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printed October 1, 2014
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Review: Apple iPhone 5c

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Media

The iTunes Store has been completely redesigned in iOS 7, and it’s one of the apps that truly benefits from the new look. Browsing through the store is pleasant, as is searching, and iTunes offers more content than just about every other platform out there. iTunes remains the most powerful and attractive on-device content store available on a smartphone.

 

iTunes

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Additionally, the music player has been revamped so that it looks and behaves more like the iTunes Store. The two apps complement one another well. The music player also adds iTunes Radio, a free streaming service that lets you listen to curated radio stations or build your own. iTunes Radio draws from Apple's extensive online library and I found the selection of tunes to be quite good. Quality of the music files streamed over the network isn't as good as locally-stored music, nor is it as good as what Pandora offers, at least to my well-practiced ears.

 

Music

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The video player was glossed over by Apple in iOS 7, but it doesn't behave any differently than before.

There are no third-party content apps preinstalled on the iPhone 5c.

Camera

The camera is another app that's been completely redesigned. It makes some modest usability improvements and adds new features at the same time.

For starters, there is no dedicated camera button, so the camera must be launched from the lock screen shortcut, the Control Center, or the app icon. It launches very quickly on the 5c. There's a basic viewfinder that lets you compose your image. There are tools placed along the left edge that allow you to switch to the user-facing camera, turn HDR on/off, and adjust the flash. The tools on the right edge include the shutter button, photo gallery shortcut, and filters, which can be applied before you take the shot.

The camera can shoot in several different modes, including square (think Instagram), regular (4:3 ratio), burst (press-and-hold shutter button to take continuous shots), panorama, and video. The 5c loses the 5s's ability to shoot slow-motion video. The camera defaults to the regular mode when first opened, and the default cannot be changed. In order to access the other modes, you swipe the entire camera interface left or right. It makes sense, but it takes two swipes to get to the panorama tool. Aside from the clunky double-swiping gestures, everything else about the camera app is very, very fast.

The camera does not offer some of the advanced functions that are on smartphones such as the Nokia Lumia 1020 or the LG G2, but that's the way Apple wants it. It puts simplicity over complexity, and manages the behind-the-scenes controls quite well on its own. It's one of the easiest smartphone cameras to use.

The burst mode often works on accident. If you quickly press the on-screen shutter button, the 5c takes one shot. It you press-and-hold, it will take a handful of shots before you have a chance to blink. The same thing happens if you press the volume button. The HDR mode is simpler than ever to use because there's a simple toggle that's available in the viewfinder. You no longer have to access drop-down menu to turn it on or off.

 

Camera

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Photos

The iPhone 5c has an 8-megapixel sensor that differs a bit from that of the 5s. It has the same 5-element lens, but the pixels on the 5c's sensor are a bit smaller and it has a higher f-stop (f/2.4 versus the 5s's f/2.2). That doesn't mean the 5c's camera in radically inferior. It’s a blend of the camera technology on the 5 and 5s, both good cameras.

If you look at the sample images below, you'll see sharp focus in most cases, bright colors, and accurate exposure. The 5c does a really good job of processing images without any additional input from the user, who is free to just shoot pictures with the assurance that they'll probably turn out well. I was particularly impressed with the blue sky and flowers in the samples below.

The 5c and 5s do share the exact same front camera. According to Apple, the front camera is at rated 1.3 megapixels and able to shoot 720p HD video. It's not as good as the rear-camera, that's for sure. The images have far more grain, though they suffice for FaceTime chats. You can use the front camera for selfies, but the quality doesn't come close to those taken with the rear camera. I can't spot any noticeable improvement when compared to the iPhone 5.

The burst shot mode is best use when shooting an action scene where exact timing is difficult to achieve on your own. In that regard, the 5c does well. It is, however, a bit slower at firing off shots than the 5s is. The 5s can capture more pictures in a shorter amount of time. The panorama tool works just the same as that on the iPhone 5, and the results are really good. The iPhone's camera produces some of the best panoramas out there.

Just as with the iPhone 5s, the camera on the 5c easily matches that of the Galaxy S4 and HTC One, and bests the LG G2. The Lumia 1020 is a different animal thanks to its PureView technology, but the 5c holds its own against Nokia's imaging beast.

 

Photos

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Video

The 5c records 1080p HD video at 30 frames per second when shooting in normal mode. The results looked great. I was particularly impressed with the accuracy of the focus, white balance, and exposure. The HD results looked excellent on my large monitor and HDTV. The iPhone doesn't do quite as well is low-light situations, but you can turn on the video light to help if necessary.



Gallery

The gallery application is much, much better in iOS 7 than it was in iOS 6. The gallery app now organizes pictures into Years, Collections, and Moments based on time and location together. Years are what they are, Collections are larger events in a general location (Your State), and Moments are more specific events in a more specific location (Your Town). The way they are presented visually in the gallery app is really nice, and it makes sense when you drill down into each segment. Alternately, photos are also arranged into albums, and photo streams. Albums can be created and edited on the iPhone 5c, but the process is still fairly awkward.

As far as editing and sharing are concerned, the 5c does OK. Sharing is simple from the gallery to Facebook, Twitter, and email/MMS. Anything beyond that requires a third-party app. Editing features are limited to crop, rotate, red-eye reduction and applying filters for various effects. If you want hardcore editing functions (including white balance and exposure control,) you'll have to switch over to Apple's iPhoto app, which is a separate download.

 

Gallery

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AirDrop

This is Apple's proprietary sharing function. You have to turn it on, and it requires both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth to function. It's a bit like Android Beam in that it lets you send files (pictures, documents, contact details, etc.) to another iOS device. Content that can be shared via AirDrop lets you know when you press the universal "share" button. If you select AirDrop, you'll see all the other AIrDrop devices that are nearby and it is simply a matter of picking one device and sending the file over. There's no pairing, no connecting, it just sends. The person on the receiving end will get a pop-up notice alerting them to the incoming file. They simply accept and voila, the file transfers over.

Browser

Safari in iOS 7 is the best version yet, hands down. It received the same visual overhaul that the rest of the operating system got, as well as a handful of new tools.

There's less navigational junk in the way of web pages, which can now fill the entire screen. The address bar is smarter than before. For example, it can handle searches. Previously, you had to use a separate search field in the browser to perform a search, now it can be done directly from the address bar. The back/forward, share, and tab tools are all located at the bottom of the screen. There are a bit minimalistic, but they work well. I particularly like the tab function, which shows open web pages in a 3D vertical carousel complete with previews.

In terms of speed, Safari is faster than ever. The browser combined with LTE means web pages load incredibly fast.

 

Browser

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Bluetooth

The iPhone 5c has Bluetooth 4.0 low energy on board. I had no problem pairing it with a number of different devices, including other iOS devices, Macs, and headphones. Speaking of which, phone calls passed to both headsets and my car's hands-free system were OK, but not great. The volume was acceptable, but quality was a bit low in my opinion. Music sent to stereo Bluetooth headphones, on the other hand, sounded amazing.

Clock

A large digital clock appears on the iOS 7 lock screen when you press either the home button or lock screen button. It is white and cannot be customized. I wish the font were thicker, as it slims down a bit compared to the clock from iOS 6. As always, you have to choose your wallpaper carefully. The clock is almost impossible to see on top of light-colored wallpapers.

GPS

The iPhone 5c ships with an improved version of Apple Maps. Apple Maps is better than last year's disastrous debut, no doubt, but it still isn't as good as Google Maps or Nokia HERE Maps. Apple Maps is fine for plotting directions between two points, and getting you there with voice-guided assistance. Its biggest weakness is handling real-time data. For example, it's not so good at displaying live traffic problem areas, nor is it good at anticipating problems and avoiding them. That said, it is still a neat bit of software, and the 3D flyovers are as cool as ever. The GPS radio in the 5c functions perfectly. It located me within 5 seconds and to within 10 feet consistently. That's as fast and accurate as it gets.

 

Maps

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Siri

Siri in iOS 7 has been vastly improved, and the performance on the iPhone 5c was just as good as the iPhone 5, but slightly slower than the 5s. Siri has a slightly different user interface than before, and the voice has been changed to make it sound a bit more realistic. Siri's odd personality remains intact, and it is able to handle more tasks. You can ask Siri to play music, send messages, read emails, find directions, search the web and so on. Siri isn't quite as quick as Google Now on Android devices, but it's very close.

 

Siri

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