The iPhone 5s: Performance and photography lead the way
Apple's 64-bit A7 mobile processor takes center stage in the iPhone 5s, which promises twice the computing and graphics performance as compared to the iPhone 5c. Naturally, the new chip positions the iPhone 5s as a better fit for gamers (which supports OpenGL ES 3.0), but it also offers unique advantages photographers. Thanks to the A7 chip, you can shoot slow-motion 720p video at 120 fps, and as for stills, you'll find a burst-shooting mode that captures up to 10 images per second. Digital image stabilization is also in the mix this time around, which is important for low-light photography.
Speaking of low-light situations, the iPhone 5s captures more light in two ways. First, it features a new lens setup with a wider f/2.2 aperture (as compared to f/2.4 in the iPhone 5c), along with an imaging sensor that's 15 percent larger. And for times when ambient light alone won't cut it, the iPhone 5s includes a new dual-LED flash dubbed True Tone that promises better color balance and more natural skin tones.
Regardless of your age or occupation, you probably have private data that you'd prefer keep to yourself. Yes, a security code on the lock screen is a relatively effective method, but the iPhone 5s offers a more convenient -- and potentially more secure -- alternative that relies on fingerprint-scanning. The setup is known as Touch ID, which integrates a fingerprint reader into the phone's home button. In addition to serving as a lock screen unlock method, the new Touch ID system can eliminate the hassle of typing in your password every time you purchase apps, music and books.
Apple's new M7 motion-sensing coprocessor probably wasn't on your list of must-haves within a new smartphone, but it opens an intriguing new way of measuring your physical activity. If you've ever wanted to keep tabs on your exercise but considered fitness bracelets too much of a hassle, the iPhone 5s might eliminate the need for wearable accessories. We still need to see how many app developers actually leverage the chip, but as an encouraging sign, Nike is already in the ring with its new Nike+ Move app. Beyond that, the M7 coprocessor also introduces new conveniences in everyday use. For example, during navigation, the iPhone 5s will automatically adjust directions when you stop driving and proceed on foot to your destination.
Needless to say, the iPhone 5s is the more refined and professional-looking of the two smartphones, which features an aluminum enclosure that's available in three finishes: gold, silver and space gray. When compared to the iPhone 5c -- which offers 16GB or 32GB of internal storage -- the iPhone 5s is the only one of the pair to feature a 64GB option. Beyond storage, the iPhone 5s is well-suited for globe trotters, thanks to its support for a dizzying array of up to 13 different LTE bands, along with quadband GSM / EDGE and pentaband UMTS / HSPA+ support.
Pricing: $199 (16GB), $299 (32GB), $399 (64GB) on-contract; $649 (16GB) $749 (32GB), $849 (64GB) unlocked
The bottom line: The iPhone 5s packs many niceties, but few necessities. Still, if it's within your budget, it's easily the more capable of the two smartphones.
The iPhone 5c: A colorful reincarnation of iPhone 5
Think of the iPhone 5c as a fresh, less expensive take on the original iPhone 5. It features many of the same internals as before, and as the biggest differentiator, it's available in five colors -- green, blue, white, red and yellow -- that complement the vibrant user interface in iOS 7. Naturally, the new enclosures might be more expressive of your personal style, and given the phone's steel-reinforced, polycarbonate construction, it could be a more suitable choice if you're prone to accidents.
Simply put, the iPhone 5 was a world-class smartphone, and the iPhone 5c carries on the tradition with the same excellent processor, camera and display. It also offers subtle improvements, such as a new FaceTime camera that's said to perform better in low-light situations, and in some cases -- such as with the Sprint model -- support for a wide array of LTE bands. That said, if you commonly play music through your phone's built-in speaker, be sure to compare the iPhone 5c to the iPhone 5s in the store before you make a purchasing decision. Needless to say, the smaller speaker grille on the iPhone 5c suggests that you might find a noticeable difference in audio quality between the two phones.
Whether you feel the more expensive iPhone 5s is worth the additional cost is a very personal decision that's dictated by your needs and budget. Yes, Apple's new premiere smartphone promises faster performance and better imaging quality, but if you're just a casual gamer or photographer, the iPhone 5c is certainly a suitable choice.
Pricing: $99 (16GB), $199 (32GB) on-contract; $549 (16GB), $649 (32GB) unlocked
The bottom line: The iPhone 5c brings the excellent features of the iPhone 5 to a lower price point, along with a number of vibrant enclosures.