I like the iPhone 6 so much that I may not buy a new Android: Review

29 Comments

Credit: Tom Krazit/Gigaom

The demand for larger phones has risen since 2011, and many wondered how long it would take Apple to join in and offer a comparably larger iPhone. It did so this month, with two new models: The 4.7-inch iPhone 6 and the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus.

I have one of each — I bought the 6 for myself (starting at $199 on contract, $649 off-contract) and my son got a 6 Plus. I’ve used my new [company]Apple[/company] iPhone for the past week (I’ll talk more about the larger model in an upcoming post) and due to the hardware redesign and Apple’s slightly more open software approach, I’m actually rethinking my typical annual plans to buy a new [company]Google[/company] Android handset this year. Let me explain why.

A new look and a size that’s overdue

Obviously, with each new year, Apple improves the iPhone hardware, and this year is no exception. A few items stand out, however. First is the redesign.

Apple's iPhone 6. Photo by Tom Krazit/Gigaom

Apple’s iPhone 6. Photo by Tom Krazit/Gigaom

As the leaks and rumors suggested, the iPhone 6 is shaped more like an iPod touch, which is actually one of my favorite devices because it does so much while being so thin. This year’s iPhone 6 is 6.9 millimeters thick and has rounded corners, similar to an iPod touch. I didn’t care for the hard edges of the prior iPhones, so I see this as a big improvement: It’s easier to reach across the display without feeling the edges. However, the thinness can make the phone a bit hard to hold; I haven’t dropped it yet, but there are times when I feel I might.

iPhone 6 thin

Then there’s the 1334 x 750 resolution display. It has the same 326 pixels per inch as last year’s iPhone 5s [BUT?] has 38 percent more viewing area, and my eyes have been crying for that extra screen space for a while now. I’m used to a 4.7-inch display, because the Moto X — my primary Android phone for 13 months (a record!) — uses the same size of screen. But even though it only has a slightly higher pixel count, the iPhone 6 display is noticeably better in terms of brightness, contrast and viewing angles. There are times when the screen output looks as if it’s painted on the glass, almost like it’s a still image and not a dynamic screen.

It’s no surprise I quickly got used to the 4.7-inch screen, then, since that’s the size display I’ve been using since last year. I wish Apple had used this size a year or two ago; many people will find it to be a good compromise between size and usability. I do find the overall phone a bit tall, however; that’s due to Apple keeping the top and bottom bezel identical in size. With the Touch ID home button, the bottom bezel can’t be shrunken but the top one could use a little diet. I doubt that will change, though: Symmetry is and has been prevalent in the overall iPhone design.

iPhone 6 back

Moving the power / wake button from the top to the size was a good move; it’s a more natural place for a phone of this size. Little else has changed on the outside, although the new TruTone LED flash fits within a small circle now.

What’s inside the thinner, bigger phone?

Apple says its new A8 chip has a 25 percent faster CPU and 50 percent faster GPU than last year’s phone. It’s also smaller because it’s built on a 20 nanometer process, meaning more transistors are packed in tighter. This can help with battery life, although I’m generally seeing about the same run-time on a charge as I did with the iPhone 5s. Most days, I’m getting by with just one charge but if you use the iPhone 6 heavily, a full day may be tough without a late afternoon recharge. There is a new feature to show you which apps are using the most juice.

ios 8 battery usage

I’ve run some basic benchmark tests and the iPhone 6 does test faster than previous versions: The SunSpider test for JavaScript, for example, is a spritely 355.7 milliseconds, compared to 419 milliseconds from my iPhone 5s. Rather than re-create the wheel, I’ll point you to what I think are the most all-compassing suite of tests performed by AnandTech if you’re into benchmarks. More important to me is: How does the iPhone 6 perform in typical use?

Unsurprisingly, it’s generally a step quicker than last year’s phone but there’s not a huge gain in speed. Apps open fast and are very responsive and although I’m browsing the web on a mobile device, it sometimes feels as fast as surfing on a traditional computer. The camera can snap crisp images nearly as fast as you can tap the shutter button. All in all, this phone is as fast as anything out there, if not faster.

Apple also upgraded the low-power chip for sensors: The new M8 keeps the same sensors as last year and adds a barometer to measure air-pressure changes. This comes in handy when counting how many flights of stairs you climb daily, which can be tracked automatically by Apple’s Health app.

Apple Health iOS 8

Wi-Fi now supports 802.11ac networks and my home router supports this faster Wi-Fi protocol. Wireless speed tests from nearly anywhere in my house on the iPhone 6 consistently show faster speeds, sometimes equalling the 75 Mbps home broadband connection I have with wired devices. I’ve also seen better signal quality in general, although with the latest software update the Wi-Fi doesn’t seem as stable as it was.

The iPhone 6 can work with Voice over LTE on Verizon and Wi-Fi Calling on T-Mobile. I have an AT&T model, however, so I haven’t been able to test either of these services. My voice calls have been no different from last year’s iPhone. Bluetooth 4.0 and GPS are also supported, as you’d expect.

What sounded like a minor camera upgrade is actually impressive

Apple’s choice of camera sensor first disappointed me when I heard about it. The camera is still an 8 megapixel sensor with the same f/2.2 aperture as last year’s model. After using the camera in a range of situations, though, I’m impressed with it and my initial disappointment is long gone.

The new phase-detection autofocus is very fast and generally accurate. Aside from a few times, the camera quickly picked out the object I was shooting and focused in fast. Continuous autofocus when shooting video is excellent to have. And the new 240fps slo-motion capture has created some interesting videos; here are two of me trying to keep up with my dog as he runs around outside in circles — he’s quick! — and another of an outdoor fire that’s mesmerizing.

A professional photographer has already shown the capabilities of the new iPhone 6 camera so if you know what you’re doing, you can capture stunning images. The front facing camera is improved, particularly if you want to take HDR selfies. (I do not, but that’s just me.)

Are there better smartphone cameras on the market today? Certainly. I’d say most of the Lumia handsets will meet or exceed the iPhone 6 in some situations, for example. But for most people, Apple’s phone will take better pictures than they’d expect. Put another way: For a wide range of photos and videos, this is a great camera that’s pretty simple to use. Here are a number of stills I captured using the standard Camera app with Auto HDR and a single type of edit — the auto-enhance feature native to iOS.

Hardware is only half of the story and iOS 8 has some big changes

Some of the aspects of Android that I preferred over iOS are no longer an issue, as Apple changed a few things. Apps in iOS can now work together thanks to extensions. Instead of being able to share web content only with the apps that Apple says you can share with, you can now share with nearly any other app. And in a way, it’s even better than how Android handles this.

So I can now share interesting articles from the web to Pocket, for example, because the newest version of the app supports extensions. That means Pocket automatically appears in my list of apps to share from Safari. Yes, the same happens in Android, but eventually you get an unwieldy list of sharable apps. In iOS you can enable or disable sharing on each individual app, creating a customized list. That’s handy. You can also use image filter apps directly in the native Photos app.

share pocket ios 8

Apple also added widgets in iOS, but they’re a bit more limited. You can’t put them on the home screen; they appear in the Notification Center with a swipe down from any screen. You can rearrange them there and you can enable or disable them, but it’s a limited implementation: fine if you use just a few widgets, not ideal if you want many. At this point, I’m only using the Yahoo Weather widget, which was automatically installed with the weather app.

yahoo weather widget in notifications

Apple has also opened up its stance on third-party keyboards even as it improved its own. That’s another Android-only feature that is no more: Most of the top-tier keyboards for Android have quickly made their way to iOS, although I’ve seen some instability on a few. Give them time to work out the kinks for this new platform — new to them, at least — and they’ll get better. For now, I’m using Apple’s own keyboard, which has pretty solid word prediction to save taps and time.

I am a bit disappointed in Siri. Google Now and Microsoft’s Cortana provide more robust, contextual information, even though Siri has been on the market longer. If I had to pick one thing I’d miss the most by going all-in on iOS, it would be this area. Siri is helpful for getting information that you ask for, but not for proactively notifying you, something other smartphone platforms are quite good at.

There’s a host of other tweaks and changes in iOS 8 — more than I can cover here and some that will be coming later, such as Apple Pay next month. Suffice it to say that the bigger changes are reflected in Apple opening up the software for apps to work better together. Hardware is more open too as developers can use the Touch ID sensor (which I find is better at reading fingerprints) for app and purchase authentication. Apple did all of this in its own controlled way, of course, but it’s still a step toward more freedom in how you use your iPhone.

Is bigger better, and who is this for?

If you’re simply not a fan of iOS, there’s not much here that’s going to convince you to buy Apple’s latest iPhone. There are plenty of other good choices on the market for you.

Did you leave iOS because the iPhone was too small? That problem is gone with the iPhone 6 and it’s well worth the look. For me, the 4.7-inch screen is super for one-handed use and fitting in a pocket. Even if the screen feels too tall, you can always double-touch the home button and iOS will slide the entire screen down for you.

Reachability on

I’m not sure that iPhone 5s users need to make the jump right now, unless you simply have to have that larger display and rounded edges. If you have an iPhone 5 or below, then this is a no-brainer. Go check out the iPhone 6 and make sure you like the size and feel: You’ll get a nice performance boost in just about every area.

To close the circle on my own decision, I may just keep my older Android phone and not upgrade to the latest that runs Google’s software. (Note: I’m currently reviewing a 2014 Moto X, so I reserve the right to change my mind!)

Apple’s iOS platform works with every app and service I need, and the new phone is the perfect size for me based on my Moto X which has similar measurements. The bigger input to my decision though is the philosophical change Apple made in iOS 8, finally allowing a bit more openness for developers and users.

iPhone 6 and Moto X

iPhone 6 on left, Moto X on right

The only thing I’m really missing on the iPhone is Google Now, which works to a limited degree through the Google Search app for iOS. And there will always be some function or feature that works on Android, or another platform, that isn’t possible on iOS, or is limited in some way. The functions I need are generally available on the iPhone 6, however, and in hardware that’s more than capable with plenty of screen to work with. And I’ve always suggested that people purchase the mobile device that best suits their needs.

Yes, Android is far more customizable and easier to tinker with, but the main aspects I enjoy from it have now come to iOS in a bigger phone. As a result, I just might save myself some money and make the iPhone 6 my only phone purchase this year.

29 Comments

Jim

Did you look at the blackberry passport ? Having the iPad mini serves my purpose but for a secure business perspective im thinking of going back to blackberry .. Certainly looks more business savvy .

PRETHOUGHT

Kevin why did you pick the iPhone 6 as opposed to the Plus?

For someone who wanted more screen real estate I would have guessed you would have gotten the Plus.

It makes sense for my work but when I’m not working it feels like it would be a chore to carry that excess baggage around. Having a hard time picking between the 2.

Kevin C. Tofel

I definitely liked having more screen real estate when I had the Note 2 but after holding the iPhone 6 Plus (both at the launch event and after my son’s new phone arrived) I felt it was too large for full-time use for me. A big part of the reason: I often run with my phone and would prefer a smaller handset.

degraevesofie

“Are there better smartphone cameras on the market today? Certainly. I’d say most of the Lumia handsets will meet or exceed the iPhone 6 in some situations, for example.”

Camera quality is often a subjective topic, but wrt. objective measures of quality, it appears the new iPhone is now actually the best mobile phone camera on the market (see the DxOMark results published a few days ago). Wrt. to things that DxO doesn’t measure (like speed of focus, usability, features) I think iPhone did already well before, and significantly improves it in this iteration. So I wouldn’t respond “Certainly.” to that question.

Android fan

I agree keeping score is pointless but since Apple loves bashing Android I feel authors do a diservise to readers by not pointing these out about Apple in return when the opportunity presents its self. Users read your post and don’t for one moment think anything else. They keep going around saying how cool apple is and how android is a cheap copy cat product. An uninformed reader will think Apple invented sharing between apps, 3rd part keyboard etc etc If they were better informed maybe they’ll accept Apple is a copycat as well. To his her own. I recommended my dad buy an iPad now he has a iPhone. Apple had great products but now apple is a follower of market trends.

I’m really tired of people treating android as a cheap knockoff.

site7000

Android certainly started as a cheap knockoff. Google worked hard to improve the system and came up with a few things that were cool and unique. The only problem was that to do so, they had to throw security under the bus. Apple took the time to make those same features, like custom keyboards and inter-app communication, secure. And took the time to make a touch ID system that works. As a result, Apple Pay has the partners to become the standard Google’s NFC implementation never did, so Android will have some catching up to do there. They’ll get there eventually.

Also, Apple isn’t in the data-mining business. I like my privacy. I don’t get why anyone would let Google read their email and mine every click they make.

So, while Android isn’t “cheap” anymore, you get a more mature experience and ecosystem with iOS. Some people spend a lifetime attacking the concept of quality to justify buying the cheapest of everything and that’s fine, they end up with a lot of cheap stuff and they should be happy. But quality exists and some people will pay a reasonable price to get it. So those people end up with quality stuff and are happy, too.

As far as “Apple loves bashing Android,” please. 90% of the bashing has been coming from the defensive Android crowd for years. It used to make me mad because it’s so nuts and so pervasive in every Mac forum, but I read it for amusement now. Like Bendgate. Hilarious.

android fan

I usually avoid commenting but since I usually like reading your posts and i am a android fan I must comment on this.
First I agree IPhone is a great phone and android copied apples features and should copy a few more. Hangouts copy Imessage.
What I don’t like reading is how no one is saying how apple is now copying android features it once laughed at. To make things worse apple die hards are saying apple waited for the best moment and improved the feature and is better than android. Come now Kevin. Let’s at least be fair to both sides. Android enjoyed intents and Swype keyboard for years before Apple released it. Huge phone was made a thing by Samsung. Give credit where it’s due and call out apple like you would call out Samsung for copying. Apple is copying features and tooting it’s own horn. Let’s elaborate more on that without just saying it in passing. Moving the power button to side is not novel. Android phones have had this again for years. I wish you would point out apple is not innovative anymore. It’s playing catch up. Unrelated but The iwatch is a horribly ugly piece of tech. The UI is hideous. I expected more from apple.

Kevin C. Tofel

I don’t disagree with anything you’ve pointed out in regards to who came out with what feature first. And I know that Samsung helped create this market: I touted the Note 2 I bought back in 2012 when I had it.

Here’s the thing though: I’m getting tired of “keeping score” between companies, devices and platforms, regardless of who is copying who. And here’s why:

Does a potential phone buyer walk into a store and ask, “Can you show me the phones that had [insert feature here] first?” It simply doesn’t matter to the buying process. And it’s starting to matter less to me whether it’s iOS copying from Android or Android from iOS.

Re: The Apple Watch is definitely a matter of personal preference. Watch styles are in general IMO. And I have no interest in the Apple Watch mainly because Apple didn’t convince me it fills a need I have: https://gigaom.com/2014/09/10/dont-call-the-apple-watch-a-smartwatch-even-though-it-has-the-same-challenges-as-them/

Xn

Do you have any thoughts about the upcoming Samsung Note 4? After Nexus 5 this is personally the first to interest me in a long time. If 6+ is the current flagship at Apple, I think at the moment Note 4 might be close to flagship on Android. I wouldnt put 6+ necessarily compared against Moto X, unlocked price, avaibility and screen quality, processor technology etc should be on the same “freshness” level. I mean compare the newest, best they have to offer tech.

Maybe Google will release some new tech on the Nexus line that will change your mind? ;)

Kevin C. Tofel

I owned the Note 2 and liked it at the time but I wasn’t using the S-Pen as much. Yes, it might be considered a flagship for Android but specs aren’t everything to all people. If they were, I wouldn’t have bought last year’s Moto X. ;)

As I noted in the post, I have a 2014 Moto X under review right now and that certainly qualifies as a flagship phone so I’ll have thoughts on that in the very near future. Thanks!

Gautam

Are you going the review the iphone 6 plus too ? Also since you mentioned you have a nexus 5, do you have a separate wireless plan or just switch sim cards ?

Kevin C. Tofel

Gautam, I will have a follow up post with thoughts on the iPhone 6 Plus. It’s really about the size, display quality and OIS since everything else is the same but yup, it’s worth a separate look. I do regularly swap my SIM card through various phones on different platforms: iOS, Android and Windows Phone.

michialbrown

Having used them all I liken Apple to a sleek quiet cabin BMW thats smooth as butter, can’t do much customization but, I have no desire to. Android is like a muscle car thats louder can beat you off the line, and allows you to get under the hood for more customization but doesn’t quite have the smooth sophistication and ride the Beemer can provide.

Sathish Rao

Are there any ‘Siri’ enhancements ? If so, how does it compare with ‘Google One’ & ‘Cortana’ ?

Kevin C. Tofel

Siri only got a little bit of love this time around, Sathish. I find it to lag behind Google Now and Cortina quite noticeably.

If you have your iOS device plugged in you can activate Siri through voice — no button press needed now. Siri can also use Shazam to identify songs and in general, dictation is more real time rather than listen for a full phrase and then process. Frankly, I’m disappointed Siri hasn’t improved that much.

Steven Krohn

I think there is a place for both based on personal preference. Mine is the iPhone but I totally understand the arguments for Android.

mike

Oh you say that now. But wait a month until “L” launches and then you will want to play with the new bright and shiny over there. Then the little voices will tell you that you really should as it’s your job and that will be all it takes to push your buy button.

Kevin C. Tofel

I’m pretty sure L will be available for my Moto X. I also have a Nexus 5 I use for testing that will surely have the new software — I already have the developer preview installed on it. :)

Adam

So can you open things in chrome instead of copying and pasting the link into chrome?

jn

just as things are on IOS are limited compared to Android, there is stuff on iOS that isnt on Android tho, facetime, imessage, contuninity, etc

Kevin C. Tofel

True, but there are typically good alternatives to those in Android. Not disagreeing by any means, but I think it’s an important point: In many ways, both platforms are up to par with each other.

Global Warning

Reblogged this on Global Warning and commented:
Thank you for this review! I have never owned an iPhone but I was planning on converting soon. I don’t care much for screen size so I might just go with a iPhone 5s. What are your thoughts (pros and cons) on that phone?

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