In this article we assess how the iPhone 5s compares to the specs of alternative smart phones and whether benchmarks and features comparisons tell the whole story (or just lie). If you are trying to decide which smartphone is right for you this should give you some of the technical information you need. Updated 3 October with reasons why benchmarking can't be trusted, especially when it's a Samsung phone...
As predicted Apple's new iPhone 5s, unveiled on 10 September, now comes in three colours, has a fingerprint sensor beneath the home button, and has significant spec boosts.
However, there are several rumoured iPhone 5s features that haven't appeared in the new iPhone, some of which feature in smartphone rivals from Apple's competitors. Here, we highlight some of those features and ponder: why didn't Apple include them in the iPhone 5s?
We also examine the impressive benchmarks attained by the iPhone 5s, that pushed it to the forfront of the industry briefly before the Galaxy Note 3 appeared to relegate it to second place, although there are questions about Samsung's practice of cheating in benchmarking and thereby inflating its results.
With all this in mind, before you decide that the iPhone 5s isn't all it's claimed to be, there are a few factors to consider.
See: iPhone 5s review
The A7 chip: built by Samsung, designed by Apple
At first glance the fact that, like all of Apple's iPhone processors before it, the A7 chip inside the iPhone 5s was built by Samsung, might raise some eyebrows. However, while Chipworks and iFixIt have confirmed that the A7 is manufactured by Samsung using the same 28nm High-K Metal Gate (HKMG) process that Samsung uses for its new Exynos 5410 processor, the chip itself is designed by Apple.
Because Apple designs the chips along with the software, it is able to optimize them more effectively than anyone else can. By custom designing its chips Apple is able to get much better performance from its A7 processor than the chips offered by the competition, despite having slower clock speeds, dual core rather than quad core. This great report by Gizmodo explains what's going on.
Incidentally, expect a few surprises with next year's generation of processor chips for the iPhone – it's thought that in the future mobile chips will be built by TSMC – who are expect to start fabricating chips for Apple in 2014, reports have also claimed that Apple would have used TSMC in this instance but had to go back to Samsung when TSMC couldn't meet the demand quickly enough.
iPhone benchmarks: what is Geekbench?
One way to measure a chips power and performance is through benchmarking, although as we'll explain below, this can be gamed, and indeed many smartphone manufacturers, and Samsung in particular are cheating to get the best possible results.
The most common benchmarking method is to use Geekbench scores that are built from a combination of measurements of computational speed across a variety of real-world processes like JPG compression and decompression.
As you can see from the comparisons, even though Apple has a dual core processor and a lower GHz than other smartphones it is still far faster than the competition.
- iPhone 5s (A7, 1.3GHz Dual Core) = 2538
- Samsung Galaxy S4 (Samsung Exynos 5 Octa, 1.6GHz Quad Core – US only) = 2077
- Samsung Galaxy S4 (Qualcomm Snapdragon 600, 1.7GHz Quad Core - UK model) = 1797
- HTC One (Qualcomm Snapdragon 600, 1.7GHz Quad Core) = 1717
- LG Nexus 4 (Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro, 1.5 GHz Quad Core) = 1534
- iPhone 5 (A6, 1.3GHz Dual Core) = 1276
Or at least it was faster until people started benchmarking the new Galaxy Note 3...
- Galaxy Note 3 (Snapdragon 800 processor, 2.3GHz Quad Core) = 4057
Why benchmarks don't mean anything
It's been suggested that when assessing how good a smartphone is in comparison to other models we should avoid using benchmarks because they are very easily gamed. That is exactly what Samsung and other Android phone manufacturers have been doing.
In the report Anandtech explains that it was curious about the fact that Samsung's 2.3GHz Snapdragon 800 "blows the doors off" LG's 2.3GHz Snapdragon 800. As a result it kicked off an investigation concluding that Samsung is gaming the tests by instructing the CPU and GPU to treat certain benchmarking apps differently to they way they would a normal app. The company is deliberately rigging its devices to make them perform differently when they sense a benchmarking app.
As a result the smartphones can demonstrate the fastest speeds possible, but these are not the speeds that a user would experience in normal use (without killing the battery).
Anandtech notes that as a result Samsung is able to inflate its scores, although by no more than 20 percent, and in most cases the inflated scores provide under a 10% increase in GPU and CPU performance benchmarks.
The site also notes that this is not the first time Samsung has engaged in such practices. Indeed, Anandtech kicked of an investigation into Samsung's CPU/GPU optimizations for the Galaxy S4 back in July and concluded that when the phone detected benchmark sourcing apps it was maximising GPU frequency or driving CPU voltage up in order to perform better.
It's not only Samsung that is cheating at benchmarking. Anandtech's extensive report indicates that almost every Android smartphone manufacturer engages in this practice.
"Literally every single OEM we’ve worked with ships (or has shipped) at least one device that runs this silly CPU optimization," states the report.
"It's also worth pointing out that nearly almost all Android OEMs are complicit in creating this mess," and: "It’s a systemic problem that seems to have surfaced over the last two years, and one that extends far beyond Samsung"
Guilty parties include the HTC One, HTC One mini, LG G2, Galaxy Tab 10.1, according to Anandtech's report.
The only companies that appear to not be cheating in this way are Apple and Motorola, as well as Google with its Nexus 4 and Nexus 7.
"Any wins the Galaxy Note 3 achieves in our browser tests are independent of the CPU frequency cheat/optimization," concludes Anandtech.
iPhone 5s: Processor speed, why isn't the iPhone quad core?
The A7 is clocked at 1.3 GHz while most of the competition run at around 1.7GHz, or, in the case of the Galaxy Note 3, 2.3GHz.
There is also the fact that while everyone else is offering quad core chips Apple is sticking with sticking with dual core. Why doesn't Apple offer a quad core iPhone?
Quad core makes no sense if you can't properly 'turbo up' when some cores are idle, explains AnandTech. The technology to take advantage of it isn't there yet.
Some might conclude that it's all about marketing the new phones as having high processor clock speeds, even though it actually means very little.
The payoff for those high clock speeds is that all that power is draining the battery.
The battery in the iPhone 5s: battery life
Speaking of battery life, by clocking the processor at 1.3GHz Apple is optimizing the architecture and speed for battery life.
Inside the iPhone 5s is an 1440 mAh battery with a similar life between charges as the HTC One's 2300 mAh battery. Samsung has a 3200 mAh battery inside the Note 3. (This made us wonder, is the real reason some phones are bigger than others simply down to needing to accommodate bigger batteries?)
If iFixIt's teardown is anything to go by, the iPhone 5s will not be easy for the likes of you and to repair. Like the iPhone 5, the battery in the 5s is firmly glued into place.
How much RAM is there in the iPhone 5s?
As with the iPhone 5 before it, there is only 1GB of RAM with the iPhone 5s A7 chip while the competition generally has 2GB. As in the case of the clock speeds, the fact that Apple doesn't have as much RAM as the competition doesn't seem to limit it.
However, the Galaxy Note 3 has 3GB of RAM.
What does 64-bit bring to the iPhone 5s?
The new 64-bit CPU is the key to the impressive Apple results. This is despite the fact that there are very few ways in which the phone can take advantage of the 64-bit processor currently. 64-bit won't really start to make a difference until iPhones get more than 4GB RAM, according to Anadtech.
While it might look like 64-bit is ahead of its time, by implementing 64-bit Apple has not only future proofed the iPhone 5s, in so doing Apple has adopted a new processor architecture - ARMv8. Apple is the first to implement ARMv8 – and as a result Apple's GPU is producing outstanding results. There is that innovation people were complaining that Apple wasn't doing.
The other thing about 64-bit is what it means to apps that are specifically compiled to take advantage of the 64-bit processor. For example, Night Sky 2 is an app that's been compiled in 64-bit and Infinity Blade 3 will also run faster on the iPhone 5s. We're currently assessing both apps.
Apple's move to 64-bit will mark the beginning of a transition across the industry. This could be bad news for Intel as these ARM-architecture based mobile chips could encroach on Intel's traditional business, according to a SeekingAlpha report.
What does the M7 chip bring to the iPhone 5s
There's also the M7 chip, which isn't made by Samsung - the M7 is built by Netherlands chip fab company NXP Semiconductors.
According to Chipworks, the M7 has a three-axis accelerometer, a three-axis gyroscope and a three-axis electronic compass IC. It features a Cortex-M3 microcontroller that Chipworks believes is likely to be a custom chip made to Apple's specifications.
What does the M7 chip mean? The MIT Technology Review looks at what the M7 might be able to do. It notes that while motion-sensors such as accelerometers and gyroscopes have featured in smartphones for some time, these are turned off while the phone is asleep so that they don't drain the battery. With the M7 the data from these sensors can be aggregated and analyzed all the time, even when the phone is asleep. Thanks to the M7, apps that use motion sensing can work more power-efficiently.
In the future, suggests Cornell University professor Tanzeen Choudhury: "The user could program a gesture that might serve as a password – a unique shake or swivel could become the screen-unlocking password, an instruction to call home, or a distress signal".
The other way that the M7 chip could prove useful in the future is if Apple does launch the rumoured iWatch. A device that detects movement, blood pressure and the like, needs a smartphone with a processor designed for always-on motion sensing.
The components in the iPhone 5s and how they compare to the competition
As we mentioned above, there are several rumoured iPhone 5s features that didn't appear in the new iPhone, some of which feature in smartphone rivals from Apple's competitors. Here, we highlight some of those features and ponder: why didn't Apple include them in the iPhone 5s?
The iPhone 5s camera - not 12-megapixels
The 1.5 µ pixel iSight camera in the iPhone 5s uses the new Exmor-RS sensor from Sony, nobody else is using this yet. However, many of the cameras in the compatition feature 12-megapixel cameras and the new iPhone 5s was rumoured to be joining the club. We expected that Apple would improve the camera found in the iPhone 5s, and it did. However, instead of boosting the pixels, Apple stuck with an 8-megapixel iSight camera.
This camera has a brand new, five-element Apple-designed lens with a larger f/2.2 aperture. The camera's new sensor has a 15 per cent larger active area, and the pixels on this sensor are 1.5 microns in size, larger than the iPhone 5 and larger than other smartphones. This should mean better sensitivity and improved low-light performance.
There are also several other new photography features in the iPhone 5s (some of which are part of iOS 7), including a dual-LED flash called 'True Tone,' new Burst and Slo-Mo modes, auto image stabilisation and more.
But what happened to the 12-megapixel camera we were expecting?
During Apple's unveiling on 10 September, Apple's head of worldwide marketing Phil Schiller explained: "Competitors would pack more pixels on that and cram them closer together, but Apple knows it's bigger pixels that make a better picture."
We're looking forward to trying out the iPhone 5s camera for ourselves, and discovering how it compares to cameras from competing smartphones such as the Samsung Galaxy S4's 13-megapixel one.
NFC (near field communication) technology
With the rumours that Apple would be using fingerprint sensor technology in its iPhone 5s (these rumours turned out to be true) came speculation about the possibility of NFC in the iPhone 5s.
NFC stands for near-field communications, and is a set of short-range wireless standards that let mobile phones communicate with each other – or with other electronic devices. A number of NFC-equipped Android phones can act as an e-wallet, paying for goods with a swipe of the handset. NFC is also used to make quick data transfers between phones.
When the iPhone 5 launched in 2012, many asked why Apple hadn't included the NFC technology in the new device, and Schiller replied by saying that consumers can already use the Passbook app instead of NFC, an app that the company believes can do all "the kinds of things consumers need today."
Apple also expressed concerns in the past about the security of NFC.
At first glance the iPhone 5S doesn't include NFC, but it does include a technology which not only offers the features of NFC, it does so in a much more secure way.
iBeacon is a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) system and framework that Apple has included in all of its iOS devices running iOS 7. It essentially uses Bluetooth to allow the phone to interact with regional-based devices, called Beacons.
At the moment iBeacon is just part of the iOS 7 SDK (software development kit) so it’s very much a future concept. iBeacon requires other people - notably shopkeepers - to invest in Beacon hubs.
Beacons and iBeacon enable contactless payment systems to be developed. We have more information about Apple's iBeacon here. Expect Apple to develop this technology as an alternative to NFC.
5G WiFi (802.11ac)
Rather than go with a newer Broadcom chip that offers 802.11ac, Apple opted to use a WiFi module that is similar to the one in the iPhone 5, according to Chipworks.
It's a little surprising that Apple didn't make its iPhone 5s compatible with the new 802.11ac WiFi standard. The new, speedier '5G WiFi' standard is already supported by the new MacBook Air models launched by Apple in June, and promises bandwidth of up to 1.3Gb/s. In comparison, 802.11n products provide connections of up to 450Mb/s.
So with the new MacBook Air models offering support for the new standard, and devices such as Samsung's Galaxy S4 supporting the new standard, it's surprising that Apple has opted to skip the feature.
There's a Qualcomm 4G LTE modem with a Samsung LTE baseband processor inside the iPhoen 5s.
This marks a second connectivity boost that didn't arrive with Apple's iPhone 5s - LTE-Advanced, although the smartphone does support more bands than other smartphones, including the three major bands used here in the UK.
In July, rumours that Apple had been working with SK Telecom to give the iPhone 5s 150mbps LTE-Advanced support emerged, suggesting that Apple was hoping to boost the LTE capabilities of the iPhone with the new model.
Earlier this year, Samsung released an LTE-Advanced version of the Galaxy S4.
Ok, so we didn't really think Apple was going to make the iPhone 5S bigger. But, there were reports that Apple may decide to launch an iPhone 6 at the same time as the iPhone 5s, and that the iPhone 6 would have a screen between 4.8in and 6in diagonally. We expect we'll have to wait until next year for that one.
But why didn't Apple change the screen size for the iPhone 5s? Competitors such as Samsung have released smartphones with screen sizes that are significantly larger than Apple's 4in iPhone, and bigger screens it seems to be a growing trend.
This new iPhone was an 's' model, which traditionally means an almost identical external design as its predecessor for Apple. Plus, Apple has said that the 4in display has been designed for one-handed use.
Earlier this year Apple CEO Tim Cook said: "Our competitors have made some significant trade-offs in many of these areas in order to ship a larger display. We would not ship a larger-display iPhone while these trade-offs exist."
Gorilla Glass 3
Earlier this year, Corning announced that it has developed a new version of its Gorilla Glass for smartphones and tablets that it says will result in 40 per cent fewer scratches.
Corning hinted that the new glass would appear in "devices later this year" but it doesn't look like they were referring to the iPhone 5s, as the new iPhone seems to have the same 4in Retina display as found in the iPhone 5.
Samsung's Galaxy S4 uses Gorilla Glass 3 for its display.
Ahead of the iPhone 5s announcement, there was some speculation that Apple would introduce wireless charging with its iPhone 5s, following in the footsteps of Nokia, LG and HTC.
The new iPhone doesn't have wireless charging capabilities, though, but we expect that this feature could be on the cards for the iPhone 6.
Samsung launched its Galaxy S4 in March with new features including eye-tracking technology. However, the new feature wasn't received particularly well and it seems that those who wear glasses have great difficulty using the feature.
We're actually quite glad that Apple didn't decide to implement eye-tracking technology in the iPhone 5s.
iPhone 5s Graphics
The iPhone's graphics performance is 37-frames per second, that's more than twice the iPhone 5's 14 fps. The Motorola Moto X clocks in at 25 fps. According to our sister site PCAdvisor, the Galaxy Note 3 manages 54 fps.
To find out what the iPhone 5s does have, you can visit our iPhone 5s review.
Additionally, Apple also announced the new iPhone 5c. Visit our iPhone 5c review for more information.
Original report by Ashleigh Allsopp