gadgets

What you should know about iPhone 5S and 5C 

Sep. 18, 2013 at 7:19 AM ET

Video: The latest phones to be released from Apple will be available Friday, but tech expert Katie Linendoll gives the TODAY anchors an early look at their new features, like fingerprint authorization technology and slow-motion video.

There are already a plethora of reviews for the new iPhone 5S and 5C. But what does the average consumer need to know? Here’s a quick and dirty breakdown:

The 5C is essentially a colorful iPhone 5. The "C" stands for color. It has the same look, but slightly different dimensions. (Warning: you if you have something like a Mophie battery case it won't fit with the new style of the plastic casing.) It's solid and feels good in your hands — not cheap or flimsy. It's essentially a tiny upgrade to the iPhone 5, almost the same, but with a better front-facing camera (1.2MP) and a slightly improved battery life. It's $99 with a two-year contract and comes in five colors: green, yellow, pink, blue and white.

Now, let's get to the 5S. It, too, sports new colors: Silver, gold and space gray.

The upgrades: faster processor (two times faster than the iPhone 5); better overall camera features, including better sensor, quick-touch Instagram-like filters, burst mode (take up to 10 pics a second) and slow motion — love these last two features! The camera itself boasts better performance, especially in situations like low-light, most notably in things like skin tone.

The same low-light flash photos taken with iPhone 5 and iPhone 5S
Katie Linendoll
The same low-light flash photos taken with iPhone 5 and iPhone 5S — on the right, you can see that the iPhone 5S achieves more natural skin tones with a new dual-LED flash.

The 5S also comes with a new M7 motion coprocessor. That may sound very nerdy, but in short, it's hardware inside the phone that can track movement, whether you're sleeping, driving or running. Even better: It does it in a way that doesn't drain the battery life. This change will do wonders to help improve the accuracy of health and fitness apps. Nike has already jumped onboard with Nike + Move, the first app to take advantage.

Undeniably, the most talked-about feature on the 5S is Touch ID, the fingerprint scanner built into the home button, which allows you to store up to five fingerprints for instant access without a passcode, and pay for purchases in iTunes. (Note: Apple stores your biometric data only on the phone itself, and not on some server.) While fingerprint scanning isn't exactly new to technology, Apple is making it hugely popular, so I suspect it's a feature we will see in many smartphones to come. While I didn't initially find it especially compelling, I'm starting to love the quick access. The 5S starts at $199 with two-year contract.

Maybe the biggest update is what you'll see on the screen. With the unveiling of the new iPhones comes a new look and feel via iOS 7, the latest operating system. Many existing iOS devices (from iPhone 4, iPod Touch 5th gen and iPad 2 and up) will also be able to update to this system, too, starting today. That means that all the screens you're used to seeing — weather, alarm, texting, etc. — will have a makeover. Plus, Siri comes in a dude version and you can instantly add camera filters. iOS 7 is clean, modern and a welcome overhaul from the look that we’ve been using since 2007. My favorite add is iTunes Radio, a Pandora killer (read more about my take here).

iPhone 5S promo
Apple
The iPhone 5S has a new camera and a built-in fingerprint scanner.

My thoughts in short: The iPhone 5 is a great phone and both of these options are the new updated versions of it. And on that note, if you're due for an upgrade, and want to stay in the Apple ecosystem, I suggest you bump up to a 5S. The new camera features alone are worth it.

Because the 5C and 5S are an evolution, not a revolution, it makes me even more eager to see what's to come from Apple. As an admitted Apple fan, I want more, and I suspect that the next few products Apple releases will be exciting (they have to be). There have been ongoing talks of a TV (less likely) or perhaps a smartwatch — but what's really going to emerge from the Willy Wonka queue of Apple innovation? We'll just have to grab a gobstopper and wait it out.

As an aside, you’ve probably heard a lot of chatter about the iPhone 5C not being the home-run economical choice Wall Street would have applauded, especially in emerging markets. While the $99 price (on a two-year contract) is relatively inexpensive in the U.S., it's not necessarily the same abroad.

In China, where Apple sits in seventh place in the market, according to Reuters, the device costs around $733, above the average monthly income. However, a number of plans are available that subsidize the phone — i.e. offer it for "free" to those who are willing to sign a long and expensive contract — and pre-orders for some iPhone 5s colors are sold out in China.

Either way, this fall and throughout the holiday season, expect, once again, a lot of Apples underneath the LED-ornament-lit tree.

Katie Linendoll is an Emmy Award-winning technology expert. She hosts a tech and pop culture show on Spike TV and is a tech expert on TODAY. She also blogs at talknerdytome.net. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

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