Every month I publish a list on Business Insider ranking thebest smartphones in the world. I test a lot of phones in all shapes and sizes. Over my four years at this job I estimate I’ve used at least 100. By now, I have a really good sense of what works for most people.
Every month I feel like I have no choice but to put the iPhone at the top of the list. The confluence of design, app selection, and impeccable attention to detail made me look past all that.
My only problem with the iPhone 5S? The iPhone’s 4-inch screen was tiny compared to every other major competing smartphone. Every time I tested a device from Samsung or HTC or Motorola, I’d go back to my puny 5S wishing it was bigger. My dream phone was a super-huge iPhone that could put the beauty and simplicity of iOS and its ecosystem on a giant display.
This month, Apple made my dream phone. Two of them, in fact: The iPhone 6, which has a 4.7-inch screen, and the iPhone 6 Plus, which has a 5.5-inch screen. I’ve been switching between both models over the last week. You can buy them now starting at $US199 for the iPhone 6 and $US299 for the iPhone 6 Plus (on contract). They start at $US649 and $US749 without a contract.
They’re big. They’re beautiful. They’re nearly perfect. When I make my list for October, the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus will have the two top spots.
The iPhone 6
Let’s start with the iPhone 6, which I think is the device most people will (and should) choose. Most of what I’ll say, save for size and a few other things, will apply to the 6 Plus too.
The glass on top of the iPhone 6 feels like it curves nearly seamlessly into the aluminium body, like a round gemstone. It almost deceives you into thinking you’re holding something smaller than it actually is. In a way, the new curved design is a throwback to the original iPhone, which was also wrapped in curved aluminium. I like it a lot better that the rigid rectangular shape Apple had been using since the iPhone 4.
It’s the Goldilocks phone — not too big, and not too small. Many big-screen phones are thick and chunky, but at 6.9 millimeters, the iPhone 6 is one of the thinnest I’ve used. It fits perfectly in my palm, and even with the larger display, I have no problem using it with one hand. I doubt you’ll have to worry about one-handed use, even if you have tiny mitts. Just in case, Apple has a new “Reachability” feature in the operating system that pulls the top portion of the screen down to your thumb when you double tap the home button.
A lot of people have been calling the iPhone 6 “slippery” and warning that you should put a case on it. I hate cases. Apple spends a lot of time designing beautiful gadgets, and the last thing I want to do is add extra bulk and plastic to it. I never felt like the iPhone 6 was going to slip out of my hand and crash into a million pieces on the floor. Apple gave me a silicone case to test on the phone, but I never used it and everything was fine. If you’re a worrywart, then sure, use a case. But I prefer my phones naked.
My only beef with the design is the camera, which pokes out from the back. Apple is obsessed with thinness, but that obsession resulted in a slight camera bulge from the frame. The device can rock a bit if you place it flat on its back. I doubt most people will notice or care, but it bothers a snoot like me.
But holy moly is that camera good, and the bulge is a fine trade off. It’s an 8 MP camera, which on paper sounds less powerful than cameras from competing smartphones. Keep in mind though, 8 MP only refers to the resolution of the image, not the overall quality. Unless you plan on printing out a bunch of poster-sized photos, you won’t care. I took hundreds of photos with the 6/6 Plus over the last week, and the results were incredible. It works particularly well in low light. Here’s a shot I took a dusk:
There are other cool camera tricks too, like a stabilisation feature that keeps your videos still, even if you’re moving around while shooting. It can also focus automatically a lot faster, so you don’t have to do that double-tap on the screen before you snap a photo. The camera can even auto-focus on objects in real time as you shoot a video.
Battery life is a little better. I was able to get through a full day of normal use. But if you’re a heavy user, you may still need to charge up a bit before you head home from work. I almost wish Apple had made the phone a little thicker so it had a bigger battery and a camera flush with the back case. (This complaint doesn’t apply to the 6 Plus, however.)
As always, the biggest benefit of the iPhone is its software and ecosystem. All these years later, iPhones still get the best apps first. I’m not talking about the size of Apple’s App Store versus what Google has for Android. I’m talking about the quality of apps. Whenever a new app or game comes out, it’s usually on iPhone first. And when apps do make it to Android, the design and user experience is often worse. Android may be the most popular mobile operating system on the planet, but it’s still treated as an afterthought by most developers. That means a lot to me, and it’s one of the key reasons why I’ve stuck with a tiny screen iPhone for so long.
The iPhone 6 also comes with the new operating system, iOS 8, which is available on many other iPhone and iPad models. There aren’t too many major changes with iOS 8, so I won’t spend a lot of time on it. You can take a full tour of everything that’s new right here. My favourite part about the new OS is the active notification system. If you get a new text message, you can answer it without exiting the app you’re already using. Developers can use the feature too, and a few, like Twitter, already have. You can also install third-party keyboards and use them instead of Apple’s default keyboard. That’s a feature Android users have been enjoying for years, and there are already some solid options in the App Store such as Swype and SwiftKey.
Finally, there’s Apple Pay, which will let you load your credit or debit card information onto your iPhone 6 and pay for stuff just by tapping it against a special pad using a technology called Near Field Communication (NFC) to transfer your financial data.Apple Pay won’t launch until October, so no one has been able to test it yet. But Apple tells me it should work at any credit card terminal that has one of those “tap to pay” readers on the top. Several retailers like CVS, McDonald’s, and Macy’s have already said they will support Apple Pay at launch.
Bottom line: The iPhone 6 is a huge upgrade, and a must buy if you’re using an iPhone 5 or earlier. Even if you have an iPhone 5S, you may want to make the move to the 6 if you can wrangle out of your contract. And if you’ve been using an Android phone all this time because you like bigger screens, you won’t be sorry making the switch to Apple’s superior ecosystem.
The iPhone 6 Plus
When Samsung launched its first super-huge phone, the Galaxy Note, in 2012 I thought the company was insane.I called the phone, which actually had a smaller screen than the 6 Plus does today, “too big …like, practical-joke big.”
The joke was on me though.
It took until the Galaxy Note 3 launched about a year ago to come to my senses and realise I was being a doofus by dismissing those so-called phablets. I practically live on my phone — emailing and tweeting and reading the news for hours a day, and a big screen simply lets me get a lot more done. Plus, phablets last a lot longer because the bigger body also means you also get a bigger battery.
That all holds true with the 6 Plus. And after I return my review unit to Apple, it’s going to be the phone I buy. It has all the benefits of the big screen with the added bonus of an impeccable design and access to Apple’s superior ecosystem. You can’t get that with any other device in this class. The Plus is a productivity machine, the best of the iPad and the iPhone rolled into one hero device. It’s the perfect gadget for power users, and I can’t imagine using anything else.
Yes, the 6 Plus is huge. I’d say I have above average-sized hands, but I still need both of them to operate this thing efficiently. Even with Apple’s Reachability mode, I still feel like I’m stretching.
But the Plus feels razor-thin just like the regular iPhone 6 (it’s technically 0.2 mm thicker, but there’s no way you’d ever be able to tell), and it slides easily into my jeans pocket without sticking out. It does kind of jab into my hip when I sit down, so I usually keep it on my desk if I know I’m going to be sitting for a long time. Overall, I don’t think the Plus is too big for me, and what little annoying quirks I did have with it were overshadowed by the benefits of the massive screen. It’s a giant slab of silicon and glass and metal, but it works. Perfectly.
The big screen came with a drawback though. Because the 6 Plus has a sharper resolution than the iPhone 5S and the 6, some third-party apps appear fuzzy or blurry. When using apps like Gmail or Snapchat, it feels like I’m looking at a distorted, blown-up image, not something designed for a larger, crisper display. Apple told me it has new tools that developers can use to better adapt their apps for the larger display, so I expect to see this problem go away for most major apps soon.
Battery life knocked my socks off, which is something I’ve never been able to say about an iPhone until now. I used to have to charge my iPhone 5S at least once a day, even on days of lighter usage. It got to the point where I’d leave it plugged in all day at work just to spare myself the agony of asking a bartender to borrow a charger if I went out at night.
I’ll give you the perfect example:
Last weekend, I woke up at 7 a.m. and took a trip to Alcatraz with my dad. I took over 100 photos and a few videos. Then we took a two-hour roundtrip car ride to Tomales Bay and I used Google Maps navigation to get us there. After that, we toured around San Francisco a bit (I checked Twitter and email a lot during this time) and had dinner. By the time I got home around 8 p.m., my battery was around 30%, which would have been unfathomable if I had used my iPhone 5S that much without charging. On most days, my battery is at 50% after a full day of work.
Bottom line: The Plus is thinner, prettier, and better in just about every single way than any other phablet I’ve used. If you’re an iPhone power user, I’d suggest looking past the drawbacks of a giant device and consider getting the Plus over the 6.
Does It Bend?
Yes. Or, maybe not. I don’t know. I thought I noticed a bend in the 6 Plus on Thursday. I even used a level, and the reading was slightly off. The Plus wasn’t quite flush with the table when I placed it face down, but it was barely noticeable. The only reason I even looked for a bend was because of all the “Bendgate” hooplah this week.
Here’s my take: If the 6 Plus really does bend, it’s not noticeable enough to be a problem. The real test will come several months from now. Does additional stress on the phone over time cause it to bend even more? I hope not. For now, don’t sweat it. And don’t let the hype sway you from buying the Plus.
Apple for its part says, “Our iPhones are designed, engineered and manufactured to be both beautiful and sturdy… With normal use a bend in iPhone is extremely rare and through our first six days of sale, a total of nine customers have contacted Apple with a bent iPhone 6 Plus.”
By the end of the week, I found myself using the iPhone 6 Plus more than the iPhone 6. If the two were sitting on the desk next to each other, I naturally gravitated toward the bigger screen.
Still, I’d recommend that most people buy the iPhone 6. It strikes the perfect balance of getting a bigger screen while remaining manageable enough for one-handed use. I doubt most will want to sacrifice ease of use for some extra screen real estate and few hours of battery life. If you’re still unsure, go to the store and try them out. I bet you choose the 6 over the 6 Plus.
It’s not the just best phone. It’s a dream phone.