iPhone 5C full review
Apple gave the entire tech-watching world something of a body swerve recently when it announced a new iPhone 5c with just 8GB of storage. The unexpected move does bring down the price of a new iPhone to £429, but with just 8GB and no expandable storage it makes the iPhone 5c look pretty limited. And when you factor in hardware that was new in the iPhone 5 in 2012 the iPhone 5c has something of a challenge to stake its place in the market. Here we'll compare the iPhone 5c with the best two budget phones on the market - the Lumia 520 Windows Phone, and Motorola's Moto G: an Android. We'll also reference the Nexus 5 - currently the best value smartphone on the market in the UK.
My contention is simple: the iPhone has always been a premium brand for which people were prepared to pay a premium. But the iPhone 5c drags iPhone pricing into the middle ground for smartphones. And in doing so it's just possible that Apple has hobbled its cheaper iPhone to the point that it isn't a good deal. Here's our iPhone 5C 8GB vs Moto G, Lumia 520 and Nexus 5 comparison review. (See also, iPhone 5c vs Moto g comparison review and iPhone 5s review.)
iPhone 5C 8GB vs Moto G, Lumia 520 and Nexus 5: UK price
The 8GB flavour of the iPhone 5c costs £429 inc VAT. The LG-made Nexus 5 costs just £299 and you'll get 16GB of storage. Like the iPhone, it doesn't offer expandable storage but doubling storage to 32GB will add £40, not the £80 which Apple charges for the same upgrade.
The 8GB iPhone 5c really starts to look a bit silly when we compare it to the Nokia Lumia 520 and Motorola Moto G. These budget smartphones are priced around the £100 mark meaning you can have a single iPhone 5c or four, yes four, Lumia 520s or Moto Gs.
So let's investigate what you get for your money. (For a more in-depth view of the Moto G, read PC Advisor's Motorola Moto G review: The best budget smartphone ever.)
iPhone 5C 8GB vs Moto G, Lumia 520 and Nexus 5: build and design
The iPhone 5c is - as you would expect from Apple - a well put together device. Apple took its successful iPhone 5 handset and gave it a colourful new coat of paint and a plastic casing. There are five colour options: white, blue, pink, yellow and green.
The iPhone 5C has a polycarbonate plastic casing. As a 9mm phone the iPhone is quite big for today's superthin standard but the 5C doesn't feel thick or chunky in the hand. In that respect it's a winner: this is the most ergonomic iPhone since the 3GS.
But good build quality is no longer the exclusive preserve of Apple. Pebble-like is a good way of describing the Moto G's design and build. It's not particularly thin or light – 11.6mm and 143g – but feels nice in the hand with its rounded soft touch rear cover. The phone is well made, robust and feels like it should cost a lot more than it does.
There's little going on with the design. Silver power and volume buttons sit on the side and the two ports, headphone and USB, sit at either end of the handset.
Interchangeable coloured 'Moto Shells' mean you can customise the phone easily. We quite like our PCA red cover but there are a number of other colours. There's also a 'Flip Shell' cover which instead of going over the existing rear cover and making the phone fatter, replaces it.
The covers are quite tricky to remove but this is because they clip in so well. Once you've got one in place, it's not going very far which is good news.
The Nokia Lumia 520 fits comfortably in the hands, measuring just 64x9.9x119.99mm and 124g with that 4in screen. Rounded corners and sides help you to easily operate it in a single hand. Even with a removable rear panel it doesn't creak or flex under pressure, although the build is a touch plasticky and you'll be constantly wiping away greasy fingerprints. It is solid, and you won't need a case to prevent scratches, however.
In common with its Lumia siblings you can quickly and easily snap off the 520's colourful rear cover and swap in another: yellow, cyan, red, white and black fascias are available. All fit neatly over the handset's various hardware buttons and ports: there's a 3.5mm audio jack on top, a volume rocker, power switch and dedicated camera button on the right side, and a Micro-USB port on the bottom. On the rear is a 5Mp camera and a small slot for the speaker. Our sample came in red, giving it a fresh, playful look that's miles apart from the multiple boring black Androids dominating the market and has a lot in common with the iPhone 5c.
Back in the Android world the Nexus 5 has simple and understated style. The black model has a nice matt soft to the touch finish plastic casing. From the off, there's also a white model but we took a look at the former.
The rear cover is slightly curved helping it to sit nicely in the hand but it's a separate piece of plastic so there is a seam where it meets the edging. The build quality doesn't quite match up to rival flagship devices and although we'd prefer a uni-body, it somehow has that desirable feel to it. The back isn't removable, so the battery isn't user-replaceable.
The Nexus is now 8.9mm and 130g which is nicely thin and light for a device with a large screen. The Nexus 5 has impressively small bezels down either side helping it feel like you're holding a screen rather than a smartphone. It's a small phone considering it has a 5in screen.
So the critical point for this is article is as follows: all of the iPhone 5c rivals that we review here enjoy a similar quality of build and design to that of the iPhone 5c. So price is against the iPhone, and it cannot claw back a win on build quality or design. (See iPhone 5S vs iPhone 5C comparison review for more on the differences between Apple's two phones.)
iPhone 5C 8GB vs Moto G, Lumia 520 and Nexus 5: screen
We'll now take a look at the battle in terms of displays. Screen size is a great way to choose between smartphones – you'll want to pick a size that's comfortable for you personally, with the highest possible quality. The iPhone 5C's screen is still the 4in Retina display which was introduced with the iPhone 5. It looks crisp and colourful. Its 1136x640-pixel resolution reflects the fact that it is a smaller display than the Moto G sports, and at 326 ppi it is exactly as sharp. The iPhone 5C also has a multi-touch display with scratch-resistant glass.
The Moto G comes with a nicely sized 4.5in display which has a 720p resolution. That means a pixel density of 326ppi which, would you believe it, is exactly the same as the iPhone 5c. Colours are punchy and the viewing angles are great.
The Lumia 520 isn't quite up to this level. It is a 4in panel that has a resolution rated at 800x480-pixel. This equates to a pixel density of 235ppi. That's not even close to the size or sharpness of handsets such as the iPhone 5c, the Moto G or the Nexus 5. There's absolutely nothing wrong with 235ppi, but you can definitely tell the difference when viewing photos on the Lumia 520 as opposed to the iPhone or the other handsets. That doesn't make the experience bad on the Lumia - we found images rich and vibrant, and text cleanly defined.
The Nexus 5's display, on the other hand, smashes the iPhone 5c's out of the park. The Nexus 5 has a 5in (4.95 to be precise) Full HD IPS screen which is common for a top-end smartphone at the moment. That 1080 x 1920 resolution results in a high pixel density of 445ppi.
Covered in Gorilla Glass 3, the Nexus 5's display is beautifully rich, clear and responsive. It's got the great viewing angles you'd expect from an IPS panel and works well outdoors.
The Lumia 520 can't compete with the other three handsets here, although its display is perfectly find for the price. But the Nexus 5's display knocks spots of the iPhone 5cs. The key difference between Moto G and the iPhone 5c is that the smaller and lighter iPhone 5C has a thinner display. Which you prefer will be down to whether you value a smaller handset over more screen real-estate.
Whichever way you look at it, it's difficult to recommend the iPhone 5c over the Moto G or Nexus 5 on the grounds of the display. The much cheaper Lumia 520 isn't able to compete in this regard. (Also see: LG G2 vs iPhone 5s comparison review.)
iPhone 5C 8GB vs Moto G, Lumia 520 and Nexus 5: processor, performance
Performance is critical, of course. And Apple's iPhones have always performed well in this regard. The iPhone 5C has an A6 dual-core processor with a 1.3 GHz clock speed, coupled with 1GB of RAM.
iOS 7 running on the iPhone 5C feels smooth and responsive. Apps and web pages load swiftly, and panning around Apple Maps isn't jerky at all. It feels like you're using an up-to-date smartphone despite the less than brand new components.
For the Moto G a quad-core 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor coupled with 1GB of RAM produces fairly nippy performance. We've not noticed any major lag and overall performance is great for a budget phone. This is another area where the Moto G punches above its weight and at least matches the iPhone 5c.
Nokia has fitted its Lumia 520 with a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor running at 1GHz. This dual-core chip is paired with 512MB of RAM, which might sound stingy when compared to the competition, but it's all you need for browsing the relatively lightweight Windows Phone 8 OS.
Windows Phone is much lighter on hardware than either Android or iOS. Indeed, there's no sign of the Lumia 520's lack of pace when navigating Windows Phone's various menus and built-in features; it's only when you try to launch the camera or a third-party app that you'll endure a few-second wait. You certainly won't think it is a slow of laggy handset.
And then there is the Nexus 5, up there with the best in terms of performance. At its core is the impressively speedy Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 chip which is inside a few other flagship Android smartphones. The Nexus 5 has 2GB of RAM and an Adreno 330 GPU.
As with other Snapdragon 800 powered phones we've seen, the Nexus 5 is more than capable of anything you throw at it without batting an eyelid.
We're not going to dive into synthetic benchmarks because they offer only one version of the relative performance of each handset. Suffice it to say that all of these handsets are good performers. The Nexus 5 is probably the standout. But you certainly wouldn't pick the iPhone 5c over the others on performance alone. (You can find more on this in my companion piece: iPhone 5s vs Nexus 5 smartphone comparison review.)
iPhone 5C 8GB vs Moto G, Lumia 520 and Nexus 5: battery life
It's worth noting that none of the phones here has a removable battery. Each phone offers decent smartphone battery performance of one to two days with an average usage, although the iPhone 5C is the best here.
We've been impressed with the iPhone 5C's battery life. Unless you hammer the device with contant gaming or video playback, it will last a couple of days with regular and varied use. The phone holds its charge incredibly well when not in use - our sample sat on just one percent for a number of hours.
Motorola touts 'all day' battery life for the Moto G and this is certainly the case in our testing. The Moto G will last a day and if you are a light user then you'll probably even get a couple of days from the handset.
Despite having a removable rear cover and being able to see the 7.7Wh battery pack, you can't actually remove it.
The Nokia Lumia 520 has a 1430 mAh battery. Nokia rates the Lumia 520 for up to 360 hours of standby time over 3G, 14.8 hours of talk time over 3G, 9.6 hours of talk time over 2G or 61 hours of music playback, which sounds fair. In our view it offers middling battery performance. Critically, the Lumia 520 generally seemed fine getting through a day of relatively heavy - though we still had to charge it overnight.
At 8.5Wh, the battery inside the Nexus 5, which is non-removable, is smaller than a lot of other flagship smartphones. We found battery life to be mediocre, with just a day of regular use from the Nexus 5 before needing a charge. Only very light users will get any more life out of this smartphone.
Of these handsets the iPhone 5c has the best battery life. But it's not so much better we'd say it was worth the extra cost.
iPhone 5C 8GB vs Moto G, Lumia 520 and Nexus 5: cameras
The iPhone 5C also has two cameras. A front-facing FaceTime camera that takes 1.2Mp photos and allows for 720p HD video recording. Around the back is the main 8Mp camera with LED flash. It can capture 1080p HD video and comes with great features such as a hybrid IR filter, autofocus, face detection and a panorama mode.
Indeed, the 5C has the same 8Mp iSight rear camera as the previous model and so you can rest assured that pictures and video will be high quality. Since iOS 7 comes pre-loaded on the 5C, you get the new camera app which has a square photo mode, filters. We kept accidentally taking multiple pictures by pressing the shutter button for too long.
At 5Mp for the rear and 1.3Mp at the front, the Moto G's cameras are mid-ranged at a budget price. Both cameras perform pretty decently, especially when you consider what you're paying for the phone. You can even shoot in burst, panorama and HDR modes. Geotagging is another potentially useful option. These are very rare for a budget smartphone and the HDR mode even has an auto setting so the phone decided whether it's necessary or not.
There's no section of the menu to decide what picture quality you shoot at, but you can switch between 16:9 widescreen and 4:3 aspect ratios.
With the Lumia 520 you get a 5Mp rear camera with a 4x digital zoom, which can also shoot 720p video footage at 30fps. It lacks the PureView branding and Carl Zeiss lens of some models in the Lumia line-up.
In our tests the Lumia 520 fared reasonably well for a 5Mp cameraphone, with good focus and slightly washed-out but relatively true colours. We shot this photo outside our London office to give you some idea of the quality.
No front-facing camera is supplied for video chat, which is one area in which Nokia has cut costs. However, you can take advantage of several Nokia-specific camera add-ons, including Smart Shoot (a best-shot selector) and Bing Vision (a QR/barcode scanner). You can also add a selection of so-called 'Digital lenses', including Nokia's own Panorama and Cinemagraph, plus the likes of Camera360, LazyLens, Photosynth, Fhotoroom, Meme Lens, ProShot and more.
The Nexus 5's camera is rated 8Mp but Google says it's better than the Nexus 4 because it's able to capture more light. Another addition is optical image stabilisation and although this helps keep photos and videos shake free, it doesn't work as well as other devices with it like the LG G2.
The camera is fairly good, but other flagship smartphones outpace it on levels of detail and exposure. The Nexus 5 takes its best photos using the HDR+ mode which is switched off by default. Video quality isn't as good as we'd hoped with a lower amount of detail than we're used to at the maximum 1080p. The camera also continuously focuses during filming which you can't switch off.
We can't really separate the iPhone 5c from the Moto G, but it is categorically better than the other two - not least because of the high-quality front-facing camera. Whether that is worth the £200 surcharge will depend on your usage. (Also see: iPhone 5s v Galaxy S5 smartphone comparison review.)
iPhone 5C 8GB vs Moto G, Lumia 520 and Nexus 5: software
As you might know, the iPhone 5C comes pre-loaded with Apple's latest mobile operating system, iOS 7. It's clean and light and much more colourful than previous versions of Apple's mobile operating system. New features include the much-needed Control Centre, apeing the similar feature Android has had for a long time. A swipe up from the bottom of the screen opens a menu from which you can control settings such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, screen brightness, media playback, AirDrop and some quick apps.
Multi-tasking has also has a significant update and no longer just shows a row of open apps at the bottom of the screen. Now you see a preview screen of the running apps and can flick one upwards off the screen to close it. It's something like a cross between Android, WebOS, PlayBook OS and Windows Phone.
Apple has tweaked the Notification Centre so it's split into three sections: Today, All and Missed. It's also accessible from any screen, including the lock screen. Other improvements have been made to Safari, the App Store, Siri and more.
Unfortunately, the Moto G doesn't come with Android 4.4 KitKat but it will be upgraded this year, according to Motorola. Until then it's running on version 4.3 Jelly Bean which is ahead of most existing Android smartphones. The Nexus 5 is a KitKat phone.
The Moto G's interface is largely vanilla, which is good. The Nexus 5 is pure Google, as you would expect. You get all the Google services which you'd expect to find on an Android phone and you can do what you like in terms of customisation.
You won't regret choosing either Android or iOS, but unless you have strong feelings either way it is unlikely to be the factor on which you make your purchasing decision. We still think that iOS offers the best mix of apps, stability and security, but Android has come a long way. As a Macworld reader we suspect you favour iOS, and that would tend to be our position.
Windows Phone is the joker in this pack. It's a good-looking operating system mostly simple to navigate. Indeed, we'd argue that it is ideal for a first-time smartphone user. The only real criticisms of WP8 are that it doesn't offer much in the way of customisation, and in terms of sheer numbers the app store is a little threadbare. The counter argument is that all the apps you are likely to need are in there, and most people don't want customisation.
At its best Windows Phone is like the iOS platform used by Apple's iPhone. It is a locked down and curated world. Oddly for Microsoft, it is very secure. And while it may take a short while to get to grips with what each tile does, the interface is very simple and intuitive.
At the bottom of every screen you can use the free hardware touch buttons: back, Windows and Search. The only minor issues we had were occasionally the Windows > swipe up gesture to open up the Lumia 520 was a little sticky, and for some reason our initial Gmail synch didn't work (but the latter was a Google- rather than a Windows Phone problem).
Big, bright Live tiles on the home screen update with the information that's important to you in real time. Our main concern is with its apps menu, which can become rather long and unwieldy the more utilities you install.
And at its worst? Power Android users will chafe at the lack of customisation, and iPhone users will no doubt find apps that they wish to install and can't.
We'd always suggest trying Windows Phone before you buy. But if you are new to smartphones it is a good place to start. Also, if you are a business and you wish to run a fleet of phones that you can maintain from the server room, Windows Phone is the only real alternative to BlackBerry.
You can't pick a 'winner' when comparing iOS, Android and Windows Phone. If you are a long-term user of iPhones you may wish to stay with Apple. That is a plausible and reasonable reason to opt for the cheapest new iPhone. But changing is not as hard as you might think, and the better Android phones and all Windows phones are worth your consideration.