15th Oct 2014 | 01:01
Bigger, better, sleeker and faster
Introduction and design
Despite record sales, Apple was heading for a fall. Not this year, or the next. But the brand had been trading on the same phone for four years and something big was needed to keep it current.
So with that, the iPhone 6, and its bigger brother, the iPhone 6 Plus, were born to keep Apple at the sharp end of a market that was starting to lust after powerful, big screen smartphones with clever and premium design.
The iPhone 6 certainly addresses a number of the problems Apple had developed, coming with a much larger screen (although not dramatically increasing the size of the phone) a boosted processor, better camera, improved battery and crucially: overhauled design.
This is the sixth iPhone I've reviewed now, and there's a real sense that this one is really rather different.
I wrote last year that Apple was becoming more aware that the time when it could define what consumers would buy in the smartphone is ending – and with the 4.7-inch screen, it's clearly had to admit defeat in the smaller screen market.
There will be some that will miss that screen size, maintaining that they don't want a bigger display on their phone – but nearly all of those people won't have spent any appreciable time with a larger device, and I believe that a good portion of you thinking you need a smaller phone will quickly come to appreciate the power a bigger handset brings without hurting quality.
But while the iPhone 6 has answered a lot of the problems I've had with previous iterations of Apple's handsets, there are still some issues that still swirled when I handled the phone for the first time.
Why has Apple decided to not join the masses with a really high-res screen? Why is the iPhone still the most expensive on the market? Has it done enough to improve the quite dire battery life of previous models, especially at a time when many high-end Android phones are easily chugging through a day's hard use without thirsting for a charger's caress?
Let's take a quick look at the price - and it's not pretty.
In the UK, you're looking at £539 for the 16GB version, £619 for the 64GB option and £699 for the 128GB model. On a decent contract these start at around £45 per month, with roughly £100 for the phone up front, although you can shop around and get it for slightly less if you stray from the main networks.
That's a lot more than the competition, with most high-end contracts topping out at £38 for the main rivals, with less up front too.
In the US, the Apple iPhone 6 16GB is $199 on contract, 64GB comes in at $299 and the 128GB at $399. If you're planning to go off book, then it's 16GB at $649, 64GB available for $749 and a whopping $849 for the 128GB model.
In Australia, the iPhone 6 outright pricing starts at AU$869 for 16GB, then jumps to $999 for 64GB and $1,129 for the 128GB version. If you prefer to pay off your phone over time, Optus is offering the 16GB for $0 on a $100 monthly contract over 24 months, Telstra has the same model for $0 on a $95 monthly plan and Vodafone will give you the 16GB iPhone 6 if you sign up for 24 months on an $80 a month plan.
The iPhone 6 Plus, meanwhile, costs AU$999 for 16GB, AU$1,129 for 64GB and AU$1,249 for 128GB. On contract to get a 16GB model for $0, you'll need to spend $95 a month with Telstra, or $100 a month with Vodafone, both on a 24 month contract.
Let's take a look at the first thing most people will wonder about before picking up the iPhone: how will it actually feel in the hand?
This is a big departure for Apple, marking a time when it's admitted that the industrial, sharp design of the last four iPhone models is a little outdated and needs to up the ergonomics to really compete.
Well, with the Apple iPhone 6 we're looking at one of the thinnest and sleekest handsets in the market. It's got a strong combination of metal back (which feels exceptionally premium, borrowing bucketloads of design language from the iPad Air) and the way the screen curves into the chassis gives it a slight lozenge feel.
The iPhone 6 looks the business, and at 6.9mm thin it's very nice to hold. I do still feel that phones that push harder on ergonomics are a better choice though - the HTC One M8 bows out at the back and fits in the palm a little better - but that's quibbling. This iPhone just feels really well made.
Apple has always favoured a flatter phone than the rest of the market though, and placed on a desk it looks great. It does feel great in the hand too, but as said others impress more if I'm being hyper-critical.
There's also the issue of the large plastic strips that flow through the top and bottom of the device. Given metal is a nightmare material to try and get radio signal to penetrate, these are clearly there to offset that.
While the plastic does seem to give good performance for signal for the most part, it's nothing amazing, and to my eyes they're a little unsightly and ruin the sleek back of the iPhone 6, and their presence seem at odds with Apple's design ethos.
The other big design change is to the power button, which has now been moved to the right-hand side of the phone. This makes a lot of sense, and given the phone is now a larger device at 138.1 x 67 x 6.9 mm hitting the top of the handset is a much harder task, so moving the button is the right thing to do.
Like the rest of the exterior buttons, the power key is raised and easy to hit in both left and right hand modes. It's metallic and crucially doesn't have the same rattle that I criticised on the iPhone 5S.
However, that doesn't mean the metallic keys don't have a little wiggle to them. Running your hand up and down the sides idly will result in you noticing a very slight looseness to the power and volume buttons... I'm in danger of being too critical here, but for the price it's not the sort of thing I expect to see.
The other important design change here is the camera now protrudes slightly on the rear of the phone. It's good to see that happening, as it shows that Apple isn't willing to compromise on camera quality in order to just whack in a thinner phone.
The protrusion is a little worrying in that laying the Apple iPhone 6 down flat on a table could see scratches appearing, but the sapphire glass that covers the lens should see that's pretty safe.
The rest of the iPhone 6 is very similar to the iPhone 5S, with the speakers at the bottom flanking the Lightning port. Well, I say speakers: it's just the one speaker, but thanks to the slightly elongated bottom of the phone you won't cover it when holding the phone in landscape.
This was irritating when trying to game or watch a movie without headphones on older iPhones - but this upgrade, combined with the lightness of the iPhone 6, mean you won't have a similar problem for the most part as the hands sit lower and free of the speaker generally.
Sadly the headphone port still resides at the bottom of the iPhone 6, meaning you'll still probably get your phone out of the pocket the wrong way around when listening to music.
Let me make one thing very clear though: the Apple iPhone 6 is another iconic handset in terms of design for Apple. It's not the best looking on the market (I'm still giving that title to the HTC One M8) but it's definitely right up there, and for the price I'd expect nothing less.
You can pick up the iPhone 6 in Space Gray (the colour I've had on test here), or the more standard silver or gold. Whichever one you want is up to you, but there had better not be a shortage of the champagne gold colour again this year.
That made me sad to see so many clamouring for a colour just because it was hard to get hold of.
Key features: screen and camera
The important features of the Apple iPhone 6 are hard to list. On the one hand there are so many of them that I don't really know where to start, but on the other hand the iPhone 6 is very much an iteration of a long line of Apple smartphones, and shares a lot of features with previous smartphones.
However, there are some standout new additions that I want to talk about.
The screen of the iPhone 6 is definitely an upgrade from before - you can't increase the size, resolution, colour reproduction and power efficiency without calling it an improvement.
The resolution on offer is 1334 x 750, which is a big change from the 1136 x 640 resolution of previous iPhones. Thanks to being increased to 4.7-inches though it's still 326PPI, which means you'll get a very familiar experience visually.
My technology reviewer hat wants to criticise Apple for not going Full HD with the display here, but when I first picked up the iPhone 6 I wasn't sure if it was a real or dummy device, such was the closeness of the display to the glass.
The improved contrast ratio (the difference between the deepest blacks and the whitest whites) is really something to behold, and the colour reproduction is very impressive too. It's not in the same league as the Samsung Galaxy S5's Super AMOLED screen, but then again a lot of people feel that screen is too saturated in colour.
In terms of a more scientific approach, DisplayMate has conducted in-depth tests of the new iPhones, comparing them to the previous model - and there's good news and bad news here for prospective iPhone buyers.
The good news is that the iPhone 6 is a big step forward on the 5S. The screen is more correct when it comes to colour reproduction, and as mentioned the contrast ratios (which is important for the more atmospheric movies) is improved, as I noticed in the original TechRadar tests.
However, here's the bad news: the iPhone 6 Plus has a much better screen. This is mostly due to the resolution, with DisplayMate noting that the Plus has "the Best Performing LCD that we have ever tested."
In short, the findings corroborated our own. The iPhone 6 hits the marks when it comes to day to day use, but if you're after better resolution, brightness or more intense colour reproduction, there are better options on the market - with better tech.
As such, I'm not going to give Apple a pass here for that lower resolution screen. Why are we looking at what is essentially a 720p screen when 18 months ago we were seeing smartphones using a Full HD display at the same size?
OK, so arguments can be made that it saves battery. That the increase in sharpness is imperceptible at this size. And they're not incorrect statements. It's a great looking display, and if you've got fewer pixels to drive then the battery will hold out longer.
And the Samsung Galaxy Alpha and Sony Xperia Z3 Compact, both rivals in terms of overall dimensions, are also at the same resolution, meaning there's some thought here by other brands in terms of the lower pixel density.
But there's a cost reduction associated - the Z3 Compact in particular - where Apple is sitting pretty at the top of the pile when it comes to price.
The sharpness is visible when held next to another device - something like the Samsung Galaxy S5 has sharper, crisper text and the movie watching experience is definitely superior. You might argue that people won't compare the Apple iPhone 6 with a Full HD display, but of course they will: the iPhone 6 Plus has one, and most people will hold both in their hands before deciding which to choose.
I wouldn't disparage a phone for not having the best spec if it wasn't warranted, but for Apple to launch a flagship without packing the best screen technology possible seems a little unfair.
There's a clear lack of clarity in the crispness of the text and images, especially when browsing the web, and while you probably won't miss it much when solely using the iPhone thanks to the enhanced screen technology, I can't see a reason for Apple not sticking in an amazing screen here.
Battery life or design can only be the real problem here – if it's the former, then Apple should be having a long, hard look at its OS to find out why it can't handle a Full HD screen when competitors were managing it 18 months ago.
If it's the latter, then the thickness could have easily been increase a millimetre to accommodate…it wouldn't have bothered anyone.
I'll be giving this a lot more focus (I thank you) later on in the review, but for now it's important to really see what Apple is offering from a top-level perspective given it's stuck once more with an 8MP sensor.
This is a bold move in my eyes when the rivals like Samsung and Sony are pushing harder and harder with improved megapixel counts, nearly hitting 21MP (and that's without even touching on Nokia's 43MP PureView camera) so it seems, side by side, Apple is woefully behind the competition.
However, regular readers will know that I'm firmly in the camp of quality over megapixel numbers, and while the rivals' snappers are very good indeed, there's no reason to think that decent pictures can't be grabbed from even a 5MP sensor - after all, that's still good enough to fill a Full HD TV.
So what's Apple done here? Well, the main talking point is Focus Pixels, additional elements that work out where light is actually coming from, so they can provide directional information to the camera to focus more quickly.
This, combined with the lower MP count (which makes the task of taking a photo less onerous on the sensor) improves snapping speed.
However, that's in theory. I didn't notice anything particularly speedy in taking rapid pictures (not counting burst mode) but the additional time did seem to result in well-focused pictures.
Apple's still got the Auto HDR mode on offer here as well, which means a larger selection of your photos will look better naturally. There are also new camera modes to play with, with HD panoramas and a new time-lapse feature that's integrated into the app itself.
I feel annoyed at myself for getting excited about the new time-lapse feature, testing it out the first day I got my hands on the phone - in reality, it's been on offer for a long time through standalone apps on the App Store, so it shouldn't be something to be lauded.
It's OK as a feature too. I can't see when you'd really need it, and you do need to keep the phone plugged in and ideally on a tripod, but it's not a bad thing to have and performs well if you've always wondered what the dawn breaking outside your bedroom window looks like (spoiler: it's pitch black for most of it).
The other element that's been improved on the camera is the video: Slo-Mo now can pump out 240FPS for smoother super slow movies, and 1080p standard video is now shot at a very smooth 60FPS.
Both of these upgrades actually give that 'hyper real' effect that some movies are now showing at your local multiplex (the recent Hobbit film is a good example of this) and while I really like the way it looks on the phone screen, there will be some that think it's too much.
I'd agree with that for a cinematic shot, but for home videos I think it really adds a touch of class.
Facetime HD camera
The self portrait craze is sadly going nowhere it seems for the smartphone user, and Apple has joined the race to make people think that it has made the ultimate 'selfie phone'.
It makes me sadder every time I write that word.
Again, I'll dig further into this new feature later in the review, but it's definitely a much better front facing camera, and comes with the features I'd be looking for if I was into taking loads of photos of my face.
For instance, the new f/2.2 aperture ratio of the 1.2MP camera is pretty darn good, and helps take good photos in low light. On top of that you've got an HDR mode for snaps and video, which appears to fire automatically as there's no option to toggle it from within the app itself.
And there's the lovely pre-shot filters to have a look at as well, so if taking a picture of yourself isn't enough, you can always make it look weirder.
However, it's not got the resolution power of some of the other handsets on the market - for instance, the HTC One M8 has a much better front facing camera, and the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 even incorporates a panorama mode for the self-portrait lovers.
I'm not saying this is critical technology, but if you're one to buy a phone for the pictures you can take of yourself, there are better options out there.
Apple Pay, M8 co-processor and improved keyboard
The M7 co-processor didn't really seem to do a lot in the iPhone 5S, but on the Apple iPhone 6 things seem to be stepped up somewhat.
While it's still a watching brief to see if app vendors actually do start making proper use of the functionality this low-power sensor-watcher brings, at least we know that some will be on board from the start (Nike, for instance, will use it to generate its Fuel Points now its Fuelband is dead).
On top of that, the Health app makes good use of the additional data: with the added barometer on board the iPhone 6, the app will show you how many flights of stairs you've climbed along with the boring info of how many steps you've taken that day.
The Health App itself is rather confusing, as you need to set the dashboard up with the information you want to see in graph form (for instance, distance and steps climbed) rather than it appear on start up.
When you go to select new items to display from the list, there are seemingly hundreds, with things like 'Vitamin B intake' looking really interesting but in reality are useless without external sensors, which Apple is clearly hoping will come along soon.
Touch ID / Apple Pay
According to Apple's literature, TouchID has been untouched as a technology in the iPhone 6. However it definitely feels better and more accurate, as I had barely any mis-reads where last year a good 25% were failing.
It could be that the reading software is improved, but it feels like it's more than that - either way, TouchID is still miles and miles away from the next best biometric sensor, and with the commerce angle added, it's one of the best inventions on any smartphone.
Apple Pay is the new scheme from the Cupertino brand, and while it's yet to show itself in the US (and is only vaguely confirmed for Europe next year) you can see my hands on review of the service from the event itself.
This is going to be a BIG draw for Apple, as unlike Samsung's tie-in with PayPal, Apple Pay is much more vertically integrated and therefore simple to use.
When the S5 and PayPal work online, it's a dream to pay for things that way - plus you've got the inbuilt penetration of PayPal throughout the internet.
But if Apple Pay becomes as widespread online then it will be a big problem for PayPal as it's an equally good and secure service, at least in the eyes of the consumer.
I'll wait until properly being able to review Apple Pay before delivering a verdict on whether it will be a real boon for the iPhone 6 - but the simplicity of just tapping your phone on any contactless terminal, having a variety of credit / debit cards to use and the ease with which TouchID verifies things is something no other phone has offered to the mass market (rather being confined to certain models and networks, in the UK at least) and could really kick off the use of the phone as a payment method.
In reality, this should really be in the 'Essentials' part of the review, but I wanted to bring it here as it's fixed one of the biggest problems I have with the iPhone in general.
The iPhone 5S and its predecessors are awful for messaging. Whether it's the tiny display, the cramped and inaccurate keyboard or the way it keeps shutting down if you accidentally press above the top row, it makes me want to throw the phone out of a window.
With the Apple iPhone 6, I'm really enjoying the wider key spread (thanks to the larger screen, obviously) the improved prediction engine and the general ease of use.
Add to that the fact Apple will now let you download other keyboards (Swiftkey is appearing the second I can get my hands on it) and the messaging experience is definitely now getting a tick in my book.
iCloud Drive, Continuity and Family Sharing
A bit of a catch-all here, but it's worth noting that the new cloud-based features of iOS 8 work really nicely on the iPhone 6. The ability to share files from a drive, the handover between Mac and iPhone and the way you can now have the entire family locked into one account is a real nice touch.
The latter particularly impresses me, as although it's not perfect in terms of being able to offer different credit card information (which would be ace if you've got a house that has more than one adult with money, but you don't want to allow everyone to use your card) the fact is even non-families can benefit from being part of the same network.
Today's media is widely shared with those we trust, and being able to have close friends as part of a family network feels like a real step forward.
And while iCloud Drive feels a little too similar to Google's iteration in many ways, the integration is great and the fact large files will live there as a link to anyone (thus negating Dropbox in many ways, and more seamlessly than ever) means the iPhone 6 feels like a very smart phone indeed.
OH I GET IT. Smart phone. Smartphone!
iOS 8 and performance
The interface of the iPhone 6, despite being upgraded to iOS 8, is still very familiar for any iPhone or iPad fan. With the iPhone 6 you've actually got another option to make the view bigger (or zoomed in) in order to service those that perhaps don't have the best vision and don't want to squint at the larger screen.
But beyond that, there's not a lot new with iOS 8, bar some very clever UI tweaks here and there. For instance, the new OS brings the ability to save contacts (with info like phone numbers from the signature) directly from the email app, or on the iPhone 6 lets you have a zoomed in view, which I assume is for those that have eyesight issues, or just enjoy a more filled screen.
The latter feature seems a bit redundant, but anything that aids accessibility has to be a good thing.
One new feature for the iPhone 6 is the 'Reachability' option. Double tap on the home key without pressing it in will make the screen drop down around two-fifths, apparently enabling you to easily press anything at the top of the screen. It's a slightly messy way of doing things, and despite trying my utmost I could rarely remember to activate it.
Still, at least Apple is showing that it's still a bit disgruntled at being forced to bring a larger phone to the masses and is trying to mitigate the problem.
One of the most impressive features of iOS 8 is the ability to now swipe back and forth through the OS to get through apps and pages on the web.
It's not a new feature for the average smartphone user at all - it's got some elements of BB10 (in terms of swiping to get to new menus) and there are more than a few nods to Android in there as well.
But that's not a bad thing in my mind. As long as a method isn't patented, then the more you can do to add a feature in to make a user's experience a more simple experience, the better.
It's not a completely useful system, as the swipe doesn't work as a complete back key. To be perfect, I'd have liked to see a swipe backwards on the first screen of an app or web page as a method of getting back to the home screen.
It's things like that which embed the action into muscle memory, rather than being able to do something when you remember it's possible. However, it did severely limit the need to press the back button in the top left-hand corner, which is a plus.
Although, here's an idea: put it in the bottom left-hand corner instead. You know, where we can reach it.
Quick contact access
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, well, you don't need me to spell it out to you. You're smart, you can work it out.
However, I dislike things that try and choose these things for you. I'd rather be able to hard code contacts there, as unpredictability in new features can be infuriating.
As such I didn't really use this feature that often - but if you remember to double tap to get to the most used people, then hopefully over time it would populate correctly.
The other big thing with iOS 8 is the interactive notifications and widgets for the main drag-down menu that pervades throughout the app.
The interactive part is, again, nothing new as it's something that's been part of other phones (for example, the LG G2 and G3) for a number of years. However, it's a very slick and unobtrusive system here, with a small banner appearing at the top of the screen.
Replying to a message instantly is cool, and something that really does bring an element of joy and usability to the system. Other apps can use this method of alert too, but not to the same effect. For instance, Mail coming in will show up in the same banner, but you can only organise the message rather than reply there and then.
I appreciate that emails are generally longer, but there should be the option to fire off a quick missive if the situation calls for it.
The widgets in the Notifications drop down will be pretty cool, if the presentation Apple gave at WWDC was anything to go by. However, the functionality of being able to bid on eBay items without entering the app still wasn't present in the current iteration of the application, as it's probably not going to be updated until iOS 8 hits public release.
I'll update the review when that goes live to see how it affects the iPhone 6.
The rest of the interface is much as expected for an iPhone - and that's a good thing in the eyes of most users. However, I will say that the touchscreen on the iPhone 6 isn't as good as the competition – it doesn't feel as responsive as the Project Butter / Project Svelte (and subsequent evolutions) that Android has been adding into the backend of its platform.
The problem manifests itself when swiping laterally through apps, and the internet browser doesn't always have that super smooth reaction that I've come to expect from a modern smartphone.
I'm being really picky here, as it's not a nuisance, but at the same time it's perceptible compared to the competition, although nothing out of the ordinary for your average Apple user.
I doubt it's down to the lower 1GB of RAM Apple has packed in (although it would be interesting to see what the brand does to performance if it ever ups that number) but although slight, those hopping between Android and iOS might pick up on the slight lag.
The better news is the crashes that plagued the early iOS 7 devices seem to be pretty clear with the iPhone 6 - I only noticed Spotify giving up the ghost during my set up, as well as one Facebook crash where before Safari was falling apart all over the place.
Dropbox did hate downloading large files when you moved the phone - but that feels like more of a bug with iOS 8 compatibility than an endemic failure.
I'll keep an eye on this area, as it's something that can take a few weeks to manifest, but early indications are that the iPhone 6 is a lot more stable than its predecessor.
The rest of the iPhone 6 interface is simplicity itself. I'm never going to be happy with the way many apps still have their personal settings only available in the general Settings app, but at least more are starting to let you edit functionality from within the app itself.
The iPhone 6 interface is clear, clean and as you'd expect. I still think there's more to be done with the Notifications area, but at least it's less complicated than before. Splitting it into two still feels wrong, and the calendar / traffic / summary info seems more power user than standard Apple buyer.
The Control Center at the bottom of any screen is richer than before too, and still gives access to the key areas, including music control from anywhere within the phone.
Is it the perfect interface for customisation? No, and many people are starting to want more from their smartphone, which is why Android phones are proving so popular.
But it's still got the core simplicity that Apple has prided itself upon for years, and that's still going to be a massive draw, especially for those that feel like 'they know where they are' with iPhones.
Providing the power behind the scenes on the iPhone 6 is a 1.39GHz dual-core A8 processor with 64-bit architecture and 1GB of RAM.
The iPhone 6 seemed to be the slicker of the two new iHandsets when it comes to chugging away under the finger, although when looking at the Geekbench 3 scores, 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 gaming those results with a special 'high power mode'.
In short, despite the dual-core processor, Apple seems to have eked out enough power to make the iPhone 6 a strong enough contender day to day.
The battery life of the iPhone 6 should be a lot better, as it comes with a 25% longer lasting battery and, according to Apple's literature, the A8 processor at the heart of thing is a much more efficient engine, drawing 50% less power than the A7 iteration in the last iPhone.
The good news is battery life in the iPhone 6 is definitely an improvement on what came before, offering a much more stable experience even if you're not doing much with the phone, which was one of my major gripes with the iPhone 5S.
There's a notion that what Apple offered with that device was 'good enough', according to the owners I spoke to, but all wished that something could be done to make it better.
When informed that the current crop of Android phones, such as the Samsung Galaxy S5 or HTC One M8, were capable of lasting well over a day even on harder usage, most realised that Apple needed to do something to improve the time they could keep away from a charger.
Well, at least that's happened with the iPhone 6. In light-to-medium use, by which I mean email being fetched at intervals, the screen at medium brightness, recording a few minutes' worth of video, snapping seven photos, and an hour or two spent listening to offline tracks on Spotify, I managed to go 13 hours with the battery only dropping to 33%.
From then though I played Real Racing 3 for 15 minutes and lost 10% of the battery life, showing it's very easy to slip through power when playing graphically intensive games.
Also, try and do anything like downloading music (which needs the screen to stay on as apps like Spotify can't manage downloading in the background) and the battery will just fall away, meaning you'll be back to playing the charger hunt game.
It should be noted that this is generally a problem with most smartphones; however, some are more adept at it than others (the fact Android phones can download in the background, for instance, is a great boon) and there's no Ultra Power Saving mode as seen on Samsung or HTC's challengers.
That said, the chances are most users will be upgrading to the iPhone 6 from the iPhone 5 or even iPhone 4S, and as such they'll be cock-a-hoop with the massive jump in battery life.
Even running apps like WhatsApp in the background didn't seem to harm the battery life too much.
Our TechRadar battery test did show something slightly worrying, and likely down to the increased pixel count: where the iPhone 5S lost 16% from a looped 90 minute Full HD video, the iPhone 6 lost 26%, with the iPhone 6 Plus dropping a similar 27%. Apple's extra pixel management clearly isn't as good as it could be, so anything with the screen on is going to be an issue.
In summary, the battery life of the iPhone 6 is something I'd call more than adequate, which isn't a compliment I'd pay previous versions of this phone.
That said, given the lower-res screen and improvement in battery size, I was hoping for something a little more efficient, especially as the iPhone 6 can't quite compete with other phones on the market at the moment.
It's not miles behind, but there's still some work to be done by Apple. And especially given the iPhone 6 Plus is so much better at lasting with the screen off (thanks to the much larger power pack) this is going to lead to a tricky decision for prospective buyers.
As noted above, the camera on the iPhone 6 is an 8MP affair, but with some key upgrades to make it into a more useable device day to day.
The main element is the addition of 'Focus Pixels', which Apple believes will give faster autofocus and improved clarity to your shots.
The G3 uses frickin' laser beams to manage the task, so Apple's got a pretty lofty goal here. However, it's been found by DxO Labs to be one of the best cameras on the market, and I instantly found it to be a superior device to general photography compared to the Sony Xperia Z3, for instance.
The Galaxy Note 4 looks to be a better choice though, with early tests declaring it to be among the best cameras around. That said, you'll need to want that larger device to pick it over the iPhone 6... if you can wait, I'd be tempted to see how that technology is refined for the surely-it's-got-to-be-awesome Galaxy S6.
The rear camera is very similar to that found on the iPhone 5S, it has to be said, although given that was one of the better snappers out there this isn't necessarily a bad thing.
The Focus Pixels seemed to help somewhat with getting the clearer picture, but I didn't notice any big jump in functionality compared to the iPhone 5S in that respect. Saying that, I never really thought the 5S was slow to focus, so it's perhaps an issue that didn't need solving urgently.
One extra element Apple has added in is the ability to change the exposure of the photo manually. Simply slide your finger up and down the screen to brighten or darken the shot - well, in theory.
In my testing this seemed to be slightly iffy in terms of registering my desired level accurately - you need to swipe up and down a number of times to really change the level (which could be a good thing in some users' minds, as it allows a fine degree of control) but too often the swiping led to changing the mode from photo to video or other option.
However, the simplicity of the iPhone's camera mode is still very much in effect: the f/2.2 aperture of the sensor is indeed rather good in terms of capturing colour. HDR mode is set to auto by default, but only really pops in when outside with bright sunlight cascading all around. For the most part, it won't fire sadly.
The rest of the interface is largely the same: autofocus and autoexposure can be set with a long press, and the only other modes are timer, flash and the use of filters which show how the photo will look in real time,
The front facing camera, again as noted, is a big improvement for those that like a good self portrait. The brightness is higher, the camera is an HD option with built in HDR, and essentially it's now really good for taking photos or video calling a loved one from afar.
The other benefit here is that now iMessage accepts short videos (as Apple attempts to topple WhatsApp) the improved video capability of the front is more useful than ever before.
I'm a big fan of the Slo-Mo feature on any smartphone, and by Apple increasing it to 240 frames per second you can now get some VERY slow and smooth shots.
This is a really good feature if you've ever wanted to see something almost imperceptible to the human eye - by which I mean finding out how stupid your pet looks when shaking its head at high speed.
Other things, like running style, golf swing or how you sneeze are fun reasons to use the function, and while it's nothing ground breaking, it's a slick and easy to use interface. Why you'd want to go back down to 120fps is beyond me, but the option to change it back is there with a tag in the bottom corner.
The video recording function on the iPhone - which now encompasses 1080p at 60 fps - is very clear and almost too real. This is actually great for home movies, giving the sense that you're there, but not so great if you're a budding movie producer with no money wanting to use the iPhone to make your next movie.
I will say this about Focus Pixels in the video - Apple was making a big song and dance about how you don't need to refocus video when moving the camera about.
This is partly true - but mostly if you've got a really clear and bright scene with well-defined distances. Going into close up, for instance, didn't seem to yield much in the way of a decent shot, with the fuzzy bits still needing to be corrected by a tap.
Gaming and media
Gaming on the iPhone 6 is going to be a dream, thanks to the development of Metal. This new feature of iOS 8 will be unknown to most, but it strips out some of the work needed between any game and the phone's hardware to make more powerful graphics which take less power from the device.
The results are really impressive, according to the demos I saw - however, the raw power of the new titles isn't something I've been able to try out yet as they won't be released until iOS 8 is released to the public, at which point I'll update this review.
However, Apple's been clever to offer its developers a stable platform to make games for, as it's resulted in some very decent titles that look beautiful and play very well.
The increase in screen size might have been a worry for some, meaning their favourite games might not look as slick in the new, larger display sizes, but thanks to the upscaling things look just fine on the new screen sizes.
However, that doesn't mean that we won't get iPhone 6-optimised games - and with that extra raw power of the A8 chip, I'm really looking forward to seeing what's on offer.
It's an odd situation with gaming and power management though: Apple made a big song and dance about the fact the iPhone 6's processor could manage to keep going at optimum performance, although I didn't particularly notice it was any better than the Android contingent when playing higher-power games.
What I did see was the battery performance falling away badly when gaming on the iPhone 6 – as noted above – which makes it less of a strong machine for extended sessions.
This wouldn't have been an issue a few years ago, but now the mobile phone is the primary device for casual gaming and is a billion-dollar industry – so the iPhone should be able to hold its own if you want to spend the entire commute to work destroying alien scum and then use it as an actual phone the rest of the day,
The iPhone as a media device is still one of the best out there in terms of consistency for music and movies - simply because Apple's heritage from the iPod still pours through the iPhone.
There are some quibbles - the fact that most video formats are not supported will forever rankle, despite the fact most are quickly becoming defunct - but overall it's still one of the most well-equipped phones for entertainment on the go, thanks to the great media library available through iTunes.
The sound quality of the iPhone - providing you pair it with a better pair of buds than those you get in the box, which I still can't even bring myself to use knowing they're going to just fall out my oversized and useless ears - is still one of my favourite things about the phone.
It's not the best out there in terms of support - both the LG G3 and Sony Xperia Z3 / Z3 Compact can play higher-res audio files, and the iPhone can't, despite rumours Apple was about to add in 24-bit, 192KHz support - but when it comes to playback of your standard, CD-ripped or Spotify-downloaded tracks, there's not much better to be had in terms of sound consistency.
The same can be said for video - the new screen technology certainly is an upgrade here, as the colours look richer and more vibrant than before. Say what you want about Samsung's Super AMOLED screens on the Galaxy S5, Note 4 and Tab S, but they're very, very good at giving users the widest range of colours and deep contrasts, and Apple seems to be trying to ape that to some degree here.
The contrast ratio seems to be similar to the iPhone 5S - which was good already - which means the more atmospheric films are easy to watch in the dark scenes. The screen size is still a little on the small side, but only if you've seen or used a bigger phone regularly.
Otherwise, it's perfectly acceptable as a way of watching the football in the kitchen, with the resolution just about sharp enough to see what's going on clearly, when the other half is watching Princess Bride in the living room despite promising she wouldn't invite anyone around when the game was on.
The lock screen is also central to the media experience on the phone, with either on-board music or that streamed from Spotify given equal billing in terms of functionality. You can slide straight through tracks with ease, and with Control Center a pervasive option throughout the phone, you've always got an easy way to change songs there too.
Many have attacked Apple for not going down the widget route in the past - me included - but given many Android manufacturers are coming to the realisation that beyond music and a couple of other random apps, most just want to be able to change tunes rather than have an all-singing, all-dancing way of changing settings from the home screen.
However, I would like to point out that Apple needs to improve the lock screen in some ways when it comes to music presentation, as the method of showing the album art is getting a little old now. When you look at the full-screen experience Android has baked in by default, you feel like that's more futuristic - I hope Apple can do something soon to make this look a little more amazing.
And of course, let's not forget the important thing about how much stuff you can throw on there: the iPhone 6, like the 6 Plus, comes in 16GB, 64GB and 128GB flavours.
Given nearly 4GB amount of storage is instantly given to the OS (plus some loss for GB vs Gb debate), the 16GB option isn't really going to satisfy everyone over a few years' use, especially when photos and videos start to mount up. So the 64GB option, which is nice to see as a second tier without costing as much as it did last year, is really the one to go for.
I've been testing the 128GB iPhone 6, and even with everything turned up to maximum quality am struggling to fill it. It's definitely a great 'safety option', but boy, is it expensive.
I'm still slightly flabbergasted that Apple is charging so much to upgrade the memory in the devices. £80 / $100 / AU$130 for a 48GB jump and then another £80 / $100 / AU$130 for further 64GB? But it's only £75 / $105 / AU$135 to buy a 128GB microSD card?
While I want to point out it's not as cut and dried as that (read our excellent feature on whether a microSD slot is really a good thing to find out more) there's no doubt that the benefits of having onboard storage are not worth the extra £80 you need to pay to jump between models. So why charge so much, Apple?
We should never forget the bit that comes after the 'i'. This is still a phone, no matter how much some people might consider it to be a top of the range internet-browsing tablet.
The iPhone is still a very capable device for phoning, although some features are still missing: smart dialling isn't available from the dial pad, meaning you'll constantly have to dive into the contacts menu unless you come to terms with the way the 'favourites' work in the multi-tasking pane.
There's also a slight issue with network connectivity: while it's not a problem, the iPhone 6 isn't as adept at holding a signal as other top-end smartphones. On various train journeys I noticed more dropouts than on other Android handsets, and in my notoriously poor signal house the places I could receive calls were fewer.
It's nothing terrible, and I experienced no dropped calls during my time with the phone (bar one where I suspected it was the other person), but Apple still hasn't made the best calling machine out there.
But when it comes to messaging, things are a lot, lot better. The new keyboard, for instance, is one of my favourite upgrades on any phone ever, ever, ever.
This isn't because it's amazing, but more because I loathed the old method so much, with its tiny, inaccurate space to peck into and the amount of times I accidentally hit above the letters and shut down the pad.
Now, with more screen to play with, there's more space, more accuracy and the algorithms that predict words are so much better than before. If you're one of those that never changes the keyboard on your phone (and if you're a lifelong iPhone user, then you won't have) then the inbuilt option is so much more accurate and consistent.
And that's before remembering that other keyboards are on their way. I'm going to be downloading SwiftKey as soon as I can for the iPhone 6 (as it's not out before the full iOS 8 release) but in the short term the current option is more than fine.
The improved messaging experience through iMessage is good, but I still wish there was some more consistency in using the features to non-Apple devices. I like WhatsApp, but the fact iMessage is now doing a lot of the same things built in is favourable.
If only it could be installed on Android phones to make my life simpler when talking to others during iPhone use... that's not too much to ask, right, Apple? Have a word with Google. Patch things up. I'm sure you can still be friends.
The internet browsing experience on the iPhone 6 isn't vastly different than before, although iOS 8 has brought a few changes.
I really like being able to swipe back and forth to move through web pages (and this trick works on both Chrome and Safari, although with the former it lets you swipe through tabs, not pages) and with the default browser I liked getting a prompt when Reading Mode was available - it generally only seemed to pop up when I could use it effectively.
I always see the option to save articles for later and intend to use it more - but yet I still go back to Pocket time and again. I can't explain why, as it's actually more convoluted, but the fact that Apple's inbuilt system hasn't lured me means it probably needs to be more prominent.
The iPhone 6 is entering the market at a time when not only does the rest of the competition already have its big players in place, a couple have even brought out iPhone-specific competitors in readiness.
So if you're stuck between the iPhone 6 and the rest of the smartphone gang, here's a frankly excellent round up of how it compares to the other phones you might be quietly eyeing.
Samsung Galaxy S5 / Alpha
Be it through marketing or actually decent phones, Samsung is considered to be the main competitor to Apple in many people's eyes.
I've lumped the two together here as they are very similar phones in a lot of ways - so let's dive in:
The Samsung Galaxy S5 is a phone that needs very little introduction, but despite Apple's screen size boost, it's still a lot bigger with a 5.2-inch screen. The chassis construction is also poorer, but it does have the advantage of being water and dust resistant.
There is the added bonus of a microSD slot, so while you'll generally be buying a 16GB phone to start with, you can up that by 128GB if you're so inclined.
The Samsung Galaxy Alpha is a very similar phone in terms of raw power, a very decent Super AMOLED screen and the same TouchWiz UI. However, it goes with the same lower-res 4.7-inch display as Apple, although the colours are more vibrant, and also eschews expandable memory, but with fewer storage size options to choose from.
- Hands on: Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
The design, much slimmer and with a metal band compared to the Galaxy S5, is more of a match for Apple, but hold both together and you'll see that the iPhone 6 is definitely the superior.
The S5 has the better camera out of the two Samsung devices, but both have a better megapixel count than Apple's device. But as I mentioned, the MP number isn't all powerful, and there's a lot to love about the simplicity Apple has with its snapping prowess.
HTC One M8
HTC's challenger is something of a work of art, and as such still nicks it for me, at least in the design stakes. Its battery is slightly better (although nothing compared to the power of the Galaxy S5) and while the Android overlay is quite hefty, still slips along slightly better under the finger than the iPhone 6.
The camera capabilities of the One M8 aren't as powerful as the iPhone 6, but it's capable of taking faster snaps and ones that perform better in low-light too.
While it might not be a big win for a lot of people, there's also the fun duo-focus camera that really allows you to take some clever shots with good background defocus. A nice trick that yields strong results if used correctly, but a gimmick for some.
Sony Xperia Z3 / Z3 Compact
I've often been confused as to what Sony's doing with launching so many flagship phones, but there's no doubt that the Z3, and the Z3 Compact, are brilliant handsets that represent the best Sony has to offer.
Both are very similar; in fact, barring battery, screen size / res and price, they're identical in functionality. Both have very powerful cameras that will suit the photographer who likes more power at their fingertips, and both have very clear and bright screens - in fact, the Z3 offers the brightest on the market of the flagships.
- Hands on: Sony Xperia Z3 review
There's also the fact both can offer Remote Play for a PS4 - it's a unique proposition that will entice plenty of users, and while Apple's got the lead in the mobile gaming market, this move will attract those that already have a PS4.
I'd argue that the Z3 Compact is the real iPhone 6 competitor here: it's got a similar screen size (4.6-inch compared to the 4.7-inch of the iPhone 6) and a similar resolution too, while offering great specs to match (and beat) Apple in many ways, including expandable memory.
Hands on: Sony Xperia Z3 Compact review
However, both Z3 Compact and Z3 are cheaper than the iPhone 6 - with the former quite significantly so. If you're looking for a smaller phone, I'd give that one a look along with the new iPhone. It's a little more complicated to use, but very easy to learn and offers more raw power.
I could argue this is more of an iPhone 6 Plus competitor, given it has the same 5.5-inch screen size, but given its market positioning, many will consider it next to the iPhone 6.
The screen is the main draw: a dizzying Quad HD affair that packs a 538PPI, compared to the 329PPI of the iPhone 6.
The tradeoff here is for the brightness though: the extra pixels squished in mean the overall quality of the display is diminished. You've also got accept a phone that looks good (in terms of appearing to be made in brushed metal) but actually feels a little poorer thanks to being made of polycarbonate. Apple definitely takes the ergonomic crown here.
However, the G3 is still a fabulously powerful and great-to-use phone, with one of the best spec lists on the market for a really rather competitive price. If size isn't an issue to you, this could be a dark horse in the race to be your next smartphone.
Having read all the above, perhaps you're thinking 'Well, I do want an iPhone still, but not one that's so expensive'.
I like where your head's at, and the iPhone 5S will still be supported, in terms of software, for the entire length of your contract, so it's a strong proposition.
The design is still well-packaged, although not as ergonomically soothing as the iPhone 6, and the screen resolution the same as the 6 too.
However, it's a smaller display (which might not be a bad thing to some users) and one that isn't as bright or colourful as the newer device.
The camera is strong, but won't pack all the features of the iPhone 6, and the battery life is certainly poorer.
That said, if it's an iPhone you want and the price of the new models is prohibitive, then consider buying this off contract (yes, you'll need to save a up a little) getting a SIM only deal and then selling it in 12 months time when the iPhone 6S comes out.
"Craftmanship. The perfect smartphone, with a perfect operating system, with elegant design. The best phone out there."
That was the response of someone when I asked how they thought Tim Cook would answer the question "Why does the iPhone 6 cost so much more than the rest of the competitor phones?".
I feel it would be pretty close to the mark.
It's a more in-depth answer than 'the Apple logo on the back' which a lot of people assume is the reason you've got to pay more for an iPhone. That answer would explain why Apple thinks it can charge more for the phone, but doesn't go any way to explaining what it really is that means it feels the need to raise the price so.
In fact, price was the main thing that played on my mind throughout my time with the new devices.
However, before I give my thoughts on that, let's first take a look at what makes this phone special: an improved design, a better camera, an upgraded battery.
A faster CPU, better graphical power, stronger health sensors and a slicker and more intuitive UI. This is a big jump for Apple, and one that makes this a very impressive phone indeed.
But is that worth the extra money?
A lot of people still think it's acceptable to compare phones based on a spec sheet. It's not. It's about the experience, the relationship one has with a phone day after day, and that's something Apple has nailed year after year: the feeling you get when you first pick one up.
The design of the iPhone 6 is brilliant. It feels like a potted down version of the iPad Air, which itself was one of the best-designed bits of tech I've ever held. I'm not a fan of the plastic strips on the top and bottom of the phone - I'd have preferred these to be blocks of colour - but that aside, it feels great in the palm.
The battery life upgrade is a real plus too. Yes, it falls a little under hard use, but the main problem with the 5S was the fact the phone would be useless by the end of the working day even when not put under a lot of strain - that problem seems to have been resolved.
The camera quietly impresses, and the new modes are helpful at times, if not always useful. While it irritates that there's no 16:9 mode for snapping, the results are still almost always something I'd want to share.
The iPhone 6 is a sensational handset, but not flawless. There are two issues that have to be raised.
The first is the screen. It's a tricky one, as it could sound like I'm being rather hypocritical given my point about not basing a feeling about a phone on a spec sheet.
But the lower-res screen is noticeable next to most other Full HD phones in the iPhone 6's class. Sure, day to day you won't notice the fuzzier text, the slightly rougher pictures, but given you'll be paying more for an iPhone than any other device on the market (bar some hyper-powerful phablets) I can't condone Apple not working out a way to get a Full HD display on this phone.
It's not like it's new technology either: the HTC One M7 had a similarly sized display 18 months ago and it was Full HD. It looked great back then, so why has Apple not managed the same thing now?
I can't think it's to do with battery life, but if it is, then the phone should have been made thicker. 6.9mm with the rounded back feels nice in the hand, but a mm or two thicker wouldn't have gone amiss if the thing I was looking at had a better display on.
And secondly, there's the issue of price. Again. The Apple iPhone 6 is still too expensive for me.
Every year I get to this point in the review of that year's iPhone and wonder: 'Am I'm missing something? Should I be giving the iPhone a pass when castigating Android or Windows Phones for the same thing?'
But I can't find a tangible reason for the extra cost. We're not talking a single pound / dollar or two, it's a big difference in price on contract. The materials used are premium, yes, but not necessarily making the best design out there.
The iCloud drive stuff is good, the operating system is sleek, but there's nothing here (beyond the phone being a very good all-rounder) that gives me a quick answer when someone asks me 'Why is the iPhone more expensive?'
To me, that's a problem and one I can't just ignore because 'people' will pay it. Were there nothing else wrong here, then perhaps it could be glossed over, giving the choice to the buyer, but as the phone isn't market leading in a number of ways, the price rankles heavily.
When I first picked up the iPhone 6, I thought this was going to be a hard review to write. Had Apple just changed the shape but kept the same inherent problems? Was there really enough new to make it a phone that really helped the company leap forward?
The answer is: the Apple iPhone 6 is a brilliant phone. It's the first time I'd even consider using an iPhone as my daily device, thanks to the larger screen, better keyboard and most importantly upgraded battery life.
However, the price is still tremendously off-putting and the screen, while perfectly fine (and sometimes impressive) in day to day use will still irritate me, knowing that I've not got the best experience for my money.
But that's the only bugbear I have with the Apple iPhone 6. It feels amazing in the hand. Apple has somehow made a phone too thin and turned it into a positive. The operating system is smarter and more intuitive than ever, and that's without even factoring in the strong ecosystem of apps and media that Apple users get.
We'll ignore the Trojan Horsing of the U2 album for now.
I promised I wouldn't say the iPhone 6 is the best iPhone Apple has ever made, and thankfully I don't have to. I used that phrase for the 5S, as there wasn't a lot else that was worthy of a headline statement.
So while the iPhone 6 might not be the most powerful, most attractive, best at photography or best for battery life, Apple has put it all together in a way that, if you can forgive the price (and that's a big if), offers a phone that should be at the sharp end of your consideration for your next smartphone.