iPhone 5S review

30 Sep 2014
iPhone 5S screen
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
inc VAT
Buy it now for 

A staggeringly fast processor, excellent build quality and a great operating system, what's not to like?


Processor: Dual-core 1.3GHz Apple A7, Screen size: 4in, Screen resolution: 1,136x640, Rear camera: 8 megapixels, Storage: 16/32/64GB, Wireless data: 4G, Size: 123.8x58.6x7.6mm, Weight: 112g, Operating system: iOS 7.1

While the Android world had gone big-screen, Apple had steadfastly stuck to its more pocket-friendly design with the iPhone 5S. While the larger iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus models may have seen the smartphone manufacturer going big, the iPhone 5S is still on sale and could be of interest to people looking for a smaller, cheaper handset. We've updated this review to reflect the new phones, the drop in price for the iPhone 5S and iOS 8, which you can now upgrade the handset to.

On a first glance, there's very little to tell this smartphone from the iPhone 5. With larger-and-larger phones coming out, the question is whether or not Apple has lost the plot. The good news is that Apple seems to know exactly what it's doing and the iPhone 5S remains a beautifully made and desirable smartphone. While it may look like its predecessor, this phone is an improvement in practically every way.

Build quality

The one area where Apple hasn't managed to better itself is with build quality, and that's only because the iPhone 5 was such a great phone. Apple doesn't skimp on premium materials and the metal body and Gorilla Glass covered screen still look and feel fantastic.

It's not just the materials, but the attention to detail that catches the eye. Its precision-cut aluminium rear sits absolutely flush with glass panels that sit at the top and bottom. The smartphone's neat bevelled edges are perfectly formed and the 7.3mm thick phone feels incredibly comfortable in the hand. Weighing just 112g, which still feels almost impossibly light when you pick up the smartphone for the first time, the iPhone 5S is incredible to look at and hold.

iPhone 5S Volume Buttons

The iPhone 5S is hard-wearing, too, thanks to its tough aluminium body. We've been carrying our one around since launch and, aside from the odd minor scratch (mostly around the bezel), it looks as good as the day it was taken out of its box. We keep the phone in a sleeve case to protect the sides and screen, but the quality is still impressive to behold.

iPhone 5S Rear

If you're coming from a large-screen Android phone, the iPhone 5S does look a little small, but for all practical purposes it's still a great size. It fits easily in one hand, letting you use it with just your thumb, while you can put it comfortably in any pocket.

iPhone 5S vs Samsung Galaxy S5

For this year's models, the white model is the same as last year's, but there are also two new colours. Space Grey replaces the 'black' model of last year and is subtly different, with the case a purer grey than last year's blue-grey model. It's the Gold edition that's really different. Pictures don't do it justice, as it tends to look quite garish, but in the flesh the champagne gold finish is altogether more subtle and classier.

Gold model aside, the biggest issue of the iPhone 5S's looks is that to the untrained eye it doesn't look as though you've bought a new phone, although Apple has at least eased the burden by taking the iPhone 5 off sale, replacing it with the plastic iPhone 5C instead.

iPhone 5S TouchID

There is one big clue that the phone you've got is the iPhone 5S: the metal-rimmed home button, which no longer has the familiar-looking square icon in it. As you're no doubt aware, this is the brand-new fingerprint reader, Touch ID. With Touch ID, rather than having to tap in a PIN to unlock your phone, you can simply hold your finger over the sensor. If that sounds like a gimmick, it's not: it's actually a brilliant time saver and something that helps enforce security.

Touch ID

Touch ID can be programmed to recognise up to five fingers (they can be just yours or yours and trusted other people). All you have to do is hold your finger to the sensor repeatedly, while the iPhone 5S builds up an image of what your print looks like. You're prompted to move your finger around, to get full coverage, and even to use the side of your finger so that you can use Touch ID from pretty much any angle. With that done, you're ready to go.

iPhone 5S TouchID in use

Apple had some complaints when the phone first came out that Touch ID wasn't particularly reliable. However, an iOS update has fixed that and made the fingerprint reader faster and much more reliable. Plus, you can help things along by registering the same finger twice, dramatically increasing the recognition levels.

We have to say that it works pretty much flawlessly, at any angle and, impressively, any rotation, so you can even tap Touch ID with your phone upside down to get it to work. We found that other people's fingers couldn't unlock the phone either. What's particularly brilliant is how you can unlock the phone in one go: just click the home button to switch on the iPhone 5S, then release and hold to unlock it in one smooth move. The only times we have suffered any problems are with a wet finger, such as after washing our hands; for the most part, the sensor works brilliantly.

This ease of use shouldn’t overshadow the technological effort that has gone into creating Touch ID. It's massively impressive that Apple has managed to fit the best fingerprint reader we've used underneath a button. Even better, you only have to touch the reader for it to work; with the Samsung Galaxy S5, you have to swipe your finger over the button, which isn't quite as easy or as user friendly.

Perhaps more importantly, setting up Touch ID requires you to set a PIN for your phone, which is required after a reboot and to access key settings, such as adding new fingerprints. So, in adding easier-to-use security, Apple is also pushing people to be more secure in general.

Apple iPhone 5S Touch ID

Then, there's the future of the technology. At the moment Touch ID can be used to unlock your phone and to buy from iTunes and the App Store, rather than having to enter your password. It makes sense that Apple will open this system up at some point in the future, at least to certain developers, so you could use your fingerprint to access your bank, for example. Nothing has been announced, but we'd be surprised if Touch ID isn't used for more over the coming year.

Fingerprints are stored in the phone's A7 chip's Secure Enclave, where they're not shared or uploaded to iCloud. This helps boost security and should stop the fingerprint reader being hacked. Of course, the system is not entirely fool-proof, but Apple quotes a 50,000-in-1 chance of someone being able to unlock the phone, which is still better than the 10,000-in-1 chance of someone guessing a four-digit PIN.


Given that the phone size hasn't changed, Apple hasn't changed the screen, so you get the same 4in 1,136x640 screen that was used in the iPhone 5. Again, you can get higher resolution, bigger screens moving to Android, but we don't see the iPhone 5S's size as a problem.

iPhone 5S

For starters, there's plenty of resolution for web browsing and apps, with the interface disappearing off-screen when you're reading pages, giving the full screen over to the current task. Next, the 326ppi pixel density is what Apple calls a Retina display. This means that when you view the screen at a normal distance, you can't view individual pixels. In other words, everything looks pin-sharp and more resolution wouldn't achieve anything, bar making icons and text too small to read without scaling.

Image quality is excellent, too. Apple has used a high-quality IPS panel and it's still one of the best smartphone displays. It's evenly lit, bright, produces excellent whites and vibrant colours, and the excellent viewing angles mean that you can see what's on screen clearly from anywhere.

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