iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c reviews: 3 months later

Three months ago Apple, for the first time ever, released not one but two new iPhones in the same year - the forward thinking iPhone 5s and the fun and friendly iPhone 5c. Both were variants on last year's iPhone 5. The 5s kept the same design but added a monstrous new 64-bit Apple A7 chipset, Apple M7 motion coprocessor, an even better iSight camera, and the Touch ID fingerprint identity scanner. The 5c kept most of the same internals but switched to brightly colored plastic backs.

It was a smart, if often misunderstood play. The iPhone 5s was meant to continue to be the big fall blockbuster, with huge opening-day lineups, a massive spike in sales, and then a steady decline until the next model. The 5c was meant to be different. It was meant to be popular-as-in-pop-art. Less movie and more TV show, it would sit on shelves, enticing shoppers throughout the year. Easier to manufacture than the 5 or 5s, and appealing to a slightly different audience, it let Apple test the waters not only of their addressable market, but of an expanded production run.

It's a little early to determine just how successful Apple's strategy will be over the course of the year, but having used the new phones for 90 days, it's absolutely long enough to see how both phones are doing for us the consumers. Often lost among the endless marketshare, profit share, and usage share metrics are what matters most to us, the people that buy and live with the phones - how well they work for us not just on launch day, but every day.

Previously on iMore...

Chart of all iPhone models, including their specs

Ally Kazmucha

I picked up both an iPhone 5s and an iPhone 5c on launch day. My daily driver since then has been the iPhone 5s, but I’ve spent some time with both. I personally don’t see a significant speed increase in the iPhone 5s over its predecessor but I don’t think we were meant to. The 64-bit processor seems to me as a way of Apple future proofing more than anything. And that’s okay. The iPhone 5s is still blazingly fast. Touch ID works great for me and it irritates me to have to type in a passcode on my iPad Air.

As for the iPhone 5c, I was very surprised by the build quality. It isn’t cheap at all and feels great in your hand. I almost actually prefer the feel of holding it to the iPhone 5s. I’ve recommended it to anyone who is new to iPhone who doesn’t need the latest and greatest and they’ve all loved it.

Both the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c are great phones. The only thing I was somewhat disappointed with was the flash on the iPhone 5s. I had high hopes that nighttime photography would be improved with the new flash. It hasn’t been and I still avoid using the flash whenever possible.

Other than that, I have no complaints and feel the iPhone 5s is exactly what I expected it to be. For me, Apple’s headliner this year was the iPad Air, not the iPhone 5s.

Peter Cohen

The iPhone 5s doesn't look remarkably different than the iPhone 5 that replaced it, but differences become apparent when I run apps on it - games, especially real bleeding-edge stuff like Infinity Blade III, run with incredible graphics quality. I've also been really impressed by the iPhone 5s's camera; much better in low light conditions, dramatically improved flash and really cool slow-motion capture. It's the first iPhone I've used that doesn't make me feel like I'm fighting to get a good picture. Also, Touch ID on the iPhone 5s has been an absolute game changer for me. Now I get frustrated using iOS devices that don't automatically unlock when I hold my thumb over the home button - so much so that Touch ID is one thing that's keeping me from pulling the trigger on a new iPad, as much as I want one.

Richard Devine

The best thing I can say about moving from the iPhone 5 to the iPhone 5s is that there's nothing that would make me want to go back. Battery life is at least as good, since rarely do I struggle to get through a day on a single charge, the camera is a distinct upgrade, and arguably I'd say it holds a better data signal where I live. The last point is something I often struggled with on my old iPhone 5, so it's pleasing that things seem to be better.

It really has been the complete package. TouchID continues to amaze me, it only fails when I fail (make sure you wash your hands after eating a burger!) and my only issues are related to software. That I can live with, because Apple can fix software issues relatively easily. I said it before and I'll say it again; the iPhone 5s is still the best phone I've used this year.

Derek Kessler

I, with about 500 of my closest friends, lined up three months ago at the Cincinnati Apple Store to purchase a brand new iPhone 5s. While the process of acquiring and activating the 5s was something of a debacle for me (Hi, Verizon!), within a week everything got sorted and I walked out of the store with a new iPhone.

Coming from an iPhone 5, the 5s hasn’t proven to be an Earth-shattering update for me. The fingerprint scanner has added a new level of security to my life, for as much as I always advocated for securing devices and using strong passwords, I never ever put a PIN lock on my iPhone. But Touch ID made it too damn easy to not. It took a while to fully reprogram my brain, but now I instinctively expect all iPads and iPhones to unlock with a pause of my thumb.

The 5s camera is obviously better, especially in low-light situations. I’m not sure if it’s the fault of software or hardware or if I’m just getting old and creaky, but it seems harder for me to capture a photo without shake-induced blur than before. I’m aware of the rapid-fire auto-select option, but I tend to forget (even if I use a similar tool by default on my proper dedicated camera).

Apart from that, not much has changed from my iPhone 5 experience. The iPhone 5s is still fast, it’s still lightweight, and on most days I throw it on the charger with more than enough juice left over. Just the other day I upgraded my parents from their old 4S units to 5s iPhones (Merry Christmas!) and they were blown away by the difference in all regards (especially weight and the addition of LTE to their lives, even if it is on Sprint’s limited network).

Like the iPhone 3GS was to the 3G and the iPhone 4S was to the 4, the iPhone 5s isn’t a revolution compared to the previous generation 5. Nobody should have expected it to be such. This is how Apple works - iterating to faster, better, stronger, lighter devices. They do it across their line-up. You can trace the design lineage of a current generation MacBook Pro all the way to the old titanium-shelled PowerBook G4 of 2001. The iPhone’s lineage isn’t quite as deep, but it still exemplifies Apple’s modus operandi: iterate iterate iterate.

Joe Keller

Three months in, I'm still doing more on my iPhone 5s than I did on my 4s. These are things that I used to do on my iPad, like catch up on Twitter after a long time away or reading news. Everything is still rock-solid, and apps still open quickly, and run smoothly. Games especially run better than they did on my 4s. I'm still getting good performance out of my battery, even after a day of heavy use.

Touch ID is still a standout feature for me, and I use it every day. Even if you don't want to lock your phone with it, I would still suggest turning it on for iTunes purchasing alone. In the past three months, I've adopted a new, very complicated iTunes password, and between 1Password and Touch ID, I don't have to worry about forgetting it. The only times I'm prompted to re-enter my iTunes password now are following a complete shutdown and restart of my phone, which I do rarely. And yes, I do sometimes try to unlock my iPad by putting my thumb on the Home button, always without success.

Kevin Michaluk

Things I'm loving:

  1. I like GOLDDDD!!! Seriously, I do like the champagne gold color. The color can really change depending on the light. If the sun catches it the right way, it becomes a beautiful shade of sparkling rose gold that's almost mesmerizing.
  2. Touch ID. Really this is the #1 thing I love about the iPhone 5s. It angers me that my iPad Air doesn't have Touch ID. It's already habitual, so nearly every time I pick up my iPad I forget it doesn't have to have it. One thing I have noticed recently though is that it doesn't seem to work as fast or as well in cold weather (we're talking Winnipeg cold weather). I'm not sure if it's just me, or maybe this is a thing - could be when I'm trying to use the phone with frozen hands my fingerprints look different. Either way, it just doesn't seem quite as responsive in the cold.
  3. The camera. It really rocks, not just for the quality of the photo but for the camera app's speed of use. Compared to other phones I'm using these days (Z30, Galaxy S4, Note 3, Lumia 920), I just find the camera focuses so much faster than on other phones. The new UI in the camera is app is really efficient and I love that square photos are now there. Also loving slo-mo. I really wish there was a countdown timer built into the app though. I get that I could just record video and do a screen grab, but sometimes you just need a quick countdown for the perfect arms-fully-extended selfie!
  4. The eye candy. I'm a big fan of "moments of charm" and iOS 7 full of them. I like the particle engine UI stuff going on. And possibly the coolest and creepiest is when you go into FaceTime and the camera puts a blurry you as the background. Not quite as original, but I always like the blizzard animations in the weather app too - lord knows I see that screen often enough.
  5. iOS 7 efficiency. For years I've said that BlackBerry is for people who have sh!t to do and need to get things done, while iOS is for people who have time to kill and are looking for things to do. With iOS 7, I'm finding a lot more efficiency finally coming into the OS. It almost feels like Apple has some ex-BlackBerry engineers working for them these days. Two examples: when I'm first sending a single photo as an attachment, I love that I can scroll through and select more right there; the Collections view in the photo app is not only fun, it's fast! I'd still rank BB much higher in terms of pure get it done efficiency (and multi-tasking on iOS is still too slow), but it's a big step in the right direction for iOS. I can at least use iOS 7 without wanting to throw it out a window.

Things that irk me:

  1. The short power cord. Would it really kill Apple to include a longer power cord? I haven't measured it up to every other cable that comes with every other phone I own, but I'm pretty sure the iPhone cord is foot shorter than most, if not more. I mean, if they're going to go with proprietary tech (lighting rather than microUSB), at least put some length on the cable.
  2. The small screen. I know this is personal preference (everybody has their own smartphone hierarchy of needs), but the iPhone's display is really, really, really feeling small these days. If you only use the iPhone and no nothing else it's fine. But if you start using a phone with a bigger display and pick up an iPhone after that, it feels like it's made for toddlers. Too dang small. Having a small screen is good for one handed typing, but after having used all sizes of phones I'm at the point where I think it's just too small now for me. I'd definitely prefer an iPhone with a bigger display.
  3. The case conundrum. I'm never quite comfortable with the iPhone 5s. If I don't put a case on it, I find it incredibly slippery and I drop it and have dropped it several times now (it just flies out of my hands). It feels good in the Apple leather case that I bought for it, but then I get ticked off at night when I go to put it on the charging dock I bought from Apple which doesn't work a case inserted. And that case is a pain in the butt to take off. Of course, the Apple employee I bought it from didn't warn me that the case wouldn't work with the dock when I bought both at the same time. You'd think a company like Apple would give more thought to how their OEM accessories worked together in harmony. Instead, it's like they worked hard to figure out how to make them infuriate me.
  4. Multitasking (aka switching between apps FAST). Even though it's improved on iOS 7 (at least you can close apps by swiping them away and not holding for two seconds on an app then x'ing it off), I find the whole switching between apps process to be incredibly slow. This is especially the case compared to BlackBerry 10, but just in general it's slow. iOS 7 has added a lot more gestures into the interface, but they really need to add some quicker ways to get around for power users. I get that the current system is simple and easy for people to learn. But it's just that, simple.
  5. AirDrop doesn't work with my Mac. WTF?! How the hell can AirDrop exist both on Mac and on iOS, have the same name, but the iOS versions don't talk to the Mac versions. And how the heck is the average user supposed to know that?
  6. It takes way too long to organize the homescreen (and why only 9 apps in a folder?!). I don't understand why Apple hasn't solved this problem yet. People install tons of apps on their iPhone, but then it gets soo messy - you just can't find things. So you organize into folders. But the process of doing this takes soo long. I dread it. I just install things. I finally bit the bullet while on a recent overseas flight and spent 3 hours getting all my apps moved around and into folders. There really should be some sort of desktop utility for this. And once I do it, it should remember it for ever and ever and ever.
  7. Notifications drop down. I find it really useless. Just as I praised iOS 7 above for getting more efficient, implementations like this make me think they don't have a great philosphy and are just throwing things at iOS 7 like a bandaid to make sure it feels current. It's quicker to just jump into apps than to swipe down and keep scrolling and tapping through all of the Today/notifications content. And not having a clear all in the All section is dumb. I have scroll and tap the X and scroll and tap the X again to clear out notifications for each app. Dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb.

I definitely think this is the best iPhone yet and for a lot of people it will be the best smartphone for them. It's simple enough to pick up learn how to use, and the iOS 7 eye candy makes it fun to use. Just don't take that to mean it's the best smartphone full stop. There is still a lot of room for improvement.

Rene Ritchie

Up until September the only phone my mom wanted was the free Samsung flip offered her by Rogers. Then she saw "Better Together", the Apple commercial that showed how iOS 7 and the iPhone 5c looked and worked as one. Her eyes lit up. It was Warhol. She wanted one immediately. She's been using the iPhone 5c for the last 3 months and loving it. Where previously she never - not ever - texted, now she sends iMessages replete with Emoji every day. Where previously she kept her phone off except for cases of emergency, now she uses it to read iBooks - synced with her iPad - and to find things out on the web, and to take and share photos of the miraculous things she's so adapt at finding in the world around her. In short, she loves it, and as she discovers new things she can do with it, she loves it more. In that regard, it gave Apple the new audience they wanted, but it gave my mom something more - the first phone she wanted, and a device that extended her connection not only to the internet, but to her family. 3 months later, and she's not only happy with the performance, durability, and capability of the iPhone 5c, she's enamored with it.

As for me, I've been enjoying the hell out of the iPhone 5s. The A7 processor is ridiculously over powered but as I play around in 64-bit djay2 or go full on OpenGL eS 3.0 with Infinity Blade 3, I have to stop and do a reality check and remind myself it's a phone I'm holding in my hands. The new camera manages to capture even more great shots in an even wider range of circumstances, and Slo-Mo especially has been a hit with family and friends. Touch ID, as I've said before, is identity rather than security, but is so good at what it does I want it on my house. I could easily imagine myself with a 4.3-4.7-inch iPhone next year. But for this year, everything else is so good, from hardware to software to apps, I'm still reaching for my 5s exponentially more than my Nexus 5 or Lumia 1020.

iOS 7 deserves separate mention though. It's still hauntingly beautiful in some places, totally unfinished in others, and bewildering in far too many. It improves the experience in a vast array of ways, but gums it up in some really frustrating ways. It was the shortest development cycle and the most radical design change in iOS history, too factors which do not play nicely together. There's so much good here, both in concept and execution, that I"m happy to extend Apple some grace in getting it finished, but they need to move faster. It's the end of 2013 as I write this and iOS 7.1 is only in its second beta. Maybe, like the OS itself, the way in which it's updated and released needs to evolve to better match the capabilities of the digitally native world as well?

Your 3-month later review?

As always, yours is the most important voice here. If you've been using an iPhone 5s or iPhone 5c, let us know how it's been working for you. Day in, day out, month after month, what have you loved, what have you liked, and what, if anything, has let you down?