When rumors of a “cheap” iPhone first emerged, we were all fooled, briefly, into thinking Apple was planning to launch a phone that would cost less than $400 SIM-free. “Apple’s aiming at the China market” was the common thread of logic behind it. As soon as Apple officially unveiled the two new versions of iPhone 5 a couple of weeks ago, it became evident that really wasn’t happening. Cupertino’s way has never changed, and I don’t know how we all got duped in to thinking it was going to. What we have instead of a cheap, sub-$400 piece of plastic is a solid, seamless and brilliant iPhone.
Apple’s decision to venture back in to the world of polycarbonate is one that confused many. Both consumers and tech nuts. Having ditched the plastic back on the 3G/3GS in favor of the glass and aluminum on the iPhone 4 (and everything since), why would the company revert back to plastic? Simply put: They wanted to make it more fun, and appeal to its customers’ colorful side. Available in blue, pink, yellow, white and green it’s a far cry from the monochrome of previous devices.
Measuring in at 124.4 x 59.2 x 9 mm, it’s a little longer, wider and thicker than the iPhone 5 and 5s, and weighs 20 grams more, but what you give up in thinness and lightness, you make up for in comfort. The iPhone 5c is the best feeling iPhone there’s been since the iPhone 3GS. For three long years, my hand has been begging me to use something more comfortable than the last three generations of iPhone. It’s finally satisfied.
Most of the ergonomic qualities are down to the rounded edges on the rear housing, but using plastic has ensured it also feels warm. And to counteract any tendency for plastic to feel fragile and flimsy, Apple’s engineers reinforced it with a steel chassis that also makes up the antenna system. For all intents and purposes, it feels like a unibody device. It’s solid, comfortable, and feels like it’s asking to be held and used all the time. It’s the same feeling I got from my old iPhone 3GS. It’s what made me love the iPhone in the first place. In fact, ever since then, with every iPhone that came out all I’ve wanted is for the same advanced display and camera technology to be placed inside a nice-feeling plastic shell.
Although the aesthetic and ergonomic benefits of a seamless, warm plastic back are apparent, it’s not without its flaws. When it’s finished off at the factories, the shell is treated to several layers of a liquid spray that solidifies and makes it glossy. The downsides to this are two-fold: It’s a little slippery and it’s very easy to scratch. After owning it for a week, I already have 2-3 scratches on the back, and that’s without placing it in a pocket with keys, or near any sharp objects. These particular scratches aren’t easy to see, but I know they’re there, and I can’t help but think the same marks would not have shown up on a tempered glass surface.
To ensure the phone has a seamless look and feel, Apple’s created the buttons from the same color and material as the main shell. Each volume button is pill-shaped, both slightly longer than the mute switch, but around 1mm shorter than the power key. On the bottom edge, four machined holes cover the speaker, with one to the right of the headset jack for the microphone. To add a little solidity and quality, the 3.5mm jack and Lightning connector have matte black metal surrounds. All that considered, it’s one of the most flawless examples of machined plastic I’ve ever seen. It makes the original iPhone’s black plastic rear look like a shambles in comparison. Everything is so neat and perfect.
On to the front, and here’s where it’s most familiar. The reflective black front panel is exactly the same as the iPhone 5, but instead of having angled, diamond-cut chamfers, it has a thin white frame surrounding every edge. Although it might not look as elegant as the 5 or 5s, it does add a different element to it, and can really determine what color wallpaper you decide to use on your screen.
iPhone 5c’s 4-inch, 326ppi IPS LCD display is one of the best displays on the market. Its in-cell touch sensors ensure that there are less layers in between you and the content on-screen. It’s sharp, and the perfect canvas to show off the new colors and ultra-light fonts in iOS 7. One issue that seemed to re-occur often with the iPhone 5 was that it’d intermittently loose its touch sensitivity. Most of the time it was when trying to unlock the phone. Sometimes requiring a soft reboot. There’s no such issue with the 5c.
If you’re “upgrading” from an iPhone 5, you really won’t notice any difference here. At all. At least, not visually. But if you’re upgrading from an iPhone 4 or 4S, perhaps an even older model, there’s a lot of change. Not only is the screen larger than the 3.5-inch screens of old, it’s brighter, looks sharper and is more vivid. The 16:9 ratio screen lends itself perfectly to catching up with your favorite TV shows or movies, and is great for game playing. While games in the past with virtual onscreen controls would leave little room for you to see the action, the longer display makes that less of an issue.
Viewing angles are good too. Between completely bolt upright and flat horizontal, there’s little to no discoloration or loss of sharpness. It’s a brilliant display. One area you will notice a real difference when compared to almost every other manufacturer’s phones is in the camera UI. Loading up the camera on most devices will show up a slightly exaggerated image. Especially if its AMOLED based. Apple’s iPhones typically give you the same result on screen as you’ll see if you import the images on to your PC (unless you have an awful computer display).
One thing I will say: I do believe Apple needs to make a larger display soon. It’s only my own personal opinion, but I sometimes struggle to type messages on the cramped keyboard in portrait. In landscape the keyboard takes over almost the entire display, leaving me unable to read any of the text or previous messages in any conversation. It could also be much better in bright daylight. In the height of summer when it’s bright outside, it’s almost impossible to see anything on the screen, thanks mostly to the glass being so reflective.
For day to day photography, I’m a firm believer in the iPhone. For most people who aren’t photographers, the iPhone gives the best instant results. Thanks to some fancy image processing powered by the A6 chip, the iPhone 5c gives some fantastic, natural results. Images are sharp, colors are realistic, and the end photograph will always look good providing your subject isn’t moving too much and you’re in good light. It’s only really in low light that the camera suffers. Sure, it’s better than iPhones of old, but when you compare it to the likes of Nokia’s 920/925 or the HTC One, the low light performance isn’t as anywhere near as good.
One of two areas the iPhone 5c improved over the iPhone 5 was the front facing FaceTime camera. It got boosted to offer HD video recording, which should mean better looking faces during video calls. Personally, I’ve not found a single use for the front facing camera since they were introduced with the iPhone 4. Apart from the obligatory child+dad selfie for Facebook, it’s almost untouched. But, for those of you how have FaceTime or Skyping addictions and love video calling, there’ll be far fewer instances of have pixellated and poor quality video show up on your friend’s/family member’s screen (unless one of you has a poor data connection).
Performance and Battery Life
In every area of its performance, the iPhone 5c matches or beats the iPhone 5. And there’s good reason for that. Almost all of the internal and external components are the same on both phones. The one area I noticed an obvious improvement was the battery. As I write this the 5c is on 20 percent battery with 1 day and 3 hours standby, plus over 6 hours of use. In general daily use, that means I don’t really have to worry about making it through the day anymore. With iOS 6 on the iPhone 5, that wasn’t too big an issue either, but once I had iOS 7 installed, the iPhone 5’s battery rarely made it through 12 hours without needing to be topped up.
Despite being a generation old now, the A6 makes light work of iOS 7. Transitions between different levels of the UI are smooth and fluid. Whether you’re dragging up Control Center, switching apps in the new multitasking view or swiping between home screens there’s no visible lag at all. Not at all bad considering the custom Apple processor is decidedly out-specced by most, if not all, of its direct competition. It’s one of the biggest advantages to Apple having control over all aspects of hardware and software. Each is perfectly tuned for the other. And so, while other devices might boast quad-core processors and gigantic batteries, the iPhone 5c will still be as quick, and still give you a full day of use with its 1.3GHz dual-core chip and 1,510mAh battery.
iOS 7 on iPhone 5c
There’s no doubt in my mind that the latest version of iOS was designed with the iPhone 5c in mind. It’s visually appealing and its colorful. It’s not just the bespoke wallpapers made to match each color of iPhone 5c, it’s the new app icons. Apart from the Camera and Settings app icons, each new app icons being given a new lease of Skittles-flavored life.
iPhone 5c’s biggest problem?
The 5c’s biggest issue is going to be public perception. While Apple historically has a premium brand image, the 5c is plastic and colorful. It even comes shipped in unabashedly plastic packaging. For months before it was even announced, it was referred to as the “budget”, “low-cost” or “cheap” iPhone. Put those two signs together, it won’t take a genius to see that the iPhone 5c will be viewed by many as the cheap, “not as good” version of the iPhone. Performance wise, it’s fantastic, it looks and feels great, and is technically better than the iPhone 5. Apple’s challenge will be convincing people of those truths.
It’s the first time ever in the iPhone’s history that Apple’s taken the bold move to add color, and rip away the premium brand look of the iPhone. As the promo video says, it’s “unapologetically plastic”, and I think it’s darn fantastic. It may lack the slightly better camera of the iPhone 5s, or the Touch ID sensor, and it may not have the elegant and polished finish, but it is – in its own right – a brilliant smartphone. Apple’s taken the performance and great features from the iPhone 5 and put it in to a much more tactile and inviting package.
Having used both the iPhone 5s and 5c for the past few days, I can say this with absolute certainty: Out of the two phones, the one I want to pick up and use, or even just hold, is the 5c. Hands down. The finish and design of the plastic screams “pick me up and use me”, it’s the kind of phone that won’t mind you playing Candy Crush or Angry Birds on. It’s not designed in a way that gives off the impression that you’re some kind of snob. You can use it for anything and everything, you can pick it up and throw it around, and you won’t have to worry about damaging your “precious” diamond-cut chamfers. Because it doesn’t have any.
I’ve loved every minute of using it, and I’m not ashamed of saying that it’s my favorite iPhone so far (including the 5s). Go in to an Apple store, pick it up and use it. Close your eyes, let the feel of it in your hand do the talking. Shut off those voices that try and make you go for the 5s based on the fact that it’s seen as the “best” iPhone, or the one that more people will be impressed with. Just go with those natural, almost carnal first impressions of how it looks and feels. And you’ll see where I’m coming from. If you still decide to go with the 5s, that is of course your choice. But, don’t dismiss the 5c until you’ve seen it and used it yourself. It’s every bit as brilliant as its more expensive sibling.