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iPhone 5C Review: A Fresh Coat of Paint Only Goes So Far

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In a way, we already reviewed this phone a year ago. In fact, iPhone 5C is in every important way the iPhone 5 in different clothing. That's not to say it's bad phone. In fact, after spending a weekend with the iPhone 5C, I can say with certainty it's a very good phone, in the same way that last night's meatloaf is still very good meatloaf. But it's not exactly fresh.


What Is It?

Apple's new cheaper(ish) iPhone that has a plastic back and comes in five different color options.


Who's It For?

Frugals, teenagers who are getting a phone for the very first time, folks who want a little color variety, or people who have smashed the snot out of their old phone and figure they'd rather pay $100 for a new one than drop the same on screen repair.



A four-inch retina display with a colorful plastic polycarbonate back. On the inside, the phone is really the same as the iPhone 5, save for a slightly bigger battery and new FaceTime camera, so design is the most defining aspect of the 5C.

The slick plastic shell is distracting at first; it's tapered along the edges of the actual phone, creating an annoying little gap where you might expect edge to edge smoothness. And because the dimensions are otherwise identical to the iPhone 5, the shell feels more like permanently ensnared inside of a $20 Speck case you'll never be able to swap than a fashion-forward design choice.


The plastic also a little slippery, so hopefully you don't have butterfingers, because that screen will shatter. It also makes the phone slightly heavier than the 5S, although it's still roughly in line with top-tier Android handsets like the Moto X (which is still very light).


While the iPhone 5C's lower price in many ways is an effort to compete with Android among other demographics, Apple certainly hasn't taken a page from Android in screen size. The 5C retains a very comfortable 4-inch display, whereas Android phones seem to be getting bigger and bigger. The Moto X, for example has a 4.7-inch display, and the Droid Maxx has a 5.0-incher. This year, these dimensions and larger have become par for the course for the OS. More screen adds more heft, and the iPhone 5C has done a nice job staying sleek and small.


Using It


The iPhone 5C has grown on me since my initial encounter a few days ago. My day to day phone is an iPhone 5, and while the 5C is very nearly a clone of its forebear, the combination of a new back and iOS 7 were enough to make it feel fresh.


The biggest difference between last year's iPhone and this one, in fact, has nothing to do with the hardware (and, if you've updated your phone recently, isn't really a difference at all). iOS 7 makes using the 5C very enjoyable. It's polished, it's feels fresh, and it adds welcome new features like Command Center, which conveniently places essential features front and center with just a swipe from the bottom of the screen. iOS 7's a looker, and the parallax effect makes you feel like you're flying through space when you open folders and apps. Ringtones getting a mention in the keynote might have felt like we were back in the early 2000s, but the new sounds are whimsical and fun.


Apple has also made slight improvements to the front-facing camera by adding bigger individual pixels and better illumination. This has resulted in brighter colors on FaceTime calls and the picture noticeably sharper and clearer.


The battery is bigger, and better, but not by enough that you'll notice. The iPhone 5 has a 1440 mAh battery, whereas the 5C packs 1510 mAh. It's still impossible to make it through an entire day on a single charge. So sure, it's an improvement, but it's almost not even worth mentioning because it makes virtually no difference in your usage habits.

Unsurprisingly, the A6 chip-powered 5C is fast, just like the iPhone 5. Calls are clear and crisp, just like the iPhone 5. The screen is lovely and sharp, just like the iPhone 5. And there are no surprises, because again, this is an iPhone 5.


The Best Part

The colors are fun, and it's nice to be able to stand out (one of five ways).

Tragic Flaw

The price. Sure, a $100 starting point is half the price of what we're used to for a new iPhone, but it's not cheap enough when what you're buying is essentially last year's model.


This Is Weird...

Carrying the iPhone 5C around gave me a little gadgetry FOMO. It's a new iPhone, but it's not the new iPhone with the fast A7 chip, new camera features, and fancy fingerprint scanner. We shouldn't let our gadgets define our sense of status! But if you're someone who does, you might start to feel second-tier.


Test Notes

  • No detectable change in the overall experience using this phone vs. using the iPhone 5.
  • Had to charge it at least twice a day.
  • The speaker is great and gets very loud (Drake's new album in particular, sounds fantastic.)
  • The colored back draws attention. People want to know if it's the new iPhone, which means you have to explain that yeah, it's one of the new iPhones, it's just the crappier one.

Should I Buy I?

While this phone is going to be hugely popular—or rather already is, considering Apple moved 9 million iPhones over the weekend—there are very few scenarios in which you should buy this device instead of the iPhone 5S.


Are you due for an upgrade from your 4S? You should buy the 5S. Do you have a 5 and want a new phone and are prepared to pay the normal price for an iPhone? You should buy the 5s. If you're going to spend $100, why not pony up another hundred, especially since that's just a few extra bucks a month over the course of a two-year contract for better everything.


There are about two foreseeable reasons why it might actually make sense to choose the iPhone 5C over the 5S. One is if you're a first-time iPhone user and you're cheap and don't care about having the fastest thing on the market. And two is maybe if you're a parent buying a phone for your teenager, who dear god, you don't need to buy a $300 phone for.

The iPhone 5C is a really good phone—one that I enjoyed using. But it's phone we already know. It's like buying a designer dress at a warehouse sale. Sure, you might be buying Chanel or Gucci, but it's last season's model, and it's just not the same.


The iPhone 5C is now on sale starting at $100 from Apple or your carrier.

iPhone 5C Specs

• Network: AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon
• OS: iOS 7
• CPU: Apple A6 chip
• Screen: 4.0-inch multitouch retina display, 1136 x 640 resolution (326 pixels per inch)
• Storage: 16GB or 32G GB
• Camera: 8MP rear / 1.2MP front
• Battery: 1510 mAh
• Dimensions: 4.90 x 2.33 x 0.35 inches
• Weight: 4.65 ounces
• Price: $100 for 16GB, $200 for 32GB with a two-year contract