As soon as you take one of the latest iPhones out of its box it makes a statement. Gone are the chamfered edges and harshly industrial looks of Apple Inc.'s last four flagship handsets. The new design is smoother, softer and all together more organic, like picking up a stone that's been worn smooth by running water.
But the new feel can't obscure the main feature: Both the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus are big. Super big. They are larger than any smartphone Apple Inc. has ever released. Both feature curved glass screens that are flush with the soft, gently rolled aluminum case corners and with 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch displays respectively, they offer substantially more screen real estate than last year's iPhone 5s and its 4-inch Retina display.
Larger handset dimensions tend to make for a more cumbersome phone. Apple has taken both design and software steps to deal with this. In addition to moving the iPhone's power button from the top of the frame to its side where it can be easily reached by its user's thumb, Apple has also built a number of helpful features into iOS 8. For example, a quick double tap to the Touch ID sensor will lower the top of the interface so that you'll be able to tap at any upper quadrant elements (top row of apps, address bar on the browser) without adjusting your grip.
What's more, iPhone 6 Plus owners can expect to find their handset's additional screen real estate unlocks some new functions. In apps such as Messages, the Plus shows the portrait of the individual you're chatting with next to their conversation thread. The iPhone 6 does not. Turn the 6 Plus on its side to use it in landscape, and most every built-in app will provide you with a dual pane interface. For example, you can see all of the Notes files on your device while inputting text, access more detailed weather reports, multiple Messages threads while texting and more. It's an insanely useful feature that I wish was available on Apple's smaller handsets.
As for storage, both handsets come in 16, 64 and 128 gigabyte capacities (strangely, 32 GB was missing). I found 128 GB offered more than enough space to handle my 10,000-song music library, six HD movies, a ton of apps, close to 2,000 photos and still have 10GB left over for additional digital flotsam. In short, I could carry much of my digital life with me in my pocket, no connection to the cloud required: it's an amazing feeling.
And of course, no iPhone release would be complete without Apple driving another nail into the coffin of the point-and-shoot camera industry. Apple chose to stick with an eight megapixel rear camera sensor, but did give this aging tech a serious software refresh. Something named Focus Pixel has been added that provides significantly faster focus speeds, so there's no longer a need to tap at your display in order to focus the camera (although you can still do this to chose different focal points). The rear-facing camera can now shoot in 1080p HD video at 60fps, record slow motion video at a mind-numbing 240fps, has greater control over image contrast and now takes panoramic shots up to 43 megapixels in size. And since neither our love of selfies or video calls appear to be losing any steam, Apple's also seen fit to update the front facing FaceTime HD camera sensors. According to Apple, the new sensors allow for the improved low-light photos and "burst mode" photography. Burst mode selfies. Just think about that for a moment.
iPhone 6 Plus users will find their photos and video will also benefit from improved optical image stabilization, which provides significant compensation for the minute movements and shaking of your hands while taking a photo or shooting a video. This translates into superior low-light photos and far less jerky video when you're shooting on the move. For serious photo bugs and videographers, the level of image stabilization provided by the 6 Plus camera alone may be reason enough to upgrade to the larger handset.
To view all your new video creations, Apple has also upgraded its resolution to something called Retina HD, which uses Dual-domain pixels for wider viewing angles. The resulting resolution is 1334 by 750 (326 ppi) for the iPhone 6 and 1920 by 1080 (401 ppi) on the iPhone 6 Plus. Compared to the last year's iPhones and iPads they appears to provide substantially clearer, more true to life video and still images.
That kind of display positively guzzles energy, and the 6 and 6 Plus come with 1,810 mAh and 2,195 mAh hour batteries respectively. During the company's Sept. 9 event, Apple's management team promised users up to 50/80 hours of audio, 11/14 hours of HD video viewing, 11/12 hours of continuous Wi-Fi Internet browsing, 10/12 hours of 3G cellular browsing, 14/24 hours of 3G cellular voice calling and standby times of up 10 or 16 days, depending on which handset you happen to own.
Did I get a chance to put all of this to the test? No. But don't worry: No sane person uses their phones for any one of these tasks for the duration of their handset's battery life. We switch between applications, we tweet, we surf, we play games in the bathroom and we say good night to our far-flung loved ones via video chat before bed. I can tell you that in the case of the iPhone 6, after a day of working, watching a few videos, talking on FaceTime, surfing, responding to e-mails and a bit of gaming, I was able to get through a day with roughly 50 per cent of my battery left to spare. The iPhone 6 Plus? About the same. That's better than my personal iPhone 5 was capable of when it was brand new.
So, what's not to like?
You could question the cost of the handsets – they're far from cheap. The 16GB models of the iPhone 6 will set you back $749 to purchase outright and $100 more for the 16GB 6 Plus. At the far end of the spectrum, the 128GB iterations of the handsets will cost you $969 and $1,079 respectively. I can't speak to what carrier-subsidized prices for this hardware might look like, but rest assured it'll likely make a healthy dent in your credit card.
And then there's the question of the Apple Watch. These phones have already been overshadowed by the wrist wearable (not expected to ship until 2015) which is bedevilled by questions of its battery life. What concerns me more, however, is the effect the wearable will have on the battery life of the iPhone that's slaved to it. The Apple Watch will rely on its iPhone host for most things, which means that it'll need to be connected via wireless radio. All of this can have a significant effect on the battery life of a phone over the course of the day. That said, I suspect that Apple's play at balancing the iPhone 6 Plus's larger size is to use the Apple Watch as a complementary interface for smaller tasks. It's a strategy that's served companies like Samsung and LG well (granted, their wearable hardware has met with some lacklustre reviews).
Full of both incremental and revolutionary updates, the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are excellent devices. For anyone who decides that they want to purchase one, the only question left is which handset is right for you.
If you tend to use your phone as, well, a phone, get an iPhone 6. Even if you currently own an iPhone 5s, its larger display, increased storage capacity and software improvements make for a solid upgrade.
But if you want to stay productive on the go, are serious about mobile photography, love mobile games or are thinking about buying a new phone and a tablet, then you might want to invest in the iPhone 6 Plus. Its spacious, 5.5-inch full 1080p display will serve you well for gaming, reading, browsing the Web or watching a movie. It comes with one of the most advanced mobile device camera systems available today. You'll be able to be productive on the go far easier than you might on a smaller handset, but in a package that's more portable than a tablet. Sure, it might not not fit in the pocket of your favourite pair of skinny jeans, but it's not as freakishly large as many of the Android phablets. What's more, unlike a lot of larger phones which force you to use a stylus for many tasks, the 6 Plus doesn't need or want one.
Many current iPhone owners might not feel the need to upgrade their existing hardware, but those keen to invest in these latest iterations of the iPhone will no doubt be satisfied with the power and versatility they have to offer.