When we reviewed Apple’s new top of the range iPhone 5S we really liked it. Powerful, well designed, and with that all important great app store, it’s a no brainer for any Apple fan.
The iPhone 5C is a more slippery customer to evaluate. It’s an attempt by Apple to go slightly down market – but only slightly. It costs £469 for the 16GB model sim-free, with the 32GB model weighing in at £549, and Vodafone – the network which provided my review sample – has the 16GB version going free on contract starting at £47 a month, while the 32GB version costs £19 up-front on a £52 per month contract. It is hardly in the same league as £200 Android handsets, and anyone who calls it a budget phone is missing the point.
What we have in the iPhone 5C is a replacement for the iPhone 5, which is now discontinued. If you want to go for a less expensive iPhone you have to plump for the older 4S.
The big fuss before the iPhone 5C launched was all about its plastic coloured chassis. There are five colours on offer: Green, blue, yellow, pink and white. The colours are loud – the only real comparison at the moment is Nokia’s Lumia smartphones which share a similar desire to call attention to themselves.
The chassis material isn’t totally scratchproof. I suspect Vodafone might not be too pleased that I tested this, but you will want to know that you might need a case to keep the back and sides safe from the dangers of keys and other stuff that lurks in your bag or pocket.
However, that said, don’t let the plastic material fool you into thinking that this is a flimsy phone. The chassis is solid – I couldn’t bend or bow it in my hands. It has a smooth finish but it is not as finger-slippy as the chassis of Samsung’s Galaxy S4 and related phones. Also, because the phone is quite small it fits fairly snugly in the hand which also helps with grip.
Of course, this is a unibody handset. There’s no access to the battery and – in true Apple style – there’s no microSD card slot either. Choose your internal memory capacity carefully because it is all the storage you are going to get.
The 5C is quite clearly the lesser cousin of the 5S in terms of raw specifications. There’s no fingerprint sensor here, the processor is less powerful, and there are slight differences in the camera capabilities with the iPhone 5S’ slow-mo video capture and burst mode features out of the mix.
Both handsets, however, support 4G, and both run iOS 7. Also, they both have the same screen and the usual Apple gubbins like FaceTime and Siri, and of course both support the full range of Apple apps. The 5S and 5C also run on a nano-sim, and use Apple’s latest lightning connector to administer power and connect to a laptop.
If you are interested in how the 5C shapes up in comparison to the iPhone 5, then you will want to note that the two handset have the same A6 processor and 1GB of RAM.
While we are doing comparisons it is worth pointing out that there isn’t much size difference between the 4S, 5C and 5S, although the latter two are of course taller due to their longer 4in display. The 4S is 115.2 x 58.6 x 9.3mm and weighs 140 grams, the 5C is 124.4 x 59.2 x 8.97mm and 132 grams, and the 5S is 123.8 x 58.6 x 7.6mm and 112 grams.
This reasonably strong similarity in size may disappoint some, and while the 5C is a bit lighter than its predecessor, the 5C’s chassis material means it can’t match the featherweight 5S. However, I must admit that I don’t mind the extra weight, as it means that the iPhone 5C feels like a phone of substance in the hand.
The iPhone 5C’s 4in screen delivers the same 1,136 x 640 pixels as the 5S does (and the same as the defunct iPhone 5). Its 326ppi means that text is sharp and clear, but my everyday phone has a larger screen, and I constantly found this one cramped.
It’s not that the screen is poor – far from it. In fact, it is sharp and vibrant, but it just feels rather claustrophobic when typing text and emails, and I wished for more reading space when surfing the web, more viewing area when watching video, and more words on the screen when reading eBooks. Maybe I’ve been spoilt by the large screened phones I get to see for review, but personally, for my everyday usage the 5C’s screen is too small.
iOS 7 has been skinned to match the chassis colours, which means my salmon pink review phone had a pink screen wallpaper. You can change this if you find it a bit too heavy on the primary colour.
For most of us it is going to be the changes to iOS 7 that have the most importance. On this matter, I’ll refer you to our full review of iOS 7, but among the key things you might take advantage of early on are the new control centre you access with a quick upward swipe on any screen, revised notifications area, and AirDrop for sending media to other iOS 7 devices using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. The improvements to Siri will also be an attraction for some.
Battery life is always a major factor in a phone. You really should have a right to expect a full day of life from any handset, and especially one you are spending £450 on. Unfortunately I struggled to get a full day from the iPhone 5C. I found I needed to administer either late afternoon or early evening power boosts to keep the handset going, and while that’s not unusual, it’s still annoying.
The iPhone 5C isn’t as exciting a handset as the 5S by any means. With the iPhone 5 now deleted, it is the replacement for that phone. However, existing iPhone 5 owners would be ill-advised to upgrade as the differences aren’t huge and you can get iOS 7 on the older model via a simple download.
In fact, in many ways a more useful comparison is to pitch the iPhone 5C against the 4S, and for owners of that handset there’s a more compelling argument to upgrade. Even then, though, you might want to consider splashing out on the 5S instead. And don’t forget all the competition at this price level – there are some superb Android handsets to be had for a similar price.
Manufacturer and Model
Apple iPhone 5C
GSM multi-band; HSPA multi-band; 4G LTE multi-band
16GB / 32GB
4in, 1,136 x 640-pixels
124.4 x 59.2 x 8.97mm