Apple iPhone 6 review: iPhone 6 sets the smartphone bar

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CNET Editors' Rating

4.5 stars Outstanding
  • Overall: 9.0
  • Design: 9.0
  • Features: 9.0
  • Performance: 9.0

Average User Rating

4.5 stars 7 user reviews
Review Date:

The Good The iPhone 6 delivers a spacious, crisp 4.7-inch screen, improved wireless speeds, better camera autofocus, and bumped-up storage capacities to 128GB at the top end. iOS remains a top-notch mobile operating system with an excellent app selection, and Apple Pay is a smooth, secure payment system.

The Bad Battery life isn't much better than last year's iPhone 5S. An even larger screen could have been squeezed into the same housing.

The Bottom Line The iPhone 6 is an exceptional phone in nearly every way except its average battery life: it's thin and fast with a spacious screen and the smoothest payment system we've seen. It's the best overall phone of 2014.

CNET Editors' Choice Nov '14

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For years, Android phones have shipped with displays in expansive, 5-inch-ish sizes, but Apple had insisted on the necessity of a small screen for one-handed operation. The iPhone 5S, while powerful, hit a wall in viewing room: its 4-inch screen was among the smallest on the market, and, frankly, I found it limiting.

Apple now has two larger iPhones: one big, the other even bigger. The iPhone 6 sports a 4.7-inch screen, while the iPhone 6 Plus goes full "phablet" with a 5.5-inch display. Compared to earlier iPhones, both of the new models boast thinner bodies, ship with faster A8 processors, slightly improved cameras, speedier Wi-Fi and LTE cellular data, better voice quality if you're using voice-over-LTE, and -- except in the entry-level models -- more onboard storage. And like all current iPhones, these are running iOS 8.1; it's a far less revolutionary update than iOS 7 was, but it adds some nice improvements and customization options, including notification widgets, replaceable keyboards, a new Health app and Apple Pay.

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The iPhone 6 (left) and the 6 Plus CNET

That last feature is especially notable. Both new iPhones incorporate Apple's new payment system, effectively turning each of them into a mobile wallet linked to your credit card. This sort of contactless, NFC-powered technology has been around for years on rival phones. But having used it since its mid-October debut, I can say that it works seamlessly (most of the time), and the implementation of Apple's TouchID fingerprint reader puts it head and shoulders above current Android alternatives like Google Wallet. Of course, its convenience will be determined by how many participating retailers ultimately come on board.

Both the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are very evenly matched, but the larger model boasts an upgraded camera and longer battery life. In our real-world testing, the optical image stabilization of the 6 Plus's camera didn't seem to deliver appreciably better photos than the already excellent camera on the iPhone 6. On the other hand, our battery test found that the iPhone 6's battery life was essentially identical to that of last year's iPhone 5S, while the larger battery in the 6 Plus delivered at least two and a half hours more battery life just for video, and more depending on your use case. (Be sure to check out CNET's full review of the iPhone 6 Plus.)

In the end, of course, it's a matter of personal preference. I know several people who have purchased and love the iPhone 6 Plus, and love the larger screen size and better battery life. As for me, I found that the iPhone 6 feels best in my hand. It's thin, elegant, performs really well, and and is less expensive at each storage level than the 6 Plus. For most people, I think the smaller iPhone 6 is the way to go.

Editors' note: This review has been updated from the version that was originally published on September 16, with additional impressions of the iPhone, iOS 8.1, Apple Pay and comparisons to Android 5.0 Lollipop. It also reflects a newly awarded CNET Editors' Choice.

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The iPhone 5S, the 6 and the 6 Plus. CNET

Cut to the chase: The quick update guide

For potential buyers of both phones, here's how it breaks down:

For owners of older iPhones looking to upgrade, these latest iPhones are massive leaps in screen size. The 4.7-inch iPhone 6 will probably be more than enough for anyone upgrading from a 4-inch (iPhone 5 or 5S) or 3.5-inch screen (all previous iPhone models), but the 6 Plus may be downright intimidating unless you're looking for a mini-tablet.

For Android owners who once jumped ship from iOS and want to come back, this is the iPhone generation you've been waiting for. It's the best iPhone since the iPhone 5. Back then, 4G LTE and an improved screen and camera made the difference. This time, a larger screen, a fast processor, NFC with Apple Pay (although likely only that), the additional customization features of iOS 8, and bumped-up storage tiers go a long way to close the feature gap with current top Android phones.

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For iPhone 5S owners or habitual iPhone upgraders, think of its chief advantages as a bigger screen and the potential of Apple Pay. The improved processor, camera, 4G LTE and Wi-Fi speeds, and possible battery-life gains are steps up, but not massive leaps. In other words, if you don't have a strong desire for the larger screen, you could easily ride your iPhone 5S (running iOS 8) for 12 more months, and wait for the inevitable iPhone 6S and 6S Plus in 2015.

For hard-core Android fans, well, there are Android phones that cost less, have higher-resolution screens (and screens even larger than the 6 Plus), boast better battery life, have removable SD card storage, and even removable batteries. And the Android camp has an all-new operating system, too, with Android 5.0 Lollipop. You won't find any of these on an iPhone 6; you can't have everything in Apple-land. That said, the larger screens of the new iPhones combined with iOS 8's bevy of familiar customization features make the 6/6 Plus the most attractive iPhone generation yet, and the most tempting to Android owners in years.






Apple iPhone 6 Apple iPhone 6 Plus Samsung Galaxy S5 Motorola Moto X (2014)
US base price (with two-year agreement) $199 $299 $199 $99
UK base price (unlocked) £539 £619 £350 £420
Australia base price (unlocked) AU$869 AU$999 AU$900 N/A
Display size/resolution 4.7-inch 1,344x750 IPS (326 ppi) 5.5-inch 1,920x1,080 IPS (401 ppi) 5.1-inch 1,920x1,080 Super AMOLED (432 ppi) 5.5-inch 1,920x1,080 AMOLED (423 ppi)
Processor 1.39GHz Apple A8 (64-bit) 1.38GHz Apple A8 (64-bit) 2.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon (Krait400) 2.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon (Krait400)
RAM 1GB 1GB 2GB 2GB
Internal storage 16GB, 64GB or 128GB 16GB, 64GB or 128GB 16GB, 32GB 16GB, 32GB
Expandable storage No No Yes (microSD) No
Networking 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0
Operating system iOS 8 iOS 8 Android 4.4.2 Android 4.4.4
US carriers AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon AT&T, Verizon

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CNET

Design

My favorite-feeling 4.7-inch phone, the one that proved larger screens could be made in compact sizes, was the 2013 Motorola Moto X. Does the iPhone 6 pull off the same feel? It's close, but different.

The new iPhone design may seem bold and different, or possibly a little like the curved metal of the HTC One M8, but it's also still very much Apple. In fact, it's kind of like the design of the 2012 iPod Touch, or that of the recent iPads. This iPhone is slightly thinner than before, but it feels much thinner; part of that's the increased screen size, and partly it's the curved design. Glass from the front folds ever so slightly around the edges, and the sharp industrial hard edges of the iPhone 5 and 5S are completely gone.

It also feels a little like the original iPhone, which had a rounded design, too. But that phone was chunkier, with a far smaller screen. It felt like holding a pebble. The iPhone 6 is flat and thin, like a slab.

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CNET

The new iPhone feels good to hold, beautifully solid; the metal back and glass front are smoothed and comfortable. But it also has a slight aura of fragility -- maybe it's the extra-slim look, or the massive pane of curved glass on the front. I instantly wanted to slip it into a case just to be safe. Reports of bending iPhones reinforced that feeling -- to a point. Consumer Reports' testing found that the new iPhones can withstand less pressure than the iPhone 5, LG G3, and Samsung Galaxy Note 3, but are about as equally durable as the HTC One M8. In other words, they are far from fragile, but yes, like any other piece of electronics, they could be damaged -- so handle with care, and get a case for it. (After over a month of normal use, I haven't had any iPhone bending).

Also, the slightly protruding camera lens on the back of the iPhone 6, while similar to the one on the fifth-gen iPod Touch, made me worry about setting the phone down on rough surfaces, regardless of the sapphire lens. But again: adding a case will pretty much make this a non-issue.

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The volume buttons, which were round, raised buttons on previous iPhone iterations, are now elongated like those on the iPod Touch and iPad. The top-right power/sleep button has shifted to the right, like you find on some Android phones. It takes some getting used to, but it's easier to press now that the phone is bigger.

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CNET

A round Touch ID home button remains at the bottom and works the same as on last year's iPhone 5S: a simple press on the fingerprint reader unlocks your phone, and it works amazingly well most of the time. And now iOS 8 and Apple Pay allow you to do more with Touch ID, making it an even more essential feature.

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The 2013 Moto X (left), iPhone 6 (center), Nexus 5 (right). See what I mean? CNET

If I have one problem with the new design, it's the bezel around the display. It's still big -- bigger than that of most Android phones. It means that an iPhone 6 with its 4.7-inch screen is the same size as some 5-inch screen phones. For instance, the iPhone 6 is about the same height and width as a Nexus 5, which has a larger 5-inch screen, but larger than the 2013 Moto X, which fits the same 4.7-inch display into a more compact body.

Both the old Moto X and Nexus 5 are thicker, but the iPhone 6's thin design also means a larger, flatter body. The iPhone 6 measures 5.4 by 2.6 inches, and 0.3-inch thick (138 by 67 by 69mm). It weighs 4.5 ounces, or 128 grams.

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CNET

Can that bezel be reduced next time, perhaps? Sure, the Touch ID home button needs to fit below the screen, but the extra space on top could have been been shaved down (assuming Jony Ive can live without a symmetrical design).

Yes, the new iPhone 6 is still basically one-hand friendly, and a whole bunch more so than the iPhone 6 Plus. There's even a sometimes useful but weird software feature called Reachability that pulls the top half of the display down to midscreen with a light double-tap of the Home button, for easy thumb access. It's helpful for one-handed use. I just wish the whole phone was a little less big -- or that it could fit a slightly bigger screen into the same chassis.

Some owners of previous iPhones may find that a larger phone getting used to. But the good news is Apple still sells the iPhone 5S, last year's still-very-capable 4-inch phone with Touch ID (albeit not with support for contactless Apple Pay). For me, I like the perfect middle ground that the iPhone 6 offers, and its advantages. And its thin, all-metal design is one of the sleekest designs anywhere in the smartphone universe.

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CNET

The screen

iPhones have always had phenomenal displays, both in terms of brightness and color quality. After CNET's display testing, we found the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus screens to be better than previous iPhones, narrowly. Grayscale and contrast levels are better, while color accuracy remains about the same. We still found OLED displays like those on the Samsung Galaxy S5 had more vivid contrast and slightly richer, if less accurate, color.

But the bottom line is, the iPhone 6's 4.7-inch IPS display looks excellent: vivid, rich, and bigger than before. But not that much bigger. The display's 1,344x750-pixel resolution is higher than the iPhone 5/5C/5S' 1,136x640, but it has the same 326ppi pixel density. It's a good step up, and a big help for nearly anything you'd use your phone's screen for.

A grid of six-by-four apps now fits on each page plus the four in the dock below, for 28 total; on the 5's 4-inch display, it's 24. There are more pixels horizontally and vertically, unlike the merely vertical lengthening of the iPhone 5. That also means the aspect ratio is the same (16x9), and videos and Web pages scale similarly.

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A handy comparison of all iOS screen sizes: 4S, 5S, 6, 6 Plus, iPad Mini, iPad Air. CNET

Optimized apps look fantastic, but nonoptimized apps still scale up well, too: games and streaming video services that aren't technically optimized still fill the screen and have crisp text, although some suffer larger icons or buttons. Many games look solid, too, even without updating: Badland, Riptide GP2, Unpossible, and text-based games like Device 6 all looked great. Some apps, however, have icons, keyboards and buttons that end up looking too large in the magnified display size. (As more developers continue to update their apps, that problem should continue to diminish.)

The iPhone 6 Plus has an even more impressive 1,920x1,080 5.5-inch display and 406 pixels per inch, but it's also a much larger phone. For my tastes, I'd go with the 4.7-inch iPhone 6; your opinion, of course, may vary. I still think many people will find this 4.7-inch screen to be perfectly good, and perfectly functional while still being portable. But in the world of modern smartphones, the 6's screen resolution is a tiny step below ideal.

It's much better than older iPhones, though, and the transition to the larger display doesn't take long to get used to. After living with the iPhone 6, my iPhone 5S screen looked small indeed.

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CNET

Performance: Faster still

How fast do we need our phones to be? The potential of last year's crazy-fast-on-paper A7 processor still hasn't been fully tapped. The new A8 processor on the iPhone 6 isn't quite the quantum leap the A7 was. It's a 64-bit dual-core processor just like the A7, but Apple claims a 25 percent boost in speed and a 50 percent graphics boost over last year's iPhone 5S.

In our tests (see the benchmarks below), we found that the A8, while faster, is a decent bump rather than a giant vault, confirming Apple's claims.

These don't necessarily tell the whole story. The UI and app-launching speed of the new iPhone is zippy as always, but the A8 isn't the giant leap over the competition that the A7 was a year ago. Still, it's one of the fastest phones around, and runs nearly all tasks at a silky-smooth clip.

Apple's new Metal coding tool for gaming could help iOS games perform even better with the A8 than what these initial benchmarks suggest. Games that have been iPhone 6-optimized look better and still load and run quickly, but the difference isn't as dramatic as you might expect.

3DMark Ice Storm -- Unlimited

Apple iPhone 5S
13,858
Apple iPhone 6
17,374
Apple iPhone 6 Plus
17,565
Motorola Moto X (2014)
19,802
Samsung Galaxy S5
18,305
HTC One M8
20,669

Note:

In frames per second; longer bars indicate better performance

Geekbench 3

HTC One M8
869
2409
Apple iPhone 5S
1412.2
2,562
Apple iPhone 6 Plus
1619
2881
Apple iPhone 6
1627
2924
Samsung Galaxy S5
949
2934
Motorola Moto X (2014)
1001
3052

Legend:

Single-core (Blue)
Multi-core (Red)

Note:

In frames per second; longer bars indicate better performance

Linpack multithread

Motorola Moto X (2014)
803.175
HTC One M8
814.815
Samsung Galaxy S5
869.416
Apple iPhone 5S
975.92
Apple iPhone 6 Plus
1358.2
Apple iPhone 6
1378.2

Note:

In MFLOPS; longer bars indicate better performance

SunSpider 1.0.2

Motorola Moto X (2014)
776.6
Samsung Galaxy S5
769.2
HTC One M8
635.1
Apple iPhone 5S
416.6
Apple iPhone 6 Plus
381.9
Apple iPhone 6
345.2

Note:

In milliseconds; shorter bars indicate better performance

An equally welcome addition is 802.11ac Wi-Fi and improved LTE antennas, which allow for faster Web browsing on both Wi-Fi and LTE.

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  • Technology CDMA2000 1X / GSM / WCDMA (UMTS)
  • Service Provider Verizon Wireless
  • Weight 4.55 oz
  • Diagonal Size 4.7 in
  • Sensor Resolution 8 pixels
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