There have been many, many reviews written about the iPhone 6+. It is, perhaps, one of the most intriguing and possibly controversial devices that will be released this year. In a world where Android manufacturers have been pushing the screen size bigger and bigger (so much so that the average size of an Android phone is creeping beyond 4.7" upwards to 5"), there was always the hold-out Apple. Steve Jobs thought a phone that big was ridiculous. There are many reasons that Apple was slow to this game. Not the least of which is that Apple's developers must now deal full-force with display fragmentation. At this very moment, a universal iOS app must handle five distinct "phone" resolutions and two tablet resolutions, bringing the grand total up to seven different resolutions. This, my friends, is a big deal.
But here we are. And one of the real reasons everyone is so intrigued by the 6+ is the grand question of, "How will Apple redefine the 'phablet'?" After all, Apple has a knack for entering spaces and redefining them, pushing the envelope and reshaping how everyone thinks about a space. Will they do that with the 6+?
I endeavored to find an answer to that question. In pursuit of that, I acquired a 128 GB Space Grey iPhone 6+ on launch day and have been using it for over a week now. Let me tell you what my base criteria are for a good phone. If one of these is not checked, I likely will not use the phone for long.
- Awesome camera: I take pictures, lots of them. I document my children, I document events, I document places. Recently, I have begun getting "serious" about it, in the sense that I will now spend quite a bit of time after a day of snapping pictures to process those pictures and publish them.
- All-day battery life: By "all-day", I mean that I must be able to take the device, use it moderately to heavily, and have enough battery at the end of the day to scroll through Twitter before plugging it back in and going to bed.
- Fast network speeds: Basically, LTE or fast HSPA+.
- Juggle-ability: I have three kids between the ages of 5 and 9. I will have a kid on my shoulders and one on my arm while at the same time sending a text to my wife about where we're going to meet next. On occasion, I will need to break into a jog while in this configuration. A phone must get in and out of my pocket easily. Here is where I expected the 6+ to fail spectacularly, I must be able to use it one-handed.
- Durable: I don't use cases. They are abominations.
- Beautiful Screen: It must, must have a beautiful, pixel dense screen.
This one is pretty easy. This camera is awesome. It is the best on the market. Between the solid hardware and the amazing, ground breaking things that Apple has done with the camera, there is nothing that even comes close. Add to that the apps that are available for post-processing and you simply have something that is amazing. VSCOCam, Tadaa, PhotoToaster, just to name a few, allow you to take the raw footage you shoot with the 6+ and turn images into otherworldly things.
Case in point.
Finally, with iOS 8, Apple has opened up the raw camera controls. Now, you're going to be able to adjust the settings of the camera like you would a more high-end camera. The point-and-shoot is dead, long live the iPhone!
One thing it's worth noting here is that, on paper, the 6+ camera is better than the 6. The 6+ has OIS (Optical Image Stabilization) whereas the 6 does not. All reports are that this is truly not a game-changer unless you shoot stills in near dark while mounting your phone on a tripod.
Here again, the 6+ does well. In the first two days I had it, I made it bed to bed without needing to charge the phone. This is a monumental feat. Both of these days, in an effort to get the 6+ to divulge all of its secrets to me, I was picking up the phone and tinkering with it every few minutes. No phone that I've used to date has performed this well.
On a day of typical use, it has done quite well. This past Thursday, I traveled to Washington DC in order to see the Redskins get destroyed by the Giants at my first NFL game. The day started at 6 AM, entailed pretty heavy use, including GPS usage, quite a bit of tweeting, picture taking and instagramming, then ended at 4 AM of the next day. When I arrived back at home, I still had 20% battery left. I went with 3 other guys and all of them were forced to charge at least twice.
At the time of writing, which is 11:12 PM, the battery is at 47%. I came off the charger at 7 AM, spent several hours out and about in various network environments from a fishing pier to a mall. I took quite a few pictures with the kids and did a bit of editing. This battery is legit.
It has LTE and 802.11 AC. The network performance is fast, and the radios seem to do better in low signal than the iPhone 5 I have on hand. Not much to be said here but "pass".
This now, this is where I expected to have problems. This phone is big. It is extremely large, both in width and height. I am not a small guy and I have average sized hands, but I find myself holding the phone in precarious ways on occasion.
But the real question is, "Is it hard enough to hold?" And beyond that, how does it do coming in and out of my pocket? Can I get it out in a hurry? Does it's massive size prevent me from smoothly evacuating it from my jeans?
Let me level with you: If you wear skinny jeans or if you're small and dislike using two hands to handle a device, then get the 6. The 6+ is very, very large. But it is not too large... Assuming you're willing to make some concessions.
Here are the things I noticed.
In one-handed use, in order to get to the far left side of the screen, you need to lay the phone flat on your fingers so that your hand wraps around the phone. This allows your thumb to get to the far left side. The problem here is two-fold: The phone is not held firmly and the phone itself is slippery. You're not going to be running when you do this. You may not even be walking, depending on what your gait is.
Also, you righties, forget hitting the upper left hand side of the screen. You're not going to do it... But, wait! It turns out you can. Reachability is a thing, and it is real. It's also very, very useful, to a point.
Reachability works like this: You double tap the home button (in a capacitive sense, not a full on press) and the upper half of whatever screen you're on slides into the bottom half of the screen. iOS has a penchant for putting back navigation into the upper left, and this allows that navigation to get to a position that a one-handed user can hit on this very large phone.
When I first heard about it, I thought it was a complete hack. Turns out, it is not. It works very well.
Except when you're five screens deep and you need to get back to the main screen. Then it's 12 taps to get back to the original screen: two taps for reachability and one tap for back, four times. Then, reachability feels like an annoying hack.
Here's a quick video of the Twitter client. Pardon the portrait nature of the video, but there is no easy way to film this in landscape. Remember kids, portrait videos are typically the work of the devil.
As to pocketability, this is a slim, small device in every other dimension. It slides in and out of your pockets with ease. There are absolutely no right angles on this device, everything is rounded. It is really, truly a joy to hold, even with it being as large as it is. On my shorts it has no issues. On my jeans, the bottom (I put my phones in upside-down) sticks out the top ever so slightly.
So, all in all, on one-handedness and pocketability, I'm willing to make a concession. I'm not going to be moving fast when I use this device one handed, but I can use it one handed. That's enough. If you have small hands or you are tied to your skinny jeans, then look to the 6, or at least get your hands on one first to give it a test drive.
I've dropped the phone in very small drops a few times. No damage, but this is hardly a real test. Probably the one thing I can point to with regards to durability, and just how durable I believe this phone will show itself to be, is the "Bendgate" video.
Yes, in case you've been hiding under a rock, some poor unfortunate souls have managed to bend their iPhone 6+'s in their pockets. When word of that hit the interwebs, our friends at Unbox Therapy had to jump into the fray and demonstrate that this phone can, in fact, be bent with the hands.
But there are a few things to note: First and foremost, he's working really hard to bend this phone. I haven't seen force requirements yet, but it sure does seem like you're going to have to fight to do this.
Apple has reported that they have seen 9 bent iPhone 6+'s so far. Please recall that they sold 10 million phones in the pre-orders and the day of launch. This does not seem like a very wide-spread problem.
But, secondly, and of way more importance, HE BENDS THE FREAKING PHONE AND THE SCREEN DOESN'T SHATTER! Yes, he bends the phone and the screen deforms along with the device! This is wild, and I doubt there are many other devices on the market that can make that claim. This gives me hope that, in fact, the glass of the device is super durable. This could be a very big selling point in the year to come.
In the end, don't tuck this device into the back pocket of your skinny jeans and then jump up and down on your butt. It's a $750 aluminum phone. Don't be stupid.
Also, don't wear skinny jeans.
Oh, God, the screen!
This, this is why you're going to buy this device. This screen is amazing! It is huge, it is vibrant, it is so, so close to the glass. It is the first screen I've seen that looks like print on paper, or like print on the glass itself. I cannot tell you in words how gorgeous this screen is. You just need to go see for yourselves.
Simply put, after a day, I could not bring myself to part with this screen. Yes, it is a bit of a challenge to hold one-handed when moving fast. But how often do you really do that? Even me, who is known to cart kids around amusement parks, tends to put my phone away when I'm walking quickly. I don't want to walk into people.
But this screen, so big, so vibrant, is a game-changer. You're not going to reach for you iPad Mini, you'll just pull your phone out of your pocket. For those that rely on screens on a day-to-day basis, this screen is a God-send.
It is very visible out doors and it is easy to type on. Since this phone is huge, there's more space for each key. This makes typing easier and typically translates into faster typing speeds. Add to that the fact that there is just more screen real estate and that the keyboard doesn't take up half the screen, and you have a compelling reason for this size.
But wait, there is one wrinkle here: app scaling.
Do you recall when the 5 was launched and developers had to rush to get their apps ready for the new screens? In the meantime, Apple letterboxed the apps. It was a bit of a pain, but in a few months, you didn't see letterboxed apps anymore.
Similarly here, if an app has not been prepared for the 6+, it will get scaled to fit the size. The scaler doesn't do a bad job, but you end up with outsized apps, including an outsized keyboard. It's not a terrible experience, but it's uncomfortable. Uncomfortable in the sense that you know you could be getting more.
In the end, I expect this is a problem with a timespan measured in months. Devs are already rushing to update and it's only a matter of time before they all do.
This phone is awesome. The screen is a game-changer, the camera is best-in-class. It is a bed-to-bed phone, even with heavy use. Yes, it is large, and yes, you should consider that before you make a purchase.
However, back to the original question: Has Apple redefined the phablet space?
I think only time will tell here, but that's not the most interesting result. Instead of redefining the phablet, I believe that Apple has redefined iOS. This is a new experience, one that is pleasant and fun to use. By adding this incredible amount of real estate, iOS has become a different beast entirely.
The possibilities for user interaction are only increased with this device and that is a very good thing.