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iPhone 6 plus: Review

So, is it a love affair? A weekend of using the iPhone 6 Plus has revealed some interesting points. (In case you wondered, it is still a straight device)

So, is it a love affair? A weekend of using the iPhone 6 Plus has revealed some interesting points. (In case you wondered, it is still a straight device)

A question of size

The iPhone 6 Plus is a seriously big device. Everyone who sees it or touches it remarks on its size, and asks whether it is bent yet.

Aside from swiping or using reachability, it’s tricky to use one handed, if not impossible. My hand is constantly focused on keeping the phone tight in my hand, rather than having the leeway to confidently reach enough of the phone to type a message or click on a button.

This is a phone that requires two hands. In a way, and I’m justifying it here, it’s a good thing. Walking around, you are less likely to try to type out a message or use apps. The phone forces you to stop and focus on the task in hand, which may prevent people get injured because they are distracted by technology.

From a reading perspective, websites and books looked great on the phone. I rarely found myself reaching for the iPad to read a book and didn’t feel the need to take my iPad to download any news articles.

Using apps like Keynote, Pages or Numbers show the potential for a larger screen on the move. They make you question how you ever managed to actually get anything done on the 3.5” or 4” iPhones.

Sideways is where the phone starts to shine, though there are some issues. On the positives, the new layout of the home-screen makes it easier to access apps, especially for those in folders. With the ability to use the sidebar also makes apps easier to use in this layout, providing ease of access for the thumbs to move around.

iPhone 6 plus in landscape

On the negative, the keyboard is difficult to use sideways. The keys that you want to use (i.e. the keyboard) are in the middle of the screen, which is fine when typing on a physical keyboard, but when using thumbs, it’s just uncomfortable. Apple needs to sort this out soon if it wants people to use the 6 Plus for productivity.

It feels as though Apple would have done a better job had they moved the new buttons to the middle of the screen, allowing the thumbs to easily reach the keys they use on a regular basis.

An odd thing happens with the keyboard/emoji button and numerical button too. In portrait, numerical is on the far left, yet in landscape it switches place with the emoji button. This leads to thumb confusion and the wrong button being pressed more often than not.

The increase in size also changes the way you want to view websites. On virtually every website I went on, I ended up requesting the desktop site. Both Twitter and Facebook look significantly better as the desktop site than as the mobile site. This creates a new paradigm for responsive websites, meaning that designers have to take into account the larger sized screens and what it means for design.

iPhone with TopGear

Developers and designers, we need you

Whilst all apps will run on the iPhone 6 Plus, the scaling that occurs makes apps designed for the iPhone 4 – 5S now look comical. Everything is blown up to such an extent that the screen feels underused and slightly unloved. The iPhone 6 Plus, and even the 6, require developers and designers to think about how best to utilise the extra screen real-estate. In landscape mode, this means using some of the design UI that is found on iPad apps; whilst in portrait, it’s a case of re-designing apps to make the most of the size and orientation option.

On apps that aren’t optimised, the keyboard is also scaled up, making it harder to use. At the moment, this is making many apps that people use on a regular basis less usable. Whilst the scaling works well, especially for games, when it comes to productivity apps developers and companies need to optimise them for the new devices.

iPhone screens

Whilst changes brought in with iOS 8 didn’t require developers to redesign their apps to keep up to date, both the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus have introduced the incentive to encourage upgrades. Developers now have the reason to upgrade the functionality and the design of their apps to make them look great on these new phones.

Camera

The new camera on the 6 and 6 Plus has won universal acclaim for being one of the best smartphone cameras available, and indeed, is regarded as better than most point and shoot dedicated cameras. From the weekend, I can attest to this. The camera is brilliant. Coming from the iPhone 5, photos are sharper, more detailed and generally just more beautiful. Despite this, I did find some photos taken outdoors to look slightly washed out, though this was easily fixed by fiddling with the light controls present in iOS 8.

iPhone camera test

It’s a good enough camera for everyday usage, replacing the need for a traditional point and shoot camera once and for all. For people who need optical zoom though, DSLR’s still hold the advantage for quality images and the ability to zoom.

Video on the 6 Plus is fantastic. The optical image stabilisation of video has improved how the device stabilises video significantly, with shake barely perceptible. The focus is so speedy that the quality of video outperforms many other devices available.

One issue this does present however, is the need to carry a tripod around. The rounded edges of the new iPhones make it impossible to stand upright or place on the side to use the new self-timer function (without anything to lean it on). This was one of the benefits of the 2010 – 2014 era industrial design iPhones (though the 6 and 6 Plus do feel much nicer in the hand).
Battery life

So far, I haven’t got to the end of a working day without having to recharge my phone. Whilst I do use my phone on a regular basis, I’m not constantly on it. Granted, I’ve been using it as a hotspot to connect to other devices, but I must admit I was expecting more from the 6 Plus. At the moment, it appears that the phone is constantly in use even when the screen is locked.

This comes as a surprise as the M8 chip is meant to reduce when the phone checks for updates, if it detects the phone is on a desk (i.e. locked and on a flat surface.) The phone should be going into standby to make the battery last longer and reduce app updates. I’m tempted to try turn off background app data refresh to see if this makes any impact. I’ll also check to see whether this impacts on the speed at which apps check for data updates from a user experience perspective.

Initial thoughts

I can’t emphasise my next point more, developers need to update their apps. On both the 6 and the 6 Plus, apps such as Google Drive just look comical at the moment. When optimising apps for both these devices developers need to think about how to utilise the extra screen space.

Apps like Evernote show early promise, though even here, the app is best used in landscape mode. Unsurprisingly, the best experience comes from Apple’s apps that have been properly designed to make use of the features and sheer size of the phone. This is as much about iOS 8 as it is about the size of the phone. Developers need to properly implement the features to make use of what is possible.

Picking up my 4” iPhone 5, the screen feels miniscule in my hand, in the same way that the older 3.5” iPhone – iPhone 4S felt even smaller. I know that I’ll never be able to go back to a 4” screen now, though I could happily move to the 4.7” iPhone 6 sized screen.

To me, the iPhone 6 size makes it the best all round smartphone available at the moment. The 6 Plus means that you have to make the compromise of never being confident enough to use it one handed. That said, it’s the compromise that I am willing to make for the improved battery life and the fact I don’t have to carry my iPad everywhere.

My iPad has definitely not been relegated in lieu of my new phone, but it does mean I don’t have to use it for everything.

There are still a huge number of improvements that Apple needs to make to the software (and hardware) of the 6 Plus. Firstly, #bendgate may only affect a small number of devices and may be massively overblown, but it’s still an issue that Apple needs to address when it is selling a premium device. Secondly, the keyboard in landscape mode needs to be improved to make better use of the screen.

The 6 Plus has the potential to be a great device, but it needs developers to create apps that make the most out of it. Being iOS, it won’t be long until this starts to happen. Between iOS 8, Apple Watch, the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus and forthcoming features in OS X Yosemite, Apple has announced enough this year to get developers excited.

For companies, such as the ones Mubaloo regularly works with, it’s important that they recognise the significance of the updates from Apple and the need to invest in improving apps they already have deployed. Doing so now will provide the best return on investment, as it is now that people are upgrading their devices and their OS.

Do I love the iPhone 6 Plus? That’s difficult to say at the moment. I know that I could never move back to a 4” display, but the 6 seems like the right size. When the iPhone 7 is released, my hope is that battery technology has moved on enough. Having said that, the Plus makes the most compelling case for having the Apple Watch when it gets released. Samsung was on the right track by giving away a Galaxy Gear with the Note 3. With big phones, you only want to bring them out for big tasks.

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