Apple iPhone 5C review

4 out of 5
£469 (16GB)

For

Colourful, solid, iOS 7 on board, good camera

Against

Virtually same as iPhone 5, still as expensive as iPhone 5 was, cases don't look considered

The C in iPhone 5C stands for colourful, and that's the experience Apple wants you to have with its plastic-backed reimagination of the earlier iPhone 5.

We've had the iPhone 5C in our pocket since the Apple launch event in Berlin. Has our experience with Apple's new phone been as bright and cheery as its five available colour options, or is this update dull and confused, regressive, even?

Colourful hardware

The iPhone 5C is certainly colourful. The five new colours - bright pink, blue, yellow, green, and white - are not the standard variants typical of many other manufacturers. Indeed, until this point, even Apple was all about black or white only. The 5C ushers in a new era: this is new Apple, bringing a pastel hue to the aesthetic experience.

Apart from the US-only Motorola Moto X and customisable Moto Maker creation method, there aren't that many primary colours used in the phone landscape - Nokia is one of few exceptions - and that instantly makes the iPhone 5C stand out from the pack, particularly in the UK. Those pastel colours help soften everything and will more likely appeal to those who want to be different, but not the in-your-face-yellow Nokia Lumia 1020 or hot pink Motorola Razr different.

READ: Moto Maker: Custom design your Motorola Moto X

The 5C's pink - which incidentally is virtually identical to some of the pinks featured in the Burberry Spring/Summer 2014 English Rose collection: Jony Ive and Burberry chief creative officer Christopher Bailey are friends - will certainly appeal to the fashion conscious, while the green, blue and yellow still offer plenty of punch.

READ: Burberry's Christopher Bailey talks iPhone 5S

We had the green model in for review and would describe it as a "good" green; it sits nicely against denim jeans for example. Very fashionista. We aren't sure it matched up so well against our charcoal grey suit however - well, not if we wanted to be taken seriously in a world where monochrome is king.

However, those looking for a black version will be disappointed as there's no black iPhone 5C. Apple is perhaps learning from its experience with the black iPhone 3GS and how awful it looked after it had been scratched, which is of note as the rear shell is a familiar material. If you are afraid of colour and still want the iPhone 5C then you'll have to go with the white.

Plastic but not plasticky

The iPhone 5C might have a plastic shell, but it doesn't feel plasticky in the hand. Not in the way you would expect a cheap phone to feel - probably because the iPhone 5C isn't cheap - and it has a warmer feel to it than the cold metal of the iPhone 5S. 

READ: Apple iPhone 5S review

If you can remember back to what the iPhone 3GS felt like you are on the right track. The shape, which follows the same design as the iPhone 5 and the iPhone 5S, sees the phone wrapped in the colourful exterior and beneath that a steel shell that doubles up as the antenna. No more "grip of death" here then.

Some might see the plastic as regressive rather than progressive - it depends how much a lick of colour does for you - but any fears that you may have that C in 5C stands for "cheap" will disappear the moment you pick up the phone. A good thing in our books, one that we're sure there will be many initial doubts over.

Apple-designed iPhone 5C cases

To spruce up the colour even more Apple has designed its own soft-touch silicon iPhone 5C case. It's the same material Apple used in the iPad smart cover and here comes in a variety of colours including red, white, yellow, blue, green and black.

The cases are lined with micro fibre to protect your phone, and the back features 35 circular holes to let your selected iPhone's colour show through, and presumably to shave off some weight. 

Apple says that the case has been meticulously designed, but we're not convinced. Putting the case on masks some of the iPhone wording on the back leaving you to see the word "hon" instead of "iPhone" through one of the holes. How did that happen? It looks forced and awkward. Why not a cut-out Apple?

Worse still is that the case adds £25 to the price.

Colourful software

A new iPhone means new software too and from the get-go the iPhone 5C offers the latest iOS 7 operating system, including all the treats that delivers. We've been using iOS 7 in depth, from beta through to the final version, for a number of months to get a good impression of what it has to offer for users new and old. In short: while everything looks different and more colourful, underneath it's still the same OS and you'll either love or hate that.

READ: Apple iOS 7 review

The new look and feel brings with it a crisper and thinner font, a greater use of colour, and a layering system that gives everything added depth. Gone is the ode to faux leather, green felt and yellow note paper - they aren't welcom here in the age of new Apple. That overall vibrant, colourful - even joyful - approach shines through even more with the colourful exterior. It's as if Apple planned it all along.

On the features front, you now get a settings panel that can be accessed by swiping up from the bottom of the screen, and an enhanced camera app that makes it even easier to shoot video and photos. It's a definite improvement, but not the massive overhaul that some may have predicted.

The software is very vibrant and that will appeal to some but not to everyone. Compared to Android its perhaps overly colourful. There isn't a black pane in sight. It's as if all the colours of the rainbow have been used, so it's a good thing you don't have to play Dorothy. 

New yet old hardware

There aren't any core hardware updates, meaning the iPhone 5C is essentially a rebadged iPhone 5. The same 4-inch Retina display, with 1136 x 640 pixels and 326ppi. You get the same Apple A6 processor, and the same 8-megapixel camera complete with 1080p video capture.

If you are an iPhone 5 user then don't worry about wondering if you need to get this model instead of the one you have. It's basically the same thing, delivering an experience that's very much the same too. From the quality of the speaker to the performance of the display, the iPhone 5C delivers Apple's take on the smartphone in the same way the iPhone 5 did.

Okay, we've bent the truth a little to make that point sound more decisive. There are some 5C upgrades compared to the iPhone 5, but you'll have to hunt for them.

This time around you get a slightly higher battery capacity that promises to deliver 10 hours rather than 8 hours when talking on 3G. We found battery life was good and delivered a full day's use on a single charge. 

You also get an improved front-facing camera that is now capable of recording 720p. And there's 4G LTE support, so if you are a Vodafone or O2 customer you'll be able to go 4G.

In use, both are welcomed: 4G speeds vary, but if you've yet to experience them (we tested the phone on EE's 4G network around London) you'll soon realise the difference. The front-facing camera is also improved, but that's only really helpful if you take a lot of selfies or do video calling and even then you will be restricted by the quality of the network you are on. Still, it's keeping up with the Joneses and very much welcomed.

If the iPhone 5's hardware had tempted, but you didn't take the leap, then the iPhone 5C will keep you happy. The phone is zippy, stable and takes great pictures. You aren't going to be disappointed by the hardware one bit, and if you are upgrading from the iPhone 4 or iPhone 4S you'll notice a huge difference in screen quality and size and the processing power on offer. What we said about the iPhone 5 in September 2012 still stands for the iPhone 5C.

But if you want super-power then look to the iPhone 5S. Or if you were expecting a total overhaul then, well, the iPhone may have run its course in your life and you may want to consider a larger-screen Android or Windows Phone offering instead.

Verdict

The iPhone 5C is a lovely phone that is solid in its performance and playful it its approach. The combination of the colourful exterior sits beautifully against the latest iOS 7 operating system and it's good to see Apple ditching the ode to faux leather and yellow legal paper shtick. New Apple is an embrace of a modern future. 

As an upgrade to the iPhone 4S, the 5C is a perfect option, and it refreshes the iPhone 5 in a way that makes it a lot more fun than the iPhone 5 ever was.

But there is no denying that the 5C is merely a lick of paint on a year-old device, a non-upgrade to the iPhone 5. Some will see that as regressive, treading water. Yet, somehow, that still works in today's world. For all the phones we spend our time using, when we come back to Apple there's just something eminently usable about it.

The phone's selection of apps, camera capabilities, and no fuss approach still means that it holds its own against the HTC One Mini devices of this world, for the right users. Even more so when you put the 5C up against the mid-range offering Android brings in the guise of the Motorola X, or the Nexus 4. But then Apple is charging a fair whack of cash more for the 5C.

However this is still last year's tech. There is no NFC, no clever trickery that we are seeing on the new Nokias, new LGs, or new Samsung devices and that will be a huge turn-off to many. This is a phone that is designed to appeal to the iPhone 4S crowd who can't afford an iPhone 5S and who don't want to go to a different brand. 

The iPhone 5C is not a flagship product - Apple's iPhone 5S is for that - nor does it fix any of the annoying niggles you've perhaps started to feel with your current iPhone, but if you are looking to upgrade from the 4 or the 4S, want to stick with Apple, but can't justify the 5S and its price, then this colourful option is could to be perfect for you.

Despite initial reservations we love the iPhone 5C - it's colourful, joyful, capable and just works.