No company has ever been able to rival the amount of feverish excitement in the buildup to a product launch as Apple manages to with its iPhones. As a special treat to dedicated fruit-phone fans, Apple chucked out two brand new models -- the plastic clad iPhone 5C and the flagship iPhone 5S.
The 5S might look the same as its predecessor, but it's packing updated specs all round and comes in an odd gold colour, as well as the original white and a new grey. In true Apple style, it's far from cheap. SIM-free prices start at £549 for the 16GB model, climbing to a princely £709 for the 64GB model.
Those are some undeniably beefy prices, so do the upgrades make it a worthy investment over more wallet-friendly Android phones?
My review sample was kindly provided by Three, which offers the 5S on plans starting from £37 per month. It has a £99 up front cost, but you will get unlimited data. For more contract offers, check out our mobile deals section.
Should I buy the iPhone 5S?
That really depends on what phone you're currently using. If you already own the iPhone 5 then its identical design and software and only marginal upgrades to its camera probably aren't enough to justify it. The processor has seen a huge bump, but in everyday use, you won't notice it -- the iPhone 5 is already a speedy device.
It's certainly worth considering if you're on a 4S, or even a 4 still. The 5S is skinnier, lighter and has a larger screen. Its speed boost will be much more noticeable, as will the camera improvements. The fingerprint sensor is fun and will shave a few seconds off every time you need to type in your PIN, but it's hardly a deal breaker.
If you're well and truly ensconced in Android land then the new iPhone probably isn't going to tempt you to switch. Its screen size is still physically smaller than the vast majority of top-end Android phones and while some iOS 7 additions have arguably been pulled straight from Android, key features like homescreen widgets are still absent. If you crave the metal chassis of the iPhone, take a look at the HTC One instead.
The iOS 7 software is a great place to start if you're looking to take your first steps into the smart phone world, thanks to its relative simplicity and ease of use. While you'll almost certainly love the phone itself, it's extremely expensive for recent converts. Instead, take a look at the older iPhone 4S, which you can now buy from £349.
Design and build quality
If you were hoping for a radical new design for the iPhone to get you all hot under the collar then you'll be sorely disappointed. Physically, the iPhone 5S is almost identical to its predecessor.
It maintains the same metal design, all-glass front and glass top and bottom sections on the back. The bottom of the phone is still home to the speakers, the Lightning port and the 3.5mm headphone jack. The only physical difference is in its new colours, which now include grey and gold hues. If you want people to know you have splashed out on the latest kit, then gold is the way to go.
It has the same 4-inch display and identical physical proportions, putting to rest the rumours that Apple would be launching a larger display phone. If you were hoping for a larger, more video-friendly screen like the Galaxy S4, but can't bear to part with Apple's software, this will come as a blow. Its smaller size does make it much more comfortable to hold in one hand -- not to mention easier to slide into tight jeans.
Build quality is every bit as high as you'd expect from a top-end smart phone. There's zero flex in the metal chassis and -- thanks to its sealed, one-piece design -- there are no loose bits or gaps in panelling to cause any concern. It does, however, mean that you can't swap out the battery and there's still no expandable storage on board. The black iPhone 5's paintwork was extremely susceptible to scratches and scuffs, which rather rapidly made it look slightly battered. How the lighter colours stand up to the test of time remain to be seen.
The physical home button has evidently been lying lazy for too long and so has been given a new duty as a fingerprint scanner. Fingerprint scanners are by no means new -- they've been common on many laptops for years -- but it's the first time we've seen it put to use on a phone. While it might seem like a gimmick, it's actually pretty handy.
After scanning your fingers a few times to learn their pattern, you're able to unlock your phone by simply placing your finger lightly over the home button for a moment. Sure, that saves you only a couple of seconds in typing in your PIN number, but every second counts, right? More helpful however is the ability to use your fingerprint to verify purchases from iTunes, rather than typing in your more complicated Apple password.
Setup was easy and in my testing, I found it worked correctly almost every time I used it. You do have to make sure you use the same finger in the same position that you initially 'taught' the phone, but you can add multiple print patterns for it to learn different fingers, positions or indeed a different person altogether.
It's accurate too. I passed it around multiple people and no one else's fingerprints allowed them to gain access to the phone. For most of you wanting to stop your mates rifling through your photos in the bar, it'll work brilliantly, but it has already been fooled by a group of sneaky hackers. They lifted prints left on a glassy surface, photographed them at high resolution and made a fake finger to fool the sensor. That's probably more effort than your friends will go to to access your photos, but I wouldn't recommend keeping government records on it.
You might rightly be a little concerned about casually handing over your prints to Apple's database. Worry not though -- Apple states that your fingerprints are stored in a secure part of your phone as a code, not as an image of your finger, and it is not backed up to your iCloud accounts as your iTunes password can be. If you're really concerned about it, you don't have to use the fingerprint sensor at all.
With its 4-inch size and 1,136x640-pixel resolution, the iPhone 5S's display hasn't seen any improvement over its predecessor. Sure, that might be a let down to those of you after more impressive specs, but the display was already excellent, so there's no need to get too miserable just yet.
Its resolution results in a pixel density of 326 pixels per inch. While that doesn't match the Full HD clarity of the HTC One's 446ppi, in reality, you won't notice much difference. At a normal viewing distance, you almost certainly won't be able to notice much of a reduction in clarity. Even up close I struggled to differentiate individual pixels.
The physical size of the iPhone and Full HD Android phones is reason for debate. The extra screen space on 5-inch phones like the Galaxy S4 makes watching movies and browsing the Web much more visually appealing. There's a lot more room for on-screen keyboards too -- my thumbs type far more comfortably and faster on larger devices.
Of course, it's entirely up to you what size screen you feel is best, but I personally think that a sweet spot of 4.3 to 4.5 inches would be good -- with small bezels, the physical size of the phone needn't be cumbersome. If you're upgrading to a smart phone for the first time, pop into a shop to get a hands-on first to see what's comfortable.
Size aside, the screen is still great. It's extremely bright when you crank it to the max and it has rich, yet very natural colour tones. The Galaxy S4's bold AMOLED display can sometimes look a little oversaturated, but the iPhone's screen, with its crisp whites and deep blacks, avoids this.
iOS 7 software
The iPhone 5S launches with iOS 7 on board as standard. It's Apple's latest version of its mobile operating system and brings the biggest graphical changes we've seen since its inception.
The most striking change to the software is its overall look. The shiny, 3D-effect icons are gone, replaced instead with a flat-looking, extremely colourful interface. There's a lot of transparency involved too, with menus, the keyboard and icon folders showing subtle hints as to what lies behind.
Apple has also ditched the skeuomorphic design -- making software mimic their real-life counterparts. That means the notes app no longer looks like a notebook and the roulette table look of Games Centre is now colourful orbs against a white background. Opinion is generally mixed on whether it looks good, but I can't deny I'm quite keen -- if nothing else, it was definitely time for Apple to give its tired-looking interface a polish.
It's not just about the design though -- iOS 7 brings a host of new features too. As before, swiping down from the top pulls down the notifications panel, but you're now able to swipe up from below the screen to see the Control Centre. This panel allows quick access to brightness, Wi-Fi and various other settings, no longer forcing you to dive into the settings all the time.
Although there's a load of new features on board, iOS is still an extremely simple interface to use. If you're new to the smart phone world, you won't struggle to get to grips with it, while the hardened tech heads among you will appreciate the uncluttered aesthetic.
The new software is available now as an update for existing iPhones and iPads however, so if you have an iPhone and don't have the new interface, head into your settings to snag the update.
Power and performance
Stuffed inside the skinny metal frame of the 5S is Apple's latest A7 processor. It's a 64-bit, dual-core chip, backed up by 1GB of RAM. Before you Android fans start smirking about it not being quad-core, know that it's an extremely powerful piece of kit.
With numerous behind-the-scenes software efficiency tweaks, Apple has been able to squeeze a serious amount of power from the processor. On the Geekbench 3 benchmark test, it achieved a score of 1,419 (single-core score) and 2,567 (multi-core score), casually whupping the behind of both the Galaxy S4 (659 and 1,860) and the Sony Xperia Z1 (904 on single-core, although its 2,623 on multi-core was higher).
Web browsing too was extremely swift, with the 5S completing the Sunspider Java benchmark test in only 403ms (Safari browser), against the S4's 1,218ms (Chrome browser) and the Z1's 738ms (Chrome browser).
Unsurprisingly then, navigating around iOS was delightfully slick, with no delay or stuttering when swiping around, pulling down the notification panel or opening apps. The camera opens considerably faster too -- something that we can thank iOS 7 for, as it sped up the loading time on the iPhone 5 and 4S too, when we put the new software on them.
In everyday use though you're not likely to notice much difference between the speed of the 5S and the speed of the iPhone 5. The 5 was already very nippy and the majority of applications you'll be playing around with don't need masses of power to run. The benefit of the extra power and 64-bit processing is that it's well set up to handle next-generation apps and games that demand more juice.
Apple has already rewritten a lot of its own software for 64-bit processing -- though they still work fine on 32-bit models -- and developers will have full access to the development kits to bring 64-bit compatibility to their own apps.
Speaking of games, the A7 processor has also had a graphics boost, although again, you might not see the improvement with current-generation games. Glossy titles like Real Racing 3, Asphalt 8 and Riptide GP 2 all played with extremely smooth frame rates.
Also inside is what Apple calls the M7 processor, which deals specifically with collecting data from the motion-tracking tech (gyroscope, accelerometer etc) without taxing the main processor. Right now, it's mainly there to help save power, but it's likely to become more important when synced with motion-tracking health accessories like the Nike FuelBand.
In theory, it'll be responsible for the data coming in from connected devices, but will take far less power to operate, thereby saving battery life. How this works in reality remains to be seen, as more apps and accessories are created to take advantage of the new tech.
The iPhone 5S boasts the same 8 megapixels it has done for the last few generations. Those of you impressed by the beefy 20-megapixel snapper in the Xperia Z1 or the 41-megapixel camera in the Nokia Lumia 1020 might not be impressed, but megapixels aren't everything. While megapixels allow for bigger images, a higher number certainly doesn't mean better-looking pictures.
Indeed, the iPhone 5 was among our favourite camera phones, so the 5S has a lot to live up to. While the number pixels haven't increased, it has a brighter f/2.2 aperture and the sensor is physically bigger, both of which should mean better low-light performance and better dynamic range.
The difference between the 5S and the 5 in my first shot, while not huge, is certainly noticeable. Exposure and colour balance are pretty similar -- both good -- but the 5S has better contrast and clarity. You'll need to look at the full screen images to see the real difference, but look closely at the brickwork on the buildings on the left -- the 5S is much sharper.
In my low-light scene, both phones are plagued with much image noise -- which is to be expected. The iPhone 5S was able to achieve a much brighter scene though, with even the darkest areas on the left and on the bottom of the trophy remaining visible.
Apple has updated the flash on the 5S, giving it a secondary flash that apparently can detect ambient light in a scene and then colour the flash accordingly to ensure accurate tones. In my first test, there was little to tell between the 5S and its predecessor. Both scenes are well lit with little image noise.
When taking shots of people, the new flash generally achieved warmer image tones than it previously managed, with less of the blue hue that's common in a lot of mobile flash photography. You'll still probably prefer to take your photos in areas when you don't need the flash, but at least when you do need to fire it up, it's not going to completely ruin the shot.
The boost in power from the A7 processor also allows the phone to take much faster bursts of photos by simply pressing and holding the shutter button. It's also able to record 720p at 120 frames per second, which will play back in slow motion. It works well and it's easy to select which parts of the video you want to be in slow-mo. Sure, it's unlikely to be the main reason you buy one, but if you're into sports like skateboarding, it could be a brilliant addition to spice up your Facebook uploads.
The existing HDR and panorama settings are on board too as well as a bunch of real-time image effects, thanks to the iOS 7 update. It's perhaps the most stripped-down camera of any top-end smart phone around, but it shoots great pictures with minimum fuss -- something that's particularly important when you want a quick snap but don't want to dive into a deep settings menu.
All iPhones sold in the UK are designed to operate on certain frequency bands. While the UK iPhone will be able to work on all UK LTE networks, it isn't physically able to roam onto all networks around the world. 4G roaming currently isn't available at all right now, regardless of what phone you have, but at such point in the (hopefully) near future that it is, you'll want to make sure you can use your swanky new mobile where you jet off to.
The UK iPhone 5S -- model number A1457 -- operates on the following bands: 2100, 1900, 1800, 850, 2600, 900 and 800 (DD) MHz.
The Bouygues network in France will support your phone, as will Free Mobile and Orange France. In Germany, E-Plus, Deutsche Telekom, Telefonica O2 Germany and Vodafone Germany all support the phone.
Italy's 3 Italy, TIM and Vodafone Italy support the required bands and Euskalfel, Jazzfel, Movistar Espana, ONO, Orange Espana, R, Vodafone Spain and Yoigo all support the UK iPhone in Spain.
In the United States things are trickier as the LTE bands used over there -- 700 and 1700MHz -- by networks like AT&T and Sprint are not supported by the UK iPhone. If you're travelling to the US, you'll still be able to use 3G networks, but if you want 4G data speeds, you'll need to borrow a different phone while you're there.
Battery life doesn't appear to have been dramatically improved over the previous model, but it did fare slightly better in the video loop test performed by my excellent colleague Scott Stein on CNET.com. The phone kept going for 11 hours which beat the iPhone 5, although not by a lot.
Scott also reckoned he could manage a full day of general use from the phone on a charge, which seems about right. As with all smart phones though, it really depends on what you do with it. I found the battery to drop significantly when playing demanding games with the brightness up, so if gaming's your thing, don't stray far from a plug.
If you're keen to preserve power, make sure to keep the screen brightness down and avoid intensive tasks like video streaming. Turning off GPS and Wi-Fi when they're not needed will also help. As a general rule though, expect to charge the phone every night when you're using it normally.
With its identical design and display, the iPhone 5S might not offer enough to tempt existing iPhone 5 owners to upgrade. If you're on older models, however, or if you're looking to take your first steps into the smart phone world and don't fancy tackling the often confusing Android, it's a superb option to consider. You'll need to save up a hefty wad of cash for it though.