Apple’s new iPhone 6 is, by the company’s own admission, ‘bigger than bigger’ but is that all it is? We find out.
For anybody with a tech-savvy bone in their body, September is unofficially ‘iPhone month’ and that means reading (and writing in our case) about Apple’s latest smartphones a lot. With all the hype, some make a new iPhone out to be the technical equivalent to the second coming of Christ, but we’re here to give you the clearest picture of what to expect if you plan on picking up Apple’s new star player.
Apple iPhone 6 review – design: Curves, good. Bumps, bad
When we first saw the iPhone 6 appear on the big screen behind Tim Cook, we weren’t greeted with the familiar slab sides that feature on the iPhone 5/5S, instead we had curves, lots of them, wrapping around the edges, the power button joining the volume rocker along the side in the change. It was different, reminiscent of the original metalwork of the iPhone that started it all, and we didn’t know how we felt.
After worrying that this new look made less of an impact, perhaps taking on a more generic smartphone aesthetic, in the flesh that’s certainly not the case. The phone’s waistline is its biggest asset. At 6.9mm it’s the thinnest iPhone to date and in the hand it feels pretty special. The thickness complements the curved edges, makes it more pocket-friendly despite the increase in size and it feels great in the hand.
Just as with the iPhone 5S, you’ll probably notice how light the iPhone 6 is the moment you pick it up. This slab of glass and milled aluminium is impeccably light at just 129 grams, lighter than most other top-tier smartphones around this size.
Turn the phone over and that’s where people will be divided; you’ll either hate it or feel awash with complete apathy. The metal is segmented by panelled elements that break up the antennas creating a two-tone effect that looks most attractive on the gold variant. The well-documented camera bump also makes an appearance. It’s not as severe as you might expect, but the fact the phone can’t lay flat on a table and ‘wobbles’ is more annoying than you might think. We didn’t go to these lengths to eliminate it, but we still wish it wasn’t there.
Apple iPhone 6 review – screen: Still resolutionary
In case you haven’t heard, these new iPhones are larger. To twist the Goldilocks analogy, last year we had the iPhone 5S’ 4-inch display but it felt cramped under our thumbs. For many the 5.5-inch screen size on the new iPhone 6 Plus is too vast, but the 4.7-inch screen on the 6 is ‘just right’.
The sizing of the 6 feels appropriate for the current market, it’s still smaller than your average Android flagship, as an iPhone should be, but it’s more comparable. Not to mention the typing experience is unquestionably more natural and comfortable than on previous iPhones.
With regards to quality, the jump to a larger screen size has only resulted in positive changes. The new 4.7-inch Retina HD Display (1334×750) is sharp enough to eliminate the distinction between individual pixels with the naked eye, no matter how close up you get and the overall colour, contrast and brightness are some of the best on the market.
Independent research has proven the iPhone 6 Plus’ LCD to be the best on the market by a clear margin, but based on our experience, the vanilla iPhone 6 can’t be far behind.
Apple iPhone 6 review – OS: It’s a love, h8 relationship
For iPhone 5S users already upgraded to the new iOS 8 experience, there’s little to differentiate between the two devices save for the option to scale up icons on the larger display, or in its place add an additional row of apps to each homescreen (see our ‘whether you should upgrade’ guide here).
There’s a higher contrast aesthetic over iOS 7 making for a clearer, more glanceable feel when it comes to aspects like Control Centre. Other welcome tweaks finally make an appearance like greater customisation over the notifications panel (you can remove the stocks widget) and enhanced mail control for things like flagging select messages in Mail quickly. Apple has also finally started to open applications up so that elements of iOS can better talk to each other, so third-party keyboards are now an option and the ability to share photos straight to apps like Instagram is on the cards too.
The groundwork has also been laid for new avenues into healthcare and home, with the new Health app found on your homescreen not yet fully capable, but suggesting it’s going to be a big part of your life with the iPhone 6 going forward. The new Tips app is on hand for the uninitiated users and Siri’s gained a few new smarts, letting you search for music currently playing within earshot and finding out where your friends iPhones are located. The promise of true AirDrop compatibility is also tantalisingly close, but still out of our grasp unfortunately.
With a bigger screen, comes the increased risk of being unable to reach the top of the display one-handed (without having to awkwardly shift your hand up and down the device). To get around this, iOS 8 also includes a new double-tap gesture against the Touch ID sensor that pulls whatever is on screen halfway down, putting the top elements in easy reach. Whether you’re heading for the notifications panel or an icon on the top row of your homescreen, this little addition is invaluable and we were surprised how much we found ourselves using it.
Apple iPhone 6 review – Performance: Testing its Metal
As is often the case, every time Apple ups the power of the iPhone’s processor, there’s a grace period before developers have time to create apps designed to really utilise the performance on offer. The Apple A8 dual-core chip is in one of these periods now and whilst we were able to heat it up with a bit of intensive graphical strain, we suspect it’s capable of a lot more than we can currently test.
That said, don’t let the 1.4GHz dual-core chipset fool you, this isn’t an Android device and those numbers don’t directly correlate to the performance we’re used to seeing from the likes of HTC, Samsung or Sony. The user experience flies and thanks to some behind-the-scenes work in iOS 8, elements like Spotlight Search are now immediately available.
For the gamers, we’re finally seeing titles adopt the company’s new graphical toolset – Metal and everything from the Zen Garden tech demo running on the Unreal 4 Engine to Asphalt 8’s arcade-style motor racing feels fast, fluid and appears to run at a rock solid frame rate. As we mentioned earlier, the thin bodywork can’t hide the heat build up going on and the drain on battery is noticeable, but we’re still impressed with the performance and optimisation that’s instilled into the iPhone 6.
Of course battery life is a major sticking point with iPhone users and no matter what Apple quoted on stage at the phone’s unveiling we were still sceptical going into this review. The 1810mAh battery in the iPhone 6 does boast better performance than previous versions – likely as a result of the additional space the bigger body affords, as well as lots of work in power management as a by-product of the new, larger display.
Charge the iPhone 6 up and with average to heavy use (multiple Twitter and email accounts constantly pushing to the phone) the handset still didn’t give up the ghost until the following morning. It’s not ground-breaking performance, but it’s the best we’ve seen from and it should be enough to satisfy most users.
Apple iPhone 6 review – Camera: It’s all in the details
It’s hard to figure out where Apple will push the next iPhone’s imaging chops, save for finally conceding to increase the megapixel count, but based on our time spent snapping away on the iPhone 6’s 8-meg iSight camera, we’re mightily impressed.
The camera is arguably the most crucial part of an iPhone with regards to its standing in consumer’s hearts and minds. Anybody who’s spent any time on Flickr’s stats pages knows that (at the time of writing) the iPhones 4, 4S, 5 and 5S hold the top four spots for the most popular cameras on the photo-sharing site and you can expect the 6 and 6 Plus to shoot to the top of that list in the next few months.
Apple’s betting big on the new technology it’s brought into this year’s sensor – Focus Pixels. The theory is that you’ll be able to snap shots faster, refocus faster and achieve significantly better low light performance based on specialised pixels on the sensor used to measure the amount of light on offer. In practice the 8-megapixel snapper is quick to work out exposure and can take a snap as quickly as you can press the shutter. New tools like manual exposure control also help users fine-tune their shots should they need to, but it gets the composition right all on its own nine times out of ten.
Picture quality is excellent and although the sensor size might seem limiting to some long-term Android and Nokia users, the iPhone 6 produces some of the most accurate, balanced shots in its class. In our low light tests, the iPhone 6 actually put out more attractive, cleaner and brighter shots than our iPhone 6 Plus which comes complete with OIS (optical image stabilisation), the vanilla 6 is solely a DIS (digital image stabilisation) affair.
The icing on the photography cake is the addition of new camera modes like HDR and burst mode for the front-facing camera, time-lapse and a new, slower 240 frames per second slow motion video recording mode (at 720p HD resolution) for the rear camera.
Apple iPhone 6 review – Verdict: Not the first, but certainly one of the best
On the surface many will look at the new iPhone 6 and pick at it for being late to the large-screened party, for its lack of 4K video recording or waterproofing. If those are the attributes you’re after, the Android camp offers a number of great alternatives, but…
…If you’re looking for one of the truest smartphone experiences around; one that ensures the key cornerstones of what make a phone great are rock solid and one that surprises and delivers in areas you didn’t know you needed the iPhone 6 is a great choice. It’s the iPhone you’ve been wanting after, even for those who’ve never owned one before.