Apple has released a new iPhone every year since 2007, but 2014 is different. This year, Apple released two new iPhones with the 6, and 6 Plus, offering either a 4.7”, or 5.5” screen. This review focuses on the iPhone 6 4.7” device, which is still an increase over the 5/S 4” screen. Over the eight generations of iPhones, Apple has continued to refine the device, and this is literally the biggest change yet to the iPhone line. The question is if it’s worth getting this year, and we’re here to help you decide.
The first thing you notice when opening up the box is the iPhone 6 screen, which isn’t just a minor upgrade. The screen is specifically 27.66% larger than the 5/S, but it seems like it’s even bigger. That might be because the screen appears to take up more of the footprint of the device to give you more screen above all else. The screen is the most important part of any iOS device, because that’s what you look at, touch, and the only part you really focus on.
The iPhone 6 is still an iPhone, it just gives you more of what you’re already doing whether it’s e-mails, messages, tweets, news stories, videos, or games. There’s so much more room that Apple now offers significant space around all of the app icons on your home screen, because there’s that much more room to work with. This isn’t just making the device taller like the iPhone 5, and instead the device pushes out in both directions, while maintaining the widescreen layout that the iPhone 5 design change strived for. Speaking of the iPhone 5, you can really tell the added screen of the 6, when you go back to the 5, and see just how cramped everything seems.
The display isn’t any sharper, as it’s still at 326 ppi, but you now have more total pixels to fit the larger screen area coming in at 1334 x 750. Things aren’t necessarily crisper, but the extra pieces you see are just as clear as the iPhone 5, which never suffered from a lack of crispness. One of the most noticeable changes I have found with the iPhone 6 is that the screen is easier to see in direct sunlight. You don’t have the same feeling of getting into the shade, or covering the screen with your hand to see some of the things on screen. Along the same lines, there’s also greater off angle viewing to see the screen at more angles in the various ways you hold the device, depending on what you’re doing. Both aspects aren’t noteworthy selling points, but they’re quite valuable in day to day usage, when you mainly use the iPhone outside compared to any other device.
The screen seamlessly blends into the new design standard of the iPhone 6 that foregoes the boxy enclosures of the past four generations in favor of a curved design. The edges are now curved, and the result is a device that rests more comfortably in your hand. Not only that, but the device is thinner, and it seems that your hand wraps around it more, even though the thinness is only about 0.5mm. As mentioned earlier, the screen takes up a greater portion of the device footprint than any previous iPhone, so that there’s less bezel on all four sides of the front face. That allows for the screen to be more striking, while not creating a substantially larger device for your hand.
Since Apple is working with a larger canvas, the device may be heavier, but the density is spread out over a greater area. It makes the device feel lighter to the point that it’s not as obvious in your pocket as compared to the iPhone 5, which is easily denser. Even though, there’s a larger screen, the iPhone 6 doesn’t lose one handed use, or even require any hand acrobatics to reach varying points of the screen. You may end up stretching your thumb a bit more, but the iPhone 6 doesn’t lose one handed use. The device also lends itself to a stronger grip with the curved design, thinner form factor, and weight distributed over a larger area. All of the factors add together to give you more iPhone, without giving up the ability to fully interact with it with one hand.
Not everything is perfect with the design, as the antenna gaps aren’t the most pleasant sight, but they’re not as distasteful on the actual device as compared to the leaked images. Also, it really depends on the color you choose, as they seem to look the sleekest on the silver/white model. There’s also the camera, which unnecessarily protrudes from the back for the sake of thinness. Apple had the choice to leave the device the same thickness as the iPhone 5/S with a clean back, and slightly bigger battery, or cut off 0.5mm to go for the thinnest possible. They chose poorly, but it fits in with their design ideals, and isn’t as noticeable as I thought it would be. The camera is on the opposite corner where my fingers rest when I hold the device horizontally or portrait, so you forget about it until you flip over the device. One nice hardware change is moving the power button to the side of the screen, where it really fits well, and only takes a couple of days to get used to. Your finger seems to naturally rest on that point when holding your device one handed.
With all that, the best part of the design is the glass on top of the screen that subtly curves off at the edges. It feels great to swipe your finger around the edges of the iPhone 6, and it’s not just for looks, or feel. It’s actually quite practical, since iOS 7 introduced a bunch of swipe gestures that developers have integrated into most new apps. Swiping to go back from the edge of the screen has never felt so good, or responsive. It also helps one handed use for the bigger device, since you can swipe to go back, rather than reaching to the top left corner for the back button.
This is one of the biggest questions with any new iPhone. Apple didn’t claim any big gains with the iPhone 6, but my real world testing has provided all I could ask for. My only goal is to have the device last throughout the day, and not even get to the 20% warning. The iPhone 6 has achieved that goal every day I have used it, and then some, even with relatively extreme testing. I don’t have exhaustive battery testing, but rather personal use, which tends towards more of the power user. I heavily use multiple apps, and games on a daily basis to review on top of just personal use. The iPhone 6 has about just under half of the remaining battery life every single day with just a charge every night. Apple may have not given us a bigger battery, but maybe the A8 chip, iOS 8, and other optimizations make it last longer.
Whether it’s playing new 3D games like Fifa 15, Beach Buggy Racing, and Plunder Pirates, or testing new camera, keyboards, and notification widget apps, the iPhone 6 just keeps on ticking. Even with the added strain of Bluetooth streaming of iTunes Match music, driving directions, constantly accessing news apps, taking tons of pictures/slo-mo videos to test the new camera, tracking steps with the M8 and HealthKit app, the iPhone 6 has about 40% left at the end of the day. It’s a definite surprise, but a great one.
Apple once again didn’t change megapixels, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a better camera with the iPhone 6. While it doesn’t come with the fancy optical image stabilization of the 6 Plus, it does produce some great shots. The first thing you notice is that you’re given a big 4.7” viewfinder to compose your photos. The lens itself shows a great deal of realism to what you’re shooting, and the actual pictures prove that with such authentic colors. There’s also improved low light shooting on the 6 even without OIS for less noise.
The scene stealer though is the new “Focus Pixels” system, which lets the device autofocus extremely quickly. You can point your device at your finger in front of the lens, and the camera focuses for the close up, and then right when you remove your finger the camera locks on to the background surroundings. It’s quite astounding to see in motion to capture still frames, and even more valuable when shooting videos. Speaking of videos, there’s new cinematic stabilization, and while it’s not quite on par with Hyperlapse, it does a great job to smooth your videos as you capture them. The results really make you proud of the iPhone 6 camera that does everything a standalone camera can do, except optical zoom. You can really capture impressive photos with the rear camera, and the front facing camera improvements make your Facetime calls, and selfies look a lot less grainy.
It’s tough to grade iOS 8 at this point, so it gets an incomplete. Continuity/Handoff, iCloud Drive, iCloud Photo Library, HealthKit, and Apple Pay still aren’t ready with the launch of the iPhone 6. Still though, there’s a lot of valuable features, and the M8 Motion chip of the iPhone 6 works with the Health app to track your steps out of the box.
The A8 chip is a claimed upgrade in offering the second generation 64-bit mobile processor from Apple. With that said, it’s not really noticeable as there was nothing that felt truly slow on the iPhone 5. There may be gains in the background, but it’s not that obvious to the user. The iPhone 6 still does offer a silky smooth experience though.
Apple introduced LTE in the iPhone 5, and that helped a lot. Recently though on my iPhone 5, it seemed the connection wasn’t consistently speedy. That has changed with the iPhone 6, and from early usage in my hometown, there seems to be consistently better LTE connection with the iPhone 6. There’s usually a stronger signal, and it shows when streaming music on the road, or downloading apps on the go. The iPhone 5 might have gotten worse over two years, but the iPhone 6 seems like a vast improvement in terms of LTE reliability, and speed. WiFi also seems a bit faster, most noticeable when downloading games over 1GB.
Upgrading from the iPhone 5:
If you got the iPhone 5 with a two year contract, then you’re likely eligible for an upgrade, and never got the 5S. That means the iPhone 6 introduces a couple new features to you that iPhone 5S owners have had for a year. TouchID is the first one, and it’s much more than a gimmick. It works extremely well with easy set-up to unlock your device, and confirm App Store and iTunes Store purchases. With iOS 8, you can lock down, and unlock updated apps with TouchID support to add to the usefulness, and further emphasize the ease of use, and responsiveness.
Another feature is the Motion coprocessor, which has been updated for the iPhone 6 to also account for the barometric press sensor to track elevation/flights of stairs climbed. The Motion coprocessor is even more valuable on the iPhone 6 as you can connect it to the new Health app to track your steps right out of the box. Another 5S addition was slo-mo video, and the 6 bumps it up from 120 frames per second to 240. The feature is amazing, no mater the fps, but it is even better on the 6 to offer all new creative possibilities. It’s effortless to initiate, and easy to precisely edit to slow down the exact portion you want to.
The iPhone 6 ($199, 16GB) is the Goldilocks device, and really offers the perfect balance of screen size, and device size. It enlarges the best aspects of iPhone, while offering an improved fit in maintained one hand use. There’s so many improvements that all build off each other, and we can confirm that Apple has done more in this generation than any other making it the best iPhone upgrade yet.