Like the iPhone 5S, there was very little about the 5C that hadn’t been leaked before it was announced. Except one vital detail: the price.
When images surfaced online of brightly-coloured plastic iPhones, everyone assumed Apple was preparing a budget smartphone to rival the Google Nexus 4. But it turns out it wasn’t.
Instead, it was working on rebadging the iPhone 5, so it could convert a whole new legion of fans.
How successfully did the landgrab pan out, though? Read on for the skinny.
First impressions and design
If you’ve got the iPhone 5, you know pretty much what to expect from the 5C, bar a couple of minor differences.
But it looks a different beast altogether, strutting its stuff in its five colours (yellow, blue, green, pink or white).
The colours are more muted and pastel-like than the garish hues of Nokia’s Lumia range, but it’s quite a departure for Apple nevertheless.
The new look will divide opinion. Some will argue it looks cheap, but get it in your hands and you’ll see this is a world away from the budget end of the scale.
The plastic is smooth and polished. The handset is slightly fatter than the 5S, but feels more solid. After using the 5C, the 5S feels a little delicate, as it’s so thin it feels like you could snap it in two.
The colours match iOS 7 as well. Fire up the phone, and you’ll see the OS’s background is the same colour as your handset (blue, in our case).
iOS 7 has been around a while now, so we won’t spend too much time on it. But it has some cool new tricks. For example, you can swipe up to access the control centre, which lets you toggle Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Airplane mode, and a few more features.
Suffice to say, if you haven’t used iOS 7 yet, it’s much more colourful, with some new icons, and a new design language. It might take a bit of getting used to, but once you do it’s a welcome makeover for the iPhone.
The 5C has the same 4-inch screen as the iPhone 5 and 5S. As we mentioned in our 5S review, this is starting to look a little small for a high-end handset, though you can’t argue with the quality.
Colour reproduction is excellent – which is more important than ever on this model, with the background matching the casing – and images are sharp and clear.
Rumours abound Apple is testing a 5-inch screen for the next iPhone, but it’ll be a while before anything’s official.
So what are these tweaks that the 5C has over the iPhone 5?
The camera is a little better than the 5’s, for one thing.
It doesn’t have the 5S’s larger sensor that lets in more pixels for better low light performance, or the 5S’s burst mode.
But like the 5S, it does have filters you can apply while you’re shooting.
There are eight to choose from, including mono, noir, fade, chrome, transfer and instant.
They don’t completely do away with the need to edit your shots afterwards, but they’re a fun addition, and they might see Instagram lose a few customers.
Apart from that, it’s the same 8-megapixel snapper as found on the iPhone 5.
The front-facer has been improved, too, and now works better in low light, giving slightly more natural skin tones.
Apple also claims you’ll get another couple of hours battery life out of the 5C over the 5, with a quoted 10 hours talk time on 3G. And like the 5S, we found we’d get a full day out of it at fairly intensive use, but not much more.
iOS 7 has split opinion. But we're very much in the 'pro' camp. Sure, it's been beset by the odd glitch. But it's still easier to use and more intuitive than any number of fussily, custom-skinned Android kits.
Games and films run like a dream on the 5C, with no slowdown at all. And switching between apps is a doddle.
So, should you upgrade? If you own the iPhone 5 – and it’s not on its last legs – probably not. But then Apple isn’t focussing on iPhone 5 owners, it’s going for people who have never owned an iPhone, but who don’t want to splash out on a 5S.
Of course Apple has offered older models of iPhone on the cheap for a while now, but it’s never really been able to market them. Whereas with the 5C, it can throw up colourful billboards proclaiming it as something new. Which, for the most part, it isn’t.
The 5C costs £469 SIM-free, which is a lot to pay. Or you can get it free on contracts costing £32 a month, or pay £49 upfront and then £27 a month.
3 – who we got our handset from – offers the 16GB version starting at £37 a month, and you’ll have to pay £49 upfront. 3 won’t charge any extra for 4G access when it launches its network in December though, which is worth factoring in come decision time.
Whichever way you look at it, the 5C isn’t cheap. It’s undoubtedly one of the best handsets at that price, but the Google Nexus 5 undercuts it by a whopping £169.
We haven’t given the Nexus 5 the full review treatment yet, but it’s sure to be a worthy rival if you’re not set on iOS.
And if you are, there’s another cheaper alternative. The 8GB iPhone 4S is just £349 unlocked. Which is still more than the Nexus 5, but a lot more affordable for those with their hearts set on owning an Apple handset.
So, the 5C isn’t quite as cheap as we would’ve hoped, and in Hollywood terms, it’s more of a reboot than a proper sequel. But there’s still a lot to like.