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iPhone 5s and 5c earn high scores in Consumer Reports' Ratings

But so-so battery life and smallish screens are no match for Motorola Droids and other phones

Published: October 15, 2013 11:14 AM
Photo: Apple

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The iPhone 5s tops the already great iPhone 5 with a surprisingly reliable fingerprint reader, a faster processor, and better-than-ever camera. And the affordable iPhone 5c is a compelling offering for budget-minded buyers. Consumer Reports testers found both phones delivered better performances than the iPhones they succeed—they even have longer talk times (a tad less than 7 hours). Both phones benefit from the latest operating system upgrade (iOS 7), available to existing iPhone models, which gives the Siri voice-activated assistant access to more apps than before, and allows you to access a new Control Center with a swipe up from the bottom of the screen.

Yet, battery life was still notably shorter than on other phones in our tests, including three of the latest Droids from Motorola, which ran for as long as 24 hours. Also, their small screens, while sharp and bright, can't beat the larger, sharper displays that adorn flagship models from Samsung, LG, and HTC.

iPhone 5s

One of the most compelling new features on the iPhone 5s ($200 to $400 on many carriers) is the Touch ID fingerprint reader that's built into the Home button. It lets you safely and quickly unlock the phone’s screen or authorize an iTunes purchase with just a light press of your finger. We found it worked well and was a heck of lot easier than typing a PIN or password. The phone’s 8-megapixel camera, one of the few in our tests capable of taking excellent-quality pictures, has a digital image stabilizer that we confirmed will improve your chances of taking hand-held photos under low-light conditions. The iPhone 5s also has an ultra-fast 64-bit processor—the first we’ve seen on a phone—though only a handful of apps and games are optimized for it. Price with a two-year commitment: $200, 32GB; $300, 32GB; $400, 64GB.

iPhone 5c

There’s not as much to say about the affordable iPhone 5c ($100 to $200 on many carriers), except that its capabilities are more closely aligned with the iPhone 5, and it's a half-ounce heaver and about 15 percent thicker. But no doubt many people will love that its plastic case comes in a variety of eye-catching colors. Price with a two-year commitment: $100, 16GB; $200, 32GB.

Find the right smart phone for you with our cell phone buying guide and Ratings.

The Motorola Droid Maxx, Ultra, and Mini

Other Ratings additions include three new Motorola Droids, Verizon's exclusive brand: the Maxx, the Ultra, and the Mini.

The Droid Maxx ($300), which has a 5-inch high-definition (720p) display, is a marathon performer, thanks in part to its 3,500mAH battery—one of the largest-capacity batteries, according to spec, ever squeezed into a smart phone. That enabled the Droid Maxx to deliver more than 24 hours of talk time on a single charge in one of our tests.

The Motorola Droid Ultra ($200) is the Maxx's slimmer twin, squeezing many of the same features into an  ultra-thin case, about 0.3 inches thick (though the camera fattens the top of the phone to about 0.4 inches thick). That slim profile means it lacks its Maxx's mega battery capacity. But battery life was still very good.

The Motorola Droid Mini ($100) is not as thin as the Ultra, nor does it have the Maxx's marathon battery life, yet this noticeably smaller phone, which has a 4.3-inch display, packs many of the features and capabilities of its siblings.

All three Droids are optimized for Google Now, taking voice control to a new level with its touchless control capability. The phones recognize your voice, so without touching them, you can ask them for directions, call someone even if the screen is off, and more. The Active Notifications feature lets you set up battery-friendly notifications that fade in and out when the display is off, including calendar, clock, mail, messages, and more. You can even have the notifications sent to your computer, or only happen during certain periods of the day. This Droid is also smart about interpreting simple gestures: For example, give it a nudge to display the time, or, just twist your wrist twice quickly to launch the camera, even when the screen is off.

—Mike Gikas

   

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