iPhone 6

Sunday, September 28, 2014

One week later, how does it fare?

I’ve had both the iPhone 6 and the release version of iOS 8 (now iOS 8.0.2) for about a week now, and I think I’ve finally used them enough day to day to understand how this phone and this OS work within my life, and what I think the best and worst parts of them are. This isn’t a full review, but I thought I’d share some of my thoughts. So, starting with the phone…

I ended up buying1 an iPhone 6 instead of an iPhone 6 Plus just to be safe. Comparatively, I would have liked the longer battery life, better camera and tablet-like OS of the Plus, but the large screen seemed a little too big for comfort. I was hoping when I picked up my 6 and was able to compare it to the Plus directly in the Apple Store, I would feel confident in my choice, but honestly, I’m still uncertain. The Plus is uncomfortable to hold, but not that much more than the 6 itself, and without the OS alterations of the Plus, the 6 isn’t really that much of a leap from the 5s. I’m still not sold on the Plus, but I will consider it much more carefully next time.

Dimensions and Design

The iPhone 6 is the first iPhone I haven’t immediately loved as soon as I got my hands on it. Maybe I have small hands, maybe they’re just used to the width and thickness of the 5s at this point, but this phone is hard to hold. I’ve been able to adapt a little bit over the week, but anytime I have to hold it in my hand for more than a few minutes (say, on a phone call), it starts to feel painful. The issues here are directly related to the dimensions and design of the phone. Wider than any other iPhone before it, the 6 requires more hand stretching to get your hand wrapped around it. It doesn’t make it easier that the flat sides of the phone are now thin and rounded, making it harder to get a tight grip.

The phone is now almost completely aluminum on its exterior, with the exception of some unsightly plastic lines on the top and bottom of the phone that allow the signals to actually penetrate the shell of the device. Compared to the glass and aluminum phones that Apple has been shipping, this looks rather weak. Actually, in many ways this device very much feels like something that Apple phoned in when it comes to design, probably focusing most of their efforts on the Watch. Some people have described this phone as a Samsung phone running iOS, and it’s not too far off, except in aluminum. The side buttons are inferior to the old phones, as well.

Retina HD Screen

Apple may have phoned in the rest of the phone, but the screen on the phone remains beautiful. Now containing enough pixels to support 720p, the screen is sharper and has better color than the 5s. It’s visible in bright daylight, and it’s much less glaring in the dark as well. The screen is bigger than the 5s, but surprisingly not in a noticeable way. While the device size increase is felt quite rapidly and consistently, the bigger screen really just becomes a normal screen in a week. On the other hand, when I went back to the 5s today for comparison, it did feel strange to use a smaller screen. A larger device is hard to get used to, but a larger screen is easy — it’s why Apple made these phones.

It’s hard to reach every place on the screen though, especially the controls on the top, that are common in most iOS apps. There is a Reachability mode that involves touching the home button ring twice, but I turned that off almost right away because it’s a battery drain (that Apple conveniently fails to mention). It’s starting to make sense as to why Android puts most of their controls on the bottom of the screen, despite the drawbacks that entails. Luckily, the side swipe gesture to go back obviates the most pressing need to access the top of the screen, and side swipes on the iPhone 6 are super nice thanks to the curved edges of the screen itself.

Miscellaneous

The camera is nicer, although the only really noticeable difference I perceived was the almost magically fast ability to focus. This doesn’t really forgive the bump that was necessary for the camera to be as nice as it was. I really wish Apple just had made the device a little bit thicker to cover up the bump, honestly.

The battery life on this phone is about 150% better than my one year old iPhone 5s. It’s hard to say whether that’s due to the 6 itself or simply the newness of the battery. If you’re expecting night and day upgrades in battery life with the iPhone 6, you will be disappointed. Go get a Plus.

App Compatibility

In a word: terrible.

None of the other screen changes on the previous iPhones have led to app issues as poor as this one, for two reasons. First, the actual screen change is awkward. The iPhone 4 pixel doubled the screen, but the size was the same, so old apps looked the same size, just a bit blurrier. The iPhone 5 stretched the screen vertically, but the pixel density was the same, so we had nice looking but letterboxed apps. On the iPhone 6, apps are both blurry and scaled up. This means that on apps that are not updated to the new screen, text looks terrible and all the buttons are laughably large. I can’t imagine how bad it must look on the Plus. It’s painful to use most of my apps on my new phone, and that’s part of the reason this week has been somewhat disappointing.

When apps get updated, they actually look rather nice, although most apps aren’t really using the screen any differently than the 5. The Twitter app got updated for the larger screen but it only made it fit more tweets. There’s not much additional functionality there. Unfortunately, I can count the number of apps that have updated for the iPhone 6 on one hand right now. It’s a difficult update — developers have to switch their designs from the old iPhone 4 or iPhone 5 specific layouts to a more responsive Size Class driven design, so I understand it will take time, but the longer it takes, the worse this becomes.

Conclusions

I sound like I hate this phone, which isn’t strictly speaking true. I just don’t love it for the first time since I’ve switched to an iPhone and that concerns me. Don’t get me wrong, I still think this phone is better than any Android device I’ve tried out, but it’s definitely not Apple’s best work.


  1. Of course, with AT&T Next, it’s more like renting.