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Review: The iPhone 5S really is the best iPhone yet

With cutting-edge architecture, a better camera and a motion coprocessor, the 5S offers a lot of hardware for the money

October 3, 2013 06:59 AM ET

Computerworld - The iPhone 5S and 5C arrived last month to a record-smashing first weekend of sales - 9 million were sold, with the iPhone 5S proving more popular than the less-expensive 5C. I was among those waiting in line for the new iPhone before dawn on Sept. 20 -- specifically the top-end 5S model. As a technology writer, getting the more expensive 5S made sense for me. But is the new iPhone 5S worth it for the less tech-centric?

iPhone 5S gold
The new iPhone 5S in gold and white.

Let's look at that question using logic and context: If your wireless carrier contract is up and you are looking for a new phone, then yes, the iPhone 5S is worth owning. With the addition of Apple's new fingerprint sensor called Touch ID, the phone's new 64-bit A7 processor, a refined camera system and the M7 coprocessor, the iPhone 5S's cutting-edge features match its still-sharp design.

Like last year's iPhone 5, the new 5S sports a glass front and aluminum back, weighing in at a svelte 3.95 oz. And like the iPhone 5, the 5S has a 4-in. fingerprint-resistant oleophobic-coated multitouch screen with an 1136-x-640 pixel resolution and a pixel density of 326 pixels per inch. Below the screen is the now-familiar Home Button with integrated Touch ID, on top of the phone is a lone sleep/wake button, and on the left side you can find the silent switch and the volume up and down.

In other words, aside from the three color schemes offered this year - Space Gray, Silver and Gold -- the 5S looks virtually identical to the old iPhone 5. The Space Gray is a lighter version of last year's black iPhone, the Silver version looks pretty much like the old white model - with the addition of the silver Touch ID ring - and the Gold iPhone 5S is more of a champagne color. It's actually much less gaudy than many Apple fans feared when it was unveiled, and it has proved to be a popular option. Two weeks after launch, all iPhone 5S models -- especially gold -- are still hard to come by.

The box contains a minimal set of accessories, including a set of Apple ear buds with built-in mic and controls, a USB/Lightning cable, a wall plug and very sparse documentation.

Pricing is unchanged, with the iPhone 5S starting at $199 for the 16GB model, $299 for the 32GB model and $399 for the 64GB model. (Those prices require a two-year contract with your wireless carrier.) The new price leader is the iPhone 5C, which comes in five colors and costs $99 for a 16GB model and $100 more for a 32GB version. In addition to the new plastic shell, the 5C has an upgraded battery and camera system, though the camera isn't as full-featured as the one in the 5S.

I ended up purchasing the 64GB iPhone 5S in Space Gray (the only color still available for sale at the local Apple Store on opening day).

iPhone 5S
The iPhone 5S in Space Gray.

Touch ID

The most obvious new feature of the iPhone 5S is the new Touch ID fingerprint sensor, which is ingeniously built into the Home button and allows you to easily unlock the phone using your fingertip. Far from just a superfluous addition, this new feature has already prompted me to change my security habits.



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