Hands on an iPhone 5S

I’ve been using an iPhone 4S since the days when the iPhone 5 was the top-end model, so sometime in early 2013. That replaced an iPhone 3GS, which was the entry-level model when I got it in late 2010. And with iOS 9.2.1, the 4S has become remarkably sluggish.

Yes, I am running the current version of iOS on a model that’s four generations behind the current iPhone 6S and 6S Plus. It runs okay, but bringing up the keyboard is excruciatingly slow. Apps run well enough, but some take a long time to load. When the phone rings, the call may have gone to voicemail before the iPhone 4S opens the Phone app.

It’s past time for an upgrade. I’d love an iPhone 6 with its larger display, but a coworker has a 16 GB iPhone 5S available at a very attractive price. The iPhone 5S has a half-inch larger display than the iPhone 4S, but most of all it has a 64-bit processor that’s over 6x as powerful as the one in the 4S!

Here are the benchmark figures with Geekbench 3 multicore score:

  • 2007 iPhone, 412 MHz 32-bit ARM, 128 MB RAM
  • 2008 iPhone 3G, 412 MHz ARM, 128 MB RAM
  • 2009 iPhone 3GS, 600 MHz ARM Cortex-A8, 256 MB RAM, 150 score
  • 2010 iPhone 4, 800 MHz Apple A4, 512 MB RAM, 207 score
  • 2011 iPhone 4S, 800 MHz dual-core A5, 512 MB RAM, 404 score
  • 2012 iPhone 5, 1.3 GHz A6, 1 GB RAM, 1271 score
  • 2013 iPhone 5S, 1.3 GHz 64-bit A7, 1 GB RAM, 2510 score
  • 2014 iPhone 6, 1.4 GHz A8, 1 GB RAM, 2877 score
  • 2015 iPhone 6S, 1.85 GHz A9, 1 GB RAM, 4331 score

The 4S scores over 2.5x what the 3GS does, so that was a big step forward. The iPhone 5 and 5C score 3x what the 4S does, making either a decent next step. But the 64-bit iPhone 5S nearly doubles that score, and going 64-bit means it’s probably more future-proof than an iPhone with a 32-bit processor.

Now look at the iPhone 6 score. You should be surprised to see that it’s less than 15% more powerful than the iPhone 5S. It’s the smallest incremental performance improvement since 2008, when the iPhone 3G arrived with no more power than the original iPhone.

Hands on an iPhone 5S

iPhone 5Anyhow, I’m borrowing an iPhone 5S for the weekend, and it has blown me away. Sure, I’d like a bigger screen for my aging eyes, but I am impressed by the still relatively compact size, the immense amount of power compared with the 4S, and the gorgeous color display. I thought the 4S had a nice screen after the 3GS, but the rich colors on the 5S are amazing.

Apps that take a long time to load on my 4S are up almost immediately on the 5S. Waze, for instance, is horribly slow on my old iPhone, and Ingress also takes its sweet time, but on the 5S everything moves smoothly.

An Unexpected Benefit

I should have expected it, but I was mostly thinking about having a fast enough iPhone. One big advantage of the iPhone 5, 5C, and 5S is that wider-screen display. Where the iPhone 4 and 4S have a 960 pixel tall display, on the iPhone 5 family that’s increased to 1136 pixels. Yes, that’s only 18% more pixels, but it’s 176 more usable pixels. 176 pixels the keyboard doesn’t cover. 176 pixels more text you can read. Believe me, if you’re still living with an iPhone 4S or earlier, this is a biggie – literally.

It also means one more row of icons on each screen. I’ll be able to rearrange things and have more on the home screen when I get my own iPhone 5S.


I’m not set up to use it as a phone yet. If our fund raiser reaches its goal, I plan to pick up this iPhone 5S. Maybe I’ll be able to find a nice used iPhone 6 in October when the iPhone 7 comes out, but for now, I’ll be very, very happy with a 5S.

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