Another year, another hyped-up iPhone release from Apple, with the company unveiling not one, but two new iPhones for the second year in a row.
While the phablet-esque iPhone 6 is Apple's biggest and priciest handset to date, the smaller iPhone 6 is no slouch in both the size and expense departments. With the 6 set to be the more popular of the two devices, we spent a week or so with the smaller flagship smartphone to determine if it's worth your hard-earned money.
- Great performance
- Improved screen size and vibrant display
- Better fitness tracking tools
- Improved camera
- NFC capability (eventually)
- Battery life could be better
- No optical image stabilization
- Waiting on Apply Pay and NFC
- Very high-priced
- Other than size, still not a huge step forward from the iPhone 5s
The 6 may be the smaller of the new iPhones, but even with a 4.7-inch screen the phone still feels oversized for an iOS device (especially if you’re coming from an older model, such as the 4 or 4s). Once you adjust to the increased screen size and accompanying giant bezels, however, the new-look iPhone is actually a welcome change from its thicker, smaller predecessors.
You'll find Apple has adjusted the phone's design to compensate for the new size - for example, the lock button has been moved from the top of the handset to the right hand side, for easier thumb/index finger access. Because of the 6’s slimmed-down silhouette, the rear-facing camera lens actually protrudes slightly from the phone’s back; between this and the overall slippery feel of the 6, a sturdy case is probably a good investment.
Display and interface
Now that Apple has pumped up the screen size, you’d expect that the iPhone 6 would have a better, more vibrant display than last year’s devices. While the 6’s screen is sharp, with great contrast between blacks and whites, it still would have been nice to see Apple unveil a full HD screen on par with those featured on the LG G3 or Samsung Galaxy S5.
The user interface is everything we’ve come to expect from Apple, with the bigger screen allowing room for subtle but intuitive improvements. Notifications appearing as ‘badges’ at the top of the screen are more interactive, with users now able to add their own 'widgets' to their notification menu and respond to reminders, messages and alerts without opening a new app.
You’ll still be able to access important info from the lock screen – swipe up from the bottom for Control Centre, and down for the top for Notifications – but Apple has also used its new Health app to allow phone owners to also include access medical information in case of emergency via Medical ID.
The main problem you’re likely to encounter is easily accessing all areas of your screen if you have tiny, carny-like hands, but Apple already has you covered. A quick double-touch of the Home button activates Reachability, which brings the content from the top of the screen down to the bottom half.
The battery on the iPhone 6 is definitely an improvement, but Apple still has a way to go before its customers will feel confident leaving the charger at home when anticipating all-day phone use. When not being regularly poked and prodded, the 6 conserves battery fairly well, but a day of frequent usage - including Facebook checking, Web browsing, and playing a few graphics-intensive games – had us down to less than 10% by bedtime.
While the device supposedly has 25% longer battery life, you’ll find this gets eaten up quickly if you’re a fan of Candy Crush Saga or Kim Kardashian’s Hollywood (not that we are). One feature Apple has added to Settings is the ability to view how much battery each of your apps is draining, which goes a long way in determining how to get the most out of a single charge.
Performance and connectivity
One area where the 6 really shines is in its fast, virtually seamless performance. Lagging or glitches were fairly non-existent, although we did experience two or three instances of the Facebook app freezing and crashing. Otherwise, the 6 performed everything that we asked of it without complaint.
We were especially impressed with the Touch ID fingerprint scanner this time around – it never failed to identify this reviewer’s print. Thankfully, we avoided the iOS 8.0.1 update fiasco, and an update to 8.0.2 didn’t draw our attention to any prior performance issues or bugs.
Much-touted features such as the accelerometer, heart rate monitor, and the newly-included barometer worked well for us. Incorporating their use into the Health app provides a fairly accurate summary of daily activity (including any flights of stairs climbed throughout the day). One thing we’re looking forward to testing out in the future is the 6’s NFC capabilities, which so far will be limited to the new Apple Pay mobile payment system (and initially only in the US).
A problem we did notice is that the 6 seemed to struggle on occasion when connecting to WiFi or personal hotspots. This may be something to consider if you tend to rely on mobile internet over cellular data when you’re on the go.
Realistically, the 6 was never going to have the best smartphone camera on the market, but most users will be impressed regardless. Although the 6 features similar specs to the 5s, Apple has improved both the sensor and autofocus features and added what the company is calling ‘focus pixels’.
This new feature means that the 6’s autofocus is even is quicker than before, and users can now even adjust exposure before snapping a pic with a simple swipe of the finger. Apple has included some new novelty features such as slo-mo and time-lapse photography, but both cameras are still 8-megapixels in the rear and 1.2-megapixels in the front – so if you liked the camera quality of the iPhone 5s, you’ll be more than happy with the iPhone 6.
One thing the 6 doesn’t have that Apple has included in the bigger, pricier 6 Plus is optical image stabilization. So phone owners who want the most up-to-date and specced-up camera available may prefer to go with the super-sized iPhone, or look to alternatives from Sony, Nokia or HTC.
The iPhone 6 is a great phone, and for Apple users coming out of contracts, or needing an upgrade, it’s an easy step forward that offers better performance and all the things you already love about Apple. There’s not a lot to find wrong with Apple’s smaller flagship; but at the same time, there’s nothing about it to truly recommend it over competitors running Android’s operating system.
This may change next year when the Apple Watch hits stores and offers gadget lovers a chance to try out Apple’s first wearable. We’re not overly optimistic about the Watch’s chances of revolutionizing the way we use our phones or tech, but if it delivers on the hype it may boost the iPhone 6's ‘have to have it’ status.
The iPhone 6 is still one of this year's best devices, and ideal for consumers moving on from the iPhone 5 or older and happy to stay with Apple. But considering the price tag, other potential buyers may want to weigh it up against less expensive flagships from Apple’s competitors before making a commitment.