iOS 12 surprisingly breathes new life into my iPhone 5S
We test the oldest iPhone able to run Apple's newest OS.
Patrick HollandManaging Editor
Patrick Holland has been a phone reviewer for CNET since 2016. He is a former theater director who occasionally makes short films. Patrick has an eye for photography and a passion for everything mobile. He is a colorful raconteur who will guide you through the ever-changing, fast-paced world of phones, especially the iPhone and iOS. He used to co-host CNET's I'm So Obsessed podcast and interviewed guests like Jeff Goldblum, Alfre Woodard, Stephen Merchant, Sam Jay, Edgar Wright and Roy Wood Jr.
Patrick's play The Cowboy is included in the Best American Short Plays 2011-12 anthology. He co-wrote and starred in the short film Baden Krunk that won the Best Wisconsin Short Film award at the Milwaukee Short Film Festival.
In the past, if you had an old iPhone, updating to the latest operating system was a bit of a gamble. Software bugs might pop up or performance might slow down. But iOS 12 does the opposite. It's not a glitzy feature-packed update. Instead, it does a lot of behind-the-scene housekeeping that actually makes the iPhone 5S faster. It's a welcomed update and I definitely recommend downloading it.
iPhone 5S with iOS 12 is fast
In 2013, the iPhone 5S launched with the A7 chip, the first 64-bit processor in any smartphone. Though it's 5 years old, that same processor allows the phone to run Apple's newest OS.
I should note that I didn't see huge improvements across all apps. Facebook, Maps and Weather showed little to no noticeable speed boosts. But unlike previous major
updates, the iPhone 5S never felt bogged down.
Below are actions where I observed speed improvements when running iOS 12:
iOS 12 vs. iOS 11
How much faster was iOS 12 than iOS 11
Opening Safari (completely loading CNET.com)
Slide to open camera from lock screen
Keyboard pops up (in Messages)
Share sheet comes up (in Safari)
Siri completing a request
Get new features for your iPhone 5S
There are a bunch of new features in iOS 12 available for younger iPhones, but some are left off from the 5S. You won't find Animoji, Memoji, AR app support, the Measure app or Message photo filters.
However, I did gain pretty much everything else including new Don't Disturb options in
and Screen Time to view how much I used my phone and apps. Here are a few other notable additions to the iPhone 5S:
It's not the sexiest feature, but grouping notifications by app is a huge step toward getting more out of that 4-inch screen. And there is something satisfying about dismissing a bunch of notifications with a single swipe from the lock screen.
Group FaceTime Calls
The good news is you can now talk to 32 of your iPhone-owning friends via FaceTime at once. The downside is that the iPhone 5S only supports audio Group FaceTime calls. I tried Group FaceTime call with 28 people and it worked, albeit it was chaotic with that many people talking.
Customize Control Center
I like being able to customize what's in the Control Center Panel. I added buttons for screen recording, QR scans, the magnifier and Apple Wallet.
New battery graphs
No matter how good this software upgrade is, there's no getting around the fact that I'm using a phone with a 5-year-old battery. So I welcome any and all information I can get about what's draining it. Under the battery menu in Settings, there is a graph showing your phone's battery level since the last charge. Another graph shows off activity.
Consider this before upgrading
Despite my overwhelmingly positive time with iOS 12 on my iPhone 5S, there are a couple things to be wary about before you upgrade.
Whether it's via iCloud or just though iTunes, be sure to backup your data. Hopefully you already backup your phone, but in case it's been awhile, take the time to protect your information before taking the leap to iOS 12.
Next, check your storage. Your phone needs roughly 2GB of space to install iOS 12. To do this, go into Settings > General > Storage & iCloud Usage. There you can view how much storage your phone has and what's using it. If you need more room, there are a bunch of things you can remove to open up space.
Last, despite iOS 12 speeding up things on your phone, it does take time to download and install. I recommend starting the process before you go to bed, or while you're doing something else like laundry or cleaning the house. You can also load iOS 12 onto your phone via iTunes which is much faster.
Once you clear all these hurdles and get iOS 12 on your phone, enjoy your new-ish tiny phone that Apple managed to keep afloat after so many years.