In anticipation of the iPhone 6, I spent about 3 weeks exclusively on the Samsung Galaxy S5 and then moved exclusively to the Windows Phone-based Nokia Lumia 1020 for about the same amount of time. After having been an iPhone user since the launch of the 3Gs, I wanted to test the other operating systems on the market. I had no problem leaving the Android-based S5 behind, but I have to admit that when iPhone launch day came around, I was a little hesitant to give up the Lumia 1020. When it comes to design, Nokia is (maybe was is a better tense, as it’s now owned by Microsoft) on par with Apple, and I do like the Windows Phone operating system. But perhaps the hardest thing to give up was the Lumia’s amazing camera. This review of the iPhone 6 takes into account my experiences with the Samsung Galaxy S5 and the Nokia Lumia 1020, commenting on both when applicable in comparison to the iPhone 6.
As was the case with the iPhone 4 when it was released, the form factor of the iPhone 6 is perhaps the most notable difference between it and its predecessors. Aside from the 4.7-inch display, the iPhone 6 sports smooth rounded edges, with speaker, microphone and Lightning port on the bottom bezel, volume rocker and lock switch on the upper left and a power button on the upper right. I chose the 64 GB Space Gray model, and the back plate is a pleasing flat, brushed metal. Perhaps the only design flaw here is the fact that the camera sensor protrudes a few millimeters off the back of the phone, which I’m guessing was a compromise necessary to keep the device as thin is as it ultimately is (6.9 mm). Apple’s minimalist design shines here, resulting in a phone that is incredibly comfortable to hold. The familiar home button, which features Touch ID, is placed at the bottom center of the screen is ever so slightly recessed from the display.
This is where it gets tricky to differentiate these days. While on the keynote stage, it’s easy for any executive to boast about faster processors and higher definition screens, but for consumers it’s quite another thing to actually perceive a huge difference. We’ve hit the point where the processors of six months to a year ago are sufficient to complete most of the tasks for which we use our smartphone. The iPhone 6 packs 1 GB of RAM and the much-hyped A8 processor (dual-core 1.4 GHz), which is supposed to be more powerful and easier on the battery. The A8 definitely gets the job done, but to be honest, so did the processor on the iPhone 5. The speed and fluidity of transitions on the iPhone 6 seem to be on par with most other smartphones I’ve tested recently; which is to say that I don’t think users likely won’t point to speed as the defining characteristic of the iPhone 6.
Also included in the iPhone 6 is an NFC chip, which I haven’t tested yet. The infrastructure for contactless mobile payments is far from ubiquitous here in the United States, and Apple hasn’t yet released the update to iOS 8 that will enable payments via its Apple Pay platform. I’m glad it’s there though, as I think there will be other use cases for it. I’ll make the argument that Apple was right to wait on including NFC, as I’ve yet to run into an Android or Windows Phone user that regularly uses their phone’s NFC capability.
Having come fresh off the Lumia 1020, I wasn’t impressed with Apple’s camera update. Aside from a slight lag in shutter speed, the 1020 was hands down the most impressive smartphone camera I’ve ever used. In my opinion, it beats the iPhone 6 in low-light conditions, and it beats the iPhone 6 in perfectly-lit conditions. Don’t get me wrong, the iPhone 6 camera is heads above most of the rest of the pack when it comes to camera technology, but there’s room to improve. Pictures outdoors were crisp and bright, but indoors or at dusk things get a little gray and pixelated.
The iPhone’s display is gorgeous, but so too were those on the Galaxy S5 and the Nokia Lumia. Maybe I don’t have a discerning enough eye to pick one over the other, or maybe it’s that I grew up watching cartoons on a TV that was as big as a house and still had a crappy picture. Put plainly, in my opinion, most of the high-end smartphone displays look pretty amazing, but start tapping on them and the comparisons are over. The Lumia and the Galaxy S5 were much less responsive and less accurate than the iPhone 6 when it comes to touch sensitivity. Get near the edge of the S5 and it’s a like a dead zone. The iPhone 6 screen is incredibly responsive and accurate when tapping anywhere on the screen.
The Galaxy S5 edged out the iPhone on battery life, and Samsung has an interesting feature that I appreciated—a kind of dumb mode—that grayed the screen and turned off all non-essential functions so as to conserve power. In that mode, 10 percent battery life could last half a day. The iPhone 6 battery lasts me about a full day, give or take whether it’s a work day or not. I’m generally happy with that kind of performance out of any smartphone, as I expect to plug my phone in at night. If I’m travelling, or at a conference, I’ll usually take along a battery case. Apple advertises an average of 10 to 11 hours, depending on task (watching HD Video, Web surfing on Wi-Fi etc.), and I’d say that’s accurate.
Unless it’s literally creating a market segment, Apple’s game has never been about first to market. Cupertino instead focuses on getting it right the first time, which is why things like Antennagate and the Apple Maps fiasco are an exception to that rule and such a big deal when they do happen. An example of what I’m talking about can be found in Apple’s execution of Touch ID, which was originally introduced on the iPhone 5S. I’ve tested a number of Android phones that boast this feature, including the Galaxy S5, and I have disabled them on those phones. In each case, the feature was glitchy and did not work seamlessly. On the iPhone, it works flawlessly 99.99 percent of the time. It actually makes life easier, as opposed to those first-to-market attempts that were gimmicky and didn’t work as advertised. The iPhone 6 really is a well-designed, meticulously refined smartphone and it shows.
Why I Chose the iPhone 6
The phones of the future will differentiate in three key areas—form factor, software, and sensors—and the iPhone 6 is proof that Apple is focused on all three of them.
Form Factor: Cupertino continues to excel in refining its designs and the iPhone 6 is no exception. While I was admittedly impressed with the HTC One M8, I wasn’t surprised when a colleague showed me how her volume rocker had completely detached from the phone after a few months of use. I’ve never seen pieces come off an iPhone. If you’re looking for a well-made product that will last, the iPhone is a very good option; it’s one of the reasons it holds its value the way it does.
Software: Sure, it’s what you’re used to and all that, but Apple’s iOS 8 is the best-designed, most seamless, easy-to-use operating system on the market today. Apple’s operating systems for desktop and mobile are the reason that its products appeal to so many people. Apple’s software is also one of the reason application developers are lured to Apple’s devices first. While testing the Lumia 1020 and a Galaxy S5, I was frustrated that the quality of the apps for those devices just didn’t match up to what I found on the iPhone, and that went for big name apps, as well as the smaller ones.
Sensors: Sensors are the synapses between our devices and the world around us. The more aware our devices become of things like altitude, climate and motion, the more effective and versatile they can be in reacting to that data. The iPhone 6 is on par with most other smartphones right now in featuring an accelerometer, gyroscope, proximity sensor, compass, and barometer, but the future will bring even more nerve endings to the phone. My sense is that Google and its throng of Android OEMs are ahead in this area, but with Apple in the process of putting finishing touches on its first wearable, I wouldn’t be surprised if it has a few tricks up its sleeve. We’ll see.
After much consideration, I did jump on the new iPhone 6 bandwagon. In my opinion, it’s the most complete smartphone on the market, with the fewest glitches and flaws. It’s also offers excellent developer support and seamless integration with a broad ecosystem of of products, content and accessories. Given that iPhone pricing is in line with most other high-end smartphones on the market, you certainly could do much worse. There’s a reason that Apple sold 10 million iPhone 6 units in its launch weekend.