Apple caved into popular demand this year. Whereas its competitors (Android and Windows Phone) have long gone down the bigger display path, Apple’s been reluctant to go beyond 4-inch displays.
Apple says it could have made a bigger iPhone years ago, but it waited so it could make the best bigger iPhone. Now that the iPhone 6 is here, is it really the best big iPhone, or even the best big-screened smartphone ever created? Read my full review and I’ll hopefully answer that question for you.
I’m not exaggerating when I say I use my iPhone more than any other gadget I own. It’s the one device that is always in my pocket or within arm’s reach no matter where on the planet I am. I don’t want to come off as a fanboy, but I love my iPhone.
While I have used an iPhone 4 and iPhone 5 as my personal smartphone over the last four years, I think Android smartphones are great as well. Devices like the HTC One (M8), LG G3 and Moto X (2014) have matured so well in terms of offering premium design and the latest and greatest versions of Android that fighting the “iPhone vs. Android” battle is silly today. A great smartphone is a great smartphone, whether it’s an iPhone or not. I give credit where credit is deserved.
Back to my usage. I’m a heavy user. I use my iPhone for a lot of Internet browsing, emailing, tweeting, Facebooking, Instagramming, taking photos, recording HD video. I also use it as an iPod and carry my entire 28GB music library with me everywhere.
Design (Closer to perfection)
iPhones are like fashion models: thin and commanding. When a fashion model walks down the catwalk, everyone stops to notice. The same goes for the iPhone 6. Every one of my friends who have seen and held the iPhone 6 is in awe at its industrial design.
The iPhone 6 is bigger than any iPhone before it. It’s 0.38 inches wider and 0.57 inches taller than the iPhone 5/5s. To put the iPhone 6 into perspective, it’s about the same size as a Samsung Galaxy S5 and Moto X (2014).
Thickness is another story. The iPhone 6 is only 6.9mm (0.27 inches) thick. Competing flagships don’t even come close. The iPhone 6 is the slimmest when compared to the iPhone 5s’s 7.6mm (0.30 inches), the Galaxy S5’s 8.1mm (0.32 inches), the HTC One (M8)’s 9.4mm (0.37) and the Moto X (2014)’s 9.9mm (0.39 inches). It’s so thin that owners are accidentally bending them in their pockets.
The iPhone 6 is a stark departure from the iPhone 5/5s’s angular design. Whereas the iPhone 5/5s was designed like a piece of jewelry — to sparkle and gleam with its diamond-cut chamfers and expertly anodized aluminum body, the iPhone 6 feels like a bold reimagining of the original iPhone.
Its sides are rounded and the screen’s curves at the edges to blend seamlessly into the frame, much like the Samsung Galaxy S3, Nexus 4 and the new Moto X (2014)’s screens do. The bezel above the display has an ear receiver and the FaceTime HD and ambient light sensor, but eagle-eyed readers will notice the position of the camera and sensor have been swapped once again to resemble the one on the iPhone 4S. The bezel below the screen also has the home button which houses the TouchID fingerprint sensor. Apple’s improved the TouchID to be more sensitive and accurate, and it hasn’t had any trouble recognizing my fingerprints quickly.
After five generations (iPhone 4, 4S, 5, 5c, and 5s), the circle +/- volume buttons are now pill-shaped. The power button has moved from the top right to the right side for better finger accessibility.
The rear logo is even more refined than before: it’s now a stainless steel piece. It’s cold to the touch and I love it. I am not, however, in love with the two antenna breaks on the back. On the 5/5s, Apple used ceramic glass for the top and bottom sections (for better antenna reception), but ditched it on the 6. I didn’t like them when the leaks came out of China and I still don’t like them. They’re just too thick and pronounced and they hug the protruding 8-megapixel iSight camera too closely.
On the bottom, we still have the 3.5mm headphone jack, Lightning port, and the speaker. The speaker is louder, and the vibration motor is stronger than on previous devices, but the sound still gets muffled when you’re holding the device in landscape mode. Will we ever get front-facing speakers? Stereo speakers like on the HTC One (M8)?
But as beautiful as the iPhone 6 is, it’s also incredibly slippery. The rounded edges curved screen edges only makes it tougher to keep a firm grip on. Within the first 30 minutes after unboxing it, I almost dropped it twice. (Thank goodness my sofa was there to catch its fall, or I would have been in tears.) I’d highly recommend getting a case to add some grip to it.
Apple may have made the term PPI (pixels per inch) and Retina display household words, but it’s never been one to partake in playing the PPI and resolution numbers game. With larger displays, Android phone makers have tried to distinguish their smartphones by boasting more resolution and pixel density. LG and Samsung are currently locked in a display spec war with their LG G3 (2560 x 1440,538 PPI) and the Galaxy Note 4 (2560 x 1440, 515 PPI).
HD displays on a smartphone are old hat. Android and Windows Phone devices have had 720p and 1080p screens for years, and now they’re moving on to sharper Quad HD displays (1440p). Apple’s only now catching up. Once again, Apple’s eschewed the traditionally defined “HD” and “Full HD” resolution for its own resolution on the iPhone 6: 1334 x 750 at 326 PPI (same PPI as every iPhone since the iPhone 4). Apple calls the iPhone 6’s display a “Retina HD” display.
It’s an odd resolution and the PPI is nowhere near as sharp as what Android smartphones are packing today, but it’s as sharp as it’s ever been. I’ve never had a problem with the 326 PPI and I’ve never really pined for more than the iPhone 5s’s 1136 x 640 resolution Retina display. That said, I do appreciate the larger 4.7-inch display and the extra resolution as it allows you see more info on the display and add an extra row of icons on the home screen.
But wait. The iPhone 6’s display is merely a 0.7-inch increase and small resolution bump up? Not exactly. There’s more. According to Apple, the iPhone 6’s display has “higher contrast, dual-domain pixels for more accurate color at wider viewing angles, and an improved polarizer”. Translation: deeper blacks and better viewing in direct sunlight.
Compared to my iPhone 5, the iPhone 6’s display isn’t quite as “warm” (yellow). The blacks do appear deeper, but that’s only at close examination and comparison between the two. Few people are going to lose sleep over black darkness levels. If it was something that mattered to most consumers, we’d all own plasma TVs and OLED TVs would actually be affordable and sold on mass scale. Instead, we’re all happy to make do with good-enough black levels on LED TVs. The same thing applies for smartphone screens.
I didn’t notice a huge difference in viewing angles when using the iPhone 6 versus my iPhone 5, but I can say it’s definitely better in sunlight than previous devices. The polarizer helps keep the screen sharp and colors accurate when you’re wearing sunglasses. Big ups to Apple for this.
Smartphone cameras have come a long way since the 0.3-megapixel flip camera. The iPhone 5s’s 8-mnegapixel iSight camera (that’s the rear one) is regarded as the best smartphone camera ever created in terms of image quality and with the iPhone 6, Apple is upping the mobile photography ante once again.
Instead of chasing megapixels (it’s still an 8-megapixel image sensor), the iPhone 6 improves on what matters in photos: image quality. The iPhone 6 has a number of key camera innovations that make all the difference:
1) Focus Pixels (phase detection autofocus): Camera geeks know all about phase detection. In layman’s terms, Focus Pixels decreases the autofocus time, translating to less “hunting” (the process of the image sensor trying to figure out what to focus on). In my tests, autofocusing is instant, making snapshots a click and you’re done — exactly how cameras should be.
2) Continuous Autofocus: The iSight cameras on previous iPhones were only capable of single focus when shooting video. Now, when you move from one subject that’s in focus to another subject that was out of focus, the iSight camera intelligently focuses on the new subject. There’s some warble to the footage at times, but it works really well.
2) Cinematic Video Stabilization: This is what is referred to as digital image stabilization. It reduces hand shakiness when shooting video for smoother pans and footage. It’s no Steadicam, but compared to previous iPhones, the stabilization is very good.
Together, all of the features above help to make the iSight camera the smartphone camera to beat. As you can see in the gallery below, the iPhone 6 takes great fantastic photos in virtually any condition.
Low-light performance is also a hair better than on the iPhone 5s, and miles better than the iPhone 5.
iOS 8 also adds in a timer (3 or 10 seconds), timelapse mode, higher 43-megapixel panoramas, and exposure control. These features aren’t exclusive to the iPhone 6, but they’re pretty handy.
Still photography isn’t the only thing that benefits from the iPhone 6’s new processor and camera lens. Video recording got a big boost, too. You can now select to record 1080p Full HD video in 30p or 60p, and slow-motion video recording can now be recorded at 720p in 240 fps or 120 fps. Check out Osborne Image’s awesome 240 FPS footage of wine being poured into a glass below:
Lastly, the front-facing camera is also better than before. It’s still a 1.2-megapixel image sensor (no 5-megapixel image sensor like on the Sony Xperia C3), but the iPhone 6’s FaceTime HD camera now takes in 81 percent more light thanks to the f/2.2 aperture, has better face detection and lets you take 10 fps burst shots (for that perfect selfie). The 3 second or 10 second timer setting is also available for the front-facing camera.
I still love high-performance point-and-shoot cameras like the Sony RX100 Mark III, but I think most people who buy an iPhone 6 won’t need to use a point-and-shoot again.
One thing I should note: the 8-megapixel iSight camera protrudes from the back of the body, much like the way it does on the fifth-generation iPod touch. I mention it because people are worried that it will scratch more easily. So far, I haven’t seen any scratches on it. The lens itself is made from sapphire glass, so unless you take a diamond to it, it’s not gonna get scratched from dirt or sand in your pocket.
Performance (Still uber fast)
The iPhone 6 is equipped with a 1.4GHz dual-core A8 processor and 1GB of RAM. It also has the M8 motion co-processor. Apple says the A8 processor is 25 percent faster and the GPU provides 50 percent better graphics performance over the iPhone 5s.
On paper, the performance appears modest. 1.4GHz versus the 2.3/2.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processors other devices are packing? 1GB of RAM in 2014? Ha! Android phones are rocking 2-3GB of RAM nowadays. Even with 1GB of RAM, I’ve only experienced two app crashes (and that’s with 20 of them suspended in the app switcher).
The fact is, iOS 8 doesn’t need all that horsepower. It can make do with less, and the real-life performance is still better than what you’d get with other devices. Remember, the iPhone 6’s processor is based on 64-bit architecture which provides “desktop-class” performance.
Running Geekbench 3, a test that benchmarks the overall performance of a device, the iPhone 6 scored a 1629 on the single-core test and a 2927 on the multi-core test. Compared to any Android smartphone’s multi-core score, the iPhone 6 is ahead of the pack. For the multi-core score, the iPhone 6 is bests every other flagship smartphone from 2014, including the Galaxy S5 and HTC One (M8).
How about graphics? Running GFX Bench 3, the iPhone 6 scored a 1104 (17.8 fps) on the 1080p Manhattan Offscreen test and a 2389 (42.7 fps) on the 1080p T-Rex Offscreen test.
If you’re upgrading from an iPhone 5s, the performance increase isn’t going to be a leap. But if, like me, you’re upgrading from an iPhone 5 (or earlier), you’re going to be very happy with how everything just flies.
As far as LTE performance goes, your mileage is going to vary by location and carrier. I live in New York City and have been on AT&T for the last four years. AT&T LTE is good, but the network slows to a crawl all the time. With the iPhone 6, I switched to T-Mobile’s LTE. That’s my Speedtest comparison above. I think I made the right call on switching carriers.
Battery (10 hours)
Despite all of the advancements in processors and display density, there’s one thing in the iPhone that hasn’t had a breakthrough: battery life.
iFixit’s teardown shows the iPhone 6 has a 1810 mAh battery compared to the 1570 mAh battery on the 5s. Indeed, it’s a very modest increase, and most of the extra power goes right into powering the larger, higher-resolution display. The battery is still sealed, which means you can’t swap in another one. (You can easily remedy that by buying a battery bank or a battery case.)
Apple’s official figure is 11 hours of battery life on Wi-Fi browsing; one hour more than on the 5s. For LTE browsing, the iPhone 6 remains locked in at 10 hours; same as on the 5s. The iPhone 6 also gets the same 10 hour standby time as the 5s.
In my weeklong tests, I got between 9-11 hours on LTE, depending on how what I was doing. A typical day involves waking up, checking and replying to bunch of email, tweeting and checking Facebook every hour or so, making a few phone calls, and texting via a handful of messaging services such as iMessage, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Skype, Google Hangouts and AIM. I also browse the web and keep up with the news on Feedly, take a few photos and post them to Instagram and listen to about an hour or two of music from my iTunes library (stored locally).
The battery life is within Apple’s range. I usually got around 9 hours of mixed usage doing the above in a day with LTE outside and Wi-Fi at home, but could stretch that to 10-11 hours if I didn’t check social media and browse the web as much. Brightness level was set at around 50 percent and dropped to around 25 percent to preserve battery on longer days. (Surprisingly, the iPhone 6’s display is incredibly bright, and even at 25% is fairly visible in good lighting.)
If you want longer battery life, it’s probably better to pick up the iPhone 6 Plus, which has a monstrous 2915 mAh battery that can reportedly last a day and a half.
The iPhone 6’s battery is more or less the same as what you’d get on the 5s, but I would have preferred if Apple put in a bigger one, and made the device itself a few millimeters thicker.
There are a bunch of reports from other publications saying the iPhone 6’s battery lasts somewhere around 6 hours. They’re all using synthetic tests to come to their conclusions. Nobody uses their smartphone non-stop. And if you do, then you should already know that’s not real-world usage, and should expect to get much lower than what Apple advertises.
The other great thing about the iPhone 6 is that it can be rapid-charged…with the right power adapter. The 5 watt (1A) charger that comes with iPhone 6 is the same one that came with the 5s, but if you have an 12 watt iPad charger (2.1A), you can charge use that to charge it faster.
Software: iOS 8 (Refinement)
There are too many changes and improvements in iOS 8 to talk about at great length here. I mean, there are 4,000 new APIs in iOS 8 compared to the 1,000 in iOS 3. It’s massive.
iOS 8 isn’t a fresh new look — that was last year’s iOS 7 — but a refinement of the underpinnings of those changes. If iOS 7 felt like mostly an aesthetic redesign from skeuomorphic elements to flat design, then iOS 8 is the complete opening of the floodgates to make it a more flexible, and dare I say, “open” mobile operating system.
iOS 8 isn’t exclusive to the iPhone 6, either. It’s available as an update for iPhones as far back as the 4S (although performance will suffer). For the sake of keeping this section to the point, I’m going to focus only on the major changes and the feature exclusive to the iPhone 6/6 Plus.
With the larger displays of the two iPhone 6 devices, you can now add an extra row of four apps (or folders), giving you a 24 apps (or folders) per home screen, plus the four apps/folders in your dock for a grand total of 28. That’s a lot.
At any time, you can change this to display larger app icons with the Display Zoom feature. With this setting turned on, you’ll see five rows of four apps, plus the four icons for a total of 24 apps, like you would on the iPhone 5s. Because Display Zoom renders everything a little larger, everything looks a little blurrier too. Display Zoom isn’t only for the home screen; it enlarges everything, so apps will get the “zoomed in” effect as well. The best way to understand Display Zoom other than looking at the comparison images above is that it’s essentially enlarging the 1136 x 640 resolution of the 5/5s/5c to fill up the iPhone 6’s 1334 x 750 resolution display. You’re seeing the exact same amount of information as an iPhone 5, only it appears larger on the iPhone 6. I didn’t turn it on, but I can see it being useful for people with bad vision.
And speaking of enlarged apps. There are still a lot of apps that haven’t been updated for iOS to take advantage of the extra resolution properly. As a result, you will see (for the time being), apps that are blown up ever so slightly. It’s frustrating when the notification bar with the battery and time, and keyboard all of sudden become larger when switching from an iOS 8-optimized app to an iOS 7 app designed for the iPhone 5s. See example above.
The other important iPhone 6/6 Plus feature is called “Reachability.” This is Apple’s “solution” to using a larger device with one hand. Double tap (not press) the home button and the entire screen will slide down (see image above) so that your thumbs can reach the top row of apps, navigation buttons, or the notification center better. It’s a workaround, and one that is better than Samsung’s “one-handed mode” on the GS5 and Galaxy Note 3, but it still feels like too much of a compromise. It’s easier to just use two hands with a larger display.
There are a number of small changes that make iOS 8 more “advanced” and better fit for productivity as well. Here are my favorites:
- Actionable notifications — You can now reply to text messages as they show up as banners instead of being forced into the app.
- Widgets — Yes, iOS 8 now has them, but they’re tucked inside the Notification Center, which isn’t nearly as elegant as on Android. It also means if you use a lot of widgets, you’ll find yourself scrolling a lot in notification center.
- Customizable keyboards — The new QuickType keyboard is better at autocorrection, but now I can install third-party keyboards just like on Android. SwiftKey FTW.
- Extensibility — The ability for apps to tap into other apps without opening them. It’s still early days, and most apps haven’t been updated, but it’s going to be huge when they arrive.
- Shortcuts to Favorites and Recent Contacts in the multitasker.
The list goes on and on — iMessages now supports audio messages, Siri is a little smarter, etc. — but the other other big features such as Continuity, Apple Pay, and Handoff (iOS to Mac) aren’t available yet. I wasn’t able to test AirDrop, a feature that currently only lets you transfer files iPhone and iPad, but will soon work between iOS and Macs running the upcoming OS X Yosemite. The same goes for starting and finishing things like phone calls, viewing maps, email and browsing the web between iOS and Macs running OS X Yosemite. Only time will tell if those features live up to Apple’s staged demos.
Over the years Apple’s pre-installed apps have increased. In iOS 8, it’s intolerable. In addition to pre-installing the Podcasts and a new “Tips” app (it provides helpful info on how to use your device) — both of which can’t be removed — all 64 and 128GB iPhone 6 devices come with the iLife and iWork apps pre-installed. They’re GarageBand, iMovie, Keynote, Numbers, Pages and iTunes U. Granted, these apps are actually very useful, and aren’t as terrible as the ones carriers usually bloat up Android devices with, but it’s still annoying to remove.
On my iPhone, I’ve got a very special folder titled “Apple Crap” and it has all these in them: Mail (because Gmail push emails don’t work with it), iBooks (because I don’t read books on my iPhone), iTunes Store (I buy maybe one song a year), Maps (because Google Maps is so much better), Game Center (people use this?), Passbook (because digital cards tickets haven’t made my life easier), Calculator (because I use the faster Numerical), Stocks (I don’t invest in stocks), Compass (I almost never go camping), Newsstand (because it’s barren), Videos (I watch all videos on YouTube, Netflix or Amazon Instant Videos).
Count them, that’s 11 stock Apple apps I don’t use and can’t remove. Add them to the Podcasts and Tips app and we’re looking at 13. Add in the three iWorks apps (Keynote, Numbers and Pages) and GarageBand (I actually like iMovie), and we’re now at 17 apps I don’t care about. And since I’m not much of a health nut, I’ll toss in the Health app, too. Total count: 18 pre-installed apps I will never use. Now, the iLife and iWorks apps can be uninstalled, but everything else can’t. It’s 2014 Apple, I know you’re trying to help, but let us decide if we need the Stocks or Compass app…
You can argue that iOS 8 is catching up to features Android has had for years, and it’s true; stuff like widgets and customizable keyboards are evidence, but iOS is also leapfrogging Android with features like Handoff and Extensibility. Looking at iOS 8 as a whole, it’s still a very well-built and powerful mobile operating system. I once used to be an unabashed iOS fanboy, but Android’s really grown into its own. They’re both so great now, and the stiff competition between them only ensures we, the users, win with the best features that make our lives easier.
Conclusion (Highly recommend)
After years of letting Samsung, HTC and LG, to name a few adversaries, boast about having larger smartphone displays than it, Apple’s finally fighting back with the iPhone 6.
There’s no doubt the iPhone 6 is the best iPhone to date. Every new iPhone is the best iPhone (yes, I even loved the 5c). It’s not like Apple’s going to make the new iPhone worse. The iPhone 6 is faster, runs the new iOS 8, but most importantly has a larger, higher resolution display. Finally.
It’s not a perfect smartphone — the screen to body ratio pales in comparison to the latest Android smartphones with little bezels — but it is Apple’s best. There are a few things I think Apple dropped the ball on.
First, why doesn’t the iPhone 6 have any kind of water resistance? I’m not asking for entire waterproofing, but IP67 water-resistance of 1 meter at up to 30 minutes is big feature other phone makers are embracing. People use their smartphones in the rain, in the bathroom, by the pool side, etc. This is a reality. If compromising the design is something that Apple is worried about, then how about looking into a partnership with companies like HzO or Liquipel that apply nanotechnology to waterproof electronics. I’ve seen these nanotechnologies applied to iPhones at CES before and they add no additional bulk because they’re invisible to the naked eye.
Second, why is NFC locked to Apple Pay? I’m hoping this is a temporary situation and Apple will open access to other devices that use NFC (such as pairing smartphones and Bluetooth speakers).
Third, the antenna breaks on the back are still unsightly. I don’t think those ugly arches at the top and bottom would have been approved by Steve Jobs if he were still alive today. They’re not as noticeable on the Space Gray model, but they’re hideous on the Silver and Gold models. There’s something very unpolished about the antenna design; it interrupts Apple’s usual clean design.
If a larger iPhone display is what you’ve been clamoring for, then the iPhone 6 is a solid choice. It’s either that, or go bigger with the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus.
Overall product rating: 9/10