Apple has taken the wraps off its new iPhone 5C, but it turns out that the “C” doesn’t stand for cheap. The phone still sells for at least $99 on-contract (for a 16GB version) and off-contract versions are at least $549. Such pricing is far from unheard of in the mobile phone world, of course, but some were hoping (perhaps foolishly) for a new, free on-contract model.
The iPhone 4S has picked up that torch instead. Though ageing, the 4S offers many recent features that have become selling points, including 3D maps, Siri and a great camera. Buyers who want Apple’s quality without the “Apple tax” may find it appealing; but they should also be aware of its disadvantages.
The iPhone 4S has a 640×960 “Retina” display, but it’s also the last of the breed to use a 3.5″ 1.5:1 display aspect ratio. Long touted as preferable, Apple finally relented with the larger 4″ widescreen found on the iPhone 5, and the new models have an identically sized screen.
While perhaps a tad more pocketable, the smaller display on the iPhone 4S is not the best for watching video. Most content is formatted for a 16:9 display, so 4S users will see a lot of black bars. Those same bars may also appear in some apps, as most developers will now be targeting the larger screens on the iPhone 5, 5S and 5C.
No Lightning Connector
One of the more controversial changes introduced by the iPhone 5 was the Lightning adapter, a replacement for the older 30-pin Apple Dock connector used on all previous iPhones and iPads, including the iPhone 4S. Anyone who buys the 4S today will be buying a product with an outdated connector, and while there are still plenty of older docks available, new ones are unlikely to come to market.
The new Lightning connection is also simply better. It’s smaller, easier to connect and detach, and can deliver more power (which, in turn, results in a quicker battery recharge). The Lightning port wasn’t game-changing, but the iPhone 4S’ reliance on the older 30-pin connection is another knock against it.
Less Durable Design
The iPhone 4S, as well as the iPhone 4, used a glass-back design unlike anything else available at the time. Apple also touted the glass as highly scratch resistant, a claim that the iPhone 5’s less scratch-resistant back seems to prove.
Unfortunately, whatever protection the 4S gained from scratches may have been paid for by a tendency to shatter when dropped. Many users reported seeing cracks or spiderweb shatters after seemingly minor falls, and while a case will greatly reduce the risk, it adds bulk to the phone’s slim frame. Why buy a small, inexpensive phone if it must be protected by a thick, expensive case?
Apple’s shiny new iPhone 5S runs an A7 processor which is also the first 64-bit mobile processor in the world. The iPhone 4S on the other hand runs the A5, a chip that’s now outdated by two generations. Though it’d perhaps be harsh to call the A5 “slow,” the 1 GHz dual-core chip is certainly not the quickest kid on the block, and both the iPhone 5C and iPhone 5S provide dramatically better performance.
The real trouble with the iPhone 4S is not what we know, but what we don’t know. We don’t know how the transition to 64-bit will impact app availability and performance on the 4S. We don’t know if the 4S will be able to play the latest-and-greatest mobile games.
That’s a lot of unknowns. Owners of iPhones several generations out of date have experienced reduced performance when running a new version of iOS in the past. Will that happen again?
No 4G LTE
Another performance issue facing the iPhone 4S is its lack of support for 4G LTE. Though rare when the 4S was announced, LTE support has expanded rapidly across North America, Europe and Asia, bringing Internet speeds on par with broadband to smartphones in most large cities and their surrounding suburbs.
Since the 4S lacks 4G, it can only connect via older 3G technologies. These can be very quick under the right conditions, but most cities will see 4G speeds that are at least several times quicker than 3G, and in some cases the gap can expand substantially. Web pages, podcasts, videos and files will download slowly compared to any post iPhone 5 model.
The iPhone 5C Might Be Better Value
Some pundits have, for whatever reason, decided that the iPhone 5C’s off-contract price of $549 is “ridiculous” or “absurd.” These pundits apparently could not be bothered to actually check the pricing of current smartphones. With the exception of the Nexus 4, which sells for $300 direct from Google, current mid-tier smartphones generally sell for $500 to $600, and top tier phones go for $600 or more.
The iPhone 4S is only $100 less than the iPhone 5C both on and off-contract. And the price is actually worse than it looks, because the 4S comes with just 8GB of storage, while the 5C comes with 16GB. Most people will find the extra capacity a worthwhile investment.
So, for just $100 more, the 5C offers: more storage, bigger display, better performance, improved durability, quicker Internet connectivity and more future iOS updates. The 5C is also thinner, more attractive and newer; which, let’s face it, is more exciting.
Does this mean it’s a bit daft to buy the iPhone 4S instead? I’ll leave that up to you (but the correct answer is “yes!”). Leave us a comment and let us know what iPhone model you plan to buy.