I recently described what it was like to live with the iPhone 5s for a week. Those observations haven't changed. I stand by all those statements.
Some background: I paid full price for the iPhone 5s because I didn't want to extend my contract. That means I spent more than $900 on the device including Apple Care and an upgrade to the 32-GB model. That's a lot of money. I already own an iPhone 5, which I purchased last year. The iPhone 5 runs iOS 7, which is the same operating system on the 5s.
The biggest reason I returned the iPhone 5s is because it didn't offer a different experience from the iPhone 5. Aside from the Touch ID fingerprint sensor, there was no obvious change in how the device performed. Sure, the 5s has a slightly better camera and faster processor, but the difference in performance is hardly noticeable. If you look at it from this angle, I spent $900 to get a fingerprint sensor. Let me tell you something: I don't need a fingerprint sensor on my smartphone. At least, not right now.
[ More iPhone shopping advice: 5 Questions To Ask Before Buying A New iPhone. ]
Also, the iPhone 5 offers several things the 5s does not. For starters, it is free of bugs. iOS 7 runs flawlessly on the iPhone 5. iOS 7 on the 5s was a bug-ridden mess. Apps crashed constantly, and the 5s was prone to random reboots. Reboots are rather inconvenient when you're speaking to someone on the phone. Speaking of the phone, the call quality on the iPhone 5 is slightly better than on the 5s. It has a warmer sound that I prefer over the 5s.
Another gripe I have is Apple's entire concept of keeping the same design for its smartphones for two years. The 5s is identical to the iPhone 5 in size, shape and basic appearance, save for the color. The iPhone 4 and 4S were identical, as were the iPhone 3G and 3GS. I find this approach to be lazy. Don't get me wrong -- I fully appreciate how much work goes into designing smartphones and all the engineering needed to make everything fit into such a tiny space. One look at Apple's competitors, however, and it's hard for me to digest Apple's strategy.
Samsung brings dozens of new smartphones to the market each year, all of which have their own design. Samsung makes iterative updates to its products too, but when you look at the progression of hardware such as the Galaxy Note, Note 2 and Note 3, you see marked improvements year over year. Same with the GS4 and other Samsung devices. The same can be said of LG, Motorola, Nokia, HTC and other phone makers.
Surely Apple could create a unique phone each year. It simply chooses not to. I understand its thinking and strategy here, but as a consumer and as a tech journalist, I want to see Apple do more.
If I am going to pay between $500 and $900 for a smartphone each year, I want it to be different from the one I had before. With the iPhone 5s, there simply isn't enough of a difference for it to be worth the money. If you're upgrading from an iPhone 4s, it's a big step up. If you're coming from an iPhone 5, it's more of the same. If Apple decides to make an iPhone with a bigger screen or some other major alteration to the hardware, then perhaps I'll buy it and stick with it. From now on, however, I plan to skip Apple's "S" years.