Apple iPhone 5c review: A colourful iPhone 5 with better battery life

Apple iPhone 5c review: A colourful iPhone 5 with better battery life

Summary: If you're an existing iPhone user and weren't tempted by the iPhone 5, then the colourful 5c is worth considering as an upgrade. However, iPhone 5 owners should think carefully: there's very little difference between the core specifications of the two handsets, and iOS 7 is just a download away.

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  • Editors' rating:
    7.5
  • User rating:
    6.1
  • RRP:
    £391.00

Pros

  • Excellent 4-inch Retina display
  • Solid build quality
  • Available in a range of colours
  • Good battery life

Cons

  • Relatively expensive for a mid-range smartphone
  • Similar specifications to the iPhone 5

iPhones have always been aspirational, high-end products, for which people have been prepared to pay a hefty price in order to join the (not particularly exclusive) club. With Apple's 2013 handset launches that approach has changed slightly: the flagship iPhone 5s occupies the traditional premium-product slot, while the iPhone 5c, reviewed here, comes in for those with less money to spare.

However, pricing is still high compared to the iPhone 5c's many Android-based rivals, with the entry-level 16GB model costing £469 (inc. VAT; £390.83 ex. VAT) SIM-free, rising to £549 (inc. VAT; £457.50 ex. VAT) for the 32GB model. Two-year contract prices from Vodafone, supplier of our review sample, start at £42 a month for a 3G plan with a free handset, or £47 a month for a '4G-ready' plan.

The flagship iPhone 5s costs £549 (inc. VAT) for the 16GB model, £629 for 32GB and £709 for 64GB, while Google's Nexus 4 — perhaps the best-value Android smartphone of the past 12 months — costs £159 (inc. VAT) for the 8GB model and £199 with 16GB of internal storage.

The iPhone 5c may be a budget buy in Apple's terms, but it isn't really one in the broadest sense.

Design

The most obvious innovation in the iPhone 5c is the chassis build, which uses a seamless plastic shell over a steel-reinforced frame. The general design is immediately recognisable as an iPhone, with the telltale home button beneath the screen, rounded corners and Apple logo on the back.

iphone-5c-thumb
Apple's second-tier iPhone 5c comes in a range of pastel colours and essentially repackages the iPhone 5's functionality in a new chassis design. (Image: Apple)

But Apple has decided, for the first time, to produce a handset with a range of pastel-coloured casings in addition to white: you can opt for green, blue, yellow or pink alternatives. There's no black, though. We were sent the pink version, which is unlikely to find its way into many businesses. It's worth noting that the only other handset maker that dares to be as bold with its handset chassis colours is Nokia.

The plastic that's used for the outer shell has a shiny but grip-friendly finish that's not completely scratch resistant. As with previous iPhones, the battery is sealed in behind a non-removable backplate.

The silent-mode switch and volume buttons are on the left edge, while the power switch is on the top. The headset jack is on the bottom edge, alongside the microphone, Lightning connector and speaker. There's a caddy for a nano-SIM on the right edge of the chassis.

iphone-5c-blue
The iPhone 5c has a seamless plastic outer shell on a steel-reinforced frame. It features the same 4-inch 326ppi Retina display as the iPhone 5 it replaces. (Image: Apple)

The 132g iPhone 5c feels solid and substantial in the hand, yet is quite comfortable to hold — even for people with small hands. It's quite thin at 8.97mm and has a moderate-sized footprint at 59.2mm by 124.4mm.

The Retina display measures just 4 inches across the diagonal, but its 1,136-by-640-pixel resolution makes for a sharp and clear 326-pixel-per-inch (ppi) image. The backlit IPS LCD screen is vibrant and content seems to jump out at you. The iOS 7 feature that sees application icons jiggle about slightly as the phone moves in your hand is a little disconcerting, but it lends a faux 3D appearance to things.

There's nothing new about the screen specification — it's the same as both the iPhone 5s and the now-discontinued iPhone 5. That sets the tone for much of what's on offer here, for the iPhone 5c is essentially a rebadged iPhone 5 in terms of its core specifications.

Features

The iPhone 5c uses the same A6 processor as the iPhone 5. It also sports the same 8-megapixel iSight camera at the back, the same 4-inch Retina screen and the same local- and personal-area wireless connectivity (dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4 respectively).

There are some differences between the iPhone 5 and 5c though. The sensor on the front-facing 1.2-megapixel FaceTime camera has bigger pixels for better low-light performance, for example. The 5c also supports a full set of LTE frequency bands, while the iPhone 5 has limited LTE support. Battery life is better, too, the 5c offering a claimed 10 hours of 3G talk and LTE internet use compared to the 8 hours of each on the iPhone 5. As ever, one person's average usage is another's light use, so it's difficult to be definitive about battery life. Still, if you're a current iPhone 5 user, you should go longer between battery charges with the 5c. During testing, we certainly didn't need to rush off and find mains power during a typical day's use.

The 5c may not be Apple's flagship handset, but its price sets it apart from mid-range offerings from other vendors — and for the money, its feature set is a little bland. Apple has saved its iTouch fingerprint scanner for the top-end iPhone 5s, for example, and we're surprised there's no place for Near Field Communications (NFC) here (or on the 5s for that matter). And while some people dislike the huge array of extras with which Samsung peppers its handsets, we'd have appreciated a little more innovation from Apple on the iPhone 5c.

OS upgrade: iOS 7

The main innovation work with this refresh cycle has gone into building iOS 7, of course — but that's not exclusive to the new iPhones. Apple's new mobile OS is downloadable to the iPhone 4 and later, iPad 2 and later, and the 5th-generation iPod Touch — although not all devices get the full gamut of features. This is not the place for a full review of iOS 7, but it's worth noting some key points.

iphone-5c-ios7
iOS 7 has a flatter visual style and includes a new app switcher (right) where you can swipe running apps upwards off the screen to close them.

iOS 7 has had a complete visual makeover. Apple follows the chassis colour through to the iOS 7 theme, and the overall design is flatter, cleaner and leaner. Third-party apps are already starting to follow suit. There are plenty of new features, including a swipe-up settings area that you can set to be accessible from the lock screen and which, among its features, lets you use the camera's LED flash as a torch.

A new app switcher appears when you double-tap the home key, letting you see everything that's running and sweep anything upwards off the screen to close it. There are many other changes under the surface that add new features and enhance older ones.

LTE ('4G') support is likely to be a key draw for some users, and if that's the case then it's worth checking your chosen operator's coverage. Our iPhone 5c review sample came from Vodafone, where it's available with Spotify or Sky Sports Mobile TV preinstalled. If you sign up for the handset before the end of October, you get 4GB of 4G data added to your contract for its duration. Vodafone's UK 4G rollout currently only covers London. At the end of September Birmingham, Coventry, Leicester, Nottingham and Sheffield will be added. By the end of the year 4G coverage will also include Bradford, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle.

Conclusion

The iPhone 5c's colourful appearance puts it firmly in the consumer camp, although the relatively sober white version is certainly an option for business users. If you're an existing iPhone user and weren't tempted by the iPhone 5, then the 5c is worth considering as an upgrade. However, iPhone 5 owners should think carefully: there's very little difference between the core specifications of the two handsets, and iOS 7 is just a download away.

Specifications

General
Dimensions (W x H x D) 59.2x8.97x124.4 mm
Weight 132 g
OS & software
Software included iOS 7
Processor & memory
Clock speed 1.3 GHz
Processor model Apple A6
RAM 1024 MB
Storage
Internal 16000 MB
Display
Display technology TFT touch-screen (active matrix)
Display size 4 in
Native resolution 1136x640 pixels
Connections
Ports Lightning port, headphone jack
Networks
2.xG GPRS, EDGE
2G GSM 850, GSM 900, GSM 1800, GSM 1900
3.xG HSPA+
Wireless
Wi-Fi 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n
Short range Bluetooth 4.0
GPS technology
Accuracy enhancement system A-GPS
Antenna built in
GPS receiver yes (plus GLONASS support)
Input devices
Navigation button/wheel Yes
Touchscreen Yes
Camera
2nd camera front
Flash Yes
Main camera rear
2nd camera resolution 1.2 megapixels
Main camera resolution 8 megapixels
Power
Battery type Li-ion
Removable battery No
Claimed battery life 10 h
Number of batteries 1
Standby time 250 h
Talk time 10 h
Miscellaneous
Accessories AC adapter
Expand

Prices

Price
Price AUD 739
Price GBP 391
Price USD 549

Topics: Smartphones, Apple, Reviews

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Talkback

33 comments
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  • Hos is that pastel?

    4.0

    Has the author ever seen pastel colours? These are bright, almost neon colours, but certainly not pastel. Besides, the new look of iOS is a terrible eyesore.
    Dee Lann
    • "the new look of iOS is a terrible eyesore."

      8.0

      Translation - You've never usedi t!
      1,2,3
      • Translation - YOU are ignoring published complaints

        5.0

        Don't take the guy's word you responded to, fine.
        Here, ZDNet's own article:
        http://www.zdnet.com/whats-right-and-wrong-with-ios-7-7000020889/
        Read the section on "garish color schemes".
        Even MacWorld (has ever a more Apple-fanboy publication existed?) called it "nausea inducing":
        http://www.macworld.com/article/2049249/make-ios-7-less-nausea-inducing.html

        Hey, your call. I think YOU are possibly the one who hasn't used it.
        geolemon
      • I have used the new iOS, and it is a terrible eyesore!

        1.0

        I have used the new iOS, and it is a terrible eyesore! And you are an Apple shill paid to post fake reviews.
        Frank Shore
        • Wow I can even vote on replies

          10.0

          Well there goes any accuracy out the window. Not that I expected honest voting with this bunch.
          oncall
    • Colors

      5.0

      I find the colors more 'neon' than pastel, for sure.
      Not something I would want to haul out in front of friends over 15.
      rphunter1242
  • As with all Apple products the perfect 10....

    9.0

    Ok there is no such thing as the perfect 10 so I've it 9 however I would have marked it 9.5 had there been the option.

    iOS7 is nothing short of awesome as you would expect from Apple.
    5735guy
    • In other words - you haven't compared it to others

      5.0

      There's nothing "awesome" about iOS7.
      It falls behind nearly all other operating systems in just about every respect.
      The most notable addition this time - the inclusion of a very Android-like "control center". "FINALLY!" should be your exclaim!
      The most notable addition last time (besides trying to reinvent Google maps) was a very Android-like notification system. "Finally!" was the exclaim.
      This doesn't make iOS7 "awesome".
      Although history shows - awesome is NOT what we expect FROM Apple.

      Compare. Make some real points. Objective. Not a blanket, unqualified (in fact, disqualifying) statement of lemming loyalty. You've said nothing of substance here beyond that.
      geolemon
      • RE: In other words - you haven't compared it to others

        I don't understand why people get so up in arms about their smart phone. I'd like to come to some of these sites just to read a review of the product, not comments from people reviewing a phone that they haven't used for more that a few minutes, if at all.

        With that let me just say that I DO respect your opinion. However, it's obvious that you're an Android user and you disqualified your own statement by stating your opinion of Apple and iOS 7.

        Simply put; Apple makes a product that people love and sales from previous iPhone's will show that. I do understand that it's not for everyone, sales from Google (Android) and Samsung prove that.

        If, key word being IF, you're one of those people that tell yourself Apple brainwashes their users to keep buying their new devices and that you think that you can be the unsung savior who shows everyone why they shouldn't be buying iPhones you should find something better to do with your time. Some people like iOS, some like Android, a few others like Windows Phone and BlackBerry. Unless you're getting a paycheck from Google for advertising you shouldn't be trying so hard to sell their phones.
        theunrealist
        • I am not an Android user.

          1.0

          I have used the new iOS, and it is a terrible eyesore!

          "theunrealist" is an Apple shill paid to post fake reviews, and dispute the claim of true iPhone owners.
          Frank Shore
        • If you don't want to read comments

          Don't
          jamz2277
      • android vs IOS7

        I had the displeasure of using Android this weekend. Long time IOs user. My mother in law wanted to add yahoo mail to her galaxy s4. I said, I can do that for you. Clicked on email. Add yahoo. Typed in her email address and correct password. Error. Tried again. Error. Hmmm. Checked Internet. Default email client does not like yahoo. Ok install Yahoo app. Oh wait, you need a Gmail account to download app. I'll use mine. Download app. Install yahoo app. Good so far. Want to delete my gmail account. Where??? Email app, settings? nope. Internet again. Easy way, add another account then you can see the delete account. Created her own gmail account, now I can finally delete my account info. One hour total time.

        IOS Settings, Mail, Add Account, click type, input user name and password, verify,done. Time 5 min, if you are slow..
        smithrg
        • I call BS

          3.0

          Android: settings--> account---> email---> type in email address and password - you don't even have to select yahoo, it works it out.
          I use yahoo mail (normally thru browser in desktop mode) and just tried this on a galaxy S4 and it worked.
          As for the delete appstore account issue, try the same on iOS and tell us what happens with the apps!
          warboat
      • Amazing

        8.0

        Amazing to me how passionate (and hostile) people get over their tech gadgets. 5735guy says it's awesome, it's up to him to think that so why not just leave it at that? I've use a variety of tech and I prefer Apple products for their stability, simplicity, etc. I'm willing to pay a premium (my own money) for it - so don't much care what others think. geolemon, enjoy your whatever tech, I don't much care - you like it better, awesome. Otherwise, i'm not much interested in this stupid debate.

        Yawn.......
        Joel Cronkwright
  • iOS7 rating

    9.0

    not iPhone 5c. 5c is, however, a unique way to dispose of the old inventory and still make good money from it.
    The Danger is Microsoft
  • This IS the phone for your mom and your sister. Sorry.

    5.0

    Apple is brilliant that they recognize their customer base.

    Most people are luddites - pastel, girly colors are ooh-ahh features to your mom and sister. Let's be honest - they just heard "blah blah processor" and "fingerprint scanner - must be for Wall Street types!" about the 5S, but color - this they can get behind!
    And smart to give it a bigger battery, since that limits the cross-woman whining to a minimum amount of "this things seems to run out of charge 2x a day!" and hopefully even eliminate it.

    Note there's no manly colors here. White might be acceptable, but even that is questionable if you are an adult in an office, particularly a professional setting. None really convey "mature". And note I'm in New York State - a pretty liberal place!
    It's clear they've aimed these at the female demographic - which already made up a dominant portion of the iPhone customer base.

    This was a smart product to offer, to attract women.
    This was a smart product to offer, to up-sell men to the 5S. That fingerprint scanner is gadgety, yet a legitimate convenience, to appeal to more men - as well as the more professional appearance.

    And let's not fail to observe the gold-and-white Gucci-sunglass and orange-tan complimentary model they even placed at that level.
    Apple is clearly marketing STRONGLY to women, and laymen - and it's paying off.
    geolemon
    • Apple is clearly marketing STRONGLY to women,

      And Transgenders.....
      Foreseen
    • Apple Falls then Rots

      1.0

      Apple has refused to plow its windfall profits from the iPhone to make it better, and deliver more value. Instead Apple has chose to buy back their stock. Shareholders would have been better served if Apple used their cash to make the iPhone a better product. There are so many things Apple could easily have improved. And iOS7 is a clownish design was design for bubblegum-chewing, unicorn-loving little girls, not a classy, elegant design for executives.

      Actually iOS7 looks like it was designed by a male hairdresser using MS Paint for flaming queens, and Prince. Can't look at iOS 7 and not think of Raspberry Beret or the psychedelic 60's.

      Look at the new camera icon and the old camera icon.

      There are B&W icons, lots of icons with white backgrounds, then lots of icons with green backgrounds.

      Apple chose a font with thin, hard to read characters on a phone that is already smallest in the smart phone universe.

      The new flat design looks like Apple is following Android and Windows 8 tiles. The real world is 3-D. The engineers who designed the new interface think in abstract symbols not 3-D images.

      Steve Job's skeuomorphism was classy, not cheesy or cheap. There is reason expensive watches are analog, not digital.

      Finally, Apple should have come out with two different size phone for people who have different size hands. A adult male has much larger hands than a female tween. One size does not fit all. iPhone owners are leaving Apple in droves permanently because they want a bigger phone, even though there are many Apple customers perfectly happy with the phone size the way it is.

      Samsung makes many different size phones. Moreover, the IPhone has fallen behind in many important areas. The Sony phone is more water resistant. The Lumina has a much better camera. The Motorola Droid Maxx has much better battery life even though it has a much bigger screen, and it is more durable.

      There are still areas where the iPhone is ahead of its competition, but those areas are shrinking as Apple has been too slow in improving the iPhone.

      The iPhone should have NFC (Near field Communication), a consumer replaceable battery, and consumer upgradeable memory.

      Some one wrote me consumers can replace the battery on their own, if they take a special course in cell phone repair, and buy special tools. This is the kind of insane nitpicking people have with my messages.

      I am an iPhone owner, and have always appreciated Apple's products. But it looks to me like Apple is lost. They should not have fired Scott Forestall. Apple is being run by a supply chain guy, not a visionary who understands what consumers want, and it shows.

      Don't be fooled by the fact the Apple 5s sold so many units and sold out so fast. Apple is still coasting. Apple still has a lot of momentum from the iPhone 4. But eventually the Apple will fall back down to Earth like Blackberry, AOL, Nokia, and Motorola.

      Gizmodo showed the 5 takes better pictures than the 5s even though the 5s has better specs. Gizmodo proved this by taking identical photographs with both the 5 and 5s. Square Trade showed the 5s is more likely to stop working after a fall. And Consumer Reports showed the iPhone in general has poorer phone call reception than most smart phones.
      Frank Shore
      • Some good points, some tired ones

        8.0

        The 5C is fun and distinctive and for those who can get subsidized plans, not unaffordable. There are colors for those who like whimsy and white, which is after all Apple's signature color for those who want subtlety and elegance. The build is beautiful, Apple's cases are fun and there will be plenty of aftermarket cases to choose from. Why not?

        OS 7 is polarizing but in balance it's got virtues as well as discomfiting changes.

        Re this particular post, I'm uncomfortable with where Apple is right now as well, but not everything you say resonates with me. Scott Forstall badly mismanaged the release of Apple maps. There's more to the story than we know, but that project was his baby. It's no small thing to bump Google maps for an application whose data clearly wasn't adequately tested outside of the Cupertino to SF corridor. If Apple maps had been released as a beta, like Siri, maybe Scott Forstall is still at Apple.

        Re replaceable battery, why does this get so much ink? When the iPhone was new, a tech writer asked Steve Jobs about the sealed in battery. Jobs gave the predictable spiel, which we both love and hate. He also said that one reason for the non-user-replaceable battery was to ensure that the old batteries were disposed of properly, not thrown into the trash. He had a point there.

        It would be nice to swap batteries during the day, but there are all kinds of piggyback solutions that get the job done for no extra weight or cost; I used them constantly with my first couple of phones. Nowadays the batteries are good enough that I rarely carry my backup battery. I carry charger cable/plug and I manage my usage when necessary.

        In terms of the original battery dying, that's not an everyday occurrence. I've used iPhones since version 2 and handed them off to family and friends. We collectively have run them into the ground without ever having to replace a battery.

        Apple could do more to let users know that allowing the battery to run down into the red zone often prolongs its life. They could also replace dead batteries for free. They are not going to bend on this one no matter how much ink we waste.

        NFC is another non-issue. Apple could be a thought leader, gain bragging rights and influence the future by adding an NFC radio to the iPhone. Granted. I'd like someone to list five real-time non-trivial situations in which NFC is currently useful. I'll settle for one example.

        NFC everywhere has been just around the corner for several years now. It's a long block I guess. You don't see Android mfrs embracing it en masse; there have been a couple of devices then nothing. The only place where NFC gets a mention these days is in articles criticizing Apple for not adopting it or praising Android devices for having once tried it.

        What's holding up NFC? The technology to support it isn't in the sweet spot yet. I don't want to have to put down my bags so that I can type in a password in order to pay for a cup of coffee. Easier to hand the guy a few bucks. On the other end, I don't want my p hone to just transmit my information on the designer floor at Nordstrom without authenticating me as the holder of that phone.

        To me that suggests biometrics. The phone picks up the NFC signal from the vendor. It authenticates my fingerprint, my retina, my face, whatever and gives the OK. That's when I'll be eager to pay via NFC at both Starbucks and Nordstrom.

        My hope is that the fingerprint recognition on the 5S is the first step down that road. It's already been hacked, but by a pretty sophisticated user. For many uses, it's ready now. It's plausible if not likely that hardware and software improvements will make it more secure over the coming months. That's when, one hopes, Apple will take a new look at NFC and other industry-standard technologies and jumps on the bandwagon.

        That won't happen on successors in the 5C class; it'll happen on successors in the 5S class. It'll eventually filter down to cheaper phones, just like we all have intermittent wipers in our cars these days.

        I keep hoping that Apple has some master plan for the next great thing. If not well they'll be profitable at the margins again, just as they were the first part of the decade. Life goes on.
        Technologist6
  • It's funny how the story has changed

    9.0

    from 'it is not cheap enough' ... trolls keep a hatin'
    The Danger is Microsoft