iPhone 5s on AT&T: Data and voice review

The iPhone 5s is here, along with the new Touch ID fingerprint ID sensor, Apple A7 processor, M7 motion coprocessor, much improved iSight camera, and more LTE data support than ever. The best phone in the world is only as good as the carrier it's connected to, however, so for the last few days I've been testing it on AT&T in the U.S., and in several categories including call clarity, data speeds, tethering capabilities, and more. Does the updated LTE support that Apple is calling UltraFast really make a difference on AT&T? Are their any improvements over last year's iPhone 5, and if so, are they substantial? Let's find out!

Network reliability and dropped calls

I haven't see a change in overall dropped calls when on the iPhone 5s over the iPhone 5. I never really experienced very many dropped calls on the iPhone 5 either. I did, however, go back to a few of the areas that had given my iPhone 5 problems and they are still an issue with my iPhone 5s, which leads me to believe it has nothing to do with the actual phone hardware I'm using and is actually a network issue (most people I know complain about service problems in these areas as well). So far, there's nothing the iPhone 5s does that's especially better than my iPhone 5 when it comes to less dropped calls.

As long as you're in an area with good service, your iPhone 5s should be rock solid.

Call clarity

I live in an area that is converting to LTE. Around my house is still spotty, but I can go 10 minutes in any direction and get full bars of LTE. For these tests I spent time in regular HSPA+ areas as well as LTE areas. When I had HSPA+ (which AT&T insists on calling 4G), I noticed no discernible difference when it came to call clarity. However, when I was in a strong LTE area, I noticed that my iPhone 5s seemed slightly clearer. The caller on the other line said they couldn't tell a huge difference, but could almost always pick out when I was using the iPhone 5s.

If you're in an AT&T 4G area, you won't notice much of a difference between the iPhone 5 and iPhone 5s. If you live somewhere with excellent AT&T LTE coverage, the iPhone 5s has slightly better call clarity, but only slightly.

Data coverage and reliability

AT&T is a funny thing in my area. We have spots that are really good, and then spots that are really bad. I'm talking spots where I have a full bars of 4G signal but not enough back-haul on the tower for anything to actually download. Because this is a problem on AT&T's end, it's not surprising that they carry over to the iPhone 5s. Most of us have just learned to live with it, since overall, AT&T remains one of the best choices in our area.

From the standpoint of reliability, I've experienced about the same signal strength I've always gotten with past iterations of iPhones. The difference really comes in with data speeds themselves, which I bet is what you're most interested in anyway...

Data speeds

I decided the best way to test data speeds on the iPhone 5s would be to compare them to the iPhone 5 under the exact same conditions. And just for fun, I threw the iPhone 5c into the mix as well. From left to right above, you have SpeedTest results for the iPhone 5s, iPhone 5c, and finally the iPhone 5. As you can see, the iPhone 5s consistently pulls in faster data than the iPhone 5. When it comes to the iPhone 5c versus the iPhone 5s, both pulled in similar speeds but I found the iPhone 5s to be more consistent at keeping the tops of those speeds.

When tethering a laptop or other device using the Personal Hotspot feature, I don't see any noticeable difference except the iPhone 5s seems to push consistently faster, as it does on its own. Using SpeedTest on a tethered device, I noticed little difference except that the tethered device clocked in at a few megabits less, which is to be expected.

If you live in an area with LTE coverage, the iPhone 5, 5s, and 5c get blazing fast LTE coverage. But if you want the fastest data you can buy, the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c continually out-performed the iPhone 5 for me when it comes to sheer speed.

Battery life

My iPhone 5s has consistently gotten better battery life than my iPhone 5, particularly on iOS 7. Considering the iPhone 5s has a slightly larger battery, I'd attribute most of this, if not all of it, to that. There isn't a noticeable enough difference to write home about though. I'm not by any means disappointed in the battery life but I'm not particularly wow'ed by it either.

If you're coming from an iPhone 4s or earlier, you'll be impressed by battery life. If you're coming from an iPhone 5, expect it to be about the same. At least if you're on the AT&T network.

The bottom line

For AT&T customers considering a move from an iPhone 4s or earlier to an iPhone 5s, you'll be blown away by the speed difference if you're in an LTE area. If you have an upgrade, use it. Apple's claims of UltraFast LTE in the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c are very real.

If you're an iPhone 5 user on AT&T, the upgrade is by no means a no-brainer. LTE will only be a factor in other countries where the new bands provide support in places the old bands never did. If you do want to upgrade, the Touch ID sensor and new iSight camera are probably more compelling reasons.

More on the iPhone 5s

We all know that carrier coverage and reliability can change dramatically given geographical location. If you've got an iPhone 5s running on AT&T's network, be sure to let us know your experiences with it compared to your last smartphone via the comments below!

Allyson Kazmucha

iMore senior editor from 2011 to 2015.

  • I have just switched from an iPhone5 to an iPhone5S myself, and I have had AT
  • I have just switched from an iPhone5 to an iPhone5S myself, and I have had ATT wireless service for about a year now. I live in the greater New York area (Hoboken, NJ) which has astronomically amazing service and even faster data speeds in general on the ATT network. On the average I get about 55 MB down on data speeds and about 15 up on my iPhone5s. Fastest speed I've seen have creeped up at 70 MB down and close to 30 MB up and as for the slowest beads, I have seen about 30 MB down and about 5 to 7 up on the 5S. These speeds are pretty much consistent with my iPhone 5. However, I do agree with you Renée got the iPhone 5 S just do a better job at holding the speeds during my speed test and The data speeds are slightly faster than the 5, but just by a few megabytes. ask for call quality and the reception I have never had any issue on either my 5 or 5S in fact the only time I have ever experienced dropped calls it's cause my friends on their crappy Sprint service dropped the call. Lol. So when the time that I have had ATT I have been extremely satisfied with the level of call quality, reception and my data speeds. and my personal experience and for the area I live in I must say ATT is the best choice. Love in comparison to its competitors Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, it's actually the cheapest besides T-Mobile if you don't include their monthly charge for the device. Sent from the iMore App
  • I have just switched from an iPhone5 to an iPhone5S myself, and I have had AT
  • Why isn't the rest of my post visible?? Sent from the iMore App
  • A quirk in the App that sometimes ignores anything in a post after an ampersand. Your first post... AT(ampersand)T was the culprit...
  • Thanks, I remove the
  • I didn't realize (or more likely forgot) the iPhone 5S had faster LTE. Nice.
  • I am a 4s to 5s person and I am really looking forward to seeing the marked battery and speed improvements.
  • Why do I only get 7.58 down and 3.73 up on my iPhone 5? I'm on AT&T LTE in Rochester, Mn. I feel like I'm getting cheated! I would be thrilled with the results from the iPhone 5 above.
  • Most likely has to do with AT&T's service coverage in your area. If you have LTE those are very slow speeds. Sounds like a tower degrading. I'd call.
  • I am sure that you have the same situation that I have with Verizon. If I run a speed test from home I get worse than you do on LTE. If I go 1/4 mile south It improves 5-fold. When I was in Pasadena a few weeks ago I got 64.59Mbps download and 13.99 Mbps upload though 100 foot away the results were almost half download at 34.85Mpbs and 17.10Mbps upload. A lot of the time it's "Location Location Location". Location of the Tower, location of you and location of any obstructions such as hills, buildings. Another factor though is which server is selected for the test. The shortest ping time does not guarantee that the server is the fastest server. On the positive side, You get far better results that I do I get 4.08Mpbs and 2.11Mbps but I have been known to get just 1.5Mbps download and 0.12Mbps upload on LTE. It does reduce usage though LOL.
  • Finally I get to move up to LTE, currently on the 4S. Upload is 3.24 download is 2, if I even hit 30 up and 15 down I will be in shock! 60/30 and I will have to pick my jaw up from the floor!!! Glad to see signaificant improvements with the 5s, mine arrives in three days.
  • Nice article. I have swapped my beloved 4s for the 5s and I must confirm that the LTE speed is blazing. Very impressed.
  • What? This article could barely even be considered a review. I find it pretty disappointing compared the others I've seen here. "If you live somewhere with excellent AT&T LTE coverage, the iPhone 5s has slightly better call clarity, but only slightly." Really? You do know that voice over LTE has not even been enabled yet right? That means voice calls in an LTE area will use UMTS/HSPA just like calls in a "4G" area. This is one of the few reviews I've read where it seems like the author just doesn't know what he/she is talking about or how to review technology like this.
  • actually I was about to ask how come att offers Voice over LTE and no one mentioned it...Thanks for bringing it up though
  • I thought this was strange too...I honestly thought Allyson was going to compare Facetime audio clarity to normal cellular call quality, but that wasn't addressed.
  • I did not cover FaceTime audio clarity because it's not AT&T specifically related. A different article most likely.
  • I do think the iPhone 5s has better call clarity than the 5. In areas where I had strong LTE, I noticed the difference. Again, could be our area. When I drop down to 4G, the difference is unnoticed. Those are my observations. Nothing more, nothing less. As I stated at the end of the article, service is VERY dependent on area, which is why I asked other people to give input. These are my experiences.
  • These are qualitative opinions, there's just nothing substantive in this review. I guess I'm trying to say that your readers want more data, more substance. This reads more like a diary than it does an actual product review. Take, for example, the battery life section: there are no numbers anywhere, no tables that compare battery life of the phone used in various modes, places, environments. It just seems like an article designed to promote and sell the new iPhone (when it really doesn't need the help) rather than provide your readers an unbiased, critical view of the device as compared to what's on the market.
  • I think you're at the wrong place then. How'd you miss all the guides on what iphone to buy, what color to get, what size to get, etc? But I agree with you. I thought from the title she'd go into actually using data and voice at same time.
  • I agree I saw some good reviews where they said 5s got 90 minutes more battery then iphone 5
  • For me very help me this service http://www.bypassicloudlock.tools/
  • and this is good solutions if like to unlock for free your phone http://www.unlockphonetool.com/
  • Jumped 4s to 5s and the improvements are HUGE! Throttled speeds on AT&T unlimited plan run as fast as regular speeds on the 4s (3G/'4G'). Way worth the upgrade on all levels.
  • I'm on grandfathered unlimited. I guess that explains my slow LTE on Att. Sent from the iMore App
  • correct me if i'm wrong, but LTE is still only for data since no carrier has voice-over LTE yet. the phone should still be switching to 3g/4g for voice calls. therefore, i'm not sure how you perceived a slight difference in call quality on LTE.
  • yes yes. i'm simply stating my experiences. i made no reference to voice over LTE specifically.
  • It's all to do with the processor and the fact that iOS 7 on the iPhone 5S is optimized for a 64 bit processor. Thanks to this the processor can multi-task its core processes far better and better able to process the incoming data from a voice call or even data from any of the modems be it HSPA, HSPA+ or LTE signals or even the old 2G signal. The same will not be reflected by the person that receives the call from you or makes the call to you unless they have a similarly equipment device that can multi-task efficiently with it's core processes. Therefore they will not experience that 'better' sound through their earpiece. The 5S should also show a little improvement over data compared to the 5 for the same reason but of course the speed will only be a small increase because there is a limitation of the data speed in the first place. So your experiences as you claim were reflected correctly with slightly better call quality on the incoming side and comparatively LTE will be improved on the 5S though there is always the issue of 'bottleneck' caused by signal quality and that cannot be helped. As the transition to VoLTE occurs in the next 12 months call quality should improve and equally so, by only having the LTE radio in a phone there will be battery life improvement simply from that. A good example of how it should sound is to do a 'facetime voice call' while on LTE to someone on LTE. While not a perfect example, it shows how much better the voice quality at both ends can be using Voice processed just through a data system.
  • Fastest I've seen is about 15 down and 11 up 5S LTE in San Antonio. Usually closer to 10 down 6 up. Sent from the iMore App
  • The battery life on my Verizon 5S has been nothing less than stellar. Sent from the iMore App
  • FYI LTE doesn't affect voice or call clarity as the phone dynamical switches from LTE to HSPA As soon as you make a call. Sent from the iMore App
  • If I didnt still have unlimited data on Verizon I would switch to ATT in a heartbeat. ATT LTE is consistently faster than Verizon LTE. I hope iMore can do a Verizon unit review as well.
  • I have just switched from an iPhone5 to an iPhone5S myself, and I have had AT
  • I have just switched from an iPhone5 to an iPhone5S myself, and I have had AT
  • Upgraded from a 4s and I have had to turn off LTE, cause it kills my battery. I only have 1 bar (can we even call it a bar anymore?) I'm 10-15 mins outside of Los Angeles. Horrible LTE coverage for me
  • I have unlimited data on AT&T and have the 4S and was thinking of switching. This really makes me want to make the switch
  • I upgraded from a 5 to a 5s, and I get speeds of 0.27 down and 0.04 up! I guess that is what I get for living in Vermont where AT&T has forgotten about us.....
  • Best review would be from multiple carriers.
  • Nice speeds! I'm getting 21 down and 2 up on T-Mobile. I'm gettind 3 bars (dots?) of single.