The Excellent iPhone 6, Reviewed

Man using iPhone 6 at the Apple Store
Sean Gallup/Getty Images News/Getty Images

What We Like

  • Perfect size for an iPhone

  • Speedy

  • Great camera

  • Support for future Apple products and services, like Apple Watch and Apple Pay

  • 128 GB model

  • Thin and light

What We Don't Like

  • May be too big for some users’ hands

  • iOS 8 needs polish

The iPhone 6 is a flat-out excellent smartphone. It takes all the strengths of last year's top-of-the-line model, the iPhone 5S, and expands them into a speedy, attractive, and ultra-capable device. By adding a larger screen, more storage at the high end (128 GB, finally!), and support for new Apple technologies like Apple Pay and Apple Watch, the 6 presents a difficult-to-resist package.

The Screen: Just the Right Size

The most obvious difference between the 6 and previous models is physical size, driven by the larger screens sported by the 6 and 6 Plus. The iPhone 6's 4.7-inch screen strikes just the right balance between being usable and large. The 6 Plus' 5.5-inch screen is large and unwieldy, while the 4-inch screen on the earlier iPhones now looks absurdly tiny. With the 4.7 inches, you can see a large amount of content on websites and in emails, can easily type using the onscreen keyboard, and games look great.

I have average-sized hands and the 6 is just at the limit of what's comfortable. I can still hold and use the phone with one hand, which is key. I'd guess that most people will have the same experience. The Reachability feature—double-tap the Home button to bring the top of the screen down to the center to make the far right corner easy to reach—is nicely implemented and solves the problem of reaching far-away icons. I often find myself forgetting that it's an option, though.

The larger screens on the 6 and 6 Plus do suggest that Apple may need to rethink some of its core user interface conventions. Traditionally, the back button in apps has been at the top left, which is now the farthest distance for right-handed users to reach. I wonder if we'll see the back button moved to the right side or bottom left in future apps.

Impressively, despite the phone being larger, the iPhone 6 actually weighs barely more than half an ounce more than the iPhone 5S.

All The Features You Expect

The iPhone 6, of course, sports all the other core iPhone features we've come to expect. A few of those features are noticeably improved, such as the Touch ID fingerprint scanner built into the Home button. While using it here is the same as on the 5S (where it was originally introduced), it functions more quickly and reliably here.

The phone also supports core Apple technologies like FaceTime, Siri, iCloud, Find My iPhone, and iMessage. All of those features are well integrated and as useful as ever.

Preparing for the Future

Those familiar features aren't the only compelling elements of the iPhone 6. Support for Apple's major future initiatives is also key to its appeal.

The iPhone 6 has Near-Field Communications (NFC) built in, which is a short-range wireless communication technology that allows devices that are very close to each other to interact. NFC is central to the Apple Pay mobile payments system and will allow iPhone 6 (and 6 Plus, and Apple Watch) users to quickly pay for products and services with their phones. We won't know how good Apple Pay is until it has been tested broadly by all kinds of users in all kinds of situations, but Apple consistently delivers quality products, so knowing that the iPhone 6 can partake here is valuable.

The other future product that the iPhone 6 supports is the Apple Watch. While the iPhone 6 series aren't the only phones that will work with that device (the 5S and 5C are also compatible), it stands to reason that the latest phones will offer the best experience of the Watch. That device won’t debut until 2015, and so again we can't assess the iPhone 6 relative to it, but users will at least be prepared for it.

iOS 8: Needs Some Polish

The greatest weakness of the iPhone 6 is one that has nothing to do with the phone itself: iOS 8.

While iOS 8 delivers a number of significant and much-needed upgrades—third-party keyboards, Notification Center widgets, Family Sharing of iTunes purchases, and much more—it's also buggier than it should be. I've had more app crashes running iOS 8 for a month than I usually do in a year. I've also seen more weird interface glitches than ever before.

Ultimately, I suspect iOS 8, with its modern features and major under-the-hood changes, will be a key foundation for the development of the iOS in the future. Right now, though, it lacks the polish that Apple products traditionally have.

Apple has faced this issue before, with Mac OS X. When it did, it released the Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard upgrade that leaned heavily on bug fixes, stability improvements, and overall quality. Hopefully, Apple is aware of the flaws in iOS 8 and releases a Snow Leopard-style update to shore up the iOS.

Luckily, since Apple updates deliver major updates to the iOS a few times a year (8.1 debuted as I was putting the finishing touches on this review), with bug fixes coming more frequently, these problems stand a good likelihood of being solved and shouldn’t deter anyone from the iPhone 6.

When A Problem Isn’t a Problem: Bendgate

You may be a little hesitant to buy an iPhone 6 due to Bendgate, the "discovery" that the iPhone 6 series can be damaged by being bent in pants pockets. Don't be fooled: This isn't a real issue for most people and shouldn't stop you from buying an iPhone.

Common sense tells us that any smartphone can be bent when enough pressure is applied to it. That's certainly true of the 6. But Consumer Reports, a publication that's not known for being tremendously friendly to Apple, tested the "Bendgate" claims and found that the iPhone 6 series devices begin to bend when 70-90 pounds of pressure is applied. That's a lot of pressure. So, while it's certainly possible that an iPhone could bend irreparably, it's not likely to happen in day-to-day use for most people. Don't let this attention-seeking faux controversy sway you.

The Bottom Line

The iPhone 6 isn't perfect—the low-end model ought to have 32 GB storage, not 16 GB, for instance—but nothing is perfect. The iPhone, though, is a must-have upgrade. It's not so amazing that it will make sense for everyone to pay full price to get it; no smartphone is that great. Owners of the iPhone 5S, for instance, can safely wait for next year's model and upgrade at a discount. But if you have any other iPhone or any other smartphone at all, you should seriously consider upgrading now. The iPhone 6 is that good.