The introduction of new iPhones always bring great expectations. None bigger than this year, when it was largely anticipated that Apple would drastically increase the size of the display, bringing them more in line with the offerings from the likes of Samsung, HTC, Motorola and Nokia. Every year, like clockwork, Apple releases a new iPhone. Every two years or so they make major changes to the design, with last such change ushering in the iPhone 5. In ‘off’ years, S models offer significant refinements and new product features. In recent years, we’ve seen Touch ID, Siri and faster networking among other improvements. Despite a steady stream of iPhones that have up to this point, have been well received and reviewed, not a one was offered in a size that was close to phones being released in 2014, where 4.7-inches was the new size small. This is the year that most everyone had been waiting for, offering not one, but two flagship phones that represent a significant and fundamental change that will alter how we use our phones. The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are radical changes. Bigger than bigger, as Apple likes to market. So are these new bodacious iPhones worth the wait? Read on for our full iPhone 6 Plus and iPhone 6 review.
iPhone 6 Review – Table of contents:
- Physical Appearance
- Retina HD Displays
- Apple Pay
- FaceTime Camera
- Slow Motion Video
- A8 and M8
- iPhone 6 vs iPhone 6 Plus
- Software: iOS 8
- Pros and Cons
- Editor FAQ
Next to improved battery life, the most requested change is often the size of the screen. I’d submit that changes to the font and use of white space in iOS 7 was a contributing factor. For some, it was getting increasingly difficult to read email and text on the smaller display. Despite the world class applications available to iOS users, it had become more common for people to move away from the iPhone to a Galaxy S5, Note 3 or some other ‘giant’ phone. Sure there are a cross-section of power users that make the move to Android purely based on customization options, but even that’s dwindled thanks to widgets and other changes that have made iOS 8 more open.
For some, iOS remains too restrictive. No matter how big Apple makes their displays, those eternal tweakers will always call Android home.”
To accommodate the bigger screens, they displays are taller and wider. The height both at the bottom and top seem no different than the 5/5S. The edges of the display are beveled. Previous iPhones were very utilitarian in their look, where the iPhone 6 has a more inviting look and feel. The edges do help with the feel of the phone.
When expanding the size of the display, it’s paramount to make changes that help with the overall comfort of holding your iPhone. The iPhone 6 is curvy, bringing back fond memories of the iPhone 3G. It strikes a resemblance to the 5th generation iPod touch. The design choices are both practical and flat out gorgeous.
The overall design is slimmer, curvier and a bit heavier. The amount of its heft depends on whether you choose the standard or plus.
- iPhone 6 Plus 6.07 ounces
- iPhone 6 4.55 ounces
- iPhone 5S 3.95 ounces
- iPhone 5C 4.65 ounces
Being a bigger device allows the weight to be more widely distributed. The iPhone 6 feels lighter than the iPhone 5s, though it’s not. The iPhone 6 Plus does have a more noticeable weight difference. These displays use Corning’s Gorilla Glass and not the much harder sapphire. The iPhone 6 display isn’t protected by a raised bezel. This does not have the appearance of having any greater level of protection against accidental drops on a hard surface. One saving grace is the reduced cost associated with having a display replaced. Your local Apple Store will replace your iPhone 6 display for $129.99 and that’s if you don’t have Apple Care Plus. While the design is different, the materials used are virtually the same. Glass, aluminum and sapphire for the Touch ID button.
The design has changed, but the materials remain the same. What you’re seeing is an even higher level of refinement that makes last year’s model seem outdated.”
These aren’t waterproof and durability should be similar to previous generations. There were early reports that the iPhone 6 Plus was susceptible to accidental bending that could happen from something as common as carrying your phone in your front pocket. According to Apple, only 9 customers have contacted them regarding this issue, thought additional reports keep cropping up. When looking at this situation, you have to keep things in perspective. Are these folks being intentionally hard on their phones? My experience with both the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus did not yield any bending and that included plenty of front pocket time.
I can’t see using either of these new iPhones without a case, unless you like living on the edge. With my hands, my ability to grip decreased with the iPhone 6 and further with the 6 Plus. If bending concerns you, the added rigidity of a case should help. No one should ever put their phone in their back pocket, ever. That’s asking for trouble. These are finely crafted computing devices that start at $649 and should be treated as such.
These are incredibly intricate tiny computers constructed of aluminum, glass and processing chips. That’s not something you should carry in your back pocket.”
The back of the iPhone 6 is aluminum, with the trademark Apple logo. The color is uniform throughout, with antenna bands outlining the top and bottom. These are not very pronounced and ultimately, necessary for the device to operate.
Some have questioned the aesthetic of the protruding rear camera, not seen since the last iPod touch. A minor issue and one that goes away if you put a case on your phone. This is one of the consequences of going thin. Not sure about you, but I’d take that trade any day.
Retina HD Displays
The new displays have higher resolutions. The larger iPhone 6 Plus has a 401 ppi (pixels per inch), compared to 326ppi on the iPhone 6/5S. The newer models promise a higher contrast ratio. According to Apple, these displays use UV light to precisely position the display’s liquid crystals. In theory, this should result in a more accurate alignment, offering deeper blacks and sharper text. The iPhone 6 employs dual-domain pixels for wider viewing angles and improved accuracy corner to corner.
The display on the iPhone 6 is the infinity pool of smartphone displays. Gorgeous, seemingly endless and makes you want to jump in.”
The 2014 iPhones are available in the same color options. Space Gray comes with a black display cover. Both silver and last year’s breakout hit gold, come with white front panels. The silver and gold models offer more noticeable accents around the Touch ID home button.
If there is one feature that stands out as completely new on iPhone 6, it is Apple Pay. The new iPhones are equipped with NFC (near field communications). Starting sometime in October, you’ll be able to use the iPhone 6 to make payments. Using Passbook in iOS 8, you can scan one or more supported credit or bank cards into the app. Apple Pay allows for multiple cards.
The process of making a payment is similar to using Passbook. You use Touch ID to authorize payments when checking out. The service isn’t available yet, but we’ll update our review it becomes available. Having made extensive use of payments using Passbook at Starbucks, I’m going to venture a guess that Apple Pay will offer a similar, painless transaction – all by just using your iPhone.
“The convenience of Apple Pay should be readily apparent with your only concern being support of your favorite retailers.”
Recent news of iCloud hacking and celebrity photos might have you a bit concerned about your iPhone becoming a payment device. Don’t worry. For one, the accounts themselves were hacked and not iCloud. Semantics I know, but Apple Pay is completely different. For one, you need your finger or any approved Touch ID fingerprint to make a purchase. Moms and Dads, be careful about letting your kids scan in their Touch ID fingerprints.
As for card information, Apple stores that in a secure element (chip) inside your iPhone. That information is never shared on Apple’s servers or with merchants.
“…when you make a purchase, the Device Account Number, along with a transaction-specific dynamic security code, is used to process your payment.”
Since you’re never handing a physical card, or your phone for that matter to a cashier, your card numbers and name are never shared. There’s a privacy aspect of Apple Pay that has to be appreciated.
Apple Pay should offer a added level of convenience. One pain point might be initial support at your favorite retailer. Sales of 12 million iPhones and growing, should spur retailers to jump on board. Apple has also promised support of online transactions. There’s nothing great about entering your credit card numbers at a website and with retailers like Target, that will no longer be a requirement.
Amidst all of the upgrades, Apple changed the storage capacity options. With an increasing number of premium smartphones offerings starting at 32GB, there have been no shortages of calls from users for Apple to double storage capacity. This year, they took two steps forward and one step back. Instead of simply doubling storage across the board, Apple chose to double the the 32GB and 64GB options respectively to 64GB and 128GB. While those are great moves, they ignored the biggest problem in their product line. The 16GB iPhone 6/6 Plus, priced at $199/$299, doesn’t get a storage bump. Apple’s very own iOS updates require a significant amount of free storage, beyond the actual size of the update. So although I’ve often preached that you don’t need the one with bigger gee-bees, most folks do need more than 16GB. I highly recommend either the 64GB or 128GB models. Both offer a much higher value proposition than the base model. As a reminder, this price includes a costly 2-year contract, which subsidizes the price of the iPhone 6.
There is no sustainable reason for a company that prides itself on delivering the absolute best user experience to outfit the entry-level iPhone 6 with 16GB of storage.”
Next to display size, battery life is chief among concerns of iPhone buyers. Good news awaits those jumping to the new iPhone 6 and even more so for those opting for the big boy. There are a number of inherent advantages to big phones, beyond the obvious larger display. Battery technology has largely remained stagnant. Software and energy efficient processors can only do so much. This is one area of the new models, where the iPhone 6 Plus clearly trumps the base model. Compared to the iPhone 5S, Apple rates it as offering 2 more hours of LTE Internet use, 4 more hours of video playback and a whopping 40 additional hours of audio playback. Talk-time over 3G is 24 hours, more than double the previous model.
Battery life is very subjective. How you use your iPhone will greatly impact your battery life. If we use the marker of a ‘full days use’ as acceptable, that can be impacted by a number of factors. Streaming 1080p videos and making heavy use of data will impact any phone. Weak signals can also play a key role in draining your battery. If you’re getting acceptable battery life from your current iPhone, you can expect improvements.
Moving from the iPhone 5s to the iPhone 6 Plus, I was shocked at how difficult it was to kill the battery on the Plus. I had purposely left it off its charger in an effort to drain it to zero. When it had reached 1%, I had to pick-up my daughter. With my previous phone, that would result in a dead phone by the time I arrived at her school. While waiting for her, I was checking email, Twitter and current web stats. All data intensive and battery killers. It didn’t budge. I arrived home and took her out for a bike ride. I pulled out my 6 Plus and that 1% continued to dare me to use my phone. I took a few photos, one of which I sent via MMS. It lasted another 15 minutes or so, which was plenty of time to get home and finally charge it.
Having 1% remaining usually means a phone that’s about to die. The iPhone 6 Plus was like a prize-fighter. No matter what I threw at it, it refused to go down.”
The megapixel count on the 2014 iPhone 6 models remains at 8-megapixels, but underwent major changes. For one, it’s an entirely new sensor with Apple’s ‘Focus Pixels’. When they communicate with the new image processor, it results in faster and improved focus. I’ve grown leery of manufacturer hyperbole, but Focus Pixels delivers on its promise. I went out shooting in the dead of night and during a bright, sunny day on Long Island. Before heading out, I took photos of my doorway, with my black cat Floyd in the frame. These were impossible shots and I was not expecting any sort of usable image. I was curious as to how the iPhone 6 would compare to the iPhone 5S when shooting the worse possible conditions. Admittedly, both images are not good. If you look closely at the image on the right, it actually did a much better job of capturing the image, while the iPhone 5S (left) had significant distortion in the background, specifically the wall.
Heading outside, with only the glare of light from my front porch, the iPhone 6 repeatedly bested the iPhone 5S when it came to focusing. Both shooters performed admirably and in some cases, it was hard to tell the difference between the two. The iPhone 6 seemed better equipped at allowing light into the lens and the focus capabilities were infinitely noticeable.
The speed at which the iPhone 6 can focus was wicked fast, where at times the 5S would struggle.”
On the iPhone 6 Plus, Apple has included OIS (optical image stabilization). The primary benefit will be when shooting videos of moving objects. The video below shot by Ty Moss does a fantastic job of showing how the Plus is able to limit camera shake when shooting while moving. The auto-focus is impressive and despite what appears to be a fair amount of movement, the resulting video is steady.
OIS can also impact your photos taken where lighting is not optimal, providing you with an additional edge. The detail and color reproduction is quite amazing.
When it came to shooting during the day, results from both cameras were similar. The focus speed of the iPhone 6 remained lightning fast. In the end, we all want great pictures and both of these phones delivered just that.
The bigger displays made it easier to preview shots. For me, this was a big win. As you move up the line from 5S to 6, to 6 Plus, the improved capability to preview can make a difference in the framing of your shot. Often with the smaller 5S, I’ve relied on the camera and not what I’m seeing through the display. With the sixes, you’ll be able to see what could be an issue with focus or framing.
From taking the shot to viewing it on the 5.5-inch display, the iPhone 6 Plus offered the complete photo experience.”
The increased screen real estate pays off when you view your photos and videos. If you’ve ever pinched and zoomed to see parts of your photo, there is less of a need with these devices. On the iPhone 6 Plus, you get iPad-like viewing, with no waiting. Instant gratification.
Admittedly, I’m not the selfie type, but clearly I’m in the minority. The front-facing FaceTime camera, formerly relegated to video, now plays a key role in photo taking. Apple has improved the face-detection and it allows up to 81 percent more light. I took selfies in the dead of night, again more to gauge light than replicate a real-world scenario. Both are awful photos, but the light on the iPhone 6 FaceTime camera confirms the increased light allowed into the sensor. Now you won’t be talking selfies in the dark, but if you did, the new cameras are clear winners.
A more accurate selfie would be on a sunny day. Here we have two photos, one with the iPhone 5S and the other using the iPhone 6. This shouldn’t be construed as scientific testing. These are real world selfies, taken just as you would, without any extreme setup allowing the phones to adjust and deliver results. The odd glare aside, the overall picture quality and clarity goes to the iPhone 6.
Slow Motion Video
Last year, new video options included slow-motion video at 120FPS (frames per second). The pair of iPhones (2014) can shoot at 240FPS or 120FPS. Shooting at 240FPS can result in some breathtaking video that has cinematic appeal.
A few unwilling seagulls and an annoying human showcase just how easy it is to get cinematic video from the iPhone 6.”
The phone can be an incredibly powerful tool for video making. Standard video shot at 1080P also gets a boost from 30FPS to 60FPS.
A8 and M8
Both models feature the new A8 processor and the co-joined M8 motion processor. Last year’s move the A7 saw significant gains with the first 64-bit processing chip on an iPhone. Scores nearly doubled. This time around, the improvements are not as drastic. What’s a bit surprising is that according to Geekbench, the iPhone 6 actually edges the iPhone 6 Plus.
The on-board M8 processor handles measuring your activity, including a new barometer sensor. I’ve yet to see any apps that make use of this sensor. Its primary use is to measure elevation, something that will appeal to fitness enthusiasts, hikers and the like.
Killer performance gets all of the headlines, but the real magic here is in the power efficiency of the A8 chip.”
Speed gains can be seen in the CPU performance (up to 50x faster) and more so in the GPU performance (up to 84x faster)*. The big story here may be the increased energy efficiency. These are massive screens, so having a chip that offers up to 50 percent more energy efficiency is major benefit. *According to Apple’s calculations.
Anytime a company offers you faster performance coupled with energy efficiency, that’s a winning combo.”
Over the past year, we’ve highlighted a number of console quality games. This trend should grow further thanks to Metal, technology that empowers developers to create more immersive graphics that push the limits of these new A8 chip. There isn’t a more powerful handheld gaming device than the iPhone 6.
iPhone 6 Plus vs iPhone 6
The iPhone 6 embodies much of what I expected from Apple when they made their eventual jump to big displays. It checks all the boxes. Thin, check. Light, check. Amazing display, check. The curved body also helps you reach more of the screen. For me, this is Apple’s perfected big device. That being said, it’s not the only phone. Its big brother, the iPhone 6 Plus is shockingly large. Whereas the the 6 aims to offer some semblance of one-handed usability, you can forget about that with the Plus.
For some, that’s not an issue. It really depends on how you use your phone or maybe how you plan to transition to a new way of using your iPhone. Personally, I think either choice will result in some level of uncomfortable transition. You almost have to re-train your brain as to what’s a normal, acceptable size for a smartphone. I purchased the iPhone 6 Plus and used it for two weeks before forming my thoughts for review purposes.
My previous phones included the iPhone 5S and the Moto X (2013). I’m a fan of natural wood and couldn’t resist the custom bamboo back offered by Motorola. I remember that phone feeling too big, but in time, it felt normal. I was curious if the same logic would follow suit with the iPhone 6 Plus. Spend sufficient time with a phone and regardless of the size, it becomes normal.
In a matter of days, I started to get accustomed to the big boy. The luxury of having an iPad-like experience with phone capabilities was not lost on me. I’d take a photo of my daughter and immediately enjoy it on what is an amazing screen. I can see how this phone will have a select, yet wide appeal.
The iPhone 6 Plus is a smartphone version of the Cadillac Escalade, but with stunningly good gas mileage.”
Apple’s now infamous commercial showed us how the iPhone 5 was designed, allowing easy control with one hand. That phone saw users jumping from a 3.5-inch to 4.0-inch display. In part, the commercial assuaged fears that the larger screen might impact usability. I think the main focus was explaining why a smaller screen was more desirable at a time when Apple had been dealing with competitors continuously pushing the boundaries of display sizes. Now it’s Apple that’s doing that pushing.
The shift to bigger displays leaves one-handed usability and that saddens me.”
Where phones are concerned, iPhone 5/5s are the perfect match of screen size and true one-handed usability. Sadly, there is no 4.0-inch iPhone 6. I’ve cradled my 5th generation iPod touch, thinking of what could have been. In reality, the 2014 form factor on a small device would have been difficult to exceed the battery life on the 5S.
It’s about trade-offs and in 2014, most will gladly trade one-handed usability for a bigger iPhone. Some will jettison it completely, happy to use two hands to grasp the monster-sized plus. What did I choose? I share that below in my Editor’s FAQ.
Software: iOS 8
For owners of the iPhone 4S or later, iOS 8 is a free upgrade. There are a few features worth noting that are specific to the iPhone 6 and in some cases, just the iPhone 6 Plus. Both of these phones support Reachability. This is a software fix for retaining one-handed usability on a big phone. A quick double-tap of the home button (not a full depress, but two taps), will cause the top of the viewing area to squeeze down (see image below), so it’s in range of your fingers. I tested Reachability and it works as intended.
It won’t make you forget your finger-friendly four-inch iPhone, but could help in a pinch.”
The iPhone 6 Plus supports an iPad-like software experience. For example, if you view your mail in landscape mode, you’ll enjoy two panes. One side allows you to move through your inbox, while the right side shows the message.
iOS 8 offers hundreds of new features, many of which we’ve been continuing to document. Where iOS 7 was a major overhaul, iOS 8 is more about polish, refinement and extending functionality. It’s by far the most open we’ve seen from Apple, with support for extensions, third-party keyboards and widgets. It’s also been notably more buggy than we’ve seen from Apple. Their insistence on delivering major software updates that dovetail with new hardware finds the company starting to compromise on their history of rock-solid releases. Stability is no longer a mainstay of iOS, at least during the first few weeks of major updates. With two maintenance releases completed at the time of this review, this should not concern you.
With these new iPhones, developers need to optimize their code to support the new, bigger displays. Applications that haven’t been optimized can result in blurry text. If you’ve ever run an iPhone-only app on an iPad, it’s similar in nature. Not as bad, but still worth noting.
- Big, beautiful displays
- Wonderful camera that now offers faster, more accurate focus
- Better battery life, specifically on iPhone 6 Plus
- Increased storage/value on middle and upper range models (64GB, 128GB)
- Touch ID coupled with Apple Pay should offer nice mix of convenience with secure transactions
- Lacks one-handed usability of previous models
- Early iOS 8 releases have been buggy
- Some third-party apps do not support iPhone 6/6 Plus
- Increased storage options not applicable to base models which remain stuck at 16GB
- Positioning of on/off button can inadvertently trigger volume buttons when gripped
- Reachability feature seems like an afterthought
We’ve grown accustomed to the bi-yearly changes to the iPhone, but none have been bigger than the iPhone 6. These phones don’t just represent a move to bigger displays, which by the way, are glorious. The design language has undergone major changes. When you compare the iPhone 4 released in 2010 to the iPhone 5S (2013) which launched last year, there are similarities. Straight lines, boxy and hard edges. The 2014 iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus retain the primarily aluminum and glass construction, but in a curved, inviting design. Though the large phones present challenges for one-handed usability, the thin and curved body does help. An offshoot from the bigger phones are bigger batteries. Coupled with the energy efficiency of the A8 chip, improvements are readily apparent, even more so in the iPhone 6 Plus. Apple’s cameras continue to be best-in-class, save for Nokia’s Lumia 1020, with its unsighltly protruding lens. Focus Pixels live up to their marketing mojo offering faster, accurate focus that should help you capture life’s moments with relative ease. In the age of selfies, the FaceTime camera is also much improved.
Another year, another phone that is more powerful, more capable and more efficient. This is Apple doing big phones and getting it right.
Should I upgrade to the iPhone 6?
If you are out of contract with your wireless carrier, that means you’re entitled to an upgrade. Your monthly cellular bill has costs built-in to offset the cost of a phone. When you sign a 2-year contract, the cost of your phone is subsidized. When your contract ends, your bill doesn’t go down. In effect, you’re still paying for a phone that’s paid off. New iPhones don’t actually cost $199 and up. The actual cost is $649 and up. The carrier makes up the cost of the phone over the span of the contract. Here’s how to check your eligibility and upgrade to the iPhone 6. We’ve also included information explaining early upgrade programs from AT&T (Next) and Verizon (Edge).
Should I buy the iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus?
That’s a big question, pun intended. I’d highly recommend visiting a local Apple Store and holding them. Think about how you use your phone and how the shift to a much bigger phone will impact your usage. I found that I was consistently making excuses for the iPhone 6 Plus. Sure the screen was fabulously large, but my the size of the device didn’t gel with my daily usage. For one, I pocket my iPhone and I also have a toddler that I’m regularly chasing. The iPhone 6 Plus can feel bulky to carry. I also like to use my phones on-the-go. The Plus isn’t the type of phone you can grab with one hand, check Twitter and slip it back into your pocket.
I didn’t find any of the iPhone 6 Plus software enhancements to be of great value. The landscape home screen didn’t offer any perceived benefit and iPad-like software experiences on the iPhone weren’t as valuable to me as I had envisioned.
The hardware OIS didn’t show itself to be enough to sway my decision.
Just because I chose the iPhone 6 doesn’t mean the 6 Plus isn’t a good option for you. If you’re on the fence, go with the Plus. If for some reason during the first 14 days you find it to be too big, you do have options.
Which color iPhone 6 should I buy?
This is a purely personal decision. With iPhone 5, I went black. Last year, I jumped on the gold bandwagon. For my money, the white/silver still remains as the most Apple-like color combination. That being said, Space Gray reminds me of the very first iPhone. The black display cover also creates a more immersive experience. You’re buy a case, right? Think about your end game. What color combinations will work best for you? As for me, I plan on going with Space Gray with a black leather Apple case. For practical purposes, my wife has white and silver, so there’s no confusing our phones. Don’t be surprised if next year, my iPhone 6S is silver and white. If you upgrade each year, alternating isn’t the worst idea. I’ve never experienced any issues with the aluminum of either black or silver.
What storage capacity should I buy on the new iPhone 6?
The 16GB is least expensive, but it also offers less value than either the 64GB or 128GB models and this applies to either the 6 or 6 Plus. For most folks, the 64GB will be more than enough. If you have a large audio or video collection that you must carry with you, go big. Invariably, music, videos and photos will have the biggest impact on your storage. What’s your current storage space? Have you run into storage issues when trying to install an iOS update OTA (over-the air)? While it’s important to get sufficient space for your stuff, don’t go crazy. To check the storage capacity of your current iPhone, go to Settings > General > Usage.
If cost is concern, check out our article on how to make the most of your storage.
Is the contract-free T-Mobile iPhone 6 unlocked?
Yes. They ship with a T-Mobile nanoSIM card, but you can use this model with any GSM carrier.