Between the two new iPhones, the iPhone 6 feels best in my hand. It's thin, elegant, performs really well, and has many of the features I need. But it lacks extra battery life and optical image stabilization, which I care about. So do you go with the more expensive, larger iPhone 6 Plus? I wish I didn't have to debate between two very similar premium phones.
The iPhone 5S, the 6, and the 6 Plus.
6, or 6 Plus?
See, here's the problem: Apple has added two phones at once for the first time. And they're both pretty similar. So which one do you pick?
The good news is that the iPhone 6, which feels great to hold, has nearly all the same features as the 6 Plus. The iPhone 6 and the 6 Plus both have larger screens than previous iPhones. They both have new A8 processors. They both have 16, 64, or 128GB of storage. They both come in three colors: white/silver, white/gold, and space gray, which is black/darker silver.
The differences between the two aren't that tremendous, but they're important. The 6 has a 4.7-inch, 1,344x750-pixel display. The 6 Plus has a 5.5-inch, 1,920x1,080-pixel display, plus optical image stabilization in the camera and the ability to run more apps in horizontal-landscape mode, with split-screen effects like an iPad. It's also significantly bigger, and weighs more -- but it does have a longer battery life.
You're not losing much with the 6. But it's not the absolute top of the line, and maybe that bugs you. If it does, get the 6 Plus.
For potential buyers of both phones, here's how it breaks down:
For owners of older iPhones looking to upgrade, these new iPhones are massive leaps in screen size. The 4.7-inch iPhone 6 will probably be more than enough, but the 6 Plus may be downright intimidating unless you're looking for a mini-tablet.
For Android owners who once jumped ship from iOS and want to come back, this is the iPhone generation you've been waiting for. It's the best iPhone since the iPhone 5. Back then, 4G LTE and an improved screen and camera made the difference. This time, a larger screen, a fast processor, NFC with Apple Pay (although likely only that), the additional customization features of iOS 8, and bumped-up storage tiers go a long way to close the feature gap with current top Android phones.
For iPhone 5S owners or habitual iPhone upgraders, think of the chief advantages as a bigger screen and the potential of Apple Pay. The improved processor, camera, 4G LTE and Wi-Fi speeds, and possible battery-life gains are steps up, but not massive leaps. In other words, if you don't have a strong desire for the larger screen, you could easily ride your iPhone 5S (running iOS 8) for 12 more months, and wait for the inevitable iPhone 6S and 6S Plus in 2015.
For hard-core Android fans, well, there are Android phones that cost less, have higher-resolution screens, boast better battery life, have removable SD card storage, and even removable batteries. You won't find all of these on an iPhone 6, but this is the most attractive iPhone yet. You can't have everything in Appleland.
My favorite-feeling 4.7-inch phone, the one that proved larger screens could be made in compact sizes, was the 2013 Motorola Moto X. Does the iPhone 6 pull off the same feel? It's close, but different.
The new iPhone design may seem bold and different, or possibly a little like the HTC One M8's curved metal, but it's also still very Apple. In fact, it's kind of like the iPod Touch design, or how the iPads are made. This iPhone is slightly thinner than before, but it feels much thinner; part of that's the increased screen size, and partly it's the curved design. Glass from the front folds ever so slightly around the edges, and the sharp industrial hard edges of the iPhone 5 and 5S are completely gone.
It also feels a little like the original iPhone, which had a curved design, too.
The new iPhone feels good to hold and beautifully solid; the metal back and glass front are smoothed, and comfortable. But it also has a slight aura of fragility; maybe it's the extra-slim look, or the massive pane of curved glass on the front. I instantly wanted to slip it into a case just to be safe.
Also, the slightly protruding camera lens on the back of the iPhone 6, while similar to the one on the fifth-gen iPod Touch, made me worry about placing the phone down on rough surfaces, regardless of the sapphire lens.
The volume buttons, which were round, raised buttons before, are now elongated like those on the iPod Touch and iPad. The top-right power/sleep button has shifted to the right, like you find on some Android phones. It takes some getting used to, but it's easier to press now that the phone is bigger.
A round Touch ID home button remains at the bottom, and works the same as on last year's iPhone 5S: a simple press unlocks your phone, and it works amazingly well most of the time. This year, iOS 8 and Apple Pay will allow you to do more with Touch ID, making it an even more essential feature. But reaching that home button isn't quite as easy with one hand as it was before.
The 2013 Moto X (left), iPhone 6 (center), Nexus 5 (right). See what I mean?
If I have one problem with the new design, it's the bezel around the display. It's still big; bigger than most Android phones. It means that an iPhone 6 with its 4.7-inch screen is the same size as some 5-inch screen phones. For instance, the iPhone 6 is about the same height and width as a Nexus 5, which has a larger 5-inch screen, but larger than last year's Moto X, which fits the same 4.7-inch display into a more compact body.
Both the Moto X and Nexus 5 are thicker, but the iPhone 6's thin design also means a larger, flatter body. The iPhone 6 measures 5.4 by 2.6 inches, and 0.3 inch thick (138 by 67 by 69 mm). It weighs 4.5 ounces, or 128 grams.
Can that bezel be reduced next time, perhaps? Sure, the Touch ID home button needs to fit below the screen, but the extra space on top could have been been shaved down (assuming Jony Ive can live without a symmetrical design).
Yes, the new iPhone 6 is still one-hand friendly, and a whole bunch more so than the iPhone 6 Plus. There's even a sometimes useful but weird software feature called Reachability that pulls the top half of the display down to midscreen with a light double-tap of the Home button, for easy thumb access. It's helpful for one-handed use. I just wish the whole phone was a little less big...or that it could fit a slightly bigger screen in the same chassis.
Display: Improved, but good enough?
The iPhone 6 has an increased 4.7-inch display, a similar screen size as last year's Moto X. It's big for Apple phones, but still on the smaller side for Android phones, which have moved, lately, to the 5-inch territory.
iPhones have always had phenomenal displays, in terms of brightness and color quality both: David Katzmaier here at CNET has tested the last few, and they've been among the tops in smartphones.
We haven't done full display testing on these new iPhones yet -- stay tuned for that -- but the iPhone 6's 4.7-inch IPS display looks vivid, rich, and as good as that on the iPhone 5 or 5S, just bigger. But not that much bigger. The display's 1,344x750-pixel resolution is higher than the iPhone 5/5C/5S' 1,136x640, but it has the same 326ppi pixel density. It's a good step up, and a big help for nearly anything you'd use your phone's screen for.
A grid of six-by-four apps now fits on each page plus the four in the dock below, for 28 total: on the 5's 4-inch display, it's 24. There are more pixels horizontally and vertically, unlike the merely vertical lengthening of the iPhone 5. That also means the aspect ratio's the same, and videos and Web pages scale similarly.
A handy comparison of all iOS screen sizes: 4S, 5S, 6, 6 Plus, iPad Mini, iPad Air.
There aren't any optimized apps that take advantage of the extra pixels, other than Apple's core preinstalled apps, but older apps still scale up and fill the space without black bars. The results are mixed: the Kindle app and Netflix actually looked great, and text and video were crisp.
Many games look great, too, even without updating: Badland, Riptide GP2, Unpossible, and text-based games like Device 6. Some apps, however, have icons, keyboards and buttons that end up looking too large in the magnified display size. App updates will likely take care of this for most situations in the weeks to come, but right now it's not a perfect transition.
The iPhone 6 Plus has an even more impressive 1,920x1,080 5.5-inch display and 406 pixels per inch, but it's also a much larger phone. For my tastes, I'd go with the 4.7-inch iPhone 6. My opinion might change as I slowly accept ever-larger phones. I still think many people will find this 4.7-inch screen to be perfectly good, and perfectly functional while still being portable. But in the world of modern smartphones, the 6's screen resolution is a step below ideal.
It's much better than older iPhones, though. After a week using the iPhone 6, my iPhone 5S screen looks like the one on a first-gen iPhone.
Performance: Faster still
How fast do we need our phones to be? The potential of last year's crazily-fast-on-paper A7 processor still hasn't been fully tapped. The new A8 processor on the iPhone 6 isn't quite the quantum leap the A7 was. It's a 64-bit dual-core processor just like the A7, but Apple claims a 25 percent boost in speed and 50 percent graphics boost over last year's iPhone 5S.
In our tests (see the benchmarks below), we found that the A8, while faster, is a decent bump rather than a giant vault. Depending on which benchmark test you look at, the new processor was either above other phones (SunSpider 1.0.2, Linpack) or more in the middle of the pack (Geekbench 3, 3DMark).
These don't necessarily tell the whole story, but the A8 isn't a leap over the competition; it's more of a step forward year-over-year from the A7, while mobile processors keep getting faster all around. But really, what you want to know is, how do apps feel? The UI and app-launching speed of the new iPhone is zippy as always.
What will really prove how things feel are apps optimized for the new display. Those aren't really here yet in time for this early review, but stay tuned for future impressions with iPhone 6-tweaked games and apps. Also, keep in mind that Apple's new Metal coding tool for gaming could help iOS games perform even better with the A8 than what these initial benchmarks suggest.