Head-to-Head: iPhone 5S, iPhone 5C, and iPhone 5

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With two new iPhones on the market, buyers have plenty of questions. Should you upgrade from your iPhone 4 or 4S? What about the iPhone 5? And which of the two new models, the iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C, is the better buy? We’ve examine each to offer insight into those very decisions. Read on for our full comparison.

Design

One of these things is not like the others, at first glance anyway. In the design department, it isn’t hard to see that the iPhone 5C stands out as the most unique when compared to the iPhone 5 and 5S. This has something to do with an overall aesthetic, but a good amount to do with production costs, as well.

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The 5C is, as Apple stated, “unapologetically plastic” and comes in a variety of colors. The material is one reason why Apple can make a phone on the same level as the original iPhone 5 but not lose money when pricing it at $99.

There isn’t much to differentiate the iPhone 5 and iPhone 5S, however. A new Space Gray color option alongside gold for the latest edition smartphone. Hardware tweaks also result in an altered Home button and different camera and flash arrangement, but that’s about all you will notice (if you even notice, at all).

Display, Processing, and Hardware

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While the iPhone 5S features a swath of upgrades over the iPhone 5 and it’s contemporary, the 5C, it still shares some hardware aspects with the others. Most notably, an identical 4-inch display Retina display featuring  326 pixels-per-inch is found on all three.

But the iPhone 5S gets several upgrades not seen in the others. A 64-bit A7 CPU and M7 coprocessor equate to nearly twice the speed and graphics processing power of the 5 and 5C, which both utilize an identical A6 chip (sans coprocessor). While all three feature an 8MP camera, the 5S gets one with a 15 percent larger image sensor. Again, the 5 and 5C use an identical component.

The iPhone 5S easily beats the other two in the hardware department — on paper, at least. Over the next few months it will take time for the iOS ecosystem to catch up with 64-bit processing, meaning there is no immediate advantage with the 5S over the 5 or 5C. In the next year or so, that should change.

Touch ID

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One feature found on the iPhone 5S that is not present on either the iPhone 5 or iPhone 5C is Touch ID, Apple’s fingerprint sensor that has made headlines recently. We covered the feature at a more in-depth level in our full iPhone 5S review, but in short, it provides an additional, biometric method of unlocking the handset and making App Store purchases.

It doesn’t necessarily make the phone better than the 5 or 5C, but it is one more luxury built into its higher price tag. Is it perfect? No. Is it pretty darn cool? We think so.

Camera

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In camera tests, the iPhone 5 and 5C performed on a nearly identical level. That was expected. As mentioned earlier, their camera hardware is nearly identical. The iPhone 5S, however, was a different beast altogether. [Click to see bigger versions of camera samples]

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Images looked noticeably better on the 5S in all lighting conditions, and the True Tone flash, which smartly adjust color temperature for a better result, lived up to the task (we still see no reason to use a smartphone flash unless absolutely necessary, though).

Where the 5S excels beyond image quality is the additional features its hardware affords. There is a new 120fps Slo Mo mode and uses can also take advantage of burst shot photos. The new capabilities alone make it well worth it.

Battery

One area where the iPhone 5S didn’t stand out from the rest of the pack was battery life. It doesn’t feature bad battery life, but it isn’t markedly better than that of the iPhone 5 or iPhone 5C.

On paper, the iPhone 5S has the biggest battery capacity. The iPhone 5C gets a slightly larger battery than it’s counterpart, the iPhone 5.

All three will get you a full day. Maybe more, depending on how you use your phone. The 5S has several features that should help keep the battery running longer, such as the energy efficient M7 coprocessor, so it does have that going for it.

Conclusion

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If money is no issue, there is absolutely no reason not to buy the iPhone 5S, but that comes with a caveat. If you own an iPhone 5, it might not make the most sense to upgrade at this time. The improvements are nice, and they are noticeable, but they don’t necessarily justify an upgrade.

Likewise, if you own the 5, there is absolutely no reason to get an iPhone 5C unless you absolutely need a pink, plastic iPhone. If you own an older iPhone model, the 5C and 5S both make great upgrades (the 5 is no longer readily available), but we’ll give the edge to the 5S.

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  • mwanatech

    Best comparison, good job.

  • Edgar Cervantes

    Awesome comparison! I am waiting for the 5S to go back in stock at Verizon. lol