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.

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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.