Lauren Goode

iPhone 5c: Candy Colors With a Nice Price

You’ve seen this phone before. Sure, it has a new name: iPhone 5c. And its plastic body comes in different colors. It also has an attractive price when tied to a wireless contract.

But the 5c is really a slightly improved iPhone 5, which Apple is no longer offering.

This doesn’t make it a bad phone. Quite the contrary: I’ve been using the new iPhone 5c for the past five days and it’s a solid premium phone. Its hardware improvements include longer battery life, better cellular-data capabilities and a better front-facing camera, for FaceTime and “selfies,” or photos you take of yourself.

I like the candy-colored, tough plastic shell, as I am not a delicate flower and my phone shouldn’t be, either.

The 5c iPhone comes in green, blue, yellow and pink, as well as white (Credit: Apple).

Many of the improvements in the iPhone 5c are related to the phone’s upgraded mobile software, which isn’t exclusive to the 5c. It includes a redesigned interface, new multitasking options, a supposedly smarter Siri and a better iTunes. Earlier versions of iPhone — iPhone 4 and up — and newer iPads can run this updated software, as well.

But the iPhone 5c, positioned as one of two new iPhones in Apple’s product line, probably won’t satisfy tech-savvy consumers who need the latest and greatest hardware. Those people will probably turn their eyes toward the iPhone 5s, which has a powerful 64-bit processor and new fingerprint-recognition technology that lets you unlock the phone with a tap of your finger.

If you want a new iPhone but don’t want to splurge on the 5s, or are a first-timer lured in by the contract price, then the 5c might be a good choice.

The iPhone 5c starts at $99 with a two-year contract from AT&T and Verizon. Sprint is offering the phone free of charge to customers who switch over from another carrier. T-Mobile is offering the phone for $0 down with one of its two-year payment plans, totaling $528 without a contract.

The unlocked price is $549 and $649 for the 16 gigabyte and 32GB models, respectively.

The 5c is made of a hard-coated polycarbonate with steel reinforcement inside the body. It comes in white, watermelon pink, bright yellow, electric blue and lime green — a sort of iPod-ification of the iPhone. Out of the box, the background wallpaper and lock screen match the exterior.

The iPhone 5c has the same A6 processor and the same four-inch Retina display as the iPhone 5. Colors on the 5c’s display look warmer.

It’s just slightly thicker and heavier than the iPhone 5. And while the 5c isn’t as refined-looking as the iPhone 5 or the new 5s, it isn’t a tacky plastic phone, either. I’ve tested plastic phones before, including the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the new Moto X from Motorola, and this phone feels more solid in the hand. Call quality was good.

Apple has put a larger battery in the 5c, though the company has declined to say exactly how much bigger it is. Since the display and processor remain the same, a user should be able to get some extra juice with this phone.

This past weekend I used both the 5c and my own iPhone 5 at the same time, with the display on both set to about 75 percent of full brightness and their batteries fully charged. I ran the same apps, including maps apps, browsed through both Safari browsers and made phone calls on both phones. When my iPhone 5 died on Saturday night, the 5c had 17 percent battery power left.

At last week’s launch event for the 5c and 5s, Apple stressed the addition of more LTE bands to its phone lineup.

What does this mean? Basically, there isn’t one LTE standard — different carriers offer many types of LTE networks around the world. The previous iPhone 5 was compatible with up to five bands. A couple of phones claim eight. Now, the iPhone 5c and 5s are compatible with up to 13 LTE bands.

So in France, the iPhone can now run on Orange’s network at LTE speeds. The same goes for Vodafone in the U.K. and Germany. That means travelers can pop in a local prepaid SIM card in more countries and pull down LTE speeds, currently up to 100 megabits per second.

The camera technology in the 5c has improved a tiny bit. The front-facing camera promises larger pixels, capturing slightly better images than the front-facing camera of the iPhone 5.

IOS 7 also includes an update to the iPhone’s camera software. The camera app feels more professional and has built-in filters — finally bringing the iPhone up to speed with other premium smartphone cameras.

Keep in mind, however, the iPhone 5c’s rear-facing camera has the same 8-megapixel sensor as the iPhone 5 and captures the same 1080p HD video.

While the 5c looks and feels very familiar, it’s still a good phone and an improvement over the 5. But its improvements are evolutionary, not revolutionary.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik