A Phone Misunderstood by Many
Rumors of a cheaper iPhone model in the works have intensified since the beginning of the year where a number of reputable publications received information on Apple's plans. The most common words or phrases used in these reports are cheaper, more affordable and low-cost, which in many ways, give many people an impression that Apple is targeting the entry-level market.
Coupled with falling share prices despite record profits and a single-digit market share in the lucrative Chinese market, analysts predict that Apple will finally give up its premium brand image and compete with the likes of other Android vendors in the entry to mid-level markets.
When Apple officially took the wraps off the iPhone 5S and the iPhone 5C, naysayers were quick to criticize the company's price points for the iPhone 5C. Their claims revolved around the fact that a new product with one-year-old specs carries a price tag that is not much cheaper than the flagship iPhone 5S. Are their claims substantiated? Read on to find out.
Design and Features
After three generations of iPhone models (iPhone 4/4S/5), Apple went back to where it all started by using polycarbonate on the iPhone 5C. In case you forget, the iPhone 3G and 3GS were mainly made of plastic before Apple transited to the metal + glass combination for the iPhone 4/4S and aluminum for iPhone 5.
Regardless, it would be a grave mistake to think that Apple is offering the iPhone 5C with a similar build quality as some Android vendors just because it uses plastic. In fact, the iPhone 5C surprisingly feels very solid and well-built. It's not far fetched to say that the build quality is comparable to that of the premium Nokia Lumia devices such as the Lumia 900, 800 and 920.
The finish on the iPhone 5C is smooth but glossy. Fortunately, there's not much to be concerned as the bright colors of the iPhone 5C should be able to mask some of the fingerprints and smudges which the chassis easily picks up.
The handling of the iPhone 5C is excellent, thanks to the smooth rounded corners of the device. The steel-reinforced frame within the polycarbonate chassis gives the iPhone 5C a degree of structural integrity that is missing on other plastic phones.
Due to the use of polycarbonate and a slightly increased battery capacity, the iPhone 5C is every bit bigger and heavier than the iPhone 5/5S. For those who are into the minor details, the iPhone 5C is 0.6mm longer, 0.6mm wider, 1.37mm thicker and 20g heavier than the iPhone 5/5S. However, the iPhone 5C is by no means bulky.
Aside from the use of polycarbonate, the iPhone 5C is essentially the same device as the iPhone 5. This means that you get the same 4-inch Retina display, the same buttons and Lightning connector. It could have been better if Apple increased the screen size to meet the needs of consumers who want to do more on their phones, but that complaint is common for both the iPhone 5C and the 5S.
Official Apple iPhone 5C Case
Apple also introduced an official case for the iPhone 5C, which comes in six colors (black, white, pink, yellow, blue and green). It is also perforated with 35 holes (5 columns and 7 rows). According to Apple, the case is made of silicone rubber while the inside is lined with soft microfibre (though it feels similar to the material used to manufacture egg trays).
The iPhone 5C also fits snugly in the case. While the case is a perfect fit, it also means that you have to spend some effort removing the case from the device. After using the case for a while, the exterior feels powdery which is typical of a silicone case. We also found ourselves cleaning the back of the phone after a few days as the tiny gaps between the holes and the chassis collect dust and linen from our pocket and bags.
Apple iOS 7
In a nutshell, the new OS delivers a more colorful look and feel, with a thinner, more modern font and a flatter overall design. Gone are the faux leather, felt and paper textures, replaced instead with cleaner, starker designs.
When Apple talked about the iPhone 5C during the launch event, it mentioned that "iOS 7 is designed to match the iPhone 5C". Apple isn't kidding - the color of the wallpaper matches the color of the iPhone 5C you buy. Even the color of the dial pad reflects the color of the phone! See what our funky pink phone feels like at the software level:-
The iPhone 5C is equipped with the same suite of camera hardware features as the original iPhone 5, which include an 8-megapixel rear autofocus camera, BSI, f/2.4 aperture, five-element lens and a LED flash. In short, the iPhone 5C is no slouch even though it's using the older camera module and it can still easily put up a tough fight with many newer mobile devices. Since we've two prior articles assessing the imaging capabilities of the device, we'll refer you to these articles for details:-
- Performance section in the review of the iPhone 5
- Comparing the imaging capability of the iPhone 5 against the HTC One
Unlike the more powerful and advanced iPhone 5S, the iPhone 5C still runs on the same A6 dual-core processor and 1GB of RAM which is used in the iPhone 5. Apple could have placed a more powerful processor to futureproof it and justify the price that many consumers are harping on.
Since there's little chance anyone can influence Apple's decisions, we'll have to take the iPhone 5C for what it is. We will be pitting it against the iPhone 5S to see the difference in performance benchmarks, and also compare the two iPhones against the current crop of 5-inch Android flagship devices. Yes, the iPhone 5C isn't as premium as as the 5S, but given its price points, it still competes with the top-tier Android devices.
Originally developed as a PC benchmarking tool, 3DMark is now expanded to support multiple platforms, including iOS. The Ice Storm benchmark is designed for smartphones, mobile devices and ARM architecture computers.
3DMark now consists of three test sections: Ice Storm, Ice Storm Extreme and Ice Storm Unlimited. The iPhone 5S (as well as most of the Android devices running Qualcomm's Snapdragon 800 processors) easily maxed out the score on Ice Storm; as such, we will focus on Ice Storm Unlimited.
In a nutshell, 3DMark Ice Storm Extreme is an OpenGL ES 2.0 benchmark test that uses fixed off-screen rendering at 1080p then scales the output to fit the native display resolution of the device. The benchmark consists of two graphics tests with high quality textures and post-processing effects designed to stress the GPU performance of the device and a physics test to stress its CPU performance. The Unlimited run is used to make chip-to-chip comparisons of different chipsets, CPUs and GPUs, without vertical sync, display resolution scaling and other operating system factors affecting the result.
Note: We will just be reporting the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited scores as most devices maxed out the score limit of the the 3DMark Ice Storm and Ice Storm Extreme after a recent update to the app. The HTC Butterfly S is not shown in this comparison as we did not have a review unit at the point of testing for an updated benchmark figure.
As the iPhone 5C is equipped with a one-year-old processor, its performance in the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited benchmark is not unexpected. In fact, it comes up to exactly what the iPhone 5 would have scored. The comparison Android flagship devices run on newer, multi-core processors which give them a lead over the iPhone 5C in terms of benchmark scores.
Number crunching aside, we found the overall user experience on the iPhone 5C to be on-par with the iPhone 5S (except for unlocking the device with the fingerprint sensor) and its Android counterpart.
Our standard battery test for mobile phones has the following parameters:
- Looping a 800 x 480-pixel video with screen brightness and volume at 100%
- Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity turned on
- Constant data streaming through email and Twitter
Equipped with a 1,510mAh battery, the iPhone 5C was able to last a tad longer than the iPhone 5 in our standard battery test. The iPhone 5C had a battery uptime of 415 minutes while the iPhone 5 lasted 399 minutes. We reckon the increased power draw of iOS 7 negated the increase in battery capacity of the iPhone 5C. Most of the Android flagship devices managed a better battery mileage than the iPhone 5C, but you have to take into consideration their larger displays and massive batteries too. Surprisingly, the slight increase in dimensions and weight have knocked its portability ratio drastically, but in reality, you really won't feel as much a difference as shown in our last graph above. For comparison, the original iPhone 5 ranked in at 1.08.
Under normal usage conditions (not benchmarking), the iPhone 5C was able to last us through a busy day at work. Through the day, it saw a fair amount of voice calling, texting, social media updates, and app usage like games.
Note that the iPhone 5C now supports both LTE bands in Singapore, it is likely that the iPhone 5C will see a shorter battery life compared to the iPhone 5 as you are more than likely to be on a 4G LTE connection. Actual battery mileage varies depending on usage patterns.
The billion-dollar question that many people are asking - is the iPhone 5C still relevant today? Our guess is the same as Apple. If you are one of the many critics of the iPhone 5C based on its polycarbonate shell, "dated" specs and expensive price tag, you are missing the point.
Even though the iPhone 5C is clad in a polycarbonate shell, it looks and feels more well-built than most of its plasticky Android counterparts. More importantly, it doesn't feel cheap. While we cannot deny the fact that the iPhone 5C lacks the premium finish of the iPhone 5/5S, it holds its own against most flagship devices from the Android camp when it comes to design, handling and feel.
Apple's philosophy has never been about specs and the iPhone 5C is a classic example. Even though it comes with one-year-old specs (A6 chip, 1GB RAM, small display), the iPhone 5C is still able to deliver an excellent user experience without the unnecessary clutter of gimmicky software features and truckload of capabilities that users do not use often. What you get is the experience, and in that respect the iPhone 5C certainly delivers.
The phone's price point is however what irks most tech pundits and those following the mobile phone scene closely. From a hardware perspective, it's tough to swallow the phone's huge price (S$848 for 16GB or S$988 for 32GB storage), especially when you're getting yesteryear's hardware. This fact and the numerous leaks of an 'affordable' iPhone set high expectations that the 5C would have been priced to compete with mid-range devices. Alas, this is far from the truth and is only marginally different in asking price from the new premium device, the iPhone 5S at S$988 and S$1148 (16 and 32GB models respectively).
Why did Apple price the iPhone 5C at a slim price discount over the 5S model?
We give you a few thoughts to consider. First, this helps Apple retain high profit margins it ensures on every device sold without affecting its brand value. This in-turn helps you get high market value should you want to upgrade your iPhone 5C in the future (such as our Market Place forum and Market Place classified services). While the ~S$150 price differential seems meager in our local currency, consider price points in emerging markets where this differential translates to reaching a new group of consumers who are affectionate of the Apple brand and would like a new device, but with a slightly more palatable price. Thirdly, its still offering an excellent experience and performance over other competing phones. Fourth and most importantly, while the iPhone 5S has the most premium build and technology with its slick and smart looks, Apple is targeting the iPhone 5C at a whole new group of consumers by splashing colors and going back to a plastic build to have a non-executive look and feel to hopefully appeal to those young at heart or more expressive folks. Would this strategy work out? It's still early days, but there are signs that Apple might have made a wrong decision on the iPhone 5C.
Nevertheless, is the iPhone 5C still worth it?
At its current price point, Apple does not sacrifice on the build quality (well, not much anyway), user experience, the core features of a phone and more importantly the overall performance and usability. More often than not, the 'more affordable' variants of Android flagship devices sacrifice performance/experience at the expense of price. We would like to stress again, the keywords here is overall experience. The iPhone 5 is no slouch and so is the iPhone 5C running on almost identical hardware. Further to that, Imaging quality is still top-notch and can best phones like the HTC One anytime. In essence, you're getting all that the iPhone 5 delivers at a slight discount due to the choice of build. Apart from the letdown of not having a larger screen, there's really not much you can bicker about the iPhone 5C.
For now, we feel the iPhone 5C is an excellent device for first-time smartphone buyers or iPhone 3GS/4/4S users who are upgrading to their next iPhone, but do not need the latest and greatest from Apple and appreciate a bit of funky colors thrown in to the mix.
If you still cannot accept the phone for what it is, then for about S$150 more, you get the best there is from Apple with the iPhone 5S. Which you should go for is merely a question of choice, preference and expectations. If you were to ask our advice, we would say go for the iPhone 5S if you can afford it as it offers the best for not much more (at least from the Singapore market perspective) and you still get to slap on colors via third-party covers to get personalization. That easily gives you the best of both worlds.