Thursday, September 26, 2013

iPhone 5C: The iPhone for Everyone Still Pleases

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By Pete Pachal2013-09-26 19:32:48 UTC

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When first unveiled the , we joked in the Mashable office that we should just take our old , do a find and replace, and present it as our iPhone 5C review.

We'd never do that, of course (not without proofreading, at least). But after using the iPhone 5C for the better part of a week, I can say it differs from the more than you think. Even though the specs are nigh-identical, the 5C's design invokes different feelings than the 5 ever did. After you play with it awhile, you might even forget there's a razzle-dazzle, fingerprint-scanning model just down the aisle.

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If it's not last year's phone, the iPhone 5C is basically last year's phone technology repackaged to feel shiny and new. And for a lot of people -- I would even argue most -- that's okay. The iPhone 5S is there as a step-up model for the sizable chunk of users who want the latest and greatest, but Apple is positioning the iPhone 5C as the phone everyone will love (if not afford -- at least in of the world).


And there's lots to love. The new plastic back -- famously available in -- bestows a sense of friendliness, even playfulness to what used to be a "serious" piece of smartphone hardware. While technology is usually at its best when it "gets out of the way," the iPhone 5C's exterior is anything but subtle. It's almost like the phone is constantly checking with you, "This is fun, right?"

Versus the iPhone 5 or 5S, the iPhone 5C is thicker (0.35 vs. 0.3 inch), heavier (4.65 vs. 3.95 ounces) and smoother, losing many of the hard edges that went hand in hand with the machined aluminum backside and . The extra weight is just slightly noticeable, but it's still pretty light as today's smartphones go (right, ?).

Because of the smooth plastic back and lack of external antenna, the iPhone 5C doesn't feel like an iPhone 5 in the hand. With your eyes closed, you'd almost think it's a phone (except finding a Samsung phone with a 4-inch screen would be like discovering the Loch Ness Monster). The mute switch is in the same spot as always, but the volume buttons are now oblong shaped, like the power button -- likely another way Apple cut production costs.

About the swiss-cheesed case that goes hand-to-glove with the iPhone 5C: I'm not a fan. The material is more "matte" than the gloss finish of the phone's back, and that arguably makes it less likely to slip out of your hand or a pocket. But it also makes the phone harder to get out of said pocket -- not good.

Full disclosure, though: I'm not a case guy. I believe that cases generally undercut one of the best design advances in smartphones: how damn thin they are. The iPhone 5C already adds a little bulk over the iPhone 5 -- I don't need any more, thanks.


I'm an interesting use case for the iPhone 5C. My personal phone is an , and I was leaning hard toward an upgrade to the iPhone 5S. Although I'd used the iPhone 5 before, I hadn't had the pleasure of using a 4-inch device day in, day out.

And it's indeed a pleasure. The iPhone has been brandishing a 4-inch display for a year now, and it's clear that most app developers are targeting that size. for , for example, introduces a navigation bar on the bottom of the screen. While that makes content on the iPhone 4S feel squished, there's still plenty of room for the news feed to stretch out on the iPhone 5C.

Apps launch on the iPhone 5C, well, about as fast as they did on the iPhone 5, which is faster than the 4S, but not significantly so. Firing up the graphics-heavy on both phones, the 5C won the race by about four seconds. Congrats, year-old A6 chip -- you get a no-prize.

Call quality was very good. I had a Verizon model; I felt voices came through with slightly less distortion than my regular AT&T iPhone 4S. Carrying the 5C through various parts of Manhattan, however, I was annoyed to often see just one bar, although that likely applied just to LTE connectivity. Still, one bar in a major urban area is pathetic for any network.

One of the actual upgrades on the iPhone 5C is a bigger battery, measuring 1,510 milliamp-hours (the iPhone 5 battery had 1,440 mAh). That's not a huge difference, but Apple says you get a couple more hours of talk time (now 10) and longer standby as well.

I found the battery improvements to be significant. Besides being an iPhone power user, I'm a bit of a notification addict -- I enable push alerts on most apps that offer them, and I have a lot. Unlike my iPhone 4S, however, the iPhone 5C's battery was never run all the way down before the end of the day. Even when I forgot to charge it overnight (with Bluetooth on), there was usually power to spare in the morning the next day.


The main camera in the iPhone 5C remains the same as in the 5, which is to say it's a great smartphone camera, made even better with the new iOS 7 camera UI. For casual shooting, the 8-megapixel images look great, with excellent color. Taking some photos of my 3-year-old son bouncing all over an inflatable castle, the bright, primary colors of the castle looked vibrant.

The bouncefest was also a good opportunity to test how well the camera captures fast motion. While the iPhone 5C did well when the kids were bathed in sunlight, action in shaded areas generated some motion blur. While that's to be expected in a phone camera, I think the is a slightly superior action photographer in less-than-ideal lighting.

The iPhone 5C's front-facing camera is another real, physical upgrade. Although the resolution is the same, Apple gave the selfie cam better pixels and an improved sensor to give clarity a boost in low light.

It makes a difference. Not only do images from the camera look sharper, with less noise, but they also have more natural coloring as well. The camera appears to do better with both low light and bright light, showing more detail in the lighter areas of a photo, which you can see in the selfie-off below (5C is on the left, 5 on the right).

Those benefits will also translate into better FaceTime quality, although that of course depends on your connection, too. But on solid Wi-Fi or LTE, expect your call partners to see all the food stuck in your teeth. Be warned.


Oh, did I mention this is an iPhone? That's kind of the point of the iPhone 5C. Where there used to be one phone -- the phone -- now there are two. The apps, the ecosystem, and the experience that is used is now available on two different brand-spanking-new smartphones.

Putting the design aside for a second, the iPhone 5C really isn't that new. It amounts to last year's phone, dressed up in some varied coats of paint. While that invites some criticism, critics miss the essential point: Everybody loved last year's phone. Reviews were almost , even if Apple Maps 1.0 was . The outstanding hardware shone through.

Mobile technology is moving ever-faster certainly, and that's why the iPhone 5S exists. But are regular people moving just as fast? I suspect that for the majority of the smartphone-buying public, last year's phone will suit them perfectly. And I can hardly blame Apple for trying to create more interest with a new design while saving a little money in the process.

The question is: Why revamp the previous phone now, as opposed to years prior? I believe there are two reasons: 1) iPhone sales have gotten so enormous that a split product line will still generate massive sales for both models. And, 2) Mobile technology -- in terms of what will satisfy most people -- has pretty much peaked.

Because after using the iPhone 5C for a while, I've needed to remind myself why I wanted the iPhone 5S in the first place. With the 5C I have a phone that's a clear step up from my two-year-old iPhone 4S, runs all the apps I use today, and gets through a full day without needing a recharge.

There may be no , no and no , but the iPhone 5C is still every bit the user-friendly window to your connected life that every other iPhone has been. Of course, if you have the iPhone 5, don't bother. But for everyone else, the iPhone 5C is an affordable ticket to the most active mobile ecosystem on the planet.

And you'll even like the color.




BOTTOM LINE: It may pack mostly year-old technology, but the colorful iPhone 5C still has the goods to deliver what most people want in a smartphone: great photos, fast performance and a user experience that's second to none.

Images: Mashable

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