved popped up on screen. Or how about mapping certain fingers to certain apps?

Display

Apple iPhone 5s (AT&T) DisplayIt's probably not a coincidence that iOS 7 has a more open and airy look and smaller fonts than Apple's previous operating system. That's because it creates the illusion that you're using a bigger screen. However, there's no getting around the fact that 4 inches is positively puny compared to today's top-tier Android phones. The Galaxy S4 (5 inches), HTC One (4.7 inches) and LG G2 (5.2) inches all provide more real estate along with a much higher resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels. The iPhone 5 is still stuck on 1136 x 640 pixels.

On the plus side, both photos and videos looked crisp and colorful on this smaller canvas. We could easily make out intricate patterns on two huge stone doors in a trailer for "Thor: The Dark World," and enjoyed the warm colors on the battlefield as Thor scattered dozens of enemies with a single swing of the hammer.

The iPhone 5s also continues to boast one of the brightest displays on a smartphone, making it easy to view content even in direct sunlight. The device registered 500 lux on our light meter, which while slightly below the 525 lux turned in by the 5 trounces the 396 smartphone average. The 5s also outshines the Galaxy S4 (480), HTC One (375) and LG G2 (351 lux).

Audio

Apple iPhone 5s (AT&T) SpeakersThe dual speakers on the bottom edge of the iPhone 5s produce a similar amount of volume as before, filling our small office with Lorde's "Royals." Games like "Infinity Blade 3" also provided plenty of sonic punch as we clashed swords with enemies. However, the speaker on the newer 5s actually produced clearer audio than the older 5 when playing the same Coldplay "Hurts Like Heaven" track on both devices. The iPhone 5 sounded a little hollower, but we're not sure if that has to do with the age of the device. Unfortunately, it's just as easy as before to accidentally muffle the audio when holding the phone in landscape mode.

iOS 7

Apple iPhone 5s (AT&T) InterfaceFlatter and more modern, iOS 7 eschews old-school visual metaphors (like faux felt in Game Center and yellow notepad aeshetic in the Notes app) for a spare and minimalist look. Overall, it works, even if the font Apple chose is a little too thin for our tastes.

Much more than a fresh coat of paint, iOS 7 adds some much needed functionality to the iPhone. Swiping up from the bottom of the screen launches Control Center, presenting setting shortcuts to everything from Airplane mode and Wi-Fi to screen brightness and music controls. You'll also find launch shortcuts for the camera, calculator, timer and a flashlight utility.

MORE: How to Use the iOS 7 Control Center

While Control Center is welcome, we wish you could long press any of the settings icons to open its corresponding menu, as you can with the Galaxy S4. We also wish you could customize the launch shortcuts along the bottom; we would add a Settings button before a flashlight.

Apple iPhone 5s (AT&T) MultitaskingiOS 7 also makes it easier to multitask, thanks to a webOS-like card interface that appears when you double press the home button. Just swipe up to close an app, or press its thumbnail to open it.

MORE: How to Close Apps in iOS 7

Swiping down from the top of the screen launches the revamped Notification Center, which has three tabs. The Today view is essentially your Agenda, including upcoming events, the current weather and reminders. You'll also find tabs for All notifications and a separate one for any ones you missed. We're not sure these need to be separate.

One of our favorite iOS 7 features is AirDrop. So long as the other iDevice is within fairly close range, you can easily share photos, videos, contacts and more. (Apple says AirDrop works using a combination of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.) We shared an 8-MP photo between two iPhone 5s devices in a couple of seconds--and we didn't have to bump the phones together to do it.

MORE: How to Use AirDrop in iOS 7

Overall, iOS 7 is a gorgeous and very capable operating system, but it still lacks the flexibility of Android. We also wish we could turn off some of the fancy animations, such as the icons flying onto the home screen when you unlock the device. This effect introduces a bit of lag where there was virtually none before. For more details see our very comprehensive iOS 7 review.

Keyboard

Apple iPhone 5s (AT&T) KeyboardWell, it looks different. The keyboard on the iPhone 5s uses a thinner font than before, but it works exactly the same way. In other words, you get a fast, fluid and mostly accurate typing experience. What's missing is next-word prediction, trace typing and some other features Android users get to enjoy. We also wish you could voice type offline as you can on Android phones; instead, your words are transcribed by Apple's servers before showing up on screen.

A7 Processor and Performance

Apple iPhone 5s (AT&T) PerformanceA first for smartphones, the iPhone 5s has an A7 processor under the hood that uses 64-bit architecture. This allows for much more complex instruction sets for developers and ultimately more sophisticated and powerful apps--especially games. We tried "Infinity Blade III," which has been optimized for the new chip, and were blown away by the realistic looking water lapping up against the shore, as well as the detail in our hero's armor and nearby rocks.

A handful of 64-bit apps are available now, and more are sure to come soon. Options include apps from Autodesk (like Sketchbook Pro and Pixlr Express Plus), Smule's Sing! Karaoke, algoriddim's djay 2 and vjay and Gameloft's Total Conquest.

Apple claims that the iPhone 5s offers double the overall speed and graphics performance, and our benchmarking mostly bore this out. Loading the "Minion Rush" game, for example, took just 16 seconds on 5s, versus 26 seconds for the older iPhone 5.

We saw similar results in synthetic benhcarks. On Geekbench 3, which measures processor and memory performance, the 5s notched 2,556, which is nearly double the older iPhone 5's mark of 1,297. The 5s also beat most Android phones, including the HTC One (2,460) and Moto X (2,068), thought the Galaxy S4 scored an even higher 3,177.

We also ran the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited test, which gauges graphics performance. The iPhone 5s scored a very high 13,795, second only to the Snapdragon 800-powered LG G2 (16,201). The Moto X, HTC One and Galaxy S4 all scored below 11,000.

Not everything went smoothly during our testing. More than a few times "Infinity Blade III" crashed and closed during gameplay. We also noticed a strange bug in the Photos app; after tapping on an image in the gallery and then attempting to swipe through the Camera Roll, it just wouldn't work. Auto rotation also stopped working. Resetting the phone fixed the issues.

We're assuming both developers and Apple will work out the kinks in short order.

M7 Coprocessor

Here's a feature that'st ripe for all sorts of possibilities. The iPhone 5s has a dedicated M7 coprocessor that measures accelerometer, gyroscope and compass data, which can be used for fitness apps and other applications. Nike on one such app called Nike+ Move, which will ostensibly give your 5s Fitbit Flex-like capabilities. But that's not all the M7 chip can do; it knows when you've stopped moving (such as when you're in bed or at the office) and can save battery power by pinging the network less.

Over time we see all sorts of fitness, navigation and other apps debuting to support the M7. Perhaps you could even use your 5s as a game controller for the Apple TV while using less power.

Camera

If you're on the fence about whether you want to upgrade from an earlier iPhone (even the 5) to the 5s, the enhanced camera will probably push you over the edge. Apple has kept the 8-MP resolution the same while enlarging the sensor by 15 percent and upping the size of the individual pixels. There's also a lower f/2.2 aperture. The result: brighter and sharper images, especially in low light.

To compare the iPhone 5 and 5s we snapped a shot of a golden retriever in a dim living room. The image from the 5 was terribly dark while the 5s picture looked much brighter. Even though there was some fuzziness when we zoomed in, only the 5s shot was worth sharing on Facebook.

Outdoors, a close-up shot of a pink white and red flower outdoors delivered accurate color and crisp detail. We could make out practically every fold in the petals.

The dual LED True Tone flash on the iPhone 5s produced equally dramatic results versus its predecessor. When we shot two colleagues In a dark room with the 5 and 5s, the latter device illuminated a much larger percentage of the scene. Our subjects clothes also looked more vibrant while retaining their natural skin color.

The iPhone 5s has a powerful burst mode that automatically shoots multiple images when you hold down the shutter button. (Storage permitting you could capture 999 stills in a row.) We like that the phone automatically presents whatever it calculates as the best photo, whether it's an action shot or group shot. For instance, when we shot a passing taxi in New York City, the 5s showed us an image first of it centered in the frame.

Other smartphones go further with their camera features. For instance, the S4, HTC One and Lumia 1020 let you remove unwanted objects from images or compose a sequence shot with multiple angles of a subject in the frame. You also won't find many settings or modes that other handsets have. You're pretty much limited to HDR, flash and 9 Instagram-like filters (such as Noir, Chrome and Instant).

Camcorder

The most fun you'll have with the iPhone 5s will likely be with the camcorder's slow motion video recording. In this mode you'll shoot 720p footage at 120 frames per second and the 5s will automatically slow down the middle portion of the clip to quarter speed.

The results were truly impressive. A clip we recorded of a fountain slowed down to the point we could see individual streams of water. The audio slowed down, too, which was kind of freaky. You can easily set what portion of the clip you want to be slow or fast.

We also appreciated the 5s' optical image stabilization when recording video. After recording ourselves jogging across a basketball court with both the iPhone 5s and 5 and playing back the footage, the 5s' clip looked much less jittery. Even when walking at a slower pace towards an American flag, the 5s' video looked noticeably smoother.

Last but not least, the 5s sports a front 720p FaceTime camera. When we captured our face indoors under the same lighting conditions at the same time, the 5s' shot looked clearer with less noise.

Apps

There's something very refreshing about a phone that doesn't come with any carrier-branded apps. But that's not the only reason we like the iPhone 5s. Apple now offers its Pages, Numbers and Keynote apps for free, giving users an Office-like experience on the go. iPhoto and iMovie apps for free.

Apple iPhone 5s (AT&T) SafariAs you might expect, Apple has given all of its built-in apps a minimalist iOS 7 makeover. The new Safari, for instance, gets a unified address bar and search box (similar to Chrome), and a new tab view makes it easier to scroll through open pages in a vertical orientation. We wish the bottom bar (Back, Forward, Sharing, Bookmarks, Tabs) didn't disappear when you were scrolling, but we can see why Apple wanted to make more room for your content.

Apple iPhone 5s (AT&T) iTunes RadioWhat's truly new is iTunes Radio, which is a direct competitor to Pandora. There are more than 300 DJ-curated and genre-focused stations, according to Apple. When listening you can create a new station from an artist or station. Spotify is still the go-to app for all-you-can-eat streaming on demand, but if you don't want to go the subscription route, iTunes Radio satisfies.

MORE: How to Use iTunes Radio

Apple iPhone 5s (AT&T) SiriOther notable apps include an improved Siri, which now gives you the choice of male and female voices and checks what people are saying on Twitter and uses both Wikipedia and Bing as a source for searches. We asked what people were saying about iOS 7 on twitter and Siri delivered matching Tweets. We also successfully turned of Bluetooth with our voice, though there was a bit of latency.

Apple's App Store not only looks sleeker with the iOS 7 update, it offers new ways to discover the hundreds of thousands of apps available.

Apple iPhone 5s (AT&T) App StoreThere's a new Kids section that lets you shop for apps by age or collection (like Shapes & Colors). The App Store can also leverage your location; when we tapped Near Me in New Jersey, the list of apps recommendations that appeared included Asbury Park Press and Optimum Entertainment (our cable provider). We also appreciate the Designed for iOS 7 section in the store, which includes everything from The New York Times and Zillow to Snapguide.

4G LTE Performance

Apple iPhone 5s (AT&T) SpeedTestWe enjoyed fast throughput on the AT&T version of the iPhone 5s. In Northern New Jersey, downloads averaged 16.5 Mbps and uploads averaged 6.4 Mbps. Even outside of LTE range, where the 5s rides on AT&T's HSPA 4G network, we saw downloads range between 8.9 and 10 Mbps. However, uploads fell below 1 Mbps. Apple says the iPhone 5s supports up to 13 bands, so you should be able to tap into LTE in more locations when you travel.

Battery Life

The iPhone 5s reportedly features a 1560 mAh battery, a jump from 1440 mAh on the previous model. As a result of that extra capacity--and presumably other efficiencies from its new chips--Apple claims that its flagship can last up to 10 hours on LTE. On the LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous web surfing over 4G LTE on 40 percent brightness, the 5s lasted 5 hours and 46 minutes.

That's a half hour less than the smartphone category average (6:16). The AT&T Galaxy S4 turned in a shorter 5:13 in regular mode but a longer 5:54 in power saving mode. The HTC One (5:55 in regular mode, 6:20 in power saving) also lasted longer than the iPhone 5s. The LG G2, which benefits from a 3,000 mAh battery, lasted 10 hours and 42 minutes.

MORE: 10 Smartphones with the Longest Battery Life

Anecdotally, the iPhone 5s demonstrated pretty good staying power. After being unplugged for 8 hours and 29 minutes, which included 3 hours and 19 minutes of usage (email, taking photos and video, gaming, streaming music), the battery meter on the 5s read 24 percent. So with moderate usage you should expect to get through most if not all of a typical workday.

Editors Note: We've reached out to Apple for comment on our test and will update this review with any feedback and further test results.

Configurations, Plans and Pricing

In addition to the three color options, consumers will be able to purchase the iPhone 5s with 16GB of storage for $199, 32GB for $299, and 64GB for $399. 

On AT&T, shoppers will be able to sign up for a traditional two-year contract, or you can opt for AT&T's new NEXT plan, which requires no payment upfront, but costs $27 per month for 20 months. With this plan, consumers will also be eligible for an upgrade after 12 payments, as opposed to two years with a traditional plan.

MORE: iPhone 5s: Which Carrier Has the Best Plans?

Verdict

Apple iPhone 5s (AT&T) From its fast A7 processor and fingerprint scanner to its intriguing motion-sensing M7 coprocessor, the iPhone 5s is a smartphone that both users and developers can grow into. It's practically future proof. We say practically because you can't stretch the corners of this phone to enlarge the display. Some shoppers will simply pick devices like the Galaxy S4 and HTC One because they have a bigger canvas. The 5s also doesn't last quite as long on a charge as its Android competition.

Assuming you prefer a more compact design, though, you'll be delighted with everything else the iPhone 5s has to offer. The improved iSight camera takes fantastic looking photos (especially in low light) and Apple still offers the best selection of high-quality apps, including the ones that are built in. Although we wish iOS 7 offered more customization and better parental controls, the experience is more polished and less cluttered than most Android phones. The bottom line is that the iPhone 5s is a superbly designed smartphone that deftly balances ease of use and swift performance with impactful features.

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Author Bio
Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer, Editor-in-Chief
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptopmag.com, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
Mark Spoonauer, Editor-in-Chief on
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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
Carrier AT&T
Alternate Carriers Verizon
Alternate Carriers T-Mobile
Alternate Carriers Sprint
Phone Display Size 4
Display Resolution 1136x640
Form Factor Candybar Touchscreen
OS Family iOS
Operating System iOS 7
Networks 4G LTE (Band 2, 4, 5 and 17); 4G (HSPA+ with enhanced backhaul); 3G/UMTS (850/900/1900/2100MHz); GSM/GPRS/EDGE (850/900/1800/1900MHz)
Data EDGE/GPRS/HSPA+/LTE
CPU Apple A7
Processor Family Apple A7
RAM 1GB
Internal Memory 16GB
Memory Expansion Type
Display (main) 4 inches/1136 x 640
Display (secondary)
Bluetooth Type Bluetooth 4.0
Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n
Front Camera Resolution 1.2MP
Camera Resolution 8 MP
Audio formats supported AAC+
Audio formats supported AAC
Audio formats supported WAV
Audio formats supported AIFF
Talk / Standby Time
Size 4.87 x 2.31 x 0.30 inches
Weight 3.95 ounces
SAR Rating (Head)
SAR Rating (Body)
Company Website www.apple.com