iPhone 5c review

The iPhone 5c is Apple's mid-range iPhone. It's colourful, slightly cheaper than the iPhone 5s, and 'unashamedly plastic,' according to Apple. But, as the iPhone 5c nears its first birthday, should you buy it? We revisit our iPhone 5c review to determine whether it's worth buying.

Just after Apple launched the iPhone 5 in 2012, there were calls for the company to start thinking about offering a low cost version of the iPhone. Apple watchers and analyst suggested that Apple needed a cheaper iPhone if it was to continue to gain marketshare at a time when smartphone ownership was starting to reach saturation. Apple responded by saying that a cheaper iPhone would "never be the future of Apple products." 

And yet the idea that Apple would launch a cheaper iPhone took hold, so when Apple unveiled the iPhone 5calongside the iPhone 5s many assumed that the 'C' stood for cheap. Perhaps because expectations were set so high (or should we say low) the inevitable disappointment when it emerged that the upfront price of the iPhone 5c was just £80 less than the equivalent iPhone 5s. Starting at £469 the iPhone 5c is not a cheap iPhone.

Apple has since launched an 8GB iPhone 5c, reducing the starting price of the device to £429. Even so, it's still not cheap, and 8GB won't be enough for most people.

Is this a big mistake on Apple's part? We don't think so. Indeed, we think that producing a cheap iPhone would have cheapened the brand. Now anyone purchasing an iPhone 5c doesn't need to feel like they are settling for something inferior. Both of Apple's new iPhones are premium products and anyone should be proud to own one. Indeed, the negative press about the higher-than-expected price for the iPhone 5c means that the value of your new phone will be recognized.

Less publicised is the fact that the mobile networks are offering huge discounts on the iPhone 5c. For example, you can pick one up from EE for £9.99 or free from Vodafone, but you don't need to tell anyone that's what you did. Sure you will end up paying more in the long run on a monthly basis (up to £1,283.99 in total) but not everyone can cough up the full price of a new smartphone up front.

We find it odd that so many Apple watchers have branded the iPhone 5c a flop. It's far from it. It managed to outsell Samsung's flagship smartphone on half of the top carriers in America, and also pushed every other Android, Windows and Blackberry phone out of the top three smartphones across each carrier since it launched in September.

Plus, Apple CEO Tim Cook has defended the iPhone 5c on various occasions, claiming that the device has been a big winner when it comes to attracting Android users to the iPhone, and has actually shown the strongest growth rate of any of Apple's mid-range iPhones since its launch. See: Is the iPhone 5c really a flop?

iPhone 5c review: Design & build

The plastic back of the iPhone 5c is a huge departure from the steel, aluminium and glass materials that Apple has used since the iPhone 4. The iPhone 3GS had a plastic back, so it's almost like going backwards. But does the plastic case make the new iPhone 5c look like it belongs in a bargain basement?

On the contrary, we think that Apple has proven that plastic doesn't have to look cheap. The iPhone 5c bears all the trademarks of Apple's meticulous attention to detail. It is crafted from a single piece of plastic. You won’t find a single seam or joint in the unibody-style design. One benefit of the plastic construction is that the edges are smooth and curved, unlike those of the iPhones 5s and 4s, which by comparison feel a little less comfortable in the hand.

On the inside of the plastic case is a steel-enforced frame. Thanks to this metal skeleton the plastic coated iPhone 5c feels solid. Along with adding rigidity the steel frame and metal plate at the back can double up as an antenna, so there wasn't a repeat of antennagate, the reception issue that plagued the iPhone 4.

On the outside the plastic case gains a clear lacquer hard coating, which gives it a durable and glossy surface that is very difficult to scratch - our attempts merely left marks that could be easily wiped off.

The iPhone 5c case certainly picks up fewer marks than the iPhone 5. We've kept our iPhone 5 in a case from day one in order to protect it. We think you could get away with never putting your iPhone 5c in a case, indeed, you may prefer to show off your chosen colour. 

As for size and weight the iPhone 5c measures 124mm by 59.2mm, and is 8.97mm deep. It weighs 132 grams. This means it's slightly longer and thicker than both the iPhone 5s and the iPhone 5, and a little heavier. 

Here's our unboxing the iPhone 5c video 

iPhone 5c review: Colour options

Speaking of colours, it's pretty clear that when Apple settled on the name iPhone 5c the 'c' was intended indicate colour. This is the first time Apple has produced an iPhone in any colour other than black or white.

The iPhone 5c is available in pink, yellow, blue and green, as well as white. The colours are bright and vibrant and it looks like they came right off the catwalk – they contrast well with the next two seasons colours, according to the fashion industry. 

To emphasise its fashion credentials Apple's new iPhone 5s was used at a Burberry fashion shoot at London Fashion Week. We also know that Apple recently poached a designer from Yves St Laurent, and its new head of retail, Angela Ahrednts, was formerly the CEO of Burberry. With the iPhone 5c, Apple has designed a phone that will become a fashion item.

Choice of colour will be a personal decision for anyone buying an iPhone 5c. It's inevitable that pink will be popular with younger females, and we've seen lots of yellow and blue models out and about. The white model is for the more subdued, while the green seems to be a bit of a dud so far – we've not seen any out in the real world so far.

What is crucial is the fact that there is choice. People like to be able to emphasise their personality though the products they own and what better way to do this than through colour. 

iPhone 5c review: Camera

Now that we've discussed the iPhone 5c's appearance, it's time to talk about what's on the inside. The iPhone 5c is a feature-packed phone, though much of its hardware has been taken from the iPhone 5 and placed inside the new plastic body (see more on this below).

The FaceTime camera on the front of the device is better than the one found in the iPhone 5, offering up better visibility in low-light.

The camera on the back of the iPhone 5c features the same 8Mp sensor, 3264x2448, backside illuminated, hybrid IR filter, five-element lens, and f/2.4 aperture as the iPhone 5 did.

It is by no means a bad camera. If your current camera is an iPhone 4S or older you will notice a marked difference. The iPhone 5c (or iPhone 5) camera offers faster photo capture, better low-light performance and improved noise reduction compared to those previous models. HDR captures are also faster when compared to older iPhones.

The camera itself is identical to that in the iPhone 5, as you can see from this selection of shots taken with the two cameras. 

The video quality is also identical. 

If photography is your thing you may prefer the camera in the iPhone 5s, which is greatly improved with a new five-element Apple designed lens that features a larger f/2.2 aperture. The sensor in the iPhone 5s camera is also larger as are the pixels on this sensor.

See also: Best new features coming in Apple's iOS 8 iPhone Camera.

iPhone 5c review: Display 

When the iPhone 5 launched the most obvious difference to the iPhone 4S was the size of the display, and like the iPhone 5, the iPhone 5c (and iPhone 5s) feature a 4in Retina display as opposed to the 3.5in display of the older models. Being 176 pixels taller means the display offers a 16:9 aspect ratio – which is the same as an HDTV.

Many consumers are hoping for an iPhone with a bigger display this year, and we're expecting to have that wish granted with the iPhone 6 in September.

However, the 4in display is designed so that you can hold the iPhone in your hand and reach all parts of the screen comfortably. You can't do this with a bigger display unless you have giant hands, so if one-handed use is important to you then the iPhone 5c's display will be the perfect size.

It's very crisp, too, with a 326ppi display at a resolution of 1136x640 pixels. That's not as high resolution as some competing smartphones from rivals such as Samsung, LG and HTC, but you'll find it more than satisfactory for watching movies, browsing the web, reading and playing games. See also: The best iPad & iPhone games

iPhone 5c review: Performance

The iPhone 5c’s Geekbench score turned out to be slightly less than the iPhone 5, according to our tests. The iPhone 5 was about 10 percent faster than the new 5c in this test. The iPhone 5s Geekbench score is more than twice that of the iPhone 5c.

Geekbench 3 (single-core score)

                        iPhone 5s 1393.0
                        iPhone 5c 671.0
                        iPhone 5 723.0
                        iPhone 4S 217.0
                        iPhone 4 213.0
                        HTC One 591.0
                        Samsung Galaxy S4 667.0

Geekbench 3 (multi-core score)

                        iPhone 5s 2485.0
                        iPhone 5c 1180.0
                        iPhone 5 1302.0
                        iPhone 4S 412.0
                        iPhone 4210.0
                        HTC One 1507.0
                        Samsung Galaxy S4 1862.0

Sunspider 1.0.1

                        iPhone 5s 454.0
                        iPhone 5c 715.6
                        iPhone 5 707.6
                        iPhone 4S 1573.1
                        iPhone 4 2682.9
                        HTC One 1117.4
                        Samsung Galaxy S4 1210.5

The iPhone 5c was also slightly slower on the Sunspider test than the iPhone 5. The Sunspider JavaScript tests showed the 5s finishing the test in 454 milliseconds versus the 715 milliseconds of the iPhone 5c and 707.6 for the iPhone 5 (lower is better). However, the iPhone 5 was only 1 percent faster than the iPhone 5c. See also: iPhone 4S vs iPhone 5c

There are more benchmarks at Macworld.com.

iPhone 5c review: Battery life

Apple says that the battery in the iPhone 5c is larger than the one in the iPhone 5. Apple claims that it offers 10 hours of web browsing on Wi-Fi and LTE networks, up to 8 hours on 3G networks, and up to 10 hours of video playback and up to 40 hours of audio playback.

This is almost identical to Apple's claims regarding the iPhone 5, with the exception that Apple now claims 10 hours over LTE where last year that claim was 8 hours.

How did the battery stand up to our tests? The iPhone 5c lasted an impressive 10 hours, 19 minutes (compared to the iPhone 5s at 11 hours). The Samsung Galaxy S4 managed 7 hours in the same tests, and the HTC One lasted 6 hours, 44 minutes. The Droid Razr Maxx, however, lasted 13 hours, 28 minutes in our video-looping battery test.

Battery life looping video

                        iPhone 5s 11:03
                        iPhone 5c 10:19
                        iPhone 5 9:37
                        iPhone 4S 8:31
                        HTC One 6:44
                        Samsung Galaxy S4 7:01

See also: 33 tips to help boost iPhone battery life

iPhone 5c review: Capacity

Along with the various colours, there are three versions of the iPhone 5c available offering 8GB, 16GB and 32GB capacities, though the 8GB model isn't available in all countries. If you want a 64GB iPhone you will have to turn to the iPhone 5s. 

iPhone 5c review: Software

The iPhone 5c, of course, runs Apple's iOS 7. It'll soon get the update to iOS 8 when the new version is released to the public later this year, too. You can find out more about iOS 7 in our iOS 7 review, and more about what to expect from iOS 8 in our iOS 8 preview.

iPhone 5c review: Price

As we mentioned, all the rumours had the iPhone 5c pegged as the 'low-cost', 'budget', or 'cheap' iPhone. While the iPhone 5c is slightly cheaper than the flagship model, it's not that much cheaper than the iPhone 5 was. 

The 16GB iPhone 5c costs £469, where the 16GB iPhone 5 was £529. The 16GB iPhone 5s is just £80 more at £549, a £20 on the iPhone 5 starting price.

Nor is the iPhone 5c Apple's cheapest iPhone, the 8GB iPhone 4S at £349 upfront, is the option for those who want an entry-level smartphone from Apple. 

In the UK the upfront price of the iPhone 5c is as follows: 

8GB iPhone 5c is £429
16GB iPhone 5c is £469
32GB iPhone 5c is £549 

Best iPhone 5c deals

However, the upfront price doesn't tell the whole story. Anyone looking to get their iPhone 5c on a contract will be able to take their pick of various network deals - some of which are offering the iPhone 5c for free. There really seems to be a battle breaking out between the various UK networks. 

We've rounded up the best overall deals from EE, Three, O2, Vodafone, Virgin Mobile, Tesco Mobile, Carphone Warehouse and Phones 4 U in our Best iPhone 5c deals article.

See also: How to stop running out of data on your iPhone

iPhone 5c vs iPhone 5

As much as we like the plastic casing of the iPhone 5c there is one fact that we can't ignore. The plastic case is basically the only difference between the iPhone 5 and iPhone 5c. The two phones are almost identical, sharing the same iSight camera, A6 processor, and Lightning connector. This has lead many to assume that the iPhone 5c is a repackaged iPhone 5.

There are a few differences between the two models, though. The iPhone 5c shares its internal WiFi and cellular hardware with the iPhone 5s rather than the iPhone 5 - probably because by sharing common components Apple can save money. This, coupled with the steal back providing extra antenna capacity seems, in our tests, to result in a better signal.

The iPhone 5c and iPhone 5s also share the new FaceTime camera that is capable of clearer FaceTime video calls, according to Apple. We tested this and indeed, the iPhone 5c meant we could be seen in more detail than when we tried with an iPhone 5. 

iPhone 5c on the left, iPhone 5 on the right 

The other major difference is the fact that the iPhone 5c supports all the UK 4G networks, whereas the iPhone 5 cannot support the 4G networks of O2 and Vodafone.

Despite these internal differences – and the new design - it would be difficult to argue that it is a completely different phone. The big question is whether it really matters.

We don't think that it does matter if the iPhone 5 if hiding inside these new vibrant cases. The iPhone 5 is a great phone and we're sure that if the iPhone 5 was still on sale people would be queuing up to buy it. What's different this year is that you can buy an iPhone 5 that doesn't look like it's a year old.

Although, as we noted when Apple launched the iPhone 5c, at launch the entry level price of the iPhone 5 was £529. Starting at £469, the iPhone 5c is £60 less than the iPhone 5 was.

Before now, Apple's usual practice was to reduce the price of last year's model by around £100. This year the price reduction is less, but as we said above, at least customers don't have to feel that they are settling for an old phone.

For more, see iPhone 5c vs iPhone 5 comparison review.

iPhone 5c vs iPhone 5s

Why choose the iPhone 5s instead of the iPhone 5c? Aside from the design and price tag, there are many differences between the two devices, because the iPhone 5s sports significantly upgraded hardware.

As mentioned previously in this review, the iPhone 5s has a much improved camera. In addition, another reason to opt for the iPhone 5s would be if you know that your usage is likely to benefit from the modern platform offered by the iPhone 5s. With an A7 chip and 64-bit processing the iPhone 5s will, no doubt, be loved by gamers and will also give you a few more years of use before it becomes obsolete.

On-the-other-hand the A6 chip is no slow coach. When we tested it when it first appeared in the iPhone 5 we said that it ran laps around all previous iPhones and iPhones. Its Geekbench score was more than twice as high as its closest competitors, the iPad 2 and the iPad 3, so again, if you have an older device, expect to see a noticeable improvement.

If you need the power of an A7 chip, then the iPhone 5c might not be for you, but we think there are plenty of people who don't need that much power on their smartphone right now.

For more, see iPhone 5c vs iPhone 5s comparison review.

iPhone 5c vs Android & Windows Phone smartphones

Take a look at the following links to find out how the iPhone 5c compares to some of its Android and Windows Phone rivals.

iPhone 5c vs OnePlus OneiPhone 5c vs Lumia 630
8GB iPhone 5c vs budget smartphone rivals
iPhone 5c vs Moto G

OUR VERDICT

If you are trying to decide between the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c it is a question of whether you need all the extras offered by the iPhone 5s. Perhaps you are enticed by the new camera in the 5s, for example. If you need the latest technology it is only £80 more, so it's kind of a no-brainer.

But not everyone needs the bells and whistles - for some it's not the processor and the high tech features that matter, but the way a device looks and feels and whether it helps them express their individuality. If you fit in that camp then the iPhone 5c is well worth a look.

Similarly if you have an iPhone that predated the iPhone 5 it really is about time you upgraded. You really don't know what you've been missing.

For those of you with an iPhone 5, upgrading to an iPhone 5c is probably only worth it if you are on O2 or one of the other networks that wouldn't be able to offer 4G on that device. 4G is going to become the norm pretty soon, and next year you may start wishing you hadn't been left behind.

Keep in mind that Apple is about to launch a new iPhone (possibly two new iPhones) so if you can wait another two months before buying your new iPhone, we'd advise you to do so.

The Complete Guide to the iPhone 5s & 5c is on-sale now. Click here for buying information.
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