Ask LH: Should I Upgrade To The iPhone 5c Or The 5s?

Ask LH: Should I Upgrade To The iPhone 5c Or The 5s?

Dear Lifehacker, I’ve been waiting to upgrade my iPhone, but now that Apple has announced both the iPhone 5c and 5s, I’m not sure which is right for me. Which one should I go for? Thanks, Confused Upgrader.

Dear CU,

Every previous iPhone launch has seen Apple launch just one new model, but this time around you actually have more choice. The 5c is certainly more colourful, but the 5s is somewhat more powerful. Let’s take a look at the key differences between the two to see what’s best for you.

The Key Differences Between the 5c And 5S

Feature iPhone 5c iPhone 5s
Colours White/Pink/Yellow/Blue/Green Silver/Space Grey/Gold
Height 4.9 inches 4.87 inches
Width 2.33 inches 2.31 inches
Depth 0.35 inches 0.30 inches
Weight 4.65 ounces 3.95 ounces
Chip A6 A7/M7
Touch ID No Yes
Camera 8MP, f/2.4 Aperture 8MP, f/2.2 Aperture

Above you’ll see a breakdown of the main differences between the two models. You can find the full list of features for the 5c and 5s on Apple’s site.

[related title=”JUST THE FACTS” tag=”iphone5s5c” items=”1″]Most obvious are the colours and material. The 5c comes in a choice of five colour with a plastic backing, whereas the 5s sticks with silver, grey, and gold metal.

For the most part, the iPhone 5c has the same guts as the now-discontinued iPhone 5. It’s the same basic speed, shape and has the same camera. While the colours are nice, the 5c is a plastic case, which means it won’t have quite the same feel. Otherwise, it’s essentially a repackaged iPhone 5.

The 5s has a few notable improvements over the iPhone 5. The most obvious is the new fingerprint sensor. This allows you to unlock your iPhone with your fingerprint so you don’t have to worry about passcodes and passwords. The iPhone 5s gets a new 64-bit A7 chip, which Apple claims is about twice as fast as the iPhone 5 (and hence also faster than the iPhone 5c). It also has a new M7 motion coprocessor to handle specific motion-based tasks so the CPU doesn’t have to work as hard.

The other main addition to the iPhone 5s is the new camera. It’s still an 8MP camera, but it now has a wider sensor and aperture so it can take better low-light photos. The iPhone 5s also gets a new burst mode for quick pictures and “True Tone” flash for more accurate colours when using the flash.

Otherwise, everything else is largely the same. The screen size hasn’t changed from the preceding generation, Siri works the same way on every device, while both the 5c and the 5s see a small increase in battery life over previous generations. (We’ll have to see how well that works in reality.)

Both new devices are running iOS7, but that in itself isn’t an argument for upgrading; you can do that on an existing iPhone 4, 4S or 5 device.

Who The 5s Is For

The iPhone 5s is Apple’s flagship phone right now and if you’re a power user it’s clearly the better option currently available to you. It might look the same as the iPhone 5, but it’s faster and has enough improvements to the camera to set it apart. So, the iPhone 5s is really better for:

  • Gamers: The 5s has a much more powerful chip than the iPhone 5c. With the new 64-bit processor, it’s twice as fast as the last generation and also comes with a new motion coprocessor called the M7. This is a processor dedicated solely to motion controls such as the accelerometer, gyroscope, and compass. This is going to run the latest and greatest iPhone games (like Infinity Blade III) better and last longer as a gaming device than the 5c.
  • Frequent Camera Users: The megapixels are the same as previous iPhone’s, but that’s not really the most important detail . The iPhone 5s has a larger aperture and sensor, which means the camera has more light sensitivity and should take better pictures. It also gets a new burst mode for action shots and slow motion for video.
  • Security Minded Users: The key hardware differentiator of the iPhone 5s is the fingerprint sensor. On the surface, this means you won’t have to worry about passcodes and passwords ever again. You can unlock your iPhone with your finger or purchase apps. Theoretically, this should be a more secure way to protect your phone, but we’ll have to wait and see how effective it really is.

If you’re concerned with the security of your passcode, you’re looking for a big speed boost, and you take a lot of pictures with your iPhone, then the iPhone 5s is your best choice. Any phone will look outdated within a year or two; from that point of view, it makes sense to buy the best model you can when you upgrade. It’s more future-proof than the 5c, and at least from what we’ve seen so far, the camera appears to be a pretty solid improvement.

Who The 5c Is Best For

The 5c is the cheaper model of the two, though with an entry-level outright buy price of $739, it hardly qualifies as a “cheap” phone relative to the market. Here’s who the 5c is best for:

  • People on a budget: Despite that price tag, it’s fairly clear that the iPhone 5c is targeted toward people on a budget. Expect to see it offered on cheaper contract plans (once those are announced).
  • People Who Like Colour: TIf matching your phone to your handbag matters, the 5c certainly offers more choices. Not only does the phone come in five different colours, you also have the option for six different coloured cases. .
  • People Who Aren’t Using Resource-Intensive Apps: Since the 5c has the same guts as the iPhone 5, it’s a perfectly capable device, but it’s going to become outdated faster than the 5s, particularly in the realm of resource-heavy apps like games or video. If you don’t care about any of that, then the 5c may be all you’ll need.

Essentially, this time around we’re getting the iPhone 5c instead of simply bumping down the price on an iPhone 5. The iPhone 5 is still plenty powerful and capable of running iOS 7, so the 5c should work just as well. The slower processor does mean it will be slower than the 5s overall, but for casual users it won’t be that great a difference.

Two final thoughts. So far, Lifehacker readers planning to upgrade are definitely favouring the 5s. That said, we haven’t yet seen the contract plans that will be offered with the phone; it seems safe to assume though that the 5s will be the model attached to higher-value plans (those with unlimited calls and decent data allowances). If your budget is very squeezed, the 5c may be appealing, but it doesn’t make sense if you already have an iPhone 5 or if you’re going on contract. A change of colour is not that valuable.


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