iPhone 5c review

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The iPhone 5c represents Apple’s first foray into colour territory. Is that enough to make it a worthwhile buy?
See also:

iPhone 5s review
iPhone 5s vs Lumia 1020 vs iPhone 5: Camera Shootout

iPhone 5c: On the plus side

It’s hard to get away from the colour part of the iPhone 5c equation, because just about everything you interact with has hearty splashes of colour; by default the wallpaper on the 5c will match the colour of the external body, iOS 7 itself is quite the riot of colour compared to the leather and felt look of iOS 6, and, of course, Apple’s iPhone designs to date have tended to be one or two colours only.
Having a range of five colours is a new step for Apple, and those with an eye for a particular colour will find the general finish of the iPhone 5c quite pleasing. It’s not a unique trick by any stretch of the imagination — there’s a lot of similarity between the 5c and any number of Nokia’s Lumia lines in terms of colour use.

It’s also — and this shouldn’t be surprising — a very well built phone. The smooth curves of the case fit nicely into the hand. The volume, mute and power buttons feel solid and yet smooth. Again, Apple sells itself as a premium brand, so this should be the case given the asking price..
The iPhone 5c is also one of the two models Apple announced recently to natively run iOS 7. There’s something of a learning curve to iOS 7 — I’d avoided it largely until I started testing the iPhone 5c and iPhone 5s — but it’s a slick and well realised vision for what a mobile operating system can be, although naturally it’s not the only one.
In benchmark terms, Geekbench 2 gave the iPhone 5c a score of 1649 running iOS 7; an iPhone 5 on iOS 6.1 returned a score of 1664. There’s an obvious iOS difference there, and while there is a newer version of Geekbench that covers iOS 7 and indeed 64 bit code, it won’t run on the older device. Synthetic benchmarks shouldn’t be your only end point, however; after fairly extensive testing the internal differences between the two handsets is fairly hard to pick. It generally works well, but there’s just not much difference there.

iPhone 5c: On the minus side

One of the problems that the iPhone 5c faces arguably isn’t Apple’s fault at all; there was a widespread belief that they’d offer up a “budget” iPhone — and this isn’t it. Apple never said they would, but it spread anyway, and so there’s some resentment towards the 5c as it stands.
That being said, it’s hard to overlook the fact that Apple’s lined up the smooth polycarbonate design of the iPhone 5c with internals that were cutting edge twelve months ago. What you end up with is a handset that’s essentially a middle market offering at a near-premium price point.
That’s problematic; if you can afford the premium edge there’s not a whole lot of reason not to opt for the iPhone 5s, which is a considerably more capable handset, unless the colour aspect of the iPhone 5c massively appeals to you. Massively would have to be the operative word here; as an example the an iPhone I was using last week while covering IDF had a bright blue case on it, and I had more than one journalist ask quietly if it was in fact an iPhone 5c. That speaks well of Apple’s marketing efforts — people knew about the bright blue iPhone — but poorly of its value offering if it can be inadvertently “faked” so easily.

A bright blue iPhone. Are we meant to have iPhones for every possible mood?
A bright blue iPhone. Are we meant to have iPhones for every possible mood?

One of the claims made at the launch was that the iPhone 5c has a larger battery than the iPhone 5, although Apple doesn’t disclose by how much. Testing smartphone batteries in a genuinely useful way is a difficult business, because everybody’s usage patterns differ.
I stress tested the iPhone 5c battery running Real Racing 3 on a continuous loop, and comparing that against the same test running on an iPhone 5. With the iPhone 5 at full brightness and with all network connections running, the battery ran out of juice in two hours and fifty minutes on iOS 6. Running the exact same test on the iPhone 5c on iOS 7 the battery expired after two hours and fifty one minutes.
That’s a test designed to run the battery down swiftly — it’s certainly possible to run the iPhone 5c through a complete day — but it suggests that whatever battery improvements are on board, they’re not noticeable enough — or possibly wiped out by iOS differences — to make a huge end difference to battery life in stressful situations if you’re a heavy user.

iPhone 5c: Pricing

Differentiating pricing between the iPhone 5c and the iPhone 5s must, I imagine, have taken some interesting meetings behind closed doors in Cupertino. Apple’s definitely decided to solely play in the premium arena with both models, pricing the iPhone 5c at $739 for the 16GB model or $869 for the 32GB model.
By way of comparison, the iPhone 5s is $869 for the 16GB and $999 for the 32GB version. There’s also a $1129 64GB iPhone 5s, but no comparable 64GB iPhone 5c. Across the similar storage capacities, there’s a straight $130 price premium for the higher end iPhone 5s device. They’re more than last year’s offerings, but then the Australian dollar has collapsed somewhat since this time last year, and the price on these handsets is highly unlikely to waver over the next year.
The same story holds true on contract, where for some time it’s been suggested that carriers were less inclined to absorb handset costs and in effect subsidise the cost of handsets. Vodafone’s cheapest plan price for a 16GB iPhone 5c costs $64/month ($60 contract, $4 handset) with 1.5GB of data and infinite talk within the Vodafone network and $700 “worth” of calls outside it for a minimum 24 month cost of $1536.
Over on the Telstra side of the fence, the cheapest iPhone 5c starts at $71/month over 24 months with $600 “worth” of calls, unlimited texts and 1GB of data for a minimum 24 month cost of $1704.
At the time of writing, Optus hasn’t announced its iPhone 5c pricing. I can’t imagine it’ll be vastly different. It’s also yet to appear from the usual direct importing crowd if you were seeking bargains and could live with shipping times.

iPhone 5c: Fat Duck verdict

I’ve never understood fashion. To me, it’s always seemed like the biggest peer pressure con job going. Why mention that in the context of the iPhone 5c?
Simply because I can’t help but feel that the market for the iPhone 5c remains a fashion market; people who would go into a store, see a green (or blue, or whatever) iPhone, squeal and decide that’s the phone they have to buy. I could see that being a target market for iPhone 5c sales.
The truth be told, the iPhone 5c is a fine little phone, and it’s one that sits in a rare niche; the small but powerful handset. Android hasn’t gone that way — the last really good powerful handset that I can recall running Android would be the Motorola RAZR M — but Apple has stuck to the smaller screen sizes for now.
The issue is that over the life of a contract — or even at outright purchase price — Apple itself offers a better product by a fairly significant margin.
The iPhone 5c is solid, but the iPhone 5s is much better. Those who bought last year’s iPhone 5 have virtually no reason to upgrade to the 5c at all — given you can get the colour pretty easily with a $20 case — and even those on older iPhone handsets, or looking to switch across from other mobile operating systems — would be better served with the iPhone 5s, even in a pretty green or pink case.

Author: Alex

Alex Kidman is a multi-award winning Australian technology writer, former editor at Gizmodo, CNET, GameSpot, ZDNet, PC Mag, APC, Finder and as a contributor to the ABC, SMH, AFR, Courier Mail, GadgetGuy, PC & Tech Authority, Atomic and many more. He's been writing professionally since 1998, and his passions include technology, social issues, education, retro gaming and professional wrestling.

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