Apple iPhone 6 Review

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Editors' rating:
The Pros

Attractive design; Fits easily in one hand; Strong performance; Bright display; TouchID works with mobile payments

The Cons

Below-average battery life; Some camera issues; No expandable storage

Verdict

Apple's sleek iPhone 6 sports a large, but not too large, display, fast processor and a sharp camera.

With the release of Apple's two newest smartphones, the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus, it would be easy to say that the company has simply responded to the competition's larger devices. And to some extent, that's true: The iPhone 5s' 3.95-inch screen seemed quaint compared to last year's crop of phablets.

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But there's more to the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus than just larger screens. Apple gave its latest iPhones a sleek redesign, faster processors, newer sensors and cameras, as well as the ability to pay for things via NFC.

The more pocket-friendly of the pair, the iPhone 6, has a 4.7-inch display and packs the same A8 processor as the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus. And while the smaller version lacks the optical image stabilization found in the latter's camera, the iPhone 6 is $100 less expensive. With the iPhone 6 starting at $199 (for 16GB), is it time to upgrade to Apple's newest smartphone?

Design

Like the iPhone 6 Plus, the iPhone 6 represents a shift in Apple's smartphone design. Where the previous four iterations of the iPhone (the 5s/5c, 5, 4s and 4) all had squared-off edges, the 6 and 6 Plus' rounded edges hearken back in some ways to the iPhone 3GS.

Of course, a lot has changed in the last five years. The iPhone 6 is the sleekest iPhone yet, as its anodized-aluminum back and sides blend effortlessly into the glass display. The only quibble I have is with the plastic bands along the top and bottom of the rear, which break up the otherwise seamless look.

At 4.7 inches, the iPhone 6 strikes the perfect balance between screen size and one-hand operability. I was able to use the phone with just one hand without fear of it accidentally falling to the ground.

The front of the phone is as clean as its back. A circular TouchID/Home button sits below the display, with a speaker, camera lens and proximity sensor above it. While the iPhone 5s had the power button on top, the iPhone 6's power button has been relocated to the upper right side. The upper left has buttons for volume and mute/rotation lock. The bottom edge holds a 3.5mm headphone jack, lightning connector and the speaker grille.

MORE: Best Smartphones 2014

Measuring 5.4 x 2.6 x 0.27 inches, the iPhone 6 is the slimmest among its peers. The HTC One M8, for example, measures 5.8 x 2.8 x 0.37 inches, while the Samsung Galaxy S5 is 5.6 x 2.9 x 0.31 inches. To be fair, both of those phones have larger displays, at 5- and 5.1 inches, respectively.

The 4.55-ounce iPhone 6 is about half an ounce heavier than the iPhone 5s, and is lighter than the 5.1-ounce Galaxy S5 and the 5.6-ounce HTC One M8. As with the previous generation, the iPhone 6 comes in silver, gold or space gray.

Display

The iPhone 6's screen doesn't have full HD yet, but it's getting there. Whereas the iPhone 6 Plus' 5.5-inch display has a resolution of 1080p, the 4.7-inch screen on the iPhone 6 has a lower resolution, of 1334 x 750 pixels. To be sure, this still classifies the iPhone 6 as a Retina display, but it's not as pixel-packed as the 1080p Samsung S5 or HTC One M8. At 325.6 pixels per inch, the iPhone 6 falls below the Samsung S5 (431.9) and the HTC One M8 (440.6 ppi).

Will you notice the difference? Probably not, unless you're holding the phone up to your nose. While I was watching a 1080p trailer for The Hobbit, Gandalf's beard was equally detailed on the S5 and the iPhone 6, and I could pick out individual strands of hair on both screens.

At 504 nits, the iPhone 6 outshone the Samsung S5 (347 nits), the One M8 (368 nits) and the smartphone average (354 nits) by a wide margin. However, both the S5 and M8 were able to show much more of the sRGB color gamut, at 156.3 percent and 115 percent, compared to the iPhone 6's 96.8 percent. While we like to see at least 100 percent, anything higher than that doesn't necessarily make the colors better.

What does that mean for consumers? When I watched the trailers for the films Fury and The Hobbit on the iPhone 6 and the Galaxy S5, the latter phone had a bluish-green cast (most evident in shots of the sky) and fires tended to burn with more orange color on Samsung's device.

One area where the iPhone 6's display could improve, though, is color accuracy. Its Delta-E score of 3.6 (numbers closer to 0 are better) bested the One M8 (4.1), but fell behind the S5 (0.9), as well as the older iPhone 5s' near-perfect score of 0.05.

Audio

Overall, audio from the iPhone 6's bottom-mounted speaker was above average, but not the best we've heard from a smartphone. Bruce Springsteen's scratchy vocals on "Born in the U.S.A." came through clearly, but the lack of bass made everything sound a little harsh. The brass and piano in Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 in B Flat Minor sounded full and robust, but the strings, especially at the high end, were a bit tinny.

As with the iPhone 6 Plus, I found that cupping my hand around the speaker resulted in the best-sounding audio, but watch that your right index finger doesn't cover the speaker grille.

The iPhone 6 hit 81 decibels on the Laptop Audio Test (playing a tone and measuring its loudness from 13 inches away), which tops the Galaxy S5 (73 dB) and squeaks by the smartphone average of 80 dB. However, the HTC One M8 and its front-facing BoomSound speakers pumped out 83 dB.

MORE: 10 Tips and Tricks Every iPhone Owner Should Know

Performance

The A8 processor in the iPhone 6, the same as in the iPhone 6 Plus, was more than able to keep up with anything I did. Games such as Real Racing 3, Spider-Man and our all time favorite, Goat Simulator, ran smoothly.

In everyday tasks, both the iPhone 6 and the 6 Plus were zippy. For example, both exited to the Home screen from the camera app in about 1.2-1.4 seconds. The Galaxy S5 took about 1.5 seconds.

Curiously, exporting a 2-minute-and-32-second 1080p movie to 540p using iMovie took 20.35 seconds on the iPhone 6 and 31 seconds on the iPhone 6 Plus. The same task took 38 seconds on the iPhone 5s.

On Geekbench 3, the iPhone 6's score of 2,931 topped the smartphone average of 1,982 and the HTC One M8's mark of 2,480, but fell just short of the Galaxy S5 score of 2,974.

The iPhone 6's score of 16,558 on 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited was about 3,000 points higher than the average (13,401), but fell below that of the S5 (18,285) and the HTC One's sky-high 20,965.

However, on real-world tests, the iPhone 6 proved speedier, launching N.O.V.A. 3 in just 4.6 seconds, about four times as fast as the HTC One (17 seconds) and Galaxy S5 (19 seconds).

iOS 8

The iPhone 6 also heralded the launch of iOS 8. The latest version of Apple's mobile operating system brings a number of behind-the-scenes upgrades that help the iPhone integrate better not only with other Apple products, but also with third-party apps, devices and payment systems.

For example, Maps now lets you choose with which app you'd like to use to navigate. When you look up directions, an Apps tab appears at the top, showing you all the apps in the App store that can get you from point A to point B, including Google Maps.

Those with an iPad will be able to start composing an email on that device and then finish it on the iPhone, or vice versa. With the launch of OS X Yosemite in October, users will be able to do the same on their Apple notebooks or desktops; those devices will also allow you to answer SMS messages and phone calls.

Two other features yet to be rolled out are HealthKit, Apple's health data aggregation tool, and Apple Pay, which will let you use the NFC chip in the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus to make mobile payments.

Improvements to the interface itself include a more robust Spotlight search, which now offers suggestions based on contextual information. For example, it will show nearby restaurants and will return results from Wikipedia, current news, the iTunes Store and relevant websites.

The Messages app gets its own Snapchat-like ability to send voice and video memos that are automatically deleted after 2 minutes. The Photos app has gained a number of new editing tools. Family Sharing allows you to share a range of content among several iOS devices; that includes not only photos, but also apps and purchased music and movies.

MORE: iOS 8 Reviewed

Camera

Like the larger iPhone 6 Plus, the iPhone 6 has an 8-MP rear iSight camera that has the same resolution as that of the iPhone 5s. But it now features what Apple calls Focus Pixels, which help make autofocus faster. Other improvements include the ability to shoot 1080p video at up to 60 frames per second and slo-mo video at 240 frames per second. Additionally, the iPhone 6 has better face detection and offers continuous autofocus when filming.

The major difference between the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus camera is that the latter has optical image stabilization, which results in clearer and less-noisy (grainy) photos in low-light conditions. When I took a shot of lower Manhattan at night with both phones, the iPhone 6 Plus' photos were clearer; I could better make out individual windows in One World Trade Center, and the night sky showed fewer artifacts.

In general, photos I took with the iPhone 6 looked spectacular. From early morning shots of a marina to late night at Yankee Stadium, images were colorful and crisp.

However, in the course of our testing, we discovered a few issues that may be related to iOS 8. The most significant of these was chromatic aberration, which resulted in a purplish haze appearing in the corner whenever a bright light source was just out of frame. This was most evident when we took a shot of the 4-train subway station outside Yankee Stadium at night. I was able to replicate this issue with the iPhone 6 Plus and an iPhone 5s running iOS 8.

MORE: The iPhone 6 Camera Has a Big Image Problem: iOS 8

Video shot with the iPhone 6 looked great. As I panned around Yankee Stadium, the phone was able to quickly adapt to the different lighting conditions, accurately capturing the green of the grass, the white of the facade and the dark night sky.

The front-facing FaceTime camera on the iPhone 6 now has an f/2.2 aperture, compared with the f/2.4 on the iPhone 5s, which means you should be able to take better selfies in the dark. Indeed, when I took a picture of myself in a darkened room, the iPhone 6's image was much brighter and sharper, and showed more colors than one taken with the iPhone 5s. However, the iPhone6's shot was still quite grainy.

Apps

Included on the iPhone 6 are Apple's killer productivity and creativity suites: iWork (Pages, Numbers and Keynote) and iLife (GarageBand and iMovie). It's pretty amazing how easy it is to shoot a video, then quickly make edits on the iPhone itself. More serious amateur cinematographers may prefer the iPhone 6 Plus' larger, 5.5-inch display, but I got along fine using the iPhone 6's 4.7-inch screen.

With a catalog of more than 1 million apps, Apple's app ecosystem is smaller than Google Play's roughly 1.3-million-app catalog, but we've found that iOS apps tend to look better on both smartphones and tablets, whereas a number of Android apps look stretched out on tablets.

Battery Life

Lasting 7 hours and 27 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test (Web surfing via 4G LTE at 150-nits screen brightness), the iPhone 6 on Verizon's network went for almost 2 hours longer than the iPhone 5s (5:46), but fell short of the smartphone average by 1 hour. The Samsung Galaxy S5 lasted 8:25, and the HTC One M8 lasted an excellent 9:52. The iPhone 6 Plus endured for an even-longer 10 hours.

MORE: 10 Smartphones with the Longest Battery Life

4G LTE speeds

Surfing Verizon's 4G LTE network in our office, even with just three bars of service, proved speedy. On Speedtest.net, the iPhone 6 averaged download throughput of 20.3 Mbps and uploads of 5.8 Mbps. Laptopmag.com loaded in just 4 seconds, and the mobile versions of The New York Times and ESPN took 3 seconds.

Configurations

The iPhone 6 starts at $199 with 16GB of memory when bought with a 2-year contract. Considering all the photos and video people take nowadays, I recommend going with at least the 64GB model, which costs $299. A 128GB version costs $399.

Bottom Line

A larger, sharper and brighter -- but still one-hand-friendly -- 4.7-inch display, a sleeker design and a faster processor all combine to make the iPhone 6 a solid device. If you're looking to stay in Apple's ecosystem, the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus has a better camera and longer battery life, but many will prefer the iPhone 6's more manageable size.

The iPhone 6's below-average battery life and lower-resolution screen may turn off consumers who don't have a particular affinity for iOS. Android handsets such as the Galaxy S5 and HTC One M8 both offer longer endurance and sharper 1080p screens. However, the iPhone 6's thinner and lighter design, features such as TouchID and Apple Pay, smorgasbord of apps, and -- camera issues notwithstanding -- crisp and colorful images make the it greater than the sum of its parts.

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Author Bio
Michael A. Prospero
Michael A. Prospero, Reviews Editor
Michael A. Prospero has overseen reviews on Laptopmag.com since 2007, focusing on producing the most thorough and authoritative mobile product reviews. After receiving his Master of Science in Journalism from Columbia in 2003, Mike worked at Fast Company. Prior to that, he worked at The Times of Trenton, George and AlleyCat News.
Michael A. Prospero, Reviews Editor on
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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
Carrier Verizon
Alternate Carriers AT&T
Alternate Carriers T-Mobile
Alternate Carriers Sprint
Alternate Carriers Boost Mobile
Phone Display Size 4.7
Display Resolution 1334 x 750
Form Factor Candybar Touchscreen
OS Family iOS
Operating System iOS 8
Networks
CPU Apple A8
Processor Family Apple A8
RAM 1GB
Internal Memory 16GB
Memory Expansion Type
Display (main) 4.7 inches/1334 x 750
Display (secondary)
GPS Yes
Bluetooth Type Bluetooth 4.0 LE
Wi-Fi 802.11ac
Front Camera Resolution
Camera Resolution 8 MP
Talk / Standby Time
Size 5.4 x 2.6 x 0.27 inches
Weight 4.55 ounces
SAR Rating (Head)
SAR Rating (Body)
Company Website www.apple.com