Apple iPhone 5C Review

The iPhone 5C is the iPhone 5 in plastic for $100 less, and that's not a bad thing. The polycarbonate colored cases look and feel a lot better than you’d guess.
The iPhone 5C is the iPhone 5 in plastic for $100 less, and that's not a bad thing. The polycarbonate colored cases look and feel a lot better than you’d guess.
The iPhone 5C is the iPhone 5 in plastic for $100 less, and that's not a bad thing. The polycarbonate colored cases look and feel a lot better than you’d guess.

Highs

  • More comfortable to hold than iPhone 5S/5
  • Bigger battery
  • Colors look great and plastic doesn't feel cheap
  • iOS 7 looks fantastic

Lows

  • iOS 7 still has a few nagging issues
  • Poor Google services integration

iphone-5s-5cThere is a lot less pressure on the iPhone 5C than there was on the iPhone 5, and the massive hopes and dreams for innovation are on the 5S this year. The 5C is new version of last year’s iPhone 5. It’s sold for $100 less than the 5S and is for those who like (slightly) cheaper phones and colors. All it has to do is perform well and not feel or look trashy. And, you know what: it’s doing a good job.

The C is for Cheap?

Since this iPhone launched at the lower on-contract price of $100 (on AT&T and Verizon, at least) with a polycarbonate (plastic) body instead of a metal and glass one, many have it in their head that the C in iPhone 5C stands for “cheap.” There are a lot of reasons why this is not the case, the first being that $100 + over $450 more over time is not cheap. Another is that plastic, especially polycarbonate, isn’t a crappy material.

The 5C is about the same size as the iPhone 5 but the edges on the back are rounded and more comfortable.

Apple would have you believe their plastic phone is somehow a cut above the rest, but the truth is that it’s as nice as any other well-made polycarbonate smartphone we’ve reviewed in the past few years. Under that plastic is a steel frame (also the antenna), so the 5C should still be pretty sturdy even without a metallic exterior. It feels solid and achieves the heft/lightness balance that makes a phone feel right when you hold it.

Another advantage of the plastic is how the phone feels in your hand. The 5C is about the same size as the iPhone 5 but the edges on the back are rounded and more comfortable. It’s more holdable than a 4S, too. Even with plastic, Apple is all about the unibody design, and that serves the 5C well. It’s still thin as well, making the 5C more of a pleasure to hold when it’s not in a case. A small change, but significant.

If nothing else, the 5C will change how we talk about plastic phones even though this isn’t a revolutionary innovation.

The C is for Colorful

Yes, that’s what the C is supposed to stand for. If nothing else, the 5C will be remembered for bringing the rainbow to the iPhone. The new colors – green, blue, yellow, pink – hover somewhere between shades identified with baby toys and the more striking hues found on Nokia phones. And, of course, there’s always white. Out of the box, the iPhone’s wallpaper matches whatever color you choose, similar to many Windows Phone models. The overall effect is a phone that already feels fun and individual the minute you touch it, assuming you ordered it in a color you like.

The colors and plastic chassis make the iPhone 5C look like it already has a case on; especially with the way the color encircles the black front piece. If you’re the type to feel that no phone should go uncovered, the basic 5C case from Apple is designed to show the color underneath on the back and the front.

This attention to detail is very Apple-like and will be appreciated, but is any of it a reason to buy this phone?

New iPhone same as the old iPhone

The iPhone 5C is almost unchanged from the iPhone 5. Other than the plastic outer shell the only outward difference is that there are fewer holes for speakers on the bottom and the output there is nothing to get excited over. Inside, there’s a slightly better front-facing camera and a bigger battery – other than that, you’re not getting much new hotness here. Same chip, same screen, same non-biometric Home button.

apple iphone 5c vs 5s bottom ports

In effect, this is last year’s phone at Apple’s standard $100 “last year” discount price with a few tweaks to address some of last year’s problems. It’s more than iPhone fans would usually get at this stage, but less than an actual new phone. This isn’t a bad thing now that we’ve reached a stage where all of the best phones from last year are still great this year and will probably continue to serve well performance-wise for another year or two to come.

Specs and screen get the job done

The 4-inch, 1136 x 640 pixel display remains beautiful and dense. Still, when compared to other phones around the same size, the iPhone 5C still comes off as too long for comfort, at least with the buttons where they are. Stepping up from a 3.5-inch display, it comes off a little roomier, and some of the design elements in iOS 7 help with that. Up against Android phones, the 5C feels cramped.

Performance-wise, the phone feels just as speedy as before and serves up iOS 7 well. There is a lot to like about Apple’s new OS and an equal number of ways that it could improve. Most of the tweaks are aesthetic makeovers, and Apple hasn’t addressed many of the issues we had with iOS 6 on the iPhone 5 last year.

Still a great camera

One new addition we do appreciate is a more robust camera app. The 8-megapixel-rear iSight camera on the rear is the same excellent shooter as before, now with better software tools to help your pictures come out better. The front-facing FaceTime camera did get a bump in specs. Now you don’t have to be in the best light to conduct a video chat.

apple iphone 5c macro rear camera

Call Quality, 4G, and Battery Performance

Our review unit came with T-Mobile service and kept a steady, if weak, LTE signal through initial testing. The 5C supports 13 LTE bands, which is why T-Mobile gets to join the party. So far we’ve seen fast downloads and little lag on websites, but will update this review with more extensive tests later.

Our few test calls show that the 5C matches the iPhone 5 in quality of sound on both ends.

We haven’t yet fully battery tested the 5C yet. As soon as we do, we’ll update this review.

Conclusion

The iPhone 5C is a good phone, just like the iPhone 5 was a good phone. It’s nothing revolutionary, but is solid, speedy, and now brightly colored. If you’re the type to wait for last year’s phone to drop in price before snagging it, this is the iPhone for you. It’s not for those who need the newest and best. For that, you should buy the iPhone 5S. The only Apple fans the 5C won’t please are those who were hoping to buy the 5 at the lower price.

Highs:

  • More comfortable to hold than iPhone 5S/5
  • Bigger battery
  • Colors look great and plastic doesn’t feel cheap
  • iOS 7 looks fantastic

Lows:

  • iOS 7 still has a few nagging issues
  • Poor Google services integration
Mobile

Amazon cuts prices on Apple Watch Series 4 and Series 3 smartwatches

In the market for a new smartwatch? The Apple Watch is the best one, and right now it's a little more affordable than it usually is. The Apple Watch Series 4 and Apple Watch Series 3 are both available at discounted prices straight from…
Mobile

On a budget? We found the best affordable smartphones you can buy

Here are the best affordable phones for anyone working with a tight budget, whether you're a fan of stock Android or marathon battery life. Find out what you can get for under $500 or far, far less as we round up the best budget…
Mobile

The 15 most stylish iPhone docks and charging stands for your device

The right iPhone dock does more than just hold your phone. If you’re looking for the perfect dock for your bedroom, or one to sit discretely on your office desk, there’s a good chance you’ll find it here.
Mobile

Keep your huge phone beautiful with the best iPhone XS Max cases

Apple's iPhone XS Max might be the best large phone the company has ever released. But a bigger OLED display and body means there's more glass to crack. Keep your massive phone safe with the best iPhone XS Max cases.
Home Theater

Throw away those EarPods -- we dug up the best headphones in every style

Trolling the internet for hours to find headphones is no way to live. Instead, leverage our expertise and experience to find the best headphones for you. Here are our favorites, with all the features you want.
Digital Trends Live

Digital Trends Live: Earth Day, indoor container farming, robot submarines

Today on Digital Trends Live, we discuss how technology intersects with Earth Day, a new Tim Cook biography, indoor container farming, robot spy submarines, A.I. death metal, and more.
Deals

The latest Apple iPad Pros get steep discounts on Amazon

The iPad Pro is now in its third generation, and the 2018 refresh of this premium tablet is, hands down, Apple’s best one yet. It’s on sale right now, too, for a good discount which can let you score one for as little as $675.
Deals

It’s time to check out the best Apple Watch deals for April 2019

The Apple Watch has surged to prominence in recent years. If you're in the market for an iOS wearable, we've sniffed out the best Apple Watch deals available right now for all three models of this great smartwatch.
Deals

Need a new tablet? Here are the best iPad deals for April 2019

In the wide world of tablets, Apple is still the king. If you're on team Apple and just can't live without iOS, we've curated an up-to-date list of all of the best iPad deals currently available for April 2018.
Smart Home

The Houzz app now lets you virtually tile your floor with augmented reality

Augmented reality is starting to be a real bonus to apps like Houzz's View in My Room 3D tool, which recently added the ability to measure how a tiled floor might look in your living space.
Digital Trends Live

Digital Trends Live: Tesla taxis, NYC auto show, and Sony’s 8K TV

On the latest episode of DT Live, we discuss Tesla's autonomous taxi plans, a Face ID lawsuit against Apple,, choosing imperfect produce, the release of Mortal Kombat 11, sustainable fashion, and more.
Apple

WWDC 2019 Complete Coverage

Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference is a key tech event each year, and for Apple fans, it will be one of the two best times of 2019 (along with "new iPhone day," of course). For the last few years, Apple has debuted much of its…
Mobile

Walmart drops a killer deal on the Apple iPad Mini 4 tablet

The Apple iPad still reigns supreme in the tablet market, and the pint-sized 7.9-inch iPad Mini is the perfect everyday carry companion. Now’s the perfect chance to score a deal on the last-gen iPad Mini 4 before it’s gone for good.
Mobile

Want to watch Netflix in bed or browse the web? We have a tablet for everyone

There’s so much choice when shopping for a new tablet that it can be hard to pick the right one. From iPads to Android, these are our picks for the best tablets you can buy right now whatever your budget.