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iPhone 5s vs. iPhone 5c vs. iPhone 4s

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September 28, 2013

Gizmag compares the features and specs of the iPhone 5s (left), iPhone 5c (center), and iP...

Gizmag compares the features and specs of the iPhone 5s (left), iPhone 5c (center), and iPhone 4s

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If you're shopping for a new iPhone, Apple gives you not just one, but three options to choose from. Do you splurge on the flagship iPhone 5s, with its cutting-edge fingerprint sensor? Do you save a few bucks, and get the colorful and capable iPhone 5c? Or maybe you sign a two-year contract and get the aging iPhone 4s for "free?" Let Gizmag help you decide, as we compare the features and specs of the three iPhones available in 2013-2014.

Update: The new version of this comparison, featuring Apple's 2014 lineup, is now live.

Size

The iPhone 4s is looking pretty stubby next to its younger siblings

The iPhones 5s and 5c are almost the same size, though the 5c is 18 percent thicker. The older iPhone 4s is seven percent shorter than the two newer models.

All three iPhones, though, are much smaller than most of the Android phones you'll see on your local store's shelf. The iPhones 5s and 5c may look big next to the 4s, but just check out the 5s next to the huge Galaxy Note 3 to get some perspective.

Weight

The iPhone 5s wins the prize for lightest

The iPhone 5s is the lightest of the bunch. If you've ever used an iPhone 5 (which has been sent packing for the Shady Pines retirement home for iPhones), then the 5s is the exact same size and weight.

Build

The three handsets are each made of different materials

Believe it or not, all three phones are made of different build materials. We have the aluminum iPhone 5s (again just like the retired iPhone 5), the "unapologetically plastic" iPhone 5c, and the iPhone 4s, with its two plates of glass sandwiched around a stainless steel band.

Colors

The iPhone 5c is available in a variety of eye-catching colors

Apple focused more on color in its 2013 iPhones, especially with the pastel-like iPhone 5c.

Display

The 4s also has a shorter screen

All of the iPhones' displays are small compared to their high-end Android competition, but the 4s' screen is positively puny. All three have very sharp (326 pixels per inch) Retina Displays, so nothing to worry about on that front.

Fingerprint sensor

The iPhone 5s' Touch ID fingerprint sensor is its marquee selling feature

The Touch ID fingerprint sensor is the iPhone 5s' killer feature. If you like to protect your phone's data with a passcode, Touch ID lets you do that without, well, having to actually enter a passcode. Hold your finger on the home button for a second or two, and – Eureka! – the gates will open. Any fingerprint that isn't on your trusted list will need that passcode to get in.

Cameras

Don't be fooled by megapixels: the iPhone 5s has the best camera, followed by the 5c

Don't be fooled by the megapixel counts listed above: each camera gets better as you move from right to left. The iPhone 5s' shooter is improved in low-light photography, and adds a burst mode that automatically chooses the sharpest shot.

Camera flash

The 5s' camera flash has two LEDs, which leads to a bit more saturation in shots where you...

The iPhone 5s' camera also sports a second LED for its flash ("True Tone"), which supposedly leads to more accurate skin tones when conducting flash photography. In our experience, the most obvious difference was that it saturated subjects a bit more than single-LED flashes do.

Slow-motion video

The iPhone 5s lets you record slow-motion video

Another selling feature for the iPhone 5s' camera is its new slow-motion video feature. It's great for capturing action shots of your kids, pets, or fleeing purse-snatchers. You'll need a third-party app to record slow-mo on the older iPhones.

Processor

The iPhones 5s and 5c are both fast, but the 5s is probably the fastest phone you can buy ...

This is another category where the above specs don't tell the full story. The iPhone 5s is by far the fastest of the three, though the 5c is also a very zippy phone. The 4s seemed fast when it hit store shelves two years ago, but it's going to be a little laggy compared to the other two.

Motion coprocessor

The iPhone 5s has an M7 motion coprocessor, which can let you use fitness tracking apps an...

The iPhone 5s has a new M7 chip, which is dedicated to processing motion sensor data. Sound geeky? Well, all you need to know is that it lets you use fitness apps and accessories (like the Nike Fuelband, Jawbone Up, or Fitbit Flex) without sucking the life out of your iPhone's battery, assuming they all update their software for the M7.

On a side note, the M7 chip is also likely paving the road for a future Apple smartwatch.

Storage

These are the storage options Apple gives you for the current batch of iPhones

If you want to max out your storage with a hearty 64 GB, then the iPhone 5s is your only option. For most customers, though, 16 GB or 32 GB should suffice. The mere 8 GB found in today's iPhone 4s might get a little tight if you store lots of pictures, music, videos, and games.

RAM

Apple manages to give its iPhone top-notch performance without using loads of RAM

Apple often manages to eke out some of the best performance in any smartphone (at least with its latest model) without relying on tons of RAM.

4G LTE

Only the two newer iPhones support speedy 4G LTE mobile data

The two newer models support speedy 4G LTE mobile data speeds.

The old iPhone 4s maxes out at HSPA+ speeds for GSM carriers (like AT&T or T-Mobile in the US), which are faster than 3G, but slower than LTE. If you're on a CDMA carrier (like Verizon or Sprint in the US), then the 4s only supports slower 3G.

Battery

All three iPhones deliver solid battery life

If the above capacities don't mean anything to you, have no fear. The iPhone 5s should have the longest battery life, though the 5c should be very close. The 4s lags behind, but still has pretty solid uptimes.

Software

All three iPhones run the new iOS 7

All three iPhones run the new iOS 7, with its fresh flat design and parallax transition animations. All three iPhones, of course, tap into the well-stocked App Store as well.

Voice control

All three iPhones give you Siri for voice control

When the iPhone 4s launched two years ago, it was the only Apple device that included the Siri virtual assistant (summoned with a long-press of the home button). Today all three iPhones have Siri, and its accompanying voice dictation.

Release cycle

Original release dates for the three iPhones, but note that the iPhone 5c is almost identi...

The iPhone 5s just hit store shelves. The iPhone 5c did too, but its guts are almost identical to 2012's iPhone 5. The 4s, as we mentioned, originally launched in late 2011.

Starting prices (on-contract)

Starting prices, with a new two-year contract

There still isn't a truly budget iPhone option, but you can save a few bucks on the 4s. Just remember that the up-front price you pay is a mere drop in the ocean compared to the thousands you'll spend over the course of a two-year contract.

Note that the above (and below) prices are in US dollars.

Starting prices (off-contract)

Starting prices, off-contract

If you don't like to be tied down, you can always pay full price to get your iPhone with no strings attached. Just be prepared to pay the pretty pennies listed above.

Wrap-up

In years past, the newest iPhone was almost always the best choice. And while the iPhone 5s is still the best of this crop, the iPhone 5c still gives a strong showing. If you don't care about the fingerprint sensor, slow-motion video, or improved camera, then maybe the candy-coated colors of the iPhone 5c will be the best fit for you.

The 4s, meanwhile, is merely hanging around so Apple can have a free on-contract option. Just remember that it lags far behind its siblings, and it only shaves US$100 off the price of the much better iPhone 5c.

If you're leaning towards the flagship model, then maybe perusing our iPhone 5s review will help you to make up your mind, eh? Or if you want to cast your net a bit wider, you can see how the 5s compares to the Galaxy S5 or check out our Smartphone Comparison Guide.

About the Author
Will Shanklin Will Shanklin is Gizmag's Mobile Tech Editor, and has been part of the team since 2012. Will has a Master's degree from U.C. Irvine and a Bachelor's from West Virginia University. He currently lives in New Mexico with his wife, Jessica.
  All articles by Will Shanklin
9 Comments

This article gives good justification for my decision to hold into my 64gig iPhone 4S until a more spectacular option comes along.

Andrew Byrne
28th September, 2013 @ 09:09 am PDT

Here here.

My 32 Gb 4s is still as good as the day it was purchased. Older 16Gb 3Gs from 4 years ago still going strong.

Pity the 5s came in at such a shameful price. Think I'll wait for the 6.

Nairda
29th September, 2013 @ 07:53 pm PDT

I just got the iPhone 5 (no letters, just the 5) for $80. I would have paid $200 for the 5s if it had 4.7-5" screen.

If they would've been out of 5's, I would have got the 4s before the 5c or the HTC One, but that Plastic back on the 5c is just horrendous.

Also, was disappointed they replaced black with "space" gray. Doesn't look as good. Hopefully the 6 will bring back all glass (front and back) true black, and have a 4.7-5" edge to edge screen.

KushSmoka420
30th September, 2013 @ 01:22 pm PDT

Now that Apple is making the finest Laptops and Desktops and all the devices sing together... then it is worth considering.

And despite Steve's Victorian Penchant for tiny they will have to come out with a Phablet and it will be fantastic.

Bill

Lewis M. Dickens III
30th September, 2013 @ 01:37 pm PDT

Apple is the only company I know of that can slap some colors on a year old phone and re-sell it like its completely new. My hats off to you apple. And feel bad for all the suckers thinking its something different.

Ryandroid86
30th September, 2013 @ 04:33 pm PDT

I just upgraded to 5S from 5 and it definitely is much more speedy, no lag and has a better feel all in all. However, not near enough to justify spending hundreds to go from 5 to 5S. A good thing was that the 5 cases fit 5S or I would have had to buy another battery case. Btw, without the battery case there's no way it's going to last the day. I use my iPhone 5 battery case I got from AlphaBolt on the 5S and it works perfectly. My expensive mophie case didn't last a full week and the much cheaper alphabolt case is going for almost year now.

astrofizx
1st October, 2013 @ 10:09 am PDT

Bought the iPhone 5c today and my last was the 3GS massive difference to be honest.

Although my wife has the 4s and to be fair it's quicker than that as we'll.

love the feel of the phone and also feel more confident with the handset as I'm a bit clumsy to say the least .

Can't fault the strategic position of Apple now with this handset reaching out to people like myself .

Chris Alex Slane Leonard
13th October, 2013 @ 01:16 pm PDT

I got the 5C as an upgrade from the 4 and its a huge difference 500 MHz is a big jump. not to mention double the ram! I have the 32 gig vs my old 8 gig phone. the larger screen is noticeable. the iPhone is field tested as an amazing device, that with all the changes over the years still feels familiar. all the smart phones have copied it form for good reasons. all the phones work well even the older models. best phone I've ever had has been an iPhone. no thank you for a finger scanner don't want my privacy invaded any more than it already is. look into the finger scanner, not a good idea. apple having my finger prints come on and who will that be sold to. besides proving its me using my phone, they can track you with gps without warrent at liberty. you have no privacy. i choose the iphone 5c newest upgrade with my finger prints to myself.

David Lampone
23rd October, 2013 @ 03:13 pm PDT

Thanks for the comparison, but you forgot ONE very big important fact - the chargers.

iPhone 5 is not compatible with the iPhone4's, meaning you have to have double of everything if you are keeping the older version for your kids type thing.

John Brooks
25th November, 2013 @ 08:43 am PST
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