iPhone 5S / iPhone 5C full review

Apple's current iPhone line-up includes the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c, both unveiled during an even in September 2013. But which of the two iPhones is right for you? We explore the differences and similarities between the two smartphones in our iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c comparison review to help you decide which one to buy.

Mind you, with the iPhone 6 launch event expected next month, it would make a lot of sense to hold your horses for just a little longer. As well as having the option of buying the new iPhone 6 after September, you may well see prices of existing models drop at the same time. We discuss such considerations in our article Should I buy iPhone 5s, 5c or wait for iPhone 6?

But if you're determined to buy now, read on for detailed comparison of Apple's two most recent iPhones: the iPhone 5c and the iPhone 5s.

iPhone 5c vs iPhone 5s: Colours

The launch of the iPhone 5c and iPhone 5s marked the first time that the iPhone was available in anything other than black and white.

The iPhone 5c is available in bright and vibrant pink, yellow, blue, green, and white options.

The iPhone 5s looks a little more like the iPhone 5, but there is a new colour option: Gold. That's in addition to the Silver and Space Grey models. The silver is comparable to last year's White & Silver option, and the Space Grey reminds us of the Black & Slate iPhone 5 option, only with a lighter shade of graphite to its back and edges.

We were dubious about the gold option when the rumours of the iPhone 5s colour emerged, and while we're still not completely convinced by it, it's not as 'blingy' as you might imagine.

There are eight colours available across these iPhone ranges, suggesting that there will be something for everyone. It certainly makes a change, though smartphones from rival companies are becoming increasingly colourful too.

iPhone 5s vs iPhone 5c

iPhone 5c vs iPhone 5s: Design & build quality

The iPhone 5c is constructed from a polycarbonate shell, crafted from a single piece of plastic. The plastic coats a steel frame so it's certainly not flimsy. Apple describes the iPhone 5c as "unashamedly plastic", and we can't help but agree. It's not going to be to everyone's taste, and it's clear that it's not the premium model of iPhone, but Apple has done an excellent job of making plastic look great.

The iPhone 5c feels good to hold, too. It's got a nice, solid build, without seeming heavy. The polycarbonate surface is grippy - we didn't feel as if it would slip out of our hands (which may mean that smashed screens are a thing of the past.) The iPhone 5c also features curved edges that feel a little more comfortable to hold than the diamond-cut chamfers on the 5 and 5s.

The iPhone 5s, on the other hand, is precision-crafted from aluminium and glass. 

Holding the iPhone 5s is a similar experience to holding the iPhone 5. Indeed, the iPhone 5s looks very similar to the now-discontinued iPhone 5, and feels similar too, with no noticeable added weight. If you have an existing case for your iPhone 5, you may be pleased to hear that the same external design means that you'll be able to use the same cases for your iPhone 5s.

You'll be able to spot the difference between the iPhone 5 and the iPhone 5s thanks to the metallic ring around the iPhone 5s's Home button, which is part of the new fingerprint sensor feature (see more on that below). Of course, there's no gold version of iPhone 5, either.

The difference in weight between the iPhone 5s and the iPhone 5c is apparent if you're holding both phones at the same time, but you are unlikely to feel weighed down by the slightly heavier iPhone 5c. The iPhone 5s weighs 112g compared to the iPhone 5c at 132g. That 20g difference is equivalent to a fun-sized Mars bar.

The iPhone 5c is probably a good option if you are clumsy. The plastic coating seems more scratch-resistant, and we found the surface less slippery. However, the iPhone 5s has a look of quality about it that you can never get from a plastic coating. If it's a status symbol you are looking for, the iPhone 5s is the one for you.

iPhone 5s vs iPhone 5c  

iPhone 5c vs iPhone 5s: Cameras

The iPhone 5c offers an 8Mp camera and the same f/2.4 aperture as the iPhone 4s (and the iPhone 5). Like the iPhone 5s it sports a Sapphire crystal lens cover. (This sapphire cover also featured on the iPhone 5, but is not available on the iPhone 4s.)

Both phones sport a new FaceTime HD camera that Apple claims provides better low-light performance and both cameras can take stills while recording video.

However, Apple's iPhone 5s has had a significant rear camera boost. While it remains 8Mp, it features a new five-element, Apple-designed lens with a larger f/2.2 aperture instead of f/2.4, which helps with indoor and dusky shooting too.

The iPhone 5s is a great example of why it's not how many megapixels you've got that matters. It's the sensor that is the most important factor in getting a good-quality shot. The camera's new sensor has a 15 per cent larger active area, and the pixels on this sensor are 1.5 microns in size, larger than on the iPhone 5 and on other smartphones. Larger pixels yield greater electrical output, leading to clearer images in low-light conditions without resorting to messy noise-reduction techniques. 

iPhone 5s vs iPhone 5c: Camera

Apple has designed iOS 7 to take advantage of the iPhone 5s camera and A7 chip's imaging capabilities. Before you take a picture, the iPhone 5s will perform auto white balance and auto exposure, and will create a dynamic local tone map around the image to get better highlights and shadows. The camera will also take multiple images and analyze them in real time to see which is the sharpest. See also: 10 cool new features in Photos for iOS 8

iPhone 5s also has a dual-LED flash while the iPhone 5c only has an LED flash. This new 'True Tone Flash' features one cool LED and one warmer light, which aims to give you the right colour flash for the situation you're in. By mixing the two light sources of different temperature to more naturally light your subject, the iPhone 5s should avoid the washed-out glare of most simple flash units.

The iPhone 5s offers improved image stabalisation when compared to the iPhone 5c. This auto image stabilisation aims to give users a much sharper image.

There's a Burst Mode available only on iPhone 5s, which will take photographs at 10 frames per second until you let go of the shutter. You can take burst mode style shots on the other iPhones, but not as many in a second. 

There is also a Slo-Mo video mode which lets you capture video in slow motion. This is possible because faster processing allows the camera to capture more frames every second when filming. Switch to Slo-Mo in the camera app and it shoots at 120 frames per second - then replays at a more familiar 30 fps, giving the illusion of slow-motion. Where normal video is shot in full-HD, Slo Mo captures 1280 x 720-pixel video.

If a good camera is important to you when deciding which iPhone to buy, then the iPhone 5s is the obvious choice. However, if you are upgrading from an older iPhone the new iPhone 5c takes a better photograph than the previous iPhone models - in our tests we even found that the photographs taken with an iPhone 5c were superior to those taken with an iPhone 5, despite the fact that on paper the two phones have the same camera. Have a look at the photos we took here on the Macworld Facebook group.

iPhone 5c vs iPhone 5s  

iPhone 5c vs iPhone 5s: Processor

On the inside of the iPhone 5c is an A6 chip, the same processor that featured in the iPhone 5. If you are upgrading from an earlier iPhone then you will still see an improvement in performance, but if you are updgrading from an iPhone 5 you may want to consider factors other than the processor, such as the ability to work on any 4G network as explained below.

The iPhone 5s has a new A7 processor as found in the iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina display. The A7 is a 64-bit desktop class architecture with a modern ARM instruction set that's more efficient, 2x general-purpose registers, 2x floating-point registers, over 1 billion transistors. According to Apple, it is up to twice as fast as the iPhone 5.

The iPhone 5c features the A6 chip found in the iPhone 5, which for most will be plenty fast enough.

iPhone games

In addition to the A7 chip, the iPhone 5s has a brand-new part called the M7. The M7 is a motion coprocessor, which takes advantage of all of the sensors and continuously measures the data coming from the accelerometer, gyroscope and compass without having to wake up the A7. This will open up lots of new opportunities for fitness apps.

The M7 is also one of Apple's strategies to prolong battery life. To offload some of the low-level background duties, which nonetheless would keep the main CPU busy enough to deny it power nap moments the M7 chip’s role is to process incoming sensor data from the accelerometer, compass and gyroscope, some of the components that give the phone its orientation. For example, iOS 7’s wallpaper parallax effect, where the background image seems to slide behind as you wiggle the phone, is driven by the M7 chip. 

The iPhone 5s features a superior processor than the iPhone 5c, however, in many cases it is debatable whether the extra power would be noticed in normal every day use. There are only a handful of apps that are designed to take special advantage of the new 64-bit processor and the M7 chip in the iPhone 5s for example. However, this technology should stand you in good stead for a few years.

iPhone 5c vs iPhone 5s: Battery life

According to Apple, both new phones offer 10 hours of talk time on 3G networks, up to 10 hours of web browsing on Wi-Fi and LTE networks and up to 8 hours on 3G networks, and up to 10 hours of video playback and up to 40 hours of audio playback. See also: 33 tips to help boost iPhone battery life

The company claims they provide an equal or greater battery life than the iPhone 5.

How did the battery stand up to our tests? The iPhone 5c lasted an impressive 10 hours, 19 minutes while the iPhone 5s managed 11 hours. By comparison, the Samsung Galaxy S4 managed 7 hours in the same tests, and the HTC One lasted 6 hours, 44 minutes.

Battery life looping video results

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

Both the iPhone 5c and iPhone 5s seem to offer better battery life than the older iPhone models and the competiton.


iPhone 5c vs iPhone 5s: Storage

The iPhone 5c is available in 8GB, 16GB and 32GB capacities.

The iPhone 5s is available in 16GB, 32GB and 64GB versions. There had been some expectation that Apple might offer a 128GB version of the iPhone, but the company launched no such product yet.

For many extra storage will be the deal breaker. However, with iCloud, and the potential offered by external storage devices, you may not need as much storage as you think. 

The iPhone 5s is the only iPhone to offer 64GB, so if it's the maximum capacity you are after then that's the best option. But more storage space comes at a price, and you may not require it. There are various reasons why you might be ok with less storage space, you get 5GB free storage space in Apple's iCloud for starters, any apps or content you buy from Apple can be deleted and redownloaded at a later date for free, and there are various storage devices that you can use with an iPhone that connect via Wi-Fi.

iPhone 5c vs iPhone 5s: 3G/4G/Wi-Fi

A change of cellular RF chipset means the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c should work across any upcoming 4G LTE service in the UK, unlike the iPhone 5 which only runs on EE's brand of 4G.

Unfortunately Apple has not taken the cue from its own upgraded AirPort Extreme and Time Capsule routers to add 11ac wireless to the iPhone 5s or iPhone 5c.  

If you want to sign up for 4G on a network that is unsupported by the iPhone 5 then the iPhone 5c and iPhone 5s have the necessary technology. The iPhone 5 only works on a couple of 4G networks. The iPhone 4s and older don't run on 4G at all. You might not be interested in 4G right now, but over the next couple of years it is likely to become more dominant, and if you don't have the capability on your phone you may well wish you had.

iPhone 5c vs iPhone 5s: Dimensions

The iPhone 5c measures 124.4mm by 59.2mm, and is 8.97mm deep. It weighs 132 grams.

The iPhone 5s measures 123.8mm by 58.6mm, and is 7.6mm deep. It weighs 112 grams.

This means the iPhone 5c is slightly longer and thicker than the iPhone 5s, and a little heavier.

In addition, the iPhone 5 measurements were 123.8mm by 58.6mm and the depth was 7.6mm, so you may find that your existing iPhone 5 cases are compatible with the iPhone 5s.

Both phones are a lot lighter than the iPhone 4S which weighs in at 140 grams.

Both new iPhones have a 4in screen. The iPhone 4s has a smaller 3.5in screen. See also: iPhone Air rumour round-up


iPhone 5c vs iPhone 5s: Features

There are a number of features that are only currently available on the iPhone 5s. Most obvious is the Touch ID fingerprint sensor. This is built into the iPhone 5s Home button and is designed to eliminate the need for passcodes.

The following features are also only available on the iPhone 5s:

  • The M7 motion coprocessor
  • The f/2.2 aperture
  • True Tone Flash
  • Burst mode
  • Slo-Mo video
  • Improved image stabilization

There are a lot of new features in the iPhone 5s that aren't present in the iPhone 5c. If you want the best features then it's the phone to choose. But not everyone needs a fingerprint scanner, so you might be able to live without such things.

iPhone 5c vs iPhone 5s: Price

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 8GB iPhone 5c costs £429, while the 16GB model costs £469. The 16GB iPhone 5s is just £80 more at £549.

8GB iPhone 5c is £429

16GB iPhone 5c is £469

32GB iPhone 5c is £549 

16GB iPhone 5s is £549

32GB iPhone 5c is £629

64GB iPhone 5c is £709

See also: iPhone 5s tariffs and pricing: Best Apple's iPhone 5s contract

Spending £80 extra to get the best iPhone going is not a tough decision and judging from the popularity of the iPhone 5s compared to the iPhone 5c a lot of people have seen the logic in that decision.

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