Apple announces iPhone 5C and iPhone 5S

These two conservatively radical models will replace the iPhone 5

Published: September 10, 2013 02:45 PM
The Apple iPhone 5S

Today, as expected, Apple announced two new iPhones: the iPhone 5C and iPhone 5S. They have some noteworthy features, including a fingerprint reader and ultra-fast 64-bit processor for the iPhone 5S and a new plastic case available in mouthwatering colors for the iPhone 5C, which carries the lowest price tag ever ($99) for a new iPhone.

The iPhone 5C comes in white, pink, yellow, blue, or green. The 16GB version is $99, and the 32GB model is $199 (with a 2-year contract). The iPhone 5S goes for $199 for 16GB, $299 for 32GB, and $399 for 64GB. And yes, there's a gold model, plus silver and slate gray.

Both phones feature a significantly improved operating system, iOS 7, which will be available for download on existing iPhones (4 and up), iPads (2 and up), and 5th generation and newer iPod Touches on Sept. 18.

Yet the phones announced today haven't taken the radical leaps in screen size and other capabilities that we've seen on phones from Apple rivals such as Samsung, LG, HTC, and Nokia.

The new iPhones' Retina displays, for example, are still 4 inches, with the same resolution as the old iPhone 5's. That's not bad, but larger displays have a clear advantage for reading Web content and viewing multimedia.

And there's apparently no support on these iPhones for near-field communication (NFC), a wireless technology that other phones from other makers use to easily pair with and stream their content to wireless speakers, HDTVs, and other devices. You also need NFC to use your phone to make e-wallet payments at the register, though those services have yet to take off.

Here's my quick take on the iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C phones, which I will be reviewing on Sept. 20, when they go on sale.

Find the right smart phone for your needs and budget with our cell phone buying guide and Ratings.

Faster processing

Apple claims the A7 processor, the first 64-bit processor we've seen in a phone, will make the iPhone 5S at least five times faster than the already-fast iPhone 5. The primary beneficiary will be games, especially those optimized for the superior multitasking and graphics capabilities of this new hardware. Besides a more responsive performance, Apple promises that the A7 chipset will deliver smoother rendering with four times the detail, enabling animated elements such as smoke and water to look much more realistic.

Touch ID

The home button has been radically refitted with a fingerprint reader with 500 ppi resolution that can scan subepidermal skin layers for "foolproof" security. The primary benefit is providing a fast, personal way to unlock your phone. Mobile retailers and other businesses hope this technology will also encourage phone users to feel safe enough to put their account information on phones so that they'll buy more things using them.

Although it wasn't stated at the press conference, Touch ID also seems to be the "poison pill" technology Apple promised disgruntled state attorneys general to make the phone less desirable to thieves. We saw a fingerprint reader on an Android phone two years ago, the Motorola Atrix. But that system had a buggy performance and could sometimes be fooled by a stranger's finger.  

Finessed fitness

Next to the A7 processor is the M7 co-processor, which measures motion data continuously. Along with the iPhone 5S's accelerometer and gyroscope, the M7 will enable the iPhone 5S to handle a new generation of fitness apps that can better sense the steps and stress points of your workouts.  Such apps are already available on phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S 4.

An improved camera

The iPhone 5 already has one of the best cameras in our Ratings, and it still takes the best video of any phone we've tested, even beating the 42-megapixel Nokia Lumia 1020. iPhone 5S Tweaks include a 5-element lens with an f/2.2 aperture. The image sensor is 15 percent larger than the one on the previous model. And the pixels are larger, too, all of which Apple says will make for better pictures. We shall see.

There's a new camera flash called True Tone that Apple says will produce more realistic flesh tones and eliminate problems of clashing color temperatures. The phone's auto image stabilization is digital rather than the superior optical image stabilization on the Nokia Lumia cameras and the coming Samsung Galaxy Zoom. Image stabilizers are critical for taking sharper pictures in low light or when the camera can't be held steady.

Plus the new iPhone has a whole lot of new special effects that Android and Windows phone users have been enjoying for years, including burst mode, slow motion, and more.

In terms of what's new, there's not much to say about the iPhone 5C; it's very much like last year's iPhone 5, except that its case is made of a plastic that's available in five eye-popping colors. But Apple says the 8-megapixel camera will perform better in low light than that of the iPhone 5. The big story is the low price for a new iPhone. One reason bargain hunters may still seek out an older iPhone 5: there was a 64GB model.

Other announcements

Apple says its productivity suite, iWork (which features the Keynote Powerpoint-like presentation software, Pages word processor, and Numbers spreadsheet program, plus its popular iPhoto program for editing photos and movies in full HD) will soon be a free download for all iOS devices.

—Mike Gikas

The iPhone 5C

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