In-depth review: Apple's iPhone 5c running iOS 7

Posted:
in iPhone edited January 2014
Apple's iPhone 5c delivers a colorful new option in an improved, mid-level iPhone intended to compete against $99, subsidized Android phones.

iPhone 5c


iPhone 5c makes some noteworthy enhancements to Apple's formerly bestselling iPhone 5, which over the last year has been both the world's top selling iPhone and top selling smartphone: a slightly enhanced front facing camera, a bit larger battery, new radio baseband components providing broader LTE carrier coverage and a new scuff-resistant, polished plastic case available in a series of vibrant colors.

iPhone 5c


It's not a major feature update to iPhone 5 in the sense that the premium iPhone 5s is; instead, it's a repackaging designed to deliver the features of the original 5 at a lower cost, providing a compelling alternative to phones such as the HTC One X, Google's Moto X, Samsung's Galaxy S4 and Nokia's Lumia 1020, all of which use similar 32-bit processors, with less impressive battery life and a far more limited selection of high quality or exclusive first and third party apps.

iPhone 5s, 5c features

iPhone 5c: five colors

A primary selling point of iPhone 5c is that, like the iPod touch, it comes in a variety of colors. Unlike the iPod, it's built using an innovative new process that forms a single, seamless plastic back with an integrated metal framework. The back is then lacquer coated and polished to glossy, ceramic-like finish, as Apple demonstrated in launch video.



The result is a device that doesn't feel "plasticy" like the iPhone 3G did or as most competing Android phones do. It also feels less delicately precious as iPhone 5 and the new 5s. Rather than sporting gleaming chamfered edges, the 5c has a simple, seamless, solid feel that you might feel more comfortable using without a protective case.

iPhone 5c


The new build gives iPhone 5c a slightly thicker body. It doesn't feel thick, but its just enough larger that it its cases aren't really interchangeable with the original 5 or 5s. The new leather cases Apple debuted are slightly too snug for the 5c's volume buttons to work, while conversely the 5c's new silicon case feels a bit loose wrapped around the 5 or 5s.



The iPhone 5c comes in white or a series of bright colors: pink, yellow, blue or green. The case colors match the palette of iOS 7 (highlighted in the video below), and Apple even sets a default gradient-pattered background that matches your case color. You'll likely want to change that right away because the grid pattern exaggerates motion parallax in a way that is not very pleasing, unlike the at least interesting universe of stars on the default background set for iPhone 5s. The default background image color is however reflected through iOS 7's translucent panels, helping further blur the line between hardware and software.



The mix and match colors Apple offers in its silicon cases for the 5c are designed to enable users to personalize or accessorize their phone as they like, a primary selling point borrowed from the iPod family. The new colored iPhone strategy is also a big jump away from Apple's typical affinity for selling as few SKUs as possible; the company jumped from two color choices across its iPhone family to eight: five for the 5c and three more for the 5s.

Managing inventory across different colors is a talent Apple practiced with the iPod touch rollout last year, and across the simpler iPod nano and shuffle models over previous years. Developing two entirely different new iPhone models this year may likely be in itself an experiment in building out more variety among its iPhone offerings, experience the company will need when it decides to begin offering a wider range of device sizes.

iPhone 5c

iPhone 5c


Outfitted in one of the new silicon cases, iPhone 5c feels bigger and right on the border of childlike. It also feels even less fragile, as if it could survive some rough treatment. There's not much protection for the screen however, although the rubbery case does provide a raised lip around the glass front that should help prevent cracks from drops.

The leather cases for the 5 and 5s have a much more serious feel to them, more like an attache case or the upholstery in luxury car. It's too bad the two devices are just different enough in size so that you can't interchange them in order to span from playful to dressy. There are, of course, a wide variety of third party case offerings available.

iPhone 5c


Flip the iPhone 5c around and its screen, Home button and interface provide an experience identical to iPhone 5, and very similar to the nicer 5s, which has a much faster A7 chip that's only really noticeable when using specialized apps and with the camera. The other primary difference is Touch ID, meaning that 5c buyers will have to type in a security code to unlock or make purchases, like an animal.

What's new: Camera

Over the last year, iPhone 5 rapidly became not only the most popular smartphone, but also the most popular camera, according to statistics from Flickr.

iPhone 5c


Apple has rapidly improved the iPhone's camera since the release of iPhone 4, adding higher quality sensors, lens improvements and increasingly sophisticated image and video processing, including face detection and movement stabilization.

This year, both the iPhone 5c and 5s get a minor improvement to their lower quality, front-facing FaceTime camera in the form of backside illumination, which uses precision manufacturing techniques to build an image sensor where the wires serving the photosensitive imaging elements are placed behind them, maximizing the amount of light that can be detected.

iPhone 5c

iPhone 5c beats existing smartphones in performance, battery

iPhone 5c also gets a larger battery, weighing in at 5.73 Watt hours. At 3.8 Volts, that appears to offer 1507 milliamp hours, compared to the previous iPhone 5 battery which was 5.45 Wh or 1440 mAh. Many competing smartphones in its class have larger batteries, but inferior battery life.

Nobody else yet makes a 64-bit smartphone, so Apple's primary competition in the market for profitable smartphones are those with a price and specifications similar to the iPhone 5c. Apple also sells the substantially less attractive iPhone 4S at a lower price point to compete with cheaper phones. However, that price point represents the tail end of iPhone sales volumes, at less than 10 percent.

Samsung's Galaxy S4 delivers similar performance benchmarks to iPhone 5c, despite being clocked higher and having more RAM. And unlike various higher-end Android or Windows Phone models, Apple's 5c runs all of the apps and games designed for iOS, including the free Pages, Numbers and Keynote and iPhoto, iMovie and GarageBand that Apple now throws in for free.

iPhone Galaxy Geekbench 3 performance numbers


The 5c also delivers better battery life than Samsung's S4 or even its Note 3 outfitted with a huge battery. It also beats the battery performance of other Android phones in its class by an even wider margin.

Note 3 battery life
Source: AnandTech

What's new: Broader LTE support

iPhone 5c, along with the 5s, also expand their LTE capabilities to serve more bands around the world than any other smartphone.

The original iPhone started out as one of the last premium smartphones still stuck in the pre-3G world of AT&T's GSM/EDGE. Over time, Apple's phone gained support for 3G and then increasingly faster versions of 3GPP 3G standards, from 7.2 Mbps HSDPA (downloads) on iPhone 3GS to 5.8 Mbps HSUPA (uploads) on iPhone 4 and 14.4 Mbps HSDPA on iPhone 4S.

Last year's iPhone 5 added the first support for 4G LTE networks as well as DC-HSDPA (with downloads up to 42Mbps, it's at least as fast as most carriers' 4G LTE service). This year, the iPhone 5c (and the new iPhone 5s) both use the same Qualcomm MDM9615M Baseband Processor but it's paired with a new WRT1605L receiver, allowing it to work with more networks over new LTE bands and China's TDD-LTE variant used in that country and in Australia, the Middle East and some other places.

Both new models have identical carrier support, shifting from iPhone 5's three hardware models to four versions of the iPhone 5c (A1532 North American GSM/CDMA for AT&T, T-Mobile & Verizon; A1456 Sprint/Japan CDMA with additional support for LTE bands 18 & 26; A1407 for Europe lacking LTE bands 4/AWS, 13, 17, 18, 19, 26 but adding 7; A1529 for Asia/Pacific, identical to Europe but adding support for China Mobile's TD-LTE bands 38, 39 and 40, also used in Australia).

There's now support for many more LTE bands than before, allowing broader global compatibility with new, additional carriers. There are some potential features Apple isn't supporting: one is simultaneous CDMA voice while using LTE data (which would require dual radios, as a few higher end big phones have). Apple does have support for VoLTE, which puts voice calls on the LTE data network, but most major carriers haven't yet rolled out support for this.

Apple also supports "wideband voice," which uses more wireless cellular bandwidth to deliver a higher quality voice call. This also only works on a few carriers, as each company builds out its own technologies and support for various available standards (there's so many to choose from!).

Apple also has its own high quality VoIP technology: Audio FaceTime, although again, carriers have been slow to support this over their 3G/4G networks. This largely restricts its use over WiFi. When you have a WiFi connection, you may be amazed at how much better a FaceTime call is in both quality and reliability. You can also use FaceTime to connect to Macs, iPads and an iPod touch, and of course connect via a video FaceTime call as well.

Worth the small savings?

iPhone 5c is "only" $100 cheaper than the fancier iPhone 5s, which has more impressive CPU specs, a significantly improved camera and Touch ID. For anyone clamoring for the latest and greatest, that makes the 5s a no brainer.

For a large number of buyers, particularly those upgrading from an iPhone 4S or older model, the 5c is a substantial upgrade. If you're outfitting a couple kids with smartphones, the 5c is not only less expensive but may be more appealing due to its more rugged back and the fact that it comes in fun colors.



If you're trying to choose between the two, you probably should get the 5s, which will likely have a longer lifespan due to its leap in processor performance. If you don't plan to keep it for three years, you can at least be reasonably assured that it will likely be worth more when you do go to sell it, and along the way you get more convenient security, better photos and the ability to work with more sophisticated apps and games.

On the other hand, if you're looking to pay less up front iPhone 5c offers a less expensive route to owning an iPhone 5-class phone, particularly with retail incentives that are currently knocking even more off its $99 base price. It's a much better phone than the slightly cheaper/free 4S, which lacks its larger screen, has a significantly older camera and still uses the more fragile older Dock connector.

iPhone 5c: Rating 3 out of 5

3 Stars


Not too shabby, and if you recently purchased one, you can be fully content that you have nearly the best smartphone available this year outside of iPhone 5s. The camera is good, the network speed can't really bet bettered, and you can run any app near the top of where it was designed to run. Remember to turn on Activation Lock in iOS 7, although you will have to bother with typing in a password.

Pros:
  • Solid, colorfully fun construction
  • Leading battery life even when using LTE 4G, without a big heavy package
  • Price competitive with lessor alternatives
Cons:
  • Lacks the A7, which apps are increasingly using to do cool stuff
  • Also lacks nicer camera and Touch ID features that cost only a little more on iPhone 5s
  • LTE is everywhere, but HD Voice and FaceTime audio aren't necessarily
  • Perhaps you were looking for a screen larger than 4 inches
Trade in
Those upgrading to iPhone 5c can also check out AppleInsider's Trade-in Price Guide or recent breakdown of trade-in offers for previous-generation iPhones. A number of online providers offer cash in return for a used iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S or iPhone 5, making the cost of the new iPhone 5c easier to afford.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 22
    froodfrood Posts: 771member

    A little surprised by the 3 star rating (especially from AppleInsider).  I think the 5c is a solid performer and probably would merit 4 stars, unless you are including 'value' in the rating.  For what it delivers it is on the pricey side.  I think it will provide Apple a 'second wind' during this cycle.  After the holidays and 5s and 5c sales simmer down toward their 'waiting for next year's phone' cycle, Apple will have room to lower the pricing on the 5c quite a bit.

  • Reply 2 of 22
    macxpressmacxpress Posts: 4,861member
    The first few sentences made it sound like it was going to be compared against the $99 Android phones, but in the end it was dinged because it doesn't have the specs of the iPhone 5S. This makes no sense to me. Stick to your topic. If you would have compared ONLY with the Android phones it competes with it would have been a better review. This phone isn't competing against its own iPhone 5S so why keep comparing the 5C to it? Why not compare it to other phones (Android, Windows, etc) priced at $99 which is what this phone is designed to sell against?

    I agree with sog, it should have been at least a 4-4.5 star phone.
  • Reply 3 of 22
    matrix07matrix07 Posts: 1,993member
    Looking at performance charts above I wonder how many stars galaxy S4 will get. 1.5?
  • Reply 4 of 22
    [QUOTE]"The other primary difference is Touch ID, meaning that 5c buyers will have to type in a security code to unlock or make purchases, like an animal."[/QUOTE]

    Like an animal? What am I missing here? (Perhaps the reviewer is a huge fan of Touch ID, and using anything less is uncivilized?)

    [QUOTE]"iPhone 5c: Rating 3 out of 5"[/QUOTE]

    Based on the sentence that follows the rating, "you can be fully content that you have nearly the best smartphone available this year outside of iPhone 5s", a rating of 3 seems incongruous.
  • Reply 5 of 22
    tbelltbell Posts: 3,146member

    The iPhone 5C merits a four to five star review. The mistake the reviewer makes is pits it against the iPhone 5S, which is silly considering the two phones are not meant to compete against one another. The iPhone 5C is competing in the mid tier smartphone category, and as the review points out the 5C kicks most other phones butts. 

  • Reply 6 of 22
    inklinginkling Posts: 731member
    Do the numbers. That $100 price difference between a 5c and a 5s spread out over a typical two-year contract amounts to 100/730 = 0.1369... That's 14 cents a day.

    Is having a lovely and powerful 5s rather than a ho-hum 5c worth that? Beyond a doubt, particularly when you factor in the much greater power and resale value of the 5s. Even those who absolutely must have colored plastic can add a color case of their choice to a 5s.

    There's nothing wrong with the 5c. As this article notes, it's a good phone, the iPhone 5, modestly improved. But its real competition aren't "subsidized Android phones." It's the 5s and against that it measures up poorly.

    I'm not even sure making its price free with a contract is enough of a cut. That merely means that owning a 5s will only cost users 28 cents more a day rather than 14 cents. No, the 5c really should target a different audience--all those who'd rather buy their phone and select the cellular provider and plan they like best.

    Sold unlocked at a reasonable price, the multi-provider-ready 5c would be ideal for that. It'd let one model be sold to a host of users who're free (as with the new iPads) to migrate to the provider and plan of their choice--or even change their plan and provider when the mood strikes them.

    For Apple, that's a large and mostly untapped set of new customers who typically buy Android for the 'choice' it offers. Then the 5c really would be competing with Android.
  • Reply 7 of 22
    enzosenzos Posts: 344member

    (This might appear twice!)

     

    While 3 stars seems niggardly for a fine product, if 5S is 5 stars, and we use a subtractive rubric: 

    • no A7 (meaning less future proof), 5 - 1 = 4 stars; 

    • no dual-flash, dynamic panorama, f-2.2, etc., 4 - ½ star = 3 ½ stars; 

    • no fingerprint scanner, 3 ½ - ½ star = 3 stars.  

     

    However, that would be comparing them at the same price, so Dan hasn't but might then say $100 cheaper adds ½ star, making it 3 ½ stars, which would prob. be my rating. With the deals that your carriers are giving you might stretch that to 4 stars on quality and value for money basis. 

  • Reply 8 of 22

    I've always liked the 5c, especially since they went the direction that Nokia went with the Lumia 620. I would probably seriously consider getting a 5c even over the 5s because it looks so nice.

     

    Side rant: Don't shoot me, but I really don't like the look of the iPhone since the iPhone 5 came out. I don't like the two tone back. I preferred the solid glass back. I just think the current back on the newer generation iPhones is really ugly. They even added more contrast to the back now that it's space grey.

     

    This is why I love the look of the iPhone 5c, it's more colorful and fun and has a singular look and not more than one tone of grey/black.

  • Reply 9 of 22
    Target has this phone for $49 for the 16gb model with Verizon. I don't think you can beat that. Here in stupid California you have to pay sales tax on the full price of the phone when you purchase it so a $99 phone is $150ish dollars and the iPhone 5s ends up being around $300. At $49 I got the 5c for less than $100 out the door. This phone is my first forey back into io7 after using android for the past 3 years or so. Can't beat the battery life and it does everything I want it to do. Not interested in the fingerprint scanner and I can wait on the a7 processor.

    Future proofing phone is kind of a misnomer since the technology expands so fast that the a7 will be old two years from now when its upgrade time.
  • Reply 10 of 22
    The 5c camera seems to be experiencing "back-focus" issues.
  • Reply 11 of 22
    Originally Posted by cherrypop View Post

    Like an animal? What am I missing here? (Perhaps the reviewer is a huge fan of Touch ID, and using anything less is uncivilized?)

     

    It’s a joke, obviously, but its placement and delivery suggested otherwise.

     

    Really, if these guys want to write humor into their reviews, they should have me proofread. Kills two birds.

  • Reply 12 of 22
    saareksaarek Posts: 1,128member
    3 stars is the correct rating. Comparing Apples to Apples, value wise it's a rip off compared to the iPhone 5s.

    It's sole reason for being is to increase margins and enable higher production rates of the top end model by using plastic as opposed to the same metal & glass design.

    Had they priced it $50 less than it is then it would've deserved 4 stars.
  • Reply 13 of 22
    tbelltbell Posts: 3,146member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Inkling View Post



    Do the numbers. That $100 price difference between a 5c and a 5s spread out over a typical two-year contract amounts to 100/730 = 0.1369... That's 14 cents a day.



    Is having a lovely and powerful 5s rather than a ho-hum 5c worth that? Beyond a doubt, particularly when you factor in the much greater power and resale value of the 5s. Even those who absolutely must have colored plastic can add a color case of their choice to a 5s.



    There's nothing wrong with the 5c. As this article notes, it's a good phone, the iPhone 5, modestly improved. But its real competition aren't "subsidized Android phones." It's the 5s and against that it measures up poorly.



    I'm not even sure making its price free with a contract is enough of a cut. That merely means that owning a 5s will only cost users 28 cents more a day rather than 14 cents. No, the 5c really should target a different audience--all those who'd rather buy their phone and select the cellular provider and plan they like best.



    Sold unlocked at a reasonable price, the multi-provider-ready 5c would be ideal for that. It'd let one model be sold to a host of users who're free (as with the new iPads) to migrate to the provider and plan of their choice--or even change their plan and provider when the mood strikes them.



    For Apple, that's a large and mostly untapped set of new customers who typically buy Android for the 'choice' it offers. Then the 5c really would be competing with Android.

     

     

    It seems silly to suggest Apple is pitting the iPhone 5C against the iPhone 5S. The iPhone 5C is meant to take the place of the iPhone 5. It should be rated accordingly. 

     

    As far as the price difference goes, you assume what is important to you, is also important to other people. Many people care about price. Every year, people have bought the one and two year old iPhones to get them with zero dollar down deals despite the fact a hundred dollars or two hundred dollar down would buy them a significantly improved phone. 

     

    My girlfriend is a perfect example. She had a 3GS which she got for zero dollars down. Upgrading to a 5C was a huge upgrade. Through T-Mobile she also did not have to pay any money down for it. 

  • Reply 14 of 22
    tbelltbell Posts: 3,146member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by saarek View Post



    3 stars is the correct rating. Comparing Apples to Apples, value wise it's a rip off compared to the iPhone 5s.



    It's sole reason for being is to increase margins and enable higher production rates of the top end model by using plastic as opposed to the same metal & glass design.



    Had they priced it $50 less than it is then it would've deserved 4 stars.

     

     

    Strange considering the places that do the break downs suggest the margins are actually higher for the iPhone 5S. I prefer the casing for the iPhone 5S, but the 5C feels more solid and is more scratch resistant. Besides the casing, the only thing the extra $100 buys you are a significantly improved processor and camera. However, most apps will not benefit from the better processor as they are already as quick as they need to be, and the iPhone 5C still has a great camera. 

  • Reply 15 of 22
    apple ][apple ][ Posts: 8,651member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by TBell View Post

     

    Besides the casing, the only thing the extra $100 buys you are a significantly improved processor and camera. However, most apps will not benefit from the better processor as they are already as quick as they need to be, and the iPhone 5C still has a great camera. 


     

    You forgot about the Touch ID sensor. Add in the significantly improved processor and the camera, and that easily justifies the extra $100 for the 5s. 

     

    I also don't agree that most apps will not benefit from the better processor, as the whole phone and OS benefits from it. Apps open up quicker, games will play better, just about everything will be better. Apps can always be improved, I don't agree that they are already as quick as they need to be.

  • Reply 16 of 22
    froodfrood Posts: 771member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by TBell View Post

     

     

     

    It seems silly to suggest Apple is pitting the iPhone 5C against the iPhone 5S. The iPhone 5C is meant to take the place of the iPhone 5. It should be rated accordingly.

     

    As far as the price difference goes, you assume what is important to you, is also important to other people. Many people care about price.


     

    Its not really silly because it seems like that is the biggest decision purchasers of the 5c are confronted with.  At its current price point I don't think the 5c is 'storming the Android market'  and pulling users away from Android.  A good number of purchasers are existing Apple users already set on buying an Apple phone, so their question is 'which one, the 5s or 5c?'

  • Reply 17 of 22
    I would have given the 5c 4 out of 5 stars.
  • Reply 18 of 22
    blackbookblackbook Posts: 1,361member
    3 out of 5 stars seems fitting for the 5C.
  • Reply 19 of 22
    Compared to android better (if any website puts a android in the 4s, they better put this in the 5s) however compared to 5S it is obviously 4 star(It's worse than the 5 in the case).
  • Reply 20 of 22

    Wrong...should definitely be a 4-5 star rating.

    Maybe reviewer rated it lower on purpose trying to push more people to the 5s.

    For all those thinking plastic is cheap and sucks, get over it...that many (though probably not most) actually prefer plastic to metal.

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