I finally gave up.
After a year of dealing with an intermittently half-busted touch sensor (the result of being dropped on a garage floor) and steadily decreasing battery life, I traded in my iPhone 5 for a 6 last Saturday.
I didn’t want a bigger phone. And I had read so many negative things about the 6 and 6 Plus that I felt like I might be purchasing a lemon of my own free will if I chose one of those models.
But picking a 5S would have long-lasting consequences thanks to a two-year contract. It will surely miss out on some new whiz-bang features in iOS 9 and 10. Ultimately, my interest in Apple Pay pushed me to the 6.
After a few days with the 6, I changed my mind. I decided to return it for a 6 Plus.
Here are a few objective (at least, I believe they’re objective) notes from my experience over the last week with Apple’s new flagship phones.
Set up as new
For the first time since my first iPhone, a 3G, I didn’t restore from a backup. I was very surprised to find that a number of software problems disappeared as a result. iCloud-related stuff works better. Autocorrect is better behaved. Shared reminders sync with my wife’s phone without issue; this problem has been plaguing us for years.1
This has me considering putting a day aside to wipe my Mac and install a fresh copy of Yosemite.
The design of the phone is better in practice than in pictures. Some have criticized the lozenge-shaped edges; I love them. The soft curves make the device far more comfortable. I haven’t dropped it yet. It’s not as slippery as some have said.
The power button placement is troubling. I don’t mean that it’s hard to get used to; I mean that applying counter-pressure on the opposite side of the phone can trigger the volume-up button, which is easier to press, which causes the phone to ignore the press of the power button. Troubling, but not impossible to deal with.2
Resting your pinky under the Lightning port can start to chafe, as the edge is sharp. Not a big deal, but worth noting.
The 6 is heavier than the 5, but the added heft makes the phone feel more solid.
On my 5, I had shut off predictive text, but I didn’t turn it off on the 6. It’s less distracting (and even useful) with the extra screen space.
The camera bulge is virtually unnoticeable. There were times when I couldn’t tell if the phone was truly lying flat or not. Again, this issue was overblown.
I was initially very disappointed with the battery life. I had to charge it by around 5 pm after a day of normal use. A little digging revealed that Dropbox’s Carousel app was running rampant, eating more than 20% of my battery.3 Shutting off background refresh for Carousel fixed it. After that, I used the phone for a full day and still had 15% of the battery left by bedtime. Excellent.
You’ve likely read about the other great features (the screen, the camera, Apple Pay, faster Wi-Fi, etc.), and what you’ve read is accurate. The high praise these features have garnered is deserved.4
iPhone 6 Plus
Yes; its big. We nicknamed it “the dinner plate.” It’s heavy, but not terribly so. Yes, it feels weird to take a phone call on it. Yes, it fits in my pockets. No, I don’t have trouble getting it in or out of my pockets. It sometimes feels weird if I squat down, which causes my jeans to stretch across my thighs; this does not happen often and is quickly remedied by putting the phone somewhere else. No big deal.
I frequently use the Plus one-handed. I won’t be typing out a book this way, but short bits of text are easy enough.
Yes, you’ll have to shift your hand around a bit while holding it one-handed, but do realize that we’re talking about a 5.5” screen. If you purchase one, this should be expected because of physics and the fact that we exist in three-dimensional space and objects of a certain size actually occupy that space. Your hands are not a TARDIS. It won’t get smaller while you’re holding it. This is not an inexplicable conundrum, and you should not be surprised by it.
Shifting your grip is not hugely inconvenient, though. Two-handed use is glorious thanks to the extra keyboard space, and I make fewer typos in portrait mode.
The landscape keyboard is a mess and needs to be fixed. Important keys end up in strange and unwanted places (namely the Delete key, which appears below the L).
Speaking of landscape, not many apps support the larger screen in landscape yet. I can understand why. It’s a big undertaking for a developer with little pay-off. I want to hug the developers of Fantastical, though. Having your task list next to a scrollable calendar view is rad.
Reachability is a serviceable fix for a ridiculous problem. It feels cludgy and inelegant, but it gets the job done. I’ve found myself using it much more with the Plus.
Reading in Instapaper and iBooks feels akin to reading a paperback. Even technical books with long lines of code are easy to read on the Plus, which is what I was hoping for; they were much harder to read on the 5 because of frequent line wrapping.
I VNC into our home media computer pretty regularly, an old MacBook that idles under a desk, from my phone using Screens. The Plus’s size is perfect for this and makes the task much more manageable.
Scrolling performance has been fine in all but one app, and it’s an app that runs in the zoomed, not-updated-for-6 legacy mode, which I think is related.5 Performance of other apps has been fantastic.
Being a geek, I was concerned about possible display artifacts due to the Plus’s use of downsampling. In practice, it’s absolutely unnoticeable.
I was also concerned about some folks reporting memory management issues due to the phone’s paltry 1 GB of RAM. Safari habitually reloading tabs, apps relaunching from scratch frequently due to getting reaped by the OS—these things are apparently common. I haven’t experienced this yet, but I’ve only spent two days with the device, and I wouldn’t say that’s long enough to come to a conclusion. I also consistently close all my Safari tabs because I’m tightly wound, which might be why I haven’t encountered any problems.
The Plus I’m using now is actually my second Plus. The first had a cluster of dead pixels; the Apple Store replaced it without question or argument. The clerks told me this was the first time they’ve seen this happen. However, I’ve heard a couple of other folks have run into dead pixels on the Plus, too.
The battery life surprised me, but not in a good way. Last night, as I went to bed, it had the same 15% left that the 6 had. Granted, that’s 15% of a much larger capacity battery, but I was expecting better based on what I had read.
While some things have been fixed by setting the phone up as new, some remain. A particularly annoying one involves AirPlay. After stopping playback, occasionally my phone will lose all ability to control its volume. Only a reboot will bring the volume slider back.
Why the 6 Plus?
Despite being smaller than the Plus, the 6 still felt better as a two-handed device in certain positions (especially while reclining and reading in bed). This, combined with my desire to never have to charge my phone during the day, made the Plus’s size seem like an okay compromise. The higher-DPI screen and optical image stabilization were icing on the cake.
What I learned
I’m done with reading reviews of—and commentary about—the iPhone when a new one is released. I’m also planning to say absolutely nothing positive or negative about new Apple devices in public until I’ve seen and used one extensively.
In truth, both devices made me very happy, and I’ve yet to encounter any of the purported flaws that the Apple nerd community shouted about.
It’ll bend! It’s slippery! It won’t fit in your pants or purse! It’s ugly! The scrolling is jittery! You’ll notice the downsampling!
Bullshit. Hype, conjecture, spin, and sometimes just plain hysterical nonsense from people looking for page views. I’m extremely disappointed with a small subset of the Apple community who reported any or all of the above issues as objective truth.
The truth is that the Plus is a very attractive and powerful pocket tablet with a better software library than the iPad—that’s awesome! For some people (i.e., those who rely on their phone as their primary computer), the Plus’s speed, battery life, and screen space will conspire to help them get stuff done faster and with less hassle than a smaller phone.
TL;DR: The Plus is the perfect device for some folks, and a handful of Apple nerds should be castigated for making it out to be anything but.