Apple refreshed the iPhone line earlier this month, releasing the iPhone 5s at the top end and the 5c at the low end. So what’s new?

Beyond the flashy and very hard to find gold option, much has changed under the hood of the new phone. The 5s is essentially an entirely new phone inside, sporting a significantly faster processor that will speed up games and also the new graphically intensive iOS 7 operating system.  Here are some of the other new features:

Fingerprint Sensor

Most people don’t secure their phones with a passcode. Maybe it’s because it’s too cumbersome to type in, or perhaps it’s just too much work to configure it.  But the new fingerprint sensor makes locking down the phone easy by simplifying the unlocking process. Just place a finger on the home button and the phone unlocks after about a second.  Misreads are rare and the feature works so well you’ll be wishing your iPad had it too.

Improved Camera

The 5s has a new and improved camera that has a larger photo sensor for higher quality images. The difference in image clarity is immediately noticeable as compared to prior versions of the iPhone, with sharper pictures and better low light performance.  The new multicolor flash produces images with a much improved color balance over prior iPhones and puts it on par with just about any point and shoot camera on the market.

The new processor and faster image sensor also allow for some other features not found on prior iPhones. Most notable is the slow motion video feature that can capture video at 120 frames per second – four times faster than the typical frame rate of 30 frames per second. When played back at normal speeds it produces very high quality slow motion video at 720p resolution. Still images can benefit from the increased speed too. The 5s can now take 10 photos per second at its full 8 megapixel resolution in a burst mode that’s summoned by holding down the shutter button. Once complete the phone will recommend the best shots in the bunch based on focus, smiles, and opened eyes.

M7 Motion Sensor

Fitness trackers like the Fitbit are all the rage. The problem is having to carry it around all the time and keep it charged. The 5s now includes similar technology inside a new motion processor called the M7. It continuously monitors and captures motion data throughout the day and makes it available to apps with the user’s permission. The best part is there is no battery penalty as the new processor was designed to not impact battery life. The best M7 enabled app we’ve tested so far is Argus which combines motion along with other user logged health data. It’s a worthy Fitbit alternative. 

Expect to see much more creative uses of the new processor in the very near future.  Some speculate that the chip will work with future wearable computers Apple might be working on.

What about the iPhone 5c?
The iPhone 5c is the new addition to the iPhone line.  The 5c is essentially last year’s iPhone 5 wrapped in a new (and colorful) plastic casing to reduce manufacturing cost. The 5c will average about $100 less than a similarly configured 5s.

Time to Buy?
Users of the iPhone 4 or older will notice a significant improvement in performance in almost every category. iPhone 4s owners will see some marginal improvements, namely in the camera and screen size.

iPhone 5 users may want to wait another cycle as the app developers will likely need the better part of the year to squeeze what they can out of the new phone’s faster processor.  If the past is any indication, next year’s iPhone will be another major upgrade of the platform. Apple typically releases a new design every two years and incrementally improves the flagship phone in the second year of the product life.

More new Apple devices are on the way too. Apple’s next product announcement is scheduled for October 22, so hold off on tablet purchases until those new products are announced. Apple will likely release a faster iPad mini along with a redesigned larger iPad.