10 September 2014

iPhone 6 first impressions

The some, the attraction of the masses to Apple devices is almost unfathomable. The iPhone has never been one of the most powerful handsets in the world, nor the smallest / largest, and yet seven years later it has retained (and grown) its unshakeable following.

iPhone 6

However, in the last 18 months, the death knells have started quietly sounding, ringing in the distance as the best Android phones – once only a rival on spec or price – became genuine challengers and then out-and-out better handsets.

Tim Cook knew the brand needed to do something, and quickly – and that's just what's happened, with the iPhone 6 representing one of the most comprehensive overhauls of the iPhone range since the iPhone 4 – and actually going one step further in a lot of ways.

iPhone 6

The processor is obviously uprated, the camera quicker and more capable than ever before, and the battery has been enlarged significantly to quell the disquiet at the power use of previous models.

But there's so much more here that represents a seismic shift for Apple: the increased resolution on the screen is really helpful (and badly needed) and the payments mechanism, while limited to the US only at the moment, will be the boost that the smartphone payment industry needed.

And of course the larger screen will stop admiring glances from those locked into the iOS ecosystem to phones such as the HTC One M8 and Sony Xperia Z3.


Apple's design overhaul is much-needed and as much as many could have hoped for – taking a number of cues from the iPad Air to bring a metallic, almost ceramic, shell that feels simply brilliant in the hand.

iPhone 6

Say what you like about Apple, it's a brand that's always put design at the forefront of its new handsets.

Even the iPhone 5S, probably the most unimaginative of all of Cupertino's handsets, had a strong build that screamed quality in the hand, giving the user the instant feeling of something worth spending a lot on.

The iPhone 6 pushes that idea to the next level, losing the sharp edges in favour of sleek and rounded sides that make the device much more pleasing in the palm. It just feels so thin, but doesn't have the overly-lightweight feeling of the iPhone 5S.

iPhone 6

There is a worry that this is a slippier handset than before thanks to the more rounded nature of the design, but then again with Apple (apparently) upgrading the glass in the screen to something that can withstand many, many more bumps and bruises before shattering, that might not be the horrid experience it might once have been.

The larger screen is certainly an improvement on the previous models – while I think 4.7-inches is going to be a tiny bit small for those that have lusted after their friends' Galaxy S5 devices with the 5.2-inch screen, it's still a very good size for one hand.

iPhone 6

If it wasn't, then why would Sony have launched the Xperia Z3 compact and Samsung the Galaxy Alpha, both within 0.1-inch of the iPhone 6's screen size? The issue with the iPhone 5S, with the cramped screen making it almost impossible to peck out the letters on the keyboard, has now definitely been alleviated.

It's not got a great resolution, at only 1334 x 750 it's essentially 720p, but the new Retina HD screen looks brilliant. So much so that I thought I was picking up a dummy model to play with.

And if you're so desperate for the larger resolution, there's always the iPhone 6 Plus to be looking at, despite that being more of a phablet / Note 4 rival.

iPhone 6

The upgraded resolution is a good jump for Apple, but not quite enough really for the spec fans. While I think the brand had it right a few years ago when it launched the Retina display, times have moved on.

Some people say that the Full HD / QHD displays on offer today from Sony, Samsung and LG are overkill, but there's no way that you won't see the difference in sharpness if you put the iPhone 5S and LG G3 next to one another.

However, it's the same PPI as the iPhone 5S, so the iPhone 6 might not stand up to sharpness tests next to the best the Android world has to offer.

It must be tremendously frustrating to create a quality, well-selling app and then find the resolution you coded for is now old news. The good news is that while you're spending hours making an iPhone 6 version, the phone can scale old apps to still work.

iPhone 6

It's not going to be a perfect experience, but it's another example of Apple's decent ecosystem – if this was a handset running on the Android platform, a new resolution simply means the app won't run full stop, so at least there's some continuity here.

In terms of the performance advantage Apple has given itself, the new A8 processor certainly seems up to the task. While (as usual) we've not heard much in the way of specs for it, save to say it's the same 64-bit architecture that Apple added into the mix last year.

As such, the same snappiness is there in terms of camera processing, general browsing and app use, but it will only be with some serious use that the power of the new A8 chip will show itself.

And while we've not been told the RAM inside the iPhone 6, there's a feeling that Apple will have doubled it at least to 2GB in order to facilitate more powerful and impressive apps, as well as allowing the phone to function better under duress.

Apple Pay

One of the big changes here, along with the newly announced iPhone Plus, is the new Apple Pay system. It means the iPhone finally packs NFC technology inside, which means the tech is finally here to stay as all the top vendors are now using it by default.

There's not a lot of surprise here, but the NFC element syncs with Passbook to allow you to pay simply with a tap of the phone. Apple Pay is essentially the same as most contactless methods of payment, and uses the current readers to let you pay with your phone (or even your Apple Watch).

I'll be digging deeper into this very soon, but the initial look showed that Apple getting on board and making it simple for consumers could be the boost this area needed to let you scrap the wallet.

iOS 8

The new operating system that was debuted at WWDC earlier in the year has the expected poster boy in the iPhone 6 – while it's not a massive overhaul of the platform, it brings with it some nifty tweaks.

For instance, the updated notifications center is imbued with better powers than before, allowing you to see more relevant information from a simple pull down from the top of the screen.

iPhone 6

This action isn't as easy as it once was, thanks to the larger screen, but that's worth it for the greater real estate to play with.

The new OS brings with it other big upgrades, such as the ability to use other keyboards in the future – the thought of Swiftkey on an iPhone, and one without such cramped conditions for typing is an appealing one – which shows that Apple knows it needs to do something big to keep up with the smartphone competition amid eroding market share.


The camera on the iPhone 6 isn't much of a change... from the outside. It's still 8MP, and still doesn't record in 4K.

But that would miss some of the big changes: the f/2.2 aperture, the new iSight camera with superfast autofocus thanks to 'Focus Pixels' and the same trick repeated with the video, for smooth shooting even if you're moving around.

iPhone 6

The iPhone 6 has digital image stabilisation, unlike its larger iPhone 6 Plus brother, which packs optical image stabilisation for a likely slightly crisper picture.

But the cool thing (if you like slo-mo video) is the phone can now shoot at 240fps, which is a fantastically sharp way of looking at what people are doing really, really slowly.

I'll be digging into the camera more in a short while, so again: stay tuned.

Early verdict

The iPhone 6 is a really rather good handset indeed. While I can't bring myself to say 'it's the best iPhone ever made' again (it is, but I promised I wouldn't write that again after saying the same thing for three reviews in a row), in the pantheon of Apple handsets the iPhone 6 will go down as a pivotal moment.

The new payment mechanisms, the increased screen and battery size and the overhauled design come from a phone that is finally following, at least partly, the path laid out by the competition rather than steadfastly refusing to acknowledge that consumers are looking for something else.

It will still command the same eye-watering price tag as before, but this time it certainly warrants it – if you're after a new phone and are toying with leaving Apple's ecosystem, don't.

This is very likely the phone for you, offering all the simplicity and power of iOS combined with hardware that rivals some of the best the Android army has to offer.

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