iPhone 6

Review: First impressions of the new iPhone 6

iPhone buyers won't need a second chance to be impressed with Apple's latest smartphone

iPhone 6

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This year's launch of the new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus wasn't exactly the smoothest of rollouts. There were glitches during the Sept. 9 unveiling, a delayed and problematic pre-order process and an iOS 8 launch on Wednesday that saw key features pulled at the last-minute. But that didn't stop the company from booking an astounding four million in iPhone pre-sales, and it didn't dissuade thousands of people from standing in line for hours (some, for days) for a chance to buy one of the new iPhones.

The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are the first to offer display sizes larger than any previous model (up from their predecessor's 4 in. screen to 4.7 in. and 5.5 in., respectively). They also include a new A8 system-on-chip processor; faster LTE access; NFC for the upcoming Apple Pay system; a new M8 motion sensor and processor; support for 802.11ac Wi-Fi; better 8-megapixel cameras (see video below); and even a new barometer sensor.

In hand is my new 128GB iPhone 6 in Space Gray. Like many, I awoke just before 3 a.m. on Sept. 12 to preorder my iPhone. After 20 minutes of trying to access the Apple Store online while simultaneously using the Apple Store app on my iPhone 5S and iPad Air, I was finally able to get into the store using the iPad and place my order. Many would-be buyers weren't so lucky, and within a short time, hoped-for delivery dates of Sept. 19 slipped to a week to 10 days. (For iPhone 6 Plus buyers, those delivery dates are now well into October.)

Getting my pre-order meant that unlike last year, I could watch various reports of the thousands and thousands of fans hoping to buy iPhones yesterday from the comfort of my own home.

iPhone 6 in its box Michael deAgonia

By pre-ordering my iPhone 6 at 3 a.m. on Sept. 12, all I had to do on Friday was wait for the UPS man to show up.

The UPS man arrived at mid-afternoon; minutes later, the box was open and I was holding my new phone. Hours (and hours and hours) later -- after literally the slowest iCloud restore I've ever experienced -- my iPhone 6 was set up and ready, a near clone of the iPhone 5S save for the bigger screen, sleeker styling and better everything.

First impressions

I should note that these are just my first impressions; a full review, including a look at how the new A8 chip works and whether battery life remains good, will come after I've had some serious time with the iPhone 6. (Follow me on Twitter or check my site if you want to know when the final review is published.) But it seems already clear from the crowds lining up to buy it to the details I can see up close that this will be a home run for Apple.

The biggest change, of course, is that the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus features screen sizes much bigger than earlier iPhones. Picking which one is the right for you is the first decision iPhone buyers had to make this year. I chose the iPhone 6 because it's more portable.

iPhone 6 ready for setup Michael deAgonia

Setting up the iPhone 6 is a breeze, although the restore from my iCloud backup took longer than normal. Here's the iPhone 6 turned on for the first time.

My initial impression of the 4.7-in. screen: it's a great screen. The iPhone 6 display is larger than, but just as pixel-dense (326 pixels per inch) as the older iPhone 5/5C/5S, and the viewing angles are insane. While there is some slight shifting when viewing off center, colors retain a remarkable consistency -- even at extreme angles. Apple calls these screens Retina HD displays -- the 6 Plus packs 401 pixels per inch on its display -- and the improvements are worthy of the new name.

The iPhone 6 doesn't have the most pixel-dense or largest screen out there, but what it does have won't bring in complaints from new owners. Images, text and videos are well saturated, sharp and bright. The video below -- filmed and edited on the iPhone 6 -- shows off the new phone's video capture capabilities in 1080p HD and with 240 frames-per-second slow motion.

How big is too big?

What may bring complaints, though, is the size of the display, which extends a tad beyond my limits of comfortable one-handed operation. I have already found myself shifting the iPhone 6 more often in hand to compensate for the larger size. And I have quickly learned to appreciate the new feature called Reachability, which lowers some of the interface closer to where your thumb is located when the Home button is touched twice. It's a smart and useful feature that goes a long way to reducing the amount of yoga your thumb must accomplish to reach the top-most interface elements and the Notification area.

An iPhone 6 Plus in hand Ken Mingis

Here's an iPhone 6 Plus. If the smaller iPhone 6 somehow feels cramped, this is the up-sized option.

I do enjoy the larger viewing area for reading, games and videos, though I wish the iPhone's frame had been shrunk a bit to hug the screen more. I'll also be glad when all third-party apps have been optimized for the larger sizes. As it stands, those apps that haven't yet been updated are scaled up to full screen, which is useful if you have poor vision, but results in a softer look and sometimes blurry interface elements. For those apps, the additional screen size is largely a waste until they're redesigned.

I've long been a fan of the iPhone 5 and 5S designs. Last year, I was keen to get the white/silver 5S because of the way the chamfered edges haloed light around the white-framed display (in concert with how light played off the metallic Touch ID ring). The look and overall design really appealed to me and pulled me away from my usual space gray/black models.

This year's iPhone 6 and 6 Plus loses the reflective chamfered edges in favor of a sleek and thin pill-shaped profile, featuring a glass front that tapers into a smooth curve to meet the anodized aluminum body. On the Space Gray model, the entire front of the iPhone is cloaked in black, with components like the camera, sensors and even the display borders barely visible. The result is that the front of the new iPhone delivers a sleek, nearly unbroken black shine.

Build quality and design

I better understand the intention, the attempt at symmetry, in the shape of the original iPhone in 2007, because the iPhone 6 does that design better. With the exception of the rectangular display, nearly every aspect of the latest design swoops into a curve, forgoing the hard angles that have been part of the iPhone look since 2010's iPhone 4.

Build quality is best-in-class, with the parts displaying precision craftsmanship and tight tolerances; if you're a hardware fan, you have got to appreciate Apple's designs.

Side view of the iPhone 6 Michael deAgonia

Build quality for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus is best-in-class, with  parts displaying precision craftsmanship and tight tolerances. The screen curves at the edges to meet the bezel.

While the iPhone 6 looks like an iPhone, it doesn't feel like recent models. The smooth shape and texture are a departure from the style of the iPhone 4 and 5 families, and not just because the iPhone case is larger to compensate for the screen. The overall shape, from its thin form (6.9mm) to the lack of hard angles, means it feels smoother in your hand than previous models. But the sleek feel comes with a caveat: The anodized aluminum casing is a little more slippery, so iPhone 6 owners should be a bit mindful when carrying this model.

iPhone 5 / 5s / 6 / 6plus comparison [side view] Apple

Both the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are thinner than the old iPhone 5S, and have rounded edges.

The size increase for both models means the keyboard has a little more room to stretch, and because of that, the iPhone 6 feels much nicer to type on than previous models. Also, the new location on the power button -- on the right side of the phone where the old volume controls were -- is going to take some getting used to. (Moving it from the top to the side was an obvious decision to put the power button within easier reach when using the phone one-handed.) And, of course, the larger screen offers room for an additional row of home screen icons.

Final thoughts

There is much more to this iPhone -- and how it integrates with Apple's new iOS 8 -- I have yet to explore. I'll be putting it through its paces in the next week or so. But I don't need a lot of time to know that the iPhone 6 has all of the marks of being another hit product. It's fast, it's gorgeous, and it comes complete with an app and media ecosystem that is second to none. That's why people get up at 3 a.m. to pre-order or brave the urban outdoors for days -- for this kind of technological excellence.

Apple has delivered again.


Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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