I must confess that the last time I used an iPhone was three or four years ago. While I’ve followed the hardware changes from generation to generation, I’ve never really been able to write about the iPhone or iOS in detail. While objective data is great to work with, a great deal of evaluation relies on subjective experience. To fix this gap in knowledge, I received an iPhone 5s. After a month, I’ve really come to have a much more nuanced view of how Android and iOS compare, along with how Apple’s iPhone compares to the rest of the smartphone market.

At this point, the iPhone 5s is a phone that doesn’t need much in the way of introduction. After all, it’s been almost a year since it was first announced, and Apple is ready to announce a new iPhone within the coming months if their yearly release cycle holds. For those that need a bit of a refresh on the iPhone 5s, I’ve included a spec table below.

  Apple iPhone 5s
SoC Apple A7
Display 4-inch 1136 x 640 LCD sRGB coverage with in-cell touch
WiFi 2.4/5GHz 802.11a/b/g/n, BT 4.0
Storage 16GB/32GB/64GB
I/O Lightning connector, 3.5mm headphone
Current OS iOS 7.1.2
Battery 1570 mAh, 3.8V, 5.96 Whr
Size / Mass 123.8 x 58.6 x 7.6 mm, 112 grams
Camera 8MP iSight with 1.5µm pixels Rear Facing + True Tone Flash
1.2MP with 1.9µm pixels Front Facing
Price $199 (16GB), $299 (32GB), $399 (64GB) on 2 year contract


The hardware is ultimately the foundation that software rests upon, so it’s a good place to start. While it’s easy to appreciate industrial and material design by just holding or looking at the phone, everything else requires some real hands-on time. One of the first things I noticed was that the feel of the buttons. Normally, I expect buttons to have a bit of slack before they actuate. In all of the buttons on the iPhone 5s, this doesn’t happen at all. Instead, the button only depresses when triggered. In the case of the volume and power buttons, the activation gives a clean click. On most smartphones I’ve used, the feel and sound of this activation tends to be a bit more mushy and subdued. The home button is the one exception here, which has a noticeably longer travel and less distinctive actuation/mushier feel but I suspect that TouchID is the reason for this difference.

The other difference that I noticed was the size. For a long time now I’ve had the opinion that this generation of Android smartphones have simply gotten too big to be comfortably used with one hand. I still think that the limit for flagship smartphones (not phablets) is around a five inch display, and no larger than the smartphones that we saw in 2013. This includes devices like the Nexus 5, HTC One (M7), and Samsung Galaxy S4, which are all comfortable in the hand and relatively easy to manipulate. As a result, using the iPhone 5s is a significant departure. Reaching the top left corner of the display is relatively simple compared to some of the smartphones on the market today. While physical size is a matter of preference, I suspect that total device width shouldn't exceed 70-71mm, and height is probably shouldn't exceed 140-141mm, although there's a great deal of leeway as the shape of the phone can make a phone seem larger or smaller than it really is. In the case of the iPhone 5s, although the physical size is easy to handle I definitely notice the effect of the smaller display when trying to browse desktop websites, view photos, and watch videos. Anyone coming from Android at this point in time will probably miss the large displays that Android OEMs tend to integrate.

Of course, display is one of the biggest aspects of the smartphone experience, and is more than just a matter of size. In many measures, the iPhone 5s display is great. There’s no overly wide gamut, noticeable saturation compression, odd green tints in grayscale, or excessively high contrast/gamma. However, the resolution itself is noticeably lower than the 1080p and 1440p displays I’ve gotten used to. This doesn’t seem to affect usability much, but some elements of the UI like the rotation lock symbol are noticeably aliased. I find that around 400 to 500 DPI is generally acceptable to avoid obvious aliasing, but there’s value to going to 500-600 DPI for those that want to use a display for VR or are strongly sensitive to even minor aliasing at 4-6 inches viewing distance. Anyone coming from a phone like the Galaxy S4, G2, or One (M7) will probably notice the fuzzier display but it's probably not bad enough to grate on the eyes.

The camera is another major surprise for me. While I’m no optical engineer, it’s clear to me that the camera output is relatively free of smudging from aggressive luminance noise reduction, and the low light performance is much better as a result. I also don’t seem any odd color casts in low light, or noticeable color/chroma noise. Issues like sharpening kernels, halos from unsharp masks, and other artifacts from poor post-processing just aren’t present. In general, Apple has managed to ship a well-tuned camera that seems to be a step above. While I'd like to see a move to larger sensor sizes, it's likely that the thickness of the phone is a gating factor.

Finally, TouchID, the fingerprint sensor on the home button of the iPhone 5s, was a revelation. For reference, I’ve tried the fingerprint sensor on the One max, Galaxy S5 LTE-A, and Galaxy S5 T-Mobile USA. In practice, I would rank them in that order as well, with the One max’s almost 100% reliability to the Galaxy S5’s hit or miss reliability. In general, I’ve found that swipe-based fingerprint sensors can have a good experience on a smartphone, but in cases like both Galaxy S5 variants the ergonomics of swiping on a home button are less than ideal.

While I understood that TouchID was a better solution because of its press and hold nature, the truly compelling aspect of Apple’s implementation has more to do with software than anything. With the systems I’ve used before, enrollment was absolutely critical. Poor data during enrollment would basically make it impossible to actually use the fingerprint sensor. This isn’t true at all with TouchID. While I mapped the center of my fingers relatively well in initial enrollment, I left the extreme edges unmapped. This was easily resolved by slowly edging towards the very edges of my finger to get it to unlock based upon a partial match. In short, it has only gotten better and faster with time. There’s no deliberate effort needed to unlock the device normally at this point, especially because it’s as simple as pressing down the home button and unlock is almost instant for full matches.

In short, the attention to detail on the hardware side is one of the best I’ve seen in this industry. While I would like a larger display and higher pixel density, even now I find very little fundamentally wrong with the iPhone 5s. Of course, it’s not possible to ignore the software side of things. After all, installing Android on an iPhone 5s isn’t realistically possible. While iOS 7 has already been reviewed, for the most part such experiences have been evaluated from the perspective of people that have used iOS extensively through the years.

Software and Final Words
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  • lilo777 - Sunday, August 24, 2014 - link

    Do you think then that Anandtech should have waited until the release of Android L? It's also very close.
  • FlemingP - Sunday, August 24, 2014 - link

    Android L is at least 2-3 months from release so probably not. However, I likewise would not expect a comparison to be released 20 days before Android L releases. That being said, the hardware improvements with the iPhone 6 are going to be much more important than the software improvements anyway. Apple will pull further ahead with the long overdue 4.7" display, A8 chip, upgraded camera, 2nd gen Touch ID and etc.
  • lilo777 - Monday, August 25, 2014 - link

    Pull further ahead? That's a n interesting way o put it. It implies that iPhone is ahead right now. It is not. It is behind and by a wide margin. It has 1/3 of Samsung Galaxy Note 3 RAM, it has 1/3 of the display resolution for most of Android high end phones. Its camera is OK but nothing special: low resolution and no OIS (some Android phones do have it). It does not have NFC. It's rumored that it is going to get one in iPhone 6 but i would not call it "pulling ahead". iPhone still can't do simultaneous voice and LTE data on Verizon and Sprint. iPhone has mediocre battery life. The list of iPhone shortcomings is very long. Sure it's a solid mid range phone but that's about it.
  • callmesissi - Sunday, August 24, 2014 - link

    with the release of iOS 8, so this is more of a temporary issue than a permanent one.

    ?? iFanboy
    this is i think the first review i read in anandtech that is written by an ifanboy. he makes up excuses for everything and seems to accept everything from apple.

    The review is happening TODAY from a phone released a year ago, so, the keyboard IT IS a problem... but instead he gives us a fanboy answer as "it will be corrected in ios 8" come on,...

    I've used both iphone and android and i can tell you: iphone is for people that knows nothing about gadgets, like my mom/dad and grandfather... typing in the iphone keyboard is a pain after you have used swiftkey.. for example try typing: " i thin8k Tha-@t My i9p4h-0ne" on both iphone and swiftkey and you'll take at least twice the time doing that in the iphone, not to mention the frustration...

    anyway dear Anandtech, please dont become and Ifan, or Droidfan, we readers that have come to your page have ALWAYS admire your complete neutrality and objetivity on everything you review. it's not happening with apple stuff lately...

    Forgive all my typos, english is not my main languaje.
  • ASEdouardD - Monday, August 25, 2014 - link

  • tipoo - Sunday, August 24, 2014 - link

    "The home button is the one exception here, which has a noticeably longer travel and less distinctive actuation/mushier feel but I suspect that TouchID is the reason for this difference."

    It's no better without touchid. The button has always been a sore point for me, too many single clicks getting detected as a double, too many doubles as a single.
  • Spoony - Tuesday, August 26, 2014 - link

    Agree with this too. The home button has always been a little worse than I wanted it to be. I'm also not convinced that always going home is what I want to do. I would like a toggle so that single click would hop to the app switcher. Double tapping is annoying, and the desktop is at the end of the switcher anyways.
  • brettnordquist - Sunday, August 24, 2014 - link

    And here come the Android fans telling their author how to use his phone. If you value customization over quality of hardware and apps, and don't mind all the crapware, go with an Android phone. If you value a polished experience and expect you phone to "just work", go with the iPhone. I've never met anyone who actually enjoy running Android. No, they just tolerate it while hating on Apple.
  • Anonymous Blowhard - Tuesday, August 26, 2014 - link

    > crapware

    No, it's Apple that requires iTunes, not Android.
  • WackyDan - Sunday, August 24, 2014 - link

    I'm a convert to iPhone and iPad. I'm still carrying a Droid Incredible (4.5 years old) for my personal phone, but already traded in my Android work phone for a 5s.

    My reason for swapping was simple... Touch ID actually worked quite well. I no longer have to type in the 8 character passcode that my employer requires on my mobile device(except for when I reboot it). Also for riding on the motorcycle you can't beat the touch ID. I mount it up high within reach. One finger on phone for a second gives me Siri and I can use the bluetooth in my helmet to ask her where the nearest gas station is and navigate to it. *Or call someone - all via voice.

    I wish the battery life was better.

    Screen size is perfect... I don't want a 5.5 inch screen which was another reason I went with the 5s... All the Androids were gigantic, and the small droids had already been out two years.

    Lastly, the ease at which you can share apple IDs and have a joint family address book and calendar is awesome.

    I'm trading in my old Incredible for the new Apple phone that is coming out, or I might just stay droid on that one. Apple by far has been the better experience and I've been typically anti apple in the past.

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