iPhone 5s Review: An African take on America’s next greatest Smartphone export

iphone 5

A Welcome Evolution But Not Revolution

At 9PM last Friday night, Lugogo UMA Show grounds exploded. Dinner and cocktails are done I had been in my seat for about 15 minutes ready for the Club Video Music Awards then on stage came renown local Kick Boxer and comedian Golola Moses who stirred the crowds with this hilarious but fading jokes. Little after that legend local musician Joanita Kawalya sang some of her local classics to open up the musical gigs for the awards (see video below); the crowd roared. It felt like every person at the awards screamed, then thrust their hands into their pockets to grab their phone to shoot and post to their favorite social network of choice. I have to send this to somebody!

I was way ahead of the game. I’m already slightly obsessive about taking pictures at concerts and shows, but that night I had 8 Mega reasons to really take advantage: I was holding Apple’s latest iPhone 5s, the company’s latest array into the market with an all new 8-megapixel camera phone that i have come to love.  It’s an LTE-enabled, device that will be available on Orange soon  (The only LTE and voice enabled network to support 4G on an iPhone in Uganda) and at a price yet to be announced. Don’t worry its will be able to work on other 3G networks (MTN and Airtel) in Uganda, but just not 4G LTE. A part from its being an iPhone of course it comes with a slew of features likes the Touch ID sensor and an insanely good camera created to vanquish all smartphones and some point-and-shoots in its path.

The iPhone 5s is very thing we expect to see from evolution not revolution and hence the “S” suffix — an obvious update to Apple’s iPhone range. From the familiar metal casing, the new A7 processor, which makes the iPhone 5s the first smartphone – and iOS 7 the first smartphone platform – to transition to 64-bit. Seems Apple has finally joined the Android spec race after all. The home button has lost its much loved square shape but has been graduated to a biometric sensor that might be the first to actually convince owners to use it (as usual Apple sets the trend).  Does that make this new iPhone 5s the automatic choice in smartphones? Read on for our full review.

 

Same Old Metallic Hardware

One thing i wished the iPhone 5s had is a slightly larger screen — 4 inches feels smaller and smaller  — but you cannot criticize its gorgeous design. The 5S is virtually the same from last year’s model, from the “cold-blooded” aluminum metallic back frame with chamfered edges.

 

Iphone 5_1

And year after year its always crowned the best smartphone designs ever and the only other phone that can rival this baby is the HTC One, I guess we shall wait for a new iPhone design when the iPhone 6 is unleashed hopefully with a larger screen.

Okay lets face its Apple, at 4-inches (1136 x 640 pixels) your screen is starting to look disappointing as now we have 1080p screens from the likes of LG G2 , Galaxy s4 and the HTC One, something for sure has to change. Do not get me wrong  even after spending time with those devices, the 5s’s display is still not disappointing— and now with the all new colorful iOS 7, we get to see its great color accuracy pop up with incredible viewing angles. At some point the phone may feel the same, but the finishes are not the same from the previous iPhone. Apple claims it will come in three basic colors: the version we got was the “space gray” version, a lighter version of last year’s black model, the other two colors are silver and gold. I hoped we would get the golden one, as the champagne-colored device with white accents is expected to turn heads.

The home button looks different, with no square icon in the center and a metal ring around the concave button, but the look portends an even bigger change in how your home button works.

 

Touch To Unlock And Buy From The App Store

Apple’s Touch ID fingerprint security system is as simple as pulling your phone out of your pocket, touch the ringed home button, and suddenly — you’re in. This all sounds James Bond like and trust me it real works flawlessly.

Iphone 5_3

I recommend maximum patience when setting it up as when its done and learns the nighty gritty details of your prints it will work pretty reliably. And if it can’t figure out who you are, especially when the time i put my other fingers instead or the thumb i had registered, it goes back to your four-digit PIN. Right now there’s no way to assign different access privileges depending on whose finger it is that’s recognized, though it’s not hard to imagine an iPad that uses Touch ID to seamlessly log into different user accounts.

Trust me the first time you will use this feature, you will be wowed as its virtually instantaneous. But some will find it a little faster for them to type in their passcode than use this feature, but Touch ID rarely takes more than a single beat before the gates open and iOS 7 falls into place.

Apple says Touch ID only stores your fingerprints in special encrypted memory on the phone itself, where the data is accessible to neither Apple’s servers or the CID or NSA, nor to anyone else.

Password Security beats usability with Touch ID

Being able to authenticate PayPal or even Facebook would be great, and Touch ID could be very tremendous if it could effectively password-protect certain apps. (Sorry, spouse, you can’t Facebook from my phone)

So for now Touch ID is a great tool, but it can feel like Apple is going to begin a revolution of technology for the Android and Windows phone ecosystem just to make it slightly easier to buy things from their respective app stores.
Getting the Touch ID feature up and running will take you a couple of minutes, during which you place your finger on the device every which way so it can learn the ins and outs of your print and learn who you are. Once it gets all the data it needs, Touch ID uses your fingerprint —  and you can input as many as five, I personally trained mine to do it with both thumbs — to let you unlock your phone without a passcode and buy things in Apple’s stores without a password.

 

Futurity Of The ‘I’ Devices To Come

If you watched the launch of this device, Apple’s spent more time talking about the 5S’s specs than I’ve ever seen them do but truthfully are hard to evaluate.  Apple announced an all new spectacular A7 processor — the top of its class in nearly every way and expect it to fly in benchmarks. Every game you try out will look fantastic, with no skipped frame and faster loading times than ever; even apps seem to open and close just a little bit faster than before minus the animation Apple uses in iOS7.

The A7 chip is a symbol of real tech longevity for Apple. There’s so much raw power here that it’s going to be a while before apps take real advantage. Apple’s traditional reference game Infinity Blade III, looks better on the 5S than the 5, with sharper graphics and crisper transitions between scenes, but  performance is some what the same. There’s plenty of headroom here, though, and it means that after two years the 5S is probably going to be able to keep up far better than most of its predecessors did.

Next is the Moto X like M7 “motion coprocessor” which maybe even more interesting than the A7 itself. The low powered processor is designed to collect data from the accelerometer, gyroscope, compass, and others, and to use that data to determine the state of your phone without draining battery life. In lay man terms, the phone will know  if you’re driving; it knows when you stop driving and start walking, and it can stop downloading new email so often because you’re either sleeping or you left your phone at home. It will also know when you haven’t picked the phone up for a few hours as well. Imagine if your Facebook timeline or Twitter could update every time I picked up my phone, because the first thing I do is always open either of them. We can only dare to dream.

Lets not forget that at the end of the day this is just a phone, so call quality in general is very good, as much as any cellphone’s can be — I never got time to use Face Time audio, as i couldn’t go through the hustle of forcing friends and family to use it with me. But the iPhone is generally good enough, and plenty loud that I can always hear and be heard. There is good call and data reception to the expanding  though  scanty LTE coverage so far in Uganda. Kampala is the only city in Uganda with LTE but always a hellish nightmare to get a decent LTE service, but the 5S did as well as I could ask.

As for battery life i was able to push more than ten hours, as the 5S does have a bigger battery than the 5 — a popular spec bump for Apple and its competitors this year. The biggest nightmare about smartphones is that  you have to charge on a daily, we only hope Apple can figure out how to make it last longer in future models. And i think the only solution is for them to make a larger phone with a bigger battery. All we want is more battery juicy.

The overmastering story of the 5S is to hurry up and wait. Touch ID, the A7, the M7 — they’re all good now, Apple seems to be telling us, but just wait and see what we can do with our future devices. Even iOS 7 feels that way, as instead of pressing the back icon inconveniently located at the top right, you can now just swipe from left to right to go back; which is a sign of a bigger iPhone in the future.  In the recent past Android has become a fast, fun, fluid operating system, but iOS is still king in that department although Apple has to now catch up with implementing good notifications and multitasking features as their current ones still feel unfinished.

I wrote a full review of iOS 7 that you can find here, am kind of getting used to it despite its constant animations, stark white backgrounds, and text-heavy design — am still not feeling Apple’s new direction. The new software coat of paint and feels more like lipstick on a pig.

 

Yes Its Takes Great Shots And Video

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Proven fact, Nokia’s Lumia 1020 has the best camera phone with over 41 megapixels and endless flexibility, but for virtually every practical point-and-shoot purpose the 8-megapixel iPhone 5 was also the best smartphone camera on the market — and the 5S is even off the hook. I used the phone in different conditions day and night, its clear Apple didn’t sacrifice sharpness for low-light capability, like the HTC One and its Ultrapixel camera, and it hasn’t traded quality for simplicity.

Apple just refurbished its old camera and put it on steroids to come up with a great camera with improved hardware and software. Apple never went for more pixels, based on the same 8 megapixels, each pixel was made slightly larger in size, in return it will collect more light with a similar principle that the HTC One’s Ultra pixel camera works on. That means better low-light performance and crisper shots all around, and it delivers. In my perspective the 5s beats the pants off the HTC One even in low light and you can see the shot taken below with both the front and back cameras.

The iPhone 5S takes excellent pictures, of course even than the iPhone 5. Things are a little sharper and more detailed even in good lighting, but the real difference comes at night. As you can see in the shots above, the 5S is noticeably good in low-light conditions — where the 5 used to capture only outlines and often just black, the 5S can get usable pictures. Same goes for the new 1.2-megapixel front-facing FaceTime camera.

The fast new 64 bit supporting A7 processor gets to show off its potentials in the camera department. The new burst mode, which I quickly started using all the time even in low light: shoots 10 frames per second, and then either automatically selects the best of your photos or lets you choose your favorite. (how cool) You can easily delete the rest of the bursts, once you’ve selected your favorite, which is extremely great. Since the iPhone 5S can still take a moment or two to focus, it’s prone to missing the perfect shot especially in video mode when some passes in-front of a video you are shooting.

Okay lets talk video shooting since its the topic at hand and yes that was me taking the phone through it’s video shooting paces on a boda-boda (motorbike) ride. I have one word; AMAZING. The output is vivid and outstanding even in low light. The new processor also enables slow-motion video, letting you shoot 720p at 120 frames per second and then play it back at a quarter speed. It starts the clip at normal speed, drops into slow-mo, and then speeds back up right at the end just for effect. That is great stuff as i can see many people use this feature just for the sake of it, but i warn you though it can get addictive. The second video show’s you the phone’s color balance and zoom in potential while recording a video in low light.

Apple has included some other new camera features as well: there are five live filters in the camera app, which are interesting but instagram filters are still way better. You can now zoom in while you’re recording video as you will see in the Video music awards video below, and there’s automatic digital image stabilization. The true tone flash, is like ‘pictionary’ magic which fires two lights (warm and cold flashlight) designed to balance with the scene around you and light your subject better; it works as well as any flash can, with far more balance, for a better color balance.

The 5S basically works like a point-and-shoot and never disappointed with every shot i took and for many people, the 5S will be the best camera they own.

 

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