This year has seen Apple introduce two new iPhones, an update to their flagship premium model in the form of the iPhone 5s and a new lower-cost model, the iPhone 5c. After years of speculation of what some thought would be a cheap iPhone, the iPhone 5c is everything but cheap. Priced at $99 on contract and $549 off contract, it fills the void of providing consumer with a less expensive option to the iPhone 5s. Read on to find out what’s old, what’s new and what we think in our comprehensive iPhone 5c review.
Apple is known for high quality, premium products and rarely do you see current products discounted. For the past few years, Apple has allowed wireless carriers to sell older models at a significant discount, usually at fifty percent off the previous price. After all, these are last year’s iPhones, with the newer models starting at $199 on contract. Not everyone needs the bells, whistles and fingerprint scanners that adorn Apple’s latest and greatest. For a $100, you’d get a very capable phone. The strategy proved to be quite successful for Apple and for some users, they don’t mind purchasing last year’s phone, which often provides for a great experience despite being an ‘older phone’. These deals were nowhere to be found if you wandered into an Apple Store. It’s always been all premium, full retail price, all the time. Apple, having one of the strongest retail stores, never partook in marketing to this segment. Until now.
2013 is the year that Apple has taken a different tact, releasing a second iPhone, the lower-cost iPhone 5c. It’s heavily marketed, both by wireless carriers and Apple themselves. Customers browsing the shelves of an Apple Store cannot help but notice the new front, center and colorful iPhone 5c.
What’s Old Is New
With the iPhone 5c, Apple has in many ways repackaged the iPhone 5, last year’s flagship. So in many ways, this in keeping with their previous strategy of selling older technology, at a discount. Make not mistake, the iPhone 5c is a new iPhone, but its specifications read very much like the iPhone 5 (see our review).
As noted in our iPhone 5s review, manufacturers like Apple are starting to reach a point where it’s getting more and more difficult to offer upgrade-worthy features. A victim of their own success, the phones have become too good. We’ve essentially recommended that contract-bound iPhone 5 owners seriously consider waiting for the iPhone 6. Reason being, the iPhone 5 is still a fantastic phone.
This is what makes the iPhone 5c such a compelling option for customers. They took everything great from the iPhone 5 and improved upon, albeit slightly.
The iPhone 5c sheds the aluminum outer casing for a brightly colored, single polycarbonate (fancy word for plastic) rear plate. The surface is continuous and seamless, so at one point does it feel as multiple parts joined to create one. On the back of the iPhone 5c is the familiar Apple logo, in black, with the word ‘iPhone’, now appearing in a taller, thinner typeface.
Apple’s manufacturing process applies a clear lacquer hard coat, which in turn allows for a more durable and glossy surface. Having carried the iPhone 5c around since it was released, I can say that I’m less concerned about scratches as I’ve been with the aluminum iPhone 5/5s. To scratch this phone, you would have to drop this iPhone or subject it to continuous abuse in the form of pocket filled with keys and loose change. Running your fingernail across the surface, it just glides. The lacquer certainly appears to offer a nice level of protection, which is necessary, since the rear plate cannot be removed. Having used for just a few weeks, it’s certainly possible that over time the 5c will exhibit the signs of use. A case is always a good idea if you’re looking to keep your iPhone as good as new.
The ringer switch, power and volume buttons all match the material and color of the iPhone 5c. More importantly, they all have a very solid, click feel to them. In fact, if there is a word I would attribute the iPhone 5c as a whole, it would be ‘solid’. It has a very dense feeling when holding it. Coming from an iPhone 5, the weight increase from 112g to 132g is noticeable. The first time you pick up a 5/5s, it feels as light as a display phone. The iPhone 5c feels like a phone, but in no way did I find it heavy.
Comparing it to the aluminum clad iPhone 5s, the iPhone 5c does feel inferior. It’s like going from a BMW to a Volkswagen, both good cars, but one stands out. It’s the difference between better and best, with both delivering above average materials. That being said, there is nothing about the iPhone 5c that feels cheap.
Despite its glossy surface, I was surprised at how it looked after being handled. All phones show fingerprints and I thought this phone in particular would be a magnet. It wasn’t the case at all. I suspect a good number of iPhone 5c users will carry this sans case and you can take comfort knowing that fingerprints aren’t terribly noticeable.
All of the new 4-inch iPhones feature Apple’s retina display, with 1136-by-640-pixel resolution at 326 ppi. It’s vivid, sharp and has become a standard by which other displays are reviewed. The iPhone 5c has a yellow tint or warmer display than the older model. This could be attributed to differences in production runs and shouldn’t be of any concern. Simply put, the display is fantastic on this phone. Photos, games and apps look brilliant at all viewing angles.
You’ll Want To Get AppleCare+
The very same materials that help make the iPhone 5c resistant to scratches and fingerprints, can also present a problem for users. When you hold the device, it is not grippy, at all. The glossy surface when combined with the natural oils from your hands can present for a potentially fatal combination for your iPhone 5c. If you are planning on carrying this phone without a case, you must get AppleCare+. The display sits just above the bezel, so any drop could result in seeing your screen shatter.
Experience Matters Beyond The Colorful
The iPhone 5c is available in a five colors (white, green, blue, yellow or pink). While the color selections would not be my first choice, there is a reason why Apple chose the vibrant palette. Having full control over both hardware and software, Apple has a distinct advantage over most smartphone vendors. This group of colors was specifically chosen in order to mesh with Apple’s new iOS 7 operating system, notably the icons for the stock apps. From the moment you unbox the iPhone 5c, there is a synergy between the design elements of the software and the polycarbonate shell. An awful, garish wallpaper matches the color. Thankfully, wallpaper is easily changed and there are some nice selections offered and it’s easy to use your own photos as wallpaper. As we noted in our iOS 7 Review and Guide, your wallpaper choices are magnified in the new operating system, in part to new 3d-like parallax effect and use of transparency that creates a sense of depth throughout.
Jony Ive calls the iPhone 5c, “hardware designed for a harmonious experience”. If so, it seems inexplicable as to why the front surround bezel is only available in black? I can only venture a guess that it’s to match the logo on the back? Since the announcement of iOS 7 in June, the entire summer Apple spent promoting it on their site using a white iPhone. To me that suggests that someone high up thought it looked better. Apple’s previous venture in colors saw the iPod touch 5g come in array of colors, all with a white surround. The lack of a white surround on the front of the iPhone 5c seems like a missed opportunity, if we’re really shooting for the most harmonious experience. As for the colors themselves, I tend to think the response will be similar to the icons – you either love them or hate them. While outside of what I’d be qualified to review, my personal favorites in order are pink, green, blue, white and yellow.
Plenty Of Power
Using Apple’s A6 chip, the iPhone 5c performs admirably for any task and that includes games that require significant processing power to offer rich graphics and visual effects. You might have heard that iOS 7 is the world’s first 64-bit operating system, which over time should result in speed gains and applications that push the limits of the new processor. In the iPhone 5s, Apple effectively provides you with a phone that is future proof. For most people, the A6 is more than enough and will provide for a great user experience for years to come. I don’t see a point in the next two years where this processor will feel ‘slow’. In our tests, the speed gains using stock apps were minimal when comparing the iPhone 5s vs the iPhone 5c/5. The camera app did benefit with faster launch and focus times. These aren’t earth shattering differences. Over time, as new third party apps learn to take advantage of the A7 chip, we could see a greater divide. As for now, we’re just not seeing a major advantage. The A6 is plenty fast and runs iOS 7 like a champ. The entire experience flows, without any lag, which is the underlying theme of why the iPhone 5c is very good phone. It performs at a high level, unmatched by phones at this price point.
On the rear is Apple’s iSight camera, a 8-megapixel shooter that has a 2.4ƒ aperture. It’s essentially the same camera that’s been on the iPhone 5. The good news is that it’s incredible and will rival and in fact beat more expensive smartphones, like the Samsung Galaxy S4, HTC One and Moto X (see our review). I took the iPhone 5c out to test it against the iPhone 5s/iPhone 5. In photography, the more light, the better your chance of capturing a great picture. During a beautiful sunny day in Long Island, it was hard to discern between the three the cameras. Panorama comparisons [ iPhone 5s, iPhone 5c, iPhone 5].
As you’ll see below, the iPhone 5c even performed well in a low-light situations. The iPhone 5s did perform better in low-light. It also offers features like Burst Mode, slow motion video and its dual-led flash allowed for more natural skin tones when taking photos with the flash. If these features are important to you, the extra $100 is well worth it, considering all of the other upgrades you’ll get when making the jump.
On the front is Apple’s 1.2 megapixel FaceTime camera that can shoot 720p HD video. This has been updated to provide backside illumination, which should provide more light for taking selfies. In low-light settings (near dark), I found it to certainly improve upon the image quality over the iPhone 5, allowing more light to flow through to the sensor.
Wireless & LTE
The iPhone 5c gets a bump is in LTE performance, at least on paper. There is an increase in supported LTE bands, theoretically meaning improved coverage in more areas translating to speeds that are consistently faster. The iPhone 5s doesn’t offer LTE-A support, so if you’re in a strong area, the results will be no different.The improved support for bands can offer a greater chance at improved coverage, but your mileage will vary.
Software: iOS 7
iOS 7 features sweeping aesthetic changes, immediately noticeable by the splashes of vibrant colors present in the home screen icons, all part of a new color palette that is both distinct and jarring. While it has enjoyed the fastest adoption rate of any mobile OS, the response has not been overwhelming positive. App experiences have been completely revamped, with the design offering copious amounts of white space and a modern typeface throughout. As you open or close apps, new animations provide a more fluid and dynamic interaction. It feels alive. It’ll makes you want to interact with your iPhone, either by opening an app or simply tilting the screen to accentuate the depth effect.
If you love iOS, much of the same functionality is present. Apple has also included great new features like Control Center, smarter multitasking, an all new notification center, a vastly improved Camera app, AirDrop and so much more. For those who are considering an iPhone for the first time, you’ll appreciate Siri, Apple’s personal voice assistant that can help with a broad variety of tasks.
The App Store features hundreds of thousands of applications for the iPhone. If you happen to own an iPad, purchasing universal apps means that your app investment will allow you to use them on either device. Other platforms are reaching app availability numbers in the hundreds of thousands, but it’s been my experience that the quality of app in iOS consistently trumps that found on competitive platforms. Despite Google being the company behind Android, all of their best apps are available on iOS.
iPhone 5c Review Pros & Cons
- Maturity of phones allows for last year’s components to provide for stellar user experience
- Resistant to scratches, fingerprints
- Solid feel, comfortable to hold
- Slippery without a case
- No white display surround as a color option, combination
The iPhone 5c represents Apple’s first legitimate push to offer a low-cost iPhone and not rely on wireless carriers to sell last year’s iPhones at substantial discounts. This year, Apple provides consumers with a viable and wallet-friendly option to their flagship iPhone 5s, one that you can readily purchase by walking into any Apple retail store. This move helps Apple and consumers looking for a low-cost smartphone. For Apple’s part, they shed the more expensive materials that would see a lower return if they had continued with their existing strategy and sold the iPhone 5 at $99. As a new iPhone, it can also grace the shelves of the Apple Store alongside the iPhone 5s. Consumers get a win, because Apple didn’t compromise on what matters most and that’s the experience. Smartphones have reached a point where last year’s components are more than powerful enough to provide the average user with an above average experience. We loved the iPhone 5. This is the same phone, with slightly better battery life, more LTE bands and an improved front-facing FaceTime camera. The iPhone 5c is not just a capable smartphone, it’s great smartphone and an incredible value at just $99.