The release of a brand-new iPhone is an event that would make Thorstein Veblen roll in his gilded, flashy, conspicuous grave. The 5s is a very nice phone, but it contains no features that will immediately change your life, or make your work experience that much more efficient, or enhance your social status beyond that temporary, “Wow, so that’s what a gold one looks like; can I try the fingerprint sensor?” If you need a new phone, then by all means, the 5s is a wonder of engineering and design and you should get one. But it’s not worth spending more than a few hundred dollars on. Here’s why.
1. iOS 7 is half the wow. I know that the new operating system has gotten mixed reviews, but when you’ve mastered its learning curve, I think you’ll conclude, as I have, that the software’s flexibility is its biggest asset. In the past, most complaints about iOS interfaces have centered around their turgidity. A rooted Android phone is still more customizable, but iOS 7 is a lot more customizable than previous iOS versions, and it’s also probably as customizable as any user will need. The out-of-beta Siri really is better, too, and I actually find myself using it. The ad-blocking and tracking-awareness features are useful and comforting in an age of mass surveillance.
2. No effective battery improvement. I know Apple brags that the 5s has a longer battery life, but benchmark testing and use by the experts suggest that the features you are most likely to use if you get a new phone tend to cancel out the extra juice you’d get if the same battery were installed in an old phone. Battery life really is a reason to spend money on a phone, and I don’t think there’s enough of it in the 5s.
3. The 5c is a better buy. Forget about the “it’s plastic, so it’s cheaper” thing. Just buy a tougher case if it bothers you. Beyond that, the 5c is Apple’s Coke Zero/Diet Coke. It is pretty much EXACTLY the same as an iPhone 5, except it’s a little faster, a battery charge lasts a little longer, and the front camera has been improved. If cost is an issue, you’re not missing much.
4. You can play games faster and take better pictures with the 5s, but unless your job or life depend upon those two activities and you’ve been living under a rock for the past three years, you’ve already got a phone that does those things rather well. If you’re a nightlife selfie photographer, then you’ll probably get a kick out of the 5s’s photography enhancements, but why you’d switch from your Lumia 1020 is unclear. Also, if you’re a game-player primarily, you’re probably waiting for the next update to the iPad Mini series.
5. You can’t be a clutz with the 5s. It’s apparently more fragile than previous iPhones. The regular iPhone 5 is hardier than the Samsung Galaxy S4. It’s also a more survivable platform than its newer cousins.