Five disappointing things about the iPhone 5S

Except for the fingerprint scanner, Apple's latest iPhone is its least innovative yet. Here are the five biggest misfires.

Rick Broida Senior Editor
Rick Broida is the author of numerous books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes CNET's popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Travelers Podcast (about the TV show Travelers). He lives in Michigan, where he previously owned two escape rooms (chronicled in the ebook "I Was a Middle-Aged Zombie").
Rick Broida
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Watch this: iPhone 5S disappointments

Is it too soon to start building an iPhone 6 wish list?

Because the iPhone 5S, which Apple announced today (along with the cheaper iPhone 5C) to the surprise of no one, represents perhaps the least exciting and most disappointing iPhone update yet.

Indeed, just as the iPhone 4S was little more than an iPhone 4 with a few minor upgrades, the iPhone 5S is little more than an iPhone 5 with a few minor upgrades. I'll cop to liking the fingerprint sensor, which adds a much-needed security option for folks who typically don't bother with passcodes and potentially a much faster option for those who do.

(I say potentially because it remains to be seen just how quickly a scan gets recognized and unlocks the phone. A swipe and tap-tap-tap to put in a passcode might turn out to be just as fast.)

But overall, I find little here to get excited about, and no motivation to trade up from my 4S. Here are the five things I find disappointing about the iPhone 5S:

1. The screen remains the same

As I noted back in August, Apple needed to do just one thing to keep me as an iPhone customer: enlarge the screen. I'm not looking for an iPhablet, mind you, just something in the Galaxy S4 range to better accommodate my aging eyes.

Alas, it wasn't to be. The iPhone 5S has the same screen dimensions as the iPhone 5, which is merely half an inch taller than my iPhone 4S. I'm afraid that's a big no-sale for me.

2. A faster processor? It's just a phone!

The A7 chip sure has a lot of fancy specs. But what's the benefit to the user?
The A7 chip sure has a lot of fancy specs. But what's the benefit to the user? CNET

Remember how in the early days of desktop computing, we all chased faster and faster processors, then stopped caring because they got fast enough? That's how I feel about smartphone processors.

If you watched today's Apple presentation, perhaps you noticed that Phil Schiller spent a lot of time talking about the new A7 chip's specs -- its 64-bit architecture, billion-plus transistors, and so on-- and very little talking about how they benefit the user. Know why? Because for the most part, they don't. A faster processor may help with certain games and apps, but it will also consume more power -- which is why Apple said almost nothing about the iPhone 5S' battery life. Speaking of which...

3. No improvement to battery life

I don't need or want a faster processor in my phone, and I suspect the same is true for 98 percent of all users. What I do need is a bigger, better battery. The iPhone 5S doesn't have one.

Yes, Apple managed to deliver more or less the same talk, video, Internet, and standby times despite including a faster processor, but that's not an improvement. That's treading water while carrying more weight.

4. Still no 128GB model

I've never understood why Apple doesn't offer this option. Most users carry growing libraries of apps, games, music, movies, and the like, but Apple has never seen fit to push past the 64GB limit for iPhone storage. Most Android phones have a microSD slot that allows virtually unlimited storage -- maybe not in a big contiguous chunk, but at least you have the extra breathing room if you need it.

Schiller talked up the iPhone 5S as the "gold standard" of smartphones. So where's the 128GB option many users have spent years clamoring for?

5. A little catch-up, very little innovation

There's no question Apple's fingerprint reader will garner lots of attention in the coming days, and with good reason: it's an innovative feature -- arguably the iPhone's first real hardware innovation in years.

But it still feels, well, small. Maybe that's inevitable; maybe we've seen just about everything a smartphone can do, and small, incremental improvements are all that's left. On the other hand, aren't we all waiting for Apple to wow us again? When was the last time that happened?

The iPhone 5S has exactly what was expected: a faster processor and a better camera (one that merely catches up to the cameras in some other phones). Those features aren't "wow" -- they're "meh."

Your take?

What do you think? Am I being too hard on the 5S? Or do you agree it's a disappointing also-ran from a company that has lost its innovative edge? What features were you hoping for that you didn't get? Hit up the comments with your feedback.