Is the iPhone 6 screen as good as the rest?

With the new generation of iPhones on sale this week, we’re seeing Apple’s idea of the best technology for a smartphone hitting peoples hands. In the new phones, there’s faster WiFi, better processors, and a new all-metal design.

The biggest change comes from the screens which are bigger and better, with the 4.7 inch iPhone 6 and the 5.5 inch iPhone 6 Plus packing more pixels in than any other iPhone before them,.

But is it enough? Do the changes put the new iPhones on par with the competition, or has Apple lagged behind — even slightly — with regards to established big phones like the Samsung Galaxy S5, Sony Xperia Z2, HTC One M8, and LG G3?

We’re grabbing our microscope and putting the new Retina HD screens to the test below.

The test

Our test for pixel peeping is simple, and we’ve done it before. You can see it in previous coverage, used in a piece on Apple’s Retina versus the competition, as well as testing which flagship is the best from this year.

In it, we sample an icon or a webpage across all of the smartphones and crop the image down to a specific 450 pixels, pairing it with a little bit of code that makes it possible for you to drag a slider left and right to see how the pixels look in between two devices.

This time, we’ve chosen a specific webpage on GadgetGuy and let the stock web browsers render it as they would. We need to note that while we can get close recreation between the devices, there are issues between font rendering in the different browsers and the microscope pressing on the screen which can change the colour.

That said, it’s as close a pixel peep as we can get, and it will show the difference in clarity on the technologies, especially as you can try dragging the slider between each phone’s pixel test. Ultimately, this will let you see the differences in an interactive form of journalism.

So let’s start with the iPhone 6…

The first test is an obvious one: Apple iPhone 6 versus Apple iPhone 5S.

While the iPhone 6 has a bigger screen, it’s more or less the same pixel quality, with Apple sticking with the 326ppi value the company once said Retina represented, but increasing the size. The resolutions check out, mind you, with the very specific resolution of 1334×750 on the iPhone 6 coming in at 325.61, near the 325.97 of the iPhone 5/5S/5C’s 1136×640, nearly identical and both close to 326ppi when rounded up.

This is, for the most part, Apple’s whole Retina argument displayed, with 326 being the maximum amount your eyes can see, and when viewed normally, the pixels are hard to peep, indeed.

But what about other phones?

The next test is one we see happening, with the Apple iPhone 6 versus the Samsung Galaxy S5.

The screens are different sizes, with the iPhone 6’s 4.7 inch facing off against the Galaxy S5’s 5.1 inch display, but a completely different type of panel — IPS LCD versus AMOLED — and yet a similar handset size between the two.

In fact, Samsung chose to use a Full HD panel, boasting a higher resolution against the iPhone 6, making the text even clearer than Apple’s new handset.

Again, the iPhone loses out in a big way to LG’s G3, which dominates it with over 200 pixels more than Retina in the above Apple iPhone 6 versus LG G3 test.

Sorry, iPhone 6, but you just don’t compete in this arena. No way.

It’s not hard to beat Apple’s iPhone 6 in clarity or resolution, though, because as you can see above, HTC’s One M7 from 2013 — yes, last year’s flagship — does it without any problems.

This is one of those tests that really surprises us, because Apple could have put in a higher resolution panel — a Full HD panel — in its iPhone 6 if it wanted to, and yet it chose to keep the pixels the same, even though we’ve seen better a year ago.


Then there’s the iPhone 6 Plus

The iPhone 6 Plus is the one really worth checking out, because while the 5.5 inch display and larger handset size won’t be for everyone, the display technology is closer to what people are seeing in competitors products.

It’s also the first display we’ve seen from Apple that bucks the 326ppi Retina trend, with the Full HD 5.5 inch display boasting 401 pixels per inch.

So how does it compare against the competition?

The most obvious competition comes from the iPhone 6, and while there’s only 80 pixels per inch difference — a little less, in fact — the iPhone 6 Plus screen is better here.

It’s actually a close fight with the pixels between the Apple iPhone 6 Plus and the Samsung Galaxy S5, even though the iPhone 6 Plus 5.5 inch has 0.4 inches on the S5 (5.1 inch).

The biggest direct competitor Apple has in the iPhone 6 Plus is the LG G3, with an identical screen size, but a completely different panel.

You’ll find a 5.5 inch screen on both, but a difference between Full HD’s 1920×1080 on the iPhone 6 Plus and Quad HD’s 2560×1440 on the G3, making it a fight between 401 pixels per inch versus 534 pixels per inch, and no matter how much Apple talks up Retina at 326, both of them beat it hands down.

And yet, here LG’s G3 destroys the Apple iPhone 6 Plus as far as clarity goes.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: the LG G3 is so sharp, it almost seems too sharp. That said, on a pixel by pixel basis, it is much, much, much sharper than anything Apple has going for its screens.

Final pixel peep

So is Apple’s 326 pixels per inch enough for Retina?

For most eyes, yes, but it’s definitely not the be-all end-all for technologies out there, and even the iPhone 6 — which literally just came out — is trumped by the screen in a phone from last year from a pixel point of view, the HTC One M7.

In fact, the iPhone 6’s screen is beaten by pretty much every major Android phone, which we had a feeling going in, but most people won’t have a problem with this, because unless your eyes have perfect vision and you’re viewing the world with the phone pressed right against your retinas, you won’t see the pixels at all.

Interestingly, the display on the iPhone 6 Plus proves that Apple is thinking more about the numbers than just the 326ppi used in its Retina display, with a touch over 400 pixels per inch used here (401).

Even though it sits at the lower end of the spectrum used in this size, it’s easily the clearest of the two new iPhone models, and shows that we could be seeing the company thinking differently about its screen numbers for the first time in years, especially as the display competition gets more fierce in the industry.

There is more to a phone than just screen size, mind you, and this is just one part of the review process, of which we’ll have more on early next week for both of Apple’s new products.

But it’s a big part, especially as this is Apple’s first foray into phones close to and above the 5 inch mark, a space that every major smartphone manufacturer has been in for over a year.