iPhone 6 Review: Bigger Is DEFINITELY Better

Reviews Richard Goodwin 14:42, 27 Nov 2014

Is the iPhone 6 the GREATEST handset EVER made in the ENTIRE Universe? We endeavour to separate hyperbole from reality and find out...

Rating: 
4.5
Typical Price: 
£539.00
Pros: 
Excellent design; Improved battery; larger, perfectly proportion display; Great imaging; Higher storage versions; iOS is a great ecosystem for apps, games and content
Cons: 
iOS 8 –– at the time of review –– is very buggy; Apple Pay isn't live in the UK; You need to use a protective case to stop backpanel getting scuffed
Verdict: 
The iPhone 6 is a solid, well-designed update to the iPhone 5s with key improvements in several very important areas, including battery performance, display size, imaging and LTE support

Apple isn’t really a technology company anymore. I mean, yeah, it makes phones and tablets and PCs just like everybody else but somehow Apple’s products seem to transcend the usual conventions associated with consumer electronics and turn normal, everyday human beings into crazed lunatics that will forgo a bed and their family for days in order to secure a shiny new iPhone. And this is just odd, really, because at the end of the day Apple IS a tech company and all it really does IS make consumer electronics; it’s not a band, or One Direction, or Harry Potter – it makes consumer electronic products, just like Samsung and LG and Sony and Microsoft. So what gives? 

Mind control? The Devil? Magic? Contaminated water? God knows! And if I knew, well, I wouldn’t be here talking to you; I’d be sunning myself on some tropical island and living it up in a million-dollar mansion paid for by my next-level, superhuman marketing skills. But I digress, and it doesn’t really matter because whatever Apple’s secret may be, the long and short of it is this: no other company on the planet could shift 20 million units of its new phone inside two weeks of release. No one but Apple. 

iPhone 6 WAY More Popular Than iPhone 6 Plus

“Within a month of Apple's latest handsets going on sale,” reports the Daily Mail, “figures have revealed its customers flocked to buy the smaller model. The iPhone 6 accounted for 68 per cent of all sales through September and into early October, while its larger model took between 23 and 24 per cent. Apple's cheaper iPhone 5S and 5C handsets made up the rest of the sales.”   

Does this mean the iPhone 6 is the greatest handset of all time? No. Does it mean the iPhone 6 is a very good handset? Yes – and it is. But like most things in life, just because something is insanely popular doesn’t necessarily mean it is the best thing EVER. Just look at One Direction. And then there’s the fact that Apple doesn’t really need any help selling iPhones, which sort of makes this review slightly superfluous. I mean, who’s going to argue with 20 million sales in two weeks? Not me. And not even most ardent Android or Windows Phone fans either, I’d imagine. The sheer volume of sales for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are just TOO BIG to dispute, which makes squabbling over “what’s best” kinda of futile –– sort of like punching a Tsunami, or Mike Tyson.

With all that in mind, I've written this review from what I consdier to be the most realistic and pragmatic perspective. That is to say, the iPhone 6 and its new design is being aimed at people who might not have used an iPhone before; those who might be considering a switch from an Android, Windows Phone, or BlackBerry device, or those who are new to smartphones entirely.

Apple's not going to be interesting in trying to convince existing iPhone users, simply because those people don't need convincing, in fact they probably already pre-ordered the new model.

So this review is for you if you want to know what all the fuss is about with Apple's latest device.

Apple is no longer THE only desirable brand in the space, with the likes of LG, Sony and Samsung all pumping out seriously compelling hardware at break-neck speeds. Take Samsung, for instance, it’s last three handsets –– the Galaxy Alpha, Galaxy Note 4 and Galaxy Note EDGE –– were absolute belters, packing in bleeding-edge spec and new, thoroughly improved designs. Then there’s the new Moto X, arguably, one of our favourite Androids of 2014, and, of course, Google’s brand new Nexus 6. 

So this one’s for the floating voters, really. The people still undecided about whether the iPhone is for them. Hopefully by the end of this review you’ll be in a better position to decide whether dropping a lot of money and time on an iPhone is worthwhile. If not, relax, you have plenty of other options in the form of Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry 10-powered units. 

Right, here goes… 

iPhone 6 Display 

The iPhone 6 (and iPhone 6 Plus) represent a BIG shift in the way Apple does mobile, as they are the first handsets in the company’s history to use plus-4-inch-displays. These are the biggest handsets Apple has ever produced; the handsets many have been waiting for since 2012. I know, I know –– this isn’t a big deal. Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry 10 handsets have been doing this for year. So why is it a big deal now? For me, it’s because Apple has been forced to admit that, once again, it had underestimated consumer wants and needs (hello, iPad Mini) and has, as a result, been forced to follow a path already well-trodden by the likes of Samsung, HTC, Nokia, BlackBerry, Sony and pretty much every other modern handset maker on the planet. 

The small display on previous iPhone models was also the number one factor in stopping me (as well as plenty of others, I’m sure) from getting an iPhone in the past. It was just too small – and in a world obsessed with photography, web browsing, video and gaming, bigger is definitely better (but just not too big, mkay?). That’s why I was so chuffed when Apple opted for 4.7in on the iPhone 6. For me, this is the SWEET spot for mobile displays, being perfectly suited for one-handed use as well as things like browsing media, video, and gaming. 

Apple couldn’t go too big on the iPhone (probably why it released two) because if it had a lot of its core users would have been pretty pissed; a switch from 4in to 5.5in is definitely a bridge to far for those who only just found out what a phablet is. For reference, the iPhone 6’s display is the exact same size as the one aboard the Nexus 5, HTC One, Samsung Galaxy Alpha and Moto X – again, all perfectly proportioned handsets. 

The display itself, as noted above, is a 4.7-inch 1334 x 750 pixel resolution display, which translates into a pixel density of 326ppi resolution –– the same as last year’s iPhone 5s. And while that might sound a bit pants to the uninitiated, Apple has actually made quite a few improvements to the iPhone 6’s display, and the first is to do with contrast ratio: it’s been bumped up to a whopping 1400:1 (vs. the iPhone 5s’ 800:1). Another is the inclusion of dual-domain pixels. So what the hell are these? Apple said this technology improve viewing angles at launch, but neglected to say how, so ahead of this review I did some research and found out the following: 

  1. Dual-Domain Pixels: A Basic Definition –– unlike the iPhone 5s’ display, where the sub-pixels are arranged in uniform order, the iPhone 6’s uses a slightly different setup where the sub-pixels are slightly skewed. This is what makes it dual-domain, and it improves viewing angles by way of the off-kilter arrangement, which can better compensate for uneven lighting that often results in loss of colour fidelity and clarity when viewing the panel at different angles.
  2. The iPhone 6 isn’t the first handset to use such a technology; both the HTC One M7 and HTC One X used it too, according to AnandTech. 

In practice none of this technical stuff really matters all that much because the iPhone 6’s display looks awesome. It might not be a full HD setup or a QHD panel like the one inside the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 or LG G3, but, as I pointed out in my Samsung Galaxy Alpha review, this doesn’t really matter all that much in the grand scheme of what you’ll be doing with the handset –– the display is crystal clear with excellent viewing angles and not a hint of pixilation anywhere. It’s also far kinder on the battery too, meaning you get more juice and less drain when viewing content via things like YouTube, Netflix and iTunes.

It’s not Full HD and its not QHD, but it is better than the iPhone 5s’ panel and it does look great in nearly every situation, which, for me, kind of shows just how superfluous the push for 2K and eventually 4K inside mobile phones actually is. Don’t get me wrong, I get QHD and love the way it looks on the LG G3 and Galaxy Note 4, I just don’t view it as absolutely necessary. You still get perfectly good results with 720p (Galaxy Alpha) and 1080p (BlackBerry Passport, Moto X 2014) in the context of a mobile phone. I mean, just look at the difference between a 4K LED HDTV and a 1080p OLED one, for instance. I know which one I’d be getting if I had the cash. 

Another area where I’d like to have seen some improvements to the iPhone 6’s display is how it performs in direct sunlight. Apple says that by packing the display components closer together than ever before, the iPhone 6 –– like the iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 3 –– creates less reflection and thus performs better in direct sunlight. I’ll concede the panel does fare better than the iPhone 5s, but it is still a ways behind the likes of the Nokia Lumia 930 in this regard. Get the iPhone 6 out in direct sunlight, admittedly a rarity in this country, and not much is visible on the screen. You can see enough to get by, but little details, things like menu icons and back buttons, for instance, are difficult to spot.

Like battery life, a screen’s performance in direct sunlight is something that affects nearly all phones in a bad way. And no one, save for Nokia, has really made any progress towards lessening the detrimental affect bright, live-giving solar rays have on a handset or tablet’s screen performance. But what the hell, at least the weather is nice! 

iPhone 6 Review: Design 

As noted at the beginning of this review: we got the iPhone 6 pretty late, and that means you’re already probably well aware about what the handset looks like and have also probably seen a fair few of them in the hands of friends and family while out and about. So to cut a long story short, the iPhone 6 is bigger, thinner and less angular than its predecessor. It is very lightweight – like, almost too much at first, although you do get used it its miniscule proportions – and it still feels very, very premium.

Do I like the way the iPhone 6 looks? Yes. Is it the best-looking, most exciting phone I’ve tested this year? Not by a long shot –– but this was never going to be the case anyway. Apple’s far too conservative for that, which is why all iPhones are variations on an already well-established theme. They’re refinements, not complete rethinks. Next time you go into a shop, look at one and you’ll see what I mean. Apple might stretch it out a bit, shave off some weight and add in a bigger panel or some new colours, but the end result is always very familiar – it’s an iPhone. And that’s sort of the point, I think. People like new stuff but they don’t like new stuff that’s too jarring (again, likely why we have the Plus model).   

So what’s changed? The glass front is now curved and the corners are more rounded than before, which results in a softer in-hand experience. Flip the phone over and you have two antenna bands on the back and that “controversial” protruding camera sensor, which A LOT of people seem very annoyed about. Personally, neither of these things bothered me all that much – they’re just there. I don’t think they add or take anything away from the overall dynamic of the handset.

What is annoying about the iPhone 6’s design (and any other metallic handset, for that matter) is that if you want to keep it in optimum shape (i.e. free from scratches) you MUST use a case, which means hiding away the entire back and side portion of the handset. This is one area where polycarbonate bodies have a huge advantage over their more premium-looking metallic counterparts. The upshot of this in the context of the iPhone 6, however, is that you don’t have to look at those apparently ugly antenna bands. The downside is that 90% of the phone’s design is hidden from view.

Perhaps the biggest question about the iPhone 6, however, is which one you should get – the iPhone 6 or the iPhone 6 Plus? I’ve been using both handsets for around two weeks now (our usual review period) and I am firmly in the iPhone 6 camp. It’s the ideal size for a phone, in my humble opinion, falling in line with handsets like the Galaxy Alpha (another beauty) and the awesome Google Nexus 5 and original Moto X. It’s lightweight enough for one-handed use and big enough for decent media experiences – I don’t call 4.7in the goldilocks dimension for nothing. 

I think Apple built the iPhone 6 for existing iPhone users and the iPhone 6 Plus to attract floating voters over from Android and Windows Phone, or completely new smartphone buyers. The company has already sold around 20 million handsets (although it hasn’t disclosed the exact split), so whichever way you look at it things seem to be working in Apple’s favour. For me personally, if I had to choose I’d take the iPhone 6 every time –– but that’s just my personal preference. Our review of the iPhone 6 Plus is coming next week, but my advice to you if you’re undecided about which to get right now is to go to an Apple store and try them out. The size differences are pretty extreme, so it’s worth taking your time before committing fully to either. 

The iPhone 6 Plus does trump the iPhone 6 in one key area though: battery. And depending on how you use your phone, this could be a very divisive factor indeed. The difference between the two isn’t immediately obvious at first, but once you really start getting stuck into things, you’ll notice a good 20-25% difference in performance. Case in point: just yesterday, in a rare instance of light usage, I checked my iPhone 6 Plus at 5:30om (it’d been off the charger since 7am) and it was rocking 76% charge. That’s impressive, especially when you’re coming from a handset like the Nexus 5, as I did. 

iPhone 6 Review: iOS 8 

We’ve already done a separate review of iOS 8 that looks at all of the new software’s features in detail. So for the sake of brevity, we’re only going to cover off some basics here –– things like bugs we experienced while testing, interesting new additions and the general performance of iOS 8 aboard the iPhone 6 in general. It is worth noting, however, that there have been A LOT of complaints about iOS 8, with users labeling it a buggy, sub-standard release comparable to Apple’s now legendary Maps botchfest. Is there truth to this? Or is it just Apple bashing? 

I’ve just spent two weeks playing around with iOS 8 on the iPhone 6, iPad Air and iPhone 6 Plus and below are some of my thoughts on the platform as a whole; what I believe are its strong points; where it needs improving; and whether or not it is switch-worthy from something like Android, Windows Phone or BlackBerry 10. As I said, these are my own, personal observations. For a more detailed breakdown of all the new features inside iOS 8, check out our iOS 8 review

Apple’s latest version of iOS 8 is one hell of a buggy affair; never before have I tested an iPhone with so many odd glitches, quirks and random freakouts. Apple is making inroads into alleviating a lot of the issues present in the first build, but even now there are plenty of gremlins lurking inside iOS 8.1 –– and they have a habit of turning up at the most inopportune times. A lot them are excusable hiccups but some (random restarts, crashing apps and ultra-slow Wi-Fi speeds) are pretty unforgivable in release-grade software (no wonder Apple’s pumping out updates like they’re going out of fashion). 

iOS 8 User Guides

Apple has released a series of updates to iOS 8 in order to fix certain bugs and niggles associated with the software. Apple introduced a lot of new features inside iOS 8 –– more than any update that came before it, in fact, so teething issues were always going to be a possibility. In order to make sure you’re making the most out of your shiny new iPhone, we’ve put together a whole load of user guides and features on iOS 8’s latest and greatest features and quirks. Check them out below:

Visually, iOS 8 remains much the same as it was in iOS 7. The big new additions are in the background and aren’t things you’ll notice right away, or, in the case of Apple Pay, at all, as it is not yet available in the UK. HealthKit and HomeKit are interesting additions to Apple’s platform because they are essentially developer frameworks and enabled third-party applications (MyFitnessPal) and accessories (FitBit, Nike’s FuelBand) to interact with core iOS applications like the new Health app. HomeKit is more about the Internet Of Things (IOT) and provides a means of interacting, via Siri, with IOT-powered objects –– things like Smart Lightbulbs, for instance –– inside your home. Of course to really take advantage of HomeKit you need smart appliances in the first place, and not just any old smart appliances, either: they need to be smart appliances that are compatible with iOS. 

Continuity and Handoff are two very interesting additions to Apple’s iOS platform as well, but only if you’re invested in the company’s wider ecosystem of products. If you’re not they’re largely useless, as Apple does not support Windows or Android (unlike BlackBerry Blend). Continuity allows you to pick up calls and texts (only iMessage, though) on your MacBook and iPad, while Handoff, as the name suggests, lets you start a task on the iPhone (say, scribbling some ideas down in Notes) and finish it off on your iPad. Handoff works with core iOS apps like Safari, Notes, Pages and Keynote but is now open to third-party developers, so expect to see updates from people like Evernote very soon. This is a very cool feature. Good work, Apple.

One thing I do genuinely like about iOS these days is that I can switch between it and Android (and BB10.3, for that matter) without too much fuss. Apple and Google’s platforms are now closer than ever in terms of app content, media, content and apps and games. If you can get an app or service on Android, chances are it’ll be available on iOS – and that goes for Google services too. For a platform agnostic like myself, this is a very good thing indeed as it means I can happily jump between two operating systems without losing contact with apps and services that are important to me. 

But it’s not all sunshine and cider, I’m afraid, as there are still A LOT of annoying things present in iOS that I really do wish Apple would just SORT THE HELL OUT. First, why the hell can’t I put apps where I want them? Why does everything move if I move one app icon? This is BEYOND stupid and perhaps the single most annoying element of iOS for me. Second, what the heck is going on with third-party keyboard support? Yes, it is great that Apple has finally opened the gates to third-party solutions like SwiftKey and Swype, but the implementation leaves A LOT to be desired. So much so I get the impression part of this is deliberate on Apple’s part.  

Case in point: SwiftKey doesn’t work across all applications, only third-party ones, which means you have to switch from using gesture-input to normal input about a gazillion times a day, on account of Apple’s keyboard constantly attempting to reassert itself as your device’s de facto keyboard. Inside Whatsapp, for instance, SwiftKey needs to be re-selected (in the keyboard settings) far too often. This is VERY annoying in my opinion and a huge shame, because I love SwiftKey on Android and have used it for years, so obviously I was over the moon when I heard it was coming to iPhone –– until I actually used it. 

Another keyboard-related bug I experience at least once a day is where the keyboard simply won’t appear. You tap and tap and tap inside a text entry area and its nowhere to be seen. The only way around this is to close the application you’re in and start again. As I said earlier, it’s not a big deal by itself but it is also not something you expect to experience in software designed and published by the world’s most valuable technology brand either.

Another issue –– and this is a BIGGY, for me, personally –– is limited sharing abilities inside applications. On nearly every other major platform, you can find something interesting online or inside an application and share it with applications like Whatsapp, BBM, Skype, Viber and the like; the choice is yours. But this isn’t the case in iOS 8. Nope, in iOS 8 you’re limited to Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Apple’s core iOS applications (Mail, Messages and AirDrop) for sharing. On Android and BB10.3 you can share via any medium you wish, it all depends on what application you have stored on your phone, not what the designer of the OS deems suitable. ARGHHHH! 

Aside from these “issues” there is a lot to like about iOS, providing you don’t mind giving over some control to the way Apple likes to do thing. The applications, games and services available on iOS are easily on a par with everything you get on Android, and a long way in front of Windows Phone and BlackBerry 10.  If media and services are important to you there is now very little to separate Apple and Google’s platforms. Ditto for services like personal assistants, turn-by-turn navigation, an abundance of banking applications and health and fitness trackers. 

The Health app is a new one inside Apple and is designed to leverage both the HealthKit API, Apple’s M8 coprocessor and third party applications like MyFitnessPal. All results – your steps, calories, or things like heart rate – are aggregated inside the application and displayed in graphs that can be augmented and switched around to your own specifications. There’s quite a few applications that already tap into Health –– you can read about them here –– so if health and fitness tracking is important to you, then Health is a nice addition to an already very feature-rich operating system.

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