iPhone 5s vs. iPhone 5c vs. iPhone 4s: Which iPhone should you get?

2014 iPhone buyers guide: How to choose the perfect high-end iPhone 5s, less-expensive iPhone 5c, or zero-dollar iPhone 4s for you!

Once you know you're getting an iPhone and now, you need to decide which iPhone you want to get. While some might consider the the latest, greatest iPhone 5s a no brainer when it comes to their next purchasing decision, others might think the funner, less expensive iPhone 5c, or even the hold-over iPhone 4s is a much better value. If you're on-contract, you'll be paying a couple thousand dollars over the next couple of years anyway, so a few hundred for up-front may not matter to you. However, if you don't have that couple extra thousand up front, especially if you're going off-contract, up-front cost really will matter. It's important to really run the math on this and see what suits you best. So, premium, popular, or passé, which one should you get?

Products and price points

Apple's 2013 iPhone lineup consists of 3 different models, the iPhone 5s, iPhone 5c, and iPhone 4s. Here are the models and price points, both on and off contract.

  • $0/$450 - iPhone 4s 8GB
  • $99/$549 - iPhone 5c 16GB
  • $199/$649 - iPhone 5c 32GB
  • $199/$649 - iPhone 5s 16GB
  • $299/$749 - iPhone 5s 32GB
  • $399/$849 - iPhone 5s 64GB

Yes, the 32GB iPhone 5c is the same price as the 16GB iPhone 5s. One has more storage, the other higher specs. Price, it turns out, isn't the only factor!

Up-front vs. total cost of ownership

Up-front vs. total cost of ownership

While the cheapest iPhone 4s is $0 on contract and the most expensive 64Gb iPhone 5s is $399, to get that subsidized price requires a 2-year contract in the U.S. Over the course of two years, when you add the price of the voice plan, data plan, and extras like voicemail, messaging, etc. you can easily end up paying over $2000, even for the "free" phone.

The up front difference between $0 and $399 is huge, especially if you have rent to pay or a family to feed. The total cost difference between $2000 and $2399 isn't nearly as big, relatively speaking, so if you have the extra money to spend, the value of the higher end option can outweigh the cost.

Finite vs. future-proof

Finite vs. future-proof

Apple is pretty good about supporting older devices. The 2010 iPhone 4 - currently only available in China - is getting the 2013 iOS 7, after all. However, compatibility comes with compromise. Older generation iPhones have older generation hardware. They have smaller screens, less memory, and slower processors. That means they don't get all the features, not even all of the interface eye candy.

So, while the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4s might be getting iOS 7 this year, and be able to run iOS 7 apps, the odds of them getting iOS 8 and iOS 9 next year and the year are negligible. If you're stuck on a two year contract, that can suck. The frustration level alone can easily overwhelm $100 or even $200 in savings. Trying to sell them doesn't return a lot of value either.

Alternatively, the iPhone 5c and especially the monstrously powerful iPhone 5s likely have many years of useful life ahead of them, well beyond the life of a contract. And, of course, they enjoy much higher resale value.

Who should get an iPhone 4s?

Who should get an iPhone 4s?

The iPhone 4s has a decent camera and comes loaded with Siri, Apple's personal digital assistant. Other than that, however, it has a small 3.5-inch screen and two year old technology. I maxes out at 3G HSPA networking, and has a pathetic 8GB of internal storage.

If there's any way for you to save up even $99, do it and get a better model. Otherwise, if you have absolutely no money beyond the monthly contract cost, yet really want an iPhone, get an iPhone 4S.

Who should get an iPhone 5c?

Who should get an iPhone 5c?

The iPhone 5c is based on last year's iPhone 5. It's slightly less expensive, and is aimed at people for whom price is slightly more important. Mainly, however, it's meant to be a lot more fun. It's got colorful shells made of durable plastic, and otherwise all the great tech and still good specs of last year's flagship. That means a taller 4-inch screen and LTE networking.

If you want a great iPhone at a slightly better price, and the new palette and feel holds a lot of appeal to you, save a few bucks, have some more fun, and get the iPhone 5c.

Who should get an iPhone 5s?

Who should get an iPhone 5s?

The iPhone 5s is the new, high-end, flagship iPhone. The gold standard. Literally. With it you get truly next-generation technology like the Touch ID fingerprint scanner, the much-improved camera, and the amazing Apple A7 chipset. It will cost you more up-front, but it will last you longer, and it will give you access to the future sooner.

If you're an early adopter, if you appreciate premium products, if photography is important to you, if you want the best of the best, get the iPhone 5s.

Still undecided?

If you're still not sure about which to get between the iPhone 5s, iPhone 5c, or iPhone 4s, jump into our iPhone discussion forums and the best community in mobile will happily help you out.

Bottom line, don't spend money you don't have, but don't skimp if you don't have to. Your iPhone will be one of the most often-used, most important possessions in your life. Get as much iPhone as you can reasonably afford, and then enjoy!

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • Under the products and price point iPhone 5s for 16 and 32 Gb have the same off contract price point. Is the wrong or is that true?
  • I think you miss read it.. thats 32 GB 5C is $199, while 16 GB 5S is also $199 - you can get more space with a 5C for the same price of a more advanced 5S
  • I meant the off contract prices
  • i came here for the answer to one single question and this article answered all but mine : why should i get an iphone 5c when i can get an iphone 5 for the same price? what are the differences between the two hardware, specs wise i mean? thanks
  • iPhone 5 has been discontinued. It's been replaced by the iPhone 5c which has the same specs, plastic casing, and better FaceTime camera, for $100 less, and the iPhone 5s, which has better specs, fingerprint reader for the same price.
  • thank you for the reply Rene but it doesn't quite answer my question. i will clarify :
    i always by the last generation iPhone because it justify the price for a secondary phone for me.
    there are my two options : iPhone 5 or 5c : the 5 is the same price as the 5c with fido (not 100 dollars more like you said) it has the same specs except for the collored cassings, i would still go white so that doesnt affect me really.
    also, for the Facetime camera from 5 to 5c, its not mentioned anywhere that it is better on the 5c compared to the 5..are you sure?
    nonetheless, i also never use facetime, i meanly use cross-platform services as all the people i know use different operating systems. knowing that, would you suggest a 5 or a 5c for me?
  • Didn't you read the reply. Iphone 5 is discontinued( mean not available or simply put you CAN'T get it anymore. The line up will only be iPhone 4S , iphone 5C , and iphone 5S only.
  • Fido sells the 16GB 5 for $200 with a Max plan and Tab24. The 5c should be $100. The FaceTime camera is indeed better on the 5c, with larger pixels and improved backside illumination. Only you can decide what's best for you.
  • The FaceTime camera was improved with a BSI (backside illuminated sensor). iPhone 5 has been discontinued. Fido may still have some on the shelves until they run out or return stock on the 20th, but that's neither here nor there. White aluminum vs. white plastic is what it comes down to then. Which material do you prefer?
  • thanks a lot, i will go for the 5
    has i still can . for the people who didnt read my comments and replied : yes, here in canada, i still can get the 5.
  • Personally, I would still buy the all-metal, sexy iPhone 5 over the plastic 5c any day. The internals are essentially the same. The 5c is priced essentially as a one-year old model, which based on the specs, it technically is. Hopefully the 5 will cost you only $99US (or whatever the Canadian equivalent is).
  • FYI, I just pre-ordered the 5c for my Mom and noticed that in the ATT site they are in fact still selling the iPhone5 for $99 with the new contract. I guesses this will be until they run out of whats left of them.
  • Hey Rene, has there been mention on rather the Verizon Iphone 5s will be able to do voice and data simultaneously?
  • Never, the network does not support this
  • You could buy a used iPhone 5, but then you'd be dealing with a phone that -- amongst other things -- has an unknown past, has less battery capacity (especially considering a used iPhone 5 has presumably run through dozens to hundreds of charging cycles), and does not include a warranty of at least one year.
  • i can still get a brand new 5. you are saying the 5 has less battery capacity than the 5c?
  • As per Apple, the 5c is rated for more battery life than the 5. And sure, you can still get the 5 from carriers while supplies last, but Apple itself has discontinued sales.
  • thanks
  • BerryWizard you are being a dickhead. As a Canadian I am embarrassed, and of course like a Canadian I have apologise to everyone here for this guy. Sorry!
  • Are you for real ? lmao, yes, im a dickhead , now what?
  • Under the 5c category you state it has a 5" display I think you meant 4"
  • What a ridiculous article. The 5c is "meant to be a lot more fun"!?!? If "more fun" describes the BACK of the phone then why the heck do you even have a phone? Just buy a colored piece of plastic to stare at. To honest people (who aren't trying so hard to justify Apple's decisions) then "More Fun" describes the capabilities of the phone. And the 5s is clearly the one that is "more fun" because in every way it is a more capable phone. Funner pictures. Funner games. Funner dictionary. But if you really need your "fun" to be outside of the phone, then go buy a 5c and in 2years you can upgrade to a new color of fun.
  • It's product marketing. It's the way people think and feel about what they buy and use. It's been done in cars for years. Smartphones have matured. Apple can do it with iPhones now.
  • Whose product marketing? Imore's? Apple isn't pushing the 5C as "meant to be more fun." Sorry Rene, but these buyers guides are a bit premature (not to mention condescending) until you've actually used the devices. Imore has no greater insight on these devices than any of us that are considering them at this point. Like us, you watched the event online through someone else that was there.
  • And plastic is certainly less fun.
  • No offense but all I've seen from imore after the event are buying guides. What color to pick. What storage to pick. So yep, it's ridiculous. Between the 100 parts of imagining things with no real insight, no inside info this time, and this talk mobile nonsense, imore is going a bit downhill. As are the forums with all the ambassadors. It's a mess. Perhaps it's time to look elsewhere. Ben Thompson has been nailing things in his blog. You guys should get him over here more often or hire him.
  • Yeah, check CrackBerry, welcome to the flow experience!
  • $199/$649 - iPhone 5s 16GB
    $299/$649 - iPhone 5s 32GB This can't be right. Please fix it
  • Speaking of typos:
    "Yes, the 32GB iPhone 5c is the same price as the 16GB iPhone 5c" makes no sense either.
  • So glad I have my 5 and it's still in mint condition! No real reason to upgrade till the 6...or 7 :)
  • Camera Aperture Size = 2.2 (i5) | 2.3 (Z1)
    Battery = 1400 mAh Li-Po (i5) | 3000 mAh (z1)
    Screen Size w/ Pixel Density = 640x1136 4" screen 326 ppi (i5) | 1080x1920 Full HD 5.0" 441 ppi (Z1)
    Camera Sensor = 8MP (i5) | 20MP with hardware processed optical zoom (Z1)
    What is iPhone 5S? As in iPhone 5 Same?:) Sent from the iMore App
  • My contract is up, and I am due a new phone. I am really happy with my 4S, and iOS 7 should work great, but the 5S is very intriguing. Sent from the iMore App
  • Rene you are really though with the old 4S, it's a really good phone and iOs 7 is really smooth... Except the 8Gb, a lot of people will love this phone !
  • Still clutching the all-glass beauty that is my 4S. Smaller screen for sure, but I just can't bring myself to move away from the glass back to something made of aluminum or plastic. Nearly two years and not a single scratch or blemish. And never once been in a case.
  • So, if you want good build *and* inexpensive, go for the iPhone 5 while they're available. I'm wondering if the 5 will get a heavy discount soon.
  • Already have a 32GB 4S and I'm trading it in for a green 5C. Not really sold on the finger print reader and it appears that the 64bit A7 is more marketing than brawn, given that the 5S won't have 4GB of ram. I'll save the $100 and get the 5C. Otterbox already has a Defender rugged case for it. Ballistic eventually will too. The iMore Store needs to start stocking 5C cases soon!!
  • Can someone imagine that I am a 7 y/o kid and explain to me exactly how am I supposed to have fun with a phone because it comes in colors? Is "marketing dictates that colors are funny, therefore you should just shut your mouth and have lots of fun with your phone because it is colored" the answer? I don't mean to be a troll but all this "colors are fun" mumbo jumbo doesn't make any sense to me. Sent from the iMore App
  • Its a classic naked king situation, but hey, people have to cook up something to justify Apple's decision to price the 5c so high.
  • I think colors ARE fun... They can add a little STYLE and PIZAZZ to your life... NOT worth buying last years specs though -- lol...
  • Why would i buy the iphone5crap im getting 5s
  • Apple should sell the iPhone 5 along side these for $49.99. I understand keeping the 4S for those who want a free phone and or a smaller screen, but they should keep the 5 alive.
  • That would require Apple to keep on making the 5. Why do that when they can make a cheaper-to-manufacture 5C that is fresher and caters to the more price conscious consumer.
  • You keep listing an iPhone 4S with 8GB as an option, but Apple never made the 4S in that size. Does this mean Apple will start making 8GB iPhone 4S just for this sale?
  • They have the 8gb made just never put it out on sale till now. Just like how they did with the 4's
  • I can't imagine having only 8GB! I have 32 on my iPhone 4S and on my iPad, and I'm always managing my remaining space!
  • I staggered contracts for my wife and I. She doesn't care about new phones so I get a new one! Yay!
  • Kind of funny to read about the iPhone 5 camera as being deficient while hearing the praises of the 5S as if it has some glowing new tech that makes it "The next big thing", because it doesn't. It's a nice spec bump, but the fingerprint reader isn't revolutionary, though it is a nice feature for those of us with a bazillion passwords. And the video changes in the camera - will get tried out up to a few times by some people, and used by very few very much, kind of like all the different gazillion ways you can process a pic on a Samsung, but don't after the first week or so. Certainly if I were getting a new phone, the 5S would be a no-brainer; but it's iOS 7 that is the real star of the lineup here. While it's not perfect yet ( one app I know of that won't open in the most recent beta, but very few bugs that I have seen). What is amazing is hat it runs on a 4! Try that kind of a generation OS upgrade on an Android other than a Nexus! So I think people can be confident that any Apple phone they can buy will be good, as long as it has enough memory. "just say No" to 8 GB! (Which is what I got my 12 yr old, and it is maxed out with hardly anything on it). And don't sweat the camera, unless you're a skateboarder or similar.
  • are colors fun? i dont know, but regardless, people want color options, some use cases, & some pay a fortune to get the phone color treated a bolder way, through replacement glass panels on the ip4/s or recoloring the metal on the ip5. im still happy w/ my ip5 in slate/black, & will stick w/ it till the ip6. for anyone else, if you can get the ip5 now for under $100, & prefer the metal look to plastic, id say grab it quick. i'm running ios7 on my ip5 now, & it works awesome.
  • Why no 804.11 ac?
  • The 5S camera is is much better compared to the 4S when in low light, without a flash. As the iPhone 5S camera is now out, with its larger pixels for much improved low light performance, I wanted to share my first day experience with the 5S camera vs my trusty 4S camera. Photo taken in room only illuminated by bedside light off behind and to the left. The 5S has far superior low light performance compared to the 4S. In fact the 5S image is brighter than I was able to perceive with my human eyes... but then the photos were taken in HDR mode, no flash, using the iPhone camera app (4S the iOS 6 app, 5S the iOS 7 app). So there is a chance the software also affected the image quality - I've not upgraded my 4S to iOS 7.0.2 yet. Image link removed since iMore doesn't allow me to post with a URL to the photo example (really iMore?)
  • The pricing question is a bit of an issue in the US.
    Yes, on contract you pay a lot more for the subsidized phone than you think at the start. BUT, in the US the choice of plans is highly limited. If you buy an unlocked phone.. you still need to get service for it, right? AT&T only offers one tier of plans.. you don't get a cheaper plan for the same data/voice/messaging because you paid for a full price phone. I asked... AT&T said so.
    So if you plan on using AT&T then you might as well have them sell you the phone at a discount to recoup some of their crazy expensive plan pricing that has you not getting a functional iPhone for less than $50/mo. Verizon may be similar, plus the ongoing issue of the 'the phone only works on the carrier' issues, despite the agreement with the FCC to produce unlocked phones for access to the LTE spectrum. If you buy a full price Verizon iPhone 5S, you may be able to use out of country SIMs in it, but it appears that maybe you cannot use it in the US on other carriers that use SIM cards (like AT&T or T-Mobile). T-Mobil offers prepaid plans, that they let you use on your own iPhone (AT&T doesn't, not sure about Verizon) so there is a reason to buy your phone outright and use the properly priced places there at $30 /mo for voice/data/message. An outright purchase does give you the freedom to change carriers at will, but given that the CDMA based carriers (Sprint, Verizon) may hand you a phone that cannot be moved to other domestic carriers, is that really freedom? Until the FCC pounds on the carriers with a big hammer to enforce the agreement that phones in the LTE spectrum need to be completely unlocked so one can use any phone on any carrier's network, the US market is still a backwards mess.
  • Just shut up you 3 idiots (iPhone 5S Gray, Silver & Gold), i'm not impressed at all, just a bland and marketing tricks to fool people into, and i'm a iPhone 4S user. Now i'm patiently waiting for the Nexus 5.
  • I think that the article is very informative and in the end the buyer makes the final decision. I recently upgraded from the 4s to the 5s and did so reluctantly but I have no regrets. For me the 5s gives me breathing room to go at least 2 more iPhone releases without having to upgrade. I can remember how I was so attached to my 3GS (still my favorite iPhone of all time ) with the advancements made in the all models onwards it's really hard to make a wrong decision. As an Apple user I will be the first to admit that we are spoiled. When comparing the iPhone 4S (not the 8gb) to other phones on the market both iPhone and non iPhones alike it still can hold its own however because there is a new iPhone out now all of a sudden a perfectly good iphone is "dated". A good (i)phone is a good (i)phone as long as it does what you need it to do and it works for you.