Despite record sales, Apple was heading for a fall. Not this year, or the next. But the brand had been trading on the same phone for four years and something big was needed to keep it current.
So with that, the iPhone 6, and its bigger brother, theiPhone 6 Plus, were born to keep Apple at the sharp end of a market that was starting to lust after powerful, big screen smartphones with clever and premium design.
The iPhone 6 certainly addresses a number of the problems Apple had developed, coming with a much larger screen (although not dramatically increasing the size of the phone) a boosted processor, better camera, improved battery and crucially: overhauled design.
This is the sixth iPhone I’ve reviewed now, and there’s a real sense that this one is really rather different.
I wrote last year that Apple was becoming more aware that the time when it could define what consumers would buy in the smartphone is ending – and with the 4.7-inch screen, it’s clearly had to admit defeat in the smaller screen market.
There will be some that will miss that screen size, maintaining that they don’twant a bigger display on their phone – but nearly all of those people won’t have spent any appreciable time with a larger device, and I believe that a good portion of you thinking you need a smaller phone will quickly come to appreciate the power a bigger handset brings without hurting quality.
But while the iPhone 6 has answered a lot of the problems I’ve had with previous iterations of Apple’s handsets, there are still some issues that still swirled when I handled the phone for the first time.
Why has Apple decided to not join the masses with a really high-res screen? Why is the iPhone still the most expensive on the market? Has it done enough to improve the quite dire battery life of previous models, especially at a time when many high-end Android phones are easily chugging through a day’s hard use without thirsting for a charger’s caress?
Let’s take a quick look at the price – and it’s not pretty.
In the UK, you’re looking at £539 for the 16GB version, £619 for the 64GB option and £699 for the 128GB model. On a decent contract these start at around £45 per month, with roughly £100 for the phone up front, although you can shop around and get it for slightly less if you stray from the main networks.
That’s a lot more than the competition, with most high-end contracts topping out at £38 for the main rivals, with less up front too.
In the US, the Apple iPhone 6 16GB is $199 on contract, 64GB comes in at $299 and the 128GB at $399. If you’re planning to go off book, then it’s 16GB at $649, 64GB available for $749 and a whopping $849 for the 128GB model.
In Australia, the iPhone 6 outright pricing starts at AU$869 for 16GB, then jumps to $999 for 64GB and $1,129 for the 128GB version. If you prefer to pay off your phone over time, Optus is offering the 16GB for $0 on a $100 monthly contract over 24 months, Telstra has the same model for $0 on a $95 monthly plan and Vodafone will give you the 16GB iPhone 6 if you sign up for 24 months on an $80 a month plan.
The iPhone 6 Plus, meanwhile, costs AU$999 for 16GB, AU$1,129 for 64GB and AU$1,249 for 128GB. On contract to get a 16GB model for $0, you’ll need to spend $95 a month with Telstra, or $100 a month with Vodafone, both on a 24 month contract.
Let’s take a look at the first thing most people will wonder about before picking up the iPhone: how will it actually feel in the hand?
This is a big departure for Apple, marking a time when it’s admitted that the industrial, sharp design of the last four iPhone models is a little outdated and needs to up the ergonomics to really compete.
Well, with the Apple iPhone 6 we’re looking at one of the thinnest and sleekest handsets in the market. It’s got a strong combination of metal back (which feels exceptionally premium, borrowing bucketloads of design language from the iPad Air) and the way the screen curves into the chassis gives it a slight lozenge feel.
The iPhone 6 looks the business, and at 6.9mm thin it’s very nice to hold. I do still feel that phones that push harder on ergonomics are a better choice though – the HTC One M8 bows out at the back and fits in the palm a little better – but that’s quibbling. This iPhone just feels really well made.
Apple has always favoured a flatter phone than the rest of the market though, and placed on a desk it looks great. It does feel great in the hand too, but as said others impress more if I’m being hyper-critical.
There’s also the issue of the large plastic strips that flow through the top and bottom of the device. Given metal is a nightmare material to try and get radio signal to penetrate, these are clearly there to offset that.
While the plastic does seem to give good performance for signal for the most part, it’s nothing amazing, and to my eyes they’re a little unsightly and ruin the sleek back of the iPhone 6, and their presence seem at odds with Apple’s design ethos.
The other big design change is to the power button, which has now been moved to the right-hand side of the phone. This makes a lot of sense, and given the phone is now a larger device at 138.1 x 67 x 6.9 mm hitting the top of the handset is a much harder task, so moving the button is the right thing to do.
Like the rest of the exterior buttons, the power key is raised and easy to hit in both left and right hand modes. It’s metallic and crucially doesn’t have the same rattle that I criticised on the iPhone 5S.
However, that doesn’t mean the metallic keys don’t have a little wiggle to them. Running your hand up and down the sides idly will result in you noticing a very slight looseness to the power and volume buttons… I’m in danger of being too critical here, but for the price it’s not the sort of thing I expect to see.
The other important design change here is the camera now protrudes slightly on the rear of the phone. It’s good to see that happening, as it shows that Apple isn’t willing to compromise on camera quality in order to just whack in a thinner phone.
The protrusion is a little worrying in that laying the Apple iPhone 6 down flat on a table could see scratches appearing, but the sapphire glass that covers the lens should see that’s pretty safe.
The rest of the iPhone 6 is very similar to the iPhone 5S, with the speakers at the bottom flanking the Lightning port. Well, I say speakers: it’s just the one speaker, but thanks to the slightly elongated bottom of the phone you won’t cover it when holding the phone in landscape.
This was irritating when trying to game or watch a movie without headphones on older iPhones – but this upgrade, combined with the lightness of the iPhone 6, mean you won’t have a similar problem for the most part as the hands sit lower and free of the speaker generally.
Sadly the headphone port still resides at the bottom of the iPhone 6, meaning you’ll still probably get your phone out of the pocket the wrong way around when listening to music.
Let me make one thing very clear though: the Apple iPhone 6 is another iconic handset in terms of design for Apple. It’s not the best looking on the market (I’m still giving that title to the HTC One M8) but it’s definitely right up there, and for the price I’d expect nothing less.
You can pick up the iPhone 6 in Space Gray (the colour I’ve had on test here), or the more standard silver or gold. Whichever one you want is up to you, but there had better not be a shortage of the champagne gold colour again this year.
That made me sad to see so many clamouring for a colour just because it was hard to get hold of.