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iPhone 6 vs iPhone 5S: Should you upgrade?

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Is the iPhone 6 worth the upgrade?

With the release of the iPhone 6 last year, Apple did something we’d been looking forward for a number of years - announce an iPhone with a bigger screen.

The 4.7-inch screen-packing iPhone 6 dwarfs the now miniature iPhone 5S in size, but are you really getting more with the new flagship if you’re used to the compact nature of Apple’s 2013 flagship?

We’ve been living with both handsets for a while now to help you decide whether the iPhone 6 is a worthy upgrade to the iPhone 5S.

iPhone 6 vs iPhone 5S: Design

iPhone 6: Curved aluminium, gold or light/dark silver, 6.8mm thick
iPhone 5S: Aluminium, gold or light/dark silver, 7.6mm thick

Let’s get this out of the way first, both these phones are at the top of the pile when it comes to design. Swathes of metal and glass cover each of them, giving both a truly high-end finish and a lovely feel when they’re resting on your palm. There’s no flimsy plastic, poorly finished details or sludgy buttons here.

While we’re big fans of the chamfered edge on the iPhone 5S, the curved body of the iPhone 6 fits better in the hand, though both phones still suffer from a lack of grip, mainly down to the lack of any texture on the back. We found ourselves having to put a case on the iPhone 6, as the bigger size meant it felt even more likely to slip unwillingly out of our grasp.

Apple may have removed the two tone colour styling that was present on both the iPhone 5 and 5S, but we still prefer it to the new banding that weaves itself around the rear of the iPhone 6. This design choice is there to improve signal, but it’s the one element that lets the looks of the 6 down. Granted, on the Space Grey model it does look a lot better than the two white models.

Shaving 0.6mm off the width of the iPhone 5S, the 6 is one of the thinnest devices we’ve ever laid our eyes upon. Though holding both in your hands you wouldn’t instantly notice the difference. While the iPhone 6 is slimmer, its size increase does come with a bit of a weight gain, going up from 112g to 129g. Again, this weight increase is far from noticeable and the iPhone 6 almost feels unusually light.

SEE ALSO: iOS 8 tips, tricks and secrets

iPhone 6 vs iPhone 5S: Screen

iPhone 6: 4.7-inch 1334 x 750, “Retina HD” LCD with Ion strengthened glass, improved polariser
iPhone 5S: 4-inch 1136 x 640 IPS LCD

If you’re looking to upgrade from the iPhone 5S to the iPhone 6, the biggest reason why is probably the increased size screen and resolution. Moving from 4-inches to 4.7-inches is the biggest jump we’ve seen in screen sizes (not counting the iPhone 6 Plus) since the inception of the iPhone back in 2007 and it fundamentally changes the iOS experience.

Along with a bigger canvas to play with, the iPhone 6 also ups the resolution to Retina HD, or 750 x 1,334. While this is only technically slightly more than 720p, the iPhone 6's LCD display is beautiful. Colours are accurate, saturation is on point and there’s just the right amount of clarity. No, you don’t get those popping bright colours you would get on one of Samsung’s Super AMOLED panels, but it’s the accuracy and brightness that’s key here.

Both the iPhone 5S and iPhone 6 have great displays, with no pixels to be found in sight and they also boast the same 326 ppi pixel density. Viewing are impressive too. Tilt the phone to the side and you won’t be met with any shading or colour loss, which is always something we love to see.

If you’re looking for something bigger, the iPhone 6 is the clear winner and we really feel the 4-inch screen doesn’t have long left. But, the display on the iPhone 5S is still one of the most accurate around and we have no issue recommending it.

iPhone 6 vs iPhone 5S: Connectivity

iPhone 6: Bluetooth 4.0, 4G/LTE, Wi-Fi 802.11ac, NFC (Apple Pay only), Lightning connector USB 2.0, Airdrop, Continuity, Car Play
iPhone 5S: Bluetooth 4.0, 4G/LTE, Wi-Fi 802.11n, Lightning connector USB 2.0, Airdrop, Continuity, Car Play

Every update Apple increases the connectivity options in its flagship smartphone and the iPhone 6 is no exception.

New for the iPhone 6 is wider support for even more LTE bands, faster Wi-Fi with the 802.11ac speed and finally, NFC.

NFC, or Near Field Communication, has been commonplace in Android phones for years now, but Apple has always refrained from putting the tech into its phones. However, before you get your hopes up that you’ll be sharing info with a tap and connecting to compatible speakers instantly, the chip here is solely for one purpose, Apple Pay. Apple Pay in itself is a new feature for the iPhone 6 and lets you tap to pay at compatible outlets. While it’s currently only available in the US of A, we’re hoping it’ll land on UK shores sometime in 2015.

SEE ALSO: iPhone 6 vs Samsung Galaxy S5

Apple did a similar thing last year, only letting users use the Touch ID fingerprint sensor for unlocking the device, but with iOS 8 that all changed. Let’s hope the Cupertino company does something similar with iOS 9 and opens up the NFC chip to all.

Both devices boast Bluetooth 4.0 and this is especially necessary if you have a Mac running Yosemite, as it allows the two devices to connect with each through Continuity. This frankly awesome feature lets you start a message on your Mac and continue it on your phone or quickly switch from viewing a webpage on your iPad to seeing it on your laptop. 

iPhone 6 vs iPhone 5S: Performance

iPhone 6: 64-bit Apple A8 dual-core, 1GB RAM, M8 co-processor
iPhone 5S: 64-bit Apple A7 dual-core , 1GB RAM, M7 co-processor

As you’d expect, the newer iPhone 6 ups the internal specs in almost every way. The processor has been increased from the A7 to the A8, though it remains dual-core and the quad-core graphics have the pushed from a PowerVR G6430 to a PowerVR GX6450 CPU.

The motion co-processor has also been beefed up, moving from the M7 to the M8 and it now, amongst other things, calculates how many flights of stairs you traverse every day. It’s a neat trick, but probably not one to update solely for.

Swiping through menus, scrolling websites and playing even the most graphically games intense are all done with ease on 64-bit processors of both the iPhone 6 and iPhone 5S, though as time passes we expect to see more apps and updates from Apple to take advantage of the extra speed produced by that A8 chip.

RAM is, sadly, still at 1GB on the iPhone 6. Which for a high-end device is somewhat of a disappoint especially as Apple kitted the iPad Air 2 with 2GB. While the lack of RAM doesn’t make that much difference, you do notice that web pages always have to reload and your in app state won’t be saved for very long. We’d bank on the iPhone 6S (or whatever it’s called) to come with 2GB.

SEE ALSO: iPhone 6 vs iPhone 6 Plus 

iPhone 6 vs iPhone 5S: Speaker quality

iPhone 6: Single speaker on bottom edge
iPhone 5S: Single speaker on bottom edge

In terms of sound quality, both phones are evenly matched. That is to say that neither of them is very good.

Apple has stuck with keeping its speaker on the bottom edge of the phone for the iPhone 6 and having the sound point down, rather than at you, means you’ll often block it with your hand.

If you are hoping for the pounding audio you get with HTC’s BoomSound speakers, then you’ll be disappointed.

The iPhone 6 probably just pips the 5S to the post. Music and loudspeaker conversations are both a bit clearer and it packs a decent hit more volume to boot.

More: iPhone 6 camera: A Photographer's Perspective

iPhone 6 vs iPhone 5S: Software

iPhone 6: iOS 8.1.2
iPhone 5S: iOS 8.1.2

One of the things that Apple does well is ensuring older devices are running the latest software, so you won’t find the iPhone 6 rocking a separate version of iOS or coming packed with loads of exclusive features.

There are a couple of unique features though, one being a choice of homescreen views - Standard or Zoomed. Zoomed mimics the iPhone 5S and gives you larger icons and bigger text, but doesn’t really make the most of the new display size, while Zoomed spreads things out, shrinks down the icons and makes everything feel that extra bit roomy.

Another new addition is Reachability, which brings the whole display down with a double tap of the home button.

All the new features that came with iOS 8, notably Continuity, Notification Center widgets, the Health app and improved APIs all work the same whether you’re rocking the iPhone 6 or iPhone 5S.

iOS may trail Android when it comes to customisation, but it still stands tall as the winner when it comes to apps. The App Store is packed to the rafters with useful, fun and productive tools and games and it’s really the iPhone’s standout feature. Apple also gives you free downloads, if you buy either an iPhone 5S or iPhone, of apps like its iWork suite and Garageband.

iPhone 6 vs iPhone 5S: Camera

iPhone 6: 8-megapixel sensor, digital optical image stabilization, TrueTone flash, face detection, 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera, 1080p HD video recording
iPhone 5S: 8-megapixel sensor, 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera, 1080p HD video recording, TrueTone flash

We’ve spent plenty of time with both cameras on these two phones and we have to say they are both really quite fantastic.

Even though it’s now over a year old, the iPhone 5S still keeps up with the big boys of 2015 when it comes to detail and as it boasts the same amount of megapixels as the iPhone 6, picture quality is not too different.

But, there are a lot of improvements in the new model. Focussing is much quicker and more accurate, locking onto your target is almost instantaneous and you can quickly change to something different with equal amounts of speed.

Shots taken in the dark are also much improved. Pictures are still not perfect when the lighting conditions are less than stellar, but people and detail is much more visible and the iPhone 6 provides some of the best low-light shots on any smartphone.

Video has also been drastically improved on the iPhone 6. Footage is ridiculously smooth at 1080p and detail is fantastic. A new super slo-mo mode which records at 240fps (the iPhone 5S only does slo-mo at 120fps) again shoots professional looking video that can be slowed right down.

Have a look at our camera samples for a full-on comparison below

iPhone 6 vs iPhone 5S daylight photo comparison

iPhone 5S sample in good light

iPhone 6 sample in good light

iPhone 6 vs iPhone 5S low-light photo comparison

iPhone 5S low-light photo sample 

iPhone 6 low-light photo sample

iPhone 6 vs iPhone 5S low-light with flash comparison

iPhone 5S low-light (no flash) sample

iPhone 6 low-light (no flash) sample

iPhone 6 vs iPhone 5S:  Battery Life

iPhone 6: 1810mAh non-removable battery

iPhone 5S: 1560mAh non-removable battery

Looking at the numbers you’d think that the iPhone 6 would have the better battery life, but due to the larger, higher-res display and beefier internals eating through more juice, that’s not really the case.

In real world testing, both phones last about the same amount of time, roughly a day of medium to heavy use. Unplug them in the morning and with a full day of use they should both have just about enough to see you through until bedtime.

We did find that the iPhone 6 lasted at bit longer when playing games and binge watching Netflix videos, but it seemed to drain more juice with doing the more mundane things like replying to emails and answering the phone.

Sadly, there are no nifty battery saving modes built into iOS just yet, so there’s no automatic way to conserve battery when you hit the red. However, as both phones are quick chargers, you won’t be waiting for too long by the mains plug.

iPhone 6 vs iPhone 5S: Price

The iPhone 6 is available in three flavours - 16GB, 64GB and a mammoth 128GB version and with prices starting at £539 SIM-free, it doesn’t come cheap. That price jumps to £619 for the 64GB model and again to £699 if you want 128GB.

It does seem a little unfair to compare the iPhone 6 to the iPhone 5S in terms of price because upon release, the iPhone 5S came in at the same price points. In fact, you’re actually getting more bang for your buck with the iPhone 6 because for the same price you’re getting 64GB instead of the now defunct 32GB.

If you buy a iPhone 5S right now, you have two options. For £459 you’ll get 16GB of storage, but for £40 more that will be doubled to 32GB.

The Verdict

Every year Apple releases an update to the iPhone line and every year it manages to improve the device in enough ways to make the upgrade worth it.

With the screen size jump this time around the decision to upgrade is even more important to think about. If you’ve been longing for an iPhone with more room for games, video and reading the iPhone 6 is most definitely for you.

But, it’s not just the increase in screen size that makes a iPhone 6 a worthy upgrade as there’s plenty more improvements too. A beefier A8 processor, fantastic camera that produces point and shoot worthy snaps and smooth slow-mo video at 240 fps and a crispy, accurate and bright display all combine to make this easily the best iPhone yet.

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