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printed December 21, 2014
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Review: Apple iPhone 5c

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Screen

As with the 5s, Apple carried over the same 4-inch, 1136 x 640 pixel screen from last year's iPhone 5, for the 5c. There's absolutely nothing wrong with the LCD panel itself. It is incredibly bright, razor sharp, and shows accurate color. The Retina Display's pixels are packed so tightly that picking out individual pixels is near impossible. The auto-brightness feature works very well when transitioning from bright environments (such as outdoors) to dark environments (indoors). Everything about the screen is exceptional, apart from the size.

Apple has resisted pressure to increase the size of the iPhone's display. According to Apple CEO Tim Cook, the company doesn't want to sacrifice one-handed operation of the phone. That's a valid point. Some phones, such as the Galaxy Note line from Samsung, have screens that are so large the device becomes awkward to operate. Most of today's leading Android devices have 5-inch screens and full 1080p resolution. However, not only is the iPhone's screen among the smallest of most modern smartphones, it also has the fewest pixels. For example, the iPhone has about 727,000 pixels, while a 720p HD screen (such as on the Moto X) has about 922,000 and a 1080p HD screen (such as the Galaxy S4) has 2.1 million pixels.

The size of the iPhone 5c display won't appeal to everyone, despite how good the quality actually is.

Signal

We tested an unlocked version of the iPhone 5c on AT&T's network around the metro NYC area. The iPhone 5c performed on par with other AT&T devices tested in this region of the country. The iPhone remained connected to AT&T's network throughout our review period. It always showed an HSPA+ or LTE connection, depending on what was available. It never dropped to EDGE, even in areas that have poor AT&T coverage. More to the point, the iPhone connected every call I dialed on the first attempt and it never dropped or missed any calls. Further, data speeds were solid across the board, and appreciably quick in areas with good LTE coverage. In short, it performed identically to the iPhone 5s on AT&T's network, as well it should.

Sound

The 5c is also on par with the 5s when it comes to call quality. The earpiece produces sharp tones and I noticed plenty of interference during calls. Volume of calls was acceptable, but far from great. I was able to hear calls easily in my own home with the volume set to about 50%. I had to raise it up all the way to hear calls in moderately noisy spaces, such as city streets or coffee shops. Crowded restaurants and screaming kids drowned the 5c out entirely. As with the 5s, the 5c's speakerphone produces excellent volume. In fact, it is quite loud when set all the way up, and can be used in cars, in offices, and in your home when you're in the same room with the phone. Quality over the speakerphone isn't that great, though. The interference issues are amplified in a decidedly unpleasant way. Ringer volume is heavily dependent on which ringtone you choose. For example, the "Classic Phone" is loud enough to make your ears bleed. But some of the new ringtones in iOS 7 - while really lovely - are much harder to hear in even moderately quiet environments. The vibrate alert is strong enough to get your attention when the phone is in your pocket.

Battery

Apple doesn't specify the exact capacity of either of the iPhones' batteries, but it does say the 5s and 5c offer the same battery life. Based on my experience, this is true. After testing the 5c for several days, I can confidently report that it will get most people through most of a day with moderate use. That means the 5c will run from 7AM until about 7 or 9PM without much trouble. If you don't use it much, it might still have some juice left at bedtime. If you use it a lot, you can expect to be in trouble as soon as 5 or 6PM. I tested the 5c in areas with a mix of HSPA+ and LTE, and had the screen brightness set to 50% throughout my testing. I left both the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios on, as well as GPS, and used the device heavily to check email, Facebook, RSS, and Twitter throughout the day. I also played some games, watched some video content, and listened to music. As with all iPhones, you're going to need to learn to manage its power useage. Apple doesn't offer any special battery-life-management features, so you're on your own to figure it out.

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