iPhone buyer’s guide – Spring 2014 [updated to include 8GB iPhone 5c]

Thinking about buying an iPhone? Well, you’re in luck as we’ve decided to update our in-depth iPhone buyer’s guide to steer you through the process and help you make the right decision for you when purchasing a new iPhone over the coming weeks.

2013 was unlike any other year with Apple deciding to launch two new iPhones, the iPhone 5s and the iPhone 5c, giving us more choice, but also making deciding which one to buy more difficult. How much phone do you get for your money? What differentiates the different iPhone models? What storage capacity do you need? What are the tech specs?

Further, Apple just released an iPhone 5c variant with 8GB in internal storage in selected markets adding to the confusion for some.

It can be difficult trying to figure out which phone you need with all these different considerations swirling about in your mind. Our guide will take you through the differences between all of the iPhones Apple has on sale right now including the iPhone 5s, iPhone 5c and iPhone 4s.

Models and Price Points

The current lineup of iPhones consists of three models – the iPhone 5s, iPhone 5c and iPhone 4s.

Here’s what the prices look like, on a typical two year contract and SIM-free (off contract).

  • 16GB iPhone 5s – $199/$649
  • 32GB iPhone 5s – $299/$749
  • 64GB iPhone 5s – $399/$849
  • 16GB iPhone 5c – $99/$549
  • 32GB iPhone 5c – $199/$649
  • 8GB iPhone 4s – $0/$450

As you can see, there is some overlap in the pricing. For example, the price for a 16GB iPhone 5s is the same as that of a 32GB iPhone 5c. We’ll explore why as we continue but, simply put, one has higher specifications and the other has more internal storage.

As of March 2014, Apple also launched the iPhone 5c in an 8GB capacity in certain markets such as the UK, China and Australia for a slightly lower price (£429 off contract in the UK/A$679 in Australia). The 8GB iPhone 5c is not (yet) available in the USA.

Storage

You can get an iPhone 5s with 16GB, 32GB or 64GB of internal storage. It is the only iPhone of the current lineup that offers a 64GB option so if you want the most storage, you’ll have to opt for a 5s.

iPhone 5c comes in 16GB and 32GB flavours in the States and, as described before, you can get a 32GB iPhone 5c for the same price as a 16GB iPhone 5s. The newly launched 8GB version of the iPhone 5c is available in selected markets for a lower price.

iPhone 4s comes with only 8GB of internal storage. If you plan on downloading apps and music or taking photographs, you’ll see that space gobbled up in no time.

Remember, there is no option to add extra storage to iPhones at a later date in the form of microSD cards so the storage choice you make up front will stick with you for the length of time you have the device so choose wisely.

Colors

newiphonesFor the first time in the iPhone’s history, we’ve seen a variation from the usual black and white color choices.

The iPhone 5s comes in 3 different colors – Black/Space Gray, White/Silver and, for the first time, White/Gold. All three colors are extremely attractive (even if gold is an acquired taste) and they all look and feel very premium.

The iPhone 5c, dubbed as the iPhone “for the colorful”, is outlandishly bright in 5 hues – Blue, Pink, Green, Yellow and White. All 5c models have a black faceplate and a colorful plastic rear shell. They’re very vibrant and should prove incredibly popular with the mainstream, their color-matched wallpapers adding to the fun feel.

The iPhone 4s is available in Black or White with a glass front and back and stainless steel edge.

Displays

iphone 5s vs. 5c

Both the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c feature a beautiful 4 inch Retina display with a resolution of 1136-by-640 meaning a screen density of 326 pixels per inch (ppi). Apps, images and text look incredibly clear and crisp on these displays. The viewing angles are great and the extra half-inch over the iPhone 4s feels as if it provides a much larger screen. The aspect ratio is also now 16:9 meaning viewing widescreen videos is even better as they are no longer “letterboxed” on the screen.

The iPhone 4s screen, by comparison, feels a little squat at 3.5 inches. It too has great viewing angles and a high resolution and pixel density – 960-by-640 at 326ppi.

The market is leaning towards the larger-screened phone experience at present and I do believe the 4 inch screen on the iPhone 5s and 5c is a massive step up from the iPhone 4s.

Size and Weight

IMG_2340

The iPhone 5s is the lightest iPhone of the current crop. It’s insanely light. It feels like those dummy phones that they used to display in carrier stores that didn’t contain any components, except the iPhone 5s does! It measures 4.87 inches (123.8mm) by 2.31 inches (58.6mm) by 0.30 inch (7.6mm) weighing just 3.95 ounces (112 grams). It’s so thin and light that you’ll forget it’s even in your pocket.

The iPhone 5c is ever-so-slightly larger, but by no means bulky or heavy. In fact, the difference is almost imperceptible. It measures 4.90 inches (124.4mm) by 2.33 inches (59.2mm) by 0.35 inch (8.97mm) weighing 4.65 ounces (132 grams).

It really is hard to comprehend how such technology can be shrunk down into a device so thin and light.

By comparison, the iPhone 4s feels a lot heavier thanks to its shorter and thicker body. It’s still not a heavy phone though. It measures 4.5 inches (115.2mm) by 2.31 inches (58.6mm) by 0.37 inches (9.3mm) weighing 4.9 ounces (140 grams). When compared to the iPhone 5s directly, the difference feels dramatic.

The simplest advice here is, if a slim profile and light weight is important to you, don’t opt for a 4s. The physical profile of the device is not all that is worth considering though.

Power

appleA7

The iPhone 5s is the real powerhouse of the current lineup. It is ridiculously overpowered. It contains Apple’s A7 processor, the same one that drives Apple’s latest iPads, which has a 64-bit architecture. This chip contains the same raw power as a 2010 MacBook Air by comparison.

The A7 also contains an M7 motion coprocessor. This tracks your movement, which apps can plug into to get data on your daily footsteps or your speed if you’re in a car or cycling, for example. Many fitness apps are starting to support the M7 leading to some interesting apps developments.

The iPhone 5c is powered by last year’s A6 chipset. This is still a good processor, although it contains none of the benefits of 64-bit or the M7. It’s perfectly capable of running current-gen apps and iOS 7 but will likely become dated faster that the A7 chip.

The iPhone 4s is powered by the 2011 A5 chip. This processor runs the phone just fine but is a little laggy running iOS 7 and some applications. The iPhone 4s will likely be discontinued this Fall and software support for the device is likely to stop sooner than the other iPhones currently on offer too.

If you want the iPhone that is the most future-proof, opt for the iPhone 5s.

Sensors

Screen Shot 2013-10-31 at 12.33.27 PM

All of the iPhone models currently on offer contain a bunch of sensors that add value to the iPhone experience. They all employ a three-axis gyroscope and accelerometer for determining the way the phone is positioned in space, a proximity sensor which allow the phone’s screen to turn off when on a call, and an ambient light sensor that aids in auto-adjusting screen brightness depending on the current environment.

The main differentiator is Touch ID, Apple’s fingerprint scanning technology, which is only available on the iPhone 5s. Touch ID allows the user to unlock the device or download apps with the touch of a finger meaning no more typing in passcodes. Touch ID is the best implementation of fingerprint scanning on a phone to date and works exceptionally well for the majority of people.

If you want the most advanced, most secure iPhone yet, the iPhone 5s is your best bet.

Connectivity

Both the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c have the same great LTE capabilities, supporting more LTE bands than any phone in history. Get a SIM-free, GSM unlocked version and you should be able to use the phone pretty much anywhere, perfect for those that travel a lot and need to connect to local LTE networks.

The iPhone 4s does not have LTE support, but does support 3G services and is available for CDMA and GSM carriers.

If you want the latest and greatest in carrier support, the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c are equally matched.

In terms of Wi-Fi performance, the 5s and 5c stand out again with support for up to 802.11n on 2.4GHz and 5GHz as well as Bluetooth 4.0, GPS and GLONASS. The iPhone 4s isn’t far behind with most of the same capabilities, minus the 802.11n on 5GHz support.

iSight Cameras

IMG_2338

People love to use their iPhones as cameras, so much so that many people have stopped using traditional point-and-shoot cameras altogether in favor of carrying just one device.

The rear-facing camera on all of the current crop of iPhones is capable of taking 8MP still images and 30fps 1080p HD video with their backside illuminated sensors, 5-element lens and hybrid infrared filters. They all also have face-detection, geotagging, auto-focus, auto-stabilization and panorama modes. In short, they all take great pictures.

Separating the iPhones is down to a few differentiating factors. The iPhone 5s has an aperture of f/2.2 and a dual tone flash. In comparison, the iPhone 5c and 4s have f/2.4 apertures and a single LED flash. This means that the iPhone 5s takes better pictures, particularly in low light situations.

Apple explains it better than I could:

Light is one of the most important factors in getting a great photo. Not just how well your subject is lit, but how sensitive your camera’s sensor is to light. Here’s how it works: A camera’s sensor — and the pixels on it — collect light. The larger the sensor and the larger the pixels, the more light is collected. And that translates to better, brighter images with truer colors and less noise.

iPhone 5s features a state-of-the-art sensor that increases the area available for pixels by 15 percent, and yet it still fits inside the incredibly thin iPhone. The pixels are larger, too — 1.5 microns, to be exact. We also bumped up the size of the camera aperture. Now it’s at ƒ/2.2 to let in even more light. All in all, the iSight camera on iPhone 5s features an impressive 33 percent increase in light sensitivity. And that means you get amazing-looking photos every time.

The iPhone 5s also features a slow-motion video mode, recording at 120fps, for some amazing slo-mo playback. You can also take still images while recording video on both the iPhone 5s and 5c.

If you want a phone with a good camera, the iPhone 5s is certainly up there with the best but all three are certainly capable of taking good pictures.

FaceTime Cameras

Each iPhone also features a front-facing camera for FaceTime calls (and selfies, obviously). The iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c contain the same backside illuminated FaceTime HD camera capable of taking 1.2MP stills and recording 720p HD video.

The iPhone 4s lags behind in this department with its lowly VGA-resolution FaceTime camera, capable of grainy stills and grainy video.

Battery Life

The iPhone 5s and 5c offer the same impressive battery life. Expect up to 10 hours talk time and up to 250 hours on standby. They should also last around 8 hours browsing on 3G and up to 10 hours browsing on LTE or Wi-Fi. Audio playback of 40 hours and video playback of 10 hours are also stated.

The iPhone 4s offers slightly less in the battery department. Expect up to 8 hours talk time and 200 hours on standby. For internet use, browsing should last 6 hours on 3G and up to 9 hours on Wi-Fi. Audio and video playback should get the same 40 and 10 hours, respectively.

If you want a phone that will last all day, then consider an iPhone 5s or 5c.

Connectors

IMG_2330

2013’s iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c utilise Apple’s new standard Lightning connector meaning they’ll work with the newest accessories but not your old favorites.

In contrast, the 4s clings on to the relic of the past – the 30-pin dock connector. That means it will be compatible with older accessories, but won’t be of much use with future accessories as iOS devices adopt Lightning as standard.

Software and Services

All of the current iPhones on offer ship with and run iOS 7, connect to iCloud and feature Apple’s intelligent virtual assistant, Siri. Some iOS 7 features are unavailable on the iPhone 4s, such as AirDrop, and you can expect future updates to exclude certain features based on hardware restrictions.

For now, apps should run fine on all of the devices. Again, going forwards, the iPhone 4s will be the first to be discontinued and go unsupported for software updates.

The Verdict

Who should buy an iPhone 5s?

If you are out to get the latest and greatest, the flagship, the premium, then the iPhone 5s is for you. Made of unibody aluminium and glass, the 5s feels every bit as valuable as it looks.

It has the best camera, processor and features Touch ID for added security (and just plain coolness). It’s also your only option if you want the largest storage capacity, 64GB. The iPhone 5s is the best way to future-proof yourself (especially important on two-year contracts).

Additionally, as shallow as this may sound, if you want an all black, all white or gold-clad iPhone, the iPhone 5s is the only way to achieve this.

Who should buy an iPhone 5c?

The iPhone 5c is slightly less expensive and slightly more mainstream. It doesn’t feature the latest cutting edge tech, but it doesn’t need to. Importantly, it also does not feel cheap despite it’s polycarbonate construction.

It’s ideal for those upgrading phones that want a piece of the Apple ecosystem and still want a really great device.

The iPhone 5c is also perfect for those that have been longing for a colorful iPhone. It’s available in 5 vibrant colors that all look striking in their own way.

The new 8GB iPhone 5c is also the cheapest way to get your hands on an LTE-enabled iPhone although that storage capacity leaves very little room for apps, music, photos or anything else you might want to keep on the device meaning it may not be the wisest choice.

Who should buy an iPhone 4s?

Short answer, no one. The iPhone 4s is already dated and taking the phone out on a two year contact, although it may cost you $0 upfront, might not be the best choice.

It has an old screen size and resolution, has no LTE support and only 8GB of storage. Its only redeeming feature is its camera which is still decent in the broader camera phone space.

Although it was a great phone in 2011, I can’t recommend the iPhone 4s to anyone in 2013 unless you’re absolutely desperate for an iPhone and the 4s is the only one you can afford.

Having trouble deciding?

Deciding which iPhone to buy is a difficult decision, made increasingly difficult by the arrival of the ‘c’-line of products. It is definitely one that requires some thought, especially if you are going to be stuck with that decision for two years.

Check out our reviews of the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c if you want a more in-depth look at those devices to help you make up your mind.

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