iPhone 5C Review

iPhone 5C
Justin Sullivan / Staff/Getty Images

The Good

  • Very solid phone
  • Good camera
  • Speedy
  • Colorful cases

The Bad

  • No major improvements over the iPhone 5

When is a new iPhone not really a new iPhone? When it’s the iPhone 5C, which, other than its set of new, colorful backs, is essentially the same phone as last year’s iPhone 5. That’s a description more than a criticism, though—the iPhone 5 is a terrific phone. Picking up an iPhone 5C this year means you’ll get all of the benefits of the 5 with the bright colors of the 5C, which is a great combination.

A Pretty Case

The most obvious thing that sets the 5C apart from the 5 (or from the iPhone 5S, which was introduced at the same time as the 5C) is its back. Unlike any previous model of iPhone, the 5C comes in multiple colors: white, pink, yellow, blue, and green. These colors are part of the plastic backing of the 5C. Don’t let the idea of plastic fool you, though: this isn’t a cheap-feeling product. The 5C’s back is a seamless shell with rich, deep color and it feels just as sturdy, just as high quality as the metal backing of other recent iPhones.

Other than the case, the 5C will be familiar to anyone who has had a 5: it’s almost exactly the same size and shape (the 5C is 3/100 of an inch taller, 2/100 of an inch wider). The 5C is a bit heavier, though: it weighs in at 4.65 ounces vs. the 5’s 3.95 ounces. The difference is noticeable when holding both phones, but the difference doesn’t make the 5C heavy—in fact, the iPhone 4S is a few ounces heavier than the 5C.

Regardless of the size and weight differences from its predecessor, the 5C feels great in your hand.

Familiar Interiors

The exterior is the primary place that the 5C differs from the 5. Its interior, on the other hand, is almost identical (the major difference is that the 5C’s battery is slightly larger, but that doesn’t seem to have a major influence of battery life).

Both phones are built around the Apple A6 processor running at 1 Ghz. The A6 is plenty snappy and, while it’s no longer Apple’s premiere processor (the iPhone 5S sports the A7), is more than powerful enough to power practically anything you want to do with your smartphone.

The similarities don’t end there: both phones also have 4G LTE wireless networking for speedy downloads; both have a sharp, beautiful 4-inch Retina Display screen; both use the Lightning connector. They even have the same cameras: 8 megapixel stills, 1080p HD video, panoramic photos on the back camera; 1.2 megapixel stills, and 720p HD video on the user-facing camera.

Needless to say, there’s not any innovation in the guts of the iPhone 5C, but that doesn’t make it a bad, or even behind-the-times, phone. All of these features and options are very good and will satisfy the majority of your day-to-day needs.

Compared to Its Big Brother

Since the iPhone 5 is no longer being sold, how the 5C compares to it is less interesting than how it compares to Apple’s current flagship model, the iPhone 5S. The answer, it turns out, is pretty well.

Despite having a newer processor, the iPhone 5S is only slightly faster than the 5C. I tested both phones in loading the full (not mobile) versions of a number of websites using the same Wi-Fi network and found the 5S to, at best, load sites about a second quicker.

The 5C’s speeds loading these sites were identical to the iPhone 5’s.

Even other tasks where the A7 might be expected to provide a larger advantage—starting up, processing video—only found the 5S to be 1-3 seconds faster than the 5C.

The major difference between the two really comes in the area of the camera. While both phones offer the same number of megapixels, that spec is pretty misleading. The 5S takes photos that have bigger pixels, which leads to sharper photos. It has dual flash, for more natural colors. It supports a burst mode that lets you take up to 10 photos per second and offers a gorgeous slow-motion video recording option.

Due to the superior camera, if photos and videos are important to you, the 5S is a no brainer. It’s substantially more capable than the 5C. The 5S also offers a number of smaller improvements, such as the M7 motion processor and the Touch ID fingerprint scanner. Those are valuable options, but the 5C is a solid competitor for its sibling.

The Bottom Line

Last year’s iPhone 5 was a very good phone. The 5C, being only slightly different, is also a very good phone. The camera is a huge difference, and the fact that the 5C tops out at 32GB while the 5S goes to 64GB will matter to many users. But if you’re looking to get a full-featured iPhone at a low price, the 5C deserves real consideration.