iPhone 5c vs 5s: Which iPhone Should I Buy?

Choosing the right iPhone can be nerve-racking experience, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s easy when you know what you care about most: Photos? Cost? Lifespan? Screen size? These questions will help you find the right iPhone.

Can you wait for the iPhone 6?

Apple will likely release a new iPhone, a.k.a. iPhone 6, in August or September. There is a near 100% likelihood that the next iPhone will have a larger screen — most rumors and expectations peg it at 4.7 inches vs today’s 4.0-inch (diagonal) screen on the iPhone 5s and 5c. Some rumors also believe later this fall, Apple will follow along with an even bigger option coming in at a whopping 5.5 inches.

The point is, if you think a larger screen matches your interest and likely usage, you might want to wait for the iPhone 6.

Other benefits will likely include a better camera and faster processor.

How important are photos and video?

If you can’t wait for the iPhone 6 — or you just appreciate the slim pocketability of the iPhone 5s or iPhone 5c — which is better for photos? The camera in the iPhone 5c is very good for a smartphone camera. It has just 8 megapixels but it creates higher-quality photos than many other competing smartphones that use more megapixels (more is not always better).

The iPhone 5s also has an 8 megapixel camera, but the 5s comes with a few extra camera features that you might like, including a redesigned sensor that allows for larger pixels, which result in better photos. The size of the camera’s aperture is larger, too, which means 33% more light can be collected by the iPhone 5s than the iPhone 5c.

In addition, the iPhone 5s has a True Tone flash system (instead of the LED flash on the iPhone 5c). This means your low-light photos taken with a flash will come out with color and shades that are brighter and appear closer to reality. If you take a lot of photos indoors or at night, the 5s is the better choice.

Other extra photo features in the iPhone 5s include auto image stabilization, which can help you reduce blur in the photos you take. At the same time, it’s capable of a burst mode, which lets you take 10 photos every second. The iPhone 5s will automatically analyze all these photos and suggest the best ones or a sequence of photos. Burst mode is excellent for action shots — or capturing on-the-go kids or pets.

When it comes to video, the iPhone 5s also has an edge: It can deliver slo-mo video. You might be surprised at how fun this is to use.

If photos and video are important, choose the iPhone 5s.

Are you into fitness apps?

The iPhone 5s includes a new motion co-processor that is designed to measure motion data from the built-in accelerometer, gyroscope, and compass. The result is improved battery life for motion-oriented apps, along with an improved function for fitness oriented apps.

Are you into games?

If you play basic games, the iPhone 5c or 5s will work great. If you want to play games with intense graphics and motion, go with the iPhone 5s because it will support and handle more complex graphical effects and worlds in better detail.

Care about movies and TV?

Choose either — the screen is the same.

What about size, shape, and color?

iPhone 5s is only slightly thinner than the iPhone 5c. As for durability, the aluminum 5s has a slight advantage over the 5c, but the 5c build quality is astounding for a plastic smartphone. And color? You don’t need me for this decision. Pick a color if color makes you feel good.

Do want to use your fingerprint for security?

If you want the simplicity and security of using your fingerprint to unlock your iPhone, you’ll have to choose the iPhone 5s, which has a built-in system called Touch ID. It unlocks your iPhone when you press the home button. Works pretty well, but isn’t perfect. I wouldn’t recommend it for construction workers or gardeners with dirty hands, for instance. Of course, just because it’s on the iPhone 5s, it doesn’t mean you have to activate it. The bottom line is that it’s a cool technology that isn’t significantly better for most people.

iphone 5s vs 5c

The 64-bit A7 processor will help your iPhone 5s feel snappier than the 5c as developers create new, more complicated apps.

How long do you want to use your iPhone?

If you want to use your iPhone for two years before upgrading, each phone will work great . . . BUT I have to recommend the iPhone 5s over the iPhone 5c simply because it has a more powerful processor.

The Apple A7 chip in the 5s has a 64-bit architecture, and that will matter as more and more apps are built to take advantage of the 64-bit architecture. This means that in another year or two, some apps will run better on the 5s . . . or even require 64-bits as a matter of course. Hard to say how this might affect you personally, but you can count on this: Your user experience after two years will be better on the iPhone 5s. Right now, the difference between the two isn’t that great. In two years, the difference will expand because of the processor difference.

How much does $99 matter to you?

Depending on where or how you buy your iPhone 5s or 5c — for instance, you can buy the iPhone 5s in an unlocked version, without a contract, or you can buy it through Apple or your cellular service provider at a discounted rate with a contract in place. Depending on your terms with your service provider, you can upgrade easily or not-so-easily. Either way, you’ll be paying for it somewhere along the way. The question for you right now is, how much is $99 worth to you?

The iPhone 5s with 16GB of storage can be had for $199 while the iPhone 5c with 16GB of storage is $99. Of course, you can also buy iPhones at some retail outlets in the U.S. like Best Buy or Target (which often have the iPhone 5s available for $149 with a contract or the iPhone 5c available for $49 with a contract). Wal-Mart is usually the retail discount leader, though, offering up the iPhone 5s at $119 and the iPhone 5c at $29 with a two-year contract. None of these deals are set in stone, but they seem to be relatively stable.

Of course, you can also buy an unlocked iPhone 5s or unlocked iPhone 5c for hundreds of dollars if you need to avoid a contract.

Once You Go iPhone, You Rarely Go Back

All-in-all, here’s the key: Apple boasts an insanely high customer satisfaction rate. Once you start using an iPhone, you’ll likely continue to stick with Apple and the iPhone lineup for years to come. The hardware and software design and integration, connected to Apple’s large app and media ecosystem, result in unbeatable ease-of-use.

Check out accessories for both iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c at Amazon:

About the author

Chris Maxcer

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I've been writing about the tech industry since the birth of the email newsletter, and I still remember the clacking Mac keyboards from high school -- Apple's seed-planting strategy at work. I'm a big fan of elegant gear and great tech, but there's something to be said for turning it all off -- or most of it -- to go outside. Online I like to call out cool stuff on Wicked Cool Bite and blog with my buddies at Man Makes Fire. To catch me, take a "firstnamelastname" guess at the url of this site.