Review: iPhone 5c, An iPhone 5 With Fresh Paint

Still a good smartphone, but for how much longer?

Our score: 4/5
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Published: October 10, 2013 2:13 PM
Updated: March 3, 2014 12:08 PM
By Florence Legrand
Translated by: Catherine Barraclough
With Tristan François
Morgane Alzieu
This time around Apple has treated us to two new iPhones, with the 5c and the 5s. The 5s is a higher-end model with an upgraded spec sheet compared with 2012's iPhone 5, whereas the 5c is a slightly lower-cost alternative that's pretty much an iPhone 5 with a new splash of paint. The 5c therefore inherits the majority of its tech specs from the 5, but it's now available in a choice of five eye-catching colours.

The iPhone 5c is a 4G-compatible handset that keeps the 4" Retina display, 1.3 GHz dual-core A6 processor, 1 GB of RAM and 8-Megapixel camera seen in last year's iPhone 5.

Apple iPhone 5c Review - next to iphone 5s

The iPhone 5c is out now for £469 for the 16 GB model, which is £80 cheaper than the top-end 16 GB iPhone 5s. The 5c is also available with 32 GB of memory, but unlike the 5s, there's no 64 GB model.

As usual with Apple handsets, there's no sign of a microSD card slot for boosting the memory. However the iCloud is on hand for online storage.

Design & Handling4/5


For the iPhone 5c, Apple has ditched the aluminium casing and switched back to good old polycarbonate. Still, to jolly things along, Apple has treated the 5c to a series of eye-catching paint jobs, with five different colours to choose from. As well as a classic white finish, the 5c comes in bright shades of red, yellow, blue and green. Some have said that Apple is following Nokia's lead with these new colours, but that's only a half truth. While the bright shades of the 5c do bring to mind Nokia's Lumia smartphone line, it's hardly the first time that Apple has outed a series of rainbow coloured devices (think iPod, iMac G3, etc.).

Apple iPhone 5c Review - from the back

The casing is made from good-quality plastic that doesn't feel at all cheap. Plus, the phone's assembly, build and finish are all beyond reproach. The rear casing is firm and doesn't bend or make the kind of dubious creaking noises you get with certain competitor handsets.

In spite of its switch to plastic, the iPhone 5c isn't any lighter than the 5s. In fact, it weighs 20 grams more. It's also thicker than the 5s, but it's still a perfectly pleasant size to handle. Some users may actually prefer the more rounded design of the 5c to the squarer, angular look and feel of the iPhone 5s.

Apple iPhone 5c Review - from the side, buttons
The volume buttons have changed slightly. They're now an elongated oval shape instead of round.

By choosing not to up the screen size of this year's iPhone handsets, Apple's mobiles remain nice and easy to use with one hand. That's particularly pleasing at a time when other phone-makers are outing superzised mobiles that you often have to use with two hands. That'll be an important selling point for some users. Others, however, may prefer to prioritise screen size. It's a matter of taste.

Apple iPhone 5c Review - connectors

One advantage of the polycarbonate build is its resistance to wear and tear like scratches. However, the phone does have a rather glossy finish, which can make it slip and slide around in your hand after long spells of use. Apple's rubber case for the 5c (£25) improves grip, but its holey design might not be to everyone's taste. This protective cover is easy to put on to the phone but isn't quite so simple to remove. Plus, it leaves a very thin crevice around the edge of the screen which soon fills up with dust and gunk.

Apple iPhone 5c Review - case, cover


Display5/5


The 5c has the same 4" Retina display as the iPhone 5 with 1131 x 640 pixels and 326 ppi. There's no sign of HD here, then, but the screen is still perfectly sharp, crisp, pleasant to use and easy to read.

As we outlined in our iPhone 5s review, Apple has upped the performances of it Retina display for this year's iPhones, with even more accurate colours and higher levels of brightness.

Apple iPhone 5c Review - homescreen

The lab test results for the 5c screen came out exactly the same as for the 5s, although the average Delta E was actually a little better in this model, at 1.2 compared with 1.7 for the 5s (and 3.7 for the 5). Note that Delta E measures the difference between perfectly reproduced colours and those actually displayed onscreen—colours can be considered accurate with a Delta E of 0 to 3. The iPhone 5c therefore displays colours that are more natural, more accurate and closer to reality than the iPhone 5.

Brightness is up on the iPhone 5 too, from an already high 500 cd/m² to an even more impressive 575 cd/m², and the contrast has risen to 1071:1. That's enough to keep the screen readable in bright outdoor conditions. To the naked eye, unless you have the iPhone 5 and 5c/5s next to each other, it's hard to see any major difference. The screen looks a little brighter and the whites no longer have the slight blue tint. Viewing angles are still nice and wide so the onscreen image can be viewed comfortably from an angle. And while the screen may seem a little small to anyone who's used to XXL handsets or phablets, the 5c still offers a top-quality display for looking at photos, gaming, surfing the web or watching videos.

Like the 5 and the 5s, the 5c has a responsive touchscreen with latency of just 75 ms. The new iPhones have the most responsive touchscreens we've seen yet in a smartphone. Touchscreen responsiveness measures the time it takes (or latency) between moving your finger on a device's touchscreen surface and that movement being translated into a response. This latency is measured in milliseconds and should ideally be as low as possible. From the last six months of product reviews (HTC One, Lumia 1020, Galaxy S4, etc.), the average touchscreen latency for current smartphones works out at 140-150 ms.

Interface & Navigation5/5


While the iPhone 5c may not seem all that different from the outside, things look rather different once you fire it up. In its most significant redesign since 2007, Apple has brought a fresh look and a host of new features to iOS 7. And pretty much everything has changed, from the buttons to the homescreen to the typeface to the colour scheme. We've already outlined the main changes in our review of the iPhone 5s, but here they are again:

The updated interface has a cleaner, more minimalist look, with fresher, contemporary feeling graphics, brightly coloured icons and transparent effects. The system's layout and organisation have been reworked in places, and certain functions are now accessed through new hubs and menus. Apple has managed to break with the past, bringing a profoundly new design to iOS 7, while also ensuring a familiar feel for long-standing iOS regulars. And few Apple users seem indifferent to this iOS update—it's generally either loved or hated with no room for middle ground.

Apple iPhone 5c Review ios 7 screen
Apple iPhone 5c Review


New features in iOS 7 include the "Control Center" (pictured above left and below middle), which opens with an upwards swipe and can even be accessed when the phone is locked. This hub features frequently used phone settings such as connectivity options, airplane mode, screen brightness settings, plus favourite apps like the camera, calculator and clock. Multitasking (pictured above right) has been improved, with apps shown as a stack of windows accessible via the home button. The windows can be opened with a simple tap or closed with a swipe across the screen. Apple's Safari web browser now uses a similar system for managing web pages too (pictured below right). Apple isn't exactly breaking new ground here, however. Cupertino is merely playing catch-up with Android, and to a lesser extent Windows Phone too.

Navigation within the phone's updated interface is, however, a more pleasant and more practical experience than before. Apple's iOS 7 is still a highly intuitive system that's easy to get the hang of and which makes day-to-day use a breeze. In that respect, Apple's operating system is still very much accessible to a vast majority of users—pretty much anyone will be able to pick up and use an iPhone 5s with no need for specific technical knowledge.

On the other hand, partially sighted users may struggle a little more with iOS 7 due to the predominantly white interface with its transparent effects. Previous versions were more contrasted and had more shading effects to help things stand out. Screen backgrounds (notes, text messages, e-mails, etc.) in iOS 7 are very light and the new font makes characters skinnier. It's the same story with the keyboard too. Apple does include a series of accessibility settings, with options for increasing the font size and reversing the colours, as well a "Voice Over" function which tells you what's going on onscreen. But, in spite of that, some users have been sad to see Apple ditch the previous interface, where everything seemed to stand out more clearly.

Apple iPhone 5c Review pretty colours

While the iPhone 5s has been treated to Apple's new 64-bit A7 processor, the 5c inherits the A6 dual-core processor from the iPhone 5. It's therefore no surprise to see very similar performances from both handsets in the various benchmark tests (3DMark, GFXBench / GLBenchmark 2.7, BaseMark X).

In terms of pure processing power, the A6 chip is nowhere near on par with the current crop of top-end, high-speed processors on the market, notably the Qualcomm S800. The same can be said of graphics processing power too. In fact, the A7 chip used in the 5s doubles the graphics processing power compared with the A6. In spite of that, the 5c is still a very smooth and speedy smartphone to use. The phone's hardware doesn't hold back the potential of its software and it doesn't feel outdated. Apple's OS is perfectly integrated and well managed in this phone.

Like the iPhone 5, the iPhone 5c is a fast, fluid phone to use. It's not left reeling in the dust by the newfangled 5s. The 5s is obviously a little faster, a little more powerful, quicker to start up, and faster to load web pages and heavyweight apps like Google Earth. Above all, the 5s is more geared up to run apps that require high levels of graphics processing power, plenty of which are due to land in the App Store over the newt few months. The bottom line is that with today's apps, you have to be holding the 5s and 5c side by side and start up the same app simultaneously to spot any real difference. However, the 5c will no doubt start feeling the effects of its A6 processor in the not too distant future, especially when it comes to running graphics-heavy games.

Multimedia4/5


The iPhone 5c has the same audio features as the 5s. The headphones out is therefore clean and powerful, with a low level of background noise and a perfectly well-managed separation between the left and right channels. While the speaker isn't the best we've ever seen, the plastic casing is more flexible and more supple than the aluminium body of the 5s, giving a less saturated and more intelligible output (the polycarbonate body reduces vibration).

Apple iPhone 5c Review web browsing

Web browsing is as pleasant as ever thanks to the top-quality Retina display and the Safari browser, which is smartly designed for surfing on the move. Plus, iOS 7 improves Safari even further, with tab-based navigation when browsing several pages.

Apple iPhone 5c Review stack of windows in safari

You'll need to download a third-party media player app to extend file support for video formats, as Apple's native player isn't compatible with many formats.

Camera4/5


The 5c takes very similar pictures to the iPhone 5. While the image processing system in the 5s tends to smooth images a little more, the 5c manages to maintain a slightly higher level of sharpness. The overall result really isn't bad for a smartphone camera, even in low light conditions. The camera is fast to focus and photos save quickly, so you can snap shot after shot without being slowed down. Still, the 5s keeps quality more even and consistent over the frame and the dual LED flash doesn't overexpose subjects to blinding white.

Apple iPhone 5c Review - camera test
Apple iPhone 5c Review - sample photos


However, while the iPhone 5 was the best smartphone camera on the block a year ago, things have changed a fair bit since then. Nokia has arrived on the scene with the Lumia 1020, which may not be the speediest of shooters, but which takes great-quality pictures, especially in low light. Samsung's Galaxy S4 also has an excellent camera and a pleasant, feature-rich interface. LG's G2 isn't half bad either.

Note that the 5c doesn't feature the same slo-mo video mode seen in the 5s. However, it still films good-quality video with decent sound.

Battery Life3/5


According to iFixit, who took apart the iPhone 5c to get a closer look at its components, this handset runs on a 1507 mAh battery compared with 1440 mAh for the iPhone 5. In practice, with "normal" day-to-day use over Wi-Fi and 3G, the handset is powerful enough to make it through the day on a single charge. It even holds out a little longer than the iPhone 5. Still, it'd be nice to see Apple take things even further, with a battery that can last for two days, like the LG G2 or Sony's Xperia Z1.
4/5 Apple iPhone 5c DigitalVersus 2013-10-10 15:13:00

Pros

  • Top-quality screen: excellent colour fidelity
  • Build / finish
  • Responsive performances
  • Audio quality
  • Good camera

Cons

  • Very high SAR level
  • No way of expanding the memory
  • The iOS 7 interface isn't as practical for partially sighted users

Conclusion

The Apple iPhone 5c is a good smartphone. It has a pleasant design that's nice to use and handle, an excellent screen and good general performances. However, it's hard to recommend this repainted iPhone 5 over the higher-end iPhone 5s which, although it has the same general design as the iPhone 5, has a more powerful set of specs and "only" sells for £80 more. Ultimately, the 5s is a handset that's geared up for the future whereas the 5c already has a year under its belt ...

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