Following the 2010 iPhone 4 antenna controversy, Steve Jobs brazenly derided the growing popularity of big phones.
“You can’t get your hand around [them],” he quipped. “No one’s going to buy that.” Jobs then likened displays 4 inches and up as “Hummers.” Even the most innovative thinkers have their head-scratching moments.
Jobs’ remarks were made when the iPhone was starting to lose some of its luster. For awhile, it was either the iPhone or one of the other guys—and not many people cared about the other guys. Competitors back then did everything they could to combat the iPhone’s popularity, but most failed, whether it was due to inferior hardware or adolescent software. No phone could match the iPhone’s quality.
Right around this time (Antennagate notwithstanding), a successful (and surprising), formula began to surface. Instead of reacting and challenging the iPhone head on, competing devices hit a sudden growth spurt, like a teen going through puberty.
The next thing you knew the majority of new Android devices were significantly larger than Apple’s 3.5-inch iPhone. We’re talking handsets in the 4-, 4.3- and 5-inch range. People suddenly started to take notice. The following year, Samsung’s first Galaxy Note was officially announced, inspiring a super-sized revolution.
Today, demand for bigger smartphones is evident; anything under 5 inches is considered small. So it’s no surprise that the iPhone 6 exists; it’s a larger, more refined version of the 4-inch iPhone 5s, which feels absurdly tiny by comparison. Under the leadership of Tim Cook, Apple has admitted that, yes, plenty of people will buy big phones—Apple users included, as early sales have shown.
It’s a stunning about-face by a company typically so ahead of the curve. But Tim Cook’s Apple is different; the company is no longer ruled by a brilliant dictator. In an incredibly demanding and evolving market, it was either follow suit or risk losing even more marketshare to Android, which is no question the dominant force in mobile. Really, Apple couldn’t afford to pass up the obviously popular big phone trend.
Even though the iPhone is late to the party, does it once again jump to the front of the pack now that it’s larger? That’s what we’re here to find out.
iPhone 6 Video Review
We’ve known what the iPhone 6 would look like for months; dummy units were easier to come by than water in the Pacific. Even still, there are many subtle differences between the finished product and an unfinished shell yanked off the factory floor. It’s like asking me to have a build-off with a carpenter. I can probably make a bookshelf, but it won’t look nearly as good as if made by a professional woodworker; the differences in quality are night and day.
That is to say, even though we were prepared well before the iPhone 6’s eventual unveiling, the design still managed to impress. Sure, you could argue that Apple’s new phone still looks and feels very much like an iPhone. You can say that about a lot of phones. Apple designs are as consistent as they come, but this year’s design change is the company’s most dramatic yet—not just from a size standpoint, either.
Whereas the iPhone 5s was flat and sparkling, the iPhone 6 design is more rounded, seamless, understated. When swiping across the display, your fingers gently glide over onto the edges (that wasn’t present in the dummy unit we received); the screen falls over into the rear shell like an infinity pool. It creates the illusion that the device is a single component, and not numerous pieces carefully glued together. It makes the phone easier to hold, easier to handle. Even the HTC One (M8), which is one of a few devices that can compete with the iPhone 6 on looks, doesn’t achieve this.
It’s a very clean design, with the only sore spot being the antenna bands, which are now much more pronounced. On the Space Gray model, you’ll hardly notice they’re there. If you go with Gold, however, the plastic bands stick out like a pimple on Prom night. They essentially outline the top and bottom of the phone where the glass would have been on last year’s model (and the year before that). HTC somehow managed to hide the bands on its M7 and M8, so why couldn’t Apple achieve that here?
Still, the rounded edges and slim build make it one of the best designs out there (even more impressive, there’s now a 128GB model in addition to 16GB and 64GB). Having used many of this year’s top-end Android devices, the iPhone 6 is definitely up there fighting for the top spot; it’s thin, a little heavier, but absolutely stunning. However, I do appreciate the rounded back many of today’s top device makers employ—it’s evident in the OnePlus One and Moto X (2014), among others. It makes phones more comfortable to hold, and ultimately more enjoyable to use.
I don’t mean to suggest the iPhone 6’s design makes the phone less enjoyable. But the sheer thinness, combined with the flat back, makes the device a bit more difficult to wield; Jon described his iPhone 6 Plus (similar design, but bigger) as slippery. That’s not a positive way to describe something, especially if you’re known to drop your gadgets. (That might be a big reason why so many folks are saying the iPhone 6 (and iPhone 6 Plus) are made better with a case.)
That said, the body of the device didn’t just get thinner and more rounded; it’s taller, too, thanks to the device’s 4.7-inch screen. It’s as if the device hit a summer growth spurt between junior and senior year of high school, ultimately coming out the other side as a more attractive version of its former self. That tallness, though, is both good and bad. Good because you get a larger screen; bad because there are some major bezels on the top and bottom.
Compared to a device like the Galaxy Alpha, which has the same size screen, the iPhone 6 is noticeably taller, though the two have the exact same screen size. In terms of physical size, Apple’s device is almost as tall as the Moto X (2014), which has a 5.2-inch screen. Again, the top and bottom bezels are pretty significant, though you do get the advantage of a home button with Touch ID, which is even more powerful now that it’s open to third-party apps. And, honestly, the iPhone 6’s size feels almost perfect in comparison to the iPhone 6 Plus (and previous iPhones), which is humungous and probably too unwieldy for most people.
Beyond that, the speaker grills are a little different, the volume buttons are now more elongated (and super clicky), and the power button has been moved to the right side where your thumb rests, making it easier to turn off/on. If you’re a longtime iPhone user, the new power button placement will definitely take some getting used to, but it’s ultimately exactly where it needs to be. Big Android phones have known this for years.
And that is precisely the feeling you get when using Apple’s new design; it’s exactly what it should have been all along, but ultimately something Android and Windows Phone fans won’t be surprised by. The designs of the iPhone 4 on up to the iPhone 5s were great, but the more sloping edges and rounded glass feels infinitely more approachable and easy to use, more comfortable to slip in and out of your pocket. With many of Apple’s tablet designs adopting that rounded look, it was only a matter of time before the iPhone got a similar makeover, and it works tremendously well in the 4.7-inch form factor.
It’s worth noting, however, that the 4.7-inch iPhone 6 still has a smaller display compared to most flagships we’ve seen this year. And that’s either good or bad depending on your viewpoint. I’ve used all manner of Android phones this year, so I’m definitely used to wielding bigger devices. People have been clamoring for a larger iPhone for years now, and now that it’s here, you’ll never want to go back. Just know that other manufacturers pull off the proportions of bezel-to-screen ratio a bit better (see: LG G3).
And if you do find the size a little harder to adjust to, Apple has implemented a neat “Reachability” mode that shoves apps about halfway down the screen. I didn’t think this would be at all useful, but I’ve actually caught myself using it quite a bit. With a simple double-tap (not double press) of the home button, apps and other content will be much easier to reach while using the device with one hand. Beyond that, that’s about all Apple does to help users get accustomed to the larger display.
The display, meanwhile, is beautiful no matter how you slice it (outdoors, indoors, in the bathroom, in a basement, everywhere). This is one of those areas where people are very quick to judge even before seeing what the screen looks like in person. People think that just because the iPhone 6 has a 1334×750 resolution display, it must be terrible; the norm today for a high-end flagship is 1080p. But that’s looking at it all wrong.
Sure, the iPhone 6 has an inferior resolution compared to most of today’s best Android phones, but it still looks incredibly sharp; sharp to the point where you won’t notice any jaggies or softness. Put another way: the display on Apple’s new beauty definitely won’t disappoint. But don’t just take our word for it. Others are saying the iPhone 6 (and iPhone 6 Plus) has the best performing LCD screen in all of mobile.
A device like the Galaxy S5 (and upcoming Note 4) have superior screens when all is said and done. But the screen resolution of the iPhone 6 shouldn’t negatively impact your buying decision. It’s sharp, plain and simple; colors are vibrant, viewing angles are great, and it’s just as responsive as ever. And, again, the fact that is has a subtle slope makes the experience somehow more immersive.
All displays today are pretty fantastic, and the iPhone 6 is no different. Don’t let your thirst for specs cloud your judgement. A 4.7-inch 1334×750 resolution display is still terrific. Compared to Apple’s own 1080p iPhone 6 Plus, the differences are negligible. It would take only the most comprehensive testing and scrutiny to find any fault with the iPhone 6’s display. End of story.
When you first look at iOS 8, it doesn’t look like much has changed. Last year Apple introduced a major design overhaul, but this year’s release is actually much more important, for both users and developers. There’s so much here to play with that makes Apple’s iOS 8 even more powerful, and since we’re so early into the software’s release, it’s only going to get better. At least when it’s not being broken by Apple updates.
For example, Apple is now allowing app developers to take advantage of Touch ID. I use 1Password quite a bit, and being able to sign in with just my fingerprint (as opposed to entering my long, complicated Master Password) is so much better. Doing so for other apps—such is Simple—is equally as convenient and helpful. It takes the monotony of having to enter and re-enter passwords out of the equation, and the move on Apple’s part is already paying off.
The openness of iOS extends further still. You can install third party keyboards, for example, and you can also setup your share sheets exactly how you want them to appear. In addition, developers have the ability to embed their editing tools directly in Apple’s stock Photos app, giving you the opportunity to apply filters without bouncing back and forth between something like Afterlight and Photos. It’s a small touch, and a welcome one at that.
Overall, iOS 8 is a definite improvement over iOS 7, which essentially focused on introducing users to a new look. Now, users can respond to messages and other notifications without leaving the app they’re in, and the keyboard has a new QuickType feature (which I quickly turned off) that suggests words and promises to get smarter the more you use it. Spotlight, meanwhile, is finally useful, searching the App Store, Wikipedia, news sources, nearby places and more right from your home screen.
Some of Apple’s other stock apps are now more powerful, too; in Messages, you can easily send pictures, video and audio messages, while Mail has also seen some important improvements, making the application easier to use. There are many other neat touches, such as iCloud Drive, Family Sharing and Health, though I didn’t pay much mind to them (others might find these very useful, and I could definitely see Health becoming used everyday as it grows).
But it’s worth pointing out some of the features aren’t here quite yet, such as Continuity and Apple Pay. I already upgraded to the Yosemite GM, and have experienced the convenience of being able to receive and make calls straight from my PC, so I can’t wait to see it rolled out on a wider scale; and, along with iOS 8.1, the ability to send and receive traditional SMS/MMS right on my Mac. I’m also curious to see if Apple Pay (which is the sole reason why the iPhone 6 has NFC) is actually going to make the digital wallet a thing.
Finally, Apple also took a stab at widgets in Notification Center, though they’re not quite as flushed out as what you’d find on Android. They don’t live on your home screen, for one, though they do an adequate job of providing information at a glance.
I currently have ESPN SportsCenter in Notification Center, and it’s really nice to see scores (and upcoming games) of teams I follow without having to jump into the full app. There are only a handful of apps that take advantage of this right now, though I imagine many more will support this feature down the road; it’s a nice stopgap to full-blown widgets, but not quite as powerful as what you’d get elsewhere. Still, it’s a start.
iOS 8, more than anything, is about Apple creating a deeper and more powerful experience built around the apps and experiences people already know and love. Sure, it’s nice to be able to see your Favorite contacts in the multi-tasking view, but what the software really comes down to is the developers who support it. Otherwise all this extensibility would be for nothing. It’s great to see Apple finally more open; even though it took years and years, it’s nice to see things as simple as third-party keyboards finally scale Apple’s walled garden.
Of course, there is still plenty of work to be done. I’d love to see Apple borrow some ideas from around the Android camp—from Motorola in particular. It would be nice to see lockscreen information at a glance, whether through Moto Display (which requires an AMOLED screen) or through some knock feature to more easily wake the screen. It would also be awesome to be able to speak to Siri without summoning her, or having an Assist feature so more tasks are automated.
As for customization: Apple has given app developers the freedom to tap into iOS more deeply, so why not go all out? Android’s ecosystem is filled with amazing lock screen tweaks, launchers and icon packs, and that’s what makes the platform so great. Unfortunately, Apple affords no such control, and I don’t anticipate the company will open the floodgates anytime soon (or ever); I understand why Apple doesn’t allow deeper customization, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.
Since the iPhone 4, Apple phones have consistently offered the very best in the mobile market, and the same can be said about Apple’s new iPhone 6. Other publications have sat down for more thorough and technical breakdowns of how the new 8-megapixel sensor in the iPhone 6 performs, so you can see that here. For me, I’ll just give an account based on how I would normally use a smartphone camera.
Apple has come under fire (again) for not upping the megapixel count, as if its some measure of quality. While the iPhone 6 has the same 8-megapixel count as last year’s iPhone 5/5c/5s, the sensor is new and improved, which means better images are produced. For one, the iPhone 6 now supports what Apple is calling “Focus Pixels,” which essentially allows for faster and smarter autofocus. In practice, it just means the subject you want to snap a picture of will be in focus quicker and more consistently. I can attest to that after having used the iPhone 6 since launch.
I do want to note, however, that tapping to focus in landscape mode can be a tricky affair; I’ll admit it could be due to user error, so others might not be experiencing the issue. When in landscape, the phone will focus on the subject and expose as per usual, but sometimes when I try and tap to re-focus, the little square (and exposure meter) won’t pop up, no matter how many times I tap. It seems to happen sporadically, and I can’t re-create the situation at will.
Aside from that small quirk, the camera experience is pretty straightforward, and essentially mirrors what was introduced in iOS 7. Swipe left or right to use different shooting modes, and swipe up and down to change your photo’s exposure (new in iOS 8); you can also set filters, turn off/on HDR, and change a few other minor settings. For the most part, the UI is pretty bare, and rids the screen of the inessentials. If you do want a more powerful shooting experience, you’ll have to download a third-party app (Manual, perhaps), though chances are you’ll just use the stock app for a quick photo, and third-party apps for editing (I prefer VSCO).
As for the quality of the photos, the iPhone 6 produces some pretty decent results. Out in bright daylight, the iPhone has always been incredibly strong, with photos that are (mostly) properly exposed with great detail and color. I typically use my phone’s camera to post pictures on Instagram, so I’m never expecting DSLR-level quality; you’ll still find stronger technology in something like the Lumia 1020, though the iPhone 6, even with Digital Image Stabilization, makes some great pictures.
In darker situations, the iPhone 6 has improved a lot compared to the iPhone 5s, pictures are now sharper and less noisey overall. Snapping photos in low-light is one of the hardest things for a phone to do, especially because they sport such small sensors, but the iPhone 6 manages these limitations well. I don’t typically take photos when I’m inside restaurants or other dimly lit areas, but I at least know that I’ll get some good pictures if the need arises.
Beyond still images, the iPhone 6 is such a great tool for shooting video (1080p at 60fps), as many YouTube videos have already displayed. I’m particularly impressed with the device’s ability to shoot 240fps video, which looks pretty darn remarkable. I’ve had so much fun using it to film my dog doing Dog Stuff. The feature is capable of really slowing the action down, giving home movies (or maybe professionally shot movies) that extra touch of style. Slo mo video certainly isn’t exclusive to Apple’s new iPhones, but there’s no doubt they do it best.
If you were content with the photos your previous iPhone took, you’ll be perfectly happy with the new iPhone 6. Some deeper tests have shown both of Apple’s new handsets are top of the pile, and we tend to agree. Devices like the LG G3 and Galaxy S5 take some really good photos. But the iPhone 6, even with a lower megapixel count, takes some great photos. The competition has definitely caught up to an extent, as we’ve seen some stellar mobile cameras in both the Android and Windows Phone markets. But you won’t be disappointed with the iPhone 6, camera hump and all (which is a non-issue from a design perspective).
Like every iOS device, the performance of the iPhone 6 is solid despite sporting “inferior” specs. Equipped with a new A8 chip (built on second-generation 64-bit architecture), Apple’s new device is plenty fast, and more than capable handling any app, video or game you can throw at it. If you’re a benchmark hound, you can see some early test results here. The device is definitely impressive regardless of what components are inside.
In the few weeks I’ve been using it, the experience hasn’t been pegged back by any performance hiccups; in fact, things have been surprisingly smooth considering iOS 8 was just released (though it hasn’t been without its issues). Apple typically does a pretty solid job of optimizing its hardware and software, and that’s apparent here. The experience will be fast, rest assured; you won’t notice any lag, if ever, thanks to the A8’s improved CPU and GPU performance.
That all leads, as one would expect, to better battery life, which is pretty solid on the iPhone 6 (1810mAh). During a day of really intense use (lots of YouTube, lots of messaging, picture taking, and video recording), I still got to the end of the day with about 30-40-percent; when I say end of the day, I’m talking 7-8 p.m. I plug my phone in every night regardless of battery performance, as I’m sure others do. But if you don’t, and you use your phone pretty heavily, you should get through a day no problem. If you casually use your device for the occasional message and app, your battery will go on for days.
I also noticed that the phone’s speakers are pretty good; you should be able to hear music, video and calls just fine. They’re not the best—the Moto X and HTC One (M8) are superior; heck, I’d say the Moto G is probably better, too—but the iPhone 6 is certainly ok for the occasional time you gather around your phone with friends to watch a TechnoBuffalo video.
For what it’s worth, I thought the iPhone 6 Plus was louder and clearer. Meanwhile, call quality was decent enough. I don’t speak on the phone all that often, and phones today typically sound decent enough, but in the four or five instances when I did make a call on the iPhone 6, I was able to hear the other person on the line (and vice versa) without any problems.
Another thing worth pointing out: Touch ID works about 95-percent of the time (for me). I have never owned a Touch ID-equipped device, so I don’t really have any prior experience to base the iPhone 6’s off of, but by all accounts the technology has been improved greatly; last year people complained Touch ID wasn’t all that reliable. Like I said, I’ve been using Touch ID quite a bit for banking and 1Password, and it works the majority of the time. It better, especially with Apple Pay on the way later this month.
The iPhone 6 is a comfortable step up from the iPhone 5s, though it ultimately falls short of some of today's Android flagships.
Apple iPhone 6
If you’re an iPhone fan, you’re going to love the iPhone 6 (more so, I think, than the iPhone 6 Plus). The size is a perfect bump up from the 4-inch iPhone 5/5s, and the design, as it usually is, is immaculate. Not the best design out there by any means, but it’s definitely up there. The software, meanwhile, is paving the way for a brighter and more open future, and we can’t wait to see it fulfill its potential. The camera is great, slo mo is awesome, and the screen looks beautiful.
In all, the iPhone 6 is well built, performs as well or even better than some roided out Android phones. And, above all, it’s a typically well-rounded Apple package. But, more and more, fans are looking for an experience beyond merely being “well-rounded.” As good and fluid as iOS is, it still lags behind Android (and, in some areas, even Windows Phone). Voice control isn’t as good, notifications can feel primitive, and Apple still hasn’t really come up with a response to Google Now (though you can download the Google Search app, which offers Google Now).
It’s getting harder and harder for phone makers to stand out in any significant way—we’ve hit a plateau where small iteration is the norm, rather than big life-changing updates. Apple certainly introduced some big changes this year, especially from a design standpoint. But it didn’t do quite enough for us to place it at the top of the pile. If you’re an Android fan, there’s very little reason for you to switch, especially with devices like the Moto X (2014), LG G3, HTC One (M8) and OnePlus One on the market.
The good news is that iOS 8 is finally showing signs of openness, while Apple Pay is poised to change the way we perceive digital wallets. There’s no doubt that Apple’s new phones are by far the best iPhones to date. But you can arguably find better value in the Android ecosystem. Apple this year hit all the right notes, giving consumers a better camera, sleeker design, and fun new software tweaks. For most people, that’s more than enough.
But, in the end, this feels very much like just a big iPhone. Nothing more, nothing less. Nothing overly extraordinary.
Disclaimer: Brandon used the iPhone 6 twelve days before beginning his review.