Apple iPhone 6 review: return of the king

ByDuncan Heaney
Apple iPhone

Apple’s made some notable changes with its new smartphone, but is it enough to thrust it back to the top of the pack? broadbandchoices passes its critical eye over the 4.7in iPhone 6 to give our verdict.

There's something about the iPhone 6 that feels, for want of a better word, significant.

We've had phones in broadbandchoices HQ that have had the odd person coming over for a nose around, but when the iPhone 6 arrived, there was a veritable cascade of gawking onlookers, eager to see Apple's latest super-slab. It's like catnip for tech nerds.

iPhone 6 graph

You can attribute some of the interest - maybe most - to Apple's Schwarzenegger-sized marketing muscle, but that's not the only reason. The iPhone has become an icon, but the wave of superb Android handsets over the last couple of years - like the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S5 with their big screens and lengthy features lists - has left many of us with the impression that Apple's smaller, more restrained smartphone was starting to feel a bit... old hat.

But Apple's bursting back to relevance in a big way. The iPhone 6 is an interesting handset that, rather paradoxically, is simultaneously slavishly faithful to the iPhone tradition, while also something of a reinvention. Or to put it less pretentiously - it's a real mish-mash of old and new.

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iPhone 6 display

Nowhere is that more apparent than in the screen. After sticking with a 4in screen for a few years, Apple's finally embraced the trend for larger smartphone screens, and bumped the iPhone 6 up to a 4.7in display.

That's still on the smaller end of the scale for flagships, but it still makes for an appreciable difference to the experience - one we very much approve of. The extra screen space makes text easier to read and type, web browsing easier, and movies that much more immersive - it's just all-round more pleasant to use than the diddy widdle iPhone 5s.

iPhone 6

It's not just bigger, it's better too. Colour reproduction is noticeably improved, and it's as bright and vibrant a display as you'd want. However, Apple hasn't managed to completely escape its past - despite a bump up in resolution, from 1136 x 640 to 1334 x 750, it retains the same 326 pixels per inch as the iPhone 5.

Consequently, it pales in comparison to the full HD Samsung Galaxy S5 and particularly the slice-your-own-finger-off 538 PPI sharpness of the LG G3. Don't get us wrong - the iPhone 6 screen's a beautiful thing in its own right - but given the high price of the phone, we'd expect it to offer the best display possible so it's disappointing that it doesn't.

Bad show Apple. Boo.

Sleek new design

We can only sulk about missed opportunities for so long though, because we're big fans of the rest of the design.

This is Apple's most radical redesign of the iPhone yet. The chunky, industrial look of the past is gone, replaced with a sexy sleekness, compelling curves, and an alluring aluminium shell that's as tempting to touch as it is to ogle...phew.

It's skinnier than ever too - just 6.9mm thick - so it'll slip in and out of all but the tightest pocket. Apple's made a few more practical adjustments too - the power button's moved to the side, for example, making it easier to use the phone one-handed.

iPhone-6

Some design elements remain from previous iPhones, however. The volume buttons and lock switch remain in the same place on the side, and the headphone jack is on the bottom next to the Lightning charging port as it is on the iPhone 5 and 5s. That means if you want to listen to music on the go, you still have to put your phone in your pocket upside-down.

If there is anything we foresee some people not liking, it's that the camera juts out slightly from the body. While it doesn't bother us, if you like your handset to have a flat back, you might be disappointed by the unwelcome protrusion.

All said, the iPhone 6 is quite the looker. As is tradition, it's available in multiple colours, including gold and white. Given a choice though, we'd stick with our 'space grey' model. It's silver and sexy, dignified, and effortlessly cool. It's essentially the Phillip Schofield [surely you mean George Clooney - Ed.] of smartphones.

iPhone 6 is a silver fox

 

Features and iOS 8

The iPhone 6 ships with iOS 8 - the latest version of Apple's mobile operating system. That means, not only does it retain the simple, user-friendly interface you'd expect from an iPhone, it benefits from the swathe of improvements and new features.

It's much easier to respond to notifications, for example. Rather than having to load up an app to respond to a message or a post on Facebook, you can now do so from a notifications panel - much faster and more convenient.

Other changes? Messaging is all-round improved. It's now possible to send Snapchat-esque pictures, videos and audio messages to other Apple users. Family sharing is now an option too, allowing you to share music, photos, and apps between multiple accounts - very welcome.

Video: 6 things we love

Perhaps the best new feature of iOS 8 is the keyboard. It's a lot easier to type messages thanks to improved predictive text. There's also support for third-party keyboards like super-fast 'swipe to type' service SwiftKey, which could speed things up even more. For a sausage-fingered oaf like me, it's a small change that makes a big difference.

Of course, I could do something about those sausage fingers with the brand new Health app. It's potentially interesting, but a little confusing to set up. It works with various other apps and services, to gather data all into one place - potentially making it a convenient addition. As it stands now though, it's a little basic, and not a patch on Samsung's similar S Health. Expect the usefulness to grow as it supports more apps and biometric devices.

Like the iPhone 5S, the iPhone 6 sports a Touch ID fingerprint scanner on its front. Gently prod the button with a registered finger or thumb to unlock the handset or authorise purchases on the App Store. Apple's opened up access to third party developers too, so more and more apps should start taking advantage of it.

iPhone 6

It seems to work better than the iPhone 5s - not that the old system was particularly unreliable - and once you get used to unlocking a phone this way, it's hard to go back. It's a great feature, made even better.

The fingerprint scanner will also be useful for Apple Pay - the new mobile wallet service. The idea is that you'll be able to pay for things in shops by touching your phone, much like a contactless debit card, and authorising with fingerprint. It's not much use in the UK at present, but who knows what'll happen in the next few years.

iPhone 6 camera

Apple's stuck with an eight megapixel (MP) camera for the iPhone 6. On paper, that sounds like it should be another disappointment - it's well below the megapixel count of the Sony Xperia Z3 and Samsung Galaxy S5 cameras for example. However, we have no problems with the quality of the pics we took with the handset - they look great.

iPhone 6 camera

As is typically the case with iPhones, the camera is extremely simple to use, with multiple settings and presets laid out ready to select. If you're someone who likes to fiddle with exposure settings and the like, Apple's added some options for you, but it still very much favours casual photographers over enthusiasts.

The most notable new addition is what Apple's calling 'focus pixels'. This technology allows for faster autofocus, and clearer shots. It's certainly extremely quick to take a snap - pull the phone out of your pocket and you'll have your photo in seconds.

iPhone 6 camera

Video recording is similarly great. You can now capture scenes at 1080p, 60 frames per second - essentially that means you can get impressively life-like footage.

The improved slow motion recording function is impressive too, and turns out to be great at capturing unfortunate facial expressions, as I found when my attempts to test it went horribly wrong:

 Actually scratch that. I hate that feature.

A better battery?

Let's not beat around the bush - the iPhone 5 and iPhone 5S battery was rubbish. Heck, we've seen better life expectancy in the reduced price fruit section at Sainsbury's. So it is, with a great deal of relief, that I can tell you that the iPhone 6 battery's much better.

With a typical day's use (which for us is pretty high), watching the odd programme on iPlayer, plenty of browsing the web, playing a few games, it easily lasted the whole day, only hitting the Red Battery Icon of Panic late evening.

However, with a concentrated gaming marathon - we're talking two solid hours of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Dual Destines, the battery started to deplete disturbingly quickly. Best keep games to short bursts when you're out of the house.

Despite that, we're satisfied with the battery on the iPhone 6. Unlike the iPhone 5s, I feel comfortable going out without a charger. That's progress right there.

broadbandchoices verdict

You've looked at the score already, so it goes without saying that the iPhone 6 is an excellent phone. I guess we just said it anyway though. Huh.

There's an enormous amount to love about the handset - it looks good, it's full of great features and the bigger display size is hugely welcome.

It's not perfect of course. It's impossible to ignore the gargantuan price tag - we always say you should compare handsets to find a better price, but this time we're screaming it - and the screen resolution's a letdown. If you want to see the very latest deals that we recommend then check out our monthly guide on the best iPhone 6 deals.

But none of that changes that fact that the iPhone 6 is excellent, and the most significant step forward Apple's made for some time.

iPhone 6

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