Too long have Apple's iPhones been living in a black and white world. The iPhone 5C is the first iPhone to be available in a host of different colours -- Apple has replaced the metal, one-piece body of the iPhone 5 with a curved plastic case.
Rumours suggested that the plastic iPhone would be the first budget model from Apple. With a starting price of £469 however, it turns out those rumours weren't exactly accurate. That price will snag you the 16GB model, or you can splash out £549 for 32GB of storage.
The iPhone 5C, and its pricier sibling, the 5S, are available now SIM-free from Apple or you can get the 5C free from £29 per month on a two-year contract. My review model was supplied by Vodafone who has the 5C free on 4G contracts starting from £42 per month.
Should I buy the iPhone 5C?
If you've recently been looking at Nokia's colourful Lumia phones with a pang of jealousy at their fun, lively paint jobs, but don't want to leave the iOS app store behind, the 5C might be right up your alley. Its plastic body doesn't feel as luxurious as the metal 5 or 5S, but it's cute and pretty sturdy.
It has the same internal specs as the previous iPhone 5 and the camera hasn't been upgraded either. It might be the most affordable new iPhone, but it's certainly not cheap. It's only £80 less than the top-end iPhone 5S, which boasts a considerably more powerful 64-bit processor, improved camera, luxurious metal body and a fingerprint scanner. Unless you particularly want a colourful phone, I'd recommend splashing a little extra cash on the 5S.
If you're after an iPhone on the cheap though, consider the older iPhone 4S. Apple has just released an 8GB model, which will set you back only £349, leaving plenty of change to spend on apps.
Design and build quality
The plastic body of the 5C is a big departure from the one-piece metal construction of the iPhone 5 or the glass-backed iPhone 4 and 4S, so naturally, it looks very different.
It has roughly the same physical proportions to the 5 and 5S -- although slightly fatter -- but the angular edges and machined metal buttons are gone, replaced with glossy, rounded plastic. The back panel is one solid colour too, rather than the two-tone effect seen on the 5. If you picture an iPhone 5 plopped into a plastic case, you're pretty much there.
The plastic really split opinion in the CNET UK team. Some said that it felt quite cheap, and others argued that, for a plastic phone, it still felt solid and more luxurious than you might expect. There is no question though that the metal 5S both looks and feels like a considerably more premium device -- the 5C, they argued, feels like it should be at least £150 cheaper.
It does at least feel very solid. There's almost no discernible flex in the body and its one-piece design helps avoid any unpleasant creaking in the chassis. It's not removable, which means you can't swap out the battery or expand the memory, but it at least avoids the nasty feeling of peeling off the flimsy back cover from the Galaxy S4.
It's not the first time Apple has used colour in its products -- the iPod nanos came in a rainbow of hues and its colourful, plastic-back iMacs brightened many an office that normally housed beige PC towers. It's the first time we've seen colour in the iPhone though. It's available in yellow, blue, green, pink and, if you're not keen on colours, white.
They're all rather muted, pastel shades, rather than the garish colours you'll find on Nokia's Lumia phones. I personally prefer the eye-meltingly bright Lumias -- if nothing else, they stand out from the usual blacks and silvers of other smart phones.
The iPhone 5C keeps the same 4-inch display you'll find on both the iPhone 5 and 5S. It has the same 'retina' resolution too -- 1,136x640 pixels giving 326 pixels per inch. Dedicated Apple fans might be chuffed that it still fits neatly into their hands, but there's no denying that the iPhone is looking increasingly miniature in the ever-expanding Android world.
While a 5-inch iPhone might be pushing it, a happy compromise could be found at around 4.3 inches. The extra screen space would be great for playing the plethora of games on the iOS app store as well as giving more room for videos and ebooks.
The iPhone's display is still one of the best in the business though. It's extremely bright and has very accurate colours. Samsung's Super AMOLED Galaxy S4 can sometimes be a bit over the top, but the iPhone demonstrates rich tones without looking over-saturated.
iOS 7 software
The iPhone 5C comes with the latest iOS 7 software. It's visually very different from previous versions, with a flat design, loads of bright colours and new app icons. There's no skeuomorphism either -- software that mimics its real-life counterparts -- so Game Centre no longer looks like a roulette table and Notes doesn't look like a desk jotter.
The core apps like messaging, calendar and email have all been given a fresh new look too. The design split opinion, but I'm personally very keen on it. It's clean and easy to read and the use of transparent backgrounds looks great. If nothing else, it was about time Apple gave the software a fresh new look.
It's not just about the look though -- iOS 7 brings some new features too. Swipe up from below the screen and you'll find the control centre. It gives access to essential settings like brightness and Wi-Fi without going all the way into the settings menu.
The camera software has been tweaked too, allowing you to shoot in 1:1 aspect ratio (square), and apply filters in real time as you shoot. I'll come back to the phone's image quality later on. Siri too has been boosted to enable you to change screen brightness, turn Bluetooth on or off or fiddle with some other settings.
iOS 7 is available as a free upgrade to those of you who already have an iPhone 4 or above. If you want to try it for yourself but don't have the new iPhone, head into Settings > General > Software Update to download it onto your phone.
Power and performance
Slumbering inside the 5C is the same A6 processor you'll get in the existing iPhone 5, rather than the new, supercharged A7 chip inside the 5S. Unsurprisingly then, the iPhone 5C didn't give the same level of blistering performance its pricier brother gave.
It racked up a score of 1,279 on the Geekbench 3 benchmark test (multi-core score), which doesn't stack up too well against the 5S's 2,567. Against the S4's 1,860 however, it's much more reasonable.
The 5C certainly isn't the most powerful phone in the business, but it doesn't really need to be. iOS 7 runs extremely smoothly with zero lag or delay when navigating around the colourful new interface. Games like Asphalt 8 and Riptide GP 2 played with high frame rates for silky gameplay, and snapping photos and editing them was handled easily.
You most likely won't notice any difference between this and the 5S in everyday use for now. Once more apps and games are designed to work with the 5S's 64-bit chip though, the gap might become more noticeable. As it stands, the iPhone 5C has plenty of juice for anything you're likely to throw at it.
The 5C packs in the same 8-megapixel camera found inside the iPhone 5. The iPhone 5's camera was one of our favourite phone snappers, so I was hoping the results would be at least as good.
Thankfully the camera still impresses. On my test shot of St Paul's cathedral, the 5C captured a notable amount of detail, which is particularly noticeable on the fine brickwork of the building at full screen. Colours are very natural too and overall exposure is decent. The bright sky has been kept under control, although there's a little detail lost to the shadows on the side -- something that can be fixed when shooting in HDR mode.
It didn't cope well in low-light situations though. In my test shot, it's easy to see the lack of detail and clarity, particularly on the fur of the bear and on the writing on the box of tea at the front. There's a lot of image noise too, resulting in a fairly poor image overall. You'll need to whack the flash on if things start to get a bit dim.
The 5S has the same resolution, but it boasts a larger sensor, improved flash and better optics. It's capable of doing burst-mode shooting as well as shooting video at 120 frames per second for some cool slow-motion action. If you have friends who do a lot of action sports like free running, the slow motion might be a good reason to opt for the pricier model.
Although Apple doesn't say how big the battery is inside the 5C, it has said that it's been given a little boost over the previous iPhone 5. You can apparently get up to 10 hours of talk time on 3G which isn't at all bad. My buddies at CNET.com put the battery through its paces and found it lasted 10 hours and 16 minutes on a video loop test, just beating its predecessor.
You shouldn't struggle to get a full day of use from the phone, so long as you're fairly careful about what you do. If you spend the whole time playing demanding games or streaming Breaking Bad over Netflix, you will probably need to give it a boost at lunchtime. Avoid intense tasks and keep the screen brightness down and you won't live in fear of sudden power loss. As a general rule with all smart phones though, you'll want to give it a full charge every night.
The iPhone 5C's cute, plastic body allows for a much-needed injection of colour and fun into the iPhone range. It's powerful enough for nearly anything you throw at it and it has a decent camera too. If you're an iOS addict who's been envious of the colourful Nokia Lumia phones, the 5C is the phone for you.
Although it's the most affordable of the new iPhones, it's far from cheap. It might be worth splashing slightly more cash on the top-end 5S and benefitting from the better camera, processor and fingerprint scanner.