Apple introduced the iPhone 6 models in September last year and the devices made it to South Africa by the end of October, which in itself was a great surprise for Apple consumers of our rainbow nation. The iPhone 6 range is supposed to be the “œgame-changer“ model for the Cupertino based company. Apple finally caved on the idea of a larger phone and the iPhone 6 (at 4.7 inches) and iPhone 6 Plus (at 5.5 inches) clearly shoves Apple out of the “œ4-inches-is-perfect-Steve-Jobs“ mentality.
As an Apple user with a perfectly timed Vodacom contract I was able to pick up the new iPhone 6 a week after its launch and have been using it for a little over two months. This review will hopefully provide an unbiased (as far as possible) view of the iPhone 6 (4.7-inch model) and whether Apple has been able to step out of their comfort zone and produce a truly top of the range smartphone.
Apple clearly still has mass appeal when it comes to their devices. There are many reasons for this but design, workmanship, usability and life expectancy is probably the primary drivers of Apple‘s success. What do you mean by life expectancy? Well due to the manufacturing quality, integrated hardware and software design and around half a decade worth of software support you can pick up a 5 year old iPhone and it will still run as fast as the day you bought it (if taken care of I must add). All of this do come at a premium though…
The problem Apple has faced over the last two years or so is that its competitors are putting together some truly impressive smartphones. In the beginning their competition were only able to emulate or exceed one aspect of the iPhone, whether it was in design, OS, functionality or even the camera hardware. These days they are putting it all together and are able to surpass the iPhone in most categories (in my mind the LG G3 and HTC One M8 are prime examples).
These factors have pushed Apple to come re-look at their tried and tested way of producing smartphones. Is a 4-inch display still good enough? Is the iOS design becoming a bit dated? There are still areas where Apple excels like their design and manufacturing as well as the much praised camera setup but Apple had some serious questions to ask before releasing the iPhone 6 range. Hopefully this review will enlighten you whether they succeeded in their quest or not.
Design and Build
Apple is probably most known for its design and manufacturing expertise. The iPhone range has always been the trailblazer in quality design and attractive looks. But as with all the other areas of the smartphone the iPhone can no longer claim to hold the title of “œmost beautiful of them all“. The HTC and Sony ranges (again my opinion but the point still stands) has rivaled the iPhone on this front over the last year or so.
Needless to say the iPhone 6 still holds a premium grade of manufacturing. The iPhone 6‘s edges have a round shape which replaces the flat sides of previous models. The white and gold model I am reviewing has a clear white color in the front (face) and champagne gold, brushed metal look on the back. It has a super thin design (6.9mm) and just exudes quality from everywhere. Still one of the best looking phones around!
On the left side you will find the popular vibrate switch and volume rocker, on the right the sleep/wake button has found a new home (moving away from the top). This initially seemed like a weird move by Apple, but I realised that by doing that they dramatically cut down on the amount of times I accidentally waked my phone when shoving it back into my pocket. There are no buttons on the top and the bottom of the device houses the lighting-power port, 3.5mm headphone jack and speaker.
There are however some disappointments with the new design. The protruding camera lens on the back of the phone takes away from the flush look and feel. Although the lens is made of the much discussed, super strong and scratch resistant Sapphire Glass, it just looks out of place. The other design fault in my opinion are the plastic strips also found on the back of the phone. These strips break the primary metal design and are there to boost the signal receiver.
Luckily these two issues are on the back of the phone and most people will cover them up with a cool looking case anyway. That argument holds for plastic phones like the Samsung Galaxy range as well, but still, you are paying R10k and upwards for this phone. It should look the part!
Display & Sound
The iPhone screens have always been up there with the best. Especially since the introduction of “œRetina display“. Since Apple upped the screen size for the iPhone 6 one would expect a similar upgrade to the display as well. I really hoped for a 1080p screen but the smaller iPhone 6 fell short of that with 750p. It seems as though all the great upgrades went to the iPhone 6 Plus, which I find a real shame.
That being said the screen still produces great visuals. I don‘t know how they do it but the Apple engineers produce screens with some of the best color reproduction and accuracy on the market, without being “œfull-HD“. The colours are spot on, whites aren’t grainy at all and the blacks are deep and true. Still, when compared to the iPhone 6 Plus the normal 6 can‘t quite compete. It feels like the iPhone 6 got hand-me-down tech from its bigger brother.
The iPhone 6 hits the mark when it comes to day to day use, but if you’re after better resolution, brightness or more intense color reproduction, there are better options on the market – with better tech. As you can kind of gather, and you will see when reading on, I won‘t give Apple a pass on the quality of the iPhone 6‘s screen. It‘s my largest gripe with the device.
The sound setup for the iPhone 6 delivers as expected. This category doesn’t really feature in my assessment of what makes a good smartphone, but if the quality is poor then it becomes a big problem. 90 percent of smartphones on the market provide adequate sound, except maybe for the BoomSound of the HTC One M8.
Where the iPhone range do excel is the audio quality of their headphones. The accompanying iPhone “œEarpods“ are the best in-the-box headphones on the market. Their unique design and sound tech produces great audio. It doesn’t matter if you are listening to the high string notes of a full orchestra piece or deep bass beats of a dance track, these babies deliver.
Performance, Call Quality and Battery
This is where the iPhone 6 comes into its own. As stated before the integrated way the hardware and software works inside the iPhone creates a seamless user experience. The iPhone 6 seems to be the slicker of the two new iPhones when it comes to clicking away under the finger, although when looking at the performance benchmark scores (Geekbench 3), we can see it’s almost identical to the iPhone 6 Plus (average score of 2905 vs 2911 for the 6 Plus) which puts it right with the Samsung Galaxy S5 and below the One M8 and One E8. Although, HTC has admitted to slightly cheating those results with a special ‘high power mode’, sneaky bastards. I won‘t go as far as to say that the iPhones are the slickest on the market, but where they tend to win favor is over the long run. The user experience stay as fast as the day you got it, which can‘t always be said for its competitors.
The call quality on the iPhone 6 delivers as expected. Once again this area only really gets mentioned when there is a particular problem. It is a mobile phone after all, it should be able to make and receive calls right? Luckily Apple has come a long way since the antenna-gate of the iPhone 4.
The battery performance was a little surprising. I expected the small mAh battery would struggle a bit under the resource requirements of the larger screen and improved tech but actually it holds out well throughout the day. I classify myself as a heavy user (normal usage ““ no 3 hour movie or gaming sessions!) and the iPhone 6 comfortably stays on until my bedtime at night (between 10-11 pm). I would rate it as about 10% better than the iPhone 5 which used to bomb out at around 7-8 pm.
One of the reasons for this is the dedicated M8 motion co-processor. App vendors actually started making proper use of the functionality of this low-power sensor-watcher. We know that some designers jumped on board from the start (Nike, for instance) and many others have followed suit.
Software and UI
The iPhone 6 ships with the new iOS 8. Upgrades to 8.1.2 are already available and recommended to solve some of the teething problems of the initial launch. The look and feel of iOS 8 will be very familiar to any Apple user. There’s not a lot new with iOS 8, except for some very clever UI tweaks here and there. For example, the new OS brings the ability to save contacts (with info like phone numbers from the signature) directly from the email app.
Probably the most innovative new feature is the ‘Reachability’ option. Double tap on the home key without pressing it in will make the screen drop down around two-fifths, enabling you to easily press anything at the top of the screen. Once I got into the habit of using it the feature truly makes the phone “œ‘one-handed“ which I thought was out of the window when they increased the screen size.
Swiping forwards and backwards acts as navigation buttons within apps (most of them anyway). Instead of hitting the back button in your browser you can merely swipe to navigate backwards. Another change is the ability to double press the home button (full press, not a tap) and access the multi-tasking menu to switch apps or shut them down.
This now has a ‘recent contacts’ bubble gallery at the top, which shows the people you’ve contacted in the recent past (called, messaged, whatsapped or emailed). I would have liked if they made this menu customisable though.
Another big feature with iOS 8 is the interactive notifications and widgets for the main drag-down menu that pervades throughout the app. It enables you to reply to notifications (like SMS and WhatsApp) immediately by swiping the notification, which brings up a text bar, and replying right there and then. This type of feature has been part of the LG range for a number of years now, but as per the Apple way they perfected it making it a very slick and unobtrusive system.
The notification drop-down menu has had a cool overhaul. You can customize what you want to see in the menu bar (calendar, weather, stocks etc.) and a lot of apps have come out with a notification-bar setup as well. For example you can quickly type a new note on Evernote through the notification menu.
All and all the new iOS makes things quicker, easier and even more intuitive than before. But I have this nagging thought in the back of my mind ““ isn’t the UI becoming a bit, uh, dated? We have had this fixed button layout since the genesis of the iPhone range. I am not saying that the way things work aren’t great, I just feel from a pure look and feel perspective it is time for a bit of a shake-up. Not the “œoh-look-I-made-the-buttons-flat“ Jony Ive kind of shake-up, a totally NEW layout.
The same could be said for some Android UI‘s but I guess Apple should be first in line.
Still as solid as ever with a few great software additions. The iPhone camera has been a stalwart piece of hardware over the last couple of years. Without an insane amount of megapixels or crazy weird features the camera has performed year after year, model after model. The iPhone 6‘s camera was declared the “œBest smartphone camera“ in September last year by DxO Labs. This was before the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 was launched, which many experts now agree is the best camera. But you have to be able to live with the pocket book size of the Note 4 to enjoy its camera.
Needless to say the iPhone 6‘s camera is a top quality snapper, but you do need some cool functionality to make it shine. Apple has introduced “œFocus Pixels“ which will give faster autofocus and improved clarity to your shots. Not that the iPhone 5S was slow to focus, but with other competitors improving their focus times (LG introduced laser autofocus) Apple didn’t want to be left behind.
The simplicity of the iPhone’s camera mode shines through its usability. The f/2.2 aperture of the sensor is indeed rather good in terms of capturing color and HDR mode is set to auto by default, but only really pops in when outside with bright sunlight cascading all around. Apple has taken a leaf out of Nokia‘s book and gives the user full editorial control. You can now fiddle with exposure settings, colour intensity (broken down to highlights and darks etc.)
The front facing camera has also had a big makeover. It comes with full-HD capability as well as built in HDR which will make those selfies and FaceTime sessions much more enjoyable! All in all the cameras on the iPhone 6 are top notch. Check out some samples above and below.
Long gone are the days of Apple walking away with the best smartphone crown by default. Don‘t get me wrong, the iPhone 6 still sits on top of the hill, but in my mind it shares that piece of real estate with the HTC One M8 and LG G3. It is very difficult for me to choose a winner between the three. It comes down to personal preference. I live and function in a little Apple utopia currently so the iPhone (especially with the larger screen) was a no-brainer for me. But I would be just as happy with the HTC in my pocket.
When it comes to buying a smartphone these days one could argue that the purchase is much easier or much harder than before. In years past you either bought a Samsung or an Apple, the choice was easy to make (dependent on your user needs). These days you can pick a Sony, Samsung, HTC, Apple, LG, Nokia, even a Motorola or Blackberry and be more than happy. The singular best piece of advice I can give someone that is looking for a new smartphone is take them all for a test drive. Go to the shops and play with it, test it out. It all comes down to personal preference and taste. These days there really isn’t such a thing as a bad choice.
Smartphone companies have realised that they can‘t have 100% of the market. They need to establish an identity, keep improving on it and make sure they don‘t lose their customer base. Apple and its competitors know this, that‘s why all of them are exploring new tech, and new markets such as smartwatches. That‘s where the new money will come from, developing innovative products that people can‘t live without.
The iPhone 6 still remains a brilliant choice. Apple just needs to maintain their level of excellence and of course give the product an overhaul every once in a while. Needless to say the iPhone hasn‘t been the default smartphone choice for a long time now, but more competition just means better products for you and me!