iPhone 5s First Impressions

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‘ve owned an iPhone since the beginning. Well, since eight months after the original released, when a friend sold me his with a giant gash on the top right of the display. It worked perfectly…it just looked like it was dropped one to many times on a spike in the exact same spot. So I upgraded every two years to the 3GS, the 4S, and now to the 5s. And after my first few days with it, I’m unimpressed.

The iPhone 5s is undoubtedly the most powerful smartphone Apple has made. Such a statement is self evident. But I would argue that it isn’t the best because of some tumultuous changes in iOS 7, a number of basic design changes, and that the difference between it and the iPhone 5 are too minimal. At least for users today.

First things first: of all the hardware improvements, the updates are minimal. The iPhone 5s lacks the capital “s” because all it stands for is speed, nothing more, thanks to an improved 1.3GHz dual-core processor (compared to the 1GHz chip in the iPhone 5 and the 1.4GHz CPU in the iPad 4). The “improved” camera is barely better (more in the forthcoming full review), general phone qualities like sound quality and hardware performance are almost entirely unnoticeable, and the whole package goes for the same price as the phone did a generation ago. Give me a break.

One of the biggest complaints I’ve heard in recent months is the need for a 128GB version. Frankly I think that capacity is absurd, but 16GB is too small. I opted for the 64GB version because my own iPhone 5 uses 34GB of space currently thanks to 14GB of music, 5GB of HD video, and the rest spread across some 370 apps. Sure, many of us stream music and video instead of actually store it on the device, but the beauty of the iPhone and iTunes integration was the ability to easily store this sort of media without repercussions. Yet as the media size grows, the iPhone capacity does not.

Furthermore the colors on the available iPhone’s are shallow and lack the vibrance and contrast that Apple has strived for so many years to make. This year there are three colors: grey, silver, and gold. Compared to yesteryear’s black and white, the 5s fails to stand out. Sure, it’s shinier (read: newer) and the overall finish is more refined, but otherwise it’s an identical phone with a softer, less-bold look. Holding the 5 and 5s side by side makes the latter look like an imitation of the former. A very good imitation, but one with some serious discoloration.

Oh, and if you’re interested in the gold one, don’t bother. It looks so similar to silver (except for the ring around the home button) that you would confuse the two in a lineup. Just spend 5 minutes in the Apple store and see how many people hold the two colors side by side.

I won’t rant about the 5s for this whole piece, but do know that my first setup was a nightmare, due mostly to the change from iOS 6 to iOS 7. I haven’t updated my iPhone 5 because I’m waiting for the OS software to mature (and I’m not entirely sold on iOS 7 just yet anyways), but the basic filing system has changed. With 370 apps, I keep a tight ship. iOS 7 makes this easier to organize, but harder to actually find and use. I’ll discuss that in the full review of iOS 7, but the important thing to know is that on iTunes, regardless of whether you use a Mac or PC, reorganizing your apps is slow, tiresome, and annoying as heck.

It also took me an hour to back up my iPhone 5 (considering the size, that’s fair) and four hours to sync the 5s, plus another hour to organize all of the apps properly. Why? Because Apple built the Lightning connectors to support USB 2.0, not 3.0 and not their own Thunderbolt connectors. The flash drives in the iPhone 5s is more than capable of reading and writing at higher speeds than USB 2.0 is capable of, but since nobody plugs their iPhone into the computer anymore, why bother?

Based on the hardware alone, I get a damn bloody impression that Apple is losing focus on what makes the iPhone great. What makes it great is that it works for everything. We use it as a camera, as a media player, as a phone, as a way to access the internet and communicate, and as a gaming console. More and more we’re using it for other things, like as a store and as a home for much of our data. But it’s still a phone, and it still has some very basic limitations, like battery life, storage capacity, and connectivity. The 5s does not remedy any of those things over the 5. The battery is bigger and many of the processor functions were moved to the newer M7 chip, but I haven’t noticed any change in power performance (if anything, the 5s without using a cell signal is worse than the 5 on a network).

There are plenty of upsides, namely the speed increase and the fingerprint sensor. However, nearly every good thing has a plucky sidekick there to ruin the day. Stay tuned for the full review of iOS 7 and the iPhone 5s.



James Pikover

Spawned in the horrendous heat of a Los Angeles winter, James was born with an incessant need to press buttons. Whether it was the car radio, doorbells on Halloween or lights, James pushed, pressed and prodded every button. No elevator was left unscathed, no building intercom was left un-rung, and no person he’s known has been left un-annoyed.

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