iPhone 6 Review: Bigger Is DEFINITELY Better

Reviews Richard Goodwin 13:58, 10 Aug 2015

iPhone 6 Review: Camera 

Like the iPhone 5 and iPhone 5s before it the iPhone 6 uses an 8MP iSight camera on its business end. But before you go calling shenanigans, we need to clear something up: the iPhone 5s had a great camera and it did it with an 8MP sensor, so Apple’s logic here is sort of understandable –– leave the gross-megapixels alone, a move it is now infamous for, and instead focus on refining the actual imaging technology contained within the sensor. I’m no imaging buff, so bear with me here, but even I can tell the difference between the two handsets, and the results are very positive, with images appearing crisper and more detailed. So what gives? 

Two words: “Focus Pixels”

Like a lot of things to do with the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, Apple didn’t explain what Focus Pixels actually are, other than to say the sensor will focus faster and produce better shots in a variety of settings. This is true, too. The iPhone 6 focuses in on a subject – and can also maintain that focus even if the subject is moving – in an instant. It really is very, very quick. Apple said the iPhone 6 uses a type of auto-focus similar to DLSRs (phase detection) whereby the camera uses two sensors to evaluate the subject from two points of view, allowing it to tell –– very quickly –– whether the subject is in front or behind the current focus point. This setup is better suited to video and the type of imagery you’ll be capturing on an iPhone than, say, phase detection. 

But because Apple hasn’t explained fully WHAT it actually is, all we can do is speculate about the technology, although it could be that Apple has used both phase and contrast detection here, creating a type of hybrid autofocus that embodies the best of both worlds. What this means in real world terms is that the iPhone 6 camera auto focuses much faster. Related to this is greatly improved face detection. This is something I noticed right away. When taking a picture on a packed street the iPhone 6’s camera almost instantly locks onto people’s faces in the crowd. 

Both the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus now feature continuous auto-focus, meaning you can shoot video of a subject while moving and the iPhone 6 camera sensor (thanks to its Focus Pixels) will adjust the footage accordingly to rid the end result of any unsightly bumps and shakes. Apple used an example of a gentleman filming another gentleman on a bike ride during its keynote. Both dudes are on bikes and the footage is pretty damn smooth, despite one of them filming. In practice, it’s not quite as pronounced but is still a very nice addition to an already rock solid camera setup. 

But for me the best part of taking still images with the iPhone 6 is night shots look A LOT better. It’s easier to take great night snaps and see more detail in every dark shot. I was simply amazed when I took my first night shot with the iPhone 6. For the first time ever with a picture taken by an iPhone I could make out the individual leaves of a tree at night against a dark sky. 

But if video is your thing, you’ll be even more impressed with the iPhone 6’s camera. That’s because it now shoots 1080p video at 60fps instead of just 30. You can also shoot slow motion video in 720p up to a whopping 240fps. How often you’ll do this depends on what you like recording, but it's great for those who shoot a lot of sporting events. The iPhone 6 also now supports time-lapse video, whereby you can continuously film something –– say, take off from inside a plane –– and the iPhone will splice it all together in a Benny Hill-style video, which really does look rather cool providing you can find the right thing to shoot.

iPhone 6 Specs: CPU, Storage And RAM 

Apple’s never issues journos with the power units inside its iPhone and iPad devices, but the advent of the A7 chipset really started to set the company apart from the crowd. Not only was the A7 CPU a 64-bit processor, but it was also one of the best-performing pieces of silicon on market in 2013. With the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, Apple has debuted its second-generation 64-bit chipset, the A8. 

As expected, it’s faster and more power-efficient, and features a vastly improved GPU for improved performance in game, as well as photo and video editing software. The A8 is still a dual-core setup and the iPhone 6 still uses 1GB of RAM, a fraction of what you’ll find in modern Android handsets like the LG G4 and Samsung Galaxy 6. Not that any of this really matters inside the context of iOS anyway; iOS is Apple’s party and everything inside it and the iPhone is calibrated to ensure optimum performance. You don’t need BIG specs when you have this much control. Just ask BlackBerry and Microsoft.

Last year’s iPhone 5s was plenty powerful, and yet the iPhone 6 still manages to be feel noticeably snappier. It’s not earth shattering by any means, but the difference is certainly there and it is especially evident while gaming (especially those designed using Metal) or when you’re doing fairly CPU-intensive tasks like photo and video editing. You always feel like it has plenty of additional grunt left, whatever you’re doing. In this respect it kind of feels like driving a 400BHP car on the motorway: it’s quick, yeah, but there’s plenty more in the bank if you need it. 

Apple does get a fair amount of flak from tech-types because of its ultra-conservative approach to specs and hardware. Compared to the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus look like mid-range phones. But as I pointed out in both my Samsung Galaxy Alpha and BlackBerry Passport review: specs aren’t everything. Performance, battery life and the overall experience is more about how the specs and hardware are calibrated to work with the software inside the phone, and in all three cases –– the Alpha, the Passport and the iPhone 6 –– everything is tweaked perfectly, ensuring ultra smooth, silky performance across the board. 

The iPhone’s coprocessor has also gotten an upgrade with the new M8, which offloads the work of measuring the accelerometer, compass, and gyroscope data from the main processor. The new M8 also adds a barometer, so now your iPhone can tell what elevation you’re at – or if you’re climbing a flight of stairs. Plenty of fitness apps are now supporting the M8’s elevation reading capabilities, so it’s quite a cool little feature for fitness buffs.

Specs aren’t everything. This is something Apple has long maintained with its iPhone and iPad products. The company believes with the right level of optimisations and proper integration between software and hardware, an iPhone can out-perform an Android handset with plenty more processing grunt under the hood, as a recent benchmark comparing the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus against the hugely powerful Samsung Galaxy S6 has revealed. 

“The Galaxy S6 packs a bleeding-edge octa-core Exynos processor, 3GB of LPDDR4 RAM and lightning fast UFS 2.0 flash memory. But since all of that tech has to support a quad HD display, graphics performance takes a significant hit as a result,” reports BGR.

"As we can clearly see in the graphics performance test results above, the 720p and 1080p displays on Apple’s iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus allow for graphics performance that crushes Samsung’s new flagship smartphone."

The iPhone 6 and its larger counterpart are available in 16GB, 32GB and 128GB storage versions. There’s no MicroSD-support, of course, but you can add in an additional 20GB of iCloud storage for just £0.79 a month, which isn’t too bad at all when you consider the comparative cost of storage expansion on competing cloud services. The 16GB is obviously the cheapest option and the 128GB model will set you back A LOT of money, so most will probably opt for the 64GB version or the 16GB supplanted with additional iCloud storage. Either way, no other OEM offers a handset with 128GB internal storage, so if storage is important to you and you have oodles of cash laying around, well, you have options.

iPhone 6 Review: Connectivity, LTE and Extras

The iPhone 6 has 20 LTE bands – seven more than the iPhone 5s. If you rarely leave the UK, this isn’t such a big deal. But if you’re a globe traveller this means your iPhone 6 can connect to almost double the 4G networks around the world than the previous iPhone could. In addition to the support for additional 4G bands, the iPhone 6 also offers up to 150Mbps download speeds. That’s 3-4 times faster than the iPhone 5s.

Apple has also added a new 802.11ac chipset, which means your Wi-Fi connection will be up to 3 times faster (iOS 8 bugs, allowing) than the 802.11n speeds the iPhone 5s got, so as long as you’re connected to an 802.11ac-compatible wireless router. 

iPhone 6 Review: NFC and TouchID 

Besides the larger screen size, Apple has also taken another feature hint from Androids: it’s finally added NFC to the iPhone. However, unlike Android handsets, the NFC chip in the iPhone 6 is only for mobile payments via Apple’s new Apple Pay service. You can read our primer on Apple Pay here to understand the ins and outs of it. But be warned, when Apple Pay goes live later this month it will only work in the US--or with those iPhone 6 owners who have a US iTunes Store account.

As with other Apple services that haven’t launched in the UK yet (ahem, iTunes Radio), there’s no date from Apple on when Apple Pay will make it to the UK (which explains why any mention of Apple Pay is absent from the Apple UK website). But since it looks like Apple is the company that’s finally created a dead simple mobile payment solution, let’s hope we get Apple Pay sooner rather than later. Until that time it is a bummer that one of the biggest features of the iPhone 6 is all but useless here.

Besides NFC, Apple Pay uses the Touch ID fingerprint scanner embedded in the home button to authenticate payments. Thankfully the Touch ID does have uses outside of Apple Pay and not only can users use it to unlock their iPhones and download apps, now third-party apps support Touch ID, so the biometric scanner has become immensely more useful.

iPhone 6 Review: Battery

This is the BIG one: did Apple improve battery life? The short answer is a resounding yes – just not in an earth-shattering manner. During my two-week testing period, the iPhone 6 only died on me on a couple of occasions. The first was when I forgot to charge it at lunchtime and went straight out after work – the iPhone 6 made it to 12:30am. Not bad when you consider it had been running all day since 7am.

The other was when I went away for the weekend and forgot my charger. Interestingly, in this context, I limited my usage dramatically –– basically, checked in on emails and that once an hour or so –– and the iPhone 6 almost made it through two whole days. Again, not too shabby. In our Django test the iPhone 6 posted similarly decent results finishing on 68% at the film's end from a 100% start, which is very impressive given the relatively small size of its battery. 

But where the iPhone 6 (and iPhone 6 Plus) really come into their own for me is to do with idle performance. When the iPhone isn’t doing anything it hardly uses any power whatsoever, it just seems to take the occasional sip now and then, almost as if it knows it is on borrowed time. Case in point: I managed to listen to a whole album on Spotify during my commute home with just 3% left on the battery. That is more than impressive (and, please note, I didn’t switch anything like data or Wi-Fi off). 

But if this uplift still isn’t enough of an improvement, another way of extending the life of your iPhone –– any iPhone, for that matter –– is to turn off background application updates. To do this head into settings > general > background app refresh and switch it off. Inside this setting you can set which apps you want to refresh in the background as well, so you only have a few, core applications updating. This latter approach is my preferred method, but both styles will deliver noticeable uplift in battery performance throughout the day. 

So what’s the take-away point here? Simple: battery performance has been improved for sure (I’d say by around 15-20%) and this means you no longer have to charge your iPhone at work if you know you’re going to be home by around 7 or 8PM. If you’re going out after work and it’s going to be a late one (after midnight), you might want to go ahead and give it a recharge during the afternoon, however, just to be sure it’ll last through until the wee hours of the morning which, lets face it, is usually when you need a phone most! 

iPhone 6 Review: Conclusion 

In the context of iPhones, the iPhone 6 is a HUGE step forward for Apple that addresses several key issues with previous models, namely: battery life, display size, customisation options (hello, SwiftKey), and LTE-A grade mobile data speeds. All big USPs for those already locked inside Apple’s iPhone ecosystem, and more than enough reason to upgrade from an iPhone 5s or iPhone 5c. In the context of the wider smartphone market, I don’t think it is going to convince any ardent Android users over to Apple’s way of doing things, not with handsets like the Moto X, Samsung Galaxy 6 and LG G4 now readily available. Ditto for BlackBerry and Windows Phone.

That said, Apple doesn’t really need converts: the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are already selling at a record rate all over the world, so it doesn’t really matter whether you think this is an inferior handset to, say, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 because it will, almost certainly, sell in greater quantities. And that, at the end of the day, is what matters to people like Apple and Samsung – sales, revenues and profits. Beyond this though the iPhone 6 is a great piece of kit, offering up an excellent camera, great performance, decent battery life and plenty of processing power. You also have access to one of the best mobile ecosystems –– in terms of content –– on the planet. And if none of that floats your boat, well, at least you have plenty of other options readily available on market from LG, Motorola, BlackBerry and Samsung. 

Apple’s way of doing things might not be the most impressive but the iPhone, whatever way you look at it, is a defining product in its category, one that is instantly recognisable and, like Michael Jackson, is known in almost every corner of this planet called Earth. For this reason, it’s easy to see why Apple favours the softly-softly approach towards its biggest cash cow. The iPhone didn’t need a BIG update, as it was good enough already for most of Apple’s core clientele, so what Apple did is add in a few things people have been asking for, which is, in the cold light of day, a bigger display and a better battery. Personally, though, I am very impressed with the iPhone 6 (iOS 8 gripes aside) and would recommend it to anyone not already committed to either Android, Windows Phone or BlackBerry 10. 

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