The new iPhones tested

Steve Dinneen
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Apple iPhone 5S
Five Stars

I’ve discovered a great litmus test for whether you should buy a gold iPhone or not. I dropped my review unit down the back of my seat at the theatre. After the performance, as everyone was filing out, I went back to look for it. An usher saw me and asked what I’d lost.

“A phone,” I said.

“What does it look like?”

The answer here is important. If you imagine yourself looking a bit embarrassed and saying: “You know, an iPhone. New-ish. A bit... sparkly?” then it’s not for you: congratulations, you’re probably a really nice person.

I looked her in the eyes and said: “It’s gold.”

It’s the closest I’ve come to the moment in Pulp Fiction when Samuel L Jackson’s character tells Pumpkin to retrieve his stolen wallet.

“Which one is it?” he asks.

“It’s the one that says ‘bad ****** ****** on it.’”

The smartphone market is so far evolved that even the biggest new releases offer only incremental improvements. The iPhone 5 was thinner and faster; it moved Apple slightly further ahead of the rest of the phone market. The same can be said of the iPhone 5S – which, colour aside looks identical to the last one – although this time around, those incremental improvements are particularly cool.

First: the thumbprint scanner. Do you need a thumbprint scanner? Of course not. But what do you need, when it comes down to it? Sustenance, shelter. Maybe – just maybe – companionship. Beyond that you can just rock back and forth in front of the fire. Naked. The thumbprint scanner is, though, a neat trick. Not only does it unlock your phone: you can use it to buy apps and music from the iTunes store, too (although Apple says it has no plans to roll the privilege out to third parties, for security reasons). And it just works – I’m pretty sure the feeling of self-satisfaction it gives you will never get old.

There have been inevitable “hacks”. A German team scanned a fingerprint from a window, created a latex version and used it to open the phone. Should you be concerned? No. Let’s face it, you’re not that important. And if by some miracle you are, you shouldn’t be storing sensitive information on your phone.

The next big improvement is the camera, which is significantly better than the iPhone 5’s (which was already terrific). Its wider aperture makes low-light pictures far sharper and it has a second, amber, flash that compensates for that unattractive washed-out look previous iPhones have tended to give you. A new “burst mode” lets you take 10 frames a second and pick the best ones from within the image menu (so your photo stream doesn’t get clogged up). And then there’s the brilliantly user-friendly slo-mo function that allows you to capture 120 frames a second and slow down video without sacrificing too much quality. It has no practical use, but it looks great.

The 64-bit dual-core chip runs heavy-duty App Store games with ease. In terms of everyday use, it’s ultra-responsive, although not significantly faster than the iPhone 5 (or the 5C). Even better, battery life is noticeably improved. Other nifty features stem from its new M7 chip, which analyses movement; it can tell when you get out of your car and alter its directions accordingly, for example. How? Beats me. Witchcraft, probably.

So: loads of improvements yada yada keeps Apple ahead of the pack yada yada yada. Listen: it’s GOLD. Just buy it.

EE is offering the iPhone 5S for £46 a month, including 10GB of data, with a one-off payment of £49.99. Log on to

Apple iPhone 5C
Four Stars

In its way, the iPhone 5C is the more interesting of Apple’s new phones. The 5S is a safe bet – nobody’s going to argue it isn’t an improvement on the iPhone 5 (which has now been discontinued). The iPhone 5C, though... It has a plastic shell. What would Steve Jobs think?

It’s worth bearing in mind that Steve Jobs didn’t have a problem with plastic. From the Bondi blue iMac that sparked the Apple revival in the late 1990s to the plastic MacBooks that were still available until 2011 (not to mention the first three generations of iPhone), Apple has made some beautiful devices out of plastic.

But with all of these products, plastic came first and was superseded by metal/glass. In this respect, the 5C could be called retrogressive.

When you actually use it, though, it’s... Well... It’s quite nice. The case reminds me of an old MacBook in that it feels solid; it doesn’t cave under your fingers like more cheaply produced handsets (it’s steel reinforced, making it slightly heavier than the iPhone 5 and thicker at 9mm, compared to 7.6mm).

Under the hood, it’s almost identical to the iPhone 5. It has a slightly better battery, a more advanced front-facing camera and more 4G support.

If Apple were selling it for proper mid-market prices, it would be a steal. But it’s not: a 16GB unit will cost you £469 instead of the £529 the iPhone 5 cost. That’s mid-market by Apple’s standards only.