Now that Apple has officially announced the iPhone 5s and the iPhone 5c, a new question has probably come to mind for anyone in the market for a new phone: Which one should you buy? The iPhone 5s is Apple’s high-end, luxury smartphone, with the aluminum build, fingerprint sensor, and 64-bit architecture to prove it. The iPhone 5c meanwhile, comes clad in five fun plastic colors, and starts at $100 less than the iPhone 5s.
Pre-orders for both phones start on Friday, so you’ve got a little bit of time to figure out which one you want. I’ve compared some of the specs and features for each phone to help you decide which one should end up in your shopping cart.
Siblings, or at least cousins
Let’s start with the similarities, as there are quite a few. The iPhone 5c basically contains the same guts as the iPhone 5, and many of these features carry over to the iPhone 5s. Both phones, for instance, feature a 4-inch retina display. Battery life should be about equal for each device, and each phone has an 8-megapixel camera (though I’ll get to some camera differences in a bit). Also, both phones ship running iOS 7, the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system.
Aluminum? Or plastic fantastic?
So what makes them different? The first, most noticeable difference between the two phones lies in the design. The iPhone 5s features the same aluminum build as the iPhone 5, though Apple is offering it in three colors this time around: gold, gray and silver. The iPhone 5c brings a completely different look to the party. Made of a hard-coated polycarbonate body with a reinforced steel frame, the iPhone 5c comes in five bright colors, which is a big change for Apple.
Compared to the industrial, steely iPhone 5s, the iPhone 5c is like a breath of fresh air. It’s also probably going to sell like hotcakes among smartphone-carrying tweens, so keep that in mind if you’re planning to bring it into the boardroom. Also note that it’s a bit heavier. While both phones measure nearly the same size, the iPhone 5c weighs 4.65 ounces compared to the 3.95-ounce iPhone 5s. It’s not a big difference, but it’s worth considering.
64-bit or bust
The next major disparity lies in the processing power of each device. Though Apple keeps the specific details of its chips under wraps, the iPhone 5s is the first smartphone in the world to be powered by a 64-bit A7 system-on-a-chip. Additionally, Apple has added an M7 motion coprocessor, which handles all of the data from the accelerometer, compass and gyroscope. This should offload some of the work from the A7 and improve power efficiency. It also opens up new doors for more advanced wearable fitness trackers. And according to Apple, these changes make for performance that’s twice as fast as the A6 chip in the iPhone 5c. So if you’re a gamer, a fitness nut, or you just want the fastest iPhone possible, the iPhone 5s represents a significant step up in power.
Two killer cameras
As I mentioned earlier, both phones have an 8-megapixel camera, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end. The iPhone 5c basically uses the same camera as the iPhone 5, which is a good thing—the iPhone 5 still has one of the best smartphone cameras on the market. But the 5s takes that camera and makes it even better.
The iPhone 5s features an f/2.2 camera as opposed to the 5c’s f/2.4. It also features a larger sensor and uses bigger 1.5-micron pixels, which should make for better sensitivity and low-light performance. The iPhone 5S camera has a new burst mode, as well as the ability to record 120fps 720 slow motion videos.
But perhaps the best new feature is the True Tone flash. The 5s features two different color lights for flash—the traditional bright white along with a new amber light—and automatically combines the two to make for a more natural-looking flash. Would-be photographers, take note: the iPhone 5s is the phone to get.
Say goodbye to swipe-to-unlock
One feature that doesn’t quite fit on the spec chart is the new fingerprint sensor in the iPhone 5s, which Apple calls Touch ID. This allows you to unlock your phone by simply placing your finger on the home button, rather than entering in an unlock code or swiping to unlock the phone. Better yet, it allows you to enable purchases (like in the App Store) without having to enter a password—just place your fingerprint on the home button and buy away. This makes using the iPhone easier than ever.
Pricing it out
The iPhone 5c comes in 16 or 32GB storage options, while the iPhone 5s adds a 64GB option to the equation. You’ll pay for it, though. A 64GB iPhone 5s costs a whopping $399 with a two-year contract.
But when it comes down to it, the iPhone 5s and the iPhone 5c are really only $100 apart. You can buy a 16GB iPhone 5c for $99 or you can get a 16GB iPhone 5s for $199 (both of those price are with a two-year contract). Similarly, an unlocked iPhone 5c will cost you $549, while an unlocked iPhone 5s costs $649.
All things considered, I think the iPhone 5s is the better buy here. Think about how much money you spend over the length of a two-year phone contract. If you just have one line, it’s probably close to something like $100. Over the course of two years that’s $2,400, and when you look at it in context, it pays to throw down an extra $100 for a boatload of new and improved features. After all you’re getting a faster processor and a better camera, as well as Touch ID.
Chances are you’ll be carrying this phone for the next two years. So unless you really love the look of brightly colored plastic, I say splurge a bit on the iPhone 5s. That way when Apple announces in the iPhone 6 in a year from now, it won’t burn quite as big a hole in your pocket, begging you to trade it in.