Big screens are finally in fashion — well, for Apple at least — after what seems like eons of rumors, leaks and predictions from the media of Apple’s shift into larger phones. As we waved goodbye to the comfortable, smaller form factor of the iPhone 5 that we’ve become accustomed to, Apple is switching gears to selling ‘bigger is better.’
This year’s iPhone, like those before it, comes with a number of improvements that add up to making it the most compelling device on the market, however this year you have the choice of screen size added to the mix. Luckily, Apple has made the 4.7″ iPhone 6 internals so similar to that of the iPhone 6 Plus that it’s easy to choose simply based on what you like. That said, it’s still not an easy decision.
A new era of tech events has begun
We’re back in New York this November for the 4th edition of our growth-focused technology event.
I spent two weeks with the 6 and the 6 Plus to see if they are worth the upgrade.
Let’s get to this one right away: the new screen sizes at 4.7″ on the iPhone 6 and 5.5″ on the 6 Plus are controversial, especially at the larger the 5.5″ size. This is partially because Apple has spent the better part of the last two years telling the world that the iPhone 5’s size was the perfect size because you could reach to the top of the screen with your finger.
Admittedly, I was a little hesitant to jump away from my comfortable iPhone 5s, but I decided to go head-first into using the 6 Plus to give it a real chance. I’ve used other 5.5″ phones before, like the OnePlus One, but none have ever felt as comfortable to use as the 6 Plus; it feels like a phone from the distant future where it’s could be the center of my digital world.
The giant screen is awesome for consuming content, browsing Twitter, watching videos and whatever else you might want to do on your phone. Coming from the iPhone 5s, it made iOS feel roomy and right at home; after about a week of uncomfortable grip adjusting and figuring out how exactly to wield it, I eventually forgot that it was giant at all. Once I had gotten past the “this phone is giant” phase, it just became normal. And awesome. I didn’t want to go back.
In particular, switching to landscape and getting the iPad-style version of apps is awesome; I love having both panes showing in many apps, which made me use both my iPad and MacBook less. I could get everything done on my phone. As I write this it even sounds insane to me; but it really does become the only device you want to use. It feels like I’ve got an iPhone from the distant future in my pocket right now.
One thing I wasn’t prepared for is the chastising from friends about the size of the 6 Plus. Almost everyone who noticed I was wielding it remarked “you can’t possibly like that” or “just buy an iPad.” People seemed to be mortified that perhaps a big phone could be good.
The stigma the iPhone 6 Plus faces is a strong one; people aren’t sure why they need one and consider them borderline ridiculous; almost every time I explained the benefits to them, they started to understand why I prefer it.
After using the 6 Plus for a solid amount of time, I switched over to the 6 full time. Even at 4.7″, the iPhone 6 feels so much smaller in your hand after becoming accustomed to the 6 Plus. The screen size doesn’t allow for the iPad view in landscape, but again feels so much less cluttered than the iPhone 5s on screen.
The iPhone 6 is a small jump from the comfortable, familiar form factor of the 5s, which I suspect is a strategy on Apple’s part to eventually migrate them further up in size. If you’re able to spend a week using a 6 Plus full time, you fall in love with the size after you forget that it’s an extreme change, but many won’t have that chance so will go for the safe option right now.
Not everyone is going to love the huge screen on the 6 Plus — especially those with smaller hands — but I suspect that in a year or two they will make up at least half of sales of iPhones. It just requires a shift in perception of larger phones first; even those with smaller hands can learn to love it.
I’m not going to pretend the shift from a 5s wasn’t difficult; the first week was full of uncomfortable grip adjustments and almost dropping it when walking, but you quickly get used to it before falling in love.
The design of the new iPhones is another controversial area; many I follow on Twitter have lamented the design for throwing back to the original iPhones with their curved edges. This change, however, is something that you instantly understand when you hold the new phone in your hand: the curved edges and thin frame make it incredibly easy to wield.
The change is most apparent on the 6 Plus, which is surprisingly easier to hold than I had expected. The curved screen combined with Apple’s great new gestures makes iOS easier to use at scale; since I can’t reach the top left to go back, I’ve become adept at swiping left to go back (although I often became frustrated when a third party app developer didn’t implement this), which feels incredibly natural with the curved glass on the front. It’s almost like it encourages gestures.
Perhaps the only part I’m not a huge fan of is the protruding camera, however I accept that physics only has so far it can be pushed before you start sacrificing on quality. Apple told me that it didn’t want to compromise on image quality by squishing the camera optics, so let it protrude a tiny amount. It doesn’t really matter at all; you’ll forget it’s even a thing.
With the iPhone 6, we’re finally at the point where we don’t need to talk about how many cores a phone has, how much RAM is onboard or the amount of megapixels on the back camera. The specifications of mobile devices simply no longer matters; what simply matters is how well they work.
Apple’s always avoided specifics about the internals of the iPhone, for good reason. When you discuss the specifics of what’s inside a phone, you’re giving a reference point to consumers who simply don’t know what it means outside of ‘higher is better.’ In reality, bigger numbers don’t always mean better and the performance of the phone speaks for itself.
Both the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are incredibly fast and fluid to use and don’t miss a beat. Comparing it with my 5s, it’s hard to even tell the difference in performance, but as the A7 processor ages and new versions of iOS are released I suspect it will be more telling.
Out of all performance related things, the one of most interest to buyers will be battery life. I’ve been consistently blown away by the iPhone 6, which gets to the end of the day with no problem unlike my 5s that needs a charge by midday, then even 6pm some days. I carry a number of portable batteries with me almost everywhere for this reason.
The iPhone 6 Plus’ battery life, however, left me totally flabbergasted. I can consistently get two days out of the phone without even trying. By around 5pm on the second day I needed a charge if I was using it particularly heavily, but otherwise I could comfortably make it until bedtime on the second day.
Having a battery that lasts so long in a larger smartphone is magical, although not surprising, since there’s more space to pack in more battery. That said, freeing yourself from having to charge every night or even twice a day is absolutely worth picking the 6 Plus for. I’d upgrade for this alone, so I don’t have to constantly be checking battery life and running between charges.
The camera in the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, on paper, could be misconstrued to be exactly the same as that of the 5s. It’s still an 8-megapixel shooter, but Apple’s done some interesting work improving the sensor and adding some compelling new functionality that actually has tangible results.
For normal photos, colors are more vibrant and the contrast is amazing even in dull light. For the most part, when you put a photo from a 5s next to one from the 6 it’s not a day and night comparison, but the color, contrast and detail are consistently noticeably better on the 6. Some of the shots that the iPhone 6 took totally blew me away – it’s not a monumental shift forward, but it’s a decent one.
One thing I noticed in particular is pulling out the iPhone 6 and quickly snapping a shot consistently resulted in almost perfect photos that are achievable on the 5s but required tweaking while taking the shot to get it right. I love this, as someone who often can’t be bothered messing around with settings.
Focus pixels might be the most notable improvement to the camera – it no longer drops in and out of focus as it tries to get it right. Focus is often perfect the first time or very fast to correct itself; this is most apparent in videos. When moving away from a close object in a video, the camera almost instantly finds focus without struggling or having to drop in and out, which is a nice improvement.
The improvements to slow motion mode are pretty nifty too, now you can go even slower! I’ve always loved slo-mo on the iPhone 5s and the jump to 240fps is noticeable over the 5s.
What blew me away the most, however, is the optical image stabilisation on the iPhone 6 Plus. If you film a video and walk around (like below) it’s incredibly smooth, like you’ve used a steady cam. It’s almost creepy how smooth it makes videos, especially when directly compared to the iPhone 6, which didn’t get blessed with OIS. This feature alone made me use the video feature far more than I ever have.
The saying goes that the best camera is the one you always have with you and with iPhone 6 it’s safe to say that it’s still the best camera out there on a phone. It may be 8 megapixel, but this doesn’t matter in the slightest; I’m well aware there are phones that take 16-41MP photos, but this is just more spec wankery than anything that matters in practice. Megapixels are just a number.
I’m confident in saying that the new iPhone takes consistently better photos than any other phone I’ve used, with almost zero effort. This alone is what brings me back to the iPhone every year, despite my occasional temptations to switch to Android.
That bending thing
You know that thing everyone’s been joking about the new iPhone? It’s not true. Apple’s already come out and said that less than 10 cases of an iPhone bending have occurred and I didn’t act any more careful than I would with my 5s.
I kept both the 6 Plus and the 6 in my back pocket, sat on them, kept them in skinny jeans and various other situations as you would every day and there’s no hint of bending. It’s simply not a thing, at least in my testing.
The assertion that ‘bigger is better’ was driven by other handset makers that released large phones before Apple, like Samsung and HTC, who have had 4.7″ and larger phones on the market for some time now, which made Apple look curiously missing from the party.
Now that Apple’s finally joined though, it feels almost like it was always this way. Some won’t like the larger sizes at first — I’ve seen and heard plenty of ‘but I don’t need a bigger phone’ arguments — but over time, as people give the larger sizes a chance they’ll be won over.
The benefits of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are incredibly compelling for both existing iPhone owners and those on Android. With iOS 8 and the new phones, I think Android has finally been backed into a corner where the only remaining difference is personal preference for either Apple or Google’s ecosystem.
The iPhone 6 is not only the best smartphone on the market right now, I believe Apple’s achieved a level of perfection that other manufacturers still haven’t been able to match. There aren’t any comparable Android or Windows Phone devices that are outstanding with no compromises, having personally used most flagship devices this year. Some may come close, but there is no question the iPhone is the best all-round device.
But the iPhone 6 has to be this good. Google is closing the gap with Android Lollipop’s radical overhaul and focus on the user experience and overall design. As Google moves to tighten its control of Android further, manufacturers may start stepping back, easing up on the custom skins and pushing more updates to their handsets. Apple had to set a new bar, and it has, for now.
Your biggest dilemma may be which iPhone should I get? I personally think that if you give the 6 Plus a real chance, you’ll love it, however I realise that many aren’t willing to make the jump yet. Either way, this year’s iPhones are the most compelling to date.
Don’t miss: A roadtrip with the iPhone 6 Plus