Apple iPhone 6 review: iPhone 6 sets the smartphone bar

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4.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

3.5 stars 45 user reviews

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 ecosystem of apps, and Apple Pay is a smooth, secure payment system.

The Bad Battery life isn't much better than it is on last year's iPhone 5S. And there's wasted space: 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, fast, and features the excellent iOS operating system. It was the best overall phone introduced in 2014.

9.0 Overall
  • Design 9.0
  • Features 9.0
  • Performance 9.0
CNET Editors' Choice Nov '14

In 2014, Apple forked its iPhone product line, simultaneously introducing the next generation of its flagship model -- the iPhone 6 -- and debuting its super-sized sibling, the iPhone 6 Plus. The iPhone 6 is an exceptional phone in nearly every way but for its middling battery life. The iPhone 6 Plus is also impressive; larger and thinner than other iPhone models, and with the capacity for far more endurance on a single charge than most comparably-sized and smaller competitors.

When choosing between the 6 and 6 Plus, in the end, it's a matter of personal preference. I know several people who love the iPhone 6 Plus, with its larger screen size and better battery life. But the iPhone 6 feels best in my hand. It's thin, elegant, performs really well, and is considerably less expensive than the 6 Plus. For that reason, I think the smaller iPhone 6 is the way to go for most people.

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The iPhone 6 (left) and the 6 Plus CNET

Editors' note: This review has been updated from the version that was originally published on September 16; the CNET Editors' Choice was awarded in November 2014.

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Top to bottom: the iPhone 5S, 6 and 6 Plus. Sarah Tew/CNET

Review update: Summer 2015

If Apple sticks to the same mid-September release calendar it's followed for the past several years, we are just a few short months away from the next version of the iPhone. And if Cupertino follows the same upgrade plan -- big redesigns for even numbered years, internal specs updates for odd ones -- we can likely expect something a bit less radical than the big-screen makeover the iPhone got in 2014. (You can read our predictions of what to expect from the next iPhone here.)

At its Worldwide Developers Conference in June, Apple introduced the next edition of its mobile operating system, iOS 9. According to Apple, in addition to a number of incremental enhancements, iOS 9 will feature a stronger, more "proactive" version of Siri, the personal assistant; an upgraded maps app and a new news app; and, importantly for iPhone users, improved battery life (plus a new low-power mode for even longer performance). iOS 9 is currently available only to developers; the rest of us can sign up for the public beta in July.

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Those looking to purchase an iPhone this summer are advised that Apple still sells the iPhone 5S and the iPhone 5C -- both of which, in what are likely to be their waning days on store shelves, constitute an excellent value.

Outside of the Apple ecosystem, those on the prowl for a new phone should consider the handful of upcoming flagship models announced at Mobile World Congress in March 2015, including the HTC One M9 and Samsung Galaxy S6, an especially worthy competitor for the iPhone 6 that features a larger screen and higher resolution (see a detailed comparison here). Suffice to say that the competitive landscape will soon be shifting.

Cut to the chase: How the iPhone stacks up

For those looking to buy a new phone in the near-term, here's a framework for how to think about the iPhone 6:

For owners of older iPhones looking to upgrade, the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are thinner and come equipped with faster A8 processors, improved cameras, speedier Wi-Fi and LTE cellular data connectivity, better voice quality on voice-over-LTE, and -- except for entry-level models -- more onboard storage. In terms of 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). The 6 Plus may simply be too big for some, though its large display and extended battery life are terrific.

For iPhone 5S owners or habitual iPhone upgraders, the chief advantages are the iPhone 6's bigger screen and support for 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 need the larger screen, you aren't sacrificing much by sticking with the iPhone 5S (running iOS 8) until the next generation drops.

For Android owners who 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, support for Apple Pay, additional customization features of iOS 8, and increased storage help close the feature gap with top Android phones.

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For hard-core Android fans, there are certainly non-Apple phones that cost less and come equipped with higher-resolution screens, better battery life, SD card support, and removable batteries. And the Android Lollipop operating system brings a lot to the table. Still, the larger screens and customization features of iOS 8 make the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus the most attractive iPhone generation to date. Android owners may be tempted.

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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Design

The iPhone 6's thin, all-metal aesthetic makes for one of the sleekest designs in the smartphone universe. This iPhone is only slightly thinner than the previous model but feels more so; this is due to the increased screen size and curved design. Glass from the front folds ever so slightly around the edges -- a departure from the sharp industrial edges of the iPhone 5 and 5S. It also feels a little like the original iPhone, which had a rounded design. 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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The iPhone 6 feels good to hold, beautifully solid, with a smooth, metal back and glass front. But it has an 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. Early reports of bending iPhones may have been overblown. 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, it's not exactly delicate, but, like any other phone, it can be damaged -- so handle with care, and get a case for it.

The camera lens on the back of the iPhone 6 protrudes slightly, which made me worry about setting the phone down on rough surfaces, despite the fortitude of the sapphire lens. Again: using a case will alleviate any concerns.

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The volume buttons, which were round and raised on previous iPhones, are elongated on the 6, similar to those on the iPod Touch and iPad. The power/sleep button has shifted to the right, making it easier to find in my experience.

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A round Touch ID home button is located underneath the display; a simple press on the fingerprint reader unlocks the phone, and works amazingly well most of the time. While this feature is no longer as novel as it was when it debuted, Touch ID remains quicker and more reliable than the fingerprint detection capabilities we've seen on other smartphones. And with iOS 8, you can use fingerprint access for a wide variety of apps beyond the lock screen and iTunes Store.

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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, which means that the iPhone 6, with its 4.7-inch screen, is the same size as other phones with 5-inch screens. For example, the iPhone 6 runs as tall and wide the Nexus 5, which has a larger 5-inch screen; it's also larger than the 2013 Moto X, which fits a comparable 4.7-inch display into a more compact body. (Both the old Moto X and Nexus 5 are thicker, however.) 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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Though the iPhone 6 is basically one-hand friendly (and certainly more so than the iPhone 6 Plus), it comes with a 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 easier thumb access.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The screen

iPhones have always had phenomenal displays, both in terms of brightness and color quality. In CNET's battery of tests, we found that the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus's screens are even better than those on previous iPhones, with superior grayscale and contrast levels.

Though phones with OLED displays, like the Samsung Galaxy S5, deliver more vivid contrast and slightly richer, if less accurate, color, the iPhone 6's 4.7-inch IPS display is excellent: vivid and rich. The display's 1,344x750-pixel resolution is higher than the fifth generation's 1,136x640, but it has the same 326ppi pixel density. It's a good step up.

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

Native apps look fantastic and nonoptimized apps scale up well, too: games and streaming video services designed for a smaller display still fill the screen and have crisp text. I still think many people will find this 4.7-inch screen to find the right balance between functionality and portability. That noted, the iPhone 6's screen resolution is a step below ideal.

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Performance: Faster still

The iPhone 6 is among the fastest phones around. It comes equipped with the A8 64-bit dual-core processor, which Apple claims delivers a 25 percent boost in speed and a 50 percent graphics boost over the iPhone 5S; this claim was confirmed in both our benchmark tests (see below) and hands-on testing. Navigating the UI and launching apps is zippy, and the phone runs nearly all tasks at a silky-smooth clip.

Apple's Metal coding tool helps some iOS games perform even better than the benchmarks suggest. Games that have been iPhone 6-optimized look great and load and run quickly, but the difference isn't as dramatic as you might expect. (Read about Apple's Metal-related announcements from its Worldwide Developers Conference in June 2015.)

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

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