Still, our favorite addition to iOS 7 is Control Center. Swiping up from the bottom of the screen brings up a panel that contains toggles for WiFi, Bluetooth and other settings; sliders for brightness and volume; media playback controls; buttons for AirDrop / AirPlay; and shortcuts to the camera, timer and more (there's even a flashlight). At last, no more drilling through the settings menu. Seriously, folks, we've been waiting years for this.
Moving on, Apple also revamped multitasking in iOS 7 with a card-based UI that manages to recall webOS, Windows Phone and HTC's Sense 4. In a nutshell, recent apps are represented by screenshots on cards. You can scroll through them by swiping left or right; to dismiss an app, just swipe its card up and away. What can we say? It's fast, intuitive and a huge improvement over multitasking in iOS 6.
The music app, meanwhile, gains new functionality with iTunes Radio. It's a lot like Pandora, but right within Apple's ecosystem. You create stations for your favorite artists and fine-tune each station for hits, variety or discovery. The app lets you pause playback, rate songs and skip tracks (up to six times per hour). It sounds great and we didn't have any problems streaming iTunes Radio while driving.
AirDrop's also worth a mention. Like its counterpart in OS X, it enables easy file sharing over WiFi and Bluetooth. It only works between iOS 7 devices right now and supports URLs, photos, videos and more. AirDrop is available in the Control Center and from the share menu in most apps.
Here in the US, the 16GB iPhone 5c is priced at $99 with a two-year contract on AT&T, Verizon and Sprint, and $549 unsubsidized on T-Mobile and SIM-free (unlocked). T-Mobile also offers the 5c for free upfront with 24 installments of $22. The 32GB version costs $199 and $649, respectively. In comparison, the 16G iPhone 5s starts at $199 / $649 and the 8GB iPhone 4s is now free on contract and $450 unsubsidized.
As such, the 16GB iPhone 5c competes directly with the HTC One mini, Lumia 925 and LG Optimus G Pro on AT&T, Droid Mini, Galaxy S III and Lumia 928 on Verizon plus the Galaxy S 4, Moto X and HTC One on Sprint. T-Mobile doesn't offer anything nearly as compelling as the 5c for free with installments, but you can purchase an unsubsidized Galaxy S 4, LG G2 or HTC One for just a few more dollars ($604, to be exact).
With the iPhone 5c, Apple's crafted something that's more than just the sum of its parts. It's easy to be cynical and dismiss this handset as just an iPhone 5 in a colorful plastic shell, but that's missing the point. There's no doubt that the 5c looks gorgeous and feels wonderful in hand. It inherits tried-and-true features from the iPhone 5 and also gains a few new ones, like that improved 1.2MP front-facing camera. Still, that's only half the story. It's iOS 7 that truly sets the 5c (and the iPhone 5s) apart, thanks to a delightful redesign and a dash of new functionality. With the 5c, Apple achieves an unprecedented level of synergy between hardware and software. Like many of the company's other products, you have to experience the 5c in person to truly appreciate it.
Given the choice, there are only a few things we'd tweak. We're happy with the iPhone 5c in terms of performance and battery life, but we're longing for a better camera and a larger screen. The iPhone 5s addresses the former, but typing on any iPhone feels awfully cramped when you're used to displays that measure 4.3 inches (and bigger, even). Maybe next time? If you're using an iPhone 4s or anything older, you can't go wrong upgrading to either the 5c or the iPhone 5s. We think most buyers will pick the iPhone 5c for the price and color choices alone, while the iPhone 5s will appeal to power users and gamers. iPhone 5 owners are probably better off sticking with iOS 7 or picking up an iPhone 5s instead of getting an iPhone 5c. And, if all else fails, there are always next year's iPhones.
Brad Molen and Edgar Alvarez contributed to this review.