The iPhone 5s, like its cheaper sibling the iPhone 5c, has been available for a few weeks now, earning plaudits from most reviewers and igniting ignorant online discussions around mobile security and application performance. Some of that ignorance is intentional FUD from Android fanboys and security purveyors.
The truth is straightforward: The iPhone 5s lays the groundwork for the next generation of Apple mobile devices, introducing the 64-bit architecture to its processor, operating system, and applications as well as making it easier to secure mobile devices, thanks to its fingerprint reader. (As for the iPhone 5c, it's last year's iPhone 5 in a nice-looking and nice-feeling colored plastic case with an improved camera, and it runs iOS 7 — enough said.)
The Touch ID fingerprint reader in the iPhone 5s is the most visible improvement in the new Apple smartphone compared to last year's version, the iPhone 5 . Apple calls attention to the reader with the metallic ring that now encircles the Home button. You may also notice a second, amber LED on the back of the iPhone 5s, which helps produce more accurate skin tones when taking photos with the flash.
Except for these two clues, the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5 look, feel, and weight about the same. (The iPhone 5s also comes in a surprisingly subtle gold finish , a new color option that the iPhone 5 did not have.) This strong similarity reflects the fact that the iPhone 5s is at heart an upgraded iPhone 5.
Yet it also obscures how the iPhone 5s sets the scene for future waves of Apple mobile devices. You can bet your bottom dollar that at least some of the new iPads expected later this month will sport both the 64-bit A7 processor and the Touch ID fingerprint reader that debuted in the iPhone 5s.
Because the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5 are so similar in many respects, I won't go into detail on where they overlap. Suffice to say you get the same 802.11n Wi-Fi, low-power Bluetooth, and LTE cellular radios as in the iPhone 5; the same high-quality, balanced-color screen; the same buttons; the same high-quality speakers (with only slight distortion despite their small size); and the same ability to use a GSM SIM card even on CDMA models (for use when traveling abroad).
The promise of 64-bit computing for now is just a promise
There's been a hullabaloo in the blogosphere around the 64-bit A7 processor in the iPhone 5s. Many pundits feared it would run 32-bit apps more slowly or chew up battery life. Neither is true. In my testing, 32-bit apps running in the iPhone 5s's 64-bit version of iOS 7 run at least as fast as on previous 32-bit iPhones. The iPhone 5s's battery life is about 15 percent less in moderate use than that of the iPhone 5, but the decrease appears entirely due to iOS 7, not to the new CPU or other iPhone 5s hardware. I've experienced the same battery life decline in a variety of iPhones and iPads after upgrading them to iOS 7.
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