The new iPhones are here, and Apple says they represent "the biggest advancements" in the line's entire history. The screens are bigger and sharper, yet the phones themselves are both thinner than the previous iPhone 5S. They're way faster than prior models and powerful enough to run games that looked downright stunning on stage. And Apple says the camera inside, despite staying at only 8 megapixels, takes better photos and video than ever before. So yes, it seems these are the best iPhones Apple has ever produced. But how do they stack up against a lineup of also-superb Android and Windows Phone competitors? Let's take a look at the latest battle in the ongoing smartphone war.
Bigger screens, bigger resolution, same rock-solid build
Apple's new iPhones are certainly bigger, but the company is still keeping things sane with the "regular" 4.7-inch iPhone 6. Even Motorola felt pressure to go bigger than that with its second-gen Moto X. The iPhone 6 also sticks to Apple's tried and true metal and glass build, a combination that's also become HTC's signature, and one Samsung has finally embraced.
Samsung is finally building its smartphones out of more premium materials.
Further, no one can say that the iPhone doesn't have a proper HD display anymore. iPhone 6 features a resolution of 1334 × 750, resulting in 326PPI, and the larger iPhone 6 Plus trumps that by moving to a Full HD panel with 1920 x 1080 resolution for a PPI of 401.
Apple's iPhones have bigger and sharper screens, but some Android phones already win on specs
Apple's somewhat late to the 1080p game; Android manufacturers like HTC and Samsung made the upgrade long ago, and Windows Phone is covered there too. Other recent and upcoming Android smartphones like the LG G3 and Galaxy Note 4 feature Quad HD resolution, which surpasses the iPhone 6 Plus' sharpness — but there are arguments on both sides as to whether taking pixel density so far is worth the tradeoff in battery and / or performance. Apple seems to think consumers will love the new resolutions it's settled on, and also claims both iPhones feature improvements to contrast, white balance, and wider viewing angles.
But there are chinks in the armor. Sadly, rumors of the screen being covered (and protected by) sapphire glass didn't pan out. Your new iPhone 6 will have a nice display, but it won't be scratch-proof. Nor will it be resistant to liquid. Samsung and Sony build flagship phones that can safely take a dunk in a puddle, but Apple still can't say the same. And Apple seemingly doesn't care about trying to best HTC's BoomSound speakers; the iPhone 6 yet again includes just a single speaker for audio.
Faster performance, more storage
In 2014, every flagship smartphone is really, really fast
As you'd expect, the A8 chip powering both new iPhones is faster than anything Apple's put in a smartphone before. On stage at its launch event, Apple showcased the iPhone 6 running games with graphics similiar to what you'd typically expect from home consoles. But games aside, the iPhone 5S still feels blazingly fast — and so do many of the phones Apple will face off against. From the HTC One M8 to the new Moto X, Android phones are snappier and more responsive than ever before. Windows Phone built its reputation around fluidity, and products like the Lumia Icon / Lumia 930 still deliver. Really you'd have a hard time finding a slow flagship device today. Pick nearly any top tier phone, and it'll be able to do what you want without any trouble.
Perhaps of greater importance is the energy efficiency of Apple's A8 chip, which improves upon that of the A7 found in iPhone 5S. Better efficiency means stronger battery life and leads to the gains seen in Apple's estimates. Opting for the 4.7-model will get you up to 11 hours of web browsing on Wi-Fi; using LTE data brings that down to 10 hours. Apple claims the iPhone 6 Plus can reach 12 hours of web usage regardless of which network you're using. The bigger phone also promises 24 hours of talk time. Can Apple finally deliver an iPhone that comfortably lasts through the entire day? We'll need more time to figure that one out. If not, it'd be a black eye for the company as Android smartphones now offer better longevity than ever before — mostly owing to their growing size and larger batteries. Some even offer emergency power-saving modes when juice runs really low.
iPhone 6 also adds faster 802.11ac Wi-Fi, wider LTE band support, Wi-Fi calling, and Voice Over LTE (or VoLTE). Again, all of these are great features, but none groundbreaking; several of iPhone's competitors already share them, and many more soon will.
iPhone 6 offers plenty of storage, but microSD helps competitors make up the difference
Apple is unquestionably leading the charge when it comes to built-in storage, however. Both the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus can be purchased with up to 128GB of flash memory. Maybe that huge allotment is one of the reasons Apple felt comfortable finally killing off the iPod Classic. But while you won't find an Android or Windows Phone smartphone with more onboard storage than iPhone 6, many offer expandable storage and support microSD cards up to 128GB in size. If you need the storage, it's possible to get it later. With iPhone, you need to decide how much you need at the outset and hope you won't regret the choice later on. But many people should be able to buy a 128GB iPhone (or 64GB in most cases) and never worry about storage again.
Camera: same megapixels, better focus
Yes, the iPhone 6 still features an 8-megapixel camera. It's still got an aperture of f/2.2. But Apple says there are still deeper changes to discover, like new "Focus Pixels" that "provide the sensor with more information about your image, giving you better and faster autofocus." The iPhone is also gaining optical image stabilization to negate your unsteady grip — though only on the larger iPhone 6 Plus. And the video camera now records 1080p footage at 60fps, takes better slo-mo, adds HDR video, and for the first time can capture time-lapse videos. As always, the photo samples that Apple showed off today looked great. Apart from Nokia's flagship Lumias, few phones have been able to touch the iPhone 5S when it comes to photo quality and getting the shot right without extra fuss, so Apple has every incentive to preserve that sterling reputation with iPhone 6. Clearly the company sees no reason to drastically overhaul what's not broken.
There are of course more new features in the iPhone 6. Apple Pay could radically change mobile payments if it's everything Apple claims it to be. Other returning items like Touch ID have been copied by competitors (hi Samsung) with mediocre results. And then there's the pending Apple Watch / Android Wear battle that will play out beginning next year. But right now, looking at hardware alone, Apple has presented two new compelling products in the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. And iOS 8 fills many holes (i.e. better communication between apps) that previously pushed some users to Android.
Still, iPhone 6 and its bigger brother don't blow the competition away based purely on specs. If the LG G3, Galaxy S5, or new Moto X were appealing to you yesterday, they probably still are today. One thing's clear: smartphone makers — Apple included — are all building the best products we've ever seen. In 2014, $199 can buy you a truly fantastic product, regardless of which side you stand on. Apple, sure as ever, thinks it's put together a complete package that rivals can't beat. Come next weekend, we'll have a better idea of whether consumers have once again been convinced.