John Galea's Blog

My blog on Gadgets and the like

iPhone 5S review

Table of contents
Physicals and specs
Apple Wallet
General iPhone stuff
iMessage (and a warning)
Android Wear
Google Apps
Battery Life
Charge Speed
Power management tips

Yup you read that right, an iPhone. It has been MANY years since I last owned an iPhone. Think iPhone 3G days. I figured it was time to try out an iPhone again and see what I can and can not do with it. I am coming from a Samsung S5, which at this point is driving me kinda nutz. This post is likely going to be a bit of an epically large post, lots to cover off. This is an experiment to see if I could live on an iPhone as my primary and ONLY device. My phone is at the center with lots of moving pieces around it. An Android wear watch, a Fitbit Charge, the Bluetooth stereo in my car, bluetooth headset, bluetooth heart rate monitor etc, so a bit of complicated mish hash.

Physically the iPhone is
123.8 x 58.6 x 7.6 mm and weighs 112 grams
138.1 x 67 x 6.9 mm and 129 grams (iPhone 6 for comparison)
143.4 x 70.5 x 6.8 mm and weighs 138 grams (Samsung S6 for comparison)

This quickly shows up one of the limitation of iPhones (well prior to the 6), size. Apple were the slowest to entertain the idea that people wanted larger screens. That said the unit is solid in the hand, and well built.

It comes with either 16 or 32G, mine is 16G. I quickly discovered 16G is REALLY limiting. I should have checked my music size. On Android I have a 64G uSD card so tons of space. Ooops.

So out of the box the iPhone that I bought is locked to a carrier. In this case not the carrier I am currently on 😦 iPhone unlocking works very differently than other phones. An iPhone can not be setup without a valid SIM. A valid SIM is one from the carrier that the phone is locked to. Unlike almost any other phone you can not power it up and set it up on WIFI. No siree. Android phones and the like you power them up and when a SIM from another carrier is inserted it asks for an unlock code. You can dismiss it and use it off the cell network. The unlocking is done on the phone itself. On an iPhone the unlocking is done on a back end Apple managed database. There are services that will add your IMEI to the database so your phone is considered unlocked, or you can buy an unlocking from the carrier that the phone is locked to. Unlocking however can only be done once the phone is activated. So your in a bit of a loop. The solution is to get a SIM (and it does not have to be an active SIM) from the carrier the phone is locked to. Then you can totally setup the phone on WIFI and activate it. And then you can get it unlocked. At least this is how the 5S worked. I am on iOS 9.2 (13C75). It took a couple days but eventually I got back an email saying the unlock had been done. I changed the SIM to a different carrier and low and behold the phone came back and said it had to be reactivated. I logged back into my iTunes account, put the phone on wifi and it reactivated. The phone and all it’s setup was as it was before. I bought my unlocking service from for $50 CDN.

Apple include a iCloud service that allows you to find your phone (if you enable it). Sadly it does not include the ability to send texts 😦 or make calls (like to forward your phone if you left it at home). Be sure and test the find my phone and insure it’s working before you need it!

Apple wallet
Apple has a wallet service that encompasses loyalty cards (for me Canadian tire, Longos, Airmiles and Shoppers Drug Mart) were all covered off. It then allows you to digitally have your loyalty card scanned at the store from your iPhone (optically scanned, not RFID). The wallet can also covers off tickets (for me this included Eventbrite as well as Ticketmaster) allowing you to avoid printing tickets to events. I tried to use TIcketmaster to go to a Hamilton BullDogs game, no joy for whatever reason they couldn’t scan it. Fortunately I brought along a paper ticket.

It appears in Canada that digital payment using the wallet is not possible in the 5S, and starts with the iPhone 6 and requires American Express (from what I read).

General iPhone Sutff
My 16G unit ended up with 11.9G free once all was said and done. This is for content (music, movies, pictures etc) as well as apps.

The 5S uses the lightning cable which is a change from older iPhones (but is the direction going forward). On a USB 3 enabled CoreM tablet I transferred a little over 10G of music in about 14mins. That would translate out to about 12MB/s. Not earth shattering my any definition.

Apple have included the ability to broadly change the font size within the operating system. Most apps seem to pay attention to this setting but not all. Something that is important given the small size of the screen. Even with this there are things on the phone (such as the task bar) that are super small and difficult to read. Crisp but small …

LTE speeds on the 5S were comparable to the Samsung S5. Reception seems better than on the S5.

The music app seems to have lost the ability to do the cover flow I use to love. No idea where that went. Oddly other people I have spoken to with the 5S have it. You can now delete music on the device itself and can buy and download music over the air through iTunes without a trip back to your PC. This is very useful if for example your phone is running out of space. You can just delete music on the device itself.

iPhones really are the king of instant gratification. Everything on the device is just smooth and instantaneous. It really is addictive. And it’s one of the things that’s hard to retrain yourself if you ever go off the iPhone. Android nor Blackberry can not come even remotely close. Especially with the device manufacturers customizations such as Samsungs Touchwiz. All of the Samsungs have these pregnant pauses. Where your scratching things wondering WTF is this thing doing. Not that it lasts all that long, but it’s maddening none the less.

Another area iPhones shine is in the apps. The phrase there is an app for that really applies in spades in the iOS world. Well within the limitations of the rules/restrictions that Apple dictates on the users and developers.

iPhones have never had status LEDS. No idea why. This one continues that trend. So if you missed a message, call etc there is no blinking light to tell you. I have no idea why they insist on leaving this off.

As far as onscreen keyboards go, Apples has always been one of the best. Auto correct is a blessing and a curse all in one. The iPhones keyboard gives up trying to correct you better than most and does a pretty good job of auto correct.

iPhones use Airplay as their wireless media sharing platform. (Android use DLNA and Windows uses Miracast). It works reasonably well, is easy to use/setup/start and can stream your music to your network connected stereo or TV. Depending on your receiver you can control the iPhone remotely using the stereo, can see what song is playing and the cover art for the song.

The iPhone can be used to tether to another device in one of three ways, WIFI access point, blueooth and USB. It’s wonderful to have bluetooth back because it’s something you can enable on your phone, leave enabled and it uses little power. Then from the remote client you can connect to it when you need it without having to take the phone out. Of course bluetooth tethering is limit to about 1MB/s so everything has it’s price.

Here’s how to set it up and use it on Android and Windows.

iTunes is the is the way you backup, restore, update and add content to your iPhone. Unfortunately you can’t avoid it. iTunes adds tags, and cover art to your music so it looks nice and functionality such as Genre etc all work well. iTunes is poorly written on Windows. Try using it on a tablet or touchscreen and your patience will be quickly tested. It has, however, come a long way. Believe it or not it use to suck even worse! Apple have added functionality like over WIFI syncing and the like. There isn’t a lot to say, it sucks but it is something you have to tolerate.

Apps (and music) are purchased through iTunes. If your not satisfied with your purchase you can request a refund. It is processed super fast. I just followed this guide.

If iTunes is not running (or not loaded) the iPhone appears to a Windows PC as a camera to allow you to easily copy off (or delete) photos off the iPhone. You can not use the iPhone as a generic flash drive and dump stuff to it 😦

There are converters on Amazon to change lightning into micro USB to allow you to use your existing car and home chargers. I found these really handy and charged at full speed too. There are also adapters that will allow you to read Sd cards from the iPhone (for example for cameras on the Go). There are also HDMI output adapters for the Iphone should you so desire.

There are also secondary battery packs available to give you more juice through the day. Mophie for example.

iPhones all the way up to the current 6S still do not support wireless charging. I love this convenience on the S5 and miss it on the iPhone. There are cases you can buy that add thsi functionality …

iMessage (a warning)
Apple invented something called iMessage. It allows sending of messages between iPads and iPhones for free (except it uses your data). These messages can contain pretty much anything, audio, video, text etc. The built in messaging app (the green one) handles iMessaging all on it’s own in that it knows who is on an iPhone. You likely didn’t even notice that it was using iMessage instead of normal texting. I know I didn’t. Well isn’t this swell … Well kinda, but there is a nice little gotcha. Let’s say the unheard of happens and you stop using your iPhone and go onto some other device? I know that never happens right? Well if it does your messages between ANY contacts that you previously iMessaged with will continue to go to the iMessage server until some magic timeout period happens. Trapped in the ether. Unbelievable … wow. So, to prevent this, whatever you do disable iMessage NOW. You can tell iMessages because they show up blue instead of green (in the default colors). One nice thing about iMessaging is that it provides read receipts. iMessage is somewhere between a brilliant idea (if you are Apple and want to retain customers at any cost) and nefarious (if you are an end user who wants to move to a different platform).

Android Wear
Android wear required me to factory reset the watch to move over to the iPhone (or any new phone for that matter) and it was simply and easily paired. Android wear functionality is more limited on iPhones because there are lots of apps and customizations on Android that are not yet available on iPhones. (watchmaker, facer etc). Google fit is not available on iPhone so there is no way to get your health data (steps, heart rate) off of the watch. I found the connection to the watch less reliable with occasional drop out. This is particularly annoying if you are trying to sleep and the watch buzzes as it looses connection only to buzz again when it reconnects. Sometimes I wonder if I need a cone of silence to put my gadgets in while I’m sleeping πŸ™‚ Google maps integration with Android wear (showing your directions on your watch) actually works. Wow. I eventually figured out that you need to manually start the Android wear app, and don’t close it to keep the connection between the iPhone and the watch live. And to use voice commands the link has to be kept alive. My experience is on the first Gen Moto 360 by the way.

I loaded up the Fitbit app (logged in), disconnected my Android device and Fitbit on the iPhone picked up the device immediately and seamlessly without me doing anything. When I went into settings and enabled notifications it paired it and started syncing. Pretty painless.

Endomondo and RunGPS for iOS works and pair with my Bluetooth low energy Scosche rhythm+ heart rate monitor. There is no support for Android wear (within Endomondo or RunGPS) as there is on Android. And since there is no ANT+ radio connectivity to ANt+ cadence/wheel sensors and the like isn’t happening. There are dongles you can add to enable this functionality if that is important to you. My older Bluetooth classic Zephyr heart rate monitor was ignored. RunGPS does however support bluetooth low energy wheel/cadence sensors. I did notice on Endomondo (I didn’t thoroughly test out RunGPS) that when Endomondo is in the background you get occasionaly heart rate drop outs and the sample rate seems much lower resulting in a much more jagged heart rate curve. The solution seems to be keeping Endomondo in the foreground.
Endomondo in the background
Endomondo foreground

The 5S paired with my Ford Sync in my 2010 Fusion but the connection is far less reliable than on Android. If I don’t wait long enough from the initial connection to use streaming music the connection gets dropped, and one time got so bad it crashed Sync. Oops. When it works Bluetooth controls of the music work just fine. Sync does not recognize the iPhone as a device it supports for reading text messages. A function I only recently got working on my Samsung S5 so not a huge surprise.

OneNote is available for iOS with similar functionality to the Android version. This is another major plus for me!

My goto Media player is Kodi. Sadly Kodi has not made it onto the app store. This leaves two options, neither good. Jailbreak it, or side load it with one of the more convoluted, time consuming processes I’ve seen in a while. On a small screen like this and with the HDMI option too expensive this isn’t much of a loss, but if it was an iPad then it just might be worth your while to mess with getting it going. A friend Johannes did me a solid and loaded it for me. He had done it two times before. Even with that it took him many tries to get it right. Once loaded it is almost impossible to use on the small screen. The interface was not designed for it. There is an iPhone specific skin that tries to help out. Out of the box the iPhones content (music/movies/pictures) is not available to Kodi. This is pretty normal for the way iPhones cordon off there space.

Google Apps
Google maps is available for iPhones and it includes turn by turn navigation. Integration with all Google sign ins means you can keep your favs and the like. Yay, this is a HUGE plus for me. Same for Google Chrome, it also works just fine. Google hangouts is there too. Coming from Android these apps are pretty key to me.

Gmail can be done from within the default mail client of iOS but push didn’t work. There is a gmail app to use but you can tell Google keep their best features for Android. There is no priority inbox. There is a primary inbox but it definitely filters differently. Your mail categories do work though. One big boo boo is that Google chose to ignore the system font and use their own, and there is now way to change it. So if it’s too big or too small for you … tough. Not nice Mr Google. Play nice with Mr Apple please πŸ™‚ So I leave both the gmail app and the default apple app running that way I can read the message in either.

Battery life
On day one of pretty heavy use (setting it up) after 12.5 hours it was down to 14% battery (it showed 5:48 of activity).

These next numbers attempt to measure standby power consumption. The phone is left doing as little as possible with as little in background apps as possible:
With WIFI off, and data off the phone consumed 0.6%/hr or a projected life of 158 hours. On 3G I measured very similar numbers (so close as to be with the error of the measurement).
Turn Wifi on (but cell data off) and this bumps up to 0.9%/hr or a project life of 109 hours.
Turn WIFI off and LTE on and this bumps up to 2.4%/hr or a projected 41 hours.
You can clearly see the effects LTE has on battery life. This is one area that Samsung worked heavily on with their S5 and standby power consumption on LTE and WIFI were virtually identical. So connect to Wifi anytime you can to save your battery, and if you can endure it, live on 3G instead of LTE.

As an interesting side note, the battery on an iPhone 5S is only 1560mAH, Vs that of a Samsung S5 which is 2800mAH.

Charge speed
As important as battery life is, how quickly it recharges is also pretty important. Using the factory charger and cable the phone charged from 57 to 90% in 38 mins or .9%/hr (comparable to the S5 btw in terms of charge speed). This would project to a full charge in just under 2 hours. The graph shows a fall off (as it does on the S5) once it reaches 90%. I tried using my Samsung charger and the charge rate dropped off to .5%/hr which would project charging out to just over 3 hours. Of note the iPhone charger is only 5W (5V 1A) Vs the Samsung which is 10W (5V 2A) charger.

One of the benefits of this being a 1A charger is that there are tons of third party external portable battery packs, but most of them are limited at 1A. Which is a problem for Android devices looking for 2A. Not a problem for iPhones. I tried my Anker lipstick case sized external battery pack and it worked and was pretty close to a full speed charge.

I had read here and there that if you use an iPad 10W charger on an iPhone you can get a faster charge … This is not true. A phone will only pull as much current as it is designed to pull. The 5S is designed for a 5W charger and using a 10W charger does nothing. I did test this by the way and the charging speed with the iPad charger was the exact same as the charging speed with the iPhone charger. So don’t waste your money. Myth debunked … Now that said, I ran the same test on an iPhone 6S Plus and it DID pull more current from the 10W charger, so it would charge faster.

Overall I found the iPhone pretty tolerant of other car and home chargers. Charge speed did vary with some chargers so you will need to watch that.

Power management tips
There are a number of things you can do to take control of your iPhones power consumption. Here are some of my tips:

Control background apps
When you click the home button within an app the app does not close. It actually goes into the background. Background apps in general are suspended a short time after they go into the background. The idea is it’s much faster to go back to a suspended background app than to restart them. There are however a whole category of apps that keep running in the background. Downloading stuff from the mothership and doing whatever they want to do. All this can drain your battery. You can take back control of this and remove an apps ability to run in the background.

Close unused apps
Suspended apps are all well and good but if your done using an app you can manually close unused apps. To do this double push the home button and slide up any app that is open, this will close it.

Control use of location
You can control if and when an app can use your location. The GPS signal in the tray never seems to shut up, which indicates someone is looking up my location. GPS can be a battery hog. So there is an easy way to control this. If an app is running in the background, do you really want it to have access to your location? Maybe, but take a moment and review these settings from time to time. Limit those with always access to your location.
And don’t forget to curtail the use of location by the system itself.

Control notifications
Notifications are both a blessing and a curse. Especially when you have a smartwatch. Do I really need to get a notification that Metro is having a big sale in the vagina aisle today? I don’t think so … So go in and trim notifications. This has two benefits. First you get bothered less, second processing notifications means the apps are talking over the net to the mothership processing data etc. All this takes power.

So what wasn’t I able to get working?
– Android Wear is basic at best, and not all that solid just yet
– I really miss the functionality to get any notifications on my Fitbit Charge from BitTicker
– llama was a tool I use to use to automate configuration changes based on location, time etc. I really miss it. Having to manually change profiles is irritating.
– I’ve been unable to find a way to text from my Windows PC. I used MightyText on Android all the time. This is easily possible if I were on a Mac.

So in the end I found no show stoppers to staying on an iPhone. Compared to my S5 battery life is comparable an impressive feat given the battery is almost half the size), the iPhone is way smoother, and is also more reliable. The specific phone I bought, the 5S was more of a proof of concept, in the end the 16G of memory is VERY limiting. And while the diminutive size is handy, it’s also very challenging in a lot of cases (too small to browse, text to small when default text size is ignored etc). Apple imposed limitations stunt developers but arguably result in a more stable platform.

January 30, 2016 - Posted by | iPhone/iPad

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