Both models of the new iPhone went up for pre-order this past Friday and Apple says the devices set an all-time pre-order sales record. You can read our round-up of all the product reviews below:
So the iPhone 6’s 4.7-inch screen is a catch-up feature. But it’s very well done. It has the same 326 pixels per inch as the 5s, and a higher resolution that allows it to display 720p high-definition video (Apple now calls it the “Retina HD Display”). In my tests, text, photos and videos appeared clear, sharp and vivid, with great color that avoids the oversaturation I have found in some Samsung models.
And, despite the larger screen, all my apps — by Apple and third parties — just worked. None that I tested looked distorted or blurry. Apple says its App Store now offers 1.3 million apps, a new high.
The iPhone 6 screen is still smaller than the display on the latest Galaxy, which measures 5.1 inches, but the new Apple is narrower, and substantially thinner and lighter, even though it’s made of metal, and not the plastic used by Samsung, which to me feels cheap.
The iPhone 6 Plus’s Retina-display resolution is actually not as high, nor its pixel density as great, as some of its competitors. But the display still looks clear and bright. (I’m not convinced that the average human eyeball can really detect much of a difference in PPI past a certain point.)
It didn’t fit well in pockets. And it was too big to hold in my hand, or even wear on my arm, during fitness activities. This is key for me. Stylus or not, some other jumbo phones have felt like plastic toys to me. Apple has designed a giant phone that offers a few key large-screen features without overwhelming the senses, and it has a pretty good camera, to boot.
In the quest to create a super-thin iPhone, maybe Apple should have thought about a thicker iPhone with better battery life instead. Apple’s claims are about an hour more Wi-Fi and LTE Web browsing, an hour more video playback, 4 hours more talk time, and 10 hours more audio playback than the iPhone 5S. Our CNET video-loop battery test, which tests playback of a CNET video with Airplane mode on and screen set to half brightness, lasted 10 hours and 38 minutes, versus 11 hours on the iPhone 5S (running iOS 7). We’ll be running that test a few more times, so stay tuned for a final battery score. My casual use, doing downloads, heavy Web browsing, endless social media checks, photos, video streaming, and all the stuff I normally do on my iPhone, showed the same type of battery drain I’ve gotten used to on the iPhone 5S. It’s enough to hang in for a chunk of the day, but it’s not the all-day-plus battery life I wanted on a new iPhone.
One place you will certainly notice a huge difference between the 6 Plus and the iPhone 5s, and indeed the iPhone 6, is battery life. The iPhone 6 Plus managed a solid 13 hours and 16 minutes in our battery rundown test. It backed that up with impressive real-world performance, easily and repeatedly making it through a full day of heavy use (constant Web surfing, gaming, video streaming, and GPS navigation), often lasting well into a second day before needing a charge.
Sadly, charging still requires that you fish out a Lightning cable. While the Apple Watch will offer wireless charging, the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus still make do without.
There’s one feature that stands out, though, the one that most strongly makes the iPhone 6’s case as the best smartphone on the planet: the camera. It still shoots 8-megapixel images, but this time does so with a new sensor. It also uses what Apple calls “focus pixels” to achieve phase-detect autofocus, which is just astonishingly fast on the iPhone 6. I move the phone around and it never appears to be focusing, yet everything is always crisp and ready. There’s some manual control available like exposure lock, and I still tap to focus sometimes, but it’s never been faster to just whip the phone out of my pocket and fire.
The iPhone 6 takes panoramas in higher resolution now, and in general takes better pictures than any smartphone I’ve ever used. But shooting video is where this iPhone feels most improved. You can shoot 1080p video at 60 frames per second, which is cool, but I spent way more time shooting at 240 frames per second. Slow-motion video is awesome (and available on a handful of Android phones too), and at 240 fps even the most mundane activity becomes awesomely cinematic. Everything looks cool slowed down that much. Everything.
Everything also looks better thanks to the new Cinematic Stabilization, which does an impressive job steadying my shaky hands. I can film while walking, or out the window of a bumpy taxi, and the video comes out smooth and jitter-free. The picture warps and bends ever so slightly as it processes and compensates, but it’s well worth the tradeoff for video that won’t make you vomit. Like the slow-motion video and the time-lapses, this stabilization makes anything look better. I’ve already shot and shared far more video on the iPhone 6 than on any smartphone I’ve ever used.
The iPhone 6 Plus camera is the best smartphone camera I’ve ever used. Apple’s holding firm at 8 megapixels while everyone else is racing to put ever-bigger numbers on spec sheets, and it feels like the right decision: the iPhone 6 Plus focuses faster, works better in low light, and generally produces the best photos I’ve ever seen from a phone. The 6 Plus has the same basic shooter as the iPhone 6, but it adds optical image stabilization to the mix, which improves low-light performance even more. It’s not going to help you when you’re shooting anything that moves, like people, but for sunsets and skylines, it’s clutch. It basically lets the camera hold the shutter open a little bit longer than it otherwise could without causing a blurry image, so more light hits the sensor.
If you’re like me and you mostly find yourself taking photos at dusk and in dark rooms, you’ll end up with many more usable shots. Until you take too many shots and everything gets blurry regardless. The iOS 8 Camera app is also much improved; I love the feature that lets you instantly adjust exposure by dragging up and down on the screen. And the new time-lapse and 240fps slow-mo modes are pretty fun — slow-mo works really well, and while the time-lapse mode isn’t quite as good as Instagram’s Hyperlapse app, it’s still pretty good. There’s also a new feature called Cinematic Stabilization which does an impressive job of smoothing out unwanted motion in video clips; it’s strong enough to make a meaningful difference but subtle enough that you won’t notice the effect until you’re looking for it.
The iPhone 6 models have an NFC chip inside (near-field communications), just like Android phones. That makes them work on those same contactless terminals, of which there are 220,000 across the United States. But you won’t have to turn on your iPhone, open an app, or fool around with credit cards. You just hold your phone (screen still asleep) near the terminal with your finger on the Home button. The screen lights up, shows your preferred credit card, sends you a receipt, and the deal is done.
The Home button, of course, is also a fingerprint reader; no bad guy can steal your phone and then start buying stuff, unless he also chops off your thumb. There’s more security stuff, too; you can read about it here.
Nobody can try out Apple Pay yet, though, because Apple won’t be turning it on until October; at that point, we’ll get an iOS 8 software update that includes Apple Pay features. (One important one: You’ll be able to store your credit card details in the Passbook app just by taking a picture of your physical cards — no typing.)
Immaculately crafted, the iPhone 6 shows that you can create a device that blows everything else out of the water when it comes to design. That might sound like an Apple fanboy cliché, but we’ve put the iPhone 6 in the hands of ardent Android fans and they agree: the iPhone 6 sets a new standard for smartphone design. We’ve habitually been reaching to the top for the power button – something you’ll adjust to with use – but its position on the side is better for those who don’t have big enough hands or fingers to reach on this new larger frame. Overall, we’re mightily impressed with the iPhone 6’s design and build. It’s very much a phone we’d recommend you go and touch, because it’s likely to make a number of manufacturers take a second look at their own premium portfolio. Importantly, however, it feels like a big upgrade over the iPhone 5S, something that iPhone owners are going to want to upgrade to.