Apple has two new iPhones debuting today, including the iPhone 6. The iPhone 6 is the heir apparent to the flagship line of Apple smartphones, as it comes in at the same price point as the iPhone 5s, but Apple has done something new this year by introducing a premium priced iPhone 6 Plus. The iPhone 6 is still plenty premium, however, and its 4.7-inch screen is likely going to be a better fit for most users, which is why it earns our vote as the best smartphone currently available.
- 4.7-inch, 1334 x 750 display, 326 ppi with 1400:1 contrast
- 16, 64 or 128GB storage
- A8 processor (64-bit)
- 8MP iSight camera (rear) with 1.5 micron pixels, 1.2 megapixel FaceTime camera (front)
- Dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi
- 20-band LTE support
- MSRP: 16GB for $199 on contract/$649 contract free; 64GB for $299 on contract/$749 contract free; 128GB for $399 on contract/$849 contract free
- Product info page
- The best mobile camera, made better
- Industrial design beats all previous iPhones
- Rounded edges could mean the phone’s a little less easy to grip
Apple has outdone itself with the iPhone 6’s design – despite gaining a significant amount of screen real estate, it doesn’t feel huge compared to its predecessor, and it’s still a very easy device to use one-handed. The new, thinner case means it weighs just over half an ounce more than the iPhone 5s, and the even weight distribution across a broader surface area means it isn’t noticeably heavier than the older phone. It manages to make the 5 and 5s feel downright chunky, in fact, which is incredible.
New also to this generation is the all-metal back casing, which replaces the glass top and bottom panels with thin connecting seams instead. This makes for a more unified look when you turn the phone around, and something that gets closer to the unbroken single plane of the iPad mini and iPad Air’s rear shell. The Space Gray version I tested benefits very much from this unbroken look, and the front of the device is no less impressive. It really makes the screen the star, which is crucial because Apple has created a display like no other with this generation, beating back its would-be Android usurpers – but I’ll touch more on that in the dedicated display section below.
The iPhone 6 is a much more comfortable device to hold vs. the iPhone 4, 4S, 5 and 5s, all of which preferred straight edges and right angles to the 6’s sloping curves. Its rounded edges call to mind the iPhone 3GS and earlier, in fact – and its closest design analogue might be the metal-backed original iPhone, which also had edges that rounded to a flat rear shell. Regardless of its inspirations, it fits more naturally in your grip, and will rest there more comfortably for longer periods, too.
The rounded edges all along the display help contribute to the near-seamless look that Apple was going for, but they also serve an ergonomic purpose. Using Apple’s swipe-back and swipe-forward gestures, which it began to use to replace back and forward button navigations in iOS 7, is much easier and more natural with the iPhone’s new front glass design, and when the device’s screen is darkened, these catch and bend light in a way that’s sure to appeal to a design fan’s eye.
If Apple has faltered anywhere with design, it might be that protruding iSight camera lens on the back, which sticks out a tiny fraction of an inch thicker than the rest. It’s something that hasn’t yet caused me any issue in daily use, but it does seem like a potential area for grit build-up, and it also means that the phone will be resting on its lens when placed face-up on a flat surface – though that’s somewhat mitigated by the use of sapphire in the lens cover.
Apple’s new A8 chip is the powerhouse behind the iPhone 6, and it delivers the kind of performance you’d expect from cutting edge processor technology. The A8 strains the limits of what you’d think was possible in terms of overall device speed and responsiveness, with the entire user experience feeling perceptibly quickened. It’s one of those situations where you don’t realize how the device you were using (iPhone 5s in my case) could get any better in terms of general speed, until you pick up the new device.
The iPhone 6 deals better with iOS 8’s various animations, transparency and other visual effects as a result, and can handle powering that larger, high-resolution display without breaking a sweat. It can handle more powerful games, and best of all, delivers better battery life even when tackling visually intensive tasks. Plus it enables new imaging features that really make Apple’s mobile camera far and away the best in the business, which we’ll discuss in more detail below.
Apple has also improved the motion coprocessor it introduced last year, which is a dedicated activity tracking chip. The M8 in the iPhone 6 offers continuous monitoring of not only accelerometer, compass and gyroscope data, but also introduces monitoring of information fed from the new barometer for determining changes in elevation. The M8 can also detect walking, running and driving activity. In practice, using it to monitor and display my daily distance travelled, steps and flights climbed worked extremely well, and didn’t seem to have a significant negative effect on my battery.
One of the big new features of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus is their ability to use Touch ID, the new Secure Element for storing payment info, and NFC to perform easy, contactless payments. They’re not currently available for use anywhere in my vicinity, and Apple isn’t launching the Apple Pay functionality until October anyway. However, I got the chance to see it in action in a demo capacity at the event, and it works just as you’d expect it would with payments authorized via a thumb scan in the same way they are with the current method of authorizing digital purchases from iTunes via Touch ID. You don’t even need to unlock your device for it to work, making it potentially the most convenient mobile payment solution I’ve ever seen.
Speaking of Touch ID, it seems improved over the version found in the iPhone 5s. By that I mean that it seems to recognize and unlock much faster (which could be related to improved processing power) and it also seems to have a lower failure rate than the older generation. If Apple has stepped up the tech behind Touch ID, it isn’t saying so, but the smoother experience should definitely help now that it’s being used for both Apple Pay and opening up to third-party developer integration.
Health is new to iOS 8, and in the iPhone 6 it’s already become a staple of my daily app check routine. It seems to do a decent job of accurately tracking my activity throughout the day (or lack thereof), and is at least on par with the kind of information you’ll get from wearables like the Fitbit line or the Nike+ Fuelband. So far, there aren’t many sources to choose from in terms of filling out a full profile, and I think Apple could do some work in terms of making it easier for users to drill down to individual day totals from their activity history, but this is a nice, passive feature that Apple has managed to make power efficient and accurate with the new M8.
Apple’s new iPhone line is capable of improved slow motion video, which technically means it can shoot at 240fps instead of 120fps. This slows down time when played back at the speed we’re used to viewing, and makes it possible to capture even fast action in incredible detail. The short clip below shows you this in action, albeit with resolution decreased as it was formatted and shared via Apple Mail, which automatically optimizes for a lower file size.
Reachability is a feature unique to the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus which is designed to help compensate for their large screen sizes, and make it possible to still use the big phones one-handed, regardless of how large your mitts are. On the iPhone 6, it simply makes things more convenient, as I’ve found no difficulty in using the device one-handed even with the screen in its regular position. Reachability is an extremely pragmatic solution to the screen size issues, but luckily in the case of the iPhone 6, it’s generally just a tool you know is there should you need it, rather than something you’ll find yourself actually using all that often.
The iPhone 6 packs a higher resolution display than the iPhone 5s, with 1334 x 750 resolution. It also allows for deeper blacks, and uses something called “dual-domain” pixels to make it so that colors still show true regardless of the angle at which you view the phone. It makes for 38 percent more viewing area than the iPhone 5s, but it’s only 13 percent larger overall, and it matches the iPhone 5s’ pixel density at 326, which means you’re still not going to be able to make out any individual pixels.
Display Zoom will let you use this extra space to simply expand the size of individual interface elements and text, which is great for users who have vision issues or who simply find themselves squinting at their phone too often. If you’re not using Display Zoom, you get more breathing room for on-screen elements, and you get an extra row of icons per home screen, which is very useful if you’re having trouble deciding what makes the cut for page number one.
This is truly one of Apple’s most amazing technical achievements overall – it looks like a placeholder high-res print image placed expertly just behind the glass, until it springs to life. Leave it to other manufacturers to debate the relative merits of this or that kind of display tech; Apple’s is simply the best-looking and most pleasant to use, and the iPhone 6 reaffirms that with some of the best color rendering I’ve seen on mobile.
Apple has consistently delivered the best mobile camera experience in a smartphone – which isn’t to say it delivers the most megapixels, or the most trick features. Instead, the company looks at what’s most important in a mobile camera to most users, and delivers exactly that, again and again. The iPhone 6 adheres to this tradition.
It still shoots 8 megapixel resolution images, which is paltry compared to some of the other cameras built into phones these days. But these are large pixel images, which makes a big difference, and the 6 also boasts the power of Focus Pixels, which is the name Apple is giving to its new phase detection autofocus. The end effect, whatever the name, is much faster autofocus, which Apple has made more invisible by hiding the focus box unless you call it up yourself.
The camera also has better and more accurate face detection, which can pick up smaller faces and is also better able to pick up closed eyes and smiles when you’re using burst mode and it’s trying to suss out the best capture from a large series. The camera can also now create high-resolution panorama shots, which adjust exposure automatically as you go depending on variances in light, producing stunning results with total resolution of up to 43 megapixels.
Video capture on Apple’s iPhone 6 is also fantastic, and the stabilization techniques they use to make video shot in even the shakiest scenarios appear more stable are truly impressive, as you can see in the video sample below, which was shot while I walked my dog (with no effort to achieve a smooth gait).
The iPhone 6 uses improved battery tech, and it shows – in practice, I’d get about a day and a half, normal use. Overall, though, it’s rated by Apple pretty closely on most scores when compared to the 5s, offering similar hour ratings when it comes to media playback, browsing and standby, but claiming an additional four hours of talk time. In actual real-world use, it fared better than my iPhone 5s in terms of operating time on a single charge, but the iPhone 5s I was testing against is also a year old at this point.
Still, it doesn’t feel like you need to be miserly with respect to power when you’re using the iPhone 6, and even if you’re using all the background activity tracking bells and whistles, it should more than get you through the average day with juice intact.
The iPhone 6 is the best smartphone available. It offers improvements in almost every way that matters, and it delivers those in a striking new design that balances consumer demand for larger screens with a thin, light and durable case. It’s Apple’s most attractive phone, visually, and the 4.7-inch size is going to be more generally appealing than the iPhone 6 Plus’ larger proportions.
More than anything, the selling point here is that Apple has managed to recapture the energy and excitement that came with the original iPhone with the new iPhone 6. It feels like a return to form in all the right ways, in addition to packing a ton of new features like Apple Pay that light the path for what Apple as a company is to become. For users, though, it’s all about delivering the best computer you can keep in your pocket, and that’s exactly what the iPhone 6 is.