60 Hours with the new iPhones
After using the new iPhones for the past 60-hours, I can safely conclude that they have lived up to the hype. But that's the easy answer, and generally-speaking, the same conclusion that every reviewer from Walt Mossberg to David Pogue to Joe Schmo tech-blogger has come to as well. In my opinion, there are nuances to the conclusion. This was the second consecutive year that AAPL debuted two new iPhones simultaneously. However, unlike 2013, this year's upgrades were about premium and premium plus. While the 'plus' 5.5" model is the more highly-coveted of the two phones, both provide significant upgrades from last year's flagship 5S model. As the picture below shows, you never knew how small the 5S really was, until you see the 6 and 6+. This review is strictly on the hardware, with some small caveats for software features.
The iPhone 6 Plus
I had the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 and actually really enjoyed using it. The big screen was, well big, but the improved media consumption capabilities (movie watching, reading, and photo viewing) proved that big phones do have a place in today's society. It was really the OS, TouchWiz skin, and overall cheapness that Samsung has perfected that made me ditch it after a week. The iPhone 6+ is AAPL's trump card in the increasing market for phablets. The AAPL brand name (let's not forget about the power of that 12-digit intangible asset), thin aluminum chassis (7.1mm), rounded edges, and curved display glass really makes for a nice feel in the hand - much more so than any of its competitors in the market today. It's so cliche to say, but it's a premium feel that you will not find in any other smartphone (with the exception of maybe a Vertu) on the market today. Sure, people are going to complain about the ugly lines on the back, the slightly protruding camera, and the Helvetica font used for the "iPhone" inscription, but let's face it, if those are your biggest complaints - you have a winner.
The 1920 x 1080 (401PPI) screen is amazing. Sure, you'll find over-saturated 2K displays on smartphones out there with PPIs approaching 500+, but like with AAPL's camera technology, display quality is not just about numbers (speeds and feeds). AAPL's displays are accurate (sRGB), don't over-saturate colors, and provide the user with a display that is hard to match no matter what pixel count you have. The other thing worth noting about the screen is the curved edges - TC made a big point about this (the singularity between chassis and screen) in his interview with Charlie Rose, and I didn't understand why - after using the phone, I now know why. In the past, the squared nature of the iPhone chassis provided a definitive end to the aluminum and beginning to the cover glass. With the new generation iPhone's, that disconnect is all-but-gone. The best thing I can compare it to is an infinity pool where you just see the edge just fall off, but it's better because now you can feel it too - it really is something, and you won't understand any of this fanboy-ish jibber-jabber until you actually hold one in your hand. Here are my key takeaways summarized:
- Battery Life: Off-the-chart. At first, I was surprised to see the battery drop down to the 80% level rather quickly, but then it stayed there for a while...and a bit longer...and yet a little longer. The battery life in-and-of-itself makes this phone a must-upgrade. The extra $100 is well worth what you would have spent on an ugly battery case anyways.
- TouchID: I have used TouchID for a year now and honestly, after figuring out a few tricks (e.g., programming the same finger multiple times to get better results, which still holds true), I found it pretty damn accurate and reliable on the 5S. For anybody that's really given this feature a chance to be useful -or- tried any of the competitor offerings, you know that this is no gimmick. And like a Ginsu Knife commercial, "but wait, there's more..." TouchID is even better on the 6+ I've been using this thing at the beach and have found the sensor to be less sensitive to moisture, more accurate and faster - very pleased with the improvements here especially with the multitude of apps (and list growing by-the-day) that are now using TouchID as a secure and quick password enabler.
- A8 Chip: They say the A8 chip is x% faster, and I can honestly say that it is...just kidding. I can't freaking tell - I've always felt that iOS is a very smooth experience, even compared to the octa-core 4GB RAM powered SoC's being thrown into any Android phone these days. It's smooth, but unless you're a hardcore gamer, which I'm not, I doubt you'll be able to tell - it's a seamless experience and for 90% of users, that's good enough.
- Media Consumption: Aside from battery life, this is the one place that the 5.5" really puts itself in a new class above the 6. Movies look phenomenal on this screen - everything from full-screen YouTube, to AAPL's own HD keynote, to HD iTunes movies, it all looks great. It's definitely going to take some time away from your tablets (iPads, iPad Mini's, Nexus, etc.). It's really about convenience and having that type of display at the convenience of your pocket is undeniably powerful.
- Camera: It is clear that the new 6+ camera is 32% better than the camera on the 5S from the shots I took - once again, just kidding. The 5S had a great camera and from all reviews, the 6+ camera is great. The pictures I got were pretty amazing, but the 240 fps videos are something else. I see more and more $200 point-and-shoots becoming paperweights.
- Is That a 6+ in Your Pocket, or Are You Happy to See Me? The inevitable question...is this phone too big for the average consumer. If you ask me, the answer is no. There's a reason this phone is impossible to get right now - bigger is better - the way that AAPL has crafted a 5.5" in-hand device was done in a manner that no other consumer electronics company in the world has or will replicate. The 6+ is a big phone, no doubt about it, and it's not for everybody. However, if you're teetering between the two, the 6+ is where it's at. And if you don't like it, you can always saw off the extra 0.8" of screen - once again, just kidding.
- What Storage Capacity Should I Get? Well considering the fact that one of the biggest benefits of the 5.5" display is media consumption, why would you not max this thing out with 128GB? The fact is...you're going to put more pictures, more movies, more everything on this phone. I think the most idiotic thing to do is to buy this phone with 16GB - iOS 8 requires over 4GB of free space just to install. Buying a 16GB iPhone 6+ is equivalent to the idiocy of spending $220,000 on a Ferrari and opting for the Honda engine, when the real Ferrari engine is only $10,000 more. You only live once - be bold.
- Which Carrier Should I Go With?: Go with VZ - if you didn't know, all VZ iPhones are unlocked on GSM networks - meaning you can take your phone, slip in an AT&T, T-Mobile, PAYG, or any other GSM sim card and it will work. I use my VZ phone with an AT&T sim card and it works fine - I've been doing this with the 5 and 5S - never had any issues with connectivity, accessing v-mail, etc. Additionally, if you do stick with VZ, it was just announced that VZ finally joined the 21st century and now supports simultaneous voice and data use - previously, if you were on a call, you could not receive or write text msgs / emails, surf the web, or multi-task with any other function that required data...poof - that limitation is gone.
I will note that the new vibration is amplified and quite frankly, annoying - on both the 6 and 6+. However, I can live with it - I just question why this needed to be messed with in the first place.
Bottom Line: Once you pick up the iPhone 6 Plus and use it, you'll want one. Go Big-ger or Go Home.
The iPhone 6 is also a great phone - I just use it less because I have the 6+...bigger is better. It's sleek, it's fast, and it's even thinner than the 6+ (6.9 mm). The battery life is significantly better than the 5S - by the way it was shown during the keynote, I was expecting virtually the same battery life. Don't get me wrong, you're not going to get 18-hours of heavy use like you will with the 6+, but I would be shocked if you got the 4.5 hours of use that we've all been used to getting on the 5 / 5S. The 6 is a great phone, and it's selling like there's no tomorrow, it's just not the 6+, and some people will be perfectly happy that it's not. The 6 is a significant upgrade over the 4S / 5 / 5C / 5S. Let me put it differently, it's a "must-upgrade" over any of those devices mentioned.
When TC said that the new iPhone's would spark "the mother of all upgrades", he wasn't kidding. But, in the past, those upgrades were largely people that were already iPhone users (the iPhone installed base). AAPL's foray into the world of large screen smartphones (phablets) is going to take market share from Android - whether that be Samsung, HTC, ____ insert random OEM running Android, it doesn't matter. When the only differentiation point is now moot, and with AAPL's new payment service launching next month (another story for another day), people are going to flock to these new phones. The question isn't how many is AAPL going to sell? The real question is...how many can AAPL make? Samsung's latest flagship S5 'reportedly' reached 11 million sales in its first month of availability. This morning, AAPL announced that it had sold 10 million in its first three days of availability, and that's with a nine country roll-out, which didn't include any sales into mainland China (unless you count the Chinese mafia smuggling them in, which I don't). The crazy part is thinking about all of those people that are still waiting to get their hands on these phones - the 6 is shipping in 7-10 business days and the 6+ is holding steady with lead times of 3-4 weeks in the U.S. AAPL plans to have the phones in 115 countries running on the networks of 200+ carriers by the end of calendar 2014. Simply put, the limitation is supply, not demand.