Thoughts on the iPhone 6 Plus

I decided to get the iPhone 6 Plus because of how it seems to be a new class of device, between the iPhone and the iPad. I've noticed recently that I use my iPhone more and more, far more than I use my iPad. Some people decided to get an iPad so that they wouldn't have to carry a MacBook around. But for me, I decided to get an iPhone 6 Plus so that I wouldn't have to carry an iPad around.

I think the key difference between the smaller sized iPhones and the iPhone 6 Plus is that the Plus is better suited for sitting down in a chair or on the couch, and the other phones are easier to use while moving around. Thats the key area where one-handed use really matters. As a 6'5" person I can still use the 6 Plus one handed, but it's a bit of a stretch. It's certainly more comfortable to use while sitting down. And that to me is where the 6 Plus really shines. Text is a joy to read. There's plenty of room for content. The iPhone 6 Plus is by far the best email device I've used. It's quite nice for Twitter as well.

So far it doesn't seem that the larger device is any more difficult to run with. I have slightly changed my running habits though, choosing to carry my phone in a waistband rather than an armband. The iPhone 6 and iOS 8 update to Runtime was released yesterday, and I plan to use it for a few weeks while trying out different waistbands and write up some thoughts on that later. I can already tell that the longer battery life will be useful for hikers and trail runners though.


Apps

The iPhone 6 Plus really demands apps that have been updated for the larger screen. Its just such a better experience when apps are rendered natively to support it. I've already switched from Tweetbot to Twitterific because the Twitterific support for the screen is that much better. I haven't seen any RSS clients that have been updated yet, but that will instantly make the phone more usable for me when one is. We've been in the process of updating two apps that I use on a daily basis at Mutual Mobile, and I already can't imagine going back to the non iPhone 6 Plus versions of those. 


Keyboard

I instantly fell in love with the larger portrait orientation keyboard on the iPhone 6 Plus. The larger space for each key makes typing on it much faster and less prone to error than before. I have pretty big fingers, so the larger tap targets are definitely nice to have.

I can tell a difference between the "scaled up" keyboard in legacy apps, and the natively rendered keyboard. The older one's key positions are just slightly off, which leads to a few more errors. I wouldn't say its a major source of frustration, and in any case, shouldn't be something we have to deal with for too long. I expect most apps to be updated fairly quickly.

When I first saw the new landscape keyboard with a bevy of special keys I thought it sounded like a great idea. But after using it, I have two problems with it. First is that all the letter keys are in the center, which is too much of a stretch to comfortably type on...even for me, a guy with pretty large hands. Also, because there is now so much stuffed into that keyboard, the keys themselves are slightly too small of tap targets for me to comfortably type on. I was wondering if this keyboard would win me over to start using my phone in landscape orientation more, but the answer so far is no.


Camera

As a freelance photographer I am more or less obsessed with cameras, and even though I usually carry a DSLR most places that I go, I still care deeply about the quality of camera on my iPhone. With every iPhone model I've had, the number of pictures I've taken with it has doubled, from about 600 pictures over a year with the iPhone 3GS, to over 6000 last year with the iPhone 5s. The better the camera is on my phone, the more I tend to use it.

The first few test frames I captured with the iPhone 6 Plus were very impressive. Color was incredibly accurate, focus was good (and fast, and automatic). Sharpness was also good. To be honest though, it's easy to make photos look good on the iPhone 6 Plus's incredible display. Yes the camera is good, but its the display that makes the photos look incredible.

 Coffee, and Cacti

Coffee, and Cacti

There are two reasons I continue to use a DSLR. The first is the lenses. There's just simply no way for an iPhone to replace a Canon 300 f/2.8 for shooting sports or wildlife. The second is detail and sharpness, which is difficult to notice when judging an image zoomed out on a smartphone display. Here the iPhone continues to get better and better, and especially when viewing that scene on your phone, or even on a laptop, the level of detail is good enough that the image continues to look exceptional.

But when you zoom in on an iPhone image, even one from an iPhone 6 Plus, you start to notice the issues in JPEG compression and the results of having a sensor half the size of a dime versus one larger than a quarter. Below are two screenshots from the Loupe tool in Aperture taken from images of an apartment building in downtown Austin. The one on the left was shot with a Canon 20D and a Canon 17-40 f/4L lens. The one on the right is of an image shot with the iPhone 6 Plus.

 Canon 20D vs iPhone 6 Plus

Canon 20D vs iPhone 6 Plus

Notice the difference in clarity in the fine details. When you zoom in on the Canon image, the detail remains. The Canon 20D image is still sharp, all the way down to the balconies and door frames. The iPhone 6 Plus is muddied and has a pastel feel to it. While you would never notice this viewing the image zoomed out on a phone or computer, if you tried to print the image out at 300 DPI you would definitely notice.

This is more than a fair test too. The Canon 20D is 10 years old, produces the same size images as those on the iPhone 6 Plus, and still takes the iPhone to task in fine details and sharpness. The difference between the iPhone 6 Plus and the newer Canon 5DMIII or 6D would be even more striking. 

The iPhone 6 Plus is still an amazing camera. In areas that arguably matters the most, color and focus accuracy, it gets full marks. But if I was hiking the John Muir Trail again today I would still have a Canon 6D in my backpack, without a doubt.

 

Phone

As a phone, I really enjoy the larger size of the iPhone 6 Plus. It puts the microphone closer to my mouth, which results in better audio quality for the receiver. I really don't have any issues talking on the phone like this, but then again, I don't talk on the phone very much.

I do feel like the phone speaker on the iPhone 6 Plus has taken a step backward. Its a very quiet speaker, and its also very one-directional. If the speaker isn't centered perfectly on my ear, I can barely hear it. I don't remember having that problem with previous iPhones.

My least favorite part of the iPhone 6 Plus is the vibrate motor. The sound it makes flat out sucks. It sounds a more like a buzz than a vibrate. It's also incredibly loud. I wish there were a way to improve this via software, because I'm not looking forward to spending a year being notified by this sound.

 

Final Thoughts

I enjoy using the iPhone 6 Plus, but I still view this coming year as an experiment. Will I enjoy using the iPhone 6 Plus enough to continue using it's 's' version next year, and completely eschew using an iPad as well. I think that I really will need a year to answer that question. I've already started to become more comfortable carrying the iPhone 6 Plus around every day. It feels comfortable in my pocket, and I'm more comfortable pulling it out and using it on the go. I'm also still learning which ways I enjoy using it most. It still is a bit heavier than I would like, making it easier to hold by cradling it in your hand or resting it somewhere, rather than trying to hold it up in your fingers, which can be tiring. 

But no matter where the iPhone 6 Plus fits in my digital lifestyle, it is still a great phone. And I still haven't bent it yet, which is a plus.