Apple iPhone 6 And iPhone 6 Plus Review

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Even as smartphones continue to grow in length and width to accommodate larger screens, they've continued to shrink in thickness. The iPhone 6's thin, attractive body is no exception, with Apple shaving off 0.7mm (0.5mm for the iPhone 6 Plus) compared to the iPhone 5s. Reducing thickness partially offsets the weight penalty of an overall larger phone, improving in-hand feel, and giving the marketing department something to brag about.

But can a phone be too thin? Amid reports of the iPhone 6 Plus' bending in pockets and Unbox Therapy’s video showing one being bent by hand, it's tempting to think Apple went too far, compromising durability for vanity. While the Internet is rife with panic and ridicule, it's important to remember that any phone, particularly larger phones, can bend or break if forced to assume the curvature of one's posterior, and no sane person is going to spend hundreds of dollars on a new phone just to see if they're strong enough to bend it with their hands. The new iPhone, or any smartphone, regardless of thickness, doesn't need to be indestructible, just strong enough.

A bent iPhone 6 Plus showing the weak point at the volume controls [Image Source: Unbox Therapy]

As exciting as seeing a product tested to destruction is, we have neither the budget nor the equipment to start bending phones. I know, bummer. Instead, we'll defer to the test conducted by Consumer Reports, which pitted the thin aluminum bodies of both new iPhones against several competing devices. A three-point flexural test was performed to determine the force required to permanently bend and then break each device. In this limited test, both the LG G3 and Samsung Galaxy Note 3 prove more durable than either of the new iPhones. However, both iPhones outperformed the HTC One (M8). Interestingly, the iPhone 6 Plus was slightly more durable than its smaller sibling. This could be an aberration due to the limited sample size (only one of each phone was tested), or perhaps the sides of the aluminum frame on the iPhone 6 are thinner in cross section.

One of the criticisms leveled against the Consumer Reports test is its failure to replicate the loading condition shown in the Unbox Therapy video, which is essentially a four-point bending condition. However, plotting the bending moment versus distance from the top edge of the phone shows that the three-point flexural test produces a greater bending moment at the critical section of the volume controls for the same applied load. In other words, the three-point flexural test used by Consumer Reports requires less force to permanently bend an iPhone 6 then the force required to bend it by hand as shown in the video.

Moment at critical section for three-point bending condition (top) and four-point bending (bottom)

While the iPhone 6 Plus is undeserved of its overly thin, fragile reputation, all of the physical testing has identified a weak point in its design by the left-side volume controls. The bending induced by these tests creates a tensile force above the volume buttons and a compressive force below. Since axial stress is equal to force divided by cross-sectional area, it follows that stress is higher in this location due to the cutouts to accommodate the controls.

Inside the phone, behind the volume buttons, is a fairly thick bar, attached by a screw on each end, that looks like it could reinforce this area. However, the only way to transfer force from the frame to the bar is through friction between the mating faces underneath the screw. With such a small screw being threaded into a relatively soft aluminum, it’s unlikely that enough preload can be created to keep the joint from sliding with a bending load applied to the frame, nullifying any load transfer into the bar and isolating the weak point in the frame.

iPhone 6 internal structure behind volume controls [Image Source: iFixit iPhone 6 Teardown]

A better solution would be to machine a long slot into the aluminum frame for the bar to fit into. Then, when the frame bends, the bar would contact the upper and lower portions of the slot. The bar would then carry a significant portion of the bending load, relieving the weak point around the volume controls.

Proposed solution to alleviate weak point at iPhone 6 volume controls [Image Source: iFixit iPhone 6 Teardown]

Another way to fix the problem is to use a material other than aluminum. Titanium is both stiffer and stronger than aluminum. However, it’s heavier, more expensive and more difficult to machine. Steel is also stiffer and stronger, but considerably heavier. The only reasonable material that’s stiffer, stronger and lighter than aluminum is carbon fiber composites. It would be more expensive to use than aluminum, but not by much. If Apple is going to continue reducing weight and thickness, it needs to embrace composites. I predict we’ll see a carbon fiber iPhone 7.

  • manez
    I can think of a thousand more interesting things to review than the newest iphone x.
  • blackmagnum
    Everyone would want to own one and be the envy of their peers. They want a device that is attractive, well-made and intuitive. That's how Apple sells them by the millions, don't you agree?
  • lanbaner
    Nvidia has a better GPU. The G3 has a better display. The Note 4 has better camera. Gone are the days were the iPhone was the leader on all fronts. Would be nice to see all the strengths from the competition in one phone. Considering the transition to 20nm for Maxwell early next year we could possibly see an iPhonekiller on all aspects. Although I have to agree that the build quality on the iPhones is always top notch.
  • M3God
    Other then just sticking to just 1GB internal memory, there is no mention that apple switched to cheaper and slower TLC memory to make more profits while screwing the customer. The TLC memory has been linked to crashes and bootloops that require a trip to the apple store.
  • aaaas
    I browse the Web and talk on the phone on Verizon all the time. At least the last two generations of devices have been able to do this... at least for android...

    Interesting article, as I've been considering a switch to iphone.
  • KaptainK
    " Wi-Fi calling is currently only supported by T-Mobile in the U.S."

    Not True! Republic Wireless has been using wi-fi calling for years. Republic also includes a feature where it will hand the call off from wi-fi to cellular if you leave the wi-fi zone during the call. Does the iPhone do this??
  • cknobman
    A. Thanks for including the Lumia 1520 in the comparison chart of phablets, most other sites dont do this.

    B. The price for the 6 plus in that same chart ($299) is on contract while every other device price is off contract.

    As a whole if you are an iPhone user I am sure you are happy with the changes made to the 6. Outside of that the iPhone "cool factor" ship has sailed and this wont be winning over many Android users.
  • cmi86
    How can this guy sit here and hump apples leg by saying the A8 should be competitive if not class leading when it's competition averages over 1Ghz higher clock speed and 2 more cores.... I know a lot of people doing reviews now a days feel obligated to shine up certain companies and make their products appear in a positive light. This is not that... this is a blatant lie.
  • SirKnobsworth
    How can this guy sit here and hump apples leg by saying the A8 should be competitive if not class leading when it's competition averages over 1Ghz higher clock speed and 2 more cores.... I know a lot of people doing reviews now a days feel obligated to shine up certain companies and make their products appear in a positive light. This is not that... this is a blatant lie.
    Clock speeds and core counts can be deceptive, the key point here being that Apple's Cyclone cores can execute about twice as many instructions per clock cycle as most of their competitors. This shows up in the benchmarks - the iPhone 6 and 6+ do very well in single threaded tests, though tend to lag behind competitors in multithreaded tests like physics. Note that this is also the approach that Nvidia is taking with their Denver cores - fewer, bigger cores as opposed to more small cores.

    How this translates into actual performance will vary of course - most smartphone workflows aren't particularly well threaded so having four cores as opposed to two probably won't make a huge difference in many situations, but I'm sure there are plenty of exceptions.
  • ZXS
    Due to their zero reading on the black level tests, AMOLED displays are said to have an infinite contrast ratio.

    MATT, do you know this is Samsung's marketing BS?

    Smartphone displays reflect about 6% of incoming light (which is much more than LCD backlight emits). Actual contrast of AMOLED is worse than that of LCD since the reflections are so high, but maximum brightness is much lower than that of LCD.