iPhone 6 and 6 Plus: the important bits


WhistleOut
10 September 2014

Apple has unveiled the 4.7-inch iPhone 6 and 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus, confirming what we already knew to be two new models, both with larger screens than last year’s 5s. As usual there’s a lot of new stuff and upgrades packaged in with this year’s release, some of which is exciting and some of which has been billed as exciting, but is really just Apple catching up.

The two models

Apple has finally bowed to market pressure and up-scaled its screen size significantly. The smaller iPhone 6 has a 4.7 display, which is still a bit smaller than this year’s flagship Android devices but is a good 17.5% bigger than the iPhone 5s. The iPhone 6 Plus is a whopping 5.5 inches, or 37.5% bigger.

Both screens have seen resolution increases to match their new size, so there’ll be no drop-off in image quality.

As far as differences between the two go the iPhone 6 Plus has a few features that the smaller model doesn’t, but will cost more.

They’re both impressively thin – 6.9mm and 7.1mm respectively, compared to the 7.6mm on the 5s.

The new look doesn't seem very "Apple" right now, but we'll all get used to it fairly quickly. The sharp edges are all gone in favour of curves, but the rear is still anodised aluminium and the front panel all glass, except this time around the glass is slightly rounded-off towards the edge

In fact, the end result is a bit reminiscent of the Nokia Lumia 925 from a while back. The corners are a little sharper, but the rounded metal, top and bottom bands around the rim and the rounded glass are all very familiar.

Apple Wallet and NFC

Definitely the news with the biggest potential to change things up is Apple Wallet, which is only possible because Apple has finally included Near Field Communication (NFC) technology in the iPhone.

Apple Wallet is an attempt at replacing your credit cards with your phone. In theory it’s far more secure. The system requires you to tap the top of your phone against a card reader while holding your finger or thumb on the Touch ID fingerprint scanner to verify that it’s you.

Recent iCloud security scares in mind, Apple swears that it doesn’t record what you bought, how much you paid, where you bought or when you bought it. All of that information is between your credit card vendor, your bank and yourself.

This technology already exists, but it’s still very exciting. Multiple companies, including Google and Paypal, have failed dismally at trying to bring phone payments in to the public sphere. Apple’s system may just be easy and popular enough to give the technology the popularity nudge it needs.

Of course, the inclusion of NFC means that we could start seeing bump-style accessories for iPhone. No matter what CEO Tim Cook says, bumping your phone against another device to begin a connection, or to transfer data, is a useful and easy feature.

Bigger resolution doesn’t mean better

Apple put a lot of emphasis on how many more pixels the new iPhones have, which is true. The iPhone 6 has 38% more pixels and the iPhone 6 Plus has 185% more. Even so, you won’t notice any improvements in image clarity on the smaller model, because the density of the pixels hasn’t changed.

It’s quite logical that as you increase the size of a screen, you also need to increase the number of pixels if you’re going to keep things looking the same. If you don’t, your pixels will spread-out and start to look a little fuzzy.

So what’s the pixel density of the new iPhone 6? 326 pixels per inch (ppi), which is exactly the same as the Retina Display on the iPhone 5s. A shame. Higher pixel densities have impressed users time and again in non-iPhone devices. It would have been nice to see Apple admit that maybe there really is a better option than Retina.

The iPhone 6 Plus has been toned-up a bit with a full-HD 1080p resolution, giving it 400ppi. It’s still not the 534ppi of other 5.5 inch phones on the market, but if you’re coming from an iPhone 4s or 5 it’s going to make you very happy. You’ll even be able to watch 1080p YouTube at full resolution.

Apps won’t be a problem

Despite the new resolutions, you shouldn’t have any problem with apps that haven’t been updated to support them.

If a developer is lagging behind in making a higher res version of their app, the whole thing will simply upscale to fit the full screen.

It might be a bit fuzzier than you’re used to, but at least it will function until an update can be released.

Cameras

Once again there’s no increase in the megapixel (MP) rating for the iPhone cameras. With any luck this means Apple has focused on making better lens systems and image sensors. 8MP is enough to provide some pretty stunning pictures if it’s backed up by the right hardware and software, so there’s potential for there to be big improvements.

Both phones are said to have 2x faster autofocus thanks to the implementation of Phase Detection (PD), instead of Contrast Autofocus, which is more common in smartphones. PD is what you’ll find in most DSLR cameras and has already made its smartphone debut in the Samsung Galaxy S5. That’s not to knock Apple; the GS5 has incredibly fast autofocus and Apple is wise to have included it.

An unexpected development is that the new rear cameras stick out a little bit, which may end up meaning the phone rocks while on its back on a flat surface.

Interestingly, the 6 and 6 Plus have different systems for image stabilisation. The iPhone 6 uses Digital Image Stablisation (DIS), which is essentially a clever algorithm designed to compensate for movements made while taking the picture.

The iPhone 6 Plus has Optical Image Stablisation (OIS), which is supposed to be the superior option. OIS means that the lenses actually physically move to off-set any twitches made by your hands while taking the photo. It will be interesting to see if there are any noticeable benefits between two identical systems that only differ in this one respect.

The front-facing cameras have also been updated. They take better photos and video, as well as now offering a burst-mode for selfies. You can even take single-shot HDR pics.

Loco Motion

The new M8 motion coprocessor present in both phones will be a big hit with health enthusiasts. It can apparently tell the difference between walking, running, going up stairs and even cycling; providing you with far more-detailed information about your physical routine.

There’s even a barometer to measure relative altitude, so you can tell how far up or down you’ve gone on a hike or climbing expedition.

Plus-sized love

The iPhone 6 Plus has two features that help take advantage of its big 5.5 inch screen. The first is that the Home Screen can be switched to landscape mode. This is something that has remained puzzlingly absent from Android phones and should prove useful.

The second is the ability to shrink down the display. A double-tap of the Home/Touch ID button shifts everything down, leaving the top-half of the display blank. This way you can reach the address bar in the browser, or reach any on-screen buttons at the top of the screen without having to stretch.

Perhaps a more obvious solution would be moving these things to the bottom of the screen, a la Windows Phone, but at the very least it's preferable to some of the finger gymnastics that Android sometimes requires.

No sapphire screens

There have been countless leaks suggesting that the new screen panels would be made out of a sapphire composite. Actual panels had been leaked to numerous tech journalists, some of whom demonstrated the uncanny abilities of the material to fend off scratches and bend to an impossible degree without breaking.

Unfortunately, it didn’t happen this time around. The screens use what Apple called “Ion-strengthened” glass. So we don’t really know just how hard or scratch-proof they are yet, but you can be assured it’ll be a step up from last year.

Faster WiFi

WiFi 802.11 ac is now supported. This is the fastest commercial WiFi technology generally available to consumers at the moment. Apple has been a little slow in implementing this, but most folk are still using the slower 802.11 n standard in their homes so it hasn't been a real issue.

All the 4G

The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus support up to 20 LTE bands. That’s crazy. Most phones offer significantly less than that.

What it means for you is that your iPhone will be more-likely to work on any 4G network worldwide than ever before.

Verdict

The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are a solid acknowledgement from Apple that bigger screens really are more popular. There's no shame in this, nor does it deserve insult. Apple has a long history of providing the best end-user experience that it can, and to do that it has to occasionally bow to public demand.

The new and upgraded features are generally what we all expected based on leaks and Apple's history, with the exception of the over-performing M8 motion chip and the new Apple Pay wallet system.

With any luck phone payments will finally take off with Apple at the helm. It's been exactly what the technology has needed for some time now and, truth be told, this is the first time it looks to have been done right.

Aside from that, there aren't any industry-rocking features in the new iPhones, nor are there any disappointments. It will be interesting to see which of the two iPhones proves the more popular (money on the cheaper, smaller iPhone 6), but you can rest assured that they'll both outsell just about anything else on the market.


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