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Apple Watch: Plastic fantastic

iPhone 5c and Apple case, iPhone 5s and Apple leather 5s case.
iPhone 5c and Apple case, iPhone 5s and Apple leather 5s case.

The new iPhones went on sale here last Friday. It always delights me how coy Apple is. If you ask what message Apple might be trying to send Microsoft by making OS 10.9 and iWork free, you'll get an answer along the lines of 'no message: Apple's interest is solely in the people using Apple devices'.

Believe that as you may, but a case in point might be the new 'cheaper' and plastic-bodied iPhone 5c. OK, so hopefully we've settled the point that it's not exactly 'cheap'. Like I have said many times before, Apple just doesn't do cheap. Besides, it doesn't feel cheap - the first thing you'll notice, if you ever get your hands on one, is that it feels solid, thanks to an internal steel frame, and it feels well crafted. These 5c case colours go right through the system, with each using a same-coloured desktop wallpaper (which you can change) out of the box.

So what does the 'c' stand for? The cynical might say 'cost'. I would have thought 'colour', since they're particularly bright and cheerful for Apple products, which usually all look so serious these days. Apple says, coyly again, that the c doesn't stand for anything - it's just a model designation.

The polycarbonate case of the 5c is tough, but it's still fairly prone to scratching, at least compared to its aluminium siblings. It does have a lacquer finish, which makes it shiny while providing a scratch and fingerprint-resistant surface, but that also means it's a bit slippery. That's partly why Apple created a range of new cases specifically for the 5c. The other reason was the fun aspect of being able to mix and match a brightly coloured case with the colour you selected for your 5c. With six case colours and five iPhone 5c colours, there are lots of potential combos without even buying outside of Apple.

The 5c case feels good too - it has two layers, with the exterior of semi-rigid silicone. It creates a perfect fit and sits slightly above the bezel, but the colour of your iPhone 5c is still apparent around the edge of the screen. If you lay your iPhone flat, the case protrudes slightly to hold the glass touchscreen slightly above a flat surface, costing NZ$45 each.

Anecdotally, the feedback is that despite the cost of a 5c being less than the 5s (base model NZ$899 versus NZ$1049), the 5s is still selling more. Apple wouldn't confirm that. I would imagine (if it's true) it's because the early adopters spring for the latest and greatest and that's the 5s. The 5c may come into its own once the 'latest and greatest' dust settles.

However, there's a question that remains unanswered. Why is Apple still selling the 4s? That means there are three models available, which is unprecedented, and surely counterproductive. I mean, if saving money is your impetus, aren't you then tempted to go all the way and get the 4s? It starts at NZ$649. Apple must be selling through its inventory, since it appears the 4s is no longer being manufactured. Once it's gone, the 5c will get more market consideration.

The other interesting thing is how much better is the 5s? A lot, simply speaking. This thing is awesome. I mean, it looks and feels a lot like an iPhone 5, with the same form factor, but it's capable of a lot more.

Firstly, the fingerprint sensor. Setting up requires holding your finger (or thumb) over the sensor several times to build up an impression (not just optically) of your digit from different angles, to take into account a perhaps hurried, at times, impression from an sub-optimum angle.

You can set up to five prints - five of yours, or your colleagues, family etc.

Secondly, the camera. It's 'only' 8 megapixels, the same as the iPhone 5 and 5c. That doesn't bother me - with a lens being only so big and limited space in a smartphone body, there's a point where the optimum combination is reached and this is probably about it. Packing in more megapixels to the sensor is not going to add much due to the limitations mentioned, except to make bigger images which take more storage.

With that perhaps in mind, Apple has worked to make the sensor more effective in low light (it's 15 per cent larger) while making the aperture wider (ƒ/2.2), giving you a whole stop more. It has the same sapphire crystal lens cover as the iPhone 5 and 5c, and a five-element lens but perhaps most impressive is the Two Tone flash - the 5s has a cool and a warm light and makes a calculation from 1000 possible combinations for the best colour balance for your shot - all of which is made possible by the somewhat frightening speed of that 64-bit CPU and its 2x faster graphics.

This is the camera that lets you shoot so-called 'slo-mo' video (but only at 720p, not the full 1080p that normal shooting gives you). That's where most of those YouTube clips showing people balletically spinning on trampolines or majestically skating past are coming from. In this mode, it captures 120 frames per second instead of the more usual 24 or 25. You can then select the portion that you want to play in slow-motion - tap on the thumbnail of the movie you just shot in the bottom left corner, and drag the vertical bars beneath the frame viewer to set the section you want to play back in slow motion, or choose to play the entire video in slow motion.

Of course, the new iMovie that comes with Mavericks can handle - and wrangle - this feature.

The other thing I like to play with is burst mode - again due that new 64-bit processor. With iPhones 4 on, you can shoot pictures by holding down the shutter button to let it capture subsequent frames. The 5s ramps it up to 10 shots per second, though. The iOS Camera app analyses these photos in real-time, and selects individual photos or a scene of photos based on sharpness and clarity, and even detects when someone's eyes are closed.

There's a lot more, thanks to extra internal chips - and it's a phone, too.

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