Configurations and carriers
The iPhone 5C comes in 16GB and 32GB variations, for $99 and $199 on contract, respectively, or contract-free for $549 and $649. That's a hundred dollars less than an iPhone 5S at identical storage capacities across the board. In the US, the 5C is available on all four major carriers: AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, and T-Mobile. And T-Mobile's new "Uncarrier" model lets you buy the phone for zero (16GB) or $99 (32GB) down and spread the cost of the hardware over a two-year period, for $20 extra a month.
The 5C not only looks more like an iPod Touch, it even comes packaged in an iPod Touch-like jewel box with clear plastic. Inside you get the phone, a Lightning cable (with AC adapter), and pair of EarPod in-ear headphones with a built-in mic.
What do you give up over the 5S?
This is the question everyone's going to ask: what am I missing out on between the iPhone 5C and 5S for that extra hundred dollars? For starters, the 5S has that crisp metal design. It also has a newer, faster A7 processor, a fingerprint-sensing Home button, an even better camera with faster autofocus, burst shooting, better low-light and antiblur features, and a Slow-Mo video recording mode that records at 120 frames per second at 720p. What's more, the 5S is capable of 64-bit computing, has better graphics, and has an M7 processor for enabling future built-in motion-tracking and health/fitness apps. And it's also available in a 64GB capacity, versus just 16GB or 32GB for the 5C.
A lot of those features are theoretical, or embedded so deeply the casual person wouldn't notice. The 5C and 5S have the same screen size and Retina resolution, and the same LTE antenna bands. Those are features most people will notice a lot more. The 5C, from an everyday boot-up, application-loading standpoint, feels similar to the 5S. That said, I wouldn't be surprised to see the phones' speed begin to diverge as the months and years progress -- once more advanced apps begin to appear that are optimized for the more sophisticated hardware of the 5S.
A brightly colored plastic iPhone: it sounds like something new, doesn't it? Not exactly: Apple's had brightly colored iPods for years, and the iPod Touch got its multicolored refresh in 2012. The iPhone 5C just feels like the extension of that bright-color philosophy into the iPhone line.
It doesn't feel like cheap plastic, though; the smooth, shiny polycarbonate shell around the back feels like a candy lacquer coating. It's a dense device, heavier than the iPhone 5 by nearly an ounce, but it has a comfortable feel -- maybe even better than the more hard-angled metal iPhone 5/5S. It's a return to the plastic iPhone, three years later.
Display and speakers
The iPhone 5C's 4-inch, 1,136x640-pixel Retina Display seems every bit as bright and crisp as on the iPhone 5. But, it's also the same exact display: no extra pixel resolution, no added screen size. In a world of ever-larger smartphones, the iPhone 5C is more on its own now than it would have been in 2012. There's a lot of extra unused space above and below the screen.
That being said, Apple's iPhone 5 Retina Display remains one of the brightest and most color-accurate displays CNET's tested. It's an excellent display, and has very good 326 ppi pixel density. It could just be...well, a little bigger. There are 4.3- and 4.7-inch-display Android phones that don't feel honkingly large to hold, and perhaps show how Apple could have worked in a little extra screen.
A single speaker to the right of the Lightning port pumps out equivalently loud audio to the iPhone 5. Just like previous iPhones, it's possible to accidentally bottle up all noise by pressing a thumb to the speaker grille while playing a game or watching a movie.
The same iSight rear-facing 8-megapixel camera that was in the iPhone 5 is in the 5C. iOS 7 adds a few more extras, such as digital zoom when recording video. Both 1080p video recording, photos and panoramic pictures all look great, but the iPhone 5S camera is even more refined, and adds slow-motion recording and multiburst.
A front-facing FaceTime HD camera has been slightly improved, adding better light sensitivity. Dimly lit selfies in my apartment hallway came out better on the 5C.