iPhone 5S and 5C FAQ: Everything you need to know

From preorders to colors to the fingerprint scanner, CNET answers your burning questions about Apple's two new smartphones.

Apple's new iPhone 5S raises a few questions.

Both of Apple's new smartphones -- the iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C -- are officially out of the bag. We've got photos, videos, and plenty of hands-on impressions from our limited time with the devices, but some questions still remain.

If I missed any big ones, please drop them in the comments or send me a tweet. I'll be updating this at various points throughout the week, so feel free to check back!

The basics: Price, design, availability

What's different about the iPhone 5S?
Not much. It's got the same dimensions and screen specs as the iPhone 5. Apple replaces the black color with one futuristically named "space gray," and adds a pale gold (or champagne) shade. The camera gets a larger sensor to let in more light, burst mode, and other behind-the-scenes features . Inside, there's also a new processor (but more on this below.)

Read all about it in our thorough 5S hands-on.

How about the 5C?
This one's drastically different. The iPhone 5C's five colors of polycarbonate (aka plastic) material is more like a Nokia Lumia than like the aluminum iPhone we've come to expect. There's no buttoned-up black or gray for miles around. Instead, you can choose among bright white, green, blue, pink, and yellow, with options to buy equally colorful cases of complementary or contrasting hues.

Specs-wise, the 5C is nearly identical to the iPhone 5, with the same processor and camera details. Check out how the specs stack up .

So why did Apple even make the iPhone 5C instead of keeping the iPhone 5?
I'm going to speculate here that Apple is trying to compete with Android and Windows smartphones from Nokia, HTC, Motorola, and Samsung in the same $100 (on-contract) price range. Using less expensive plastic materials brings the price per unit down. Bright colors and a more youthful, casual look may reach buyers looking for a statement phone.

Check out how the iPhone 5C compares with other phones in its price range .

How much do the phones cost?

iPhone 5S iPhone 5C
16GB (contract) $199 $99
16GB (no-contract) $649 $549
32GB (contract) $299 $199
32GB (no-contract) $749 $649
64GB (contract) $399 N/A
64GB (no-contract) $849 N/A

Keep in mind that these are Apple's quoted sales prices in US dollars and that actual costs vary by market. The 5C, for instance, will cost 50GBP in the UK with a carrier.

In the US, T-Mobile's off-contract pricing means that you'll pay the full retail rate for the phone and you'll receive the unlocked model outfitted with the T-Mobile SIM inside. If you buy the 5C through T-Mobile's Simple Choice plans, which space out payments over the course of two years, you'll pay nothing down but $22 over the course of two years (for a total of $528.) The 5S costs $99 down and $22.91 over 24 months, a $648.84 total.

Play

How and when can I get the iPhone 5C and iPhone 5S?
Glad you asked. Apple will sell the 5S and 5C in the US and eight other countries starting at 8 a.m. local time on September 20. You can get the 5C on preorder starting September 13.

In the US, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon are the launch partners, though both phones should come to tier-two carriers as well. The phones will arrive in other countries by the end of December. Here's even more information about buying your next iPhone .

Why the heck isn't the iPhone 5S on preorder?
Good question, and one we don't know for sure. Generally, preorders can help retailers predict demand for the product's many options of colors and capacities. The 5C, for example, has 10 options (five colors, two capacities). Then why not also arrange preorders for the 5S' nine permutations (three colors, three capacities)?

There could be a supply chain issue with the iPhone 5S that's preventing preorders, or perhaps an expectation that Apple will sell more of the 5C globally than the 5S.

It might also be that Apple hopes locking buyers into preorders will help establish the new 5C product line of colorful, plastic phones. Apple may have decided that the 5S didn't need extra help drumming up sales. CNET has reached out to Apple and I'll update this section if we hear word.

Is the front of the 5C plastic as well?
The polycarbonate molding wraps around the sides, but the phone's face is glass. Note that this isn't the first time Apple has used plastic materials in an iPhone; the 3G and 3GS both used plastic materials, too.

Does the 5C have Siri?
Yes! Contrary to earlier rumors that it would not contain Siri, you will be able to use Apple's sassy voice assistant on the cheaper iPhone.

So should we expect a C version of all future iPhones?
Great question, and the answer is: I don't know. I suspect that if the "C" series sells like hotcakes as most analysts expect, Apple will likely invest in these midrange devices as well. The iPhone 5C is a less expensive model, more competitive at the middle of the market, and will come to the full range of carriers, so there's a good chance there will be more phones like this in the years to come.

Releasing a scaled-back version of a flagship phone is becoming a common practice among smartphone makers across the board. We've seen it this year with the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini and HTC One Mini as well.

Why did Apple discontinue the iPhone 5 but keep the iPhone 4S?
Only Apple knows for sure, but we suspect it's to fire up sales for the iPhone 5C while establishing the new line and its plastic materials. Since the 5C has basically the same hardware components as the regular iPhone 5, keeping both phones around would be confusing and redundant.

What's significant about the iPhone 5S having a 64-bit chip?
According to Apple, the big deal about the 5S being the first smartphone to feature 64-bit is twofold : faster gaming and faster performance overall. Apple is touting the new chip with gameplay that matches standalone consoles and desktop devices.

To illustrate the performance hike, Apple calculated that the iPhone 5S' A7 chip graphically performs 56 times better than the original iPhone, and is 40 times speedier overall.

If you ask CNET reporter Stephen Shankland, there are more important reasons besides :

First, large memory capacity is an academic issue in the mobile market today, but it won't always be. Second, the the 64-bit transition happens to come along with other chip changes that are useful immediately. And third, it gives Apple more flexibility to build ARM-based PCs if it chooses to embrace an alternative to Intel chips.

Unlike competitors, Apple doesn't measure its chipset in terms of cores, which makes it harder to compare against, say, the quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 chips we're starting to see in high-end Android phones like the LG G2 .

Touch ID fingerprint scanner

What's this Touch ID fingerprint lock all about?
With Touch ID, you'll be able to almost instantaneously unlock your iPhone 5S and confirm iTunes purchases. At this point, developers will not be able to extend Touch ID scanning to other forms of authentication or purposes.

Can more than one person use the Touch ID?
Yes, you can save multiple profiles for different fingers -- yours or even someone else's (like your spouse, kids, and so on.)

Do you have to unlock the phone to answer it?
Nope. Just like with previous iPhones, you can take a call without first unlocking the device.

Will the iPhone 5C have Touch ID?
No, the iPhone 5S is the only smartphone to have Touch ID, though we expect that Apple will start integrating it into future iOS devices, like its next crop of iPads.

More Touch ID questions?
We talk about hacking, data storage, and more in this Touch ID FAQ .

Camera and video

How about the iPhone 5S' camera updates; is Apple catching up or moving ahead?
In many ways, Apple is still catching up by adding features, like burst mode and slow-motion video recording, that other phones already have (like the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4). In other ways, Apple promises better low-light shots, auto-enhancements, and flash color correction that could very well surpass rival camera phone technology. We just don't know yet for sure.

Will the slow-mo camera come with iOS 7? Will I get it on my 4S?
The iPhone 5S' slow-motion capability is tied to the camera hardware (specifically its image sensor), so neither the iPhone 5 nor iPhone 4S will have the feature. Since the iPhone 5C camera is essentially the same as the iPhone 5's, it also bypasses support for slow-motion video capture.

This case won't work well with the iPhone 5S. Amazon.com

The 5S' flash has changed. Will my iPhone 5 case still fit?
It really depends on how large the camera window is on a particular case. The iPhone 5S has a vertical dual-LED flash, so cases with narrow or teardrop-shaped windows for the camera module could obstruct the iPhone 5S' new stacked flashes. The good news is that most iPhone 5 cases have a large oblong opening that should be roomy enough for the new configuration.

Other questions

Do both new phones use Lightning ports?
That's right; Apple is committed to the charger standard introduced with the iPhone 5.

Which LTE bands will the phones use?
In the US and Canada, various iPhone models support these bands: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 13, 17, 18, 19, 20, 25, and 26 (but not 7). US carriers AT&T, Aio Wireless (an AT&T subsidiary), Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, and Virgin Mobile (a Sprint subsidiary) will all support LTE, along with regional carriers.

You'll find Apple's full list by country, carrier, phone, and bands here.

Will I be able to use the iPhone 5S and 5C abroad?
Yes, the iPhone 5S and 5C are global phones, regardless of the GSM or CDMA network you buy it for. That means that if you're using the Verizon or Sprint versions on their home CDMA networks, they'll switch to GSM overseas to send texts and make calls.

Data roaming is definitely possible, but you should check with your carrier before setting foot on a plane to find out their coverage details.

Play

Can I use voice and data simultaneously?
If you buy the phones with AT&T and T-Mobile, then you're smooth sailing. However, Verizon and Sprint customers run into the same issues as iPhone 5 buyers did with making calls while browsing the Internet over a data network (you're fine if you're browsing over Wi-Fi). CNET's Roger Cheng has all the details here.

Are there any new iOS 7 features specific to either iPhone?
Apple often saves some juicy software tidbit from its summer OS update to reveal in the fall with its new smartphones, but no such thrill appeared with iOS 7 on either new iPhone. That isn't necessarily a knock against Apple; rather, it's a confirmation that what you see in iOS7 is basically what you get across most devices (there may be one-off limitations for older products like the iPhone 4S, for instance.)

Will the iPhone 5S have a larger battery?
Apple doesn't disclose the milliamp hour capacity (mAh) of its batteries. Rather, you get hourlong estimates for things like talk time over 3G, standby time, and video playback time, such as up to 10 hours talk time. Battery life has been slightly extended for the iPhone 5S and 5C, Apple says, listing them both at 250 hours of standby time versus the iPhone 5's 225 hours of standby time.

In addition to the battery's charging capacity, processor efficiency and screen size can also play a role in determining the device's lifespan on a single charge.

Is there a visible difference between the iPhone 5's slate color and the 5S' 'space gray'?

Yes indeedy. Space gray is much lighter. This photo shows the two side by side, with the iPhone 5S on the right.
The iPhone 5, left, and 5S in space gray.
Apple's black iPhone 5 (left) and 5S in space gray. Josh Lowensohn/CNET

Just how bright is that gold color, anyhow?

Not very, according to CNET's team attending Apple's launch event. The gold looks more like metallic champagne and isn't overpowering.

Article updated 9/13/2013 at 11:00am PT.

 

Join the discussion

Conversation powered by Livefyre

Don't Miss
Hot Products
Trending on CNET

HOT ON CNET

Looking for a home-security system?

Here's an easy and affordable DIY video-monitoring solution.