The Apple iPhone 6 is beautiful and familiar. Two years ago I reviewed the fifth-generation iPod Touch, likely the last in long line of Apple media player designs. It was thin — so thin in fact that the 5-megapixel camera lens stuck out a millimeter from the aluminum frame. It was all curves, with the exception of the sharp bevel around the display. It was, in essence, the prototype for the iPad Air, iPad Mini and now the exceptional Apple iPhone 6.
There are differences. With a 4.7-inch display and a 0.27-inch thick profile, Apple’s iPhone 6 is larger and, where the iPod Touch offers a 1,136 x 640 Retina display, the new iPhone introduces Apple’s 1,334 x 750 "Retina HD" display. Interestingly, both LCD displays offer the exact same 326 pixels per inch.
In Apple’s return to curves (iPhone design had curved edges until the iPhone 4), it went a bit further with the iPhone 6. Instead of a sharp right angle connecting the aluminum body to the glass, the front glass of the iPhones 6 curves downward to meet the metal chassis.
Hold the phone in your hand and you’ll struggle to find a single edge. This is in stark contrast to every iPhone since the iPhone 4.
At 4.6 ounces (just a few grams heavier, but still slightly thinner than the iPhone 5S), the iPhone 6 feels solid and not insubstantial in your hand.
It also feels a bit slippery. If you buy one, get a case with some grip to it. The similarly sized Samsung Galaxy S5 does not have the iPhone’s spectacular design, but with a plastic, puckered back and rigged sides, it’s unlikely to slip out of anyone’s hands.
There are other changes on the iPhone 6, like turning the speaker into a series of large holes and replacing the circular volume buttons with two oblong ones connected by a small channel in the iPhone 6’s body.
Perhaps the biggest, though, is the new placement of the sleep/hold button. It’s no longer on top of the phone and instead sits on the right about a fifth of the way down. This took some getting used to. As a longtime iPhone owner, I reflexively press the top of my phone to put it to sleep. But I got used to the new placement after a couple of days.
The iPhone 6’s smooth profile is broken by the slightly protruding camera lens (instantly fixed by slipping the phone into one of Apple’s new, sleek leather or silicone cases) and a set of plastic lines that run horizontally across the back and near the top and bottom edges. I don't particularly care for these design elements, but they're necessary: The pieces of the body serve as the phone's antennas, and the plastic is necessary to separate each of them.
It’s worth noting that, while the iPhone 6 is a third of an inch wider and more than a half inch taller than the iPhone 5S, I found it comfortable to hold and use. My hands are average size, but considering that your hands may be much smaller or larger, your mileage may vary.
Every smartphone is the sum of its parts: the design, the components and, of course, the mobile platform. Along with the iPhone 6 Plus, Apple's iPhone 6 is the first to ship with the new iOS 8.
The updated mobile OS has a slightly cleaner look than iOS 7 and a number of features that significantly enhance the iPhone-use experience.
Don’t worry, iOS 8 is completely recognizable as an Apple mobile interface. The enhancements are subtle and, in my experience, smart.
You can now, for instance, respond to notifications on the lock screen. When they appear, you just swipe left and a blue reply button appears. It’s then easy to type a response, or even record an audio one. I grew so accustomed to this that I missed it when I switched back to my iOS 7-running iPhone 5S.
Swiping in iOS 8 will likely quickly become a habit. In email, for instance, you can now swipe left to quickly delete email — also habit-forming.
Another big change is Apple’s QuickType keyboard with predictive text. Unlike the old typing suggestions I used to get on iOS 7, the keyboard offers a gray strip of ever-changing word suggestions right above the keyboard as I type. They’re both spelling corrections and contextual choices.
The more you type, the better the suggestions get. It works so hard at finding the right words that you can have some fun by typing nonsense and letting it daisy-chain together suggested words for a nonsensical but not-complete-nonsense story.
There are actually a host of changes in iOS 8, many of which you’ll be able to experience when you upgrade your current iPhone (and iPad), however there are a handful that are iPhone 6-specific.
One is the new Health app that comes preloaded on the iPhone 6. The app works with the iPhone’s activity sensors and the new M8 motion coprocessor (an update to the M7), which collects data from all those sensors.
Health tracks steps, distance and flights of stairs climbed, which comes courtesy of the iPhone 6’s new barometer or "relative altitude sensor." (It cannot tell actual altitude, like how far above sea level you are.)
I ran up and down the stairs and watched as the app counted the number of times I climbed the stairs in real time. Eventually the Health app will serve as a hub for a host of third-party health devices and should work quite nicely with the Apple Watch, which will ship in 2015.
Apple's decision to stick with an 8-megapixel sensor for its iSight camera was surprising, especially considering the 13MP and even 20MP cameras found on competing smartphones like the Nokia Lumia 1520.
Of course, the main camera on the iPhone 6 isn't the same as the one found in the iPhone 5S and actually has a number of powerful features designed to enhance still photography and video. Most of them take smartphone image capture to another level.
Apple’s new Focus Pixels are designed to detect light more quickly and speed up the iSight camera’s autofocus capabilities.
I never found the iPhone 5S' autofocus lacking, but when I ran a simple test — covering both smartphone lenses with my fingers and then seeing which could focus more quickly on the scene when I removed them — the iPhone 6 won every time. A similar test with the Samsung Galaxy 5 showed little difference, though the latter had a habit of trying to refocus even when the scene was already in focus.
Panorama pictures also get an upgrade. The iPhone 5S shoots panoramas at roughly 28 megapixels. Even though its sensor is technically the same quality, the iPhone 6 can shoot stunning, 43-megapixel panoramas. The dynamic auto exposure ensured perfect exposure even subjects are brightly illuminated or backlit. I never had to tap the screen, mid-capture, to improve the shot.
The front-facing FaceTime Camera gets an update, too, with better light performance and a new burst mode, which works exactly the same way as the front iSight’s camera’s burst mode: Just hold the home button down to take an almost unlimited number of selfies. The iPhone 6 chooses the best ones and you can discard or keep the others.
The result is better, or more, selfies — not sure if that’s a good thing. On the bright side, FaceTime video looks brighter and sharper than ever.
You can also shoot time-lapse videos (yes, like Hyperlapse) on the iPhone 6, but this is more a function of iOS 8 than the new phone. If you own an iPhone 5S or iPad Air or iPad Mini With Retina Display, you’ll also be able to shoot time-compressed video.
The iPhone 6’s video capabilities are mind-bogglingly good. While the default setting for video is 1080p, 30 frames per second (fps), you can go into settings and change it to 60 fps. The resulting video has an almost hyper-real look; essentially people and objects look like you could reach out and touch them.
The iPhone 5S introduced 120 fps slow-motion video. It was the first time I ever had a device that could shoot slo-mo video, and it was entertaining.
Still it couldn’t slow down everything. A balloon popping, for example, was too fast. The iPhone 6’s iSight camera and its companion A8 chip, though, have upped the ante. It can capture video at 240 fps. That slows down just about everything.
Combined with new continuous autofocus, the iPhone 6’s 240-fps slo-mo is now a powerful cinematic tool that can add drama and interest to just about any scene.
I did a number of experiments with water droplets. You don’t realize how much happens when a drop of water lands in a glass cup until you’ve seen it at crystal-clear 240 fps. I definitely saw things in the iPhone 6 video that I did not in what iPhone 5S captures.
The iPhone 6 is powered by a new A8 chip. It’s a dual-core, ARM-based mobile processor running at roughly 1.38 GHz. It’s backed by 1GB of RAM and coupled with the M8 motion processor.
If you go purely by the numbers, the iPhone 6 components don’t sound particularly impressive next to the Samsung Galaxy S5’s Qualcomm 801 quad-core CPU running at 2.5GHz and backed by 2GB of RAM.
The reality, though, is that the iPhone 6 is clearly a powerful phone--possibly just as powerful, if not more so, than the Samsung Galaxy S5. I ran Geekbench 3 on the iPhone 6, 6 Plus, the Galaxy S5 and the LG G3 phablet, which also runs Qualcomm’s Snapdragon CPU.
However, the iPhone’ 6’s single-core chip scored nearly double that of the Galaxy S5 and G3. The multi-core scores were much, much closer, but the iPhone 6 still came out on top.
In practical terms, though, this doesn’t mean the iPhone 6 blows the Galaxy S5 and LG G3 out of the water. All these phones are fast. In the case of the iPhone 6, I ran through numerous apps, none of which have been upgraded for iOS 8 and found all of them ran perfectly.
Apple touts the GPU performance, so I decided to run the newly available Bioshock on it. Again, the game was not written specifically for the iPhone 6 and does not leverage iOS 8’s new Metal graphics engine, but I was still impressed with how good it looked and how well the game runs.
Apple also upgraded the LTE and Wi-Fi radios, with the latter getting an 802.11ac upgrade. This Wi-Fi standard is theoretically four times faster than 802.11n, but your experience will depend on whether or not your home router and other hotspots you connect to support the faster standard. What I noticed is that it made web browsing just as fast as on the Samsung Galaxy S5, which also supports 802.11ac.
The iPhone 6 is capable of up to 14 hours of battery life (for 3G talk), but will more typically give you 10 hours of life. In my tests, I got between 10 and 12 hours doing a mix of web browsing, photography, video and gaming.
Starting at $199 for a 16GB model, the iPhone 6 is the first iPhone to skip 32GB entirely and jump right to 64GB for $299. There's also a 128GB model for $399. The iPhone 6 (and it's larger brother, the iPhone 6 Plus) is available on all major carriers: AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile. I tested an iPhone 6 on Verizon’s LTE network.
Apple iPhone 6 is a worthy successor to all the iPhones that have come before it. It's attractive, solid, well-crafted, powerful and exciting. It’s almost a phone in name only, though, since calls are the least of what it can do (it handles them just fine).
Thanks to hundreds of thousands of apps to choose from, it’s a fun gaming device, an able productivity tool, a powerful still and video camera, a portal to a world of information and content (movies and TV look excellent on it) and an impressive measurement and tracking tool.
There are, however, many things I couldn’t test. Apple Pay, which uses a combination of the iPhone 6’s built-in NFC chip and Touch ID (which lives on the home button and has not been updated) for authenticated tap and pay action doesn’t go live until October.
Health is good for what it is, but right now it's mostly unrealized potential until third parties start integrating with Apple's new HealthKit framework. Continuity, which allows you to continue conversations started on the iPhone on a Mac, isn’t available yet.
On the other hand, I can’t say I truly missed any of these features.
There are other smartphones that do some of the things an iPhone 6 can do. Others, like the Samsung Galaxy S5 do more. It and the Amazon Fire Phone actually watch you and react to your gaze. Even so, none put it all together in quite the same way. I do miss the edges of the old iPhone design, but Apple’s iPhone 6 is, for my $200, the most elegant and effective smartphone on the market.
Apple iPhone 6
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