“Another year, another iPhone” or so I would normally start a review about a smartphone from the Cupertino-based company. Except that this year saw the biggest change in Apple’s smartphone portfolio since the original iPhone’s launch back in 2007 with two different models, each with drastically different screen resolutions, now on offer.
This is the iPhone 6, the next step in Apple’s smartphone plan and the first to feature a display that’s larger than 4 inches in size. It represents a change in the look and feel that we had all become comfortable with over the last four generations of its predecessors, and brings with it all of the expertise in both hardware and software that Apple can muster into one seamless package.
That said, the iPhone 6 it is still just a smartphone and with competition as fierce as ever it’s up to us to determine whether or not the iPhone is still the leader of the pack or just another fanboi collector’s iTem.
Rounded edges are in at Apple, so much so that you’d find it difficult to spot a chamfered bit of aluminium anywhere on an iPhone 6. The unibody aluminium frame has been rounded off in every possible direction making it less likely to feel uncomfortable in hand or pocket but more likely to slip from your grasp. A fact we became all too keenly aware of whilst juggling the iPhone 6 above the tiled floor of the office kitchen on more than one occasion. Even the glass in front of the display has been bevelled to eliminate a rough edge when you slide your finger across the display.
Being a notoriously terrible conductor of radio waves, the aluminium framed iPhone 6 needed something non-aluminium for the cellular, Bluetooth and WiFi aerials to attach to which is why the unsightly bands of white polycarbonate plastic can be seen running across the back and sides of the iPhone 6. While they’re not as noticeable on the silver and space grey models, our gold review model looked noticeably cheapened by the white band’s inclusion.
The aluminium casing of the iPhone’s past has never been the hardiest of any smartphone material, but we were particularly disappointed with how easily normal wear and tear left their mark on the back of the iPhone 6 after just a few days of normal usage. It meant that a case became an immediate necessity, negating a lot of the sexiness of that trim, slim 6.9mm thick body of the iPhone 6.
The increase in size of display from 4 inches to 4.7 inches should have meant that the famed one-handed usability of the iPhone had finally come to an end however a feature called ‘Reachability’. It allows you to double tap (not actually push in) the TouchID sensor pulling the top half of the screen’s content down into the bottom half of the display allowing you to easily reach anything on the screen. It’s an absolute masterstroke of usability design from Apple and something that every other large-screened smartphone is now sorely lacking from its spec sheet.
All told, the iPhone 6 is a sexy beast of a smartphone and whether it’s your first time buying an iPhone or you’re upgrading from a previous generation you will feel instantly at home.
Apple’s policy of straddling the boundary of cutting edge and seemingly legacy hardware specifications continues on in the iPhone 6.
The iPhone 6 is powered by a dual core 1.4GHz processor with 1GB of RAM which on paper puts it miles behind the 2GHz and higher quad core processors and 3GB of RAM that its Android competitors have going for them. However in true Apple style, by controlling the entire hardware and software stack the iPhone 6 manages to be a powerhouse of a smartphone that never seems to struggle with any task put in front of it.
The new storage tiers are baffling with a 16GB iPhone being consistently too small for most users who after prolonged use without a microSD card slot to herd some of the more data heavy media onto will feel like they’re always cleaning up their iPhones. The new middle class 64GB and high end 128GB options on the other hand are fantastic for the longevity of the iPhone 6 and make us wonder why Apple didn’t just take the estimated $6.72* (R75) hit per iPhone to bump the storage up to a minimum of 32GB in the base model.
The TouchID fingerprint sensor continues to be one of the best features of the iPhone and with the update to iOS 8 now giving other apps the ability to sign in using fingerprint authentication there’s so many more uses for the sensor than ever before. On every other device with a fingerprint reader a bar-type sensor that requires sliding your finger across the surface to unlock is used. In Apple’s TouchID sensor a far more elegant approach is used, implementing the sensor into the sapphire crystal home button. No sliding of fingers, and consequent dropping of phones. You just hold your print in place and it gets read in around half a second, it really beats every other sensor by a mile.
Now in its eighth iteration, Apple’s iOS operating system has made several strides in the right direction in terms of adding features that competing operating systems have had for a while now.
There are a plethora of features that iOS 8 brings to the party like installing third-party keyboards and ‘Continuity’ with Mac OS X but by far the most useful feature has to be ‘Extensibility’.
Extensibility brings a touch of Android to iOS allowing apps to interact with each other without having to switch back and forth between them. One of our favourite examples of Extensibility’s use is that you can now fill usernames and passwords into webpages using LastPass just by pressing the ‘Share’ button in Chrome or Safari. It’s a small addition that has made the world of difference to using iOS 8 every day.
Because of the small variation in hardware on iOS ,it still has the best designed applications when compared to Android and Windows Phone. However, the increased display sizes and resolutions of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus have left a scar on the iOS app world. Apps that have not been updated for the new resolutions are scaled to fit just by making everything bigger and it looks terrible.
Apps like WhatsApp which were yet to be updated became an instant eyesore, not something we’re used to on iOS and not something that Apple themselves can fix either. It’s not a fault of the iPhone 6 but it certainly left a bad impression after using it.
Since the first Retina display equipped iPhone 4, Apple has had a history of supplying fantastic display units in its iPhones and the iPhone 6 is no exception.
With a pixel density of 326 pixels per inch the iPhone 6 is exactly as pixel dense as its predecessor with the exception of having grown in size to 4.7 inches and in resolution to 750×1 334. Viewing angles, colour saturation, clarity and brightness both indoors and out are all exceptional and up there with the best in the game.
It sticks out. That’s right, the camera module on the iPhone 6 protrudes from the back of the phone and while the incredibly tough sapphire glass lens covering isn’t likely to get scratched it detracts from the design of the iPhone on the whole.
The camera resolution has remained at the same 8 megapixels that iPhones have been at since the 2011 iPhone 4s. While the individual pixels themselves have grown to 1.5µm in size in the years since, that change only happened last year in the iPhone 5s.
The iPhone 6 has added just one new trick to its camera arsenal, the addition of ‘Focus Pixels’ or as the rest of us would call it phase detection autofocus. It makes locking onto your subject much snappier and was one of the things we liked most on the Galaxy S5 earlier in the year.
While the hardware may not be special Apple’s camera interface is still the best in the business. Getting a great picture with an iPhone is seldom difficult because of how simple the interface is. Combine that with Apple’s work on the A8 chip’s image signal processor and you’re more likely than not to take better pictures with an iPhone 6 that with almost any other smartphone camera.
Battery life has seldom been referred to as a strong point on an iPhone and the iPhone 6 doesn’t make any changes to the status quo. A larger 1 810mAh battery is still far off the likes of Sony’s Xperia Z3 and even the Z3 Compact and while we all appreciate Apple slimming down the iPhone by 10% again this year we can’t help but think that the extra space could have been utilised for more battery capacity.
Careful parenting and limiting of screen-on time will be necessary to nurse an iPhone through the average work day but as with the iPhone 5s you should be prepared to keep a Lightning cable in close proximity from around 3PM every day if not earlier.
Once the undisputed leader of the smartphone pack Apple has lost a lot of ground to its competitors who have copied innovated their way to much better hardware and software over the last few years.
The iPhone 6 is indeed the best iPhone that Apple has ever made and there isn’t a fanboi out there who would not be thrilled with receiving an iPhone 6 upgrade. The iPhone 6 does everything exceptionally well and while it still suffers from some of the same bugbears that we have had with previous generations of its forbearers we cannot deny that it’s one of the best smartphones we’ve ever reviewed.
Personally, if it were my money, I would not be buying an iPhone 6 because of its poor battery life in comparison to the Sony Xperia Z3 (which is still my pick for smartphone of the year) however I would spend every single day using another phone wishing that Apple would just license the TouchID fingerprint sensor into every piece of technology that is made on earth because it is simply just that fantastic.
Price: R9 899
Display: 4.7 inch 750×1 334 resolution IPS LCD display (326ppi)
Operating System: iOS 8.1
Processor: 1.4GHz dual core Apple A8
Memory: 1GB of RAM
Storage: 16GB/64GB/128GB non expandable storage
Battery: 1 810mAh
Camera: 8 megapixel camera
Networking: dual band 802.11ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, LTE
Other: TouchID fingerprint sensor