Despite its relatively small physical size, Apple’s entry into
the smartwatch world caused the
biggest stir out here in Cupertino, California. But it was the iPhone 6 that will be of most immediate
interest to us all, not least because it’s going on sale in a week
and is a lot larger than the current iPhones.
And then there’s the iPhone 6
Plus, which is even larger still. Fortunately, I travelled from
London to California to test them first-hand.
First, the iPhone 6. The first thing you may notice when picking
up the new model is not actually its 4.7-inch screen; the first
thing I noticed was that it feels a lot thinner than the 5s and 5c,
and its rounded edges suggest you’re holding a very small iPad mini
rather than a larger iPhone. The chassis has a satisfying curvature
as the rear shell folds around to the front, and meets the glass of
the display in a way that feels nearly seamless.
The next thing I noticed was that my index finger was very
confused. Its usual home, guided to by years of muscle memory, was
the lock button on the top of the device. Except now that button
has gone. Apple has rehoused it on the right-hand side of the
device around the place a thumb would comfortably sit if the phone
was held in the right hand.
After those hurdles were cleared, the screen size got some
attention. By current Android phone standards the iPhone 6’s
display is still quite small; so large is the Sony Xperia Z3 that
the compact version is only 0.1mm smaller than the iPhone 6. But
with its 1,334×750-pixel “Retina HD” resolution Apple’s phone looks
as pin-sharp and vibrant as the 5s upon close inspection.
However, sit it next to the iPhone 6 Plus, with its larger
5.5-inch screen and massive Full HD 1,920×1,080-pixel resolution,
and if you get your eyes close enough one can see the difference in
pixel density between the two models. The 6 Plus’s pixels are so
tiny they’re hard to see no matter how close you get your face,
whereas one can just about make out the ones on the regular iPhone
6 if you look hard enough. Put them both at arm’s reach and the
difference is imperceptible, so don’t let that guide a buying
A major new feature is the iPhone 6 camera’s continuous focus.
In practice this means if you focus on an object in the foreground
and then move the camera towards something more distant, the phone
immediately refocusses on the distant object. No tapping to
refocus, it just happens instantly. This was demonstrated in
Apple’s stage presentation, and I was pleased to see it works
exactly as well when I tested it. This is true whether taking a
still image or video.
The iPhone 6 Plus includes all of these features, as well as the
same Apple A8 processor (although we’re not yet sure how fast these
chips are clocked — it may be that the version in the iPhone 6
Plus is more powerful in order to drive the additional pixels on
screen). But it includes the option of using the device in
landscape mode, which means it can offer a two-pane way of viewing
email and messages: inbox on the left, selected message open on the
right. The same goes for the homescreen, which in landscape mode
puts the application dock normally at the bottom of the screen on
the right-hand side of the device and rotates homescreen icons
Many new features of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus were harder to test
in our brief time with the devices today. Technologies such as the
new M8 motion coprocessor that handles movement tracking and other
physical measurements was fairly redundant while standing still,
and the advanced graphics powered by Apple’s new “Metal”
architecture hasn’t been developed for by games-makers enough for
us to give it a run for its money. These features we’ll be testing
in our full review at launch but you can preview them all in our
initial report from Apple’s conference.
Apple has made a smart move in growing the size of its flagship
product’s screen, but it has also grown the size of its mobile
phone portfolio in a way that risks the creation of confusion. On
sale in the UK for example this month will be iPhone 5, iPhone 5c,
iPhone 5s, iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. Five models, three screen
sizes. It definitely allows Apple the opportunity to reach into a
wider spread of demographics but at the expense of being able to
say “this is the only phone you need”.
But regardless, the new iPhones are exciting steps into a
territory Android has trodden well over the last year or so, but in
a way many iPhone users have been hoping for. Paired with iOS 8,
which will come as standard when the device goes on sale on 19
September, it’s going to dissolve a lot of concerns that Apple
hasn’t kept up with the competition in the phone space.
We’ll be ready to give it our final word once our full review is
complete at launch.