Apple went big with its iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus introduction — with the launch event and screen size. Both models are bigger than any iPhone Apple has made before, and very noticeably so. That size, however, does come with some benefits like faster processors, better cameras, and even support for a NFC-based mobile payment system called Apple Pay.
Apple's iPhone 6 is bigger, but still fits for most one-handed use
Big screens aren't new to the smartphone world—in some ways Apple is playing catch up. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, and it's a tactic the company has used successfully before: watch what competitors are doing, see what they're getting wrong, improve, redesign, and then move into the market.
The new models look more like a cross between the original iPhone and the iPad Air, so they're familiar, yet different. You can still choose between silver, gold, and space gray, but there's been a change up in storage capacities.
Apple still offers a 16 GB model, but dropped the 32 GB version to make the previous highest capacity 64 GB version the middle of the road version. The top of the line storage option is now 128 GB, which is great, but keeping 16 GB of storage instead of making the base model 32 GB was a mistake.
Compared to the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c, the new models really are a lot bigger, and for some people, the extra features may not be worth the size increase. Read on to see if the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are worth the price for you.
iPhone 6: Bigger is Sometimes Better
The new iPhone is available in two screen sizes: the 4.7-inch iPhone 6 and the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus. In comparison, the original iPhone shipped with a 3.5-inch display, and the jump to 4-inches with the iPhone 5 seemed like a huge increase at the time.
Both models sport redesigned bodies with rounded instead of flat edges.—those rounded edges are more comfortable in your hand. Both are thinner than the iPhone 5s, too. The iPhone 6 is 6.9mm thick, and the iPhone 6 Plus is 7.1mm. The iPhone 5s is 7.9mm thick.
Those rounded edges and thinner body make the iPhone 6 about as easy to manage one-handed as the iPhone 5s despite its bigger screen, and if you have big hands the 6 Plus may be manageable. I was surprised at just how big the 6 Plus is. It didn't feel like a phone in my hand, it was an iPad mini Junior. It's big, big, big.
I found the iPhone 6 Plus to be unwieldy and unbalanced. There wasn't any way it was going to work as a one-handed smartphone; instead, the 6 Plus was a small tablet that also made phone calls. It fit in my pocket without any problem, which was nice, but losing out on one-handed use killed any chance of me using the 6 Plus.
The iPhone 5s (top) and iPhone 6 (bottom) have the same ports on their tail end
The 4.7-inch iPhone 6, however, is still a one-handed device for me. Like the iPhone 5 and iPhone 5s, it's barely manageable one-handed, but it works. Thanks to its thinner body and rounded edges, and iOS 8's Reachability feature, I can work my way around many of the things I use my iPhone for ever day one-handed and without shifting the phone around too much to reach icons and buttons.
The killer part of Reachability for me was bringing buttons that previously sat at the top of my screen down into thumb reach. I'm actually jockeying my iPhone 6 around in my hand less than the iPhone 5s thanks to Reachability. That's a bonus I wasn't expecting, especially since I'm using a much larger screen now.
The iPhone 6 (bottom) is thinner and longer than the iPhone 5s (top)
Knowing whether or not the new models will fit in your pocket, bag, or whatever you use to carry your smartphone is important especially because we are talking about much bigger phones. Some pockets or bags designed to fit earlier models may not have enough space for the iPhone 6, and especially the iPhone 6 Plus.
The iPhone 6 measures 5.44-inches (138.1mm) tall, 2.64-inches (67mm) wide, and .27-inches (6.9mm) thick. The iPhone 6 Plus is 6.22-inches (158.1mm) tall, 3.06-inches (77.8mm) wide, and .28-inches (7.1mm) thick.
Google's Nexus 5 (left) has a bigger screen than iPhone 6 (right), but is thicker
Apple added a little weight back in with the new models, too. Where the iPhone 5s weighed 3.95 ounces (112 grams), the iPhone 6 weighs 4.55 ounces (129 grams), and the iPhone 6 Plus weighs 6.07 ounces (172 grams). Considering the increased size, that small of an increase in weight an outstanding accomplishment.
My mind tricked me into thinking the iPhone 6 weighed less than the iPhone 5s because of the way the weight is distributed. It really does weigh more, but it was a pleasant surprise because I was afraid the 6 would feel noticeably heavier. The iPhone 6 Plus, however, does feel heavier, and it felt like the weight was off balance so I was always worried it would fly out of my hand at any moment.
I know several people who say the iPhone 6 Plus fits their hand nicely and balances well, so if you can try both before buying, you should. Choosing a new iPhone is like buying shoes: You need to see what fits best before spending your hard earned money.
Next: iPhone 6 Display: Bigger, Brighter, Beautiful
Page 2 - iPhone 6 Display: Bigger, Brighter, Beautiful
Apple packed an IPS Retina HD display into both new iPhone models, and they look great. That's no surprise considering the Retina display on previous iPhone models looked awesome, too.
The iPhone 6 display resolution clocks in at 1,334 x 750 with 326 pixels per inch (ppi). That's the same pixel density as the iPhone 5s, but it doesn't look any less crisp. The iPhone 6 Plus sports a 1,920 x 1,080 resolution with 401 ppi.
You'll have to look close to see any difference between the two. When I compared text with a very critical eye, the 6 Plus looked marginally sharper, but there isn't enough difference to make resolution a determining factor in which model to buy. It's really about how big a screen you want on your iPhone, and if it fits in your hand.
The iPhone 6 screen (right) is big enough for an extra row of icons compared to the iPhone 5s (left)
Apple improved viewing angles and color quality by using dual domain pixel technology. This technology has already shown up on some smartphones from competitors, and it pays off for the new iPhones because colors look richer, text is crisper, and image quality is still great even when viewing at very oblique angles. It's also easier to see in direct sunlight, although that wasn't an issue for me with the iPhone 5s.
The display on both models really is beautiful and the overall quality is so good at times it almost seemed fake, as if someone made a super high resolution print and slid it behind the iPhone's glass. That beauty comes at a price because those deep, rich colors are far from accurate. If you're hoping to use your iPhone for serious image editing and color correction, think again. Those colors may look great for photo and video viewing, but they aren't useful for images you edit unless you intend to view them only on your iPhone 6 or 6 Plus.
Rumors before the iPhone 6 launch claimed the new models would use Apple's own synthetic sapphire glass for the display, but that turned out to not be the case. Instead, Apple is using what it calls ion-strengthened glass, which sounds pretty much like the same Corning Gorilla Glass the company has already been using.
There are a couple possibilities why Apple isn't using sapphire glass for the iPhone's display: the glass proved to be unsuitable for the phone's display, or it can't produce enough to meet production demands. Either way, we don't have sapphire display iPhones.
The display may not be sapphire, but it's still very clear and Apple's attention to detail shows because it also has slightly rounded edges. The subtle curve makes the transition from the metal body to the glass display smooth and comfortable, and it blends visually with the rest of the iPhone shape.
If size matters to you, the display is one place where the iPhone 6 Plus really stands out. You get bigger videos and a lot more space to work with, which is especially handy if you plan on doing any serious content creation or editing on your smartphone.
The 6 Plus also supports system-wide landscape viewing mode, just like the iPad Air and iPad mini. Thank you, Apple, for finally making that a possibility on the iPhone. Now give us that on the iPhone 6, too.
If text and icons seem just a little too small on the new iPhone screens, you can try out the new Display Zoom setting. It's hiding in Settings > Display & Brightness, and does just what it sounds like: It gives a slightly zoomed-in look to your iPhone's interface. Display Zoom made my icons and text look bigger than I liked, but it is a personal preference, so it's nice that Apple included the option.
Assuming you be able to reach the top of the screen one-handed, even on the iPhone 6, is a bit unrealistic, so Apple included a new feature called Reachability, as mentioned above. A quick double-touch (not double-press) on the Home button slides everything on the screen down about half a screen length to bring icons and interface elements in reach.
I found Reachability to be a necessity, and it works well. I did, however, have a couple issues with it: The status bar doesn't slide down, so you can't do a top-of-the-screen tap to slide back to the top of a document, and as soon as you tap on any interface element you're immediately tossed back out to regular viewing mode. I often need to tap on more than one interface element at a time, and if they're all near the top of the screen, it's actually easier to use your iPhone two-handed than continually double-tap the Home button.
Next: iPhone 6 Performance: More Power Under the Hood
Page 3 - iPhone 6 Performance: More Power Under the Hood
The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are run by an Apple-designed A8 processor with 1GB RAM. There was speculation that 2014 would be the year Apple finally bumped up the iPhone's RAM to 2GB, but no dice. Performance seems to be fine even without that extra gigabyte of RAM although it's still to early to tell if that'll be a problem as more processor-intensive apps roll out.
The M7 motion co-processor introduced in the iPhone 5s is now the M8 processor, plus there's a relative barometric sensor packed into the new models. The updated M-series chip, along with the barometric sensor, makes the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus more accurate at tracking physical activity, plus they can track how many flights of stairs you climb each day.
I love the idea of being able to use my phone to track and log how far I walk and how active I am, but I don't see the iPhone as a replacement for a dedicated fitness tracker like the Fitbit One or Jawbone Up. My iPhone my be near me, but isn't always on me. I want a more accurate accounting of my activity throughout the day, and unless my tracker is always on my body, I'm not getting that information.
The iPhone 6 outperforms the iPhone 5s in Geekbench 3 processor tests
Apple claims its A8 chip gives a 25 percent performance improvement compared to the A7, and up to a 50 percent performance improvement for graphics. The iPhone 6 feels faster, but just a feeling isn't the same as knowing it really is faster, so I pitted my iPhone 5S against the brand new iPhone 6 in a series of benchmark tests. The end result showed the 6 is, in fact, faster all the way around.
The iPhone 6 shows improvement in graphics rendering in GFXBench 3.0
The iPhone 6's A8 processor gives it an advantage over the iPhone 5s's A7
iPhone 6 Battery Life: Longer Life, Maybe
It doesn't matter how great your smartphone is if it can't make it through the day without recharging the battery. Bigger screens typically mean higher power consumption, but the new iPhones seem to be able to keep up with the smaller screen iPhone 5s, and the iPhone 6 Plus even manages to offer longer run time between charges.
The iPhone 6 has an 1810 mAh 3.82V battery tucked inside its case, which is a little better than the 1560 mAh battery in the iPhone 5s. The iPhone 6 Plus battery clocks in at a much higher 2915 mAh.
The iPhone 6 Plus battery life is substantially better than the iPhone 6
[Some image elements courtesy Shutterstock]
According to Apple's specs, the iPhone 6 offers up to 10 days standby time, 14 hours talk time on 3G networks, 10 hours online via 3G or LTE and 11 hours on WiFi, 11 hours video playback and 50 hours audio playback. The iPhone 6 Plus offers up to 16 days standby time, 24 hours talk time on 3G networks, 12 hours online via 3G or WiFi, 14 hours video playback and 80 hours audio playback.
I ran my tests on the iPhone 6 with Apple's standard app set installed, location services installed, Push notifications active, display brightness set to auto, Reduction Motion off, and phone noise cancellation on, and found that I was pleasantly surprised the battery didn't completely run down. In fact, I was concerned I needed to push my iPhone harder because I never dropped below 50 percent charge.
I didn't spend the day playing video games because I didn't have any installed, but I was snapping photos and video, checking email a lot, browsing the Web on my cell connection and WiFi, talking on the phone more than I typically do, texting, and using the camera flash as a light in the dark. I'm sure battery life will take a hit once I overload my phone with apps that all want to know where I am and pull online data all the time are busy doing their thing, and I hope that doesn't pull my batter life back down into iPhone 5 territory.
Based on the short amount of time I've had to abuse the iPhone 6's battery, I'm impressed with how well it holds up and the 6 Plus's bigger battery should give you even more time between recharging. Battery life has been enough of an issue that I keep a charger at my desk, another in the bedroom, one in my car, and a portable charger in my bag all the time.
I've been caught with a dead phone often enough that I won't change my habits now, but I will be a little less paranoid throughout the day about straying too far from outlets.
Next: iPhone 6 Camera: Making 8 Megapixels Even Better
Page 4 - iPhone 6 Camera: Making 8 Megapixels Even Better
The basic specs for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus rear-facing camera, at least on paper, are in line with the iPhone 5s. All three sport an 8 megapixel camera with 1.5µ pixels, ƒ/2.2 aperture, a five-element lens, True Tone LED flash, exposure control, photo geotagging, burst mode, sapphire crystal lens cover, and more.
The 6 and 6 Plus, however, include what Apple calls a new 8 megapixel camera, and that "new" part packs in a lot of wow. I love the iPhone 5s camera so much that it's been my go-to choice for photos over the past year, and coupled with olloclip lenses and glif tripod mount and stand, I have a fantastic camera kit in my pocket. The iPhone 6 camera was so much better that I could pick out its shots as iPhoto thumbnails — they were that much better than the reference pics I took with my iPhone 5s.
The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus cameras use what Apple calls Focus Pixels, also known as Phase Detection Autofocus. That lets the camera autofocus faster, which translates into a higher likelihood you'll get the shot you want instead of a blurry image or one that's in focus, but a couple seconds too late.
Flower photo from iPhone 6 camera (click for full size)
The iPhone 5s colors are darker and muted compared to the iPhone 6 (click for full size)
Apple says the new cameras offer better facial recognition and panorama shots up to 43 megapixels. Video capture still comes in at 1080p HD, but now comes with 30 and 60 frame per second capture rates. Slow motion video capture now offers 240 frames per second along with 120 fps, plus video recording also includes cinematic video stabilization and continuous autofocus.
Offering the option to double the frame rate for video capture to 60 fps makes for sharper looking footage when there's lots of fast movement, and using the new 240 fps setting for slow motion videos can create some surreal effects. It's also great for capturing lots of detail when there's lots of fast action.
The iPhone 6 offers electronic image stabilization, and the 6 Plus offers optical image stabilization. What's the difference, you ask? The iPhone 6 uses software to help cut down on motion blur from jittery camera hands. The iPhone 6 Plus camera floats so it can physically move to counteract unwanted motion.
If you have pretty stable shooting hands, you probably won't see any difference. If you take lots of photos while you're moving, that optical image stabilizer could really come in handy.
The iPhone 5s (left) doesn't handle low light, high contrast shots as well as the iPhone 6 (right)
Where the optical image stabilization stands out is in low light shots. It won't make your photos brighter or bring in more detail, but it will help to keep some shots from being blurry.
After playing with the iPhone 6's camera for a couple days I can't stop thinking about how this is a dream come true for independent film makers.
Boulder's Pearl Street at night from the iPhone 6 (click for full size)
iPhone 5s night shots look great, but the iPhone 6 is subtly better (click for full size)
The front-facing FaceTime camera is still 1.2 megapixel, but now uses an ƒ/2.2 aperture instead of ƒ/2.4 to let in more light. It also offers auto HDR for photos and video instead of just photos, better facial recognition, and burst mode.
The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus cameras stick out from the phone back
This is the first time Apple designed the rear-facing camera to stick out from the phone's back, just like the fifth generation iPod touch. The lens bump is definitely noticeable at about half a millimeter thick, but isn't nearly as obtrusive as I expected. It does keep your iPhone from laying flat on tables and desks, although you do have to push on the phone corners to really notice the small wobble it introduces.
Most cases will make that bump a non-issue, too.
Next: Audio Quality, Wi-Fi, NFC
Page 5 - iPhone 6 Audio Quality: Even Better
Along with all other amazing features Apple packs into the iPhone, it's also a phone. Apple kept that in mind when designing the new models, for both the microphone and speakers.
Audio quality on voice calls is improved compared to the iPhone 5s and noise canceling is still top-notch. It's easier for me to hear what people are saying when they're on older iPhones or other mobile phones, and iPhone 6 to iPhone 6 calls are even clearer.
I'm not a big fan of playing music through the iPhone's built-in speaker, but I was pleasantly surprised both with songs I loaded into the Music app, and with iTunes Streaming. This isn't a replacement for your home audio system, but the sound quality is good enough when you don't have headphones or external speakers available.
The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus both support Voice over LTE, or VoLTE, which offers better audio quality and — great news for Verizon customers — support for voice and data at the same time. Verizon has started rolling out VoLTE support in some areas, so there's a chance you can try it out soon.
iPhone 6 WiFi and NFC: Faster Networks plus Mobile Payments
If your WiFi network runs at the faster 802.11ac speeds, like Apple's tower-shaped AirPort Extreme base station, your iPhone can finally take advantage of that performance, too. In my tests there wasn't any noticeable performance improvement, but that's because I was also limited by the bottleneck of my broadband Internet connection, which is pretty common. That extra speed will come in handy for large file transfers, like those big HD movies you'll record with the iPhone 6's new camera.
Everyone who has insisted after every iPhone launch that Apple is doomed because the latest model doesn't include Near Field Communication, or NFC, can finally quiet down. Both the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus include an NFC chip that Apple will be using for its Apple Pay mobile payment system.
The iPhone 6 has faster WiFi and LTE, and soon NFC mobile payment support, too
[Some image elements courtesy Shutterstock]
Notice I said "will be," because Apple Pay isn't up and running yet. Apple said it'll release an update for iOS 8 in October that enables the feature, so until then your NFC chip will sit unused.
Apple Pay works by securely storing your credit card numbers so you can pay for goods and services without pulling out a physical card. You just position your iPhone near to the store's NFC reader, and then authorize the payment with your fingerprint via Touch ID.
A lot of banks are already on board and many retailers, too, although not as many as Apple would no doubt like. NFC payment systems haven't had much success gaining momentum in the U.S., but it's possible that the iPhone's popularity will change that. We won't know until Apple rolls out its Apple Pay update for iOS 8, and even then it will likely take time before we know for sure if the the company's efforts have paid off.
We'll follow up on Apple Pay after it's available in October, so be sure to stick around because we'll let you know what works, what doesn't, and whether or not Apple Pay is worth your time to try out.
Next: iPhone 6: The Bottom Line
Page 6 - iPhone 6: The Bottom Line
Apple made a big move by making the jump to larger screens for the new iPhone models, and if the pre-order frenzy and launch day lines were any indication, a lot of people have been wanting more display space for some time. It's a good thing Apple went with two sizes because for some, the iPhone 6 Plus is just too big, and for others, the iPhone 6 isn't big enough.
Aside from screen size, battery life, and image stabilization for the rear-facing camera, the two models are identical. The real question is which works best for you.
The new iPhone 6: Bigger, better, and faster
If you're still rocking an iPhone 5 or older, making the jump to the iPhone 6 or 6 Plus is an easy decision. If you're an iPhone 5s owner, however, that's going to be a tougher decision to make because you already have a very capable smartphone and iOS 8 gives you many of the same features you'll see on the iPhone 6.
For me, making the move to the iPhone 6 from an iPhone 5s made sense because I wanted the faster processor and the improved camera is something I'll use almost daily.
Apple did a good job of making the iPhone 6 as easy as possible to hold and use one-handed, and its rounded edges that follow through from the metal into the display glass are a perfect example of the attention to detail I expect in everything the company designs. Moving the power button from the top to the side makes sense because both models are taller, but it was a little too easy for me to accidentally hit that button... over and over.
The screen on both models is bright and sharp, and even better looking that I expected. The bar was set high with the iPhone 5s, and Apple was up to the challenge.
The improved cameras, both rear-facing and FaceTime, make it even more difficult to justify carrying a point-and-shoot digital camera. For some, their consumer-level DSLR may start collecting a little more dust, too.
Both models are definitely bigger than the iPhone 5s, and that's going to take some getting used to. The iPhone 6 Plus is so much larger that I advise getting one in your hand to try before buying. You may find it works great for you, but if it's too big, better to find out before it slips through your fingers and falls to the ground.