Which iPhone should you buy? iPhone 5c, 5s or 4S?

Jordan O'Brien
September 11, 2013

We are sure you have heard that Apple are coming with two new iPhones, but which one should you be buying? Is it the iPhone 5c or the 5s? Or could it be neither?

iPhone 3G/3GS user

If you’re an iPhone 3G user, then you’re due an upgrade — you’ve been living in the past far too long and have missed countless operating system upgrades. If you’re an iPhone 3GS user, then you currently have the latest version of the operating system, but come September 18, you’ll be behind the rest of the pack.

It would be obvious for a 3G or a 3GS user to choose the iPhone 5c or the 5s, but of course you’re not limited to just those iPhones. Apple has vowed to continue selling the iPhone 4S, which means if you’re looking for a budget iPhone, it could be the perfect choice.

The iPhone 5c was always intended to be the budget iPhone, but of course that never actually happened, with the c in iPhone 5c definitely not standing for cheap. If you held back on buying an iPhone 5, then you might continue to hold back on the iPhone 5c, it’s almost identical to the iPhone 5, but costs slightly less and is in a plastic shell.

You do get a slight bump in the front facing camera, which is great if you’re a big time facetime user, and if you’re an LTE user, then you’ll also no longer find yourself restricted to just EE in the UK, with the iPhone 5c having support for all UK networks, including Vodafone and O2 — which will never work with the iPhone 5.

If you’re going to even consider an iPhone 5c, then you’ll need to either be seriously into your colours, with the iPhone 5c offering a wide range of plastic, colourful shells, or not willing to spend the extra £80 on the iPhone 5s.

If you’re in the latter category, then you might just be better off buying the iPhone 4S, which will set you back just £349, £120 less than the iPhone 5c — which has a starting price of £469.

The iPhone 4S is technically inferior in every single way to the iPhone 5c, with a slower processor, worse front facing camera, and no LTE support at all — but if you care little about these features and just want to save money, it’ll be £200 cheaper than the base model of the iPhone 5s — although it’s only available in the 8GB base model.

The advantages of the 4S over the 3GS or 3G are plenty, with it getting the upgrade to iOS 7, alongside the 4 and the 5 — meaning you don’t have to worry apps are going to stop working all of a sudden.

Of course if money is no object, then the iPhone 5s could be the perfect device for you. It has the best processor of the bunch, with Apple touting it as 40 times faster than the original iPhone — which was originally praised for its performance, although it was without an app store when it was first released.

Other improvements such as the 4-inch Retina touchscreen, 15% bigger camera sensor and the fingerprint sensor will of course make the iPhone 5s’ differences most notable over the iPhone 3G and 3GS.

iPhone 4/4S

If you’re an existing iPhone 4 user, then you likely skipped the iPhone 4S — and you probably still will, it isn’t much of an improvement over the 4, with a slightly better processor being the most notable change. Otherwise you’re essentially buying a very similar device for £349 — which doesn’t make it very cost effective.

For 4 and 4S users, the best upgrade path would be the iPhone 5c or the iPhone 5s, but if you own a 4 or 4S — you don’t technically need to upgrade at all.

Both the 4 and 4S will be receiving the iOS 7 update, which means your operating system will be virtually identical to the iPhone 5c and 5s. Although you’ll miss some of the features that the newer phones have. According to Apple the features you’ll be missing are:

  1. Panorama format is available on iPhone 4s or later and iPod  touch (5th generation). Square and video formats and swipe to capture are available on iPhone 4 or later, iPad (3rd generation or later), iPad  mini and iPod  touch (5th generation).
  2. Filters in Camera are available on iPhone 5 or later and iPod  touch (5th generation). Filters in Photos are available on iPhone 4 or later, iPad (3rd generation or later), iPad mini and iPod  touch (5th generation).
  3. AirDrop is available on iPhone 5 or later, iPad (4th generation), iPad mini and iPod  touch (5th generation), and requires an iCloud account.
  4. Siri is available on iPhone 4s or later, iPad with Retina display, iPad mini and iPod  touch (5th generation), and requires Internet access. Siri may not be available in all languages or in all areas, and features may vary by area. Mobile data charges may apply.
  5. Find My iPhone enables you to locate iOS devices only when they are on and connected to a registered Wi-Fi network or have an active data plan. Some features may not be available in all  countries or all areas.

The most obvious change will be in the display, which is still Retina, like the iPhone 4 — but has been increased 0.5 inches to 4 inches. But picking between the two will be a matter of personal preference and whether £80 is a big saving.

You’ll be getting a better camera and processor with both, although other upgrades are negligible.

If your iPhone 4 or 4S are beginning to look dated, then it might be ideal to upgrade to a 5c or 5s, but there are other options out there — a 32GB iPhone 5c will set you back the same as a Galaxy S4.

If you’re a diehard Apple fan though, then the obvious choice would be to get the iPhone 5s, after all you skipped the iPhone 5 release, and the 5c is just a plastic iPhone 5 with better LTE support and a slightly better front facing camera — improvements most people will be able to live without.

iPhone 5

You have the newest iPhone and you probably have the smallest reason to switch to a new iPhone. You’re definitely not going to get an iPhone 4S — it’s a notable downgrade, but you might consider the 5c or 5s.

The 5c should only be considered if you really dislike EE’s LTE service and don’t want to sink the £80 extra into a iPhone 5s. Although you’re better off gritting your teeth for another year, because the 5c isn’t adding much value over your iPhone 5.

The iPhone 5 is likely to get all the features of iOS 7, apart from things such as the 64-bit upgrade, so the iPhone 5s may be another bad upgrade choice.

Apple does say that the iPhone 5s is up to twice as fast as the iPhone 5, although we’ll have to reserve judgement about that until our full review.

The iPhone 5s also has that Touch ID fingerprint sensor, so that’s definitely something to consider if you’re paranoid about your phone’s security.

At the end of the day, the upgrades will come down to personal preference, with many of you likely having your heart set on one of the devices. We all have different needs, whether it be the need for our phones to be colourful, or the need for speed — at least now there’s an iPhone for everyone.

About the Author

Jordan O'Brien

Technology Journalist with an unhealthy obsession with trains and American TV. Attempts satire far too often. (+44) 020 7324 3502

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