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iPhone 5s, iPhone 5c, or neither: Which new iPhone should you buy?

Lex Friedman | Sept. 13, 2013
It all depends on your wants, needs and budget.

iphone 5c

Okay, let's all breathe: We're going to get through this together. Apple unveiled not one, but two brand-spanking new iPhones on Tuesday. You're now faced with the question that could lead to sleepless nights, recriminating self-doubt, and worse. But I'm going to help you get through it. I'm going to help you answer the day-old question: Should you buy a new iPhone 5s, iPhone 5c, or neither?

Quick review: iPhone 5c vs. iPhone 5s
To recap, the two new iPhones are the iPhone 5c and the iPhone 5s. The 5c comes in six bright colors, with a rigid, unibody, polycarbonate shell. Its innards are nearly identical to the iPhone 5's, though the iPhone 5c's battery is slightly larger, and the 5c supports more LTE bands.

The iPhone 5s looks similar to the original iPhone 5 with an aluminum body available in three colors. It employs a faster A7 processor with 64-bit support, a new M7 "motion coprocessor" chip, a significantly improved camera, and the Touch ID fingerprint sensor in the Home button. With that refresher in mind, here's my buying advice.

If you already have an iPhone 5
If you bought an iPhone 5 at some point within the last year, you do not need the iPhone 5c. You may well want the iPhone 5c; it's a cool-looking, colorful phone, it feels great in the hand, and it's almost assuredly more durable than the aluminum iPhone 5 you already own.

All that said: It really is pretty much exactly the same as your iPhone 5, just with a bright new look. The under-the-hood improvements aren't significant enough for you to cough up the required cash for an out-of-cycle upgrade. You have a great iPhone, and the iPhone 5c doesn't dramatically improve upon the device you already own.

Now, the iPhone 5s is a different story. As cool as it is, you don't need to get your hands—or fingertips—on that new Touch ID sensor; your passcode-based approach to unlocking your iPhone has worked just fine, and will continue to do so. But one class of iPhone 5 owner should at least consider upgrading to the iPhone 5s: hardcore gamers or other users who demand peak performance.

The App Store will contain games that run only on the iPhone 5s or newer (not-yet-released) iOS hardware. If you're the kind of person who loves to play the newest, best-of-breed games, you may well miss out on those titles—or at least their full feature-set and performance abilities—unless you upgrade to Apple's top-of-the-line phone.

You could make the argument that avid photographers should also upgrade to the iPhone 5s, which Apple claims has DSLR-level features and rivals the quality of most point-and-shoots. It's too early for us to verify those claims, but even if they bear out, the folks who will care the most about these improvements likely already carry dedicated cameras. It's inevitable that next year's top-of-the-line iPhone will sport an even better camera, so perhaps it'd be good to hold off for the time being.


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