Apple’s new iPhones: How the 5S and 5C stack up against the competition

September 11, 2013

Apple laid out a fresh vision for its path in the smartphone market Tuesday by introducing two distinct iPhone models at different prices. But how do the new phones compare with the others already on the market? Here, we take a look at the iPhone 5C and the 5S and each phone’s top competitor:

The iPhone 5C: At $99 with contract, Apple’s iPhone 5C essentially fills the spot left by the now retired iPhone 5, and shares many of the same specifications. Now, instead of trying to save a bit by buying a year-old phone with last year’s specs, price-conscious Apple fans can buy a new phone with slightly better specs than last year’s. It’s not a bad deal. The plastic casing on the iPhone, by most accounts, doesn’t make the phone feel cheap, and the new color options allow users a chance to express their own Day-Glo personalities (mix-and-match personalities, if they spring for the additional case, at $29).

The iPhone 5C is likely to face its most competitive pressure from phones such as the Moto X — Google’s super-customizable smartphone. Also originally conceived as a more budget-conscious phone, the Moto X launched with an initial price of $199.99 for a 16 GB model, the same as a 32GB version of the iPhone 5C. Both phones carry mass appeal, thanks to their customization options and light construction.

There are a few key differences, of course. First, the obvious: The Moto X runs Android, and the iPhone 5C runs iOS. That debate its own whole kettle of fish, so we’ll put that aside for now. Apart from that, the Moto X’ has a larger screen — 4.7 inches vs. 4 inches on the iPhone 5C — and a high-megapixel camera with 10 MP sensor vs. an 8 MP for the 5C. But Apple’s cheaper iPhone has a smaller and better-resolution screen and is also a little lighter, slimmer and more compact.

The iPhone 5S: The top competitor here is most likely the Samsung Galaxy S4. Here again, Apple’s 4-inch screen gets dwarfed by the S4’s 5-inch display, which is bad for Web and video browsing, but good for portability. The iPhone 5S also is expected to have a more premium feel, with its glass and aluminum construction, rather than the plastic of the Samsung model. That matters to some people, especially when they’re plunking down about $200 for a phone. Apple’s new processing chip also holds a lot of promise, if the 64-bit processor is as fast as Apple claims. That potential power gives developers a lot of room to run.

Given what Apple has released about the 5S so far, it’s hard to say which smartphone will win on screen quality. The Galaxy S4 has impressed with its big, bright screen, but Apple’s retina display is also top-of-its-class. They’re likely matched fairly evenly on the camera, too: The S4 has a 13MP camera, compared with the 5S’s 8 MP. But Apple says it’s improved it camera sensor and software and claims that users will now be able to snap “SLR-quality” shots.

Each phone also has its own smaller features that may appeal to specific sets of users. Apple’s fingerprint scanner will make for easier to buy apps; Samsung offers hands-free controls and automatic scrolling during reading among its features.

Other competitors: There are other smartphones to consider in this mix, of course. The LG G2’s unique design, for example, put its volume and power buttons on the back. The HTC One is a strong phone (though it hasn’t seen equally strong sales) and offers a 32GB model for $199.99. And new phones from Nokia, such as the Lumia 1020, which focused heavily on improving camera functions, are great pieces of hardware. Still, the app selection needs to catch up.

Overall, Apple’s new iPhones are pretty evenly matched with the competition, and that doesn’t appear to be impressing investors. The firm’s shares were down over 5 percent in morning trading, to $470.19, after staying around the $500 mark for much of the past month.

Of course, the real test for Apple will come on launch day, when consumers vote with their wallets. They’ll get their chance on Sept. 20, when the phones go on sale, though the truly eager will be able to start pre-orders for the iPhone 5C on Friday.

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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