The iPhone 5c is $100 cheaper than the iPhone 5s, but which phone is the better buy?

Apple iPhone 5S 3 colors
photo: Apple

Now that Apple has officially announced the iPhone 5s and the iPhone 5c, a new question has probably come to mind for anyone in the market for a new phone: Which one should you buy? The iPhone 5s is Apple’s high-end, luxury smartphone, with the aluminum build, fingerprint sensor, and 64-bit architecture to prove it. The iPhone 5c meanwhile, comes clad in five fun plastic colors, and starts at $100 less than the iPhone 5s.

Pre-orders for both phones start on Friday, so you’ve got a little bit of time to figure out which one you want. I’ve compared some of the specs and features for each phone to help you decide which one should end up in your shopping cart.

iphone 5c vs iphone 5s

Siblings, or at least cousins

Let’s start with the similarities, as there are quite a few. The iPhone 5c basically contains the same guts as the iPhone 5, and many of these features carry over to the iPhone 5s. Both phones, for instance, feature a 4-inch retina display. Battery life should be about equal for each device, and each phone has an 8-megapixel camera (though I’ll get to some camera differences in a bit). Also, both phones ship running iOS 7, the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system.

Aluminum? Or plastic fantastic?

So what makes them different? The first, most noticeable difference between the two phones lies in the design. The iPhone 5s features the same aluminum build as the iPhone 5, though Apple is offering it in three colors this time around: gold, gray and silver. The iPhone 5c brings a completely different look to the party. Made of a hard-coated polycarbonate body with a reinforced steel frame, the iPhone 5c comes in five bright colors, which is a big change for Apple.

Compared to the industrial, steely iPhone 5s, the iPhone 5c is like a breath of fresh air. It’s also probably going to sell like hotcakes among smartphone-carrying tweens, so keep that in mind if you’re planning to bring it into the boardroom. Also note that it’s a bit heavier. While both phones measure nearly the same size, the iPhone 5c weighs 4.65 ounces compared to the 3.95-ounce iPhone 5s. It’s not a big difference, but it’s worth considering.

iPhone 5C

64-bit or bust

The next major disparity lies in the processing power of each device. Though Apple keeps the specific details of its chips under wraps, the iPhone 5s is the first smartphone in the world to be powered by a 64-bit A7 system-on-a-chip. Additionally, Apple has added an M7 motion coprocessor, which handles all of the data from the accelerometer, compass and gyroscope. This should offload some of the work from the A7 and improve power efficiency. It also opens up new doors for more advanced wearable fitness trackers. And according to Apple, these changes make for performance that’s twice as fast as the A6 chip in the iPhone 5c. So if you’re a gamer, a fitness nut, or you just want the fastest iPhone possible, the iPhone 5s represents a significant step up in power.

Two killer cameras

As I mentioned earlier, both phones have an 8-megapixel camera, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end. The iPhone 5c basically uses the same camera as the iPhone 5, which is a good thing—the iPhone 5 still has one of the best smartphone cameras on the market. But the 5s takes that camera and makes it even better.

The iPhone 5s features an f/2.2 camera as opposed to the 5c’s f/2.4. It also features a larger sensor and uses bigger 1.5-micron pixels, which should make for better sensitivity and low-light performance. The iPhone 5S camera has a new burst mode, as well as the ability to record 120fps 720 slow motion videos.

But perhaps the best new feature is the True Tone flash. The 5s features two different color lights for flash—the traditional bright white along with a new amber light—and automatically combines the two to make for a more natural-looking flash. Would-be photographers, take note: the iPhone 5s is the phone to get.

Say goodbye to swipe-to-unlock

One feature that doesn’t quite fit on the spec chart is the new fingerprint sensor in the iPhone 5s, which Apple calls Touch ID. This allows you to unlock your phone by simply placing your finger on the home button, rather than entering in an unlock code or swiping to unlock the phone. Better yet, it allows you to enable purchases (like in the App Store) without having to enter a password—just place your fingerprint on the home button and buy away. This makes using the iPhone easier than ever.

iPhone 5S

Pricing it out

The iPhone 5c comes in 16 or 32GB storage options, while the iPhone 5s adds a 64GB option to the equation. You’ll pay for it, though. A 64GB iPhone 5s costs a whopping $399 with a two-year contract.

But when it comes down to it, the iPhone 5s and the iPhone 5c are really only $100 apart. You can buy a 16GB iPhone 5c for $99 or you can get a 16GB iPhone 5s for $199 (both of those price are with a two-year contract). Similarly, an unlocked iPhone 5c will cost you $549, while an unlocked iPhone 5s costs $649.

All things considered, I think the iPhone 5s is the better buy here. Think about how much money you spend over the length of a two-year phone contract. If you just have one line, it’s probably close to something like $100. Over the course of two years that’s $2,400, and when you look at it in context, it pays to throw down an extra $100 for a boatload of new and improved features. After all you’re getting a faster processor and a better camera, as well as Touch ID.

Chances are you’ll be carrying this phone for the next two years. So unless you really love the look of brightly colored plastic, I say splurge a bit on the iPhone 5s. That way when Apple announces in the iPhone 6 in a year from now, it won’t burn quite as big a hole in your pocket, begging you to trade it in.

  1. I thought the nokia phone camera was the best camera out of the smartphones >.>……

    1. conspiracykeanu Tuesday, September 10, 2013

      smartphones are a conspiracy

    2. It is, this guy got a little to excited when writing the article.

    3. The author said, “the iPhone 5 still has one of the best smartphone cameras on the market.”

      Not the best, one of the best. I believe that’s true: it’s one of the best.

      Were you referring to the Nokia Lumia 1020 camera?

  2. So I can buy it unlocked on sep 20th for $649?? If yes where? The apple store?

    1. Only the 5C can be preordered, the 5S will be available online and instore on 20thSept

  3. I like the new look of 5C (especially in Red) …
    But by selecting 5C I would miss new camera features, M7 motion processor and apps, touch id.
    No iWatch yet ? so I will wait !

    1. Its pink, not red!

      1. Thank You !
        they even missed the Red then ;-)

  4. None of them.I will purchase HTC One than these. See the specs of hTC One they are better than these two.

  5. what’s the differents between the original ones and the unlock ones?sorry,,i’m just a newbie in Apple world..

    1. Yhu can use your own service providers

  6. Yawn….. What a boring contribution to the world of technology. Thanks crApple. You fall further behind by the day.

  7. To all apple fans out there I know there’s many of you really disappointed & displease, because Apple has fail ones again to fulfill one’s hope or expectations bringing in the S & C version and really not changing what’s really important for some iPhone owners out there. Like NFC, larger screen size, water proofing more megapixels on it’s camera and a fresh look. I guess it’s true what they say about Apple, there only thinking about profits and not what really matter’s and that’s us the consumer’s. To be honest I find the iPhone 5s a bit boring comparing it to other smart phone’s out there. It really does not make any sense to me to buy the iPhone S or C version with its color cases because consumer’s are going to buy protected cases for there iPhones. You want a cheap iPhone get a iPhone 4, 4s, or 5 witch is better built then the iPhone C and also do to the fact that iPhone is getting the whole new iOS7. So no thank’s apple I rather stay with my HTC1. Keep your A7 chip your slow motion videos and sensor fingerprint or touch ID, for me i think the touch ID will be the easiest way for the government to collect fingerprints and archive them Yeah the “ILLUMINATI”.

    1. Great post! I totally feel the same as you do. I dislike that it seems “every 6 months” they’re updating therefore making consumers “through marketing & advertisements” feel like they’re missing out on a whole bunch of features that really aren’t that big of a deal anyway. Honestly at the end of the day “we” can choose to buy or not to buy…GO HTC

  8. iPhone 5c is basically iPhone 5 in plastic. Id rather buy iPhone 5 cheaply. 5c is for Chinese and Indians who couldn’t afford an iPhone in a metal casing.

    1. it is the autocorrect

    2. If you actually knew about China and India you would find that some of the world’s richest and most powerful people are from there. Also, almost everyone from working class to upper class have high end smartphones. People there just prefer Samsung and other brands more than Apple.

      FYI, The metal casting is nothing. No one gives a **** about the metal casting.

    3. Not sure about this Chinese and Indians thing you wrote but agree that there are almost no difference between 5c and 5s, except case – you can easily check it on http://comperio.co/en/smartphones/apple-iphone-5s-16gb-vs-apple-iphone-5c-16gb.html


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