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.
Cases and Accessories
As a general statement, most of the accessories developed specifically for the iPhone 5 will not work for the iPhone 5c—the plastic model’s body is just a little larger and has slightly different curves than its metal predecessor, so all of the iPhone 5-specific battery packs and cases we’ve tested are incompatible, as are model-specific add-ons such as OlloClip’s attachable lenses. Apple has even made a separate iPhone 5c Dock from the iPhone 5/5s version just released as the iPhone 5s Dock, and designed the latter to be physically incompatible with the 5c.
Apple’s Docks aside, accessories designed to be compatible broadly with Apple’s Lightning connector standard will work with the iPhone 5c, including Lightning speakers, Lightning Car Chargers, and Lightning Power Adapters. A new collection of iPhone 5c-specific cases is already arriving in stores, as well, typically at the same prices as iPhone 5 cases, with similar designs.
Revealed alongside the iPhone 5c, Apple’s iPhone 5c Case is a bizarre design that follows Apple’s track record of debuting polarizing official options. On the plus side, it’s relatively inexpensive by Apple case standards at only $29, and comes in six colors—five matching the iPhone 5c, plus black. They’re primarily rubber, lined with microfiber, and surprisingly stiff with integrated button protection. Unfortunately, the design has been near-universally panned due to its use of a 5-by-7 grid of large holes on the back, oddly alternating between covering and exposing parts of the device’s iPhone and certification markings. Apple has pitched the multiple case and 5c color combinations as a selling point, but they look and feel pretty trashy. Should you need a case, look elsewhere; our iPhone 5-family case gallery already has plenty of better options, and we expect even more well before year’s end.
What’s Stayed (Pretty Much) The Same From iPhone 5 to iPhone 5c
Apart from the items discussed above, very little has changed from the iPhone 5 to the iPhone 5c—the user experience is virtually identical. Geekbench 3, the latest version of the popular processor benchmarking app, rated the iPhone 5c as a 697 in single-core mode and 1268 in dual-core mode, compared with 715 and 1269 for the iPhone 5, scores so close as to be practically indistinguishable. By comparison, the iPhone 5s rated 1418 and 2560, around twice the iPhone 5 and 5c’s performance—effectively in a different league. For the time being, apps and games that can run on all three of these devices look and feel highly similar, but when iPhone 5s-optimized titles are released over the next year, they’ll be capable of much greater feats; the iPhone 5c versions will perform exactly the same as iPhone 5 games.
For all intents and purposes, the iPhone 5c’s screen is the same as the iPhone 5’s—brightness, color rendition, viewing angles and resolution were virtually identical between the units we tested. Apple now sources screens for each iPhone model from multiple vendors, and many displays over the years have varied between slight cool (blue) or warm (yellow) tints; nothing is different there in the units we tested. At times, we thought that the touch surfaces on the iPhone 5c and 5s appeared to be just a little peppier with finger input than the iPhone 5.
If anything, the iPhone 5c’s audio sounds a little better than the iPhone 5’s. Direct comparisons we ran between models using extremely high-end Ultimate Ears earphones suggested that the iPhone 5c produces slightly cleaner audio—lower distortion across the spectrum—plus just a little extra treble and bass, resulting in songs that sound modestly smoother and more dynamic than with the iPhone 5. We’d characterize the differences as too small to be evident in lower-end earphones, such as the ones packed-in with the iPhone 5c, but they’re there to reward audiophiles who dare to connect their best gear to the plastic-bodied model. Speakerphone and general phone calling performance was effectively identical across all three phones during our testing; the bottom speakers sound equally loud and clear on the iPhone 5, 5c, and 5s, and callers told us that we sounded the same to them, as well. It’s worth a brief mention that the Verizon iPhone 5c still does not let users make phone calls and use cellular data at the same time.
Wireless tests of the iPhone 5, 5c, and 5 units started with what appeared to be identical speed performance on downloading and uploading tests over Wi-Fi, hitting the 20Mbps/2Mbps caps of our residential testing location; faster performance is possible with faster broadband packages. It’s worth a note that Apple has kept 802.11a/b/g/n hardware in the new units rather than pushing forward to the increasingly popular 802.11ac standard. Similarly, cellular speed tests over 4G and LTE revealed no real performance differences between the models. In an area with reported 4-5 bar LTE strength, the iPhone 5c and 5s models both achieved AT&T download/upload speeds in the 15Mbps/10Mbps range, versus Verizon download/upload speeds in the 10Mbps/5Mbps range, markedly down from last year when the companies’ LTE networks were new and comparatively unsaturated with customers. Just as with the iPhone 5, it’s possible to find areas where each phone will hit download speeds four to five times higher than these numbers.