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5 stars - Pocket-lint editors choice
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The build quality on the iPhone 6 is exquisite, leaving you with one really tough decision: whether to go for the iPhone 6 or the much bigger iPhone 6 Plus. Regardless of which you do opt for, this is the best iPhone yet.Read full verdict
Apple's flagship iPhone has been updated and upgraded bringing with it a new design, new features, and new excitement. With the rest of the year's smartphones laid out - except the next Nexus - this is the time for the iPhone to reassert itself against competition that's stronger than ever.
With Apple's two-year design cycle, the iPhone 5 model was ready for a refresh, bringing not one, but two new iPhone models and seeing Apple step up in size.
But is it just a case of giving Apple your money, knowing that it's going to be a solid offering? Or has the company lost its direction with the eighth iPhone?
Immaculately crafted, the iPhone 6 shows that you can create a device that blows everything else out of the water when it comes to design. That might sound like an Apple fanboy cliché, but we've put the iPhone 6 in the hands of ardent Android fans and they agree: the iPhone 6 sets a new standard for smartphone design.
We heralded the HTC One (M8) as having the best design and build for most of 2014 and the iPhone 6 appears to owe a lot to HTC's previous efforts. The zero-gap construction in an aluminium body is along the same lines as HTC, but refined to the nth degree. The execution is remarkable.
Some of that nuanced design you can't appreciate without holding the new phone. Photos don't give you the feeling of how light the phone actually is at 129g, how smooth that curved glass at the edge is, or how - within a split second - it makes the iPhone 5S look bland, bulky, and out of date.
The iPhone 6 measures 138.1 x 67 x 6.9mm and that means that for the first time it can wear a case and still feel like you've got an improvement on the previous version. Apple's case doesn't bulk it out excessively so we suspect many will opt for this route. It's perhaps a shame to hide the premium design, but at least by adding a case it doesn't mean adding excessive bulk.
There isn't a single sharp edge, and the 6.9mm thickness means that Apple can have a device with a flat back and still leave it comfortable to hold. The trick to delivering this seems to be the curved shoulders and the curved glass edge that virtually removes any seam. It's like the lovechild of the Xperia Z3 and the HTC One.
It should stay unblemished too, as unlike the iPhone 5S with its chamfered edges, there isn't anything as easy to scratch here in day-to-day use. Of course, we're sure the surface will scratch eventually and only time will tell how the iPhone 6 wears, but so far ours has remained in good condition.
In many ways the design aesthetic of the 6 sticks to that of the iPhone 5S. The front "FaceTime" camera and ear speaker are at the still at the top, the TouchID / Home button still at the bottom, sandwiching the new 4.7-inch display.
The bottom features the 3.5mm socket, the Lightning port, and a speaker that can still be cupped or covered in the hand when holding it. On the left-hand side you get volume controls and a mute button, the former now featuring an elongated design rather than circular, while the power button has been moved to the right-hand side. The top is left clear.
We've habitually been reaching to the top for the power button - something you'll adjust to with use - but its position on the side is better for those who don't have big enough hands or fingers to reach on this new larger frame.
Overall, we're mightily impressed with the iPhone 6's design and build. It's very much a phone we'd recommend you go and touch, because it's likely to make a number of manufacturers take a second look at their own premium portfolio. Importantly, however, it feels like a big upgrade over the iPhone 5S, something that iPhone owners are going to want to upgrade to.
Finally there's a big display on the iPhone. Yes, Apple has listened to the masses - four million pre-orders in the first 24 hours surely shows it was a good move - and responded to market changes, delivering a 4.7-inch screen with a resolution of 1334 x 750 pixels.
In theory that's better than the iPhone 5S, but because of the larger display, the pixel density remains the same at 326ppi. That means that although bigger, this display is as sharp as the iPhone 5S and the experience is very much the same. The increased size also means you'll get an extra row of icons on the screen: you now get six rows instead of five.
It is not just about pixels and resolution though. Apple has made vast improvements in the colour and, for those in sunnier climates the polarisation of the display.
The iPhone 6 display is cooler than some of its competitors, offering a less vibrant experience than the HTC One for example. This approach can make darker areas on pictures and video seem lighter so you might see more shadow detail, but the downside is that some colours don't have the same punch as competitors.
While this can makes skin tones more realistic and natural, you could be left with the impression that the screen is slightly washed out. It isn't. It is just most other displays are warmer.
The viewing angles are still very good, better than previously, regardless of what angle you are looking from. There's also plenty of brightness, so we didn't struggle to see the display in sunny conditions. It's also much better for those wearing sunglasses.
Looking at the iPhone 5S screen with polarised glasses resulted in a purple or green hue depending on the orientation, which was far from ideal. That's been fixed for the iPhone 6. While the colour change hasn't completely vanished, the iPhone 6 goes from normal in landscape to a light whitish blue tinge in portrait. The result is that the iPhone 6 is much more sunglasses friendly.
The screen also seems less fingerprint prone too. We've noticed fewer fingerprint smears on the iPhone 6 than we're used to on the iPhone 5S while we've been using it.
The difference between the polariser friendly iPhone 6 and not so friendly iPhone 5S
We have to mention resolution, of course. On the spec sheet, the iPhone 6's 1334 x 750 "Retina HD" resolution isn't competitive among flagship rivals. At 4.7-inches, it's a lower resolution than the HTC One M7 from 2013, for example, which was 1920 x 1080 at 4.7-inches.
This means that, technically, the iPhone 6 doesn't give you as many pixels across that display. However, what Apple has done is ensure that it puts the pixels to work through the refinement of iOS 8. The OS, the icons, the text all look sharp and crisp, something that's apparent in its own apps, if not in all third-party apps you download.
We've seen some examples where equivalent apps in Android are crisper, but here's the crunch: that's the resolution you get on iPhone 6. Unlike choosing between different Android or Windows Phone devices where you can see the difference around the UI on different displays, iPhone 6 is iPhone 6.
Standard or Zoomed
Coming off the back of the new screen is a new display option, Standard or Zoomed. Standard allows you to benefit from the new resolution, while Zoomed replicates the display of the iPhone 5S. The immediate difference is that everything is bigger, perfect if you don't want to wear your glasses. But bigger also means softer fonts, no sixth row of apps, and not really giving you a benefit from the new improvements you've bought into with the larger display.
Regardless of which one you choose - we opted for Standard - until apps from third-party developers are updated to use the new resolution, they will show as Zoomed meaning you are jumping between the two scales constantly.
On the left is the Standard view on the right the Soomed view
It's a slightly awkward workaround Apple has implemented to stop apps looking letterboxed as developers take their time to update to the new screen sizes and resolutions. We expect this to change quickly, but with only 10 days notice from announcement to launch, it will take some time for developers to put those changes into your favourite apps. At the time of writing none of the apps we use regularly have been updated, such as Facebook, Skype or Twitter.
It's not a deal breaker, but it is noticeable, and once you notice it, it is annoying.
A new model means upgraded specs and the iPhone 6 gets Apple's latest processor: the A8. That enhanced hardware means that technically the iPhone 6 is more powerful than the iPhone 5S, iPad Air and iPad mini, and that should give you greater scope for more powerful apps in the future, but also make today's current apps run faster.
Testing the usual array of power hungry games, and not only power hungry titles, you can see the difference. Even a basic game like Threes, which used to take an age to load, is noticeably quicker.
Apple claims the new processor power will allow games using a technology it calls Metal, to bring it even closer to a console gaming experience than ever before.
We've been able to test it with one game so far: Gameloft's Asphalt 8: Airborne and have to say that the graphics are great. While the gameplay of Asphalt aren't for everyone it does look good with Metal allowing developers to throw much more detail at the screen including weather affects, lens flares and plenty of action without hesitation. So far we've been playing for around 15 minutes at a time (it's been a busy week) but the iPhone 6 doesn't show any real signs of getting hot after this time.
Also updated is the motion coprocessor. New this time around there's a barometer to measure elevation, but again there aren't any apps available to test that feature. We'll have to wait for apps like Fitbit, Runkeeper and Nike+ to update to test out if it makes a difference.
While Android handsets are more and more choosing to let you provide extra storage via microSD card, Apple's response is to offer more internal storage. The iPhone 6 comes in three sizes: 16GB, 64GB and 128GB.
The 128GB model (which we tested) leaves you around 114GB of storage space after you account for iOS 8. That should give you plenty of space for photos, apps, movies and more, but with many services moving to the cloud, you should be able to comfortably get away with the 64GB model if you don't need to go local.
Connectivity wise there are upgrades too. There is faster LTE support - if your carrier/operator supports it - as well as greater support for more LTE bands around the world if you are a global nomad. There is also upgraded Wi-Fi, now with 802.11ac compared to 802.11n on the iPhone 5S, but you should check if your router supports the faster speed. BT Home Hub 5 does for example, but Sky's bundled router doesn't.
For select customers (T-Mobile in the US, EE in the UK in the coming months) there is Wi-Fi calling that allows you to make a standard call over a Wi-Fi connection and then walk out of that Wi-Fi zone and carry on the call on your standard contract. It has the potential to make huge savings on your phone bill, but won't be available from launch day.
A lot of the new specs are very much box ticking, 802.11ac isn't new nor is it new to smartphones, but it does bring the iPhone 6 up to par with the competition, until of course the upgrade cycle starts again in the new year.
Apple Pay and NFC
The iPhone 6 has an NFC chip, but at the moment that is only used for Apple's new payment system Apple Pay, rather than to let you pair with a speaker, for example. The Apple Pay system will launch in October and only in the US for the time being, but will allow you to pay for goods at all contactless payment terminals in over 220,000 stores once you've signed up and added your banking details to the system.
In a controlled demo at the Cupertino launch event, we were able to see Apple Pay in action. The quick verdict is that it is very easy and works really well. Like a contactless card, you simply tap the terminal with your phone, and in this case touch the TouchID (or enter your four-digit passcode) to complete the transaction. Expect to be doing this a lot more in the future, but you'll have to wait for wider roll-out if not in the US.
Making and receiving calls is as you would expect in terms of sound performance, with no reported problems in the call we made. Likewise that bottom speaker for audio playback, whether it is listening to music, watching a movie, or having someone on speaker phone is good enough to get you by, but we would always recommend headphones for the best experience if you are listening to something longer than a couple of minutes.
Apple hasn't taken the HTC BoomSound route with the two speakers facing you, perhaps acknowledging that its customers don't consume media on a phone that way, or just not wanting to give over the space in the design.
As you might expect, turning the volume up to its maximum doesn't sound awful or rattle the smartphone, but if you do need it to get louder, then you'll have to continue to get used to cupping your hand around the speaker.
Camera, lights, action
The iPhone 6 Plus uses a new sensor but still features the same 8-megapixels as found in the iPhone 5S and the iPhone 6. It combined with something Apple dubs "Focus Pixels" uses new improvements in iOS 8, the new A8 processor, and optical image stabilisation (OIS) to enhance the experience.
New to iOS 8 includes a Time Lapse mode, manual exposure control, and improved face detection that was quick to pick up on the numerous faces we put in front of the front and rear cameras.
Marketing speak aside, it means the iPhone 6 camera focuses faster and we've certainly be able to snap crisper images faster (dogs, kids, us) than we have before.
Taking numerous test shots while testing the phone we've noticed the lack of the familiar square box on the screen as the iPhone seeks focus on what it believes should be the centre of attention. Pressing on the screen still gives you instant control of the focus if you need it, while scrolling up and down lets you manage exposure (darker or lighter photos). We've also noticed that tracking a moving subject is much better, and that's come in handy already with kids, removing the constant need to keep pressing the screen to refocus.
Face detection also works on the front-facing camera now too, and a quick selfie with Pocket-lint Editor Chris Hall proved that the front-facing camera was considerably better than one found on the iPhone 5S with less noise and sharper focus.
The end results speak for themselves, with pictures looking sharp and fairly noise free. Others might have 20-megapixel sensors, but Apple clearly shows that it is not always about big numbers. Skin tones are well represented, and detail, even in low light is good. Regardless of the situation, the iPhone 6 camera produces good consistent results.
Panorama as also been improved with the ability to take images up to 43-megapixels in size (perhaps you do need that 128GB model after all). Testing in Trafalgar Square in London, iOS 8's imaging stitching capabilities are well and truly put to the test, and unless you look closely, shows just how far the feature has come since its inclusion.
Overall the picture quality feels improved over shots taken with the iPhone 5S, a phone that we've regularly used to snap things for Pocket-lint when our DSLR hasn't been suitable. We would have no qualms about using the iPhone 6 here, and the days of reaching for a compact camera seem to be far behind us.
Rather than opt for 4K video as many competitors are, Apple has stuck with 1080p video recording, but upped the capable frame rate to 60fps and added a new slow motion mode that can record at either 120fps or 240fps. Video quality is very good, and the 240fps footage is amazing, especially if you catch the right moment.
The autofocus isn't just for stills but has also been improved for video as well, and catching multiple objects or people as they move around the frame is noticeably better. Image stabilisation also improves things when you are moving and filming at the same time.
Not to be left outdone, the front-facing camera has been improved with a new f/2.2 lens that brings in more light - presumably so you can still take pictures of yourself in the changing room - although it's still not very wide, certainly when compared to the HTC One (M8), which fills the frame with more people.
The front camera also gets many of the features previously only available to the rear camera like Burst mode and Timer. Handy if you want to compose that perfect shot of yourself.
New Photos app
While Apple hasn't gone down the route taken by Nokia or Sony in allowing you to do all manner of things with your photos on the go, it has vastly improved the power of the Photos app in iOS 8.
The big new feature is the ability to actually edit your photos beyond adding a filter or pressing a magic wand. Now you have control over things like exposure, highlights, shadows, brightness, contrast, black point, saturation, and more.
It takes some getting used to and is likely only to appeal to power users, but it is a nice feature to have and photo fans who've previously relied on apps like VSOC Cam or Snapseed will really appreciate it. We've been using the feature on a beta version of iOS 8 on our iPhone 5S for some time and with the right touch it can really help add drama to your photos.
There are literally dozens of new options and features in iOS 8 including the ability to change the keyboard for something from a third-party developer (think SwiftKey or Swype with the ability to move your finger around the keyboard like your Android friends do), improved Siri search, and Family Sharing so you can manage multiple iDevices from the same account.
There's also the new Health app that pulls in all the data from your various fitness apps, more swipe gestures in Mail to let you trash email even quicker than before, and shortcuts to your favourite and most recent contacts.
One of the biggest new features that is partly available is something calls Continuity. It will allow greater connectivity between your iOS 8 devices and eventually your Mac computer (if you have one) and means that you can start something on one device and then pick up where you left off very quickly on another.
iOS 8 is rolling out to older iPhones and iPads, so the features aren't all exclusive to the iPhone 6 and we will cover many of the details in our dedicated iOS 8 review, but the long and short of it is that it isn't as big a departure from iOS 7 as the move from iOS 6 was. While there are new features, the design remains very much the same, refining the experience rather than changing it.
The chances are that the things you didn't like in iOS 7, you still won't like in iOS 8. At times it can feel a little cluttered as it tries to address everything that Android (power) users would want, while still keeping true to its simple-is-best mantra.
However we do like the ability to reply to notifications without jumping into the dedicated app, and the new swipe gestures in Mail. Being able to swipe to delete or Swipe to Mark as Read is a huge time saver.
A new feature particular to the iPhone 6 (and iPhone 6 Plus especially), is Reachability. The idea is that with the bigger display you can no longer reach the top of the screen without moving your hand. By double soft tapping on the TouchID sensor iOS 8 drops whatever is on the screen half way down so you can reach it.
In reality it is an after-thought and one that has probably only really been designed to fend-off those who might retort that Apple once said you shouldn't make a phone bigger than the arc of your thumb. In practice we've used it once or twice, mainly because we've either forgotten it was there, or felt that moving our hand wasn't really a problem.
As you might expect, the new features and power enhancements take their toll on the iPhone 6's battery and it's the same story here as with all iPhones we've ever used. If you use it heavily you won't make it to your bed in the evening without charging.
On light use - over a weekend - we managed to get from Saturday morning to Sunday lunchtime on a single charge. Sat on our desk in the office all day on Monday and we got to bedtime with still 50 per cent left to go.
But start to move around, use GPS, check Twitter, update Facebook, snap photos and video and the battery starts to drain quickly.
A busy work day to London, receiving hundreds of emails, checking social media, using an array of apps including Maps, as well as snapping photos, meant by 8pm we were looking for a power socket. Medium use will certainly get you to the morning, but you'll then need to charge it as soon as you wake up.
The iPhone 6 is still very much a charge every day device.
In the iPhone 6, Apple has managed to make a phone that doesn't necessarily bring anything new to the smartphone arena - Apple Pay aside - but at the same time makes everything work so effortlessly. All the features you will find on the iPhone 6 can be found elsewhere in the Android or Windows Phone world, but not always in such a fluid and easy-to-use way.
With iOS 8 and the new screen size, Apple has pretty much removed all excuses not to upgrade from older devices, as well as making the iPhone 6 a phone that's difficult to ignore for those on other platforms.
Of course there is still plenty missing: you don't get the highest resolution display around, there's no wireless charging, replaceable battery, no waterproofing, no microSD card, no real NFC beyond Apple Pay, and no wide open operating system for all to use regardless.
But many won't care. The app choice of Apple is outstanding, the 128GB storage quota is enough (as long as you can afford it), and do we really need NFC pairing? Add that to an incredibly polished operating system in iOS 8 and you end up with a phone that will sell truck loads for many months to come.
For iPhone 5 or 5S users looking to upgrade, the decision is a no-brainer: the iPhone 6 is superior in all aspects to previous devices sporting a better design, a better display, a better experience all around.
The build quality on the iPhone 6 is exquisite, leaving you with one really tough decision: whether to go for the iPhone 6 or the much bigger iPhone 6 Plus. Regardless of which you do opt for, this is the best iPhone yet.