iPhone 6 Review: The Goldilocks of iPhones

When Phil Schiller stepped on stage and showed the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus to the world, I was ready. I had been using an Android smartphone for the past few months, and while it wasn’t downright horrible, I missed a lot of the iOS experience: the apps, the simplicity, and all the new features coming as part of iOS 8. An iPhone with a slightly larger screen than previous iPhones was exactly what was rumoured, announced, and now, it’s my favourite iPhone, ever. This is AppleTalk’s review of the iPhone 6.

Design

There’s no other way to put it: the iPhone 6 looks and feels great in the hand. The iPhone 6 is Apple’s return to the rounded edges of the original iPhone and iPhone 3G, which combined with the incredibly thin design of the unit, make it a really comfortable device to use and hold. I’ve heard people note the curved edges afford a better purchase on the phone that sits very close to flat on the surface of a desk, and that’s probably true, too, although there are just as many people that say the rounded edges make for a slippery device. I haven’t had any issues with the device slipping out of my hand.

The glass panel covering the display on the front of the device is also rounded, meeting the aluminium rear of the device in a near-seamless transition. A few people I know went for the black/space-grey version of the iPhone 6 because they thought the transition between glass and aluminium would be even more seamless, but as someone with the white/silver version, the transition between glass and aluminium is hardly noticeable, much less something you would fret over. More importantly, the rounded glass edges make the “swipe-to-go-back” gesture in many apps feel amazing. Your thumb starts by resting on the edge of the device, then is caressed by the gentle curve of the glass as it moves towards the centre of the screen. It’s incredibly satisfying in a way that the straight-edged iPhone 5 can’t match.

After years of iPhones with top-mounted power buttons, it will probably take a few months to get used to the new side placement. That said, it already feels natural, like it’s exactly where it’s supposed to be — although it helps that I’ve used phones which have had side-mounted power buttons before. The elongated volume buttons and silent switch feel as responsive as ever. I’ve read other reviews which have commented on the ugliness of the antenna bands on the rear of the device, but I don’t mind them, particularly if it means I’ll be able to pay for things with my iPhone in the not-too-distant future, whenever Apple roll out Apple Pay in other countries besides the US.

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If there’s anything that doesn’t fit into the clean lines and slim, sleek, design of the iPhone 6, it’s the camera bump. The iPhone 6 rocks the same camera bump that’s on the current generation of iPod touch — it’s enough to put out the digital level in the Compass app when laying “flat” on a desk — even though Apple hides it well on their marketing materials. I can see why they chose to go with a camera lens that protruded from the device, especially if it meant an improved camera over previous generations, but there’s no getting past how awkward it looks, or how anxious I am at scratching the lens every time I put the iPhone 6 down on a flat surface. Thankfully, the lens itself is made from sapphire and will probably resist any scratching, but still, the anxiety is there.

Which brings up an interesting point: was anyone really after a thinner iPhone? Apple’s modus operandi is to release devices which are better than their predecessors in every way: faster, thinner, lighter, all of those things. I doubt Apple would have released the iPhone 6 with a design too similar to the iPhone 5/5s, but the argument could still be made the previous design was plenty thin enough. Measurements put the iPhone 6 at 6.9mm thin, and the camera bump is an extra 0.6mm on top of that. Apple could potentially have made the iPhone 6 the same thickness as the iPhone 5, possibly even putting an even bigger battery in there. Of course, all this is pure conjecture: I guess Apple wouldn’t have a reason to sell the leather and silicon cases, if they did make the iPhone 6 the same thickness. And besides, “a dramatically thin design” reads pretty well on the website.

It’s also interesting to note how space-inefficient the design of the iPhone 6 actually is. The iPhone 6 I have is almost as large as the slightly-thicker HTC One M8, which has a 5-inch, 1080p display, and compared to the Lumia range, the iPhone 6 is bigger than it should be. On the other hand, the iconic front of the iPhone means Apple needs some space for the earpiece/screen/home button combo, and iOS doesn’t have the luxury (or curse, depending on how you see them) of on-screen virtual home buttons.

Apart from that, I’m really impressed with the design of the iPhone 6. It bares all the hallmarks of Apple’s industrial design prowess, which show from the curved glass and seamless aluminium rear, to the new slimline design with rounded edges; it feels like a premium product, an expensive piece of hardware.

Left: un-optimised for iPhone 6 Notesy. Right: optimised for iPhone 6 Vesper. Note the differences in status bar icon size and keyboard height.

Left: un-optimised for iPhone 6 Notesy. Right: optimised for iPhone 6 Vesper.
Note the differences in status bar icon size and keyboard height.

Software and Apps

The iPhone 6 comes with iOS 8 out of the box, and if you have a 64GB or 128GB capacity model, Apple’s iLife and iWork apps come pre-installed on the device. Apple’s Health, Tips, iBooks, and Podcasts apps also make an appearance as default apps, with the latter two unable to be removed from your iPhone. It’s no big deal as you can just relegate those apps into a “rarely used” folder if you already use superior alternatives. The weird animation on the corner of folders, however, can’t be un-seen.

Every major software release has its bugs, and iOS 8 is no exception. Most of the issues I’ve come across have been with third-party apps that haven’t been updated for iOS 8, particularly with new iOS 8 features. Lots of apps don’t seem to recognise when I’ve tapped on UI elements using Reachability, lingering at the bottom of the screen for longer than completely necessary. I’ve seen a few crashes when using Share extensions in some of the new apps, but nothing major.

And if I’m honest, that’s probably the biggest deal about iOS 8, iPhone 6 or not. Some apps have been updated, but many others haven’t. Apps that (still!) haven’t been updated for the taller form factor for the iPhone 5 show the black letterboxing bars at the top and bottom, as you might expect. Apps that haven’t been updated for the larger resolution for the iPhone 6 show a minor fuzziness — they aren’t as pixel-perfect as you might expect. They also use a scaled-up version of the iPhone 5/iOS 7 keyboard, although they do get iOS 8 features like QuickType predictive text and support for streaming voice recognition.

For the apps that have been updated, developers are doing some truly great things. Touch ID in 1Password is downright amazing in its simplicity and ease-of use, and being able to save articles from anywhere to my Instapaper queue with its share extension is incredibly convenient. Evernote’s widget in Notification Center is probably the best example I’ve seen of how to do widgets right, and the way Dropbox uses a Document Picker is the iOS filesystem I never knew I wanted.

I can’t wait until I can reply to notifications from Tweetbot, login to my banking app using my fingerprint, or have someone send me an audio message so I can do the whole “raise to listen” thing and pretend like I actually have friends.

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The iPhone 6 Plus in the room

If the iPhone 6 is so great, and the software is fantastic, I guess there’s only one more question to answer: should you go for the iPhone 6, or the iPhone 6 Plus?

The answer will be purely personal preference. After the announcement, people made full-scale paper versions of the new iPhones to see how they would size up in real life, prompting many “paper thin” dad jokes on Twitter. The best way to tell which model you should go for is to go to an Apple Store or anywhere you can get some hands-on time with both devices.

As for me, I pre-ordered the iPhone 6 without looking. Checking out one of each model in real life made me realise that the iPhone 6 Plus wasn’t as big as I thought it was going to be, but was still uncomfortably large and expansive for my liking. Previous experience with the HTC One M8 meant I knew anything bigger than 5-inches was going to be too big, so I knew the regular ol’ 6 was going to be the phone for me. Besides, I’m no size queen. Toby, on the other hand…

I knew right from the first rumour that I was going for the 5.5. I’ve had every iPhone since the original, so I’ve seen what evolution looks like — this time I wanted revolution. When Phil stood onstage at the Flint Center and announced the iPhone 6 Plus, it only confirmed my thinking. Massive battery? Optical image stabilisation? 401 ppi display? Yes please. There were so many pluses (heh) that it was really a no-brainer.

When I actually got my hands on one it was everything I thought it would be. It’s been a couple of days and I’m still continually amazed at the fact that this thing exists. The display is by far the best I’ve seen on any device – the way it flows into the sides, the insane viewing angles, the amazing clarity in bright sunlight. I constantly had to dock my 5S for recharging, but the Plus gets me through the day with 25% left. I live in loose-fit jeans so pocketability isn’t a issue for me, and the two-handedness of it is more than made up for by that glorious expanse of pixels. If I had to pick a downside, it’s that it’s the first iPhone where a case is 100% mandatory. Until I got one I was convinced I was either going to scratch the protruding camera lens or drop it due to the rounded edges.

If I’d gone for the 4.7” iPhone I’d always have wondered if I’d made a mistake; I have no regrets at all about going with the Plus.

The way I see it, you’re in one of three camps as far as size goes.

The first camp isn’t sure they want a larger iPhone. They’re perfectly happy with the size and form factor of the 4-inch iPhone 5/5s, and don’t see the need to go to anything bigger. They see the 4-inch iPhone as the perfect size, and kind of wish Apple released the iPhone 6, but in a smaller form factor.

The second camp, the ones who picked up the iPhone 6 Plus, were looking for something more. Like Toby, they wanted something with a huge display, something that would give them the maximum number of pixels to look at whenever they pulled their phone out of their pocket. Some of them were looking to replace their iPad with a gargantuan iPhone, and for that, the iPhone 6 Plus fit the bill to a T.

Finally, there’s the third camp. Those that went for the iPhone 6. Perhaps you were on the fence, at least to begin with. Perhaps you made paper cutouts of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus and decided you didn’t own any pants with pockets big enough for the larger display. Or perhaps you just wanted a slightly bigger iPhone — for you, the decision was easy: the iPhone 6 was the way to go.

Regardless of which model you went with, I see the iPhone 6 as the goldilocks of iPhones. John Gruber wrote about how the Apple design team mocked up every model of iPhone, in 0.1-inch increments from 4 to 6 inches, and they settled on 4.7 and 5.5-inches as the sweet spot. Between those two different models, there’s something for everyone — one option will be too big or too small for your needs, but the other will be just right.

Notable Replies

  1. My sister got a 6 and I was lucky enough to play with it. It's an amazing looking and feeling phone - I found it even more comfortable than the iPhone 3G design. I didn't find it slippery to hold at all and neither does my sister and to me it's a lot less slippery to hold than the 5s is.

    I can't decide between 6 and 6+ for myself. I think I'd have trouble with my pockets with the 6+. I'm waiting for Apple Pay to come to Australia before I splurge so by the time that happens it'll probably be better to wait until the next generation.

    I must be in a minority camp here - I prefer the bands on the 6 design better than the glass strips on the 5 and 5s. When I saw the stripes on the 5 when it was launched I knew straight away I wasn't interested in owning it. But to me the back of the 6 looks quite nice. Sure it'd be better if they didn't exist, but I'm not repelled like I was with the 5.

    Having said that, I've been lucky enough to inherit my sister's old 5s and I'm like a pig in shit. I bought a black leather case from Apple for it and it's sweet as - and black (no more regrettable white for me!).

    The extensions in iOS 8 are a game changer for me. 1Password with touch ID is perfect, I love saving things quickly with Pocket and just this morning I see they've released Awesome Screenshot so now I can take full website screenshots using iOS. It makes me very happy indeed.

    I think we'll see some good things come out of widgets as developers update their apps. What they've done for GTD apps seems very useful, but I'd love to see them for YNAB and a local one for Brisbane transport timetables (I notice Melbourne has one that does that already).

    @bennyling - great write up and I'm jealous of your 6.

  2. Another thing to note re: antenna bands is that they're lighter than the glass windows that were on the 5/5s.

  3. I got the 6 Plus and it still feels a bit big... but I LOVE the screen real-estate and really am just waiting for app developers to make use of all that glorious space. While it's still still feels pretty big to carry around and especially to hold up and use as a phone (although most of the time I'm in the car or have a headset on) i picked up my wife's iPhone 5S in it's big arse Otterbox case and it actually feels sort of tiny :stuck_out_tongue:

    I don't think I would have been too disappointed with the iPhone 6, but the Plus would still be my phone of choice.

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