iPhone 6 review

iPhone 6 ReviewImage Source: Zach Epstein, BGR

Reviewing an iPhone is a curious endeavor. One might think it’s just like reviewing any other device, and the processes are indeed roughly the same. The difference, and it is a vast difference, is the purpose.

When reviewing a smartphone, a pair of shoes, a computer, a car, a movie or even a toaster, the purpose is generally to use experience and expertise to assist readers, or viewers, in making a buying decision. Even small gadget blogs can influence thousands or tens of thousands of people. A site like BGR influences millions and a large media organization can influence tens of millions of people.

But with iPhones, this simply is not the case.

When it comes to the iPhone 6 or any other iPhone, you’re either with Apple or you’re not. There are only a handful of choices — until this year, your only choices were “newest iPhone,” “slightly older iPhone” or “oldest iPhone” — and many people know even before new iPhones are announced whether or not they plan to buy one.

iPhone owners are regularly found to be the most loyal cell phone owners by a wide margin, with retention rates that always seem to hover around 90%. For them, cost and upgrade eligibility are the only factors to consider.

New business comes to Apple thanks to a few main factors. One is word of mouth, or influence from friends and family; if everyone you know owns an iPhone, you’ll likely want an iPhone as well. Another is marketing and advertising; Apple spends billions to ensure that its products are perceived as the best and coolest options available.

But you would be hard-pressed to find a person who claims a product review on a website was the determining factor in his or her decision to buy an iPhone.

iPhone reviews must serve a different purpose, then.

Different writers surely have different purposes in mind when reviewing an iPhone. Some consider only page views and others have probably never even stopped to consider how little their iPhone reviews influence potential buyers.

For the purposes of this review, I decided to keep things simple.

More than 10 million people took possession of a new iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus between Friday and Sunday, but tens of millions more will be purchasing new iPhones over the coming months. For them, this review will let them know what to expect.

And if you’ve planted your flag with another ecosystem and have no intention of even considering a new iPhone, this review will give you a good idea of what you’re missing out on, as well as the various benefits other platforms and devices have over iOS.

We won’t cover every little thing here because, well, it’s an iPhone. Instead, we’ll hit all the big points and see if Apple’s new flagship phone really lived up to the hype.

The Size

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There is simply no reason to beat around the bush here, so we’ll start with the most obvious and hotly anticipated change between older iPhones and the new iPhone 6: The size.

Apple’s iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus mark the first time that Apple is sitting squarely in the follower’s seat. Whereas the company has been a smartphone leader in the past, Apple failed to respond as the industry shifted toward larger displays.

Now, Apple thinks larger displays have become so important that it didn’t even introduce a new iPhone model with a smaller screen sized in line with its earlier iPhones.

The iPhone 6 is sized in line with much of the competition, though the display is smaller than most leading Android phones. For example, the Galaxy S5’s screen measures 5.1 inches diagonally and the new Motorola Moto X has a 5.2-inch display, and both phones are about the same size as the new iPhone, which features a 4.7-inch screen.

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There is a relatively simple explanation for the discrepancy, however. Apple’s comparatively large, round home button design is currently a necessity since it houses the Touch ID fingerprint scanner, and it takes up a lot of room. Meanwhile, a device like the new Moto X has no home button, so the display can occupy more of the device’s face.

The difference in screen size between Apple’s iPhone 6 and rival phones is very noticeable when the phones are side by side, but I have found that the iPhone’s display is a very nice size. And users upgrading from an older iPhone model will instantly be impressed by the extra real estate.

Also of note, the iPhone 6’s screen is positively gorgeous.

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To look at the device’s display specs on paper, one would think the iPhone is at a serious disadvantage where display quality is concerned. Look at this big comparison between the iPhone 6, Galaxy S5, LG G3 and HTC One (M8).

To this, I say try it.

It is true that Apple’s iPhone 6 features resolution roughly in line with 720p and a pixel density of “just” 326 pixels per inch while the rival phones noted above feature pixel densities of 432, 538 and 441 ppi, respectively. But hold an iPhone 6 in one hand and any aforementioned rival smartphone in the other, and you will be impressed by the clarity, vividness and color reproduction on the iPhone.

As I predicted shortly after Apple unveiled its first Retina display, rival smartphone makers have gone completely overboard with cell phone displays.

We’ve now entered 2K “quad HD” territory, meaning that some smartphones like the LG G3 and Galaxy Note 4 pack more pixels than the high-definition TV currently hanging on your wall. They look great, but is there a significant improvement in clarity between the Galaxy S5’s full HD screen and the G3’s quad HD display, and is that difference apparent to the user’s naked eye?

The answer, simply, is no.

If you have 20/20 vision or if you hold the iPhone 6 a few inches from your face while also holding a Galaxy S5 at the same distance, you may indeed notice some difference in clarity. But in reality, while using the iPhone 6 in a normal fashion, you will be impressed by this display. Period.

The Design

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Anyone who has read my reviews in the past knows how important design and build quality are to me, and no smartphone I have ever tested has me as conflicted as Apple’s new iPhone 6.

Overall, the new iPhone 6 is likely the most gorgeous smartphone I have ever used. The full glass and aluminum construction is phenomenal, the fluid look of the rounded edges is masterful, and the handset is impossibly thin. It’s amazing to look at and it feels terrific in the hand.

But there are two fairly substantial issues that I haven’t yet been able to work my way past. Some might call them design flaws, while others might call them design compromises. Whatever you want to call them, they may very well spoil an otherwise impeccable design.

It is quite clear to me that, with both the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, Apple valued a thin profile above aesthetics in the case of the plastic lines covering the antennas on the back of the phone, and above durability in the case of the camera lens.

Because Apple wanted to make these new aluminum phones so thin — the iPhone 6 is just 6.9mm thick and the iPhone 6 Plus is 7.1mm thick — it had to incorporate and an unorthodox antenna design. The new camera assembly also seemingly couldn’t fit in such a thin housing, so Apple opted for a protruding camera lens on each model.

In my opinion, these are both awful compromises.

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The plastic lines are at least forgivable. Maybe Apple’s design team thinks they look good. Maybe some users think they look good. I personally believe they look quite bad, but were likely necessary in order to keep the housing so thin. A more visually pleasing antenna design would likely have been technically and economically possible only in a slightly thicker phone.

Apple’s protruding camera lens on the back of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, however, is not forgivable.

I, like many other smartphone users who are careful and who appreciate the work that goes into designing these devices, do not use a protective case on my phones. I have yet to shatter a screen or crack a housing, but the simple act of putting a phone down and picking it up repeatedly ended up scratching the sapphire lens cover on my iPhone 5s. And that crystal sat flush with the phone’s housing.

The protruding lens on the iPhone 6 is just begging to be scratched. It will be scratched, eventually, and it will compromise the quality of photos taken with the phone.

It’s a shame, too, because the camera on the iPhone 6 is absolutely phenomenal. Well-lit photos captured by the handset are simply breathtaking, and low-light performance is dramatically improved. But don’t take my word for it, take the word of a professional photographer.

Also of note, the protruding camera also causes the iPhone 6 to rock back and forth when the left side is touched while the phone is sitting face up on a flat surface.

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Even with these two issues (and I’ll concede that antenna lines don’t look as bad on the space gray model as they do on the silver and gold iPhones), the iPhone 6 is still one of the most gorgeous smartphones you’ll ever come across. The overall design is unmistakably Apple, and the feel, fit and finish are unmatched.

One final note for those who, like me, can get hung up on the tiniest details: For the first time ever on an iPhone, the SIM card tray color and material actually match the rest of the aluminum housing exactly.

The Software and Performance

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I have already written at length about iOS 8 on a few occasions, so I won’t spend too much time on the iPhone 6’s software. I will, however, cover some big changes and key issues.

First, you can expect some growing pains when upgrading to the iPhone 6 from an older iPhone. Yes, Apple fans, welcome to the wild world of fragmentation.

Apple’s new iPhones feature new display resolutions and most apps simply aren’t ready for them. What happens when you run an app that isn’t optimized for larger screens on a new iPhone? It zooms automatically to fill the screen, resulting in a look that is blurry and unattractive.

The problem is much worse on the iPhone 6 Plus than it is on the iPhone 6, since the Plus’ display resolution is 1080p while the iPhone 6 is about 720p.

In nearly all cases, this is a temporary issue that will be resolved as developers update their apps to support the new resolutions. In the meantime, it’s quite annoying when several of your most commonly used apps are blurry.

Of course, the quality of the apps themselves is still vastly superior to apps on any other mobile ecosystem, for the most part, so this issue is merely a small speed bump that users will ultimately forget about entirely.

iOS 8 includes a number of terrific new features that we have detailed in the past, and they’re even more impressive on the iPhone 6 thanks to performance improvements afforded by the new A8 processor and various optimizations.

The difference is not huge, but it is noticeable and appreciated; iPhone 5s users will instantly see how much faster and more responsive Touch ID fingerprint scans are now, for example.

And the iPhone 6 is no slouch overall, of course, offering performance that crushes every rival smartphone in a number of key areas.

Some of iOS 8’s biggest consumer-facing additions are unfortunately not yet ready for primetime, such as Apple Pay, Health features and Continuity. It’s a shame, of course, but hopefully we can look forward to clean launches that were worth the wait.

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Among iPhone 6-specific tidbits in iOS 8, I will once again draw attention to one important feature in particular: Reachability.

For previous iPhone owners upgrading to a new iPhone, Reachability is hugely important despite its curious name. By double-touching touching the home button (don’t press the button; just double-touch as you would on the display) any screen you’re on will slide down the display so you can easily reach objects near the top.

You can see how it works in the photo above.

Since many users will no longer be able to reach the entire display on the new iPhones, the new Reachability feature is a must-have.

The Bottom Line

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If you thought Apple’s iPhone line represented the best smartphones in the world before, hold onto your hat.

As was expected, and as is expected each and every year, Apple’s newest flagship iPhone is better than its predecessors in nearly every conceivable way. It’s thinner, it’s faster and it’s is more sleek than any iPhone before it.

The larger 4.7-inch display on the iPhone 6 is gorgeous and I will appreciate it even more when all of my most commonly used apps are updated to support the new resolution. I have been seeing several apps updated each day since iOS 8 was first released, so the wait shouldn’t be terribly long.

Apple’s new larger display options do a great job addressing one of the two biggest pain points iPhone users constantly gripe about, but the second hasn’t been addressed quite as well; I’m hesitant to jump to any conclusions regarding battery life at this point since I have only been testing the iPhone 6 for a few days, but I will share my observations thus far.

While the iPhone 6’s battery life has been much better than my year-old iPhone 5s, it’s still not a class leader. Not even close. It has effortlessly carried me through a full day of usage while connected to Wi-Fi for most of the day, but heavier usage while pumping data over LTE definitely still eats through the battery quite quickly.

I’m also disappointed that Apple hasn’t added functionality similar to HTC’s “extreme power saving mode” or Samsung’s “ultra power saving mode.” With these great features, users with critically low batteries can gain several hours of extended usage time by putting their phones into a special limited mode where all unnecessary functions are disabled. This feature can be a life-saver, but Apple offers nothing like it.

Behind all of the crazy hype and beautiful hardware lies iOS, with the best ecosystem and best mobile apps in the world to support it. As has been the case for years, third-party software is the true hero of the iPhone experience, and Apple deserves much of the credit for reinventing the mobile app and creating a developer program that facilitates the creation of all this wonderful software.

Apps were, are, and will continue to be the star of the show when it comes to Apple’s iPhone. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Apple also offers users the most gorgeous and capable smartphones in the world to run all those great apps, and the iPhone 6 definitely carries that tradition forward.

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