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Apple iPhone 6, bigger and better | REVIEW

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Apple iPhone 6, bigger and better | REVIEW

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Key features

The important features of the Apple iPhone 6 are hard to list. On the one hand there are so many of them that I don’t really know where to start, but on the other hand the iPhone 6 is very much an iteration of a long line of Apple smartphones, and shares a lot of features with previous smartphones.

However, there are some standout new additions that I want to talk about.

Screen

The screen of the iPhone 6 is definitely an upgrade from before – you can’t increase the size, resolution, colour reproduction and power efficiency without calling it an improvement.

The resolution on offer is 1334 x 750, which is a change from the 1136 x 640 resolution of previous iPhones. Thanks to being increased to 4.7-inches though it’s still 326PPI, which means you’ll get a very familiar experience visually.

My technology reviewer hat wants to criticise Apple for not going Full HD with the display here, but when I first picked up the iPhone 6 I wasn’t sure if it was a real or dummy device, such was the closeness of the display to the glass.

The improved contrast ratio (the difference between the deepest blacks and the whitest whites) is really something to behold, and the colour reproduction is very impressive too. It’s not in the same league as the Samsung Galaxy S5’s Super AMOLED screen, but then again a lot of people feel that screen is too saturated in colour.

In terms of a more scientific approach, DisplayMate has conducted in-depth tests of the new iPhones, comparing them to the previous model – and there’s good news and bad news here for prospective iPhone buyers.

The good news is that the iPhone 6 is a big step forward on the 5S. The screen is more correct when it comes to colour reproduction, and as mentioned the contrast ratios (which is important for the more atmospheric movies) is improved.

However, here’s the bad news: the iPhone 6 Plus has a much better screen. This is mostly due to the resolution, with DisplayMate noting that the Plus has “the Best Performing LCD that we have ever tested.”

In short, the findings corroborated our own. The iPhone 6 hits the marks when it comes to day to day use, but if you’re after better resolution, brightness or more intense colour reproduction, there are better options on the market – with better tech.

As such, I’m not going to give Apple a pass here for that lower resolution screen. Why are we looking at what is essentially a 720p screen when 18 months ago we were seeing smartphones using a Full HD display at the same size?

OK, so arguments can be made that it saves battery. That the increase in sharpness is imperceptible at this size. And they’re not incorrect statements. It’s a great looking display, and if you’ve got fewer pixels to drive then the battery will hold out longer.

And the Samsung Galaxy Alpha and Sony Xperia Z3 Compact, both rivals in terms of overall dimensions, are also at the same resolution, meaning there’s some thought here by other brands in terms of the lower pixel density.

But there’s a cost reduction associated – the Z3 Compact in particular – where Apple is sitting pretty at the top of the pile when it comes to price.

The sharpness is visible when held next to another device – something like the Samsung Galaxy S5 has sharper, crisper text and the movie watching experience is definitely superior. You might argue that people won’t compare the Apple iPhone 6 with a Full HD display, but of course they will: the iPhone 6 Plus has one, and most people will hold both in their hands before deciding which to choose.

I wouldn’t disparage a phone for not having the best spec if it wasn’t warranted, but for Apple to launch a flagship without packing the best screen technology possible seems a little unfair.

There’s a clear lack of clarity in the crispness of the text and images, especially when browsing the web, and while you probably won’t miss it much when solely using the iPhone thanks to the enhanced screen technology, I can’t see a reason for Apple not sticking in an amazing screen here.

Battery life or design can only be the real problem here – if it’s the former, then Apple should be having a long, hard look at its OS to find out why it can’t handle a Full HD screen when competitors were managing it 18 months ago.

If it’s the latter, then the thickness could have easily been increase a millimetre to accommodate…it wouldn’t have bothered anyone.

The M7 co-processor didn’t really seem to do a lot in the iPhone 5S, but on the Apple iPhone 6 things seem to be stepped up somewhat.

While it’s still a watching brief to see if app vendors actually do start making proper use of the functionality this low-power sensor-watcher brings, at least we know that some will be on board from the start (Nike, for instance, will use it to generate its Fuel Points now its Fuelband is dead).

On top of that, the Health app makes good use of the additional data: with the added barometer on board the iPhone 6, the app will show you how many flights of stairs you’ve climbed along with the boring info of how many steps you’ve taken that day.

The Health App itself is rather confusing, as you need to set the dashboard up with the information you want to see in graph form (for instance, distance and steps climbed) rather than it appear on start up.

When you go to select new items to display from the list, there are seemingly hundreds, with things like ‘Vitamin B intake’ looking really interesting but in reality are useless without external sensors, which Apple is clearly hoping will come along soon.

Touch ID / Apple Pay

According to Apple’s literature, TouchID has been unchanged as a technology in the iPhone 6 from last year’s model. However it definitely feels better and more accurate, as I had barely any mis-reads where last year a good 25% were failing.

It could be that the reading software is improved, but it feels like it’s more than that – either way, TouchID is still miles and miles away from the next best biometric sensor, and with the commerce angle added, it’s one of the best inventions on any smartphone.

Apple Pay has a huge potential to change how we use phones to replace cards

Apple Pay has a huge potential to change how we use phones to replace cards

Apple Pay is the new scheme from the Cupertino brand, and while it’s yet to show itself in the US (and is only vaguely confirmed for Europe next year) you can see in our review of the service from the event itself.

This is going to be a BIG draw for Apple, as unlike Samsung’s tie-in with PayPal, Apple Pay is much more vertically integrated and therefore simple to use.

When the S5 and PayPal work online, it’s a dream to pay for things that way – plus you’ve got the inbuilt penetration of PayPal throughout the internet.

But if Apple Pay becomes as widespread online then it will be a big problem for PayPal as it’s an equally good and secure service, at least in the eyes of the consumer.

Apple Pay, despite some initial resistance to the scheme from some US retailers, is advancing rapidly and seems to be the service many consumers are aware of when it comes to paying for stuff with your phone. That doesn’t mean it’s solved the mobile payment issue in one go though.

Our review from Matt Swider, US senior phones editor, sums it up the best: “Apple Pay is likely to solve other barriers thanks to NFC and Touch ID: card reading errors, credit card skimmers and lost or stolen debit cards could be a thing of the past.

“Apple’s making a bigger, more focused push compared to the 2011 Google Wallet rollout on Android, but there’s no guarantee Apple Pay will pay off any more than it did for Google.”

There’s also talk that the NFC chip in the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, used to enable the payments, could be extended further to let you pair the phone with Bluetooth speakers etc like on Android phones… but for now, it’s payment only.

Better keyboard

In reality, this should really be in the ‘Essentials’ part of the review, but I wanted to bring it here as it’s fixed one of the biggest problems I have with the iPhone in general.

The iPhone 5S and its predecessors are awful for messaging. Whether it’s the tiny display, the cramped and inaccurate keyboard or the way it keeps shutting down if you accidentally press above the top row, it makes me want to throw the phone out of a window.

The new keyboard now features emojis too

The new keyboard now features emojis too

With the Apple iPhone 6, I’m really enjoying the wider key spread (thanks to the larger screen, obviously) the improved prediction engine and the general ease of use.

Add to that the fact Apple will now let you download other keyboards and the messaging experience is definitely now getting a tick in my book.

iCloud Drive, Continuity and Family Sharing

A bit of a catch-all here, but it’s worth noting that the new cloud-based features of iOS 8 work really nicely on the iPhone 6. The ability to share files from a drive, the handover between Mac and iPhone and the way you can now have the entire family locked into one account is a real nice touch.

The latter particularly impresses me, as although it’s not perfect in terms of being able to offer different credit card information (which would be ace if you’ve got a house that has more than one adult with money, but you don’t want to allow everyone to use your card) the fact is even non-families can benefit from being part of the same network.

Today’s media is widely shared with those we trust, and being able to have close friends as part of a family network feels like a real step forward.

And while iCloud Drive feels a little too similar to Google’s iteration in many ways, the integration is great and the fact large files will live there as a link to anyone (thus negating Dropbox in many ways, and more seamlessly than ever) means the iPhone 6 feels like a very smart phone indeed.

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