Apple iPhone 5C Review: In Depth

Apple delivered a one-two punch with this year’s iPhone announcement. The iPhone 5S is now king of the castle, but the iPhone 5C is replacing last year’s iPhone 5 as the new 2nd tier device. So is it a worthy replacement?

‘C’ stands for colour

If you haven’t heard, the 5C is Apple’s return to a plastic iPhone design, but it’s a far departure from the 3G and 3GS of yesteryear. You’re able to pick up a 5C in one of five colours: green, blue, yellow, pink and white, which can also be paired to some albeit unorthodox, complementary official Apple cases.

The actual look of the 5C’s body is a true return to minimalist design and it in fact emphasises how overcomplicated the 5 and 5S effectively look with their two-tone metal cladding. As plastic phones go, it’s one of the best looking handsets out there. The rounded shell wraps around the back and sides of the body with a high gloss lacquer coat that helps accentuate the lines of the phone when it catches the light. In true Apple fashion, it’s clearly a very considered design.

The volume rocker, power/lock key on top and home button all depress with a satisfying ‘click’ and the phone as a whole feels extremely well built, more so than many rival plastic handsets in the Android camp.

Compared to the iPhone 5, which felt unusually lightweight for such a premium phone, the iPhone 5C feels reassuringly solid and its 132g weight reflects this, being a little weightier than its launch partner.

In contrast to the colourful bodywork, the glass front of the 5C is more conventional iPhone design, featuring a black bezel surrounding an identical display to the one found on both the 5 and 5S. In truth there’s little reason to change it. The 4-inch IPS LCD Retina display delivers excellent brightness, great viewing angles and the iOS interface looks pin sharp thanks to the 640×1136 resolution.

A lighter, brighter iOS experience

A far departure from iOS 6, iOS 7 looks and feels almost purpose built for the iPhone 5C. The high contrast, punchy colour palette and subtle rounding on elements like app icons and open folders complement the 5C’s physical design beautifully, much more so than the iPhone 5S.

By default Apple sets complementary wallpapers depending on the colour of 5C you choose and so our handset came with a subtle blue/green graduated backdrop that set a little more colour amidst that black bezel. It’s a small touch but it keeps the experience out-the-box both inside and out more cohesive.

We’ve already taken an in-depth look at what iOS 7 brings to the table, but highlights certainly include the buttery smooth navigation and transitions between homescreens and folders. Everything is clean and clear and the attention to detail that Apple continues to dish out is found throughout the user experience too.

Small touches like the parallax effect as you shift the 5C in your hand does increase the premium overall feel of an already elegant UI (although this can be switched off if needs be if you get motion sick) and the introduction of new features like Control Centre are long overdue, but very welcome.

The App Store has grown tremendously since its inception and you now have access to around 900,000 apps, meaning there’s plenty of additional functionality you can laden your 5C with. The biggest issue at this stage is the look of apps. The biggest brands like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine and Evernote have already issued updates to restyle their applications to better suit iOS 7, but there are thousands more apps still in need of a visual refresh so that they don’t stand out awkwardly amidst the sharp, clean lines of iOS 7.

Better, faster, stronger? Almost

On paper, beyond the exterior design the hardware remains almost unchanged from the iPhone 5. You get the same A6 chip, the same resolution display, same amount of RAM and same storage options. This translates to great support for intense 3D games like NOVA 3 and Infinity Blade 3, but going forward the hardware will likely start to lose its edge ever so slightly; especially as developers begin to take advantage of the newer, more powerful A7 chip and the 64-bit architecture residing within the iPhone 5S.

Apple has marginally upped the battery from last year’s 5, although in real world use battery life seems almost identical, with a full day of general use on the cards from a single charge.

The new UI is the biggest change to the camera experience, although iOS 7 paired to the 5C’s innards also produces a lightning fast shutter response when shooting from the phone’s 8-megapixel rear iSight camera, whilst the FaceTime HD front-facer now offers up a cleaner, clearer, more balanced image over last year’s offering too.

Apple was quick to point out at the 5C’s unveiling that unlike its predecessor, 4G users won’t have to worry about compatibility between networks, as it’s said to support more LTE bands globally than nearly any other handset. This means UK users will be able to hop onto any of those premium 4G plans by the end of the year, unless they choose Three, who is offering a free upgrade to 4G speeds across every one of its plans.

Is it all worth it?

The iPhone 5C is a phenomenal smartphone. iOS 7 keeps things interesting for long-standing iPhone users and it’s one of the most elegant and best-looking smartphones out there, albeit with a somewhat toy-like appearance thanks to the bright colours and glossy plastic.

Can we recommend you buy it? In it’s current state, no. Our reservations about the iPhone 5C’s place in the grand scheme of things has already been documented (here) and it boils down to price, as these things often do.

It was the media who billed the iPhone 5C as a new ‘cheap iPhone’ before its official announcement, never Apple. As such this means that the 16GB model (and we’d recommend you buy the 32GB if any) is only £80 less (£469 SIM-free) than an iPhone 5S with the same storage capacity. The biggest issue for the iPhone 5C, is the iPhone 5S, which will offer so much more for the extra money you’d have to lay down.

If you’re looking for a colourful phone, there are of course far more affordable options that still offer a wealth of functionality. The Nokia Lumia 620 being the Windows Phone handset that most closely resembles the 5C, although of course any of Nokia’s Lumia handsets (perhaps excluding the Nokia Lumia 925) offer a hit of vibrant colour in their designs.

In the Android camp you can get just as premium a user experience from the immensely powerful Sony Xperia Z1 or HTC One, whilst the elusive HTC First certainly resembles the iPhone 5C in size, colouring and its minimalist design language.

If iOS is what you need, then a refurbished iPhone 5 can probably be had for at least £100 less, also reinforcing the lack of purpose the 5C really has in the market. Awkward.

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