Apple’s new iPhones: Five things to know

September 10, 2013

You may have heard that Apple announced a little thing or two at a big event in Cupertino today -- here’s a look at the very essentials of what it said about two new phones, the iPhone 5C and the iPhone 5S.

Specs: Boiled down, there are only a few things to say about the specs on these phones, particularly in comparison to previous models of the iPhone.

The iPhone 5C, which takes the place that a discounted iPhone 5 would have occupied in Apple’s lineup, is nearly the same phone as the one it replaces. It has an A6 chip and the same general form factor as the iPhone 5, except for the fact that it’s made of colored plastic rather than glass and aluminum. Still, early hands-on reports from tech sites such as TechCrunch and The Loop say the plastic feels surprisingly good in hand.

For those looking for a more technical upgrades, the iPhone 5S does have quite a few — most notably a 64-bit processor that should seriously raise the bar for apps in the next couple of years. Apple has also improved the camera sensor, all, it claims, without a negative impact on battery life. The phone also includes a fingerprint scanner in the home button for logging in and making purchases, as well as a new chip that tracks movement for health apps.

Price: What many expected to be the big differentiator between these phones turned out to be a much smaller deal than expected. The iPhone 5C is lower-priced than the high-end iPhone 5S, but holds the $99 price point that Apple has traditionally given its older phones. And, if you want a version with more memory — 32 GB rather than 16GB, it will cost you $199 on-contract.

Off contract, the phone is still pretty expensive, starting at $549.

The iPhone 5S, meanwhile, ranges in price from $199 to $399, depending on your memory choice, and starts at $649 for an unlocked version.

Availability: All major carriers in the U.S. — AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile — are carrying the phones. The iPhone 5C will be up for pre-order on Friday, Sept. 13, and both phones will be available on Sept. 20.

T-Mobile, which doesn’t subsidize the cost of the phone, but does let users pay in installments, has yet to announce what the down payment on an iPhone 5C or 5S will be.

Privacy: With the inclusion of the fingerprint scanner at the motion-tracking chip in the iPhone, there have been new questions about privacy. There are not a lot of answers here yet, but Apple has said that the fingerprint data will be stored only on your device and not uploaded to Apple’s servers.

Privacy concerns alone may not be worth passing up on these devices if you want them, but consumers should think carefully about the pros and cons of letting your phone record your biometric data and letting it collect information about your movement. In the same way that consumers should think about giving Apple location information, they should think about how much other personal data they’re sharing, too.

Should I upgrade?: Ah, the eternal question. Of course, it ultimately comes down to the individual, but generally it seems that upgrades to the 5S may not be quite enough to prompt a mass exodus from iPhone 5.

If you skipped out on the last iPhone update, however, and have a 4S or other older iPhone, then an upgrade makes more sense. Apple’s made quite a few changes here that make it worth your while to upgrade, including its decision to change its charging ports and screen size. Going to the 5S, or even the 5C, from the iPhone 4S still means a technical and physical upgrade that’s worth doing.

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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