By Heather Kelly
CUPERTINO, California (CNN) — After Apple unveiled a pair of new iPhones Tuesday, Tim Cook & Co. made the phones briefly available for some hands-on (and fingers-on) testing.
Several hundred bloggers and other guests — including musician Elvis Costello, who had been invited by Apple to play a few songs — were ushered to a nearby room to handle the phones.
I got to spend some time playing with both devices. An in-depth review will have to wait, but here are my first impressions.
Design of the iPhone 5S
The body of the iPhone 5S is the same shape and design at the iPhone 5, but the company has rolled out some new color options. The rumored golden iPhone is real, and a very classy champagne shade of fake gold. The face of the phone is all glass over the screen and surrounding white frame, while the muted gold is only visible on the sides and back.
The 5S also comes in silver and another new color Apple is calling “space gray.” The gray iPhone is the only one in the 5S lineup that has a black faceplate instead of white.
The most intriguing new hardware feature on the 5S is the fingerprint sensor in its Home button. It doesn’t replace the old pass code and can even be turned off. The phone can be unlocked by using either a fingerprint or the code, so if you hand a friend your phone while you’re driving, you can just tell them what number to enter.
Each phone can record up to five individual fingerprints — say one for each member of the family you don’t mind using it (maybe purposefully leaving out the kids). To add a new print, you first must enter your security code. Pick a finger, preferably the one you use most to press the Home button. For most people, this will be their thumb.
To record a print, you place your finger on the home button until it vibrates and then lift and repeat. This goes on for a number of times as it gets a full image of the finger. It also grabs a few impressions of the sides of your finger for a complete picture.
To open the phone with a fingerprint, you press the Home button down as usual but then keep the finger on the small circle. It will automatically skip the pass code screen and take you to the home screen. You also can use a fingerprint to pay for purchases from the App Store or iTunes.
It worked seamlessly when I tested it, though adding new profiles takes a bit of time. But it’s a much faster way to open the phone than entering a pass code, and there is no “reading your print now” type of delay on screen.
The new camera on the iPhone 5S is packed with a number of legitimately cool new features, the result of software and hardware improvements.
The new burst mode, which takes rapid-fire photos at a rate of 10 per second, is meant for capturing moving subjects such as twitchy children or sprinting athletes. I took 40 shots in four seconds — so many that scrolling through them created a neat time-lapse video effect.
You can dig through all 40 images yourself to find the winners, but Apple has added a feature that identifies what it thinks are the best in the bunch automatically based on things such as exposure, blur and if the subject’s eyes are open. Out of the 40 images, two were highlighted with a small gray dot. In the camera roll, the burst photos were lumped together in one pile so I could easily delete all the extras after I picked my final shots.
With another new feature, I tried making a slow-motion video. The camera can record 120 frames per second, which is helpful for slowing down and stretching out detailed scenes. You scroll to the Slow-Mo setting before shooting the video. After the clip is recorded, you choose what section of it to slow down. The final video looked impressively professional, even though it was just of tech bloggers milling about a room.
The room was a bit too bright to accurately test out the new flash. Apple claims the flash will automatically adjust color and intensity depending on the subject and lighting situation. It has two different colored LED lights instead of the usual one. A better flash would be a welcome improvement over the traditional LED flashes on iPhones (and most other smartphones) that flood scenes with harsh light.
The faster processor inside the 5S means everything is zippier, including the graphics. This is the case with every new iPhone, so it’s hard to tell how much of an upgrade this one is. But the high-end game apps did look rich.
Apple is calling the the new graphics “console level,” so next time we’ll have to test it head to head with an Xbox.
The lower-priced iPhone 5C doesn’t have as many fancy new hardware features. Instead, its pizazz is mostly on the outside. Apple rounded the corners down and encased the 5C in a smooth hard plastic shell instead of metal. Plastic has a reputation of being cheap and breakable, but Apple is pitching this as high-end plastic.
Apple design head Jony Ive even says, “The iPhone 5C is beautifully, unapologetically plastic.”
The polycarbonate body does feel sturdier than other plastic phones, and the phone still has bit of weight to it. The entire back side of the phone is one seamless piece of plastic and comes in blue, green, pink, yellow and white. The colors look subdued in press images, but in person the green and pink are a bit more fluorescent and bright.
Apparently Apple didn’t think one super bright color was enough, so it also created a line of $29 soft silicon shells for the 5C. The blue, green, pink, yellow, black and white cases have a grid of holes in the back so you can see the original shade of the 5C through them as lines of dots.
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