For $199 this year, Apple iOS consumers can choose either the flagship iPhone 5s with all the bells and whistles but with only 16 GB of on-board, non-expandable storage or a mid-range iPhone 5c with double the storage. Both devices will run the latest iOS 7 operating system from Apple and both will connect to a 4G LTE network on the carrier of your choice. So which one should you choose–the more advanced model that’s crippled by storage, or a more mid-range, middle of the pack iPhone that compromises on some key features but offers more expandable storage? Let’s break it down and see where the value is.
iPhone 5c or iPhone 5s?
Apple is offering the iPhone 5c this year in either 16 GB or 32 GB of storage. The lesser storage version starts at $99 and you get a range of colors to choose from. The 32 GB edition costs $199, which is the same starting price as the 16 GB iPhone 5s flagship.
Given the crossover, we’re going to explore some features users may consider when making the decision to choose between either models. It really boils down to opportunity costs and deal breakers.
The iPhone lineup starts with a paltry 8 GB of storage on the free-on-contract iPhone 4S that launched a few years ago and storage goes up to a maximum of 64 GB on the iPhone 5S. Given that there are no memory card slots on the iPhone of any model, users must predict how much storage they need and choose the right model at the time of purchase.
Fortunately, though, you can still augment your storage in other ways. Thanks to cloud storage, not every digital file, content, video, photo, or music you own has to reside on your phone. iCloud will allow you, for example, to download any iTunes music, video, or TV show on the go so you don’t have to synchronize with your PC and you don’t have to hoard every digital purchase on your phone. Download, install, or store what you need, and if you need something else you already own, go to your iCloud storage and re-download. Problem here is that larger files require a WiFi connection and you cannot download movies or TV shows over 3G or 4G.
Moreover, files that you’ve created can also be offloaded to the cloud. Thanks to Google Drive, Microsoft SkyDrive, Dropbox, AT&T Locker, and other services, you can offload your Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and PDF files to a remotely hosted storage locker. This includes music and video files. Just keep in mind, when you upload or download files, you’re consuming data, whether that’s on WiFi or 3G/4G is up to you.
And you can also add storage through accessories. We’ve recently reviewed the excellent Kingston MobileLIte that will allow you to plug in a memory card or USB stick to the wireless streaming accessory and you can connect to the Kingston over the ad-hoc WiFi network as your personal cloud to access what you want. This will give you more flexibility than the traditional iCloud access and you won’t waste your data plan, but it does require you to buy the $60 accessory and the memory cards or USB drives in the capacities that suit you.
With the iPhone 5s, users should be getting a significantly upgraded camera despite that both iPhone models sport the same 8-megapixel camera. a larger sensor, wider aperture, dual TrueTone LED flash, and digital image stabilization. This means photos in low light conditions will be better, the flash will give you more natural skin tones when taking pictures of friends in a dark restaurant or environment with the flash on, and you can now be running and chasing after your kids and have blur-free images.
Apple’s iPhone models do not lead the camera pack when it comes to specs, but given Apple’s history for making intelligent software that works well with the hardware, we have no doubt that the small improvements made to the camera on the iPhone 5s will result in a significantly better picture-taking experience when mobile.
READ: iPhone 5s v iPhone 5
And given that most users now no longer own or carry a camera with them, the best camera is their smartphone. For many, that smartphone is the iPhone. If you’re the historian in your group of friends or family, then you may want to consider the better camera on the iPhone 5s. If you see yourself taking 90 percent of your photos in bright sunlight or outdoors, then the camera on the iPhone 5c may suffice as it should be very similar in performance to the camera on the iPhone 5, which was excellent to begin with given its specs. However, given this will likely be your camera investment for the next two years, or the length of your contract, having the best camera today may be worth it. After all, it’s a “Kodak” moment, and that in itself is priceless.
The highlight of this year’s flagship iPhone 5s is the biometric fingerprint sensor. Apple has done some work in retooling the sensor so you can press your finger into the home button, rather than requiring a swipe of the finger like clunkier readers of yore. Initially, the Touch ID fingerprint mechanism is extremely limited–you can unlock your phone and you can authorize iTunes purchases–but we expect Touch ID support to grow in the future. Potentially, Apple could allow third-party developers in at a future date to allow you to authenticate yourself on other apps. Imagine opening up mobile Safari and going to the Gmail webpage and then swiping your finger to log-in to your Google account. Or how about swiping your finger to open up your Dropbox app.
And given how connectivity is becoming increasingly important with the “Internet of Things,” security will be be increasingly relevant. Your iPhone could potentially serve as your home’s door keys, the keys to start your car, your means to authenticate your identity online, and more. This is the beginning, and if you’re a user who values convenience and security and see yourself hanging onto this upcoming iPhone purchase for some time, the iPhone 5s may future-proof you for the next two years.
On the other hand, the limited ability of Touch ID right now means that unless you’re a corporate worker or one who resides in environments of high security–medical, insurance, and financial industries, for example–then the iPhone 5c may be the cheaper, more practical option right now. Apple still needs time to figure out how to secure the Internet and it will take some time for Touch ID to be meaningful beyond iTunes purchases and merely unlocking your iPhone 5s.
If you’re a gamer who plays graphics-intensive titles, the iPhone 5s and its new A7 processor coupled with the M7 co-processor may be your ticket to a happier next two years. Coupled with a new 64-bit iOS operating system, the end result is a much improved experience with the iPhone 5s with apps opening faster, graphics being better, and games being smoother with better graphics detail.
The iPhone 5, of which the iPhone 5c is based upon, is no slouch either, but for impatient fingers and users who demand more performance out of their phones, the iPhone 5s will deliver, while at the same time offering improved battery life than the outgoing iPhone 5.
While Apple rivals are looking to offload motion tracking and sensing technologies to wearable devices, like smartwatches, Apple is saying the iPhone is still the best device to do this as you’ll likely always have your phone with you wherever you go. And with the new CoreMotion APIs and the M7 motion co-processor, Apple intends to allow developers to create health and fitness apps that will track your steps and movement. The potential for this isn’t fully realized yet, but your phone will be able to monitor how many steps you take, how fast you run, and in turn help you determine how many calories you should consume based on what you’re burning to lose weight, gain weight, or maintain your figure. Overall, it’s one less device to recharge overnight, and the iPhone already has your workout music so why should you have to wear a new fitness band or watch to get added functionality?
While some of this is already available on past iPhone models thanks to a partnership with Nike, on the iPhone 5s Apple is making this easier and improving battery life in the process. Not only is your iPhone a mobile computer, it will be a remote sensor hub that gathers and collects data about you.
And by offloading the data recorded from the gyroscope, accelerometer, and compass from the main processor to the M7 co-processor, Apple will help the A7 be more efficient in handling your tasks more quickly. Additionally, the new A7 processor also supports the 64-bit version of iOS 7. This means that iOS 7 will be able to handle more RAM and more fluid multitasking. Likely, we won’t see the full benefits of going to a 64-bit OS, though the improved hardware of the A7 chipset will mean things will be a little bit more fluid overall right now.
So is a 32 GB iPhone 5c good enough? Or should users upgrade to an iPhone 5s and sacrifice valuable storage that they won’t be able to regain? In a perfect world, everyone who wanted an iPhone would be able to afford and get the 32 GB iPhone 5s without any hesitation, but the reality is that many of us have budgets and the iPhone is a big investment that will last us through the next two years. Given the many hardware benefits of the iPhone 5s, I would recommend going with the base flagship model over the mid-ranger with more storage. The reason is that cloud storage is more readily accessible and you can always offload and backup photos to the cloud whenever you’re connected to WiFi or 3G/4G, negating the need for most situation where storage is required. You can’t later decide to get a better camera or a fingerprint sensor on the iPhone 5c using the same logic.