Apple's 'Cheap' iPhone Is Actually Kind Of Expensive, And Doesn't Feel Cheap At All

CUPERTINO, CA - SEPTEMBER 10:  The new iPhone 5C is displayed during an Apple product announcement at the Apple campus on Sep
CUPERTINO, CA - SEPTEMBER 10: The new iPhone 5C is displayed during an Apple product announcement at the Apple campus on September 10, 2013 in Cupertino, California. The company launched the new iPhone 5C model that will run iOS 7 is made from hard-coated polycarbonate and comes in various colors and the iPhone 5S that features fingerprint recognition security. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

CUPERTINO, CALIF. -- Apple's new "cheap" plastic phone doesn't feel cheap at all. That makes sense when you consider that the colorful iPhone 5C unveiled here this morning actually costs quite a bit of money.

When bought with a new two-year contract, the phone starts at $99, half the price of other new iPhones at launch. Yet the unlocked 16GB version of the phone will sell for $549, while the unlocked 32GB model will be available for $649. In China, the Wall Street Journal notes, the 5C will start at a whopping $733.42.

On Tuesday Apple also unveiled a higher-end phone, the 5S, which features a raft of new bells and whistles you can't get on the cheaper model. The 5S includes a slow-motion camera, a better flash, a fingerprint-sensing home button and a faster processor. The higher-priced model -- the 16GB unlocked version is $649 -- is made of aluminum.

The 5C is Apple's attempt to break into an international market dominated by Android, which powers smartphones from many different manufacturers. Devices running Android, including Samsung's popular Galaxy lineup of smartphones, made up nearly 80 percent of smartphones sold worldwide in the three months ending in June, according to the technology research firm IDC.

Using some polished corporate lingo before the small crowd of journalists, Apple executives and Silicon Valley insiders, Apple CEO Tim Cook explained Tuesday that company is trying to sell iPhones to many, many more people. The two iPhone models will allow Apple to "serve even more customers," Cook told an enthusiastic crowd.

I had the opportunity to spend a few minutes with the new phone here at Apple's headquarters Tuesday and was surprised by how solid the phone felt in my hands. While there's a plastic (or, as Apple calls it, "hard-coated polycarbonate") shell, there's a steel frame that holds the components and functions as an antenna, giving the phone some heft. At 4.65 ounces, it's seven-tenths of an ounce heavier than the iPhone 5 and the iPhone 5S.

In the short time I had with the phone this afternoon, I couldn't help but think that even though it's less expensive and made from cheaper material, Apple hasn't strayed from the clean, elegant design it's known for. The 5C still feels like a premium product.

Because it's made from one piece of plastic, there are no seams that are visible when plastic pieces are joined together. In fact, it doesn't even feel plastic -- which is exactly what Apple is going for.

From the front, it looks nearly identical to an iPhone 5. The camera, speaker, headphone jack and power plug are all in the same place. The biggest difference when you look at the phone is that you can see the outline of the plastic casing, which gives the phone a colorful accent. This is visible -- and can even be more pronounced because of the contrast -- with Apple's $29 rubber cases it's selling, which we'll get to in a minute.

iphone 5c
The iPhone 5C on the left next to an iPhone 5 on the right.

If you turn it over, though, you can see that it doesn't have the two rear panels at the top and bottom that the iPhone 5 and 5S have, thanks to its one-piece construction.

iphone 5s hands on
The iPhone 5C on the left next to an iPhone 5 on the right.

Speaking of cases, Apple's cases come in five colors and feature a prominent cutout for the camera and flash. There are 35 holes on the back of the case, so the phone's color still shows through. The cases, which have a grippy feel that contrasts with the iPhone 5C's shiny finish, come in green, pink, blue, white and black.

The phone comes in five colors -- white, yellow, green, pink and blue -- and will be available for pre-order on Sept. 13 and for sale on Sept. 20.

The 5C will be available at the same time in the U.S. as it will be in a handful of other countries, including China and Japan. At a time when Apple is battling it out with low-cost handset makers to sell smartphones throughout the world, it remains to be seen whether or not Apple’s less expensive iPhone can help it catch up to Android.


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iPhone 5C