The iPhone 6 is the latest flagship smartphone from Apple. It runs the latest Apple mobile operating system: iOS 8. And the iPhone 6 has a bigger screen than its predecessors. It is available in the UK from September 19 2014. (See also: the 42 best smartphones of 2014.)
iPhone 6 review: iPhone 6 UK price
The iPhone 6 is, as you would expect, at the premium end of the market. None the less Apple has dropped the price of its flagship smartphone, so the iPhone 6 now starts at £539 for the 16GB model. You will likely need more space than that, and the 64GB will set you back £619, £699 gets you a 128GB iPhone 6. To put that in context the most recent flagships from Samsung and Sony start from around £550, while theHTC One (M8) costs around £450 and the LG G3 about the same. The iPhone 6 is an expensive, flagship phone, but it is in amongst the pack with the top Androids these days. (For more on buying the iPhone 6, see Where to buy iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus in the UK: Price, pre-orders, deals and contracts.)
iPhone 6 review: iPhone 6 specs and performance
In many ways we've reached 'peak smartphone', in that we know a flagship phone from a major manufacturer is likely to be a top performer. We all like to compare, of course, but a few benchmark points here and there tend not to make much difference in the real world. This is important because Apple has - as ever - deliberately obfuscated the spec of its latest handset. Not for Apple Samsung's boasting about octacore processors and multiple megs of RAM. Apple likes to boast about odd, made-up specs such as 64-bit and 'Retina' displays, but it tends to avoid getting into hardware arms races. The iPhone 6 is no exception.
It comes with a dual-core Cyclone (ARM v8-based) CPU, known as an Apple A8. This chip runs at 1.4 GHz, offers PowerVR GX6650 hexa-core graphics, and is paired with 1GB RAM. On the face of it this is not an amazing specification, but in our tests as ever the iPhone 6 was a top performer. Everything feels zippy and responsive. Even intensive gaming. But we shouldn't be surprised: it was the same with the iPhone 5s.
The iPhone 6 also sports a new version of its motion coprocessor, the M8. This chip collects sensor data as you use your iPhone, even if the A8 processor is resting. It will be interesting to see what further health and activity apps can be tailored to use this chip.
For those who like to see benchmarks we ran the GeekBench test. The iPhone 6 pulled in a single-core average of 1517, with a mult-core score of 2586. This is a minor improvement on the iPhone 5s' scores of 1409 and 2549. And for what it is worth the iPhone 6 beats the Galaxy S5's 926 points in the single-core test, but can't match its 2869 points in the multi-core test. For further comparison the HTC One M8 scored 962 points in the single-core test, and 2761 points in the multi-core test. So the iPhone 6 is a superfast phone, in general use. And that backs up our experience. For more on speed benchmarks, see What's the fastest smartphone 2014?
iPhone 6 review: iPhone 6 battery life
Perhaps more important even then general performance is battery life. The iPhone 6 has a non-removable Li-Ion battery, and Apple makes some fairly bold claims in its behalf. My colleague Jason Snell spent a long weekend using the iPhone 6, and said he can corroborate Apple's claims.
'The iPhone 6 definitely appeared to have longer battery life than my iPhone 5s—though, to be fair, that iPhone has been in use for a year, and so its battery isn't fresh. The iPhone 6 Plus definitely seems to be the longest-lived iPhone so far, but does its battery last long enough to obviate the need for a battery case or external battery for emergencies? I just can't say quite yet.' (See also: The UK's 39 best Android smartphones of 2014.)
iPhone 6 review: iPhone 6 display
Similar to performance specs is display specification. It has become a key way to differentiate one high-end smartphone from another. But the specs are very far from the full story: theLG G3 has a great display not because it is a QuadHD display, but because it looks amazing.
In the case of the iPhone 6 we have 4.7in display. It is an LED-backlit IPS LCD, capacitive touchscreen with 16M colours. You get, as you would expect, shatter proof glass with an oleophobic coating. Into this display is packed 750 x 1334 pixels, making for a pixel density of 326ppi. It's the same pixel density as was found on the iPhone 5 series: the pixels aren't packed any tighter on the iPhone 6, there are just more of them, because the screen is 110 pixels wider and 198 pixels taller.
In real terms this means that if you can tell the difference between the LG G3 and the iPhone 6 display - and I can - you will notice the change here. This is very much an iPhone screen: sharp and colourful, with realistic colour reproduction and good viewing angles. It doesn't have the brighter than bright colours of a Samsung OLED, or the staggering detail of a QuadHD display. I expect that is unlikely to bother you.
iPhone 6 review: iPhone 6 design and build
Built around that much bigger display, the iPhone 6 is the most radical design change in the iPhone lineup since the iPhone 4 came along. At 138.1 x 67 x 6.9 mm it is certainly not a small phone, although it is uncommonly thin. And 129 g is very light for a large-screen smartphone: much as you would expect from Apple. I haven't spent as much time with the iPhone 6 as has my colleague Jason Snell, veteran of all iPhones. Here is what has to say about the iPhone 6 design and build:
'Hold an iPhone 6 in your hand for the first time, and you can tell it's a very different device from the iPhones of the past four years. Gone is the more industrial feel of the iPhone 4 and 5, with their straight sides and chamfered edges. The new phones have rounded edges, more akin to the iPod touch, iPad, and even the very first iPhone.
'If the iPhone 6 used the same design as the iPhone 5, but were larger, it would feel immense. But even though the iPhone 6 is slightly heavier than the iPhone 5, its curved edges (not just the metal, but the edges of the glass front are curved) and thinness save it from feeling like an oversized monstrosity. After a few days, I found I had unconsciously changed the default position of my fingers when holding the phone, and using it felt entirely natural.
'Beyond the curved sides and two sizes, there are numerous other hardware design changes that Apple has introduced with the iPhone 6. The iPhone 5's round volume buttons have been replaced with thin metal ovals set into a slightly recessed indent just below the silence switch. The sleep/wake button has retreated from the phone's top (thus completing the evacuation—there's nothing left up there), and moved to the right side, a first for an iPhone. For longtime iPhone users, it's going to take some getting used to, but on larger phones it's harder to reach that top edge, hence the change. I still haven't gotten used to it.
'On the back of the device, the most noticeable change is that the camera now extends outward a bit, its lens surrounded by a thin metal ring. It's a subtle change, and you can still place the iPhone flat on its back with a minimum of rocking. But it definitely won't be perfectly level.'
The key questions that we need to address over time are these: just how useable is the big iPhone, in particular with one hand? Perhaps even more important: will you be able to use the iPhone 6 without putting it in a case? At this point it seems that the answer to the first question is 'very useable' and the latter 'yes'. But it remains to be seen over time.
iPhone 6 review: 'Reachability'
One key aspect of both the design and the display is the additional size of the handset. Apple has attempted to address the problems of using a large-screen handset with only one hand, in part with a featured called 'Reachability'. Here's Jason:
'For all the features a large screen can bring, the fact is that it's very hard for someone using the device one-handed to reach the top of that screen. Apple's creative solution is a new feature called Reachability. Put simply, Reachability slides the top of the screen down to where your thumb can reach it. To activate Reachability, you tap twice on the home button (without pushing—the touch ID sensor can tell when you're just touching). Everything on the top half of the screen slides down, bringing it within reach.
'Reachability isn't the most elegant concept I've seen Apple develop, but it does make the size of these phones more manageable when you're using only one hand. After a few days, Reachability became something that I used without thinking, and it generally did what I needed it to. However, I did find it to be a bit inconsistent. The iPhone home screen doesn't slide all the way down, for instance—it scrolls the main icons down, leaving the dock and the top bar where they were. No other app interacts with Reachability in this way.
'I also found that in some cases, the contents of the screen immediately snapped back to the top when I tapped something. In other cases, there was a pause of a second or so after a tap, enough time to tap something else, or scroll, or interact with the interface in other ways. I don't like this inconsistency, and in general I think it would be better if the iPhone always waited a second to make sure everything's done before turning off Reachability. Right now, I never really know what's going to happen when I tap something when in Reachability mode, and that's not good.'
Let's call it a work in progress
iPhone 6 review: iPhone 6 software
Staying on software, let's take a look at iOS 8 running on the iPhone 6. iOS 8's broad aesthetic cues are as far as we can tell almost exactly the same as iOS 7, with the same clean, minimal icons, and transparency effects in place of iOS 6's skeuomorphic design elements. It retains the bold (but very slightly toned down) colour palette of later iterations of iOS 7, which saw the bright green of iOS 7.0 darkened a touch.
iOS 8's interface is largely the same as iOS 7's too. But there are a few changes. Take the app-switching interface. As well as your open apps, this now shows circular thumbnails of recently 'used' contacts. Tap one of these and iOS 8 offers icons that let you ring, FaceTime or text that person, depending on what contact details you have available.
New features include the Apple Pay function, by which NFC is used to let you utilise your phone as a smart credit card. It is exciting, but not yet useful to UK consumers. QuickType predictive typing is a big boost, offering Android-like swipe and type capabilites. Notifications have been improved so that you can respond as well as view messages and the like.
Importantly, iOS 8 looks great on the iPhone 6. As do upscaled apps designed for the smaller screens of previous iPhones, and ported on to the new handset. There is a lot to like about iOS 8 and a whole lot more to learn and write about. Suffice to say that as ever Apple's software is easy to use, and Apple's app- and media support is second to none - if a little closed off and therefore expensive in the long run. For more on iOS 8, see our full iOS 8 review.
iPhone 6 review: iPhone 6 cameras
There's a theme developing here. Never mind the specs: feel the quality. Apple has clearly eschewed the megapixels arms race in speccing up the cameras for the iPhone 6. Whether that is a good- or a bad thing remains to be seen.
The main, rear-mounted camera is an 8Mp snapper that captures 3264 x 2448 pixel images. It has a 1/3in sensor, and offers face-detection, autofocus, and a dual-LED flash. Video is captured at 1080p and 720p, at 60fps and an amazing 240fps slo-mo.
That 8Mp sensor doesn't sound like much, but Apple says we shouldn't worry. It would.
Jason tested out the camera: 'Apple says that it's added dedicated “focus pixels” to the camera, which help it autofocus faster. Face-detection algorithms have been improved. And there are improvements to autofocus performance on video. The focus behavior in video is the feature I noticed the most—video focus has never been really been one of the iPhone's strong suits. But the focus in the test videos I shot with the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus were clear and smooth, never seeming robotic or jarring.
'The major difference between the two cameras is really only a factor when in low-light situations
'The super slow-mo feature means you can now shoot at 240 frames per second, allowing for smooth action that runs at one-eighth the speed of normal video. That feature, combined with improved video stabilization that makes videos feel surprisingly smooth, should make videos of skateboard tricks and swimming pool dives more impressive than ever before.
'The major difference between the two cameras is really only a factor when in low-light situations. The iPhone 6 Plus camera has the added ability to do optical image stabilization, where the camera hardware actually moves as you do in order to minimize blurriness in dark situations where the camera's sensors need more time to absorb light in order to get a viewable picture. There are also software techniques Apple uses in low-light situations, but only the larger camera actually has physical stabilization hardware.'
We need to spend more time taking photos with the iPhone 6, and will update this article with test shots when we do so.
iPhone 6 review: verdict
It's really difficult to give a verdict on the iPhone 6. If you are an iPhone user, and you specifically want an iPhone, it is the best yet. As such it is a slick, well-built, beautifully designed handset. Performance is good, the display is good, and the iOS eco-system is, well, good. The difficulty lies in quantifying the value of the iPhone 6 in the wider market. Step over to the Android world and you could get a similar experience with a better display for a lot less money. And you could expand the storage. There is no question that these days there is better value in the Android world, but value isn't really the point with an iPhone. iPhones are great, and the iPhone 6 is the best yet. If you are dedicated to using an Apple phone, it should be your next handset. (See also: iPhone 6 vs iPhone 6 Plus comparison: which new iPhone is best?)
Buying Advice It's really difficult to give a verdict on the iPhone 6. If you are an iPhone user, and you specifically want an iPhone, it is the best yet. As such it is a slick, well-built, beautifully designed handset. Performance is good, the display is good, and the iOS eco-system is, well, good. The difficulty lies in quantifying the value of the iPhone 6 in the wider market. Step over to the Android world and you could get a similar experience with a better display for a lot less money. And you could expand the storage. There is no question that these days there is better value in the Android world, but value isn't really the point with an iPhone. iPhones are great, and the iPhone 6 is the best yet. If you are dedicated to using an Apple phone, it should be your next handset.