As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t do “reviews” of devices as such, because I think others who focus on those full time do a better job, and I’ll add little value. But I do occasionally post some thoughts on the devices I spend time with, and I thought I’d do that with the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus which I’ve been using since they came out, thanks to two devices on loan from Apple.
First off, I get review units of lots of devices, including many Android devices, and so I’m already very accustomed to the larger sizes, unlike many regular iPhone users (several of my family members and friends included). I noted on Twitter that John Gruber’s response as detailed in his review was probably much closer to those of many regular iPhone users than those of most reviewers. As such, I was rather looking forward to the larger sizes, since the iPhone 5S I use when not testing something else was coming to feel very small in comparison. However, I’ve never been a fan of the really big devices – those with over 5″ screens, so I was curious to see how I’d respond to the 6 Plus. I first spent a week with the iPhone 6, and then a week with the iPhone 6 Plus, and have been back on the iPhone 6 since then.
iPhone 6 – what the iPhone was meant to be
For me, the iPhone 6 is what the iPhone was always meant to be – it’s the perfect instantiation of iOS on a smartphone. Just the right size, with a really great weight and thinness, which makes it fit wonderfully in the hand. I immediately liked it better than all the other iPhones I’ve tried. I’d been using the first and second generation Moto X devices over the previous few weeks, and had really enjoyed both, though the new version seemed a little large for my taste, and the iPhone 6 does a wonderful job of providing a great screen size without an over-large device, a great in-between experience between the two Moto X devices.
iPhone 6 Plus – great too, just not for me
I forced myself to use the iPhone 6 Plus for a week as well. It is enormously bigger than the 6, and feels so in every way – in your hand, in your pocket, wherever. That makes it fantastic for certain things – I found myself willing to read things I normally would have turned to an iPad for, and playing games optimized for the larger screen was great fun too (I discovered several fun new ones including the Box Trolls movie tie-in game, Beach Buggy Racing and FIFA 15). Interestingly, my wife, who’s currently using an iPhone 5 and has never liked any of the larger Android phones I’ve shown her, immediately thought this might be a good fit for her. Her reasoning was that she runs her whole life (and our kids’ lives) from her phone most of the time, rarely being in a situation where she can use her laptop, so the bigger screen would make that easier.
As for me, I never did completely get used to the larger sized device, and could never get quite comfortable with it. It is better than most of the Androids I’ve used in this size range, in that it’s narrower, so it’s easier to get your hand around. But it’s not for me. I found taking pictures with it one-handed particularly difficult – I just couldn’t get the device to balance properly when using it in that way, something I don’t have a problem with on the iPhone 6. I was glad to go back to the iPhone 6 after my week with the 6 Plus.
But all this just highlights something that’s never been the case before with Apple’s iPhone line: it’s always been obvious which device you should get (and which I should recommend) with the iPhones before, but it’s not obvious anymore. The iPhone 6 Plus is absolutely right for some people, including apparently my wife, while the iPhone 6 is a better fit for others. Just as the iPad Air and iPad Mini are better fits for different people, and just as has always been the case with MacBooks and so on too.
I’ve been running iOS 8 since it first became available to developers on my iPhone 5S, so the software here wasn’t that new. But by the time it was released on the iPhone 6es, I found it to be relatively bug-free, with only occasional issues, mostly triggered by apps that hadn’t been upgraded rather than the OS itself. I’ve enjoyed some of the enhancements and upgrades, including improvements to Siri, Spotlight search and so on. I haven’t yet made use of some of the Continuity and Handoff features although they are working on some iPads also running iOS 8. Calls and messages come through on those, but I simply don’t find myself using those features at all. I’ve been running Yosemite on a Mac Pro for a while, but it doesn’t have Bluetooth LE and so doesn’t support Handoff, and I’m looking forward to trying Handoff on a MacBook Air that does support BLE when Yosemite ships.
One of the areas where the iPhone has always led is photography, and I’ve found that the improvements here keep the iPhone above and beyond every other device I’ve tested in this department. I haven’t spent inordinate amounts of time deliberately testing the camera but I do take quite a few pictures in the normal course of events. A gallery of photos from the two devices (most of them raw, with a few edited in Snapseed and/or Instagram) can be found on my Flickr page here. I live in Utah, which is a picturesque place (indeed, Apple shot the test footage for the iPhone 6 launch there), so that helps!
One of the first questions almost everyone has asked when they see or hear that I have the iPhone 6 Plus is “does it bend?” This has been true for friends and family members, the teenagers I work with at Church, and a workman who was installing something at our new house this week. “Bendgate” certainly seems to have captured the popular attention and has unfortunately become one of the first things people think about when confronted with the 6 Plus. I doubt it has stopped many people from buying one, but it’s still striking how often it comes up. For my own part, I haven’t seen any sort of bending with the 6 Plus review unit I have. I haven’t tried extremely hard to bend it, but it was in a front jeans pocket for much of the week I tested it, and it simply wasn’t an issue. I suspect it won’t be for all but the unluckiest users either.
In my mind, the iPhone remains the phone to beat. I test lots of devices, and I really enjoy the better Android phones too (I particularly enjoyed the Moto X I tried recently). But the iPhone is my personal device of choice, and the one I always come back to. The one sacrifice lately has been screen size, and one of my other pet peeves (the lack of a swiping keyboard) has also been resolved with iOS 8’s third-party keyboard support. Interestingly, I haven’t used the swiping keyboards much – I’ve found them too error-prone, and found the built-in predictive keyboard to be pretty good. SwiftKey has just updated its app, and it seems better now, so I may try it some more. But overall, the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus just reinforce the iPhone’s place in my mind as the top phone, and especially when it comes to the camera. There really isn’t anything meaningful you can do with an Android phone now that you can’t do on the iPhone 6 or 6 Plus, and that’s really saying something.