Review: Apple iPhone 5c (16GB/32GB)
Pros: A more affordable version of 2012’s iPhone 5, still packing a 4” screen, LTE cellular support, and two very good cameras, with modestly improved low-light performance on the front camera. Features slightly improved headphone port audio, and still solid iOS 7 software foundation, newly augmented by a collection of excellent free iWork and iLife apps. Small improvements to battery performance. Now offered in five different colors and two different storage capacities.
Cons: Plastic shells are a major downgrade from both iPhone 5’s metal casing and earlier plastic enclosures developed for the iPhone 3GS, with mostly stale color options, and no trace of metallic sparkle. Real-world battery performance continues to fall below Apple’s best case estimates, most noticeably for cellular calling and data. LTE service remains inconsistent, now with not only widely varying data speeds and availability, but also increased user saturation in areas with “strong” signals. Verizon users still can’t talk and access cellular data at same time. FaceTime HD support has apparently been dropped in iOS 7 software for 720p video calling. Physically incompatible with cases and battery cases developed for the iPhone 5.
Since 2007, iLounge has independently tested every iPhone model, annually purchasing multiple phones, conducting numerous and time-consuming tests, and bringing together the sometimes differing opinions of our team of editors. There have been some memorably exciting moments over the years—various phones arrived with the first truly amazing iOS games, the first really great photos and video recordings, the first Retina screen and first FaceTime calling abilities—as well as numerous small steps of progress; we’ve also conducted countless hours of rote battery, wireless, and nitty gritty testing that ultimately get summed up as dry statistics. We can’t make the test results seem more exciting than they really are, but they matter: Apple’s performance claims aren’t always spot-on, and especially when they’re not, prospective customers need to know as much.
This year, Apple broke with tradition by releasing two new iPhones as replacements for last year’s iPhone 5. One is the iPhone 5c ($99/16GB, $199/32GB), which is nearly identical in functionality to the iPhone 5, but offered in one of five colored plastic shells instead of the prior metal and glass frame. The other is the $199-$399 iPhone 5s (full review here), which looks nearly identical to the iPhone 5 and has the same 16GB to 64GB storage capacities, but offers four key differences: speed, a tweaked rear camera, a fingerprint scanner, and new color choices. Buyers of the prior iPhone 5 should understand each of these models to be so modestly different from last year’s phone that trading up to either one would be all but pointless, but they go in different directions: the iPhone 5c is a downgrade, at least on the outside, while the iPhone 5s is an upgrade, primarily on the inside. Neither of them delivers one of those memorably exciting moments, but the iPhone 5s comes closer, and has a better prospect of doing so in the future.
Rather than repeating last year’s review, we’re going to stick largely to discussing what’s new in these phones. They certainly aren’t the most exciting new iPhone updates Apple has offered, but as history has demonstrated, small tweaks to already good and great products can be enough to keep sequels viable for another year. Read on to see why the iPhone 5s merited our A- rating and high recommendation, as the iPhone 5c drops to a B+ rating and general recommendation.