iPhone 5C Meta-Review: Colourful Plastic Masks Sure Are Fun

By Casey Chan on at

The iPhone hasn't delved into the recycled slums of plastic since the days of the 3GS. That was way back in 2009. But with the iPhone 5C, colourful plastic is now in vogue. How much better has Apple gotten at doing plastic? How does it compare to other plastic phones? And most importantly, why should we want a plastic phone that packs the same internals as a metal phone released last year?


We're not going to lie. The iPhone 5c is gorgeous — we'd even argue that it's the most beautiful iPhone since the 4 and 4s. It instantly makes the iPhone 5 and 5s look staid in comparison. Sure, we prefer materials like aluminum and glass over plastic, and we appreciate the intricate craftsmanship that goes into building the iPhone 5 and 5s, but still, we can't help it — the 5c just triggers some reptilian part of our brains that screams, "OMG, color!" It brings a breath of fresh air to the iPhone lineup and will appeal to consumers at an emotional level


It's just slightly thicker and heavier than the iPhone 5. And while the 5C isn't as refined-looking as the iPhone 5 or the new 5S, it isn't a tacky plastic phone, either. I've tested plastic phones before, including the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the new Moto X from Motorola, and this phone feels more solid in the hand. Call quality was good.


Here’s something I think many of you will be happy to hear: In my experience, the iPhone 5c got better battery life than the iPhone 5 during general usage. On average, I got around a day and a half of standby, with between 6 and 15 hours of actual usage depending on my activity mix (more HD video streaming towards the lower end).

On my brand new iPhone 5 hardware, I’d been getting less than that under similar conditions. Apple is advertising slight gains to battery performance with the iPhone 5c vs. the iPhone 5, but in terms of lived experience the 5c definitely seems like a step up, and the improvements to the standby power management algorithm in iOS 7 really seem to be cutting back on idle power draw.


Internally Apple is quite proud of the steel reinforced frame that gives the iPhone 5c its rigidity. In practice, the 5c has virtually no noticeable chassis flex. It's an easy victory for Apple because the 5c doesn't have to be a flagship device, and thus doesn't have to be as thin as possible. Apple can rely on the 5s pursuing the as-thin-as-can-be market, giving the 5c room to be a bit thicker and thus feel a bit more solid. I agree with Brian in that not all plastic/polycarbonate devices have to feel cheap (see: HTC, Nokia), and the iPhone 5c definitely doesn't. It's a different feel than the softer/matte polycarbonate designs I've seen in that it's definitely more slippery.


In practice, we saw better [battery] performance than we did on last year's iPhone 5. With typical use -- push email turned on, some multimedia playback, use of the camera, nearly an hour of GPS navigation, and some browsing over both LTE and WiFi -- we still ended the day with charge to spare. The iPhone 5c may lack the frugal M7 coprocessor Apple introduced with the iPhone 5s, but whether it's iOS 7′s optimizations, the new 4G radios, what's believed to be a slightly larger battery, or some combination of the three, we're now far more confident about spending a day out of reach of a Lightning charger cable


Incidentally, I tried to convince my mom to get the iPhone 5C, until I realized that she upgrades so infrequently, and uses her phone so much as a camera for getting snapshots of her grandkids, that the iPhone 5S is probably worth her extra $100 investment. So might the argument go for many. But, more than before, Apple's new step-down iPhone is a great destination for newcomers. It feels like the new baseline for the mainstream iPhone. The 5S is the "pro" model with technologies that need to be worked out; the 5C has less to bank on.


The bright colours also make the iPhone 5C look a bit childish. Our green review handset for example could be mistaken for a toy phone from a distance and it doesn't exactly ooze the Apple quality we're used to seeing when unboxing an iPhone.
However, look beyond that and the iPhone 5C does feel structurally sound in the hand, no doubt helped by the steel frame hidden under the polycarbonate exterior and we found we were far less concerned about it smashing.