Review: iPhone 6: Bigger, Better… But Not the Best iPhone
The arrival of a new iPhone has always had a touch of the ‘it was the best of times, it was the worst of times‘ about it, depending on which camp you belonged to. Every iPhone that has passed through the hallowed portals of Cupertino has attracted its share of praise by the faithful and flak by those of lesser faith.
And this year has been no different as regards the iPhone 6. The loyalists have hailed it as revolutionary, while the critics have claimed that it represents Apple giving in to popular demand rather than mapping out its own innovative route.
What, however, cannot be denied is that the iPhone 6 represents one of the most radical overhauls of the iPhone since its launch, certainly more significant than the increase in display size two years ago with the iPhone 5. The big question is: has Apple been able to pull it off without compromising on its core strengths? Or has it finally made the Godphone mortal?
Looks: The old order changeth…
The iPhone 6 marks a step away from Apple’s recent iPhone design. The most significant change of all is the increase in size. The iPhone 6 is the first iPhone to cross the 4.0-inch display size barrier and comes with a 4.7-inch one. The result is a phone that is noticeably bigger than usual and clearly steps away from the ‘thumb access’ that Apple had advertised so heavily with the iPhone 5 (you should be able to reach the diagonally opposite corner of the display with your thumb) – the iPhone 6 is 67 mm wide, which is significantly more than the palm-friendly 58.6 mm of the iPhone 5 and 5S. It is very thin at 6.9 mm, but is rather long at 138.1 mm – almost 15 mm more than the 123.8 mm length of the iPhone 5 and 5S. Some might call us harsh but this is perhaps the first iPhone that has not really stunned us with its design – the Moto X too had a 4.7 inch display, but was much shorter (129.3 mm) and less wide (65.3 mm) even though it was thicker at 10.4 mm. You want a sense of perspective? The Nexus 5 had a bigger display and is actually shorter – those bezels at the top and bottom do add to the size of the iPhone 6.
There are other changes too. Since the iPhone 4 in 2010, Apple has been going in for a more box-y look to its iPhones with sides that stand up straight. However, the iPhone 6 sees the company return to the curvy side days of the original iPhone and the last edition of the iPod touch. The sides are no longer straight but curve out gently. Speaking of the sides, the shape of the buttons has changed too – the round volume buttons have been replaced by the more routine ‘rice grain’ ones and well, the top of the phone is now totally plain, with the power/display button having been moved to the right, alongside the nano SIM card tray. There is also a subtle change in the whole structure of the phone with the display being slightly raised from the sides, instead of being totally flat. The back has the 8.0-megapixel camera with True Tone flash and juts out ever so slightly – we did not find it quite the eyesore that some did, but yes, it does mean that the lens runs a chance of picking up dust and scratches as the iPhone would be resting on it. Also, the two tone scheme (one shade at the top and bottom, one in the middle) has gone and is now replaced with a single colour, with bands at the top and the bottom.
…for the better?
The iPhone 6 feels good and contrary to what some had been saying, pretty solid too. The big question, though, is: does it grab attention the way its predecessors did? That is a question that is going to provoke a lot of debate – if you liked the designs of the iPhones 4-5S, you might find the 6 just a bit too different and large for comfort. Speaking for ourselves, we must confess that while we did like the feel of the iPhone 6, it did not exactly stun us with its design the way the 5 and 4 had. There has been a lot of innovation in phone design over the past year or so with the likes of Motorola and Lenovo throwing quite a few spanners in the traditional order. The result is that the iPhone 6 does not really surprise us in the looks department. Yes, it looks good, but no, it is not as jaw-droppingly awesome as its predecessors. We have seen more compact phones and we certainly have seen some classy backs, be it the glass covered one of the Xperia Z3, the laser etched one of the Vibe Z2 Pro, the wooden one of the Moto X, or the delectable metal one of the HTC One M8. In comparison to these gents (and we have not even mentioned the oddly shaped BlackBerry Passport which turns more heads than any other device these days), the iPhone 6 seems almost…well, normal. There, we said it! Many might like it. We think it looks a lot less classy and less distinct than those that came before.
Still an outstanding performer
It no longer sticks out in terms of appearance the way its predecessors did, but when it comes to performance, the iPhone 6 is very much in a class of its own. The new processor A8 chip “built on 64-bit desktop-class architecture” (Apple’s words, not ours), definitely seems to deliver a significantly faster turn of speed in some key areas, such as image editing and photography. Truth be told, lack of speed was never an issue with the iPhone 5S, but the experience on the iPhone 6 is a notch above that seen on its predecessors. And the bigger display is gorgeous. Some might quibble about its not being full HD (it is 1334 x 750 pixels), but honestly, viewing content, whether graphic or text, is an absolute treat on it. We played our share of Asphalt 8 and Infinity Blade on it and barring a slight heating up at times, we found nothing to complain about. iOS 8 also does seem to run more smoothly than it did on the iPhone 5S – we did not face a single crash in our week with the device. Mind you, you are going to need both hands or a really large hand to be really comfortable with the device. That said mails, browsing and social network apps run with a smoothness that is frankly in a league of its own and even now, iOS gets the cream of high quality apps well before Android and Windows Phone do.
The camera too has improved significantly. The megapixel count has not gone up (it stays at 8.0-megapixels) but Apple claims to have brought in a new sensor with (jargon alert!) Focus Pixels. To be fair, we could see significant improvements over the iPhone 5S in terms of detail and colour. And the flash does seem to fill light more evenly (you can read our comparison of different iPhone cameras here). All of which enables the iPhone 6 to take its usual place in the top rung of camera phones. Sound quality too has improved in terms of quality and volume on loudspeaker, although we don’t think the EarPods have been tweaked too. One area where we did feel a bit let down was battery life. There does not seem to have been a huge improvement in this regard over the iPhone 5S with iOS 7. If you start your day with a fully charged iPhone 6 and keep 3G running and have a reasonably busy social networking life and take plenty of photographs and videos (that 240 fps slow motion video will tempt you to, believe us), you will find yourself looking around for a charging point as the night descends. Yes, it is much better than our iPhone 5S with iOS 8, but truth be told, we had expected Apple to really give battery life a boost with the larger phone size. As of now, the 6 is a step forward from the iPhone 5S but unless you are a high-end game player or a pretty passionate photographer, you will not see a very discernible change.
Conclusion: Not exactly towering above the competition…
So, when the reviewing debris has settled, where does the iPhone 6 stand? Especially given its rather stiff price tag of Rs 53,500 in India (or $649+taxes in the US). Well, there are two ways of looking at it – one in comparison with the Android and Windows Phone flagships, and the other in comparison with not just the previous iPhone, but with its colleague, the larger iPhone 6 Plus. In comparison to the other devices, it does stand tall in terms of performance, although one must concede that it no longer towers above them like its predecessors did. We have devices like the Sony Xperia Z3 that could go toe to toe against it in most departments (including – surprise, surprise – design) and not come off the worse. Yes, no other device has come out with a fingerprint scanner that works as effectively, the camera remains one of the best in terms of consistency and speed, and iOS still has an edge when it comes to apps (especially games), but that price for a 16 GB device (the memory remains as unexpandable as ever) might suddenly seem more difficult to justify than ever, especially given devices like the Xiaomi Mi 3 and the Lenovo Vibe Z2 Pro. Yes, Apple has never been about specs, but there are some Android players who are focussing on experience too and are for the first time trying to deliver it at surprisingly low prices.
When compared to high-end Androids, the iPhone 6 is every inch as good as them in most departments and better than most in terms of ease of use (notwithstanding the slightly more cluttering brought in by iOS 8) and apps. However, the loss of clear design edge (we repeat: we do not find the iPhone 6 sticking out in a crowd the way other iPhones have) makes it appear a more expensive proposition than in the past, even though it has been launched at the same price as the iPhone 5S was. The fact that a number of new players in the market like Xiaomi, OnePlus and Lenovo have started offering high-end devices at much lower costs does not help its cause. As one person rather bluntly put it, “at that price, I could buy a Mi 3 and a Z2 Pro and be left with enough to buy an Android One.”
…and getting dwarfed by the 6 Plus
Bring it into comparison with the other iPhone that was released in the market, the iPhone 6 Plus and in some ways, although to a lesser extent, the iPhone 6 does tend to remind us of the iPhone 5c in terms of the role it plays in the new iPhone portfolio. Just as the iPhone 5c was considered as a lower priced and more funky alternative to those who could not afford the 5S or did not need its performance boost, the 6 seems a more hand-friendly and relatively less expensive alternative to the 6 Plus powerhouse. There’s no dodging the fact that those looking for a really high-performing iPhone will be swayed by the iPhone 6 Plus, thanks to that full HD display, the (much) longer battery life and the camera with optical image stabilisation. In its favour, what the 6 has to offer is performance that is every bit as good and a form factor that is far easier to manage (the 6 Plus, as we said earlier is as two-handed as a Rafael Nadal backhand). It is also a compelling update for those who have always hankered for a bigger iPhone, without it getting too unwieldy.
Which brings us to the big question: should one consider investing in the iPhone 6? If you are an iOS fan wanting an iPhone with a bigger (but not massive) display, then this is your best option. However, if what you are looking for is a device that looks good and is capable of high-level performance, irrespective of platform, then, for the first time, you have options. The design-interface-apps combination that was used to justify a higher price tag is not as formidable as it once was – the design gap has been bridged to the extent that we think that both Sony and HTC have devices that look as good, and while the UI remains awesome and the apps are better, Android and Windows Phone are narrowing the gap. And of course, there is the ultimate irony of having to deal with a device that bears its own name but which offers a better perfomance – the 6 Plus, which is admittedly more expensive but then the price factor does seem to diminish in importance for those investing at the highest end of the smartphone spectrum.
The iPhone 6 is bigger and better than its predecessors. But no, it is not the best iPhone around. And that really sums it up.
The Godphone seems to be getting mortal…