iPhone 5s, Day 369

While many a tech writer is sharing their personal review of an iPhone 6 or Plus, I want to throw you a curveball: here are my thoughts about the iPhone 5s, based on my first year as a satisfied user of last year’s model.

Several fine reviews of the iPhones 6 have mentioned that the iPhone 5s is still a great device, but not many of them have said why. If you are just now considering a potential upgrade, or moving to the Apple platform for the first time, then I recommend you honestly consider the iPhone 5s as comparable to the iPhones 6. It performs well. It has adapted superbly to iOS 8 — so much so it feels like a significant upgrade just to use the new software features on my elderly phone.

Battery life is something everyone wants to know about. While I experienced battery shortages early on using iOS 7, I haven’t since the earliest updates to iOS 7. For the most part, my iPhone 5s has worked all day long, even under heavy usage to listen to podcasts (or socialize on Twitter) on the weekends while I do chores around the house.

The physical size of the 5s has been my favorite to date. The grip is comfortable in my large hands. I never have trouble typing, tapping, or swiping with one hand or two. Sure, it’s a little cramped to type with two thumbs, but my typing on the small display has improved steadily all the way up to the present.

I’m not even slightly annoyed with the keyboard size anymore, as I think the shortcomings are unavoidable for such a compact interface. And when I don’t feel like typing, I usually have success using dictation.

How well has the 5s aged? Well, comparing my 5s to my last phone, the 4s, I have to say the device has been more satisfactory over a years’ timeframe. I prefer the Space Gray color of the back and sides of the 5s aluminum. It’s thinner and lighter, so I hardly notice the 5s in my pants pocket. The larger screen is comfortable to my eyes. And even the specs of the graphics and processing power are such that I haven’t noticed the 5s slow down with updates, as I had noticed with the 4s.

And perhaps unexpectedly, I hardly noticed a difference between the 4s and 5s screens in practice using the devices, because the added screen real estate of the 5s doesn’t continually draw attention to itself. Point-for-point it is large enough to notice a benefit, but not so large to notice it’s huge for the sake of being huge. One of the drawbacks of the 4s display was that I was continually aware in my subconscious that I wanted a larger screen, which wasn’t available until the 5.

Now, I should note the size of the iPhone display from another perspective. When compared to the iPhones 6 I still prefer the 5s. Like a luddite, do I think it’s inherently superior to the newer, larger displays? No. Only in my use case can I say that I prefer four inches. It is a sensibly-sized window into digital space. I never think to myself wouldn’t it be better if I had 30% more screen because then I would add 30% more bulk onto the device I don’t want to carry in my pocket.

And if the color, contrast, and pixel clarity on the 6 models are superior to the 5s, I don’t yearn for the improvement as of yet. I’m still satisfied with my 40" 720p HD Panasonic television, even though I know 1080p is technically more vivid. I don’t appreciate that level of detail yet. My psyche doesn’t need to be spoiled to that extent.

As for the Touch ID sensor in the Home Button, I couldn’t be happier. It has almost never failed me, and I only input my fingerprints once at the beginning a year ago.

Before, unlocking the iPhone was always a miniature chore, like brushing my teeth or something — I didn’t want to do it, but I felt using the password was very needful. Touch ID solves this problem, and with the added benefits from iOS 8 extensibility, I think that Touch ID is one of the best everyday features of iPhones.

Finally, in regards to the iPhone 5s camera, I have to make a confession. I don’t use the camera half as much as I would like, and when I do, it is usually for home videos of my family. For its purposes, it is excellent and I don’t see the need for more features for my everyday use cases.

It would always be cool to video record a few seconds of my children playing catch in slow motion, but for all of human history, people didn’t have such a feature and they got along okay. Super high slowmo frame rate and the like are fun, but they are not essential to my photography. I’m not a photography hobbyist. All the more power to those who are, but as for me, I think the 5s camera is more than enough to keep me happy for, well, years to come, if it were necessary.

Think of it analogously. The iPhone 5s is to the iPhone 6 as a MacBook Air is to a MacBook Pro. It does everything you want your smart phone to do, even if it doesn’t sport state-of-the-art VoLTE, superduper graphics processing, or the bigger display.

The iPhone 6 and Plus features are impressive and I like them. It is okay to like something and not have it, you know. Ask yourself what do you really want and need at the end of the day? I want the iPhone 5s that keeps on giving.

Joe Darnell

Joe is a UI and graphic designer with prior experience as the creative director for three media-based businesses. Joe’s passionate about web design and graphic design with about 15 years of experience in the media industry. Additionally, Joe is the host of the Top Brew and Techtonic podasts, both featured on iTunes.