For the first time, the big question for Apple fans isn't "are you getting a new iPhone?" It's which iPhone are you getting. A 6 or the ginormous 6 Plus?
Fantastic 8-megapixel camera with improved low light performance, super fast shutter speed, and jaw-dropping 1080p video capture. Zippy overall performance. Surprisingly light and thin.
One-handed usability isn't so easy, despite onscreen workarounds. Phone design is so slick it's almost slippery. iOS 8 suffers from multiple, regular bugs at this point.
Yes, the 5 came in two flavors too, but let's be real—no one debated whether to get a 5c or a 5s at launch last year. If you could get a 5S, you did. These new phones arrived in a pair as well, but each one has its own target audience. I have tiny hands and a tendency to stash my phone in my pocket, so I got the 6. I handed the 6 Plus to my colleague Mat, whose review you can read here.
Now, I test gadgets all the time, and I don't typically find unboxings exciting. But there was a sense of anticipation opening the iPhone 6. This thing is gorgeous, all sleek glass and cool (and, alas, malleable) aluminum. It looks positively space age, a vision of the future glimpsed in an episode of Star Trek. Every iPhone until now had a monolithic quality; this one is softer, yet no less impressive. There's only a whisp of a bezel; the brushed aluminum back wraps around a softly curved edge to meet the glass front. And it is so slender, a mere 6.9 mm thick–that's about eight stacked credit cards if you're wondering. Go ahead and wear your skinniest skinny jeans; this thing will fit in the pocket no problem.
It's almost comically light, too, at just 4.55 ounces. Yes, it's slightly heavier than the 5s, but even with a substantially bigger display, it still feels like it might blow away in a stiff breeze. That screen, by the way, is the best you'll find on any similar-sized smartphone. With a resolution of 1,334 x 750, its 326 ppi density (a higher resolution update to Apple's famed Retina Display) renders pixels invisible to the naked eye. But it's not just the sharpness that impresses. The colors are so rich and bright as to be almost surreal, and images appear to sit more closely under the display's cover glass, more like an OLED Windows Phone display. Responsiveness is snappier than the 5s, too, with better receptivity at the edges of the display. Everything happens almost instantaneously.
The camera is no less impressive. Yes, that sapphire lens protrudes just enough to all but demand getting scratched, but it is among the very best installed on a smartphone. The 8-megapixel shooter uses a new sensor and a trick Apple calls "Focus Pixels" to boost the speed and precision of the camera's autofocus. It's noticeably better than the camera in the 5s. Landscape shots snapped from a moving car were so sharp you'd think they were taken while standing still. Photos taken in dim light were grainless, colorful, and sharpâ€”even without the flash. White balance is excellent, too. The 6 has a camera so good that using Instgram filters borders on sacrilege.
Video quality gets a similar upgrade, with the ability to shoot at 1080p in either 30 or 60 fps. The image stabilization is rock-steady; one of 's photographers thought a video I shot freehand was done on a tripod. And the continual autofocus, color, and clarity made things so clear that some shots look almost like architectural renderings. Things get grainier in low light, but much less so than on the 5s. It's a good thing Apple upped the capacity on the mid and upper storage configurations to 64 and 128 GB—you're going to need it for all this media.
Time Lapse, iOS 8's new camera function is gimmicky but fun. It snaps photos at certain intervals while you leave your phone pointed at a certain scene or subject. Similarly, being able to record slo-mo at 240 fps is spectacular, letting you to examine exactly how water splashes in a fountain, or how your face skin wobbles as you shake your head around. It's an entertaining and enlightening way to view aspects of our world.
In my testing, the iPhone 6's battery life is just as good—perhaps slightly better—than its predecessor. Although it has a larger display, it also houses a larger 1810 mAh battery to balance things out. With ample camera use, social media-ing, some gaming, and other random things you might use your phone for, the phone easily made it through the day with the screen brightness set just under 50 percent. Higher screen brightness, heavy gaming, or excessive downloading will take a greater toll, but I could usually finish the day with 20 to 30 percent battery life left.
The new A8 processor renders graphics-intensive games like a champ, and keeps the entire experience pleasantly speedy. The big difference over the iPhone 5s' A7 processor is efficiency, but it also manages to make things like app loading noticeably snappier. Its co-processing partner, the M8, uses the compass, accelerometer, a new barometer, and gyroscope to track your steps, flights of stairs climbed, and other movement stats. It does all this in the background and without any major battery impact; in fact, you'd never know it was passively tracking your trait if you didn't change the status app.
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At this point, the iPhone 6 is a handsome, powerful handset with a phenomenal display and an insanely good camera. TouchID now works flawlessly, and iOS 8 brings loads of useful new features to the platform. It is easily one of the best phones out there. But the software still buggy, occasionally unacceptably so. Part of that is to be expected: While iOS 7 was largely aesthetic, iOS 8's core mission is enhancing usability, and there are a lot of thoughtful upgrades to the system: Things as small as being able to mute members of an incessant texting thread, and as large as enabling your iPhone to become the hub of all your health tracking apps (through Health and HealthKit) and home automation services (through HomeKit).
The iPhone 6 feels like an Olympic gymnastics routine: It's a big leap, and filled with brilliant feats, but Apple didn't quite stick the landing.