Increments and possibilities. Those are the words that would best sum up the new iPhones unveiled last week by Apple. They will not be on sale for a few days yet, but Canoe Tech has had some time to try them out. Here's our review.
iOS 7: good-looking but not that intuitive
The new "parallax" interface introduced with Apple's new operating system, iOS 7, looks good, but still appears quite superficial. Other new features, such as sharing via Airdrop or accessing WiFi, Bluetooth and other settings via a panel located at the bottom of the screen, are so well hidden within the software that the iPhone would really benefit from a built-in user guide. A deeper access to settings other than turning them on and off right from that panel would also have been a good idea.
No major battery life improvement
Both iPhones show about the same battery life, which lasts not much longer than your average day at the office, going from one meeting to another, taking emails, browsing the web and watching short videos. It's a little tight, but then again, very few phones on the market right now fare better.
iTunes Radio not for Canada
Discovery music services such as Pandora are very popular throughout the world, but are still largely inaccessible in Canada. Same goes with iTunes Radio, one of the major new features of iOS 7. Unless you can create an account on the US iTunes Store...
Great burst mode, lens, and photo app
Apple says the iPhone 5s can take up to 999 photos in burst mode. Simply hold your finger on the shutter icon and the phone takes up to 10 photos per second, all neatly compiled in the album app. In general, it's safe to say the iSight camera and iOS 7's Photo apps are among the best on the market, one of the device's major strengths. Especially with the new two-tone LED flash, which helps generate better portraits in sub par lighting conditions.
Maps still confused, Siri doing better
No miracle here, Apple's Maps app is still way behind Google Maps, which seems to know everything and everybody. The Siri voice command, however, is greatly improved, with new voices and more accurate answers to simple questions. It's easy to understand why Apple removed the Beta tag on Siri.
iPhone 5c: surprisingly attractive
Its coloured plastic casing makes the iPhone 5c surprisingly attractive in a crowd. People positively react to the fact that it's original, and yet, it's still thinner than having a case on top of it (although Apple also offers spotted cases to create a multicolour phone). A plus for those who also see their smartphone as a fashion item.
iPhone 5s: the sleeper phone
There's a popular expression describing souped-up, albeit anonymous looking performance cars: sleeper cars. With its fast processor, revised camera and large internal memory, the iPhone 5s is the sleeper phone. Even the "pale gold" version still looks too much like the former iPhone 5 for anyone to notice this is a brand new device.
Touch ID: the underestimated potential
Buyers will appreciate how well the finger scanning home button behaves, but that's about it for now. It unlocks the device or allows to buy items on iTunes as advertised, and can record up to five different fingerprints in some tiniy part of the phone's processor. Apple swears this data stays highly encrypted on the phone only, not in some creepy biometrics database. The potential for this technology is impressive, though: it could replace password, access keys, and could even prove to be the first secure mobile payment solution.
It can be argued that a $129 price tag for the 16 GB iPhone 5c ($599 without contract) and $229.99 for the 16 GB iPhone 5s ($719) is a bit high for what's on the specs sheet. It's a good point. It can also be said that even the iPhone 5c manages to executes tasks such as taking a photo, accessing a web page or simply playing music or videos more rapidly and easily than some of the most powerful Android devices on the market today. The point being that with carrier contracts shrinking from three to two years, most new phones will seem more expensive.
So, which one should you buy?
No simple answer to that question. Your budget, the need for increased internal memory, a desire to be at the cutting edge of technology all tip the balance one way of the other. The iPhone 5s still is one of the best-looking phones out there, along with the HTC One and the soon-to-be Galaxy Note 3, and it has the mechanics to last several years. The 5c seems targeted at a younger audience, and at those who actually use their phone as a phone, not a portable gaming device or a high-end video editing tool.