The iPhone 5S is the most complete smartphone

October 9, 2013: 3:42 AM ET
What the iPhone 5S costs Apple
NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

The iPhone 5S is Apple's best iPhone to date -- and good enough to make CNNMoney's Best In Tech list.

But is it the best smartphone, period? Let's take a look:

Design: There's plenty in the iPhone 5S that's familiar. You're getting the same four-inch screen with the same resolution as the iPhone 5. The new iPhone has the same connector (Lightning port) and similar battery life (10 to 20 hours under normal conditions). The industrial design of the iPhone 5S is also the same as the iPhone 5, save for a few very minor tweaks.

Out of the box, the iPhone 5S is an attractive, meticulously engineered phone. It's thin, it's light, it's quality. Mostly. The iPhone 5 was a magnet for nicks and scratches, and the iPhone 5S is no different.

This problem was most noticeable on the black iPhone 5 last year, and it's rumored that Apple (AAPL) switched the black option to "Space Gray" on the iPhone 5S to help mask this issue. But after two weeks of being handled with care, there are still as many nicks and scratches along the back and sides my phone as my iPhone 4S acquired over a span of months.

Related story: Moto X is the best Android phone

Speed: At this point, it would be hard to make the iPhone feel radically faster or smoother than it already is. The biggest compliment that can be paid to the iPhone 5S is that it can handle all the new features in iOS 7 without missing a beat.

Apple's 1.3 GHz, dual-core A7 processor sounds boring compared to the quad-core chipsets appearing on Android phones. But the iPhone 5S still out-performs them all.

The iPhone 5S also has a new M7 "co-processor," which is responsible for handling all of the phone's motion sensors (the accelerometer, gyroscope and compass). This gives the iPhone 5S the ability to constantly collect data from these sensors without any hit on your battery life.

Inside Apple's new iOS 7

What this means for you now: Fitness and health trackers will now be capable of gathering more accurate data. Eventually, developers could find more benefits of the M7 as they learn to use it.

Touch ID: The most noticeable addition to the iPhone 5S is the fingerprint sensor. But the immediate payoff of the fingerprint sensor is minor. For the time being, you can only unlock your phone and purchase apps with it.

But it's not just a gimmick.

Using the fingerprint sensor is almost always faster and easier than entering your pin or password. And it works incredibly well -- the sensor rarely misfires. Using the sensor is natural, intuitive, and it doesn't require you to think too hard about what you're doing.

One day, Touch ID could become a de facto digital signature. For now, it's somewhat novel -- but still great.

Camera: For the iPhone 5S, Apple made a solid improvement to an already good camera, with excellent low-light handling.

Related story: How good is the iPhone 5S camera?

One feature of note is the slo-mo video. While it is definitely a gimmick and is not an essential feature, its well-executed, and it's really fun.

There's also a new dual-LED flash. And while it's an improvement over the iPhone 5 flash, it still pales in comparison to the flashes found on Nokia's (NOK) Lumia phones.

The best? So is the iPhone 5S the best smartphone?

A few years ago, the iPhone 4 was definitively the best phone. But since then, every single Apple competitor has worked feverishly to narrow the gap, and nearly all of them have -- even besting Apple in certain categories.

That means that it's now over-simplistic to say that the iPhone 5S is the best smartphone around. Photography nerds will love the Nokia Lumia 1020 more. Programmer types will love the freedom to tinker with the Moto X. But the iPhone 5S is still the most versatile and most complete smartphone available, with the best ecosystem of apps.

Anyone who really doesn't want an iPhone can find a good reason not to buy it. But for the vast majority of smartphone users, the sum of the iPhone's parts is hard to beat.


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