Review: the iPhone 6 

I — like many of you — am now carrying a space grey 64 GB iPhone 6.

In many ways, this is a hard device to review. Not only is my feedback limited to one of the two new devices, but by making the difference between the two basically a physical one, Apple has introduced choice and personal preference into the equation.

Of course, that something that Jobs-era Apple did, but in small ways. The iPod nano has been sold in about two dozen different shades, but always one size. With the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus (not to mention the endlessly-customizable Apple Watch), Apple is putting more control in the consumer’s hands than ever before.

(Sigh. I really tried to avoid that joke.)

The Size & Build

The 4.7-inch iPhone 6 is a bigger departure from the previous 4-inch chassis than I was expecting. Upon unboxing, I was surprised at the size. For a split second, I feared I had ordered the bigger of the pair.

My wife was unhappy when I handed it to her. She, like others, are hoping for an update to the smaller phones at some point in the future. (I think she’ll be disappointed.)

I have fairly normal sized hands, but I can’t use the iPhone 6 the way I did my previous devices. I can hold it as I held my old phones, cradled in my right hand, but to hit targets with my thumb, I have to let the iPhone rock forward in to my thumb, which is going to end badly for everyone when I inevitably drop it. I’ve been using it two handed more than I thought I would, and have moved my most-used apps down a row so they are easier to tap if I’m walking, but my thumb hasn’t gotten used to stretching so far. I’m not sure where I’ll end up long-term, but right now, my iPhone just feels awkward at times. I’ve wondered more than once if going to the 6 Plus would force the issue in such a way that I wouldn’t be tempted to hold and use the new iPhone like the old ones.

Size issues aside, the screen itself looks great. The pixel density of the 6 hasn’t increased over the original Retina display, but the colors and viewing angles are better this year than ever. I can’t wait until all the apps I use are ready for the larger size. Fuzzy text makes me sad.

The glass is now rounded at the edges, sloping down to meet the aluminum around the edges. This helps the phone feel smaller, and reminds me of the old “it’s like a river stone” claim Palm made about the original Pre. However, this means the iPhone 6 picks up weird light reflections around the edges. While these don’t affect the usability of the display itself, it can be distracting at times.

Gone are the flat sides and sharp angles where they meet the glass. The 6 has rounded edges, not unlike the iPad mini and iPad Air. This makes the phone feel thinner in hand than it actually is — a trick Apple used with the original iPhone and 3G — but it makes the device slippery. If your eyes are closed, the only way you can tell where the glass ends and metal begins would be the texture. On my phone at least, the seam is flawless all the way around.

The (now pill-style) volume buttons and mute rocker feel great. They are audibly clicky; there is no doubt if a button has been engaged or not. The sleep/wake button is equally clicky, but is now on the right side of the phone. While I’m glad it’s not on the top anymore, it’s hard to break seven years’ worth of habitual use. The one downside is that now the sleep/wake button is right across from the volume up button, and more than once, I’ve put my phone to sleep while trying to take a photo while using the volume button as the shutter.

While the top of the phone is now featureless, the bottom still houses the headphone jack, Lightning port, mic and speaker. The headphone jack is the thickest opening on the phone. It’s not hard to imagine that in the future this is going to limit what Apple can do thickness-wise. I can see that rumor about Lightning-powered headphones coming true at some point.

The built-in speaker is noticeably louder than the one on my iPhone 5, which is a welcome change to someone who listens to a lot of podcasts around the house and often forgets to charge his Jawbone Bluetooth speaker. (Hypothetically.)

The antenna breaks on the back aren’t awesome, but I don’t spend a lot of time looking at the back of my device.

The iPhone 6 is actually 17 grams heavier than the 5S but it feels lighter, due to not being as dense. The glass over the screen is thinner, making taps feel more hollow than on the old phone, or even the iPad. The combination of these things makes the iPhone 6 feel cheaper than the 5S somehow.

That aside, the iPhone 6 is just as well-designed and tightly-executed as any iPhone before it.

The Camera

There’s an old quote saying the best tool is the one you have with you. For me, the iPhone camera fits in to this line of thinking. I have cameras nicer than the iPhone, but it’s the one that’s always in my front-right pocket, not to mention the only one connected to the Internet as long as Verizon is working.

For years, I fought this, but around the time of the iPhone 4S, I started giving in to it. While the iPhone 6 can’t take photos as rich or large as my Olympus 4/3 camera with its set of lenses, it’s far better than the shooter on previous iPhones. Even without the optical image stabilization that the 6 Plus sports, it excels in low-light conditions. Video quality is great, and the new 240fps slow motion is just insane.

There is of course, an elephant in the room. A tiny, protruding, lens-shaped elephant.

As iPhones have gotten thinner, the iPhone camera team must be increasingly stressed; cameras need depth and the iPhone 6 has less of it than ever. Unlike some other manufacturers, Apple didn’t create a bulge across the back of the phone, sloping from the main plane of the back plate to the lens cover to give the optics more space. Instead, the lens sits alone, above the rest of the back of the phone. On the space gray phone, the side of the lens is dark metal that’s not used anywhere else on the phone. The lens is covered in sapphire, as it has been since the iPhone 5, so I’m not worried about it getting scratched.

While it’s unattractive to my eyes, it’s not the end of the world. The lens doesn’t get snagged on my pocket, but it does make the iPhone rock a bit if it’s placed on a flat surface.

Apple thought about this, and the iPhone 6’s vibrate motor is near the bottom of the phone, helping it sound more solid than it would if it were near the top, where it could cause the phone to rock more when going off. It’s a subtle design choice but one I appreciate. No one likes rattling iPhones.

I’d imagine the bump may be here to stay. Now that Apple’s introduced it, they can’t get rid of it just to have to re-introduce it on some super-slim future iPhone. The little bump and it’s annoyances are not great, but the pictures it makes are well worth it.

The Battery

I haven’t been able to give the battery a fair test. I use my iPhone less on the weekends, and thanks to our newborn son, I haven’t had a chance to use it during a typical weekday.

I would like to address something I’ve seen in almost every review I’ve read but I’ll pick on Casey because his site’s name hurts my head:

The battery life seems better than my 5s by a comfortable margin

Apple says the 6 should get better battery life than the 5S, but there’s a nice trick the company gets to play on reviewers. Since rechargeable batteries slowly lose capacity over time, any new phone should feel like an improvement over a year-old one.

That aside, the iPhone 5 I am about to ship to Gazelle was replaced by a Genius just a few weeks ago, so I should see a more fair fight. My gut says the 6 gives me more breathing room. Time will tell, but even looking at what Apple promises 6 Plus owners, I long for the iPhone that will let me go several days between charges.

Wrap-up

I like the iPhone 6. Despite the growing pains in both my thumb and iOS 8, this iPhone is the best I’ve owned.

The larger screen means a bigger window into the Internet and apps, and Apple’s built the 6 in such a way that the phone doesn’t feel any bigger than it needs to be. It’s nice in the hand and lightweight.

The camera’s quality is hard to believe. While the protruding lens is annoying in certain situation, I’m willing to live with it if it means I can take such nice shots with my phone.

In short, I’m glad I upgraded this year.

A Footnote on Silly People

There’s a lot of talk online — and in my personal text messages from my Android-carrying friends — about how Apple’s just now moving to bigger screens, and had to make an accommodation on the camera thickness like many Android OEMs have had to do.

As many have written, Apple is usually not the first to market with a feature or product. The company is content to sit back and watch other market players slug it out until a clear winner or direction takes shape.

In a weird way, Cupertino seems to acknowledge this, at least on some level. In the keynote, Apple never really explained why the iPhone has suddenly grown so dramatically. The company glosses right over it, even on its iPhone landing page:

iPhone 6 isn’t simply bigger — it’s better in every way. Larger, yet dramatically thinner. More powerful, but remarkably power efficient. With a smooth metal surface that seamlessly meets the new Retina HD display. It’s one continuous form where hardware and software function in perfect unison, creating a new generation of iPhone that’s better by any measure.

There’s no reason given here. It’s as if Apple’s saying, “Of course the new iPhone is bigger. Why wouldn’t it be?” And, for the most part, Apple fans are good with it.

I think that is what gets under the skin of Android fans; Apple just strolling into a room on their own timing and setting up shop is one thing, but to have “the sheep” suddenly singing the praises of a feature that’s been available for years from non-Cupertino-based companies is just too much.

I think we all need to get a life and maybe go outside for a bit.

Editor’s Note: I was hoping to include some photos in this review, but most of it was written in the middle of the night as our newborn son slept at the hospital. Sacrifices had to be made.