iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus

Design – Curves And An Aluminium Unibody
The leaks were on the money. Both new iPhones ditch the hard angles and glass backs of their predecessor, the iPhone 5S, in favour of a more rounded, unibody anodized aluminium chassis available in silver, gold or ‘space gray’. The Apple logo on the back will be in stainless steel.

One area of concern for some is the confirmation of a protruding camera (more later), but on the whole the new chassis promises a significant step forward in durability. There is also a sensible evolution with Apple moving the power button to the side to make it easier to reach.

Size And Weight – Bigger But Not Monstrous

Once again the leaks were right. I discussed the fact the 4.7-inch iPhone 6 would have virtually identical dimensions to the 5-inch Nexus 5 and that is also true of the weight.

The iPhone 6 measures 5.44 x 2.64 x 0.27 inches (138.1 x 67 x 6.9mm) and weighs 4.55 ounces (129g) – a weight increase that is roughly proportional to its 16% volume increase compared to the iPhone 5S.

A Nexus 5? 5.43 x 2.72 x 0.34 inches (137.9 x 69.2 x 8.6 mm) and 4.55 ounces (129g).

Meanwhile the iPhone 6 Plus clearly has the 5.7-inch Samsung Galaxy Note 4 in its sights. The Plus measures 6.22 x 3.06 x 0.28 inches (158.1 x 77.8 x 7.1mm) and weighs 6.07 ounces (172g).

For reference the Galaxy Note 4 comes in at 6.04 x 3.09 x 0.33-inches (153.5 x 78.6 x 8.5 mm) and 6.21oz (176g).

Ultimately those with big hands may just get away with using the iPhone 6 one handed but, even though Apple has done well to keep their respective weights down with the move to aluminium, both models will take some getting used to for long term iPhone owners. Below are some tips.

Display – 4.7-inches and 5.5-inches
The size of the display for the new iPhones was never in doubt, but both their resolution and materials remained in doubt. Now we can clear up both and it is a mixture of good and bad news.

First the good: the iPhone 6 Plus will have a standard 1920 x 1080 pixel native resolution which is significantly higher than the 1704 x 960 pixels that had been widely mooted. Video will be the big winner here with the resolution being Full HD, though it falls behind the recent trend for ’2k’ 2560 x 1440 pixels displays as seen on the Note 4 and LG G3.

On the flip side the iPhone 6 Plus resolution delivers 401 pixels per inch (ppi) – significantly ahead of the 326ppi Apple claims constitutes a ‘Retina Display’ (where the naked eye can no longer distinguish between individual pixels) – so there are unlikely to be many complaints.

iPhone 6 owners on the other hand may feel slightly aggrieved. The 4.7-inch display’s 1334 x 750 pixel count is a step behind the 1080p displays we have become used to seeing on similar sized phones (the original HTC One delivered a 1080p 4.7-inch display in early 2013). As such the iPhone 6 just hits the 326ppi measurement, but it is no improvement on the pixel density Apple has offered since the iPhone 4.

Of course there is more to a display than just pixels and here Apple has done well. Both iPhones have strong contrast ratios (iPhone 6 – 1400:1, iPhone 6 Plus 1300:1) and brightness ratings (500 cd/m2) despite Apple stating that it slimmed down both phone’s display backlights.

Sapphire Goes Missing
Perhaps the biggest shock of the event was Apple made no mention of either handset having a much touted sapphire display. Instead Apple spoke of “Ion-strengthened glass” and even Apple’s formal specifications don’t mention sapphire by name.

Of course it could still come to pass that sapphire is a core component or layer within the new screen, but having written that evidence supporting sapphire displays was anecdotal it would be a shame to be proved right. Unless Apple offers up more details in the near future it seems only chemical analysis will confirm or disprove it once and for all.

One Handed Use – Apple Makes Concessions
While not the smallest of phones, the iPhone 6 obviously has an inherent advantage over the larger iPhone 6 Plus, but Apple has a couple of tricks up its sleeve. Most logical is its extension of the swipe-to-go-back gesture seen in Safari to the rest of the UI. Repeating this gesture over and over may become tiresome, but it is a neat solution.

In a more surprising move though Apple has also commandeered the home button double tap command to enable what it is calling ‘Reachability’. This is a fancy term for just moving the whole UI halfway down the screen to make it easier to tap the navigation buttons in the top corners. I warned this would be a problem.

That said one handed use, whether by swipes or Reachability will at least make both handsets technically friendly for one handed use. How practical or enjoyable they prove, only time will tell.

Apps – Better Scaling

If size and one handed use are the downsides of a bigger display, the good news is Apple plans to use the extra real estate wisely. Apple demonstrated this with the iPhone 6 Plus which – like an iPad – can display its homescreen in both portrait and landscape modes and apps themselves get a touch of the iPad about them with additional functionality when horizontal.

Apple has already adapted a number of its own apps to take advantage of this and it shouldn’t be long before third party developers get in on the act. Samsung has long worked on additional functionality for its Note phablet and this change sees Apple bring its iPads and iPhones much closer together (curiously Apple didn’t name drop the iPad all night).

As for existing apps, Apple is keen to stress both iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus owners should not worry. The company said iOS 8 will integrate a ‘desktop class scaler’ which should be a lot smarter than the old ‘zoom’ that hit the iPhone 4 when the Retina Display was introduced or how iPhone apps are still handled on the iPad to this day. Apple didn’t state whether the scaler could also be used to improve the iPad’s display of iPhone apps, but it would seem a logical extension.

Performance – Surprisingly Inseparable

Typically this is a big one with new iPhones, but Apple made much less noise about it than in previous launches. Like the A7 chip in the iPhone 5S, the A8 within the new iPhone 6es will be 64bit and Apple is claiming 50% and 20% better graphics and CPU performance respectively. This is a long way off the gains Apple has touted in past generational step ups (the iPhone 5S doubled the CPU and GPU performance of the iPhone 5, for example) but gaming should take another leap forward and no-one could accuse the iPhone 5S of feeling slow in the first place.

Interestingly during the event Apple was less focused on raw performance than refinement of performance. What this translated to is greater sustained performance with far less heat build up. Fingers crossed Apple has pulled this off because numerous red hot rivals need to take note.

As for the A8 chip itself Apple stated that it is 13% smaller than the A7 and built using the 20nm fabrication process, but the company made no differentiation between its performance on the iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus. I remain convinced the iPhone 6 Plus will run at a higher clock speed, but if not the iPhone 6 could prove the more powerful phone as it is driving considerably less pixels. Benchmarking will solve this as it is the sort of nitty gritty Apple is never happy to divulge.

In addition to the A8, both phones also get the new M8 motion coprocessor. Like the M7 it is primarily aimed at fitness applications and can now distinguish between running, cycling and elevation. The latter thanks to the well leaked inclusion of a barometer.

Lastly we come to connectivity. I’ll deal with NFC in a dedicated section so aside from that the big news is the integration of 150Mbit capable LTE on both models. Neither gets LTE Advanced (capable of 300Mbit+ though yet to widely roll out) but arguably more useful is both phones’ compatibility with no less than 20 LTE bands. This should make the new iPhones work with 4G services almost anywhere in the world, so your roaming bill can get bigger faster than ever before!

Interestingly both the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus will also sport VoLTE (Voice over LTE). Like LTE Advanced this is also something not many networks offer, but Apple said it is working specifically with T-Mobile in the US and EE in the UK to make it happen and it enables far higher quality voice calls. Meanwhile the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus will also offer 802.11ac WiFi just like the iPhone 5S.

Camera – Same Resolution, But iPhone 6 Plus Comes Out Ahead

Apple has never been one to join the megapixels race and it resisted once again keeping the count on the iPhone 6 and 6S the same eight megapixels as seen on the iPhone 5S, iPhone 5/5C and iPhone 4S.

That said the sensor itself is improved. Both the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus sport an f/2.2 aperture which Apple says will take in 81% more light and an upgraded ‘True Tone’ flash for more realistic flash lighting. New ‘Focus Pixels’ also half autofocus times and enable faster face and smile detection as well as continuous autofocus in video.

Where the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus differ, however, is their image stabilisation. Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS) has become a mainstay of most premium smartphones – it moves the lens around to minimise camera shake that causes blurred shots – and it comes to the iPhone 6 Plus. Strangely though the iPhone 6 has to do with digital image stabilisation, a cheaper software-based alternative. Apple may have worked miracles here but I expect the iPhone 6 Plus to take the better shots, particularly at night where a steady hand for longer exposure times is crucial.

As for the front facing FaceTime Camera, it is a disappointing tie. Both iPhones’ front cameras gain HDR, improved face detection and a burst mode for better selfies (actually name dropped by Apple) though the resolution itself remains a measly 1.2 megapixels. Apple may not be playing the megapixel game, but it could do better here.

Video is also a tie. Both iPhones offer 1080p video recording at 30fps and 60fps (frames per second) as well as 120-240fps in slo-mo. A lack of 4k video recording is more of a shame for the spec sheet than in reality, but you can bet Samsung, LG and Motorola (who have all released 4k capable smartphones) will use its absence from both iPhone 6es to attack Apple from now on.

Memory – Finally 128GB

At long last Apple has made the step up to 128GB and with solid state memory prices having crashed in recent years hopefully it will see rivals follow suit.

Of course Apple’s philosophy of shunning expandable microSD storage makes the capacity boost particularly pertinent, though the company’s decision to still offer a 16GB edition as its baseline rather than increasing it to 32GB (a capacity which has been ditched altogether) is a shame.

Battery Life – iPhone 6 Plus Scores Big

With battery leaks hinting that the iPhone 6 may offer little improvement over the iPhone 5S, it was welcome news to find improvements have been made. Audio, video and WiFi browsing increase 10% to 50, 11 and 11 hours respectively while 3G browsing increases 20% to 10 hours. These are fairly subtle improvements, but 3G talk time gets a 40% bump to 14 hours even if standby time remains the same at 10 days. LTE-based browsing unfortunately doesn’t improve staying at 10 hours.

By contrast (and as we have seen from other phablets) the 6 Plus uses its extra size well to push iPhone battery life to a whole new level. The big winners are audio (doubling to 80 hours), video (a 40% boost to 14 hours) 3G talk time (from 10 to 24 hours), 3G browsing (8 to 12 hours) and standby (up to 16 days). Arguably the most pertinent ratings – WiFi browsing and LTE browsing – only increase 20 per cent to 12 hours, but it remains the biggest generational leap in iPhone history.

NFC And Apple Pay – The iPhone 6 And 6 Plus Ace Card

I won’t go into great detail on iOS 8 here as that is an article in itself, but where the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus stand out from their forebears is in iOS 8’s debut in the world of mobile payments.

Dubbed ‘Apple Pay’ it combines the Touch ID, Passbook and – in the case of the new iPhone 6es – NFC to bring a truly digital wallet and touch payments to the company’s handsets for the first time. Furthermore adding NFC to both the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus should help the wider payment industry as Apple’s rivals have been waiting for Apple to adopt the standard for years.

The good news is Apple is aboard in fine style. Apple Pay launches with the backing of American Express, MasterCard and Visa along with Citibank, Bank of America, Capital One, Well Fargo and Chase giving it access to 80% of the US market.

There are 22,000 retailers at launch as well such as Whole Foods, Staples, Starbucks, Subway, Macy’s, Bloomingdales, Groupon and McDonalds (including drive throughs!) and third party apps can offer the ability to use Apple Pay to process external payments. For example, OpenTable restaurant bookings.

As you might have spotted these partners indicate Apple will launch Pay first in the US and we await news of its wider international plans. That said with chip and pin and touch payments increasingly common in the rest of the world, and in the UK in particular, it should be an accessible market when Apple does expand.

In short: should Apple Pay take off it could well prove one of the biggest drivers of iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus sales.

What it comes down to

The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus represent Apple’s biggest ever iPhone redesign . Key selling points will be the larger screens, anodized aluminium chassis, improved battery life, enlarged memory and the NFC-enabled Apple Pay.

The handsets were not without their disappointments though. Sapphire appears to be a major casualty, the iPhone 6 has a disappointingly low native resolution and OIS really should have been offered on the iPhone 6 not just the iPhone 6 Plus.

Meanwhile the ‘Reachability’ workaround for iOS 8 feels like a stop gap until Apple works out a better way system for reaching the key navigation buttons it still positions in the top left and right screen corners.

Despite this a lot more could have gone wrong when Apple super sized its iPhones, but it is fair to say for the vast majority Apple has nailed it. The iPhone 6 is likely to the bigger seller, but for me the iPhone 6 Plus is the more complete handset.

  • Forbes