Buyers Guide 2014: iPhone 5S vs 5C vs 4S price, cases, colors

The iPhone 5S continues to be the centerpiece of Apple’s smartphone lineup, but the iPhone 5S looms as less pricy, more colorful option even as the aging iPhone 4S sticks around at the bargain basement bottom of the lineup. Each has its pros and cons, and even as Apple prepares to launch a new iPhone lineup in the fall, some consumers are looking to make a purchase now. Here’s our Summer 2014 Buyers Guide for the current iPhone models including prices, case options, color choices, and our recommendations.

iPhone 5S: Apple’s flagship iPhone 5S looks just like last year’s iPhone 5 from the outside, but differs significantly – and we’re not talking about the gold-colored option. There’s a faster processor inside, two processors in fact, along with a slow motion camera and other hardware upgrades. The iPhone 5S has the widest available accessory market of any smartphone, meaning you’ll never have a hard time finding a case, a docking mount, or even a specialty item such as a battery-recharging case. The primary downside to the iPhone 5S is its cost, as it officially sells for $199 even for those who are upgrade-eligible from their carrier. The trick is to find a retailer who’s temporarily selling the iPhone 5S for a lower price, which sometimes dips as low as $129 to $99.

iPhone 5C: Apple’s attempt at reaching out to the lower end of the smartphone market with the iPhone 5C, and reaching younger buyers, has been a mixed bag. Sales breakdowns suggest most consumers take a look at the iPhone 5C and then decide they’re better off buying the more expensive iPhone 5S. So what are the drawbacks of the 5C? Its colors are all bright and shiny, making for a love it or hate it reaction from buyers. It’s a thicker phone than the 5S, as a heftier amount of plastic is required to make it as sturdy. And while the case market is fairly abundant for the iPhone 5C, those manufacturers who have decided to focus on one iPhone model or another have almost universally opted for the iPhone 5S. Don’t expect to be able to find battery cases or waterproof cases as easily, for instance. But with the $99 iPhone 5C often popping up for as little as $29 at various retailers, price alone makes it a strong bargain.

iPhone 4S: Apple keeps the iPhone 4S around simply so it can say that it offers a free-with-contract iPhone model. Its specs are outdated, accessories are fairly hard to find, it uses the old 30-pin charging port which has been made obsolete by the new Lightning port, it’s thicker and heavier than the iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C, and it’s not particularly recommendable to anyone at this point.

The Buyers Guide verdict: The iPhone 5S is the best option by far if price isn’t a factor. For those one somewhat of a budget, the iPhone 5C is tempting but the iPhone 5S may still be the better value, depending on whatever pricing deals are being offered on each at any given time. The iPhone 4S is not recommendable in 2014, and those on a tight budget would do better to seek out the best deal possible on the iPhone 5C instead.