THE SHORT REVIEW
THE LONG REVIEW
- Introduction and design
- Key features
- Interface and performance
- Gaming and media
Why has Apple decided to not join the masses with a really high-res screen? Why is the iPhone still the most expensive on the market? Has it done enough to improve the quite dire battery life of previous models, especially at a time when many high-end Android phones are easily chugging through a day’s hard use without thirsting for a charger’s caress? Let’s find out.
For years, Android phones have shipped with displays in expansive, 5-inch-ish sizes, but Apple had insisted on the necessity of a small screen for one-handed operation. The iPhone 5S, while powerful, hit a wall in viewing room: its 4-inch screen was among the smallest on the market, and, frankly, I found it limiting.
Apple now has two larger iPhones: one big, the other even bigger. The iPhone 6 sports a 4.7-inch screen, while the iPhone 6 Plus goes full “phablet” with a 5.5-inch display. Compared to earlier iPhones, both of the new models boast thinner bodies, ship with faster A8 processors, slightly improved cameras, speedier Wi-Fi and LTE cellular data, better voice quality if you’re using voice-over-LTE, and — except in the entry-level models — more onboard storage. And like all current iPhones, these are running iOS 8.1; it’s a far less revolutionary update than iOS 7 was, but it adds some nice improvements and customization options, including notification widgets, replaceable keyboards, a new Health app and Apple Pay.
That last feature is especially notable. Both new iPhones incorporate Apple’s new payment system, effectively turning each of them into a mobile wallet linked to your credit card. This sort of contactless, NFC-powered technology has been around for years on rival phones. But having used it since its mid-October debut, I can say that it works seamlessly (most of the time), and the implementation of Apple’s TouchID fingerprint reader puts it head and shoulders above current Android alternatives like Google Wallet.
Both the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are very evenly matched, but the larger model boasts an upgraded camera and longer battery life. In our real-world testing, the optical image stabilization of the 6 Plus’s camera didn’t seem to deliver appreciably better photos than the already excellent camera on the iPhone 6.
The new iPhone design may seem bold and different, or possibly a little like the curved metal of the HTC One M8, but it’s also still very much Apple. In fact, it’s kind of like the design of the 2012 iPod Touch, or that of the recent iPads. This iPhone is slightly thinner than before, but it feels much thinner; part of that’s the increased screen size, and partly it’s the curved design. Glass from the front folds ever so slightly around the edges, and the sharp industrial hard edges of the iPhone 5 and 5S are completely gone.
It also feels a little like the original iPhone, which had a rounded design, too. But that phone was chunkier, with a far smaller screen. It felt like holding a pebble. The iPhone 6 is flat and thin, like a slab.
What about the bendgate case ? Consumer Reports’ testing found that the new iPhones can withstand less pressure than the iPhone 5, LG G3, and Samsung Galaxy Note 3, but are about as equally durable as the HTC One M8. In other words, they are far from fragile, but yes, like any other piece of electronics, they could be damaged — so handle with care, and get a case for it. (After over a month of normal use, I haven’t had any iPhone bending).
Also, the slightly protruding camera lens on the back of the iPhone 6, while similar to the one on the fifth-gen iPod Touch, made me worry about setting the phone down on rough surfaces, regardless of the sapphire lens. But again: adding a case will pretty much make this a non-issue.
The volume buttons, which were round, raised buttons on previous iPhone iterations, are now elongated like those on the iPod Touch and iPad. The top-right power/sleep button has shifted to the right, like you find on some Android phones. It takes some getting used to, but it’s easier to press now that the phone is bigger.
A round Touch ID home button remains at the bottom and works the same as on last year’s iPhone 5S: a simple press on the fingerprint reader unlocks your phone, and it works amazingly well most of the time. And now iOS 8 and Apple Pay allow you to do more with Touch ID, making it an even more essential feature.
iPhones have always had phenomenal displays, both in terms of brightness and color quality. Grayscale and contrast levels are better than previous iPhones, while color accuracy remains about the same.
But the bottom line is, the iPhone 6’s 4.7-inch IPS display looks excellent: vivid, rich, and bigger than before. But not that much bigger. The display’s 1,344×750-pixel resolution is higher than the iPhone 5/5C/5S’ 1,136×640, but it has the same 326ppi pixel density. It’s a good step up, and a big help for nearly anything you’d use your phone’s screen for.
A grid of six-by-four apps now fits on each page plus the four in the dock below, for 28 total; on the 5’s 4-inch display, it’s 24. There are more pixels horizontally and vertically, unlike the merely vertical lengthening of the iPhone 5. That also means the aspect ratio is the same (16×9), and videos and Web pages scale similarly.
Optimized apps look fantastic, but nonoptimized apps still scale up well, too: games and streaming video services that aren’t technically optimized still fill the screen and have crisp text, although some suffer larger icons or buttons.
It’s much better than older iPhones, though, and the transition to the larger display doesn’t take long to get used to. After living with the iPhone 6, my iPhone 5S screen looked small indeed.
How fast do we need our phones to be? The potential of last year’s crazy-fast-on-paper A7 processor still hasn’t been fully tapped. The new A8 processor on the iPhone 6 isn’t quite the quantum leap the A7 was. It’s a 64-bit dual-core processor just like the A7, but Apple claims a 25 percent boost in speed and a 50 percent graphics boost over last year’s iPhone 5S. Still, it’s one of the fastest phones around, and runs nearly all tasks at a silky-smooth clip.
Apple’s new Metal coding tool for gaming could help iOS games perform even better with the A8 than what these initial benchmarks suggest. Games that have been iPhone 6-optimized look better and still load and run quickly, but the difference isn’t as dramatic as you might expect.
An equally welcome addition is 802.11ac Wi-Fi and improved LTE antennas, which allow for faster Web browsing on both Wi-Fi and LTE.
The new iPhones have some audio-improvement tweaks for phone calls: the phones can make higher-quality audio calls via voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) and can make calls over Wi-Fi when your cell connection is weak. Your success with these phone-quality features may vary depending on what city you live in and the carrier you have.
In the quest to create a superthin iPhone, maybe Apple should have thought about a thicker iPhone with better battery life instead : our battery test found that the iPhone 6’s battery life was essentially identical to that of last year’s iPhone 5S, while the larger battery in the 6 Plus delivered at least two and a half hours more battery life just for video, and more depending on your use case.
It’s come to the point where we expect yearly camera upgrades of significance in our phones. The new iPhone’s biggest improvements come in autofocus: the 8-megapixel rear iSight camera has the same megapixel count and flash as last year, but autofocus has been improved for both still photos and videos. Your days of tapping-to-focus are over. To my eyes, the iPhone 6 camera isn’t the leap that the iPhone 5S’ was from the 5’s. The LED “true-tone” flash remains the same, as does the sapphire lens.
The iPhone’s video-recording speeds can be set at 60fps now, which gives a more immediate crispness for high-speed action. Slow-motion video recording can be set to 120 or 240 frames per second. File sizes get large at 240fps, but you end up with highlight clips that feel like “Matrix” outtakes. And the panorama mode takes much clearer 43-megapixel photos: you can zoom in and see more detail, if you’re into large panoramas.
FaceTime front-facing photos get a subtle boost with a larger f/2.2 aperture, improved HDR sensors, and a quick-burst mode like the rear camera added last year. It’s better for selfies in low light, and seems better so far for FaceTime calls, too. It’s not dramatic, but it’s noticeable. Also, the FaceTime camera has shifted off-center this time, slightly to the left of the speaker. At first it seems odd, but it’s clever: I used to keep staring at my own face in the corner when I made video calls in landscape mode, which caused my eyes to drift. Now, the lens and your face can line up, and it made me avoid the “zombie” look.
Let’s take a quick look at the price – and it’s not pretty.
In the UK, you’re looking at £539 for the 16GB version, £619 for the 64GB option and £699 for the 128GB model. On a decent contract these start at around £45 per month, with roughly £100 for the phone up front, although you can shop around and get it for slightly less if you stray from the main networks.
That’s a lot more than the competition, with most high-end contracts topping out at £38 for the main rivals, with less up front too.
In the US, the Apple iPhone 6 16GB is $199 on contract, 64GB comes in at $299 and the 128GB at $399. If you’re planning to go off book, then it’s 16GB at $649, 64GB available for $749 and a whopping $849 for the 128GB model.