As the calendar hits September, it often marks the introductions new iPhones and this year is no different. They hype surround the event was at an all-time high and subsequently, pre-orders for this batch of new devices saw frustrating customers scrambling to get their orders in, resulting in over 4 million pre-orders during the first 24-hours of being on-sale. People are ordering the iPhone 6 in record numbers. Tim Cook calls them “the best iPhones yet.” Honestly, that’s a claim that’s rightfully made every year. It doesn’t help folks who are pondering the question, “Should I upgrade to the iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus?” We’ll try to help guide you through that process, highlighting what’s new, what matters most and how you can successfully navigate the upgrade process without going broke.
Big Changes, What Matters Most
There are numerous upgrades throughout the new iPhones, but what are the game-changing features that you should care about first and foremost when deciding whether you should upgrade or not.
If you read my iPhone 5s review, I absolutely loved that phone. This year represents the 7th generation of iPhones. As a result, much of what we see each year are evolutionary improvements over existing tech. That’s not to say these are welcome improvements. More on that when we post our iPhone 6 review. Depending upon what phone you currently own, any or all of these can be massive upgrades. I’ll touch on that later, with recommendations based on your current iPhone. Using last year’s model as the barometer, these improvements could be considered evolutionary. Keep in mind, that when you move from ‘X’ number of generations, these components can have an extremely positive impact. For example, jumping from the A5 powered iPhone 4s to the 64-bit A8 processor will result in a vastly different experience at every interaction with iOS 8.
New Features, Game Changing?
These improvements fall into the category of new, but not that most users would consider game changing.
Bigger, Bigger Than Bigger
After years of pleading with Apple to make a bigger iPhone, they delivered with not one, but two iPhones with bigger displays. The last jump in screen size was the iPhone 4s to iPhone 5, which was a jump from a 3.5-inch display to a 4.0-inch display. Customers enjoyed a bigger display, while retaining one-handed use capabilities. This year, you have a choice between the 4.7-inch iPhone 6 and 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus. To help ease the transition to bigger displays, they have also made these incredibly thin. By have curved edges throughout and having the display beveled at the edges, it should help by making them comfortable to hold.
Here’s a look at the difference in size, from left to right iPhone.
In fact, let’s do one better. Using these images (via Reddit), you can see the actual size of each. Open the link specific to your computer and you’ll see the actual size. This is a useful reference to compare your current phone to the new one, without having to leave the comfort of home.
For iPhone 4S/4/3GS/3G/2G: iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus
For iPhone 5/5c/5s: iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus
For iPad mini 2/1
For iPad Air/4/3/2/1
For 11.6″ MacBook Air
For 13.3″ MacBook Pro/Air
For 15.4″ MacBook Pro Retina
For 21.5″ iMac
For 27″ iMac/Cinema Display
How does it feel in your hand? That’s something which requires a trip to the Apple Store or authorized dealer, wireless carrier. If you have a printer, you can print and cut out the exact sized paper-replica (via @jeremyanticouni) of either new model. Does it pass the front or rear pocket test?
These aren’t just bigger. The iPhone 6 displays feature higher contract ratio (1300:1 contrast ratio for Plus, 1400:1 for standard). The iPhone 6 Plus has a resolution of 1920-by-1080-pixel resolution at 401 ppi, with the 4.7-inch model offering 1334-by-750-pixel resolution at 326 ppi. These are improvements over the 1136×640 at 326ppi on both the iPhone 5s/5c/5. These also include dual domain pixels, making the displays viewable at a wider angle.
If you are concerned about the iPhone 6 being too big, that is a legitimate concern. iOS 8 includes a new feature called ‘Reachability’, which you can see in action in the video below. The screen gets compressed, allowing you to easily reach all quadrants of an app.
Apple Pay Replaces Your Credit Card, Lets You Pay With iPhone
Apple Pay is a new service that lets you use your iPhone to pay for goods and services. Apple has partnered with a number of U.S. based banks to allow you to make payments with your iPhone. Have you ever used Passbook to pay for coffee or to buy a movie ticket? It’s similar to Apple Pay, but without all the hassle. Once you add a credit card to Passbook, payments are done by simply using Touch ID and waving your iPhone 6 by an Apple Pay terminal. Take the current scenario of using Passbook to pay for coffee at Starbucks. That required you create a separate Starbucks account and tie it to a credit card for replenishment. If you had funds, you got your coffee. Apple Pay works less like a ‘gift or club card’ and more like your actual credit card.
Don’t worry about security. Your credit card information is not stored in iCloud. It resides in a secure element of the A8 processor. A number of major retailers are on board, including big names like McDonald’s, Staples, Panera Bread and The Gap. Expect that number to expand quickly as more customers are demanding an easier method of conducting transactions.
New iSight Camera
Apple wants you to know that despite remaining an 8 megapixel camera with 1.5µ pixels and an ƒ/2.2 aperture (same as the previous generation), it’s being billed as the new iSight camera and it does bring a few advancements. The most notable is the Apple designed image signal processor, which enables autofocus with Focus Pixels. This is an important feature. Focus Pixels provides more information to the new sensor, which results in faster and better autofocus, something we all use.
With support for cinematic video stabilization, videos show while your moving will appear as if they are steady. Continuous autofocus video will also impact the overall quality of videos shot with the iPhone 6. Apple has also improved Face detection, so things that matter most should remain in focus.
The iPhone 6 Plus benefits from having optical image stabilization. Optical image stabilization is a mechanism within a phone or tablet (or camera) that stabilizes the recorded image by varying the optical path to the sensor. The technology is implemented in the lens itself. Electronic image stabilization or EIS, effectively tries to function in the same way, but does using complex software algorithms.
One final note on the iSight camera. Panorama shots are now supported up to 43 megapixels.
The front-facing FaceTime camera has an improved ƒ/2.2 aperture. The lower aperture number means more light through the lens. This should translate to better photos in-doors and in lowlighting. If you use FaceTime, Skype or any video chat, you’ll benefit from Auto-HDR for videos. HDR stands for high dynamic range which results in a greater range of luminosity. FaceTime calling uses H.265 and H.264. H.265 is a new standard that benefits from superior compression, yet offers the same quality as H.264.
Improved battery life
I was inclined to put this as a major improvement, even more so for the iPhone 6 Plus. Based on Apple’s numbers, the iPhone 6 sees battery improvements across the board, save for standby time. The larger 5.5-inch iPhone 6 allows for a bigger battery and thus, it sees some very nice comparisons to the iPhone 5s/5c. The Plus offers 24 hours of 3G talk time compared to just 10 on the 5s. Internet use is up from 8 hours to 12 hours. Video sees a jump from 10 hours to 14 hours. Audio playback doubles from 40 hours to 80 hours. Both are equal or better, with iPhone 6 Plus besting both by a significant margin in a few categories.
A8 processor, M8 motion coprocessor
We gave the iPhone 6 good marks for battery life and it does so in part due to the power efficiency of the A8 processor. I’ve yet to hear someone complain about the speed of the A7 powered iPhone 5s or even the much larger iPad Air. At some point, processing speed numbers reach a point where they don’t offer benefits noticed during real-world usage. Still, as games become more processor intensive, screens get larger and users get more demanding, CPU and GPU gains have to be appreciated. This chart from Apple shows a number of things. For one, you can see how slow improvements were during the first few iPhones. It seems almost unfair of me to not list this as a major upgrade, given the big jumps. If you plan on keeping your phone for at least 2 years, these gains will pay off in the end. iOS will continue to become more complex and require more CPU/GPU. Having more horsepower to run upgrades makes the iPhone 6 more future-proof. If you happen to own an iPhone 3G/iPhone 3GS/iPhone 4/iPhone 4S, you can safely count this as a ‘major’ reason to upgrade.
The M8 motion coprocessor can now measure data from a new barometer sensor. This allows it to measure changes in elevation. By offloading work to the M8 processor, the A8 can retain more power efficiency. Expect new apps that will take advantage of the new sensor.
Faster Wireless, VoLTE
So much of what we do as smartphone owners revolves around connecting to the Internet. So whether you are browsing Facebook, tweeting, making FaceTime calls or downloading the free U2 album, faster is always better. Apple says the iPhone 6 offers faster LTE than the iPhone 5s, with speeds up to 150 Mbps. It has more LTE bands (up to 20) than any smartphone, so it’ll connect to more networks in more places, helpful if you travel with your iPhone.
VoLTE Makes Calls Sound Better
Phone calls with certain supported carriers can now take place over their 4G LTE networks. The shift to voice calls over LTE means that you’ll enjoy crystal clear calls and reduced background noise. Both AT&T and Verizon support VoLTE. AT&T has decided to brand the standard as HDVoice. If you make heavy use of the phone app on your iPhones, VoLTE will impact the overall quality of your iPhone 6 experience. Go ahead and put another checkbox next to, “I should upgrade to the iPhone 6.”
At some point, older technology cannot support advances in Apple’s mobile operating system. If you have an iPhone 4 or older, you won’t be able to upgrade to iOS 8. iOS 8 is a major update and certainly a good reason to upgrade to new hardware.
When was the last time you upgraded your phone? If it was more than 2 years ago, that typically means you are eligible for an upgrade. We have an extensive guide on how to check eligibility for Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint users.
When you are ‘eligible’ for an upgrade, it means that you are out of contract. You could leave for another carrier and you would still own your current phone. The carriers want to keep you as a customer, so they offer you a discount (or subsidy) on a new phone. New iPhones start at $649. With a full subsidy, your cost starts at $199 for a 16GB iPhone 6. I’d caution you to read our story on iPhone 6 storage, before being lured in by the lowest cost iPhone 6.
When you are out of contract and don’t upgrade, you’re overpaying for your cellphone service. The prices you pay include part of the subsidy. If you’re using an iPhone 4 for the past 4 years, you’ve been overpaying. You could leave for T-Mobile, bringing your GSM iPhone 4 with you and pay a lower rate, or jump on a new iPhone.
There will be a contingent of folks, while not out of contract, still want to upgrade. Check out our look at the AT&T Next, Verizon Edge and T-Mobile JUMP! programs. You can quickly switch from being in-contract, to using the latest phones, without a major cash outlay.
Financing Upgrade By Selling Old Phone
When people consider upgrading, they are often concerned about spending hundreds of dollars on a new phone. What they might not realize is that you can sell or trade-in your old iPhone. You’d be surprised at the return you’ll get on an old iPhone and in some cases, it can cover the entire cost of a subsidized iPhone 6. Look at how trade-ins, auctions and private sales can help finance your upgrade.
When new iPhones are announced, there is an incredible amount of excitement on sites like everythingiCafe, major news outlets and social media. It’s easy to get caught up in the cycle of craziness associated with the yearly new releases. How quick can I pull out the credit card from my wallet? When deciding on whether an iPhone upgrade is right for you, I’d recommend you take a good, hard look at how you use your iPhone. I’ve outlined what I feel are the game changers for the iPhone 6. Have you been among those dying for a bigger screen? Do you like the idea of using your iPhone to make payments using Apple Pay? These are some of the big changes this year. Some features are evolutionary changes from the iPhone 5s, but it’s an entirely different story if you have an older model. Jumping to an A8 processor from an A4 processor is sure to amaze.
It’s easy for technology journalist to “recommend the new iPhone.” Apple makes that easy by building better phones every year. Just because the new iPhone is better than the last, doesn’t necessary mean it’s right for you. Only you can determine the level of importance of features like a bigger display or being able to pay for things with your iPhone. When you factor in upgrade eligibility, costs offset by selling or trading your old phone, you should come to a decision on whether you should upgrade to the iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus. With that decision under your belt, now you’ll need to decide to get the iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus.
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