The iPhone 6 - A Practical Review

Leading up to purchasing and receiving the iPhone 6, I read a lot of the pre-release reviews from the usual suspects. And while they were certainly interesting and helpful (stress testing the hardware, battery, etc.), I find that there are a lot of small, practical things that aren’t covered (or maybe I miss them) that wind up appearing in my everyday usage. So! Here’s a practical guide to the new parts of the iPhone 6.

 Hardware

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 It’s Really Beautiful

Seriously, Jony Ive must have discovered, drank from and escaped the Temple of the Crescent Moon or something, because everything that comes out of Apple’s hardware department (besides those weird-ass new Airport Extreme Base Stations) is unbelievable. I don’t understand how they make those silky curves, or how a phone that big can be that light. There’s literally no one else I can think of playing in the same league. The curved sides being back feels pretty awesome in your hand (I’ve been wanting that to come back ever since it went away). The glass feels smoother than ever.

Also, I like the stripes on the back. Call me crazy.

Tip of that hat, Sir.

 About Those Curved Sides, Though…

I never realized how often I used to set my iPhones 4 through 5S on their sides for video/picture taking. This is, obviously, impossible with the curved 6. I know I can’t have it both ways, but it’s a strange practical use case I didn’t think about when begging the gods to re-curve the iPhone. Particularly a bummer with new apps like Hyperlapse, as there’s no way to hold the phone completely steady for long periods of time.

 The Power Button of Sadness

I was pretty whatever about Apple moving the power button to the side of the phone until I got one and tried to take a picture. I always use the volume button to snap my photos (I shoot in landscape, like a gentleman), but now when I do that, I power off the phone at the same time because the power and volume-up buttons are exactly opposite and my thumb rests on the power while my index finger presses the volume.

Additionally, when powering the device on and off, I raise the volume of whatever’s playing for the same exact reason. It’s a little strange how these decisions make the software and hardware feel more disjointed than before Jony Ive took over both teams. Any UX designer worth their salt (and I’d imagine Apple has quite a few of those) would immediately see the flaw in the button placement. Something’s off.

 The Incredible, Ever-Lasting Battery

I used to have to plug my 5S in as soon as I got home from work. Or around midday if I was going out after work and wanted to ensure texting/taxi-calling capabilities. Now, after a full day of heavy usage, my phone is typically at 55% when I get home from work.

55%. I have no idea what black magic or incantations Apple are performing on this device, but it’s working. I never thought this day would come, but here we are and it’s glorious.

 Yep, It’s Huge

Okay let’s do this. It’s enormous. I don’t care who says you’ll “get used to it,” you’ll never be able to reach to the top left and right of the screen unless you’re a professional NBA player. It feels like they made the 6+ to be for-sure-two-handed, but the 6 feels like a tease. The link, back button, etc. are right there within your grasp. But not quite. I’ve nearly dropped it a couple times trying to reach across for the back button when swipe was non-existent or not functioning properly. I’ve heard the official leather case helps.

The software solution for that - the double-tap on the Home button to pull the UI down - is okay I guess, but it feels tacked on by a software team that didn’t want to do it (I’ve been there, team. It’s a bummer). I’ve heard a few people say that apps should start putting all nav/action elements at the bottom of the screen. We’ll see if that happens, but if Apple’s not doing it (they aren’t), I’m not sure we’ll get much help from third parties.

And here’s the thing: they know it’s too big. They made a case to add grip to the phone, which everyone has told me to get (but I bought the phone because I like the color). And that tacky double-tap-to-bring-the-entire-UI-halfway-down thing is an additional admission of guilt. Like we guess we’ll sort of toss you a bone since you might incorrectly think the phone is a little larger than it should be. You know you’re wrong to kill off the one-hand-sized model, Apple. You know you’re wrong!

 Software

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 Restoring from Backup Was a Breeze

I don’t want to say Apple has solved their Cloud Services Problems, but restoring my new iPhone from a backup was ridiculously simple and non-blocking. I signed in and was able to make phone calls and receive texts immediately (and thankfully, since the food delivery guy called the moment I signed in). My apps downloaded quickly over wifi and my photos all loaded in overnight. Not sure what more I could ask for from them. Pretty impressive.

 It’s iOS

There’s not a lot to say here that hasn’t been said before. iOS is, though not perfect, heads and tails above anything else I’ve used (I’ve used them all enough to understand the pros and cons). I like Apple’s constraints, I like that they opt for user privacy when it comes to advertising, I’m pretty pumped about signing in and paying for apps/music/etc. with my fingerprint. Animations are fast and buttery-smooth and everything we’ve come to expect from iOS.

 It’s Buggy iOS

This has been talked about a little bit, but it feels like the software team is having a hard time keeping up with the hardware team when it comes to having the same stable release schedule. I’d prefer fewer updates and fewer crashes. As it stands, apps just freeze up and close/reopen a few times before dying. Or my phone will just restart because I was typing a text message. Or my phone will just restart. Just because. It hates me.

 Predictive LOLs

I’m sure someone out there is getting use out of predictive text beyond sending hilariously malformed sentences to friends. But I haven’t met that person. Autocorrect was absolutely quick and powerful enough for me.

 Typing Troubles

For the first week of having the iPhone 6, I thought that either I’d gotten really bad at typing or that autocorrect was broken. I’d move from app to app and suddenly be typing gibberish into the text field instead of, you know, real text. Then, one day, I was app-switching and noticed this:

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See those two keyboards in the two apps? The native keyboard UI scales with apps not yet optimized for the iPhone 6. I was switching apps and not noticing the subtle difference in keyboard dimension and was using my old muscle memory to type (thus producing a whole lot of nothing).

As apps update to scale for the new iPhones, this problem will go away. I do wish there were some way for important native UI elements to stay consistently-sized even if the app scales, but I get that there are probably a thousand reasons why that’s hard/impossible/impractical. So, just know, you aren’t insane or suddenly bad at touch-typing. You’re amazing.

 Overall, Impractical Thoughts

Beautiful device, great battery life and an operating system I’ve been a fan of since 2007. So why do I feel less satisfied with this purchase than with any other previous generation iPhone? To be honest, it’s the size issue that gets me the most. I don’t see how the UI will ever really be one-handed again (a challenge for you third-party app designers/devs out there) and that is just such a bummer. I’d always imagined that technology like this should get smaller, should fade more into the background of our lives. The iPhone 6 and 6+ beg to be looked at, to be out of your pocket (which they barely or don’t fit in). It’s as if the Marketing Experience overtook the User Experience this generation instead of being influenced by it.

Maybe next year?

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