"Our in-depth review of Apple's bigger, better iPhone"
Back in the day, when QWERTY was cool and BlackBerry and Nokia were the only brands that mattered, Apple did the unthinkable by launching a smartphone with a massive 3.5-inch display and no keypad. We use the word 'massive' not because want to make a lame joke, but because it's true, or at least it was in 2007. Seven years ago, the idea of that much screen real estate was a luxury, and that's precisely what attracted hordes of buyers to the iPhone. Android OEMs were quick to follow suit, and over the years have outdone Apple on its defining feature. Smartphone screens have been getting bigger over the years, with 5-inch and even 6-inch displays slowly becoming the norm. Apple though, held on to the firm belief that no one would buy a phone they couldn’t hold comfortably in one hand. The world seemed to think otherwise, and in 2013 Apple's internal documents revealed that sales of the iPhone had begun slowing, despite the burgeoning smartphone market. Apple needed to remedy this, and fast. Battling a divided user base that was torn between compact and huge handsets, Apple did the only sensible thing it could – it launched two iPhones. The iPhone 6 with a larger, but still comfortable 4.7-inch size, is targeted at those who want a device they can (literally) come to grips with. The iPhone 6 Plus (first impressions), with its phablet-sized 5.5-inch display, is aimed at those seeking a large-screen experience. We’ve got both devices in our labs, but in this review, we’re going examine the iPhone 6.
|Short on time? Check out the Apple iPhone 6 review in pictures |
The first thing you notice about the new iPhone 6 is how drastically different it appears from the iPhone 5/5s. The blocky frame with chamfered sides has been replaced with a slim profile, curved corners and rounded edges, making it look suspiciously like the HTC One (M8). Despite the new look, the iPhone 6 sports some trademark Apple design touches. Prime among these is the emphasis on symmetry, evident in the equally-sized, broad bezels above and below the display. On the chin is the familiar home button hiding the metal Touch ID sensor, while the top features the earpiece, front camera and sensors. The glass panel in the front has also been given a makeover, and is now contoured, sloping gently down to the sides. While the result isn’t visually striking, it’s apparent as soon as you start using the smartphone. Simple gestures like scrolling or swiping feel silky smooth, with your finger easily sliding off the sides instead of meeting a sharp edge.
The iPhone 6 is constructed out of a single, uninterrupted piece of aluminium. The back melts into the sides, while the display fits firmly into the front, with no gaps to mar the effect. As always, the quality of materials used is impecabble. Despite its negligible weight of 129g and skinny waist measuring 6.9mm, the smartphone feels solid, and more importantly, unbendable.
The placement of ports and buttons is slightly altered this time around. To make it easier to access, the power button has shifted from the top edge to the right spine. Below it is the ejectable SIM card tray into which you can insert a single nano-SIM. The left spine features the ring/silent switch and volume buttons in their usual place. However, to compensate for the slimmer frame, the volume keys are now thinner and elongated – similar to those on the iPad or iPhone 5c. At the very bottom you’ll find the Lightning port in the centre, flanked by the primary microphone and 3.5mm headphone jack on the left, and six finely-drilled holes representing the loudspeaker on the right.
The back panel features a metallic Apple logo in the centre, and iPhone branding at the bottom. At the top left sits the primary iSight camera, secondary microphone and True Tone flash. While the iPhone 6 is undoubtedly a looker, there are two major design flaws that we noticed. The first is the camera lens, which protrudes slightly owing to the slimmer profile, making the phone sit unevenly on a flat surface. Despite being ringed in metal and protected by sapphire glass, it’s still capable of being scratched easily. Our second gripe has to do with the ugly white plastic antenna lines located at the top and bottom of the rear panel. While these are a necessity to ensure the iPhone 6 receives a signal, they looked very unsightly on our otherwise classy looking gold handset. We imagine the effect will be least disruptive on the silver variant. The good news is that both the flaws can be taken care of by using a case, making the lens sit flush and hiding the white stripes.
While Android phones are upping the pixel count with full HD and 2K displays, the iPhone 6 sticks to a modest resolution of 1,334 x 750 pixels. Even though it features a higher resolution than the 5s, the larger screen size results in the same pixel density of 326ppi. While you may not be impressed by the pixel count, the difference is negligible when viewed by the naked eye (hence the term Retina HD display). It’s very sharp, with no jagged edges visible in text. Brightness levels are at an all-time high, and viewing the screen in sunlight is not a problem. In addition to the IPS technology, Apple has also packed in something called ‘dual-domain pixels’ which further improve viewing angles and colour accuracy. Colours appear natural, with whiter whites and darker blacks, without being oversaturated as Samsung’s AMOLED displays are wont to do. Overall, the iPhone 6’s display continues to be one of the best in the market.
We had expected Apple to bump up the resolution on the iPhone 6's cameras, but the company decided otherwise. The iPhone 6 features an 8-megapixel iSight camera at the back, and a 1.2MP FaceTime camera in the front – the same configuration as the 5s. Instead of increasing megapixels, Apple has packed in several improvements. The most significant among them is a new sensor with Focus Pixels, a fancy marketing term (Apple loves them) for phase detection autofocus. Seen on high-end cameras like DSLRs, this feature enables the camera to focus on the subject faster. The results are evident – the camera locks focus at lightning speeds, and is greatly improved over the 5s, which often struggled while focusing in macro shots.
There’s been much ado about the optical image stabilisation on the iPhone 6 Plus, but the iPhone 6 sadly misses out on this feature. Instead, it gets digital stabilisation, which takes four images in quick succession and combines them to reduce noise and motion blur. Face detection has also been improved, with faster speeds and enhanced blink and smile detection. The popular panorama feature now enables you to take photos up to 43MP in resolution.
Apart from the new photography features, the primary camera gets a bunch of cool new video options. While 1080p video recording was available even on the 5/5s, the iPhone 6 can now shoot at 60fps, up from 30fps earlier. Similarly, slo-mo videos, which were earlier recorded at 120fps on the iPhone 5s, has now been doubled to 240fps. The iPhone 6 also gets continuous autofocus and cinematic video stabilisation for videos. Another neat trick, brought courtesy of iOS 8, is time-lapse video, which can be recorded for as long as the battery lasts.
The FaceTime camera gets a burst mode (up to 10 photos per second), improved face detection, HDR video calls and a new selfie timer mode.
The native camera app remains more or less the same, with the newer options added to the swipable menu, and the various filters next to the shutter button.
The primary camera takes sharp, detailed shots in daylight, whether they’re macros, portraits or wide landscapes. Low light shots are also impressive, and aren’t clouded by excessive grain. The True Tone flash, which features one amber and one white LED, illuminates dark images evenly and naturally, without excessively yellowing or whitening the results. The front camera, as always, is a great tool for the selfie obsessed.
Overall, iPhone 6’s camera may not be the best at capturing any one scene, but it produces consistently good results, which is what matters to most users in the end.
|For more details, check out our Apple iPhone 6 camera review|
Here are some image samples from the primary camera. Click on the thumbnails to view them in full resolution.
The iPhone 6 runs iOS 8 (upgradable to iOS 8.1 out of the box). We’ve already covered the features of the new operating system update in our iOS 8 overview, but we’ll touch upon the basics.
While iOS 7 was more focused on being a design overhaul, iOS 8 adds many user-friendly and customisation options that would have been unheard of on previous iOS iterations. While Apple’s own keyboard has been updated with the new QuickType word prediction engine, you can also download and install a range of third-party keyboards like SwiftKey, Fleksy and Swype, to name a few.
The notification bar now brings support for interactive third-party widgets in the 'Today' view. Actionable notifications are now a feature too, letting you respond via text boxes in the banners, without leaving the app you’re currently using. For photography, iOS 8 now allows the inclusion of manual controls in third-party camera apps. The new Health app logs all your health data, while serving as a dashboard to collect and display data from other compatible apps and fitness products.
One of the most significant features in iOS 8 is Continuity, which bridges the gap between iOS and Mac. Provided all your Apple devices have the same Apple ID, you can start a task on one device and finish on the other. Apple is calling this ability Handoff, and this works with native apps like Mail, Calendar, Contacts, Safari, Reminders, Notes, etc. Handoff even works with phone calls – letting you make and receive phone calls on your Mac. Another Continuity feature is AirDrop, which now lets you share files between iOS and Mac. In our experience, Continuity still has a few bugs to iron out, with Handoff between apps and AirDrop file transfers still acting up intermittently.
While the iOS 8 highlights detailed above apply to all compatible devices, the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus get two exclusive features not available as part of the update. The first is called Reachability. Designed to improve one-handed usage on the larger displays, it lets you lightly double tap the home button to slide the entire UI down to the lower half of the display, letting you reach icons on top easily. There are also two new display zoom options – standard and zoomed. The latter magnifies the entire UI, and is useful for those with poor eyesight.
For those looking to switch to an iPhone for the first time, we should mention that iOS as an operating system is extremely intuitive and user-friendly. Since iOS is Apple's own firmware, every iPhone is updated to the latest software for up to three or four years from the time of launch. The App Store is another big attraction, with Apple strictly regulating the quality and content of apps that make it through. Suffice to say you'll find everything you need and more – be it work-related apps, social apps, games or anything else under the sun. Plus, the App Store is home to a few exclusive titles not available on other platforms, including Infinity Blade 3, 80 Days, Oceanhorn, Storehouse, Day One, Tweetbot, Hyperlapse and Pixelmator, to name a few.
The iPhone 5s was the first smartphone to feature a 64-bit processor, in the form of Apple’s A7 chip. The iPhone 6 features an A8 chipset, the first from the company to be built using the 20nm manufacturing process. According to Apple, the chip provides 25 percent more CPU performance, and 50 percent more GPU performance. Although Apple never reveals the internals of its processor, teardowns have confirmed that it’s a dual-core processor clocked at 1.4GHz, paired with 1GB of RAM. This might sound underpowered on paper, but iOS is a highly optimised operating system, with restrictions on how much memory apps can use. Plus, the current number of 64-bit apps are few, which makes the configuration more than capable of handling intensive tasks. The iPhone 6 offers smooth, stable performance, and doesn't break a sweat while multi-tasking or playing graphics heavy games like Riptide GP2.
The iPhone 5s was the first to feature the M7 motion co-processor, which made use of the various sensors like the accelerometer, gyroscope and compass to track health data as well as reduce load on the main processor. The iPhone 6 gets an improved M8 co-processor, which does all of the above, and adds data from the new barometer to tell you how many flights of stairs you’ve climbed.
The Touch ID fingerprint sensor, which lets you securely unlock the device or make a purchase on iTunes, seems to have improved in sensitivity. Working in tandem with the new NFC antenna, it also enables Apple Pay. Apple's new contactless payment technology lets you make purchases by holding your smartphone near an Apple Pay terminal while placing your finger over the Touch ID sensor. This payment method is available only in select retail stores in the US for now.
Regarding the battery life, an iFixit teardown revealed that the iPhone 6 packs an 1,810mAh unit, which is quite measly given the competition. In our battery drain test, where we looped an HD video for one hour, the battery dropped from 100 to 92 percent. While this might seem impressive on paper, the real life usage tells a different story. On a day when we used the smartphone lightly, it managed to last until the end of the day. With heavy use, which included calling, texting and use of social networks and the camera, the phone barely made it until the evening, so you might want to keep a power bank handy. To check which apps are draining power, you can check battery usage in settings, which provides a handy list of which apps and games are consuming the most power.
Coming to the storage options, Apple has done away with the 32GB variant of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, leaving you options of 16GB, 64GB and 128GB. We wish Apple would have axed the 16GB edition instead, which fills up with photos, videos and apps quite easily. On a fresh reboot, the 16GB variant offers around 11.4GB of available space. As always, Apple offers 5GB of free iCloud storage. This time, the company has slashed rates of extra storage, which while nowhere close to Dropbox and Google Drive pricing, is now much more affordable. Per month, Apple charges Rs 60 for 20GB, Rs 250 for 200GB, Rs 600 for 500GB and Rs 1200 for 1TB.
In terms of connectivity, the iPhone 6, like the 5c and 5s supports Indian 4G bands so you can enjoy LTE if they’re available in your region. Other features include Wi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth LE, NFC and GPS
While some might argue that most of the iPhone 6’s new features, like the larger display, slimmer form factor and NFC integration have been around on Android for years now, it’s worth noting that there are several things Apple was responsible for pioneering and popularising, such as a dedicated App Store for downloading apps, 64-bit mobile computing and fingerprint sensors, to name a few.
All things considered, the iPhone 6 is truly bigger and better than the 5s, and with iOS 8’s Continuity features, is a worthy upgrade for anyone invested in Apple’s mobile and desktop operating systems. Apart from the average battery life and a few design-related complaints, there’s little to find fault with. Which brings us to the price. The 16GB iPhone 6 starts at Rs 53,500, going all the way up to Rs 71,500 for the 128GB variant. At its price, it is one of the most expensive smartphones in the market. It's ironic that much of the iPhone 6's competition, like the Samsung Galaxy S5 (review), LG G3 (review), HTC One (M8) (review) and Sony Xperia Z3 (review) were launched for similar prices, but are now available for less. But don't expect to see a similar drop in price for the iPhone 6 anytime soon. If cost is a consideration, the iPhone 5s is still a great bet. If you've got the moolah though, the iPhone 6 is one of the best smartphones you can buy this year.
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