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TECHNOLOGY

Tested: The Apple iPhone 5S

Contributing editor John Brandon spends a week with the latest iPhone. Here's how it measures up.
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Faster, smarter, thinner--some of the hype surrounding the gadgets we use everyday starts to sound like an infomercial on late-night television after a while. Each new release promises to make incremental improvements on the last version. After testing the new iPhone 5S for a week, there's no question Apple is ready to fend off the Android attack. The device is remarkably similar to the iPhone 5 and yet a major leap forward in terms of business acumen.

The Features

First, the basics. The iPhone 5S is the first smartphone to use a 64-bit chipset, which means apps don't consume so much memory. In practice, it means the phone feels snappier. You can run multiple apps and switch between them faster. (A double-tap on the Home button now shows you a panel of open apps.) In my tests, everything from Evernote to Skype seemed to pop up on the phone faster without any delays.

Apple also added a new motion sensor to the iPhone 5S. For start-ups thinking of tapping into this chip, there's a ton of potential. Fitness apps and trackers can sense when you are walking or moving around without the phone's main processor even running. Only a few apps currently tap into this chip so far.

The new iOS 7 is a stark departure from previous iOS versions. There's more of an emphasis on color without as much shadowing on icons. I love this look, but be aware that minus the shadowing some of the icons tend to look pretty similar, so it might take a little longer to find what you're looking for, at least at first.

Siri now seems to understand a wider variety of voice commands. For example, you can ask Siri to turn off Bluetooth or read your tweets. Even so, I'd argue Google Now on Android phones responds in more of a natural dialogue, reading back Web results and understanding better the context of questions. (For example, if you ask Siri about a museum and then ask where it is, she won't really get it. You will just see info about museums.) Siri does understand context for built-in services like weather (asking "what is the weather in Fargo" followed by "how about this weekend" will work) and movie listings. Also, if you get an email from someone and say "call her" then Siri will understand you mean the email sender.

The biggest change on this model, released on September 20, is the new fingerprint scanner built into the Home button. I'm all in favor of new techniques to ward off hackers. I'm going to leave the debate about whether it really works to the security experts out there. In my tests with the scanner, it seemed to work reliably. There's a new feature that's part of iOS 7 called Activation Lock that lets you disable the phone and remove all data if the phone is stolen (however, some have questioned this feature as well.)

Another seemingly minor change has to do with the Apple iWork suite. These apps include Pages (a word processing and page layout program), Keynote (for presentations), and Numbers (for spreadsheets) that normally cost $9.99 each. If you buy the new iPhone 5S you can grab the suite for free (sorry, if you already have an older iOS device--they are not free for you.) For a start-up that relies on these productivity apps for your employees, that's a nice savings--especially if you are upgrading everyone all at once.

Some of the features on the iPhone 5S reveal themselves over time. One feature I found: it's now easier to share photos on sites like Flickr. If you're at an event, you can snap photos and then share batches of images with people who were not able to attend.

For business travel, there are some new tricks. The new iOS 7 (which anyone can download for an older iPhone) has new pull-down (and pull-up) menus and notifications. You can quickly see if someone has tweeted about you. These new menus are especially helpful when you're on a plane and need to quickly disable Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to save battery and to enable airplane mode. There's also a cool flashlight app that casts a bright glow for those overnight flights.

The iPhone 5S, which comes in grey/black, white/silver, and white/gold, costs $199 for the 16GB version on contract. It's available on the four major carriers (Sprint, AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile) and is the same size as the previous iPhone 5.

The Verdict

For the most part, it's a fast and business-friendly smartphone. The main question is, should you upgrade? That's really a matter of evaluating how much you'll benefit from the fingerprint reader and the free iWork suite. Some of the best features in iOS 7 will work fine on an iPhone 5.

My opinion hasn't changed much since the iPhone first became home to innovative apps a few years ago. I still think the device makes a lot of sense for business. If you already like iPhones, it makes sense to continue on the upgrade path, especially if you want access to up-and-coming applications--new apps, such as Donna and Cue (recently acquired by Apple), seem to pop up on Apple products before they show up on the Android phones and tablets. Even features pop up in iPhone apps first, like the new Post-It Note feature in Evernote.

But there are a few caveats. There are only a small handful of 64-bit apps so far--like Autodesk Sketchbook Pro and a few games. Few apps use the new motion control chip. Many Android phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S4 offer more robust security features that fit better in a business setting, including Samsung KNOX which creates a separate container for your work and personal files.

But I like the move into better security on the iPhone 5S with the fingerprint reader. The phone is super-fast and runs on a brand new, eye-catching mobile OS. For business users, this is the smartphone to buy if keeping your finger (ahem) on the pulse of mobile tech is important.

Last updated: Oct 18, 2013

JOHN BRANDON | Columnist

John Brandon is a contributing editor at Inc. magazine covering technology. He writes the Tech Report column for Inc.com.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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