As it turns out, everything that we'd seen from the rumors were true: the iPhone 5s is faster, of course, with a dual-LED flash and the much-vaunted fingerprint scanner on the home button. And yes, it comes in a gold color, which actually looks better in person compared with the many leaked images we've seen. After all that, however, you would be hard-pressed to distinguish the iPhone 5s from the iPhone 5 — if you are picking one up in "Space Gray" or white, the only visible difference will be the ring around your home button and the slightly larger flash.
Starting with that home button, it's now made of sapphire so that it can act as a reliable fingerprint reader. It's not nearly as concave as previous models — in fact, it's almost flat. Luckily, it still maintains a nice, tactile feel when you click on it and we don't foresee anybody running into any issues. We watched the fingerprint sensor unlock the phone quickly and easily (though we didn't get to try it ourselves), but presumably these were ideal conditions with iPhones that were fully acclimated to their handlers. That's not to say we don't think the fingerprint scanner will be a great and fast experience for most users — Apple has clearly put more effort into this sensor than the failures we've seen on some Android phones — but we can't vouch for it until we've tried it ourselves.
The new A7 processor is fast
Another big change on the iPhone 5s is the new A7 processor, but it's pretty hard to get a solid feel on whether or not Apple's claims about increased speed are real or not — one-to-one comparisons with an iPhone 5 running iOS 6 aren't especially helpful because there are so many other optimizations under the hood of iOS, including the new 64-bit architecture. That said, everything felt fast and fluid — although the animations in iOS 7 are still a little slow to our tastes — but scrolling in the new Safari was better than before, if only by a tiny amount.
We couldn't really give the new camera, nor its improved dual-LED flash, a test under tough conditions — Apple actually lights its hands-on areas so you can see the products. That's great for getting impressions of a device, but not for putting the camera under stress. All that said, the quick snaps we took were at least up to par with the iPhone 5's standard. If Apple's claims about improved processing and larger-sized pixels on its sensor pan out, the iPhone 5s, like its predecessor, will have the best smartphone camera for the average user on the market.
This is definitely a refining year for Apple
Apple has pursued a "Tick Tock" strategy with the iPhone even since the 3GS: innovate in a big way one year, refine the next. This is definitely a refining year for Apple, but all of the refinements on the iPhone 5s are solid. That fingerprint reader might end up being a bigger deal than you'd think. I certainly wouldn't mind getting the three-dozen half-seconds a day I lose to punching in a passcode back. It's not much time, but it is a cognitive interruption to what you're trying to accomplish. Even if you think the 5s is a minor upgrade, it's one that's easily worth it for people still using an older iPhone like the 4S or the iPhone 4.