Review: iPhone 5c and iPhone 5s

Shortly after Apple’s iPhone event ended on September 10, I walked into a room to speak with Apple executives about the new devices. During that meeting, I was also given a green iPhone 5c and a gold iPhone 5s to review, both running iOS 7—I’ve been using those two phones for the last week.

My iPhone serves a couple of purposes—obviously, it’s a communication device, but it also has to serve as an all purpose work device too. Those are the things that I focused on when using the two iPhones this week.

Making changes to help users

There are a couple of reasons a company makes changes to its products. One is to improve it, making it better for its users; the other is to give people the perception of change in hopes of selling something shiny and new, when it really isn’t.

I’m all for new features, but if they don’t actually help me get things done more efficiently, then you have to ask, “what’s the point?” I ask myself that question quite a bit when I’m looking at any new product, including the new iPhones.

I must say, I’m quite happy with the answers I’ve come up with.

iPhone 5s

The iPhone 5s is Apple’s new high-end model. If you’re the type of person that always has to have the latest and greatest gadget, then this is the device for you.

The 5s comes with Apple’s latest processor, updated still and video camera features and all the bells and whistles that you would expect to find in Apple’s newest product. However, the 5s also comes with a new fingerprint sensor to give the user easy access to the phone.

A fingerprint sensor could be one of those cool features that everyone talks about, but nobody ends up using in their day-to-day lives because it’s too much of a hassle. I’ll be honest, heading into the event, I was wondering if Apple’s implementation of the sensor would be good enough to actually make it useful. Not just for a demo to make people gasp and clap, but could I use it every day.

The answer is unequivocally yes.

As I mentioned, my iPhone is a communication device. I’m on Twitter all the time, I make and receive phone calls, I get emails all day long—I’m in and out of apps all day. Typing in my passcode every time I wanted to check email or respond to a tweet was a huge pain, but security is important. I needed to have that passcode just in case I lost my phone or it was stolen. This is one of those situations where you make a decision (to have a passcode), and even though it’s the right decision, you will be frustrated by continually typing it in.

iPhone fingerprint sensor

The fingerprint sensor took all of that pain away. I still have the security I was looking for, but none of the frustration.

The way I expected a fingerprint sensor to work went something like this:

  • Touch the Home button to wake up the phone…
  • Phone recognizes that you want to open it with your fingerprint
  • Phone reads your fingerprint
  • Phone authenticates your fingerprint
  • Phone unlocks

What I got was this:

  • Touch the Home button to wake up the phone, fingerprint is read and phone unlocks.

It was almost immediate. It’s much quicker than entering in the passcode manually and all I have to do is rest my thumb on the Home button, which contains the fingerprint sensor.

In addition to the speed, the location of the sensor is key. There is no extra movement needed to activate fingerprint reading. That decision was vital in making the fingerprint sensor work for users—if you have to move to make it work, it may not be worth using.

Of course, you can still have a manual passcode. If you do, you are required to type this in the first time after you restart the device, and if something ever happened to your fingerprint, you have a way to access the phone.

Setting up a fingerprint is as easy as resting your finger on the Home button and following the onscreen instructions. The button will vibrate when it’s reading; lift your finger and rest it on the button again; and repeat until it’s done. Very simple.

You can add multiple fingerprints and you can even use your fingerprint to buy items from iTunes and App Store.

I did wonder about the security of having my fingerprint on the phone, but I’m satisfied with Apple’s explanation and I’m not at all concerned. According to Apple, the fingerprint is securely stored in a special section of the A7—nothing but the fingerprint sensor can access that portion of the chip. The fingerprint is not sent to iCloud or anywhere else for that matter—it’s only in that section of the chip.

It became very clear how much I used the fingerprint sensor when I would pick up the iPhone 5c and wonder why the sensor wasn’t working. Of course, only the 5s has the sensor, but that’s how quickly I became used to having that option.

The fingerprint sensor solved a problem and makes my handling of the iPhone more efficient. That’s what a feature should do.

Speed increases are something we expect with new Apple products, but the iPhone 5s goes above and beyond expectations. In addition to the faster processor, the iPhone 5s is also the world’s first 64-bit phone. These changes make the 5s up to twice as fast as the iPhone 5—that’s a significant increase.

Having a 64-bit architecture will give Apple and its developers a significant advantage in the market. It’s more efficient in many ways that will show in the quality and complexity of what we see for years to come.

The cameras in the iPhone have also been updated, which is great for people like me. I’m not a very good photographer, so I rely on my camera to do all of the work for me. For years now, I’ve only carried the camera that comes with my iPhone. Even on vacation, I only have my iPhone and so far I’ve been very happy with the results.

If I had one wish for the camera it would be better night and low-light pictures. I always find them to be grainy, which makes taking pictures at concerts and other events problematic.

Photography for me is about capturing a moment in time in the most convenient way possible. Mostly those moments are spontaneous, not staged. I’ll just take my iPhone out, snap a picture and I’m done. If the camera sucks, so does my picture. Luckily, the iPhone camera keeps getting better, so my pictures do too.

The video camera is better as well. One of the new features, Slo-Mo is brilliant for me. I like to take videos of my dogs playing—I don’t always post them, but it’s nice to have those memories. You can see how much fun my two Border Collies, Harold (the one jumping) and Ozzy have playing frisbee.

After taking a video, you just adjust the in and out points where you want the slow motion effect to happen and you’re done. It was really easy to do, even for me.

The iPhone 5s is a brilliant phone with some great new features that help you in work and play. The fingerprint sensor, camera, and improved speed and architecture, make the 5s my favorite iPhone to date.

iPhone 5c

The iPhone 5c is Apple’s mid-range iPhone model that comes in a variety of colors including blue, green, pink, white and yellow. It’s clear that the iPhone 5c is going after a different crowd than the 5s, but it would be wrong to think of this as a cheap iPhone.

iPhone 5c green

The construction of the iPhone 5c was something that concerned me going into the event. I’ve touched plastic phones and tablets before and they were awful. There is give in the devices when you press on them, giving you the feeling you could poke a hole in them at any time. Would Apple really do that? I just couldn’t imagine it—they’re better than that, right?

Turns out Apple is better than that. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the 5c when the event ended—I had to touch it. I was pleasantly surprised with how tough it was.

There is absolutely no give to this phone at all. It doesn’t bend or buckle anywhere in the casing, which is what you want, obviously. It feels as solid as the 5s.

The iPhone 5c doesn’t actually feel like plastic. It’s strange when you first pick it up, but it almost feels like ceramic or a similar material that is glossy and hard. The manufacturing process that Apple used to make this phone and the metal reinforcement it used in the plastic casing certainly worked on making this phone tough.

The iPhone 5c takes over from the iPhone 5, filling that spot in the product line-up. In fact, the 5c is basically the iPhone 5 with some updated components like a new FaceTime HD Camera and colors.

That’s not a bad thing either. The iPhone 5 was a great selling phone for Apple and I believe the 5c will be even better. It hits the sweet spot of having a powerful device with fun colors, at an affordable price-point. That’s not an easy thing to do.

I wondered how Apple would bring a lower-end iPhone to market without removing any features and still keep the costs down. They ended up adding features and still keeping the price down—no matter how you look at it, that is impressive.

I believe what we’ll see in the coming months is that customers who would have purchased an Android phone will buy the iPhone 5c instead. The draw of the iPhone at an affordable price will be too much for many to resist, especially with this kind of power.

While many of us love having features like a fingerprint sensor, it’s not that important for all users. Some people are price conscious and will want to check out all the options available to them. I think the iPhone 5c will win out in this type of head-to-head comparison.

Apple has a one-two punch of iPhones like they’ve never had before. The iPhone 5c sales will be huge.

iOS 7

I have been using iOS 7 for the last month or so as my full time operating system. Not only have I gotten used to it, I quickly came to prefer it over iOS 6.

iOS 7 isn’t a big change functionally from what we’re all used to with iOS 6. Apple kept most of things we know about how to use the operating system and integrated them with the design.

Of course, that is the big change with the new iOS—the look and feel are newer, some would say flatter. While we were all a bit shocked with the look when it was first introduced, it doesn’t take long to adapt. In fact, there are many things I like better.

The dynamics of the OS and the way the backgrounds move as you tilt the phone are very cool. They aren’t just cool, to me they show that Apple still cares about those little details that we count on them for. The transitions in apps and changing to the multitasking screen are all things that make iOS 7 a visually pleasing operating system.

I mentioned to a friend last week that I still thought that the Calendar and Contacts apps were still a bit too stark for me. He pointed out that both apps were now much easier to read and navigate. I thought about that for a while and he’s right, they are. It still feels like they went too far to me.

There are a lot of features that I can pick out in iOS 7 that I really like: Control Center, Notification Center, Multitasking, Camera app, and iTunes Radio—I love iTunes Radio. The accuracy of the songs it chooses is amazing. However, I would be hard pressed to pick out anything in iOS 7 that I just don’t like at all.

Nobody likes change, but sometimes change is for the best. iOS 7 is one of those changes.

  • I promised my wife that we would get a 5s, and it would be hers. Your description of the fingerprint sensor is making me regret that…

    Oh well. Still work it. Happy wife, happy life. 🙂

    • juanm105

      what are you talking about? His comments were positive about the fingerprint sensor. why are you regretting your decision?

      • zimpenfish

        Presumably because he promised it to his wife and now he wants it instead…

        • This.

          • Manfred Deutschmann

            You write very well. A good sense of humor!

    • So, you do not trust her? I hope, she does not read this post of yours.

      • Of course I trust her. What’s this have to do with trust? I want the 5s!

        And yes, of course if I had one it would take her fingerprint. And I suspect she’ll let me add mine to hers, because why not?

    • James Hughes

      Yes, plus you can add your fingerprint to the iPhone too. If she allows you to touch the phone at all that is. : P

  • Sid

    Liked your video demos for the slo mo. Highlighted slo mo perfectly. I’m getting the 5S. I’ve got the 4S but want the Fingerprint sensor.

  • Mathew Rice

    Great Review!

  • GadgetGav

    So the Slo-Mo effect is post shooting..? Does that mean it’s always capturing all video at the high frame rate in case you want to add the effect? Great slo-mo demos by the way.

    • Hugo


    • Andrew Milham

      No, slo-mo is another option in the swipe-able list of camera modes (Slo-Mo, Video, Photo, Square, Pano). It shoots at 720p while the normal video mode does 1080p.

      • The slow mo shoots at 120 frames per second at 720p while normal shoots at 30 frames per second at 1080p.

    • Sort of yes, sort of no. Slow motion is a camera option you have to pick before recording. But you get to pick which parts of the videos play back at which speed after the capture.

  • DanielSw

    Great review, Jim!

    I like iOS 7 very much, as well. I love the zoom animation between apps and the apps page and folder. And I like the blurred transparencies of control center, folders, and Safari. I also like the new way of killing apps by just dragging them out of the mulitask line. And then there’s the easier access to spotlight search by dragging down on the home screen.

    It’s a nice, fresh, and better OS for the new and newer iPhones. Good timing, Apple! Thank you all for the great work!

  • Newson

    Those slo-mo frisbee videos are very cool. Nice review.

  • Arno

    Thanks Jim! One question: There’s no sound when you switched to slow-mo… is that on purpose?

    • Justin

      The sound is there, it’s just slowed down and maybe quieter?

    • Justin is correct, there is audio, but it gets slowed down too. You can really hear it in the third video during slow-mo.

  • Mgpeddle

    Jim, don’t you live in Canada, iTunes Radio ? Is it really available or was it just when you were traveling to the states ?

    • Lucas Luxton

      I’ve been using the GM since September 10th, I live in Canada and no iTunes Match is not available YET unfortunately…

  • I hope YouTube is building another YouTube because there’s going to be awful lot of slo-mo video being uploaded at 4x the length.

    • lkalliance

      The slo-mo mode shoots in 120 fps, but after you’ve chose the slo-mo segment does it convert the finished product to 30 fps?

  • Doug Blunt

    I bought a yellow 5C for my college daughter. I’m more excited than she is . Should be a good upgrade from her iphone 4

    • lucascott

      Sorry but every time someone mentions the yellow iPhone all I can think is


  • Eric Dannewitz

    Ok, this is OBVIOUSLY a fake review. I mean, Canada is always in snow. There is NO GREEN GRASS in Canada!

  • vic867

    Thanks Jim, so what color are you getting? I’m getting the silver.

    • Gold

      • James Hughes

        To go with your necklace right? Gold gold gold!!!! 😀

  • Vic

    The 5s is useable technology at it’s finest – just as advertised. Want one.

  • Ann

    Gold 5S for me, I can’t wait!

  • Joe Rogan

    Let me know when Apple finally comes out with true cloud storage. I’ll be sticking with Copy. Sign up below for 20 GB free and 5 GB for each referral with an unlimited number of referrals. All you need is 16 friends to hit 100 GB free for life.

  • haromaster

    The slo-mo looks great

  • lkalliance

    I had been leaning towards the 5c, but now leaning towards the 5s…will of course hold off any permanent decision until I’ve seen and held the phones. That’s what drew me to the 5c: though I’m not specifically a fan of plastic vs. aluminum, the reviews suggest it is very solid and not cheap-feeling…and it looks to me to be a more comfortable and durable phone. When I learned there is a burst app I could download, there went one important differentiator, and in any case it would be a performance and camera and connectivity improvement over my 4S.

    But more and more I’m coming around to the 5s instead. But one question about the fingerprint sensor. Over the last couple of days I’ve tried to take careful notice of what fingers I use to touch the home button. I almost always carry the phone in my left hand, and I either use my left thumb or my right middle finger to tap the home button. But in each case it’s angled straight-on, if that makes sense: the tip of each finger, and not the pad. So, really, two questions:

    (1) Will that render the fingerprint sensor insensitive to my tap? (2) I fear that I won’t cover the metal ring to sense that I’m using the sensor; do I have to cover the entire ring or just a portion of it?

  • sausage

    It looks like Ozzy just waits for Harold to catch the frisbee, then tries to take it off him!

    • Exactly right 🙂

    • MysteriousRacerX

      Ozzy must be in management. 😀

  • How does the fingerprint sensor affect the quick camera access from the home screen?

    Is there a way to wake up the phone and still get at the camera quickly, or does putting your thumb on the home button always unlock the phone, forcing you to have to open the app manually?

    • lkalliance

      Great question, I’d want to know too. My expectation is that Apple would still have the functionality but not allow the user into the camera roll or anywhere else without authentication.

      • Exactly right. You can still access the camera, but nothing else.

      • i dont think thats what hes asking. i think hes asking if theres still a way to access the quick-slide camera icon without auto-unlocking the device, which puts you at one of your home screens, where the camera app may or may not be present.

        • lkalliance

          Right, that’s what I meant too. That if you do so, you’ll access the camera and nothing else, i.e. it’s there, but it’s not a way around authentication.

          • Well, I haven’t touched an iPhone 5s yet. But even if you get stuck doing the unlock off the Home button, there’s still the power button.

  • I hope to get myself a 5C, blue or white.

    I have been over The BBC and The Guardian as well The HuffingtonPost, The Holly Trinity of Anti-Apple. All of them ignore the good reviews by the already known tech sites.

    I think the Loop has ignored much of the crap and nonsense those 3 news organizations pass as tech journalism. Not that i hope you should play the tech truth police. AH!

    • rmonster

      You should also check out AnandTech’s review!

    • Gridlock

      Those three places want eyeballs, not journalism. The contrarian hook is sooooo tired though.

      As a rule of thumb, if you avoid those 3 sites you’ll feel a lot better. Try the AnandTech review, skip the pages that give you a headache and then make your own mind up in an Apple store with one in your hand 😉

      Personally a second-hand-but-unused 5 is my perfect upgrade from a 4, at least for a year. Helped by my plan to buy an iPad mini 2nd gen before xmas…

  • CJ

    iOS7 is so incredible ugly and both new phones are way too expensive. And we have still this mini-display – it’s 2013 now, isn’t it?

    • rmonster

      I’d like the display to still be the size of the iPhone 4. Apparently not everyone cares about having a huge screen–portability and battery life are far more important to me. Both those things are compromised with big screens.

      • lkalliance

        I prefer the iPhone 4 display as well. But I’m glad they’ve kept it at least the same width. I expect when I upgrade from my 4S, it’ll just take some getting used to.

        • I and my coworkers all were unimpressed with the iPhone 5’s screen change but picked one up for other reasons. We got used to it very quickly. I think you ultimately will too.

    • Doctor Biobrain

      I don’t understand why people want a big phone in their pocket. Those things look ridiculous. When I want a big screen, I use my iPad. When I want something to carry in my pocket, I use my iPhone.

      • CJ

        I have both in one with my Galaxy Note – and very happy with it so far

        • Doctor Biobrain

          A Note isn’t a substitute for a proper iPad. An iPad Mini, perhaps. But not a real iPad.

          And for me, it’s the worst of both: Too big for your pocket. Too small to really do much with it. Even as it is, I’m about to move up from an iPhone 4 to the 5s, and wish the thing wasn’t so tall.

          • CJ

            Ha ha, for me the Note is the best thing 😉

  • marcintosh

    I haven’t found a review yet that says whether the home button is still a physical button that can be pressed or just a flat sensor (like some Android phones). I personally like the tactile response of the home button on my 5. (Knowing I’m hitting it, using it by touch, etc.) So, is the home button still a button? Or did they get rid of one of the few moving parts on the phone? (which I can also see as a plus)

    • Tet

      Yes, it’s still a button.

      • marcintosh

        Thanks for the response. Now I’m even more impressed that Apple crammed the fingerprint scanner in there!

    • Odi Kosmatos

      On DaringFireball, the review says it is noticeably improved as a button. That even without Touch ID, that’s notable.

      • marcintosh

        Really? I must have skimmed right over it or misunderstood. I always pay attention to Gruber’s take.

    • jonny

      It’s a physical button.

  • Alessandro Migliori

    Jim do you know some news about 5c and 5s release in other country like Italy?

  • lucascott

    Small correction. You say you can also have a passcode. Shouldn’t that be that you will have one. System makes you put one in as part of finger print set up

  • Mother Hydra

    I think the little flourishes in iOS 7 are more grounding, and give a better sense of “you are here” than iOS 6. Probably my favorite improvement is the pull down for spotlight. This is my de-facto app launcher but it suffered from only being accessible from the first home screen in iOS 6. Not anymore!

    • Gridlock

      I’m glad I’ll never see it skulking off to the left of my homepage again, catching unintentional home button presses… Never belonged there, or at least should have been optional for those of us who rarely use it.

  • tylernol

    whose house is that? It does not look like an igloo??

    • Gridlock

      Socialised Housing no doubt.

  • Brian

    Love the videos of your dogs! Thanks for the review.

  • Gridlock

    Jim, make them release iOS7…. I’m nearly 18 hours into Wednesday now 🙁

    I assume you have this power. Just email Yep to Jony or something?

    • Gridlock

      Woop, it’s out. OTA!

  • Ruben Canelo

    does io7 in an iphone 5 work with fingerprint scan or only with 5S,C?

    • marcintosh

      iPhone 5 doesn’t have a fingerprint scanner. Only 5s does.

  • lkalliance

    Went to the Apple Store on Saturday, hoping that when I looked at and held and tried out the new phones, that it would be obvious to me which is the one I want. And in that effort, I failed. The 5c looked better to me and felt better in hand; the 5s is, spec-wise, better, in some ways that are only lightly relevant to me, and in other ways that unfortunately were very difficult to test in the environment of the Apple Store.

    I’m not a power user. I do things with the phone I couldn’t do with a feature phone, but I’m not a power user. The performance advantage of the 5s over the 5c won’t have the day-to-day advantage to me that it will to others.

    The fingerprint sensor is kind of a wild card. I don’t use a passcode right now, so the 5s doesn’t represent a convenience advantage; it represents a security advantage.

    • jonny

      That was my issue. I don’t lock the phone, I’m not a power user as you said. I use it to call, snap photos, text, surf and watch netflix. I don’t know if having an 5s would have made it better for me. I did like the look and feel of the C better, I will admit.

  • jonny

    I have a green 5c and so far I love it. I traded in a black 4 I had for over two years. I have never been happier with a phone. I like the fact that it’s still an iPhone with all the hardware and tech that the title entails, but it’s also fun and colorful. We got my wife a 5s in gold and it’s gorgeous. I don’t think you could go wrong either way, it’s about the functionality you need and the price point, as well as your personal taste.