When a new device comes out, it's only natural to compare it to its immediate predecessor: Does this thing do something new the last thing couldn't do? It's a measuring stick, a way to put the new device into context. And when we're talking iPhones, it's a perfectly standard practice.
But I think that comparing the iPhone 5c only to the model it replaces would be a mistake.
In part that's because the 5c so closely matches the specs and features of its predecessor, last year's iPhone 5. (Apple's other 2013-model phone, the iPhone 5s, received the more compelling feature upgrades.) But it's also because of how people buy smartphones in an era of two-year commitments to carriers. If you signed away 24 months of your life to the likes of AT&T, Verizon, or Sprint last fall for an iPhone 5, a color change and an improved front-facing camera probably aren't enough to get you to reevaluate things one spin around the sun later.
On the other hand, if you have an iPhone 4 or 4s—or God help you, a smartphone running an operating system other than iOS—the circumstances are very different. If that's your situation, you'll be intrigued by the promise of a full-featured phone with a more-than-reasonable price tag. And not coincidentally, you're exactly the type of person Apple has built the iPhone 5c for.
Color me impressed
Returning to the comfort of iPhone 5-versus-iPhone 5c comparisons for a moment, you can spot the most noticeable change in the newer model instantly: Apple has injected more than a bit of color into the iPhone's previously black-and-white world. You can opt for the 5c in blue, green, pink, yellow, or white.
Color is a personal preference, obviously. But I find the iPhone 5c's array of colors stylish—bright without being garish, distinctive without making the phone look like a toy. That's consistent with Apple's philosophy: Consider the rainbow's worth of iPod nanos that came out of Cupertino over the years, extending the appeal of Apple's money-making music player. And in an especially Apple-esque touch, the iPhone 5c's lock screen and wallpaper, by default, match the color of the phone's exterior. You can change that if you're the sort of person who dislikes pretty things, but I'm a fan—especially of the wallpaper option that adds dynamic movement to the colors in the background.
The 5c has a new feel to go with its new look: This model replaces the metal-and-glass materials of other iPhones with a hard-coated polycarbonate shell. That's a fancy way of saying "plastic," but it doesn't mean you're getting some flimsy phone that will fall apart at the first touch. The iPhone 5c feels durable and sturdy; that may be because steel reinforcement underlies the colorful surface. I certainly find the 5c easier to grip than older models, including my ridged iPhone 4. (And that's a good thing: As the cracks in my aging iPhone 4's screen will attest, gripping an iPhone is not among my core competencies.)
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