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Hands on with Apple iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus

It’s a strange day when a pair of new iPhones gets upstaged at an Apple event, but perhaps that’s because pretty much everything about the new 4.7-inch iPhone 6 and 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus devices was already widely leaked ahead of time, right down to the way they looked. Still, it’s something different to hold them in the hand, and we got ample time to do that after the event.

Unlike the Apple Watch, which was available to the press only in tightly controlled demos, the iPhones were available for free play. The company even set up test payment kiosks to try out the new Apple Pay functionality.

When placed next to an iPhone 5s, the iPhone 6 looks noticeably bigger, while the 6 Plus looks positively gargantuan, but the iPhone 6 doesn’t feel like an especially large phone when you hold it—in fact, it makes the iPhone 5s feel kind of puny now. The 6 Plus is a different story. Like most phablet-style phones, it’s a handful, but Apple makes good use of the screen. A new two-up landscape mode for apps such as Mail, Messaging, and Calendar let’s you see previews of messages and events on one side and your inbox or full calendar on the other. Even the home screen reorients in landscape mode.

Apple’s made some accommodations in both hardware design and user interface to make them a bit more one-hand friendly. Because it’s hard to reach the top of the devices without completely reorienting your grip—it’s actually impossible on the iPhone 6 Plus—the sleep/wake button has been moved to the right side. And two touches of the home button engages Apples’ “Reachability” mode, which shifts the entire screen down so that you can access buttons and content that would otherwise be at the top of the display. It’s an interesting feature, but by now there are so many double-tap, double-touch, and press-and-hold functions with the Home button that it’s now easier than ever to launch the wrong thing.

We didn’t have much opportunity to try out the fancy new cameras with their Focus Pixels, and optical image stabilizer on the iPhone 6 Plus, so we’ll have to save that for the labs, but the pixels on the new Retina HD screens made a nice first impression. The resolution of the screens (1334 x 750 for the iPhone 6; 1920 x 1080 for the iPhone 6 Plus) is high, although nowhere near the “quad HD” resolution of both the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 or LG G3. But screen resolution is almost beside the point, since pixel densities these days are beyond the capacity of the human eye to differentiate. The new Retina display is using something called dual-domain pixels that Apple claims increase viewing angle and contrast. We’ll be curious to see how this display stands up to our lab tests, but on first look photos looked very nice, while text popped almost like you’d expect on an e-reader.

Finally, our trial of the new Apple Pay system was obviously a canned demo, but by combining the security of Touch ID with NFC (near-field communication), it seems like Apple Pay might have a lot of promise in a world where traditional credit cards seem increasingly insecure. We trained a finger to an iPhone 6, tapped at a payment console, verified with Touch ID, and our fake transaction was complete. The biometric verification is a nice touch, but we’re more intrigued by Apple’s promise that it stores absolutely none of your transactional—or even credit card data—on the phone itself. In fact, the Apple Pay system get’s a unique ID from your credit card issuer (the company has partnerships with American Express, Visa, and MasterCard), and uses that for transactions. Apple says the system is completely distinct from the iTunes store, but it will work for online payment as well. There are even a few vendors that are planning to implement hybrid real-world/cloud transactions—OpenTable will let you make reservations for a restaurant, then pay your bill via Apple Pay when you’re done with your meal. The system seems at first glance far more secure than magnetic-stripe credit cards, but we bet there are already legions of hackers salivating at the chance to be the first to crack Apple Pay.

They won’t have to wait too long. Apple Pay is coming in October, and the two new iPhones will hit stores on September 19. We’ll be bringing both models into our labs for a full review.

—Glenn Derene



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