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The iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c: What you need to know

We're now in that funny in-between time: On Tuesday, Apple announced the new iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c, providing some information about both. We had a brief hands-on session with both of them. But now we have to wait a week and a half before we can actually get our own new phones and find out everything we want to know. In the meantime, here are our answers to some of the most pressing questions about the new smartphones, based on what Apple has told us and our own investigations.

The basics

When can I get the new iPhone models?

You can pre-order an iPhone 5c starting on Friday, September 13; the 5c will actually be available on September 20. The iPhone 5s will also be available on September 20, but Apple isn’t taking pre-orders for that model. These dates apply to the US, Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Puerto Rico, Singapore, and the UK.

How much do the phones cost?

The iPhone 5c costs $99 for 16GB of storage or $199 for 32GB with a new two-year contract. Unlocked versions—without a contract—will cost $549 and $649, respectively. With the unlocked version, you can choose one that ships with a T-Mobile SIM card, or one without a SIM card at all. Both unlocked options work only with GSM networks.

The iPhone 5s costs $199 for 16GB, $299 for 32GB, or $399 for 64GB of storage with a new two-year contract. Without a contract, those same phones will cost $649, $749, and $849, respectively. As with the 5c, you can get the unlocked model for use with T-Mobile. (Apple’s site doesn’t currently list a no-SIM option for the 5s.)

Which carriers are offering the iPhone 5c and 5s?

In the U.S., your contract-carrier choices are AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon. As mentioned above, no-contract versions are available for use with T-Mobile or other GSM providers.

How much will it cost me to upgrade from my existing iPhone?

That depends on the carrier and type of contract you have. You can check your upgrade eligibility via Apple’s website.

How they compare

How does the 5c compare to the iPhone 5?

From a hardware perspective, the 5c is very similar to the iPhone 5: It uses the same processor (Apple’s A6), the same graphics circuitry, and the same screen. The main differences are that the 5c includes a slightly more capacious battery, compatibility with more bands of LTE, and an updated FaceTime HD camera that features larger pixels and a better backside-illumination sensor.

Apple says the performance of the 5c will be similar to that of the iPhone 5, except that the FaceTime HD camera offers better images. Indeed, in our brief hands-on with the iPhone 5c, the phone felt exactly as snappy and responsive as the iPhone 5 units we've been using for the past year. (We’ll of course be putting the 5c and the 5s through more rigorous testing when we get them.)

The 5c is also close to the same size and weight as the iPhone 5, but the 5c uses a very different exterior. Instead of an aluminum enclosure, the iPhone 5c features a plastic unibody design reminiscent of the old white-plastic MacBook. This body is molded from a single piece of polycarbonate that gives it a solid, rigid feel (part of that also stems from the steel frame that Apple uses inside). Even the volume buttons, mute switch, and Sleep/Wake button on the 5c are plastic. “Unapologetically plastic,” as Apple puts it.

How does the 5s compare to the 5c and the 5?

Apple calls the 5s its most “forward-thinking” phone. Though its aluminum body is almost the same as the iPhone 5’s, there’s a bunch of new hardware inside. Most impressive is the new A7 processor, which Apple touts as the first 64-bit processor available in a phone. The iPhone 5s also includes a new M7 “motion coprocessor”; some big camera upgrades and capabilities; and the Touch ID fingerprint-authentication system. (More on these below.)

Other improvements over the iPhone 5 include a slightly larger battery, expanded carrier support, and a new color. Speaking of which...

What colors can I get?

That depends on which iPhone model you purchase. The lower-cost iPhone 5c, constructed of hard-coated polycarbonate, will be available in candy-like light blue, light green, pink, yellow, or white. Each—including the white version—has a black bezel surrounding the screen.

There is one tiny—and we mean tiny—difference between the iPhone 5c models: On the blue, green, yellow, and white models, the Ring/Silent switch shows an orange line when flipped to the Silent position. On the pink model, the line is white. Details, people.

If you splurge on the aluminum-body iPhone 5s, your choices are different: “space gray” (with a black screen bezel and back trim), silver (with white screen bezel and back trim), or gold (also with white screen bezel and back trim). The gold is subtler than it sounds; it’s more of a champagne color. A nice touch on the 5s is that the metal ring around the Home button on each phone matches its main color: gray, silver, or gold.

I hear Apple also makes cases for the new phones?

Yep, Apple is also offering offering two lines of cases, one set for the 5c and one for the 5s.

The $29 iPhone 5c case, available in the same five colors as the phone plus a black version, is made of silicone with a microfiber interior lining and sports a pattern of 35 circular holes on the back that let your iPhone’s own color peek through. You can match your phone to the case or opt for something a bit more interesting like, say, a white phone with a blue case.

The $39 iPhone 5s case is made of leather with a microfiber interior and is available in brown, beige, black, yellow, blue, and Product(Red) red. The case is molded over the Sleep/Wake and volume buttons, with openings for the Ring/Silent switch and back camera and flash.

The iPhone 5s

What’s this about a new processor and a coprocessor?

The A7 inside the new iPhone 5s is unquestionably the most powerful chip Apple has ever put in a mobile device. It’s also the first one that uses a 64-bit architecture—usually found only on laptop and desktop computers. The implications of that architecture might not be immediately apparent, because apps have to be written to take advantage of it. But down the road, the new chip will offer some exciting possibilities for expansion and power.

The A7’s support for the latest OpenGL ES 3.0 standard means better graphics performance, too. In fact, Apple claims that the new A7 processor is twice as fast at both processor-intensive and graphics-intensive tasks as its predecessor. We’ll see about that when we test the 5s.

The iPhone 5s also includes a separate processor, called the M7, that handles sensor data.

What’s this M7 thing good for?

The M7—which Apple calls the motion coprocessor—is a brand-new chip inside the iPhone 5s that complements the A7 by handling data from the device’s many sensors, including the accelerometer, gyroscope, and compass. Why a separate processor for all that? The key to the M7 is that it can log data from those sources without waking the full A7 processor. This means that not only can fitness-tracking apps more easily run in the background, but they’ll also chew up less of your precious battery power. And using the new CoreMotion API, third-party apps can use real-time location and motion information—like, say, whether you're walking or riding in a car—to determine how the app behaves, without dramatically affecting battery life.

Is the iPhone 5s camera really that much better?

We haven’t yet tested the back camera on the 5s; we’ll give it a thorough evaluation once we get a couple iPhone 5s samples in-house. But if Apple’s specs and feature list are any indication, that camera should offer noticeably better performance, along with some useful new capabilities.

For starters, the 5s uses a new, five-element lens that Apple designed specifically for the new iPhone. This new lens offers an f/2.2 aperture, a 15-percent-larger area than the iPhone 5’s lens, and 1.5-micron pixels—larger than those on the iPhone 5 and other smartphones.

The phone also includes a new dual-LED True Tone flash that Apple says is the first of its kind on a phone or a standalone camera. One flash is cooler white, while the other is amber with a warmer color temperature. The phone monitors ambient light and then fires the two flashes together to match that light. Together, Apple says, the two flashes provide more than 1000 unique light combinations, for flash lighting that’s brighter and more natural.

But iOS 7 also includes a bunch of software specifically designed to take advantage of the improved camera hardware. For example, before you take a photo, the phone automatically adjusts white-balance and exposure to create a tone map for better highlights and shadows; it also performs auto-focus matrix metering for improved sharpness. When you take the photo, the phone actually takes multiple images, analyzes them in real time, and then shows you what it thinks is the best one.

The 5s also includes image stabilization in software: In situations—such as low lighting—where you’d normally end up with blurry images, the phone takes multiple photos with a single shutter press, and then it blends them together into a single, sharp image. And a new burst mode captures ten full-resolution frames per second for as long as you hold down the shutter button. But unlike most burst modes, on an iPhone 5s, the phone automatically filters out bad shots to show you only the “best” ones. (You can choose others manually, if you like.)

When taking video, you can capture 720p video at 120 frames per second, slowing it down later for true slow-motion video. (You can do the editing in your favorite video app, or you can choose, right in the Photos app, which section of the clip to view in slo-mo.) And Panorama mode now lets you adjust exposure as you pan.

Many times during the iPhone event, Apple pointed out the advantages of making both hardware and software, combining them to best take advantage of both. The iPhone’s camera features are one of the best examples of this philosophy in action.

So, this fingerprint-sensor thing, Touch ID: how does it work?

It’s a capacitance-based (as opposed to optical) scanner built into the iPhone 5s Home button. The “capacitance” part means that instead of taking a visual scan of your finger or thumb, the scanner detects minute differences in electrical charge caused by a fingerprint’s whorls, loops, and curves.

The phone then produces a digital template (again, not an image) based on that scan. In other similar systems, software then runs such a template through a cryptographic hashing process, making it virtually impossible to recreate the original print from the template. If that’s how Touch ID works, the hashing process should make it harder—if not impossible—to spoof your prints. For further security, your fingerprint is never stored in the cloud or anywhere in the phone’s memory—only in a secure area of the A7 chip itself.

We don’t yet know all the details about how iOS 7 will use the fingerprints it detects. But we do know that it will let you bypass the lockscreen passcode. (You do have a lockscreen passcode, right?) It will also let you authenticate with iCloud and the App Store using your finger.

With all this new technology and speed on the iPhone 5s, is the battery life worse than that of the iPhone 5?

Apple claims that the iPhone 5s offers battery life equal to or greater than that of the iPhone 5. Specifically, the company says the iPhone 5s offers 10 hours of 3G talk time, 10 hours of LTE or Wi-Fi browsing, or 250 hours of standby time. Compare that to Apple’s claims for the iPhone 5 when that model was released: 8 hours of 3G talk time, 10 hours of Wi-Fi browsing, or 225 hours of standby time.

Apple says that the iPhone 5c’s battery life is identical to that of the iPhone 5s. We’ll of course thoroughly test each model’s battery life in the coming weeks.

Accessories and apps

Is the 5s exactly the same size as the 5? Will my existing accessories and cases work? What about the iPhone 5c?

The iPhone 5s is indeed exactly the same size as the iPhone 5, so existing iPhone 5 cases will fit the new iPhone 5s. However, the camera and LED flash on the iPhone 5s differ in size and position from those on the iPhone 5, so existing cases may partially obscure the lens and/or LED—or may be close enough to obscuring them that the case affects flash or photo quality. If you want to use a case not specifically made for the iPhone 5s, be sure the opening(s) for the camera and flash are large enough to avoid this problem.

Cases aside, existing iPhone 5 accessories—docks, speaker docks, chargers, and the like—should all work with the iPhone 5s. Similarly, with the exception of dock cradles custom-fit for the iPhone 5s, most of these accessories should work fine with the iPhone 5c.

Of course, cases for the iPhone 5 and 5s won’t fit the iPhone 5c, due to the latter’s different dimensions and slightly different shape.

We’ll be testing many accessories once we get our hands on the iPhone 5c and 5s, and we’ll publish our findings here on Macworld.com.

Apple says it’s making Keynote, Numbers, Pages, iMovie, and iPhoto for iOS free “for new devices”? Does that include the new iPhones? What about current iPhone owners?

Apple’s webpage about the iPhone 5s built-in apps (and the similar page for the iPhone 5c) lists iMovie, iPhoto, and the iWork suite, but they don’t actually come pre-installed.

Instead, any iOS 7-compatible device activated on or after September 1, 2013—regardless of when you purchased it—is eligible for free copies of these apps. If your device came pre-loaded with iOS 7, you’ll be prompted during the setup process to download the iOS versions of Keynote, Numbers, Pages, iMovie, and iPhoto. If your device didn’t come with iOS 7 pre-installed (but, again, you activated the device on or after September 1), once you install iOS 7, you’ll be prompted during the iOS 7 setup process to install the apps. You’ll need an Apple ID, but you won’t have to pay for the apps—they’re free with your new device.

Note that this offer isn’t limited to the iPhone 5c and 5s—it includes any iOS 7-compatible device activated on or after September 1, including the iPhone 4 and 4s, the fifth-generation iPod touch, and recent iPads (see the list of compatible devices at the bottom of this page).

If you’ve got a device activated prior to September 1, 2013, you’ll still be able to purchase the apps on the App Store, but you won’t get them for free.

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