iPhone 5s, 5c, iOS 7 reviews are in: The good, the bad, and the ugly

The critics had their time with the latest iPhone devices and software, and the reviews are out. Here's a roundup of what the tech experts and pundits are saying.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor
Image: CNET

The reviews for the latest Apple devices and software are out.

Reviewers, journalists, and critics alike have ripped the foundations and fundamentals of Apple's latest creations — the premium iPhone 5s, the low-cost iPhone 5c, and the next-generation iOS 7 software — and given their verdict. 

Here are snippets of some of the other reviews from around the Web late on Tuesday:

iPhone 5s

AnandTech's Anand Lal Shimpi gave a deep and thorough 13-page review of the premium Apple smartphone. The highest praise fell on the hardware features, notably the Apple A7 processor and M7 motion controller, which was described as "futureproof." But some criticism fell in what Apple missed out, like as a slightly larger display, which in his view had "room for another sweet spot above 4-inches."

While I don't believe the world needs to embrace 6-inch displays, I do feel there is room for another sweet spot above 4-inches. [...] If you prefer iOS for your smartphone — the iPhone 5s won't disappoint. In many ways it's an evolutionary improvement over the iPhone 5, but in others it is a significant step forward. 

CNET's Scott Stein called the iPhone 5s "easily the fastest and most advanced Apple smartphone to date" in his meticulous and lengthy review. Despite dropping some points for the lack of physical design change, he remained optimistic for what comes next.

I'm tempted to call the iPhone 5S the iPhone 5P, for "potential." This is Apple's half-step year, a rebuilding year. It's telegraphed by the name itself: adding an "S" versus giving the phone a whole new name.

TechCrunch's Darrel Etherington focused on, among other things, the iPhone 5s' flagship feature, the fingerprint sensor. 

At first glance, it's easy to dismiss the fingerprint sensor as a whiz-bang feature designed to attract eyeballs and do little else. But this isn't that. The fingerprint sensor [...] feels like a mature feature that actually enhances the overall experience of using an iPhone in a noticeable way that you encounter very frequently.

The bottom line conclusion highlighted the 64-bit processor, which more than any of its predecessors, will likely be the device that "grows more appealing as the software ecosystem catches up."

The New York Times' David Pogue had some stern words for those who criticized the fingerprint reader, in a far harsher tone than any other first-hand review. 

The best part is that [the fingerprint reader] actually works — every single time, in my tests. It's nothing like the balky, infuriating fingerprint-reader efforts of earlier cellphones. It's genuinely awesome; the haters can go jump off a pier.

But his greatest focus was on the device's camera enhancements, which he described as a feature that will "mean more to you."

Take photos side-by-side with the iPhone 5S's predecessor, and the difference is immediately obvious; lowlight pictures are far better on the new phone. Clearer, brighter, better color. [...] Flash photos look much, much better. No longer will your loved ones’ skin look either nuclear white or "Avatar" blue.

Bloomberg's Rich Jaroslovsky was far more gritted-teeth in his review by describing how the two new phones "fail to excite." He said early on in his write-up that while the iPhone maker has never issued more than one device at any given time, "[Apple] also never changed so little from the previous generation," hinting at a lack of innovation on the company's part.

Describing the changes as "incremental," he too suggested the phones are perhaps a look ahead to the future, by "laying the groundwork for future, bigger innovations."

Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg described the iPhone 5s as a "delight," calling the device "the best smartphone on the market" thanks to its combined hardware and software combination. Although, he does note a bug with how the fingerprint reader authenticates online purchases, which he says Apple expects to fix "very quickly." His glowing review aside, he criticized one particular minor, albeit prominent area:

My biggest disappointment is that there have been only minor improvements to the keyboard. Unlike in Android, Apple still bars you from substituting third-party keyboards with better auto-correction. The company says this is due to security worries.

Engadget's Myriam Joire praised the "severely underrated improvement" of the iPhone 5s' global LTE support, noting the four different versions which are designed for an array of global operators and regions. The key takeaway noted:

Is the 5s the best iPhone ever made? Yes, though that shouldn't come as a surprise. [...] Apple somehow managed to appeal to both the geek [...] and the average Joe [...] all while laying the groundwork for the company's future.

Meanwhile T3's Luke Peters put the battery life of the iPhone 5s in the "hate" category, despite having plenty of good to say about the overall hardware power and performance of the device. 

In our real-world testing, we found the iPhone 5s mimics that of its predecessor — great in standby, draining when using 3G/4G and performing graphically intensive tasks. [...] For now, it looks like you'll need a portable battery pack in your pocket if you intend on hammering your new iPhone 5s all day.

Peters called the smartphone a "stunner" but again highlighted much of the other reviewers' sentiments that much of the fun will "come tomorrow."

Slashgear's Vincent Nguyen resonated sentiments shared by Apple by describing the iPhone 5s as "magical" and a "supremely compelling device." In short, comparing the two new smartphones, the premium model clearly blew the low-cost device out of the water.

Would we pick the iPhone 5s over the iPhone 5c? In a heartbeat. The camera, convenience, and performance increases make that a no-brainer decision for smartphone power users.

iPhone 5c

Much of the focus of the iPhone 5c is its different physical aesthetic to its premium smartphone sibling. Back to David Pogue at The New York Times, who said the description of iPhone 5c's plastic backing "isn't quite fair," and compared it to earlier models.

The 5C's case is polycarbonate, lacquered like a glossy piano. Better yet, its back edges are curved for the first time since the iPhones of 2008. You can tell by touch which way it's facing in your pocket.

In similar detail, Pocket-Lint's Stuart Miles contemplated exactly what the letter in its name stood for. "[A]ny fears that you may have that C in 5C stands for 'cheap' will disappear the moment you pick up the phone," he said. Despite some initial reservations about the device, he summed up his smartphone experience in three words: "colourful, joyful, capable."

Australian news network ABC's Alex Kidman described the iPhone 5c as "an iPhone 5 in a pretty new hat." He remained unsure of which demographic might want to buy the device, considering the fact that despite the price difference it is only "marginally cheaper."

I'm honestly not sure outside of the heavy fashion crowd who, for one reason or another might just want colour and not actual features. When it was announced and outright pricing emerged, the only glimmer of hope was that telcos would take it on board in a heavily-subsidised fashion, making it a better value pick[.] 

Kidman also examined the battery of the low-end device, in which he found in tests that the older (now defunct) iPhone 5 ran "pretty much neck and neck for most of the time."

AllThingsD's Lauren Goode also took a moment to compare and contrast the iPhone 5c and its closest predecessor, the iPhone 5. She noted the battery was slightly larger in the iPhone 5c, adding that users should get "extra juice" out of the device. She explained in one real-world example:

This past weekend I used both the 5c and my own iPhone 5 at the same time, with the display on both set to about 75 percent of full brightness and their batteries fully charged. I ran the same apps, including maps apps, browsed through both Safari browsers and made phone calls on both phones. When my iPhone 5 died on Saturday night, the 5c had 17 percent battery power left.

In closing remarks, she noted that while the iPhone 5c will look and feel familiar, there are improvements over its replacement. "But its improvements are evolutionary, not revolutionary," Goode concluded.

CNET's Scott Stein gave the colorful, cheaper iPhone 5c a four-out-of-five star review. Like others, he cited greater LTE coverage and an improved camera, calling it a "perfect cover-all-your-needs smartphone." But he left off one crucial star by describing it as "2012 tech dressed up in a brighter package for 2013." 

In the end, I steered my mom to the iPhone 5S. You should too, unless you really, truly need to save a hundred dollars. In that case — or in the event you really love brightly colored plastic — get the iPhone 5C.

The Telegraph's Matt Warman called the cheaper smartphone a "great replacement for an [iPhone 4] or [4S]," and dubbed the device a "stroke of marketing genius" by rivaling "simply other iPhones." That said, he did consider the knock-on effect to existing iPhone 5 owners:

It's younger, and while it may only be slightly cheaper it will appeal to new markets perhaps just enough to keep consumers away from the temptations of rivals for a little longer. If you’ve got an iPhone 5, it's hard to see why you should buy a 5c.

iOS 7

USA Today's Edward Baig called the "biggest change" to come to the iPhone is with iOS 7. He admitted that he "highly regards" both Android and Windows Phone, he was not blind to "what Apple didn't do," noting the company's catch-up efforts in certain areas of iOS 7's feature set.

Taken in totality, the features new to the iPhone 5s make what I consider to be the best smartphone on the market even better, helped enormously by Apple owning the entire end-to-end experience.

Pixel Envy's Nick Heer writes one of, if not the lengthiest and well-considered reviews of "spectacular" iOS 7 (he subliminally warns not to "skip the rest" of the review in jumping to the conclusion).

He goes into minute detail in his 15,700 word review, examining every facet of the operating system's design and interface, from the lock screen through to animations. Heer does summate his points in a sound, simple paragraph.

[iOS 7] is a truly sublime experience which manages to preserve the familiar aspects of iOS while providing a brand new look and feel. The redesign makes the entire user experience feel brighter and more alive. It's not just a bit of trite marketing: updating to iOS 7 really does feel like getting a brand new phone.

Bloomberg's Rich Jaroslovsky explained that iOS 7 was likely more suited for the iPhone 5c's range of back cover colors, noting the similarity in the software's schemes. On the whole gave a positive impression of the new software, but failed to go into too many details in his short column.

Though it's plastic, there’s nothing cheap-feeling about it, and the cartoon-like iOS 7 somehow feels more at home when it’s surrounded by one of the five bright new colors: blue, pink, yellow, green and white. (Even the software's background color is set to match the color of the case.)

In closing comments, he stuck to his guns: "There's nothing wrong with either phone. But there's not much that's pulse-quickening about them either."

And if you wanted to round off your iOS 7 coverage, I personally called the latest operating system "an old soul with style and substance," despite my own concerns that Apple had somehow suffered a "mobile mid-life crisis" amid its shockingly bright color schemes and vivid, almost fauvist iconography. 

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