Apple’s change to its juggernaut smartphone is here, and it’s not just a number change with a fingerprint sensor. This time, the iPhone includes a bigger screen, faster processor, and a new design. Is this Apple’s best yet, and can it take on the ever growing competition from the likes of Sony, Samsung, HTC, and LG?
Ready for a new phone? Of course you are, and if you’ve been itching for a bigger, brighter iPhone, your time is at hand.
The next stage of the iPhone 6 is ready to be touch, held, prodded, and spoken to, with a larger display, new design, and more features than you can shake an iStick at.
The first thing you’ll notice about the model is the screen, which has jumped from a 4 inch display running 1136×640 to a 4.7 inch screen with the resolution of 1334×750. With this screen size and resolution employed, the pixel count measures the same as the previous model, with 326 pixels per inch in the iPhone 6.
Apple is protecting its display with a highly strengthened glass, too, so while it probably won’t survive a large quantity of drops, it should survive one or two (depending on how it fell), as well as the odd scratch here and there.
Underneath this screen is a new set of components, with a 64-bit processor controlling things here, the new A8 chip an update on last year’s A7, working alongside 1GB RAM and either 16GB, 64GB, or 128GB of storage. A new motion coprocessor is also here to track movements and store them, found in the M8 coprocessor.
Connection options are fairly normal, with 4G LTE updated to Category 4 4G, capable of achieving up to 150Mbps download speeds on supported networks, and 100Mbps for regular Category 3 networks. WiFi has also been updated, with 802.11ac supported finally, though older networks on 802.11a/b/g/n will also work here.
Bluetooth 4.0 is also included here, as is Near-Field Communication, the latter of these very new to Apple. Assisted GPS and GLONASS support is also included.
Over on the camera side of things, the 8 megapixel rear camera from the iPhone 5S has seen an upgrade, but not in the available megapixels, with the same 8 megapixels helped with an f/2.2 aperture, improved capture controls for light changing, five-element lens, “Focus Pixels” autofocus technology, and a lens cover made of Sapphire crystal which we’re told is very, very hard to scratch or break.
Video is also possible from this rear camera, with Full HD movies shot at 60fps, while a slow motion mode has also been added offering 120 and 240fps modes, as well as a time lapse video mode.
The front camera is still one of Apple’s “FaceTime” cameras, sporting the same 1.2 megapixels from last time, once again with f/2.2 aperture.
All of this sits in a body made from aluminium, with a design reminiscent of the previous iPod Touch.
As is the case with other Apple phones, buttons have been included, but moved around, with volume buttons on the left edge below the mute/vibrate switch, the power button now on the right edge, and the home button up front and at the bottom including the fingerprint sensor known as “Touch ID.”
Ports are limited, however, with the Lightning dock port found at the very bottom, sitting in between the 3.5mm headphone jack on the left side and speaker holes on the right.
The iPhone 6 is available in three colours, with silver, gold, and space grey.
The battery for the iPhone 6 is rated at 1810mAh.
Performance: what we love
There was a time when Apple didn’t believe in big phones, or “phablets” as we now call them. It was four years ago when the former head of Apple answered a question at a press conference to say “no one’s going to buy that,” in reference to phones so large your hands would have trouble wrapping around them.
My, how times have changed.
Since Steve Jobs said that four years ago, we’ve seen several generations of Samsung’s Galaxy Note phablet, the occasional competitor, and the average flagship screen size jump from 4 to 4.5 to 4.8 to 5 inches, with the current sizes sitting between 5 and 5.5 inches for big phones that aren’t phablets.
Turns out Steve was wrong: people do want big phones.
That’s an issue Apple has had to come to grips with, and with the latest version of iPhone, hopes it is dealing with the complaint.
The result is the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus, the former of which is being reviewed in this article. Both are big devices, with a 4.7 inch screen gracing the iPhone 6, and a bigger 5.5 inch display on the iPhone 6 Plus.
If these sound like too much, too bad, as this is the path Apple feels like it’s traversing, leaving the 4 inch compact 5S only in place as an entry level phone, and making the iPhone 6 start at 4.7 inches.
Bigger is better, we’re being led to believe, whether you like it or not.
Frankly, we wouldn’t be surprised to see if Apple changes its mind in the next generation or two, and with the iPhone 7, releases the iPhone 7 S, iPhone 7 M, iPhone 7L, and iPhone 7XL variants, as it would offer a few different phone sizes for a few different hands, but that’s a thought for another day, because right now, we have a phone to review.
First, the design, and this is an area most readers will know Apple is brilliant at. With that in mind, the iPhone 6 continues Apple’s dominance of simple designs that work. There are some bugs with it, and we’ll get to them later, but for the most part, this is the Keep It Simple philosophy in all its excellent.
It’s also an evolution of another Apple product, with the company choosing the iPod Touch as the next canvas for the iPhone and utilising that design in the process.
More than the last generation of the iPhone and more than the iPad Air, the iPhone 6 looks and feels like the iPod Touch.
Like Apple’s phone-less iPhone, it’s slim, soft, and solid, with a metal body, 6.9mm thickness, 129 gram weight, and not much of a dent in your pants when you push the handset into your pockets.
If you ever held the iPod Touch and said “wouldn’t it be nice if this had a phone inside,” that’s more or less what you’re getting in the iPhone 6.
Apple’s attention to detail is here in the materials used, too, with aluminium and a very solid mineral strengthened glass relied upon in its construction. We’re not quite sure what type of resistant glass it is — Apple wouldn’t say — but we’re hazarding a guess that it’s Gorilla Glass 4 or something equally durable, and the curved edges on the side help complete the look, with a glass that bends to meet the solid aluminium frame and chassis, not just meeting with it at the corners as previous iPhones have.
Every other detail, though, is here as you’d expect it, with perfect circles of the speakers at the bottom and at the top where the ear goes, two screws holding the Lightning dock in place, and a microphone sitting just to the right of the 3.5mm jack.
In typical Apple style, everything is drilled perfectly, and there isn’t an errant edge or jaggy at all. As per usual, this is Apple’s industrial design brilliance and perfection at its best.
The back isn’t all metal, mind you, with some plastic around the top and bottom, but it’s a minor shift, and doesn’t stop you from focusing on the simplicity of the iPhone 6 design.
By now, you’ve probably heard the buttons are in a slightly different position, and that’s part and parcel of the handset being bigger. Like what Samsung does with the Galaxy S series, you’ll find the power button on right edge and volume buttons on the left, and if you hold your phone comfortably with your digits gripping each side, you’ll likely find them easily.
So with that in mind, let’s switch the phone on.
Just like so many phones, the iPhone’s screen comes to life with an immense amount of colour and brightness.
We’ll go into detail about the screen shortly, but for the most part, you won’t be disappointed: it’s bright, vibrant, crisp, and viewable from every angle. To that last part, we’re told Apple does this with “dual-domain pixels,” but all you really need to know is that even if you’re viewing at extreme angles, you’ll see colours almost exactly as they’re meant to be seen.
It’s a very pretty display, and yes, it’s now larger.
For the iPhone 6, we’ve almost gone up a whole inch from its iPhone 5S brother, jumping from 4 inches all the way to 4.7 inches, which is a pretty severe difference when all things are considered. To help you deal with this screen size, Apple has built in two display modes: standard and zoom.
Standard will deliver smaller icons, smaller text, and is generally made for people who have no problem with eyesight, even adding an extra row of icons on the menus with the space saved.
If you do have a bit of an issue, zoom will raise the size, rendering the screen at the iPhone 5S resolution of 1136×640 and making for larger icons and bigger text sizes.
Regardless of what mode you choose, the screen will be very clear, though not as sharp as what is offered by other smartphones out there, with the iPhone 6 continuing the “Retina” resolution set out by Apple years ago, and keeping the pixel count at 326 pixels per inch.
Technically, the iPhone 6 runs at a resolution of 1334×750, an unusual resolution that is made for this specific purpose, and lets Apple get in there just barely with the statement of calling this a “high definition” screen, with the new label “Retina HD.”
Even though there’s a high definition screen at play, it isn’t quite as high end as the competition, with 326ppi less than the other flagship 4.7 to 5.2 inch screens. That said, your eyes aren’t likely to notice the difference, especially since they’re the bottleneck in this whole thing.
Moving over to phone performance, and while it’s hard to compare benchmarks, you won’t be dissatisfied here either.
While we’re yet to see anything truly take advantage of the new A8 processor and the M8 motion chip working alongside it, the games and apps we tested on the iPhone 6 all performed very well with few moments of lag.
WiFi worked well for the most part on our 802.11ac networks, as did 4G LTE, which provided speeds of between 30 and 80Mbps on the Telstra network within Sydney’s CBD. Higher speeds are likely possible on Category 4 LTE networks, which at this point should include Vodafone in Australia.
Voice over LTE is also supported on the phone, but not running in Australia, not yet anyway, with telcos expected to see it launch locally next year. At least you know the iPhone 6 is future-proofed for one thing.
iOS 8, Siri, and Touch ID
With the release of the iPhone 6 comes a new operating system: iOS 8.
The latest generation boasts a few features to better integrate your peripherals, with devices like there Jawbone Up and Fitbit Flex now able to paint a complete picture of your health for the “Health” app on iOS 8.
Apple’s messaging application aptly named “Messages” is better, too, and can now send voice messages almost like a tiny recorded phone call, except over Apple’s messaging system, with a location also able to be sent using the GPS and an Apple map.
Another important feature is particularly interesting, and that’s called Continuity.
Essentially, if you have several Apple devices, they too can receive the information from your phone at the same time. For instance, we had a phone call on our iPhone 6, and both the iMac on our desk running Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite Beta and the iPhone 5S running iOS 8 could pick up the phone call, allowing us to talk through these devices and sending the information to the active phone, the iPhone 6.
That is very cool, and it happens with messages as well, delivering our SMS to the computer when we need them.
We know this is an Apple-only feature, and you’ll need other Apple devices if you want to see it, but it’s cool nonetheless, and love seeing this in action.
QuickType and keyboard replacement are our other favourite features for iOS 8, with QuickType providing a better built-in keyboard that appears to learn, while Apple’s support for third party on-screen keyboards means you can add in Swype or SwiftKey and use gesture typing like how Android phones have had for ages.
There are still bugs here and there with iOS 8, noted with the replacement keyboards which would occasionally disappear and not load at all, or even disappear and leave us with Apple’s own keyboard until we left and re-entered the app.
Likewise, iOS 8 struggles with the new 1334×750 screen resolution, flickering wildly every so often in different apps, but it’s early days, and these problems are likely but a patch away.
Apple’s voice assistant Siri seems to have improved, too, with a more fluid assistant available at your disposal when you hold down the home button and call her to action.
After testing it, this reviewer prefers Google Now and Microsoft’s Cortana to Apple’s Sir, but the experience has noticeably improved over the past year or two.
Finally, there’s Touch ID, that fingerprint sensor that didn’t do much last year and now does a little more.
Apple has kept the phone unlocking and app payments part of the package, and these work a treat once your digits have been setup, but more apps are set to involve the technology shortly, with a diary app available, and some password options, too.
We’re not sure if Apple has intentionally fixed or changed Touch ID, but it feels more stable this year in the iPhone 6, with most reads letting us into the phone quickly, and only a few extra tries needed. Light didn’t pose as much of a problem this year, and we could rely on the feature as a lock mechanism in our tests.
An improved camera
Smartphone cameras are getting better and better, and this is an area manufacturers are really thinking about.
You only have to look at the Nokia Lumia 1020 and its 40 megapixel camera to see just how playful manufacturers are getting, and with 13, 16, and 20 megapixel cameras normal inclusions, this is an area a manufacturer really has to think about.
For the iPhone 6, Apple hasn’t been working on increasing the sensor from its 8 megapixel count, but rather improving the sensor and how it views light, with the inclusion of “Focus Pixels,” which Apple says helps the iPhone get more information about what you’re aiming the camera at.
There’s little information on how this works, but it sounds a like a real-time version of RAW technology, taking information about light at various angles and using this to work out how best to focus the lens, while providing a touch based version of aperture control, sliding a little sun up or down a scale to change the light based on the subject you’re touching on the screen.
In real life and practise, the technology works for the most part, providing a little more control in one of the easiest camera apps, with solid performance in both daylight and at night.
The best performance is in daylight, and we’re sure you’re hardly surprised by that, but at night, the effort isn’t bad, with the dual-tone flash helping light scenes, though we preferred the ambient light most of the time. Sometimes, ambient light won’t be enough, though, providing some blotchy colour blocks.
With decent lighting, though, even the dark scenes render nicely, and there’s even some solid macro abilities to be had, as well, though the iPhone 6 camera tends to prefer an abundance of light if you want to get up close and personal with things, like food, flowers, or bugs.
Trigger happy shutterbugs will find a speedy burst of rapid fire frames is possible simply by holding down the shutter, providing quite a few frames — we stopped at 40, but you could probably get more from a single burst — with the camera app providing a way to narrow these down significantly, even though these will all be stored as individual files on the phone itself.
Video is equally fun to play with, not just because there’s a faster 60fps Full HD capture, but also because the focus is always adjusting and readjusting, thanks to continuous autofocus, while slow motion can now be captured at 240 frames per second, provided you don’t mind dropping to 720p HD (1280×720).
Over to the front-facing camera, and while little has changed, it does appear to be a little brighter than its predecessor, even though the megapixels have stayed the same.
On this one, you’re going to find people complaining regardless, because while the megapixels haven’t nudged from 1.2mp — and they probably should have — we suspect Apple has taken the view of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” with this one.
The fact of the matter is, while devices like the HTC One M8 carry a 5 megapixel front facing camera, and others run the gamut between 2 and 13, Apple’s 1.2 megapixel front-facing shooter still provides solid colours, reasonable sharpness, and enough for most people to indulge the habit that is frequent self-portraiture shooting.
You may be begging for more, but you won’t mind having more of the same, we suspect.
Performance: what we don’t (like)
Then there are the things that trouble us, because while Apple is normally THE perfectionist, it feels like it might have dropped the ball a little, especially in comparison to what the competition has.
Let’s start with the design: we’ve already said that it’s lovely, sexy, oozes simplicity, and feels great in your hands.
It does all of that, and yet it’s also insanely slippery, with the metal curved sides falling out of fingers easily, and the flat metal back just as slick when your palms do eventually touch it.
Indeed, the tight grip doesn’t always work here, as the edges are just that slippery, and you’ll find a case is the best way of stopping your phone from falling out of your hand.
This isn’t the square-edged iPhone we’ve seen from Apple for the past four or five years, that’s for sure, and while the smaller size of the iPod Touch was infinitely easier to grip, part of the problem comes not from the jump from 4 to 4.7 inches, but rather from the type of edges Apple has imbued on the iPhone 6, with the iPod Touch edges flat, while the iPhone 6 is more curved.
That change, no matter how simple it was, appears to be one of the things making the iPhone 6 hard to grip. It’s a simple design flaw, but one that will leave your hands stumbling.
Also posing a problem is the balancing act of holding a phone whose control button is at the bottom.
You see, for years Apple has been training iPhone owners to hold the phone in their dominant hand with the thumb sitting on the home button. Part of this reason came from Apple’s belief that the smartphone should be designed for the thumb, and that the screen should be easily accessible by one digit — the thumb — making a touchscreen phone into a one handed device.
That made sense on the iPhone up to the 4, where the screen was stumpy at 3.5 inches in comparison to the elongated 4.5 to 6 inch screens we used today, but even on the slightly increase 4 to 5S, it worked, with the bump to 4 inches providing most of the space with the thumb on small hands, and all of it if you had particularly larger digits.
With this design, the hand could be cupped by the fingers and operated with the thumb. Easy.
On the iPhone 6, it’s a different game altogether.
With a larger screen — longer and wider — the display is not only harder to operate with just a thumb, but holding the handset with the thumb at the bottom of the unit while the handset rests against the fingers makes for a slightly troubling and uncomfortable act of having the bulk of the handset feel like it’s going to fall out of your fingers as it hands over your forefinger.
It’s troubling because the last thing you want to do with your new smartphone is drop it, and yet this handhold feels close to what will happen, almost as if you’re being given a vision of the future.
Apple even suggests its thumb driven logic is still one that can work by including “Reachability,” a creative take on the home button which asks for a light double tap — not a full press, just two quick subsequent touches — which drags the top of the screen to the middle, allowing you to operate the larger display from within your thumb’s reach.
This is an interesting inclusion, but a far better way of using the iPhone 6 is to hold the phone in one hand with your thumb at the side, operating the handset with your other hand.
We’re also a little stumped by the inclusion of Near-Field Communication, or rather the disabling of it.
We love NFC. We couldn’t be happier with the technology, and see it as a great way to get devices paired.
Hate linking up Bluetooth headphones? Bump em, and NFC will initiate the process for you.
Want to send photos from a smart camera to a smartphone in a jiffy? Bump the two together and start the process, connecting phone to camera and making the transfer quick and speedy.
So far, Near-Field Communication has made technology easier for us and regular consumers, and with the contactless tech now gracing payment terminals, printers, computers, and door locks, we see it as beneficial for the average regular Joe.
But Apple has other plans. Even though NFC graces the iPhone 6, you can’t actually use it, with no support for anything other than Apple’s payment solution, aptly named Apple Pay.
In Australia, we haven’t seen anything with that yet, and we’ve yet to hear if any banks or shops are testing it, but it is a little disheartening to see that even though Near-Field exists in the iPhone 6, you can’t use it at all, unless you want to pay with a yet-to-be-seen payment system.
There are also the little things which will get you down, especially if you think that Apple is cutting edge.
Things like a lack of infrared, stopping you from using the iPhone as a remote control, because while the app for Apple TV has been around for a while, you have to own an Apple TV to begin with, while devices like the Samsung Galaxy S5, HTC One M8, and LG G3 all support remote control functionality for most TVs built into the handset.
Things like a lack of waterproofing, because having a more scratch-resistant screen is great, but so is having a phone that can take a dive in the pool, or survive an encounter with the toilet. We still don’t understand how you drop a phone in the toilet, but there are phones that can now survive this, and given the cost of the iPhone 6, this should be one of them.
Apple has made some cool changes, though, and that Apple logo on the back is now an antenna, which should improve signal, while the construction of the phone also makes it possible for the Apple Pay technology to be used by holding the phone in different directions, or it will when the technology is rolled out in Australia.
But then there’s the battery, and if you sole reason for buying an iPhone 6 was because the battery should be better, well, we’ve got news for you.
While a bigger screen may well be high on the wishlist for Apple’s iPhone-owning customers, battery life was the chief concern.
We’ve often heard from so many of Apple’s vocal owners — and they’re pretty vocal — that the iPhone 4, 4S, 5, and 5S just don’t last the length of a day, what with all their calls, texts, emails, Facebooking, tweets, game playing, YouTubing, photo taking, video capturing, music streaming, and just about anything else their wonderous computer in a pocket slapped with an Apple logo can do.
The truth is doing all of that is going to take a dent out of any battery, but recently, manufacturers of other handsets running Android and Windows Phone can reach a full day to a day and a half on a regular basis, with as much as two days possible from some of them. That’s with Bluetooth on, with a few phone calls, texts, emails, web surfing, camera use, and games.
So how does the iPhone 6 compete?
Before we received review units, we looked at the specs, the numbers, did the math, and we weren’t confident: a slightly bigger screen running at a slightly different resolution with the same amount of pixels per inch, and a marginally larger battery didn’t spell a good result.
And after testing it for several days, we can confirm that it is more or less exactly what we predicted.
While the combination of the A8 processor and M8 motion chip may well conserve power better than previous efforts, the increase from a 1560mAh battery to an 1810mAh has done pretty much nothing to extend the life, and you’ll find more or less the same battery from the iPhone 5C on the iPhone 6.
That is to say the iPhone 6 lasts a day. Ish.
Our test was conducted with making phone calls, sending texts, emails, taking photos and the odd video, playing a game here and there, listening to music, social networking, and surfing the web, and throughout this, we found a life of one day was possible, but only just. Technically, it wasn’t a full 24 hours, with a 7am unplug to needing the charge at half past midnight.
That’s not a great result, and iPhone owners keen for more will certainly be frustrated, as they’ll still be forced to carry a battery recharge brick with them if they get more done on their deliciously thin phones than we do.
Worse, that was without Bluetooth, and with under 15 minutes of calls per day. If you make more calls through the course of a day, or rely on an excess of wireless devices — headphones, smartwatch, fitness band — expect to need a charge midway into your regular day, that’s just all there is to it.
And that’s bad news for customers with a dependency on their phone, it really is, as the iPhone 6 isn’t the battery improvement you may well be expecting it to be.
We have higher hopes for the iPhone 6 Plus, because a bigger screen often means a bigger battery, but here in the iPhone 6, Apple has traded a larger battery for a slimmer body, and that’s a trade-off we’re not so sure people will agree with.
The storage dilemma
With the move to the iPhone 6, Apple has upped the built-in storage in smartphones to a whopping 128GB, putting the phone on par with what the MacBook Air offers, and even giving that computer a run for its money in terms of total cost.
You don’t have to pick a 128GB phone, though, as there’s a choice of either 64GB or 16GB.
But we have trouble with that last option, because with no upgradeable storage slot on the iPhone 6, you will run out of storage very quickly, especially if you like games, apps, music, video, and taking photos with the excellent camera found here.
We’re not even sure why Apple has made a 16GB option, and with the iPhone 6, are of the opinion that the sizes should have started with 32GB, not the piddling 16GB option Apple has made the first one.
In fact, the only reasons we can see a school of logic for with the 16GB iPhone include the company having an entry-level iPhone 6 — albeit one that will feel sorely lacking months after purchase when the storage has been eaten into — and having an easy way of upselling customers, especially when the phone seller on the floor explains to them the difference between the 16 and 64GB sizes.
If you are considering an iPhone 6, don’t bother with the 16GB variety, and just invest in either 64 or 128GB. You won’t regret having that supply of storage, but you almost definitely will with the 16GB, especially since you can’t upgrade it.
Conclusion: should you buy it?
For many, the iPhone 6 is exactly what they want in the next stage of the Apple smartphone: a sleek, sexy, and svelte smartphones that feels like it has evolved significantly with this superior size that we’re all seduced by.
But it’s more of a minor increase that brings the iPhone into the current day, with a larger screen, a slimmer design, and a bit of the tech that will make it faster at home and abroad.
That said, it isn’t a benchmark setting phone, unless you want to talk about people standing in line. Rather, it’s a modest upgrade from where the iPhone was, making it larger and more usable for today.
It’s also the first iPhone since the original metal 2G model that this reviewer would actively consider using, since it feels excellent and offers a fantastic experience, once you get around that mediocre battery life.
In fact, the battery life is what would bring us back to another phone, and until Apple fixes it, that’s probably where we’d sit, as barely a day is never a good benchmark for a product that’s supposed to keep up with you, and not the other way around.
Ultimately, if you already own and love the iPhone, you’ll probably love what Apple is offering this time around, but we’d advise checking the competition, because now that everything has changed, it’s not the same formula you’ve grown up with.