Review: Apple iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus | iLounge

Review

Review: Apple iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus

A-
Highly Recommended

Company: Apple

Models: iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus

Price: $199-$499

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Phil Dzikiy

Pros: The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus have bigger, improved displays which enhance internet browsing and media playing — the experience is especially great on the iPhone 6 Plus. Both devices feature upgraded back and front cameras with new features and better performance. Enhanced video recording frame rates, along with cinematic video stabilization, let both iPhones record top-notch video; the 6 Plus adds optical image stabilization for even better camera performance. Improved batteries are noticeable during the course of the day, especially in the larger Plus. The iPhone 6 Plus adds iPad-style landscape viewing of the Home Screen and certain apps, enabling the phone to be a tablet replacement for some. New features including VoLTE, Wi-Fi Calling and Apple Pay have great potential, but can’t fully be tested at this stage.

Cons: Calling sound is softer and more problematic, especially on the iPhone 6 Plus which takes some getting used to — some users definitely won’t like the ergonomics of the calling experience on the large device. A number of apps look worse when scaled up on the iPhone 6 Plus; both devices have software bugs, as well. Data speeds vary wildly depending on location, sometimes dropping to very slow levels, despite improved wireless hardware. New cases will be needed, and past Lightning accessories may not fit the larger devices. Some users may find the iPhone 6 Plus simply too large to hold comfortably, or place in some cars.

Screen size is far from the only important spec when judging the overall appeal of a display, but it’s the number people gravitate toward. The same goes with megapixels in a camera, and this time around, the raw number remains the same as the 5s in both new iPhones — 8 megapixels. While competing smartphones offer between two and five times as many megapixels as the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus cameras, Apple has chosen to improve its cameras in other ways.

The rear iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus camera feature a new sensor, improved face detection, an enhanced panorama mode capable of up to 43 megapixels, a circular True Tone flash, and advanced autofocus with what Apple calls “Focus Pixels.” The cameras found in both devices are exactly the same, with the exception of optical image stabilization, which is only found in the iPhone 6 Plus. That feature allows the image sensor to move, reducing the impact of hand shaking or other camera motion, a benefit especially noticeable in low light and during video recording.

 

Autofocus with Focus Pixels is meant to making focusing quicker and easier, and the feature is most evident whenever something that’s not the subject of your photo passes by your screen — the new cameras can refocus much faster, leaving users much less likely to get a blurry photo when shooting quickly. Macro refocusing capabilities haven’t been improved as much as distance focusing, but when you’re able to get dialed in for a good macro shot, you’ll love the depth-of-field and sharpness. Low light shots are also improved in the new phones, with much lower noise and around 2/3 of a stop of extra light in typical shots, but we didn’t see much difference between the 6 and 6 Plus. Below, you’ll see a big difference in a quick, refocused shot between the iPhone 5s and iPhone 6 Plus.

 

Video recording has been improved as well, with the camera now capable of recording 1080p HD video at 60 frames per second, as well as the previously standard 30 fps found on the iPhone 5s. Slo-mo video can now be recorded at 240 fps as well as 120 fps, making a cool feature even better-looking. Added to iOS 8, time-lapse video is another new recording mode, letting users condense a long period of video into a shorter viewing time for a sped-up view. The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus cameras also use an improved form of digital stabilization, referred to as cinematic video stabilization, further helping to reduce jarring motions during movie recording.

 

On the front side of the phones, the 1.2MP FaceTime camera also has a new, improved sensor, and a larger aperture to gather more light than before, reducing blurring. Again, face detection has been improved, and burst mode is also now possible with the FaceTime camera to take a number of photos in rapid-fire succession. We did find that on both the front and rear cameras, the new iPhones could identify faces faster than the 5s did. It’s a shame that Apple has failed again to improve the resolution of this camera, as selfies have become increasingly popular, and the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus deliver very low-quality images.

 

FaceTime call quality has improved noticeably from the iPhone 5s, particularly when making calls between iPhone 6 and 6 Plus devices. Thanks to an improved H.265 video codec, which uses less data when sending roughly the same quality of video, calls made and received between iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus were smoother in our testing. But when calling a 5s or other devices, the feed coming from the older device looks much worse, falling back to the older H.264 standard Apple previously has used.

 

Overall, the new cameras are definitively better than the past cameras found in the iPhone 5s. While both cameras are excellent and almost completely similar, the Plus gives you the advantage of a larger viewfinder and sharper screen. However, when you get the photos home on your computer, you’ll find little difference between what was captured by the 6 and 6 Plus. The video cameras are just as improved. Shooting on the move has improved with cinematic video stabilization, and the 240 fps slo-mo and 60 fps video are definitely nice additions. iPhone 6 Plus users can expect small but noticeable improvements thanks to the optical image stabilization. In sum, there’s a lot to like about these cameras — alongside the screens, these are probably the biggest reasons to upgrade from a past iPhone to the iPhone 6 or iPhone Plus.

Sound

When used as a handset for making phone calls, audio on both the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus sounds a bit softer than on 5s. During calls, the iPhone 6 Plus will take some getting used to, as it can be hard to center on your ear, just due to the size. Call quality was good on both phones, though there appeared to be more background noise heard by callers when using the iPhone 6 Plus, a surprise given that the microphone on that model is more likely to be close to a user’s mouth, and was for sure closer to ours during testing. Additionally, the iPhone 5s ear speaker was louder than the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus speaker on highest volume, which might make the newer models harder for some people to hear in noisy outdoor environments.

 

The bottom speakers on the 6 and 6+ are different from the 5s, as well. Both the 6 and 6+ sound pretty similar, and both represent modest improvements over the 5s. There is some obvious distortion in the bass at high levels in both of the new phones. The 5s sounds a bit more distorted and robotic overall at its top volume, but it also has slightly better treble, which makes for better speakerphone calls, with a little less warmth when listening to music. When comparing the two new iPhones to each other, the 6 Plus has just a little less treble than the 6, and is a bit bassier. These differences aren’t huge.

There’s a similarly small difference in headphone port audio quality. We noticed that the treble on the 6 and 6+ is noticeably diminished versus the 5s when using really good headphones, making music sound a bit less lively. The difference is less obvious using basic headphones.

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Editors' Note: iLounge only reviews products in "final" form, but many companies now change their offerings - sometimes several times - after our reviews have been published. This iLounge article provides more information on this practice, known as revving.

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