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iPhone 5S vs iPhone 5C: which should you buy?

With the current iPhone generation, Apple really stirred things up. Rather than releasing a single new phone, it released two – the iPhone 5S and the iPhone 5C.

A question we’re often asked is ‘what’s the difference between the iPhone 5s and the iPhone 5c?’ And that’s what we’re out to tackle here.

iPhone 5S vs iPhone 5C – Price

iPhone 5S – From £549 SIM-free, £37 a month
iPhone 5C – From £469 SIM-free, £32 a month

The iPhone 5C is the lower-cost alternative to the iPhone 5S. However, it is anything but a cheap phone.

Direct from Apple, the iPhone 5C starts at £469. That’s more than you’d pay for the HTC One or Samsung Galaxy S4 online. It is still cheaper than the iPhone 5S, though, which costs £80 more for the entry-level 16GB version. That’s £549.

It’s more money, but not a huge amount more, percentage-wise.

On contract, there’s generally about £5 a month difference between the two phones. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but this adds up to £120 over the course of a two-year contract. That’s more than the difference in the SIM-free prices.

Getting a special deal on an iPhone is exceedingly difficult as it’s rare for companies to need to flush out stocks of Apple devices. People love Apple, simple as that.

iPhone 5S vs iPhone 5C – Design

iPhone 5S – Aluminium, toughened glass
iPhone 5C – Plastic, toughened glass

The construction of the two phones is completely different. The iPhone 5S is made primarily of metal, the iPhone 5C plastic. It’s the most obvious difference between the two phones.

There are a few design differences that go hand-in-hand with this use of different materials. The iPhone 5C has curved, smooth edges while the iPhone 5S is a lot more severe. It comes across as a more serious – perhaps stuffy in some eyes – phone.

The two phones are still unified by Apple’s singular position on how to make a phone, though. You can’t crack open the casing, you have no access to the battery and the SIM card slot is put in a tray that slots into the side of the phone, not in a recessed hole somewhere.

As is expected of any Apple product, build quality is fantastic throughout the iPhone 5C and iPhone 5S. There are no creaky bits, no wide seams and no half-done design jobs. This helps to explain why the iPhone 5C is still an expensive phone.

The iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C are fairly similar in size. But – for those who care about dimensions – the 5C is a little bit chunkier. It is 9mm thick, the iPhone 5S 7.6mm. We don’t think there’s any practical benefit to the 5S being as super-slim as it is for most people, but in-hand it does leave an impression of being perilously skinny. In a similar vein, the iPhone 5S is a bit lighter than its plastic brother, at 112g to the iPhone 5C’s 132g.

These differences fit in well with the design personalities of the two phones. The iPhone 5C is fun and welcoming, the iPhone 5S is about extremes. Although it’s the same size as its predecessor the iPhone 5, its slim and light body can still make an impact.

iPhone 5S vs iPhone 5C – Colours

iPhone 5S – Gold, silver, dark grey
iPhone 5C – White, pink, yellow, blue, green

The iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C both introduced the Apple phone line-up to new colours. For the iPhone 5S, it was gold. The existing silver and dark grey shades were given a tweak too.

The black/dark grey of the iPhone 5 was lightened to what Apple calls ‘space grey’. As it is a bit lighter, scratches show up much less obviously. The aluminium body of the iPhone 5S is pretty prone to scratches, so it’s a good move.

Apple’s new gold flavour is an acquired taste, but it is far less gaudy than it could have been. Rather than being bright, shiny gold it’s a muted champagne colour. Here are the three iPhone 5S colours: iPhone 5S

The iPhone 5C is something else altogether. Like the iPod series, the iPhone 5C has embraced colour. You can get the phone in five different shades – white, yellow, pink, blue and green. The yellow edition is the most popular, apparently.

However, the colours are much less vivid than those of the Nokia Lumia range – the best known colourful phones around until the iPhone 5C arrived. The iPhone 5C shades verge on pastel. It stops them from seeming to kiddy-ish, but if you’re after the brightest phone around, you may be a shade disappointed.  Again, here are the colours you can choose from: iPhone 5S vs iPhone 5C 1

iPhone 5S vs iPhone 5C – Touch ID sensor, do you need one?

The most attention-grabbing new feature of the iPhone 5S is its Touch ID sensor. It’s a fingerprint scanner that lives on the Home button of the phone, and the iPhone 5C doesn’t have one.

Its functions are pretty limited, but it is very, very handy. It lets you unlock the phone, and avoid having to input your password when you’re trying to download something from iTunes.

The best part is that it works extremely well. It’s reliable, and only takes a second. This is the sort of feature that you don’t think much of until you come to rely on it. After having used the iPhone 5S for a while, switching back to the iPhone 5C and its passcode-based security feels hopelessly slow and old-fashioned.


iPhone 5S vs iPhone 5C – Screen

iPhone 5S – 4-inch 1,136 x 640 IPS
iPhone 5C – 4-inch 1,136 x 640 IPS

Both the iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C have 4-inch screens of the same 326ppi ‘Retina’ pixel density. And they have displays of a similar, ultra-high quality level. But which is better – the iPhone 5C or iPhone 5S?

Contrast is great, colour reproduction is great, brightness is great. Everything is great. Display benchmarks have shown some differences between the two phones, but it’s largely because of the natural differences that occur between batches of screens. So many iPhone displays are made that they have to come from a few different sources. It’s nothing we have to worry about, though.

They use IPS panels, the same kind seen in all iPhones released in the last few years. This offers great viewing angles. All you miss out on is the near-perfect contrast of an OLED screen like the Galaxy S4’s. Take the iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C into a darkened room and blacks will start to look a tiny bit grey or blue. But it’s not a significant issue unless you live in a cave.

Buy Now: iPhone 5C at from $220

iPhone 5S vs iPhone 5C – CPU and RAM

iPhone 5S – Apple A7, 64-bit, 1GB RAM
iPhone 5C – Apple A6, 32-bit, 1GB RAM

The iPhone 5S is often accused of being a bit of a weak upgrade over the old iPhone 5, but the new CPU is a serious improvement.

At launch it was the first 64-bit mobile phone processor ever, and benchmarks show that it has much more power on tap than the older processor. This old processor is what is used in the iPhone 5C.

The iPhone 5S processor is called the Apple A7 chip, the iPhone 5C’s the A6 processor. There’s not a great difference in terms of the number and speed of the cores it uses, but theoretical performance is much better in the iPhone 5S.

In the Geekbench benchmark, the iPhone 5C scores around 700 points. The iPhone 5S near-doubles that score with 1367 points. It’s the fastest phone out there right now.

All that power doesn’t really show much in day-to-day use, as both the iPhone 5C and 5S are quick. However, there are already lots of games that have visuals optimised for the Apple A7 chip.

The most obvious pick is Infinity Blade III, which was used at the phone’s launch to show off the new phone’s skills. Other games to try include Real Racing 3 and Asphalt 8.

Big developers’ obsession with free-to-play games has slowed-down how many of these super high-end games we get to see these days, though. Some apps also make good use of the Apple A7 chip, including Apple’s own Garageband and SketchBook Pro. You get more tracks and more layers, respectively, with an iPhone 5S.

Right now you need to care about these sorts of extras for the Apple A7 to be a huge bonus. However, it will also ensure the iPhone 5S is supported for longer by Apple. 64-bit seems to be the way Apple is heading, as the chip is also used in the iPad Air and iPad mini 2.

iPhone 5S vs iPhone 5C – Software

iPhone 5S –  iOS 7
iPhone 5C –  iOS 7

The iPhone 5S and 5C use exactly the same core software – iOS 7. It looks exactly the same in the two phones, and the two phones operate in the same way.

If you’ve only used an older version of iOS, the current version functions the same, but looks quite different. Apple put a lot of effort into making the system look and feel more modern. Transitions are smoother and slicker, and the design is less fusty.

For more on the things you can do with iOS 7, check out our iOS 7 tips and tricks article


iPhone 5S vs iPhone 5C – Camera

iPhone 5S – 8-megapixel, LED TrueTone flash, 1/3 sensor, slo-mo mode
iPhone 5C – 8-megapixel, LED flash, 1/3.2 sensor

The basic specs of the iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C cameras sound very similar. They both have 8-megapixel sensors and LED-based flashes, but Apple has made a few important improvements throughout.

Perhaps the most important is the size of the camera sensor. The iPhone 5S has a 1/3-inch sensor, a bit larger than the 1/3.2 sensor of the iPhone 5C. The general rule is that a larger sensor means more accurate, less noisy photos. Larger photosites means the camera can take in more light, giving it more information to work with.

It results in significantly better low-light performance in the more expensive iPhone.

The flash is also improved, again making the iPhone 5S more useful for late-night shooting. It has a dual-LED flash that Apple calls TrueTone. It uses two LEDs of different shades – one warm, one colder – and the phone judges the intensity of light needed in each half of the flash to get the most even photos. The aim is to avoid the washed-out effect a flash normally has on people’s faces. It works fairly well, too.

One other big extra that you don’t get in an iPhone 5C is slo-mo mode. This shoots at 120fps, giving a fairly extreme slow motion effect, at 720p resolution.

In good lighting, though, the cameras’ performance is fairly even. They produce great photos, especially if you use HDR mode whenever the lighting’s a bit challenging or it’s a bit cloudy. And shooting speed is excellent in both.

Which is better – iPhone 5S or iPhone 5C?

If someone has told you the iPhone 5C is a cheap, rubbish version of the iPhone 5S, you have been misinformed.  It’s not rubbish, and it’s certainly not cheap.

However, there are significant improvements in the more expensive model. The camera is better at handling trickier scenes, its processor is far more powerful and it looks and feels a bit higher-end than the 5C. Its improvements are not big deals for the average user, but if you plan on using the phone for 3-4 years rather than 1-2, that it’s virtually guaranteed longer support than the 5C makes it worth the extra cash.

Next, it’s the iPhone 5S vs Samsung Galaxy S4

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