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Apple iPhone 5c review

Verdict

Solid hardware, but the colourful iPhone 5c is still too expensive to be a low-cost option

Review Date: 25 Sep 2013

Reviewed By: Jonathan Bray

Price when reviewed: Free, on a £31.00 per month, 24 months contract.

Buy it now for: £399
(see more store prices)

Overall Rating
4 stars out of 6

Features & Design
4 stars out of 6

Value for Money
3 stars out of 6

Performance
5 stars out of 6

A cheaper iPhone had been rumoured before Apple's big launch, and those rumours proved correct, with the iPhone 5c arriving in addition to the turbo-charged, 64-bit iPhone 5s. It's the first time Apple has launched two iPhones at once, and the first time it's gone in for colours other than white or black. But don't get too excited. The 5c doesn't represent a huge departure to what has gone before.

With the same 4in, 640 x 1,136 IPS display as the iPhone 5, the only changes are internal, and these are very small: a slightly bigger battery in the 5c and (UK customers will be pleased to see) full support for all current UK 4G networks. We used it on the Vodafone 4G network during the course of this review and it worked perfectly.

Elsewhere, the CPU is the same 1.3GHz dual-core A6 model, the RAM is still set at 1GB, and the cameras are the same resolution, at 8 megapixels on the rear and 1.2 megapixels on the front.

The 5c isn't even particularly cheap, with prices starting at £469 for the 16GB version SIM-free, and contracts starting at £31 per month for a free phone. Our current A-List favourite, the HTC One goes for around this amount with double the storage, and far more favourable contract prices.

The plastic case makes it feel a completely different handset to its metallic predecessor, though. It gives the 5c a softer, more palm-friendly feel. Some may argue it's a cheaper finish (it's certainly heavier, at 132g) and they're entitled to that view, but there's no evidence that build quality is significantly lower than with the aluminium-framed 5. Give the 5c a twist or a bend and there's very little give, nor any sign of worrisome creak.

However, we at PC Pro were disappointed on pulling our review sample from its plastic box for the first time, to discover the colours aren't that bright after all. The yellow is more crème anglaise than Birds Instant, and the others (blue, pink and green) look a bit like they've been left to fade in the sun. It's also available in white, which we suspect will be the most popular version.

Apple iPhone 5c

The 5c runs iOS 7, and we've no big beef with it. It adds some genuinely useful extras, such as the control centre, which places settings such as brightness, flight mode and Do Not Disturb at your fingertips, and it gives the OS a much-needed makeover. It would be remiss of us to ignore its teething troubles (you can read about those here and here), but we expect these to be ironed out in due course, and in any case we've found none likely to seriously hamper day-to-day use.

In fact, we've found the 5c runs perfectly smoothly with the new OS, scoring very similar scores to the iPhone 5 across the board. In SunSpider, a score of 718ms is as quick as we've seen from any smartphone, and the result of 1,645 in Geekbench 2 is competitive, too. Just like the iPhone 5 before it, there's plenty of juice for games: the 5c delivered a frame rate of 13fps in the GFXBench T-Rex HD (onscreen) test.

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User comments

Missed opportunity

I find the iPhone 5C really baffling. Apple could have leveraged the supply chain that was built up for iPhone 5 that has been building these for many months, and I am sure there were economies along the way to bring the costs down.

Why didn't they release the 5C - a 5 is different clothes at a much more aggressive price point, say £200.

They sell a lot of "old" technology dressed in new clothes, without having to drastically change their build processes.

The consumer wins, Apple wins and expands their market - everyone wins.

The way that Apple have done this now, why not just release the 5S in multiple colours?

And... why still sell the 4S as well?

There seems to be a lack of strategy from Cupertino at the moment.

By MarkTechArc72 on 25 Sep 2013

@MarkTechArc72

I think the problem is that Apple believes:
1. Not to go low end.
2. That people will buy it anyway.
3. They're scared that it will eat into the profits of the 5s similar to the issue they had with the iPad Mini.

The reason why they're still selling the 4s is probably because it allows them to 'justify' keeping the 5c price up. I wouldn't be surprised if next year's 'low end' phone is this 5c but with fewer colours.

I do agree that it's a missed opportunity, especially since they have other services now which allows them to make up for lower profit per unit.

By tech3475 on 25 Sep 2013

and it gives the OS a much-needed makeover

Hmmm... much needed it may be (I'm a relative newcomer to iOS so iOS 6 still seems relatively fresh to me).

Much needed.... but is it any good? Change in and of itself isn't enough.

Personally I can't really warm to the "flat" look. It's OK but nothing special.

By Alfresco on 25 Sep 2013

IOS7

Change for change's sake?

By Sarcen on 25 Sep 2013

It's a tough call, though I sometimes think we're seeing problems that are there by Apple's design.

I would love to see a much cheaper iPhone but Apple are deliberately avoiding getting a race to the bottom. The financials show that the profit resides with the premium device makers, not with those pushing out low end models.

I don't agree that they're scared about eating into profits. If anything I would expect the 5c to give them more margin than the 5s as it's basically last years tech but still at a premium price.

I think the 5c price point is set very deliberately to further entice customers toward the 5s. If you're ready to spend so much for the 5c, why not just spend that little more (relatively) and get the 5s.

More margin on the 5c, more revenue on the 5s. Either way Apple will be happy.

With regards to the 4s, I think Apple would have liked to let it go, but there was no way to get around it, without introducing a third new model. The 5 had to go as it was morphed into the 5c, but if they did a third model in the middle then there is a risk of it being a Goldilocks choice for most customers - just right.

The 5c would have to cost less - so lower revenue and margin. The 5? sits in a sweet spot with better features and performance than the 5c, looking more like 5s - but new tech so lower margin. Now the 5s loses appeal as the extra feature list is even shorter, and the price looks expensive next to the 5c and 5?.

Don't get me wrong, I'd love to have seen an iPhone priced more toward an impulse buy (I'm still using a 4 right now), but I can't fault Apple for having a sound strategy. And when the results are analysed, I'm sure it will be the low end manufacturers linked with market share, while Apple is still being linked with the profits.

By Binary on 25 Sep 2013

Its for Asia and the developing world.

Apple don't want Europeans & North Americans to buy this.

Look to the cheapo deals available in China to see where they see sales growing. In China you get a very good deal with little to no upfront costs.

Whether this tactic will work remains to be seen, with Android already clocking-up something like 97% in Taiwan (for example).

By wittgenfrog on 25 Sep 2013

@tech3475

I think you're probably right that next years low end will be the 5c.

I also wonder if we're seeing the start of a pattern in terms of form factor. Does the 5s get a new plastic case and become next years 6c?

Thus keeping the flagship model the only one in the premium metal body.

By Binary on 25 Sep 2013

You all, including the reviewer, are missing the point. The 5C is not intended to be cheap.

The whole reason Apple created the 5C is because the 5 was so expensive to make, they couldn't drop it to the price point they wanted (which is what they always do with older models) - so they canned it and replaced it with a model that cost less to manufacturer, so allowing them to sell it at the price point they want.

Nothing more, nothing less.

Anyone who expected it to be cheap was swallowing the usual web nonsense that preceded the launch. Apple didn't say anything and never indicated that it would be some sort of cheapo model.

By realsmoothy on 25 Sep 2013

Let down by our own hype?

Nothing annoys a customer more than unmet expectations, but I think the "cheap" expectation for the 5c was not set by Apple, but by speculating fans, analysts and - in often repeated, authoritative-sounding articles - PC Pro. I don't remember Apple ever promising a cheap iPhone.

Whether the price of the 5c will stay the same is the key question, I think. My speculation would be that Apple has set the bar high and would lower it (quietly, perhaps through confidential deals with carriers) only in markets where demand is not high AND it makes sense to re-position the brand to gain business.

Why do people want to pay premium for Apple? Because, in the mind of a consumer, Apple makes premium products. Not many people care that Apple rarely win in tech comparisons like processor clock speed.

If it feels satisfying to own an iPhone, that's a win-win for Apple and the consumer. The satisfaction is built from the experience of using it, over at least a couple of years. Spreading some extra handset cost over that time through a typical contract feels worth it for anyone who trusts Apple because they believe all their products are good. Making a cheap iPhone, with a lower expectation of quality, can damage the brand and business overall in that market.

Maybe a really cheap 5c could pop up in a developing market when it's no longer the latest product in ours, but I wouldn't count on it any time soon.

By bern_leckie on 25 Sep 2013

5s outselling 5c two to one.

The 5C is a good phone. The problem is with the pricing.

So take the example of the Three network.

The monthly rates for the 5s and 5c are the same. The difference you pay £49 up front for the C and £99 for the S.

It's a no brainer unless cash is really tight. That extra £50 buys you a much more capable and dare I say it tasteful phone.

By kaneclem on 25 Sep 2013

The flat look

... Something that MS has been blasted for ... .

I'm actually glad to see an Apple product be brought down to earth but either way it'll still sell a whole load.

P.s. Windows mobile sales have increased in the U.S.
http://www.wpcentral.com/sales-surge-cheap-lumias-
more-expensive-ones-elusive

By rhythm on 25 Sep 2013

@wittgenfrog

Yet, according the released figures, only 9% of iPhones sold in China were iPhone 5c, the iPhone 5s made up 81% of sales.

By big_D on 26 Sep 2013

@realsmoothy

with a price difference in the single digit range, it doesn't seem to have made much difference, according to iSupply.

By big_D on 26 Sep 2013

Fails in its endeavours

So to sum up, it does nothing different to any other 5 or probably 4 model, and fails in its only task of being cheap. A pointless product surely.
Will probably just dent the profits from the 's'

By Phatnick on 26 Sep 2013

@kaneclem

"It's a no brainer unless cash is really tight".

I'd suggest that if cash was that tight, you'd probably not be purchasing an iPhone.

Does anybody know of anyone who's bought a 5C? And why?

By DArtiss on 26 Sep 2013

Loved the colour description...

"more crème anglaise than Birds Instant"
has to be the descriptive putdown of a product ever written!

By markcr6 on 26 Sep 2013

@Big_D

It is a fact that in China you can have a 5c for free on a 2 year contract. This is much 'cheaper' than options in the West. Hence my observations.

I didn't say it is a SUCESSFUL strategy!
I was trying to explain why Apple has made a device that probably won't sell well in its traditional Western markets. All the obvious reasons why this is likely are extensively articulated elsewhere.

Personally I doubt that Apple will crack the Chinese mass market, just as Windows Phone stands little chance of catching iOS in the West, but even a relatively small percentage "niche" in China is a very large number of 'phones. If the 5c misfires, so be it Apple wi8ll happily sell the 5s instead.

By wittgenfrog on 26 Sep 2013

@DArtiss

Yes good point. And with a 4s now available for free on a much less expensive contract there is another option within the Apple range.

Apple just isn't going for the same segments as the low to medium spec Android phones.

By kaneclem on 26 Sep 2013

Nothing seems to put fans off

I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Item one in Apple product planning meetings must be 'how far can we go before we lose sales'. Make minimal changes check, Charge a fortune check, keep a stranglehold on software development check, forbid flash check, stifle innovation check.

And yet they buy. The thing is Apple pursued the exact same strategy with their desktops in the 80's and 90's and that very nearly sunk them. Only a little thing called the ipod rescued them. What will rescue them when the fan bois at last say 'enough'?

By Richkav on 27 Sep 2013

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