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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

September 9, 2014 at 6:24 PM

Hands-on: iPhone 6 and Apple Watch

CUPERTINO, Calif. — The iPhone 6 is late to the big-screen party but it’s making a pretty nice entrance.

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After trying both the standard iPhone 6 and the jumbo iPhone 6 Plus at Apple’s launch event, I think the company once again has produced handsets against which the next wave of phones will be measured.

The upcoming Apple Watch will also raise the bar for smartwatches and other wearable computing devices, but I’m not sure that even mighty Apple can push them as far into the mainstream as it did with smartphones and tablet computers.

Either way, Apple fans — and others upgrading to bigger devices — will covet the new iPhones.

The 4.7 inch display on the iPhone 6 standard model doesn’t seem unusually big, even when held next to a 4-inch iPhone 5. Instead it makes the 5 seem puny and outdated. (A comparison of their specs is here.)

iPhone 5 at left, 6 at right

iPhone 5 at left, 6 at right.

Holding the 5.5 inch iPhone 6 Plus model is a more dramatic change, at least for people who aren’t familiar with big-screen “phablets,” such as Samsung’s Galaxy Note.

Like the Note, the Plus seems unusually thin for such a big slab but its aluminum case didn’t flex when I bent the phone as much as I dared.

This is the default home screen on the iPhone 6. Not much difference other than the Health app.

The default home screen on the iPhone 6. Not much difference other than the Health app.

Both of the 6’s felt lighter than you’d expect and fit easily in the pocket of a pair of jeans or a dress shirt.

There’s really not a lot designers can do to differentiate phone hardware; they are all thin rectangles of metal, glass and plastic. But Apple did away with the distinctive, squared-off edges of the 5 series and gave the 6’s rounded edges. They look a bit like the original aluminum, Porsche-like Google Nexus phones.

The 6’s also look a bit like the current HTC One M8, especially from the back, where both use horizontal bands of plastic to insulate the antenna.

Apple made several changes to ensure its bigger phones are still easy to use with one hand. The power button moved from the top to the right side, which is handy. But on the 4.7-inch model the button is more likely to be pressed accidentally if you have big hands or if you really clutch the phone.

Apple also added a software trick it calls “reachability,” which pulls down the screen and icons when you touch the home button twice. It’s like a window shade that drops down halfway. It gives you thumb access to stuff that’s out of reach on the bigger screen, though it takes a little getting used to. I kept pressing instead of touching, which instead calls up a carousel of apps to scroll through sideways.

Even more handy, especially for those trying to be productive with their phones, is the new windowing capability on the Plus models. Holding it horizontally brings up a preview pane in email, for instance. It was especially useful for creating calendar appointments.

But apps don’t automatically get a second pane; developers will have to add the capability and they may wait to see how many Plus models are sold first.

Less exciting is Apple’s 8 megapixel camera, which is well below the specs of other companies’ flagship phones. The camera was fast — focusing is noticeably faster and low-light performance was good in the dark demo rooms — but megapixel count is still a selling point that the 6’s lack.

Taken with iPhone 6

Taken with iPhone 6

The Apple Watch, which works with an iPhone, is an even more subjective experience. It’s exciting, handsome and fun, and the display options are terrific. Controls are smooth and precise for such a small and complicated device.

The watch does so many tricks with so many input techniques you’ll need to spend some time with the tutorials.
Individual tasks are simple, such as tapping on the image of an Apple Watch wearing contact to give him or her a Morse code like “tap” on the wrist, but that’s just one of many tricks.

My initial, hurried impression is that the watch is fun and exciting, but the abundance of apps and features makes it seem pretty complicated for something that looks and feels like a watch and serves largely as an iPhone accessory.

But Apple’s right on time for the wearables trend.

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Comments | Topics: Apple, apple watch, gadgets and products

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