A Month with the iPhone 5s

It’s been over a month since the iPhone 5s came out, and it seemed like a good time to check-in. For those people who had iPhone 4Ses and stick to the regular contract renewal, there were some other new changes to adjust to.

The 5s has the larger screen first seen on the iPhone 5. The phone doesn’t really feel all that much bigger and after a day or two it’s hardly noticeable. The extra row of icons is the probably the best part of a bigger screen since it allows more apps to fit on a home screen. Obviously more text is visible in apps and on websites, but after a few days how much extra text is forgettable unless the 4/4S is held up next to it.

The 5s also brings the headphone jack on the bottom as well as the Lightning port as new features to former 4S users. Having both plugs on the bottom is convenient in two scenarios, when the phone is being held or when the phone is also plugged in charging. The latter because then both plugs come out of the same side and it’s a bit more manageable. When the phone is in the pocket, or on a desk though, it does not seem like the bottom headphone jack makes a huge difference.

Speaking of headphones, introduced since the 4S was released are Apples EarPods, which are now standard in place of the old earbuds. For people who couldn’t tolerate, or fit, the old earbuds comfortably, these are a nice change of pace. They seem to be a much easier fit, and although they feel like they are always ready to fall out they stay in well. They are open enough that external sound can still be heard just fine, but the sound is still solid. The control on the cord has a volume control and play/pause button. Very good addition.

The lightning adapter is nice because it can be plugged in with either side up (there is no wrong orientation like most plugs) and because it’s smaller. The size factor makes it more compatible with cases and can remain sturdy on the bottom while still having a big enough hole for a plug. It seems to make a more solid connection as well.

The iPhone 5s is obviously faster than previous models, but like many aspects mentioned here, after a few days of use the speed “increase” is not very noticeable. But the phone does zoom from place to place and is very responsive.

The phone boasts some new hardware features. The improved camera claims to be better in low light, but its too soon to really evaluate. Like any iPhone upgrade after two years, the pictures look better than before no matter how much light there is. The burst mode is nice, but takes some getting used to. For the most part the pictures don’t seem to be different enough to warrant taking 30 and sifting through them all. iOS tries its hardest to select the best of the photos, but it’s selection seem negligible.

The slow motion camera mode is probably the most fun feature so far. It takes video at 120 frames per second, and then allows for all or portions of the video to be slowed down. The result is a lot of also slow motion dancing and goofy face goodness. Because videos can only be slowed down when shot in the specific mode, and these videos are larger, there has to be a conscious decision before video is shot to make it a slow motion movie.

The most talked about addition to the iPhone 5s is the fingerprint sensor that can be used to unlock the phone as opposed to typing in a 4-digit (or longer) code. Apple is not the first company to put fingerprint scanners on electronics, just like they were not the first company to make a touchscreen. But like the touchscreen they probably implemented the fingerprint scanner better than anyone to date.

That being said, it’s far from perfect. When it works, it’s almost unbelievable. Often the phone unlocks all in one quick motion as the home button is pushed to turn the screen on. When this happens, it’s truly magic. When it fails to recognize a fingerprint even once, it instantly feels slower than typing in a 4-digit code. Still it works more than it fails. Up to 5 fingers can be saved so one person could program a bunch of fingers (say both thumbs and both index fingers), or they could add their significant other or friends or whoever might need to be able to unlock the phone for whatever reason. And of course the 4-dight code can still be used at any time to bypass the fingerprint scan.

The fingerprint scan is also supposed to be used for authorizing purchases in the App Store, but this is a bit deceiving. A fingerprint scan can only be used if the Apple Store/iTunes password has been entered “recently”. So unless apps are being purchased multiple times per day, this feature is fairly useless.

Overall the iPhone 5s is a great upgrade for people coming off the 4S. The fingerprint scanner will get better over time, but is really convenient when it works. Slow motion videos are a lot of fun, and if planned correctly really, really cool. The rest of the camera improvements will probably be more recognizable over time, but even if they are not as drastic as advertised, they are still improvements.