By Stephen Schenck | September 10, 2013 7:43 PM
The 2013 iPhones are now official, and we’ve had a few hours to process the announcements, go over all the new details Apple’s made available, and start bringing you some opinions about this new hardware. Neither device is an outright game-changer, and there are sure to be plenty of people upset at what Apple didn’t change, like keeping the same 4-inch 1136 x 640 display or delivering another 8-megapixel camera.
On the other hand, I think there’s a lot to like from these models, and a more than a few areas where Apple clearly delivered some valuable improvements. Let’s take a look at five of the best decisions Apple made when designing this hardware
1. The iPhone 5S Camera
But didn’t I just say… sure, there’s another 8-megapixel camera on the iPhone this year, but this is a perfect example of how dangerous it is to focus on just one spec in the camera world – heck, with smartphones in general, for that manner. Yes, there are just as many light-sensitive pixels on this year’s 5S as last year’s 5, but that only tells a fraction of the whole story.
I’ve stated time and time again that the most valuable improvement an OEM can make to the cameras on its phones isn’t throwing more megapixels at them, or even playing around with optical stabilization – it’s the size of the sensor that matters.
Problem is, that can be an expensive way to improve a camera, but this time it’s just what Apple’s doing, and the 8MP camera on the 5S has a sensor that’s 15% bigger than the 8MP camera on the iPhone 5. Combined with a larger aperture, and improvements to the optics, and we get a very smart, much appreciated camera upgrade.
2. The 64-bit A7
Just as the move to 64-bit processors spread across the PC market over the course of the past decade, so too is it finally coming to smartphones with the A7 chip in the iPhone 5S.
We’ve been looking forward to a development like this for a while now, and have taken the time to talk to you about why 64-bit will matter more and more for smartphones going forward. Clearly, someone was going to have to get the ball rolling, but it’s quite interesting seeing this development come from Apple.
After all, despite the great performance from its chips over the years, there’s always been a sense that Apple’s been off dancing to its own tune, ignoring industry-wide pressures like the race for core count. That freedom has given the company the ability to concentrate on performance elsewhere, and so we find ourselves hearing the announcement of the 64-bit A7 today.
We’ll need more time to give the hardware a spin for ourselves, but regardless of whatever specific performance improvements this chip offers the 5S over its predecessors, it’s still a great move for Apple and smartphones as a whole.
3. Colors, Colors, Colors
Say what you will about the gold option for the 5S (and I’m definitely sharing some of Taylor’s distaste for it, having previously associated it with cheap, gaudy hardware), but the straight-up assortment of options Apple is giving iPhone 5S and 5C shoppers this year is like nothing we’ve ever seen before from the company.
I’ve got to wonder if Apple has been drinking a little of the Moto X Kool-Aid, because its online tool to preview combinations of the five iPhone 5C shells and the six available cases positively reeks of the Moto Maker.
That’s very much a good thing. Ignore all those Scrooges telling you that you’re killing your shot at finding a good resale value by not getting a plain, neutral-toned iPhone – this handset’s for you, not some cheapskate who buys year-old hardware, so get the phone you want, now.
4. Touch ID
I seriously cannot believe I’m writing this, having been a big fingerprint scanner nay-sayer, but dammit: what Apple’s cooked up for the 5S looks good.
The proof will be in the pudding; we’ll still have to see just well this feature performs when we get some actual hardware in-hand, but my first impression is hugely more favorable than I would have thought possible.
I attribute that both to the tech, which sounds capable of doing some pretty high-quality scans, as well as the aesthetics of this home-button-mounted scanner. Really, Apple wouldn’t have had the slightest chance if it went with an edge-mounted swipe scanner like on the Motorola Atrix 4G – instead, this is refined, elegant, and utterly unobtrusive. It works with how you already use the phone, and the choice of exotic materials – again with the sapphire glass – really shows that Apple didn’t want to cut any coroners with the Touch ID experience.
5. LTE Bands Like Whaaaat
Apple’s been getting a lot better with the sort of cellular bands supported by iPhones over the years. We saw it finally add T-Mobile support earlier this year, after the carrier’s users had been stuck using unofficial BYOD iPhones on its 2G network for ages, but today’s big news is about LTE connectivity.
Last year, the iPhone 5 supported a mere handful of LTE bands. The CDMA version was the big winner, with five bands covered, but the international GSM version supported a paltry three.
This year, the worst-supported options can operate on a minimum of seven LTE bands, and that’s for both the iPhone 5C and 5S. Elsewhere, we’re looking at ten, eleve, or even thirteen bands of supported LTE.
We’re not quite to the point where there’s a universal, global iPhone, but no matter which hardware you chose, this year’s options have far better LTE support than ever before.
These are just a few of the things to like about the new iPhone 5S and 5C. I’m sure I missed a few that might be near and dear to your own hearts, so speak up in the comments if you’d like to share your own take on what makes this year’s iPhone hardware so great.