Apple iPhone 5S full review

The iPhone 5S is no longer part of Apple's smartphone lineup. That's now comprised of the iPhone 6, 6 Plus, iPhone 6S and 6S Plus. Effectively the iPhone 5S has been replaced by the new iPhone SE, reviewed (and shown in the video above). We've updated our iPhone 5S review in the light of the iPhone SE. (Much of this review was originally written in September 2013, then fully updated in September 2015.)

Update June 2016: The iPhone SE has replaced the iPhone 5S in Apple's iPhone range. Essentially, it's the internals from an iPhone 6S in the body of an iPhone 5S. It costs £359 for the 16GB model, making it very good value for an iPhone that performs this well with the excellent rear camera from the iPhone 6S.

You can still buy a brand new iPhone 5S, though. You'll pay around £250 for the 16GB version or around £350 for the 32GB model. Alternatively, you can get it on contract for around £15 per month and a £60 upfront cost.

Typically, you'll only find it in Space Grey or Silver. Gold has been dropped, and there's no 64GB version any more. All versions can be found in various conditions on ebay, Gumtree and other sites of course.

The 5S originally cost £549 (16GB) and £629 (32GB). Apple then cut these prices in 2015 to £379 and £419 respectively. Also see: Best MiFi 2016.

Our advice is to go for the iPhone SE if you can afford it as although it doesn't have an upgraded screen compared to the iPhone 5S, the huge leap in performance and camera quality makes it a much better - not to mention more future-proof - choice.

Here follows our original iPhone 5S review, which was last updated in September 2015. The only thing that's changed is that we now know that the 5S will be upgradeable to iOS 10.

iPhone 5S review: two years on

It's September 2015 and we've had our 5S for two years, so we're experts in its strengths and weaknesses. Fortunately, any downsides are more than outweighed by benefits and the 5S is still a truly great smartphone.

Screen sizes have moved on quickly from the 4in display bestowed upon the iPhone 5S and it now feels dinky compared to even the 4.7in iPhone 6S let alone the 6S Plus with its 5.5in screen. However, not everyone wants a huge smartphone and the 5S slips into a pocket with ease, whereas Apple's latest phablet does not.

It's also supremely well built and surprisingly light considering that sturdy build quality. The screen may be small but it still competes with the best in terms of quality. There's really no need for any more pixels since at 326ppi, you can't see the individual dots anyway.

We've also no issue with performance. We've been running iOS 9 for a few short days, but as with iOS 8, apps still run as quick as ever. This is partly thanks to the fact that the A7 processor is a 64-bit chip. As we said at the 5S's launch, this makes it more future-proof than the iPhone 5 and 5C which have 32-bit processors.

You will miss out on some of the new features in newer iPhones, though. The 5S has the useful TouchID sensor for unlocking the phone and making purchases with your finger, but it doesn't have NFC which you need for Apple Pay and it doesn't support 802.11ac Wi-Fi. Perhaps the biggest difference is that it doesn't have the 3D Touch screen of the iPhone 6S so you can't use the new context menus in iOS 9.

iPhone 5S front and back

iPhone 5S review: design

Just as the iPhone 4S was almost indistinguishable from the iPhone 4, the 5S has only its rather understated golden finish and TouchID to differentiate it from the iPhone 5. The similarities are largely superficial, though.

The iPhone 5S's dimensions are 123.8x58.6x7.6mm, and it weighs just 112g. That's the same as the iPhone 5.

The 4in Retina display has the same 1136x640 resolution as the iPhone 5 (and 5C) and is a decent screen. However, compared to the larger, much higher resolution displays of the iPhone 5S’s rivals, the screen does feel cramped.

We've mentioned the lack of 802.11ac Wi-Fi but, with 802.11n on board, the 5S should still be quicker than your broadband connection, and 802.11ac routers are still relatively few and far between - you probably have an 802.11n router at home. The 5S doesn't support as many LTE bands as the newer iPhones, but you'll still be able to use it in most countries on 3G.

iPhone 5S review: Touch ID

If you're upgrading from an older iPhone the first thing you notice about the iPhone 5S is its Home button. The Touch ID fingerprint scanner lets you unlock the phone in an instant by touching it. It's a convenient feature which is more secure than the four-digit passcode most iPhone owners use.

You can register up to five fingers, and set restrictions based on the fingerprint. This is handy as it means you could, for example, register your child's finger and disable access to the App Store and Safari as well as set age-appropriate limits on music, TV shows and films. It still falls short of proper user profiles, but it's one step in the right direction. Each stored fingerprint can have an attached name so you remember whose is whose.

Using Touch ID doesn't preclude using a passcode. In fact, you need to set up a passcode in order to use Touch ID, and enter it before registering a new fingerprint.

Touch ID isn't only for unlocking the 5S: you can also use your finger instead of your Apple ID password. When you purchase an app, for example, you'll be prompted to touch the scanner. This is an option you can disable in the settings, though, restricting fingers to unlocking the iPhone only.

iPhone 5S review

iPhone 5S review: storage and performance

The iPhone 5S has a 64-bit A7 processor and a motion co-processor – the M7 – which is used by fitness apps, including Apple's own Health app. It means the 5S can replace the likes of a Fitbit or Withings Pulse.

In our benchmarks, the 5S completed the SunSpider test in just 417ms. The iPhone 5 (running iOS 7), meanwhile, took 721ms, and the Samsung Galaxy S4 922ms.

Similar gains were found in Geekbench 3, with the iPhone 5 scoring 721 points, and the 5S managing 1,076. Running GLBenchmark 2.7 (Egypt HD), the iPhone 5S managed 53fps, compared to the iPhone 5’s 41fps. However, a bigger difference can be seen using the T-Rex HD test, where the 5S scored 37fps versus the 5’s 14fps. That’s more than twice the performance.

We don't yet have benchmark results for the new iPhone 6S or 6S Plus, but they will be roughly twice as fast again. To see how the iPhone 5S stacks up against the current competition (it still fares very well) then see What's the fastest smartphone?

Storage options are limited to 16- or 32GB, but don't forget some is used up by system files. So you lose 3-4GB straight away. We don't think many people will be happy with 12-ish gigabytes for all their apps, videos, music and photos, which means you'll need the 32GB version since there's no card slot to expand storage as with most Android phones.

iPhone 5S review

iPhone 5S review: battery life

The 5S has a 5.92Wh battery which is built-in and non-removable. Apple says the iPhone 5S will last for up to 250 hours on standby, and 10 hours of talk time. Web surfing is 8 hours on 3G, and 10 hours on LTE and Wi-Fi. Apple claims 10 hours for video playback and 40 hours audio playback, for the iPhone 5S.

Such figures are usually taken with a pinch of salt, but Apple's claims are typically close to the mark. In our video-looping test, the 5S lasted an impressive 11 hours, which compares well with an iPhone 5 (running iOS 7) which managed just shy of nine-and-three-quarter hours.

As we always say, your mileage will vary depending on how you use your phone. You should get a day's use out of the 5S with no worries about saving power, but constant 3G and 4G use will drain the battery much faster. And, of course, there's the new low power mode in iOS 9.

iPhone 5S review: cameras

The iPhone 5S has a front-facing FaceTime HD camera and a rear-facing 8Mp camera. The specifications work out as follows.

iPhone 5S review

The iPhone 5S iSight camera has what Apple describes as a 'better 8Mp sensor' than either the iPhone 5 or the iPhone 5C. It has ƒ/2.2 aperture and a True Tone flash which has two LEDs, one of which is amber. The FaceTime camera takes 1.2Mp photos at a resolution of 1280x960, and offers 720p HD video recording.

Photos taken in dark conditions have much less noise than the iPhone 5, but camera tech has moved on in the last two years and the 5S doesn't do as good a job as the best phone cameras.

In good light, you won’t see a huge difference between images from the iPhone 5S and iPhone 6. We fully expect the new 12Mp camera in the 6S and 6S Plus will put the 5S's photos in the shade, though.

Here are two photos, the first from the iPhone 5, and the second from the 5S. The difference is subtle, but noticeable.

iPhone 5 low light

iPhone 5 low light

iPhone 5S low light

iPhone 5S low light

In good light, there's not much difference, until you look up close.

iPhone 5S vs 5 St Pancras

Below are 100 percent crops showing that the 5S resolves a little more detail than the 5:

iPhone 5

iPhone 5 Phone box 100 percent crop

iPhone 5S

iPhone 5S Phone box 100 percent crop

There’s a 10fps burst mode which should ensure you don’t miss the crucial moment in the action. Hold your finger on the shutter button and the 5S will keep taking 10 photos per second.

For photos and videos, the 5S relies on electronic stabilisation. It does a decent job at reducing camera shake. Two extra features you'll find in the Camera app are Time-lapse and slo-mo video. With slo-mo, the 5S shoots at 1280x720 (720p) at 120fps. This is half the rate of the iPhone 6 or 6 Plus. You can choose in the resulting clip where to drag the two sliders to apply the slo-mo effect. There's a smooth change in speed at those points as you can see in the example clips below.

The dual-LED flash delivers natural-looking results, but we'd always avoid using a flash and try to take pictures in better light.

iPhone 5S review: software

The iPhone 5S now comes with iOS 9.


Apple iPhone 5S: Specs

  • A7 64-bit processor
  • 16GB, 32GB, 64GB
  • iOS7
  • 8Mp and 1.2Mp cameras
  • 4in display
  • 123.8x58.6x7.6mm, and it weighs just 112g